For the last six seasons, the Philadelphia 76ers have been mainstays in the NBA playoffs.
Thanks to Joel Embiid, Tyrese Maxey, formerly Ben Simmons, and the like, Philadelphia has made the playoffs yearly since 2017.
This season, however, there are a lot of question marks surrounding the team, thanks to coaching changes.
Let’s look at the 76ers recent coaching history and the masterminds behind their success for 2023–24.
Humble Beginnings: Brett Brown
When Philadelphia drafted Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, they immediately became a team that could compete at a high level. From that point, the franchise looked for a head coach to take them on a deep playoff run. That started with Brett Brown. A former San Antonio Spurs assistant, Brown took over as the first head coaching hire of new general manager Sam Hinkie. The former Rocket executive came in and began a strategy that is now infamous in Philadelphia: The Process.
For Brown, this meant coaching a team designed to lose. The 76ers won 34 games under Doug Collins the year before he signed. Just two years before, they won 41 and were a .500 ballclub. In his first season, Brown’s Sixers won just 19 games. Philadelphia won 18 the following year and 10 the year after that to get players like Embiid and Simmons. While it succeeded to a degree, Hinkie also struggled to draft the right players for upcoming basketball games and was let go.
President of Basketball Operations Daryl Morey began guiding The Process to new heights, with Brown winning more than 50 games in both 2017–18 and 2018–19. However, looking to take the next step, Morey fired Brown and hired Doc Rivers, the former Celtics and Clippers coach with championship experience.
Championship Expectations: Doc Rivers
By the time Doc came to town, Simmons was unhappy and on his way out. However, Embiid had become an MVP-caliber player. The 76ers won 49 games and nearly reached the Eastern Conference Finals, losing a seven-game heartbreaker in the semifinals.
Expectations for 2021–22 were as high as ever in Philadelphia since Embiid came to town. Former Most Valuable Player James Harden joined the team in the offseason, and the Sixers won 51 games. However, they stalled again in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, beaten by Jimmy Butler and the Miami Heat in a revenge series. Butler had played for the 76ers in their victorious 2018–19 campaign, but the relationship was short-lived. He clashed with the coaching staff and front office over team philosophy and usage, leading to a trade with the Heat.
Philadelphia’s performance in 2021–22 led to sky-high expectations in 2022–23, as many picked the Sixers to win the Eastern Conference, with Embiid and Harden fully healthy. The emergence of Tyrese Maxey as a legitimate third scorer helped lead to these high expectations. However, the season once again ended in disappointment, even as Embiid won his first-ever league MVP award. After winning 54 games, the most of the Embiid era, the 76ers lost another heartbreaking seven-game series to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The loss meant Philadelphia had made the playoffs six consecutive seasons and failed to go beyond the second round even once. This failure led to Doc Rivers’ being fired.
Doc Rivers’ Firing
A New Start: Nick Nurse
Entering this season, expectations are still high, but the drama in Philadelphia has reached a fever pitch. Harden is unhappy, and the 76ers will likely have to trade him to avoid paying out his contract. While the front office dealt with that, they also signed Nick Nurse, the former head coach of the Toronto Raptors. Nurse coached in Toronto for five seasons as an assistant before being promoted to head coach.
In his first season, the Raptors traded for Kawhi Leonard. The superstar and first-year head coach led Toronto to 58 wins and ultimately won the NBA finals for the first time in team history. However, results soured after that. The championship season was Leonard’s sole season in Toronto, and without his superstar, the team regressed. They won 53 games and reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals the next season but followed that up with a 27-win season.
Nurse was eventually fired after last season and brought in to help Embiid and the Sixers reach the next level. Alongside Nurse is an assistant coaching staff that returns just three coaches from the previous team, and each of the returners is on the player development staff. Bryan Gates is a new addition after 15 seasons with Phoenix, Minnesota, Sacramento, and New Orleans. He joins Bobby Jackson, Rico Hines, Matt Brase, and Coby Karl as Nurse’s lead assistant coaches. Mike Longabardi also assumes an assistant coach role while taking the head coaching job for the Delaware Blue Coats, Philadelphia’s G-League team.
The rest of the staff includes Doub West, John Corbacio, Fabulous Flournoy, Jason Love, TJ Dileo, Terrell Harris, Toure’ Murry, Reggie Redding, and Kareem Thawer.
What’s Next For Philadelphia?
The 76ers are an iconic NBA franchise with an MVP player. However, they have yet to perform up to expectations.
With Harden likely gone and Embiid’s time in Philly ending without an immediate deep playoff run, the franchise needs significant change.
Nick Nurse and his coaching staff have the task of elevating this roster and giving Philadelphia the deep playoff run it has been waiting for before it loses its MVP.