Brett Brown is still the 76ers coach as of Monday morning, but fans and media have already decided he’s out, and ownership will come to that decision as well. If they don’t move on from their head coach of seven seasons, after getting swept in round one by a rival, it would be a choice met with universal indignation.
We can safely start speculating about the next Sixers coach, and the name you’ve heard for a few years now is Villanova’s Jay Wright, who is local, and a winner, and therefore perennially finds himself at the top of the list.
But he’d be crazy to leave Nova for the 76ers, wouldn’t he? He’d be walking into a situation where you are pretty much capped out, stuck with four more years of Tobias Harris and three more years of Al Horford, with a front office structure that should make any coach wary. The only thing the Elton Brand + Bryan Colangelo leftovers accomplished was blowing through assets in a failed title run (2018-2019) before saddling the team with bad contracts for the future (2019-2020). Now a team that had a lot of prior flexibility has little to nothing in the wiggle room department.
Would you jump at the chance to work with that group? Probably not.
The other thing to consider is that Jay Wright runs his own program at Nova. He’s the guy. No hedge fund dudes above you, no NBA league office, no draft day hits and misses. You recruit elite guys to your elite program while living in your badass Main Line house and look to certify dynasty status, thus entering Coach K and Roy Williams territory. Most people spend their entire lives dreaming of a scenario like that.
Maybe Wright is a challenge-seeker, however, and sees himself as having accomplished everything already at Villanova. The only thing he really can do is win a third national title, or a fourth. Going to the NBA, and being successful, would only gain him more national acclaim as a guy who can now coach at elite status on multiple levels, not just in the college game.
And a challenge it would be, because the pieces don’t fit, not on this roster. The Sixers shot 39.6% in the playoffs, which was dead last among all 16 teams. Their three-point number was 30.3%, which tied for 15th with the Pacers. This is a team playing in a guard and wing league that doesn’t have guards and wings who can shoot, not at the level required to be a title contender.
So Jay Wright wouldn’t be able to fit his 4-out/1-in Villanova scheme to this Sixers personnel group, not unless they perhaps moved Al Horford and brought in another shooter. Even then, you’d have two non-shooters in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and would have to find a way to bring their games to the next level, since Brett Brown was unable to do it. Stylistically, Wright and Brown really aren’t that different, since they teach concepts and don’t call a lot of plays. You’re not getting heavy isolation and pick and roll basketball from either coach, and while Wright certainly seems capable of coaching at the NBA level, the system he runs at Villanova needs to be adjusted to fit a unique personnel grouping.
It should be noted, however, that Wright’s guard-heavy approach at Nova DOES match current trends in the NBA, and I have absolutely no doubt that his philosophies would interface very well at this level. He was one of the first to really employ a shooter-heavy, small ball type of college game, and therefore Simmons would thrive in a free-flowing Jay Wright setup. Embiid, I’m not so sure, but I’d be intrigued to see Jay give it a try.
One thing we do know is that money is not an issue for Jay Wright. He’s good. He reportedly turned down a huge offer from UCLA to stay at Nova. You’re not going to throw cash at him to get him to relocate within the Delaware Valley. He also confirmed back in February that he wasn’t going to the New York Knicks and never even spoke to them. Plus, he’s a Bucks County guy and grew up in this region and it would make more sense for him to take the Sixers gig than any other NBA gig. Oh yeah, he also downsized and moved closer to campus, and you could point out that he’s gotten his professional-level fix via his involvement with the USA national team.
The best counterpoint I’ve heard comes from Joe Greenwich:
Devil’s advocate: college basketball has never been more in flux, and further changes to the landscape could have him regretting not taking the shot at the NBA when he could have. I don’t think he leaves, but I don’t think it’s as big a non-starter as some do.
— Joe Greenwich (@JGreenwich) August 23, 2020
It’s a great point. Who knows what happens to the NCAA and college sports governance as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe he thinks to himself, “hmm, the future is uncertain, maybe now is the time to take the leap.” Perhaps we don’t even have college basketball this year.
Could be the way to go, but Villanova is such an awesome situation that you’d have to be crazy to leave that for a broken roster with bad contracts and a front office/GM situation that feels completely untenable at this point. Jay Wright to the Sixers could certainly work, but you’d have to make a lot of prerequisite changes before anybody would be successful as Brett Brown’s replacement. John Wooden reincarnate would struggle with this roster.