While essentially every Philadelphia 76ers fan in the world was on board with the team firing Brett Brown (except for me of course), the team was left in a pretty directionless path once that decision was finally made. The leading candidate was Tyronn Lue (who was reportedly demanding insane amounts of salary), and other options were average at best. However, all of that changed when the Sixers were granted a gift in Billy Donovan hitting the open market.
Billy Donovan is the guy, straight up.
The former Oklahoma City Thunder coach has a longstanding resume of success at both the collegiate and NBA level, and essentially all of his ideologies would carry over perfectly to the Sixers. He’s coached players who have won MVPs (Russell Westbrook), he’s frequently dealt with star player level talent/egos (Paul George), he’s developed crucial role players (Steven Adams), and he’s even over-performed with inherently flawed rosters (2019-20 season).
Take a look around the Sixers, and you’ll quickly see the endless string of improvements that Donovan could make on this roster. Need someone to develop Ben Simmons into an MVP-caliber player? Donovan is the guy. Need someone to manage a big man like Joel Embiid? Donovan is the guy. Need someone to develop young players like Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton? Donovan is the guy. Need someone to coach at a high level during the playoffs despite being dealt a poorly constructed roster? Donovan is the guy.
Before we dive too deep into some of the schematic/organizational changes that a coach like Billy Donovan could create, let’s first just glance at his coaching resume:
- NBCA Coach of the Year (2020)
- 2x NCAA champion (2006, 2007)
- 4x NCAA Regional champion – Final Four (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014)
- 4x SEC Tournament champion (2005, 2006, 2007, 2014)
- 6x SEC regular-season champion
- 3x SEC Coach of the Year
- SoCon Coach of the Year
- Amos Alonzo Stagg Coaching Award
- John R. Wooden Legends of Coaching Award
- 3x FIBA Gold Medal Winner (2012, 2013, 2014)
- .607 winning percentage with the Thunder from 2015-2020 (243-157)
In case you couldn’t tell, that’s a whole lot of awards. While plenty of people may be quick to point out that they are almost all primarily collegiate accolades, hiring a college coach who’s had success at that level has proven to be a fairly solid track to follow in recent NBA seasons (aka Brad Stevens).
Now diving into some of the more fundamental changes that a man like Donovan could have on the Sixers, the first stop has to be the impact that he would have on Ben Simmons.
Simmons is coming off his best season yet as a pro, earning his second consecutive All-Star game selection while also being named First Team All-Defense. His importance was even furthered when fans saw just how lost the Sixers looked without him during the postseason. Despite all this, there’s still the general belief that there’s even more room to grow.
One of Donovan’s greatest success stories was that of how he coached up Russell Westbrook, taking him from a third option to a legit MVP winner. Russ averaged a triple-double for three consecutive seasons under Donovan, and was one of the most dominant players in the league despite not having a reliable jumper.
Simmons legitimately has MVP potential inside him, and if there’s anyone who could fish it out, it’s Billy Donovan. His unique offensive philosophies and desire to keep the ball in his best player’s hands would monumentally improve Simmons’ production on the court.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Dennis Schroder, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, Steven Adams. The list goes on and on of players that Donovan has taken from average, to being well-respected names around the NBA.
A lot of focus has been made on the Sixers pulling off yet another blockbuster trade this offseason, however, I think that’s actually the wrong approach to be taking here. The team has their two superstars in Embiid and Simmons, now it’s about just filling in space around them.
Donovan could elevate guys like Milton, Thybulle, Korkmaz, etc into legit playoff-caliber role players. He has the track record to prove it, and the impact those young guys could make would far outweigh any sort of blockbuster panic trade.
Handling a Broken Roster
In the initial statement from Adrian Wojnarowski, it was revealed that Donovan and the Thunder were essentially parting ways because Donovan was too good of a coach. The former Florida University HC had taken a pretty below average Thunder roster all the way to the postseason this year, despite every analyst projecting them to be a lottery level team.
The Thunder are trying to tank, and Donovan winning games he wasn’t supposed to are ruining said plans.
Despite all the rumors, there’s no guarantee that the Sixers will be able to rid themselves of Al Horford this offseason, and the team will need a coach who at least has a shot of making the situation serviceable.
While the Sixers definitely don’t have “bad” players, they undoubtedly have players who don’t fit well next to each other. If anyone has experience dealing with rosters destined for failure, it’s Donovan.
Don’t Overthink This
Billy Donovan being let go by the OKC Thunder is a present wrapped up in neon flashing lights. This should genuinely be the easiest decision the Sixers organization has ever had to make. While they’ll undoubtedly chase after the big flashy name in Tyronn Lue, “settling” for a more proven commodity in Donovan is 1000% the correct decision here.
Throw in the fact that he has links to a certain All-Star point guard that the Sixers are reportedly eyeing this offseason, it’s genuinely a match made in heaven.
It was rumored that the Sixers already have a handshake agreement set in place with Clippers assistant Tyronn Lue, and that very well could be the case. However, if the Sixers really want to set their team up for year’s worth of success and excitement, they need to make the easy choice this offseason.
Photo by Mark Alberti/ Icon Sportswire
David is a 20 year old college student at the University of Maryland. A lifelong Philadelphia sports fan who started covering the teams back in late May of 2019. After just a few months of writing for fun on a personal blog, he now reports on the 76ers for PhillySportsNetwork.com and the Phillies for Fansided.com.