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October 28, 2020

Sixers to hire Pacers assistant and defensive specialist Dan Burke

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The Sixers are hiring Dan Burke for Doc Rivers' growing coaching staff in Philadelphia, a team source confirmed to PhillyVoice on Wednesday afternoon. ESPN's Tim Bontemps was the first to report the news.

Widely regarded for his impact on Indiana's defense, Burke cut his teeth as a scout and video coordinator for the Portland Trailblazers from the late '80s through 1997, his time there coinciding with several deep runs in the postseason for the Blazers. He has only been with the Pacers in the 20+ years since, and Burke has earned strong reviews from Pacers executives over the years.

“He’s been a very important part over 19 years of what we’ve done here,” Larry Bird said of Burke after Indiana extended his contract in 2016. “It’s important for me that he would be my first free agent.”

His profile, however, is that of a coach who might inspire mixed reactions amongst Sixers fans.

The good news — Burke has been lauded for getting the most out of what he has on the defensive end of the floor, particularly in getting non-defending wings to buy in and overachieve on that end. One of the most recent successes was T.J. Warren (best known around here for lighting Philly up in the bubble), a scorer who had previously been labeled a sieve who gave up more points than he was capable of scoring.

Indiana has consistently ranked near the top of the league in defense in recent years, ranking in the top-10 in defensive efficiency in seven of the last ten seasons. That includes a pair of back-to-back rankings at the top in 2012-13 and 2013-14, and a handful of finishes inside the top five.

Burke's approach, however, tends to be a bit rigid. He's a big believer in defending your man and not switching, a strategy that actually runs counter to how Doc Rivers set the Clippers up last season. More importantly, Burke is a big believer in drop coverage with his bigs, a style that has irritated Sixers fans in recent years as the team has ascended. It was a big problem last year when the Sixers had two centers who thrived under very different defensive circumstances. While the Pacers broke from some of Burke's tendencies last season, it's fair to wonder how much he wants to change at this point of his career.

On that front, one of the reasons the Pacers hired new head coach Nate Bjorkgren was a result of his tactical flexibility on the defensive end, proven through stops in the G-League and under Nick Nurse in Toronto. In some ways, that could be seen as a rebuke of the previous coaching staff, which included Burke, and it remains to be seen who will ultimately have the dominant voice when it comes to Philadelphia's defensive setup.

Sixers fans will likely best remember Burke from this rant last season, where he made clear his disdain for how the league officiates Joel Embiid.

Less than a year later, he's one of the guys charged with getting the best out of Joel Embiid. Imagine that. New Sixers executive and former Pacers front office man Peter Dinwiddie must have eased his concerns.

Some fit concerns aside, Burke comes to Philadelphia with a great reputation, and he bolsters a staff that now features some strong personalities with varied views on the sport, something Rivers values to keep him in check. It has been a busy day for Philly — and trades are likely still on the horizon this offseason.

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