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May 30, 2023

What they're saying: Will Nick Nurse finally be the coach to break the Sixers through?

Nick Nurse and the Sixers are a good fit on paper, but the true judge will be whether the team is playing past the second round next year.

The Sixers have their new head coach, and Nick Nurse has his new team. 

Is it a perfect match for both? Right now it seems like the solid and most sensible fit on paper, but the ultimate judge of that will be whether the team is still playing past the second round of the playoffs come next spring. 

There's a long way to go and for now, especially since word broke on a holiday, only so much to glean. 

We'll know a bit more in the coming days once Nurse is officially introduced as head coach, but here's some of the initial reaction from our own Kyle Neubeck

The primary question Nurse has to answer as Sixers head coach is what his offense will look like while centered around (at minimum) Joel Embiid, or perhaps around [James Harden] and Embiid if the former returns as a free agent. Nurse's teams struggled in the halfcourt over the last two seasons as his creative talent left for greener pastures. It could very well be a product of circumstance, but Nurse's recent tendency to overtax his stars and rely on them to do the heavy lifting offensively could prove fatal for a team built around Embiid and Harden.
And now on to some immediate takes and analysis from surrounding local media. 

Here's what they're saying about Nick Nurse and the Sixers...

What took so long?

Keith Pompey | The Philadelphia Inquirer

Once Doc Rivers was fired and the coaching search began, there were a few big names on the immediate list of candidates for fans and media alike, but Nurse always seemed to be the favorite the entire time. 

It seems like that's how things were within the Sixers too. 

Per Keith Pompey, Nurse was not only a candidate who had everything the Sixers were looking for in their next coach, but he also met with Embiid during the interview process and, per a source, everyone looked like they walked away from the meeting on the same page. 

So much so to the point where Pompey wondered why Nurse's hiring took so long:

Let’s be honest: The Sixers were the best fit for Nurse because of his relationship with Morey, the team’s president of basketball operations. Meanwhile, the Sixers didn’t have a better candidate than Nurse.

He met with Embiid during the interview process, according to a league source. And the source said the meeting went well.

So on Monday, Nurse and the Sixers were working on a multiyear deal to be the team’s long-term coach.


After all, the Sixers were in need of a coach who Embiid respects, someone who can command a room, a proven winner who is known for making in-game adjustments. On paper, the team known for second-round failures has picked up a proven winner.

Nurse checks all the credibility boxes. [The Inquirer]

The toughest box to check

Rich Hofmann | The Athletic ($)

But of course, Nurse isn't taking up an easy gig. 

The Sixers bowed out in the second round of the playoffs once again, this time with a devastating implosion to Boston in Games 6 and 7, and all with their MVP superstar disappearing in the biggest moment

Nurse is creative and motivating in his own unique ways, but will that get the most out of Embiid when it matters the most and finally get the Sixers past that seemingly unbreakable second-round wall? 

Wrote Rich Hofmann:

Perhaps more than anything, Nurse’s success will ride on his ability to get the most out of one player in the biggest moments: Embiid.

Nurse comes to the Sixers at a crossroads for Embiid, who can’t find a way to get past the second round. As the Sixers’ best player, Embiid has the same issue as the team: He has the regular season figured out but is searching for answers in May and June.


Can Nurse get more out of Embiid in the postseason? Embiid and Nurse had a rivalry: Nobody double- and triple-teamed Embiid with more aggression than Toronto.

But there is respect between player and coach. Embiid is a hoops junkie who keeps close tabs on every team around the league. Before Embiid famously told Nurse to “stop bitching” about calls, Embiid made it clear: “He’s a great coach. Obviously, what he’s been able to accomplish and I’ve always been a big fan.”

It makes for a fascinating marriage. After falling short yet again, the Sixers are now turning to one of their greatest adversaries over recent years.

How much does the knowledge of being on the other side matter? We are about to find out. [The Athletic, $]

Finding every edge

Noah Levick | NBC Sports Philadelphia

It might work. It might not. 

But if Nurse's run in Toronto has taught the basketball world anything, he's going to look anywhere and everywhere for every last possible advantage, no matter how much it might go against convention.

And at this point, the Sixers really do need every last advantage. 

Wrote Noah Levick:

Nurse's philosophy leads him down some different paths. He’ll legitimately consider all options — heavy does of zone defense; full-court press as more than a last-ditch, desperation measure; a box-and-one; 48 minutes of blitzing and scrambling.

In its ideal form, that style unsettles, confuses, and frustrates opponents. Nurse forces adjustments and enjoys being proactive.

“(He’s a) mad scientist,” [Raptors president Masai Ujiri] told reporters in 2022. “That’s all I can say. Every day he’s thinking. He lives, he sleeps, he drinks the game. Always thinking of all the things that, hopefully, can give us an edge to win.”

Fresh off a fifth second-round exit in the past six years, the Sixers absolutely need those edges. [NBCSP]

So what about Harden?

Adrian Wojnarowski | ESPN

James Harden is set to become a free agent. His future with the Sixers is highly uncertain and with big money on the line, the current belief is that a return to the Houston Rockets is a highly-preferred option

But tucked into league insider Adrian Wojnarowski's story on Nurse's hiring was this bit of info:

He'll now be part of a Sixers organization working to re-sign James Harden, who is expected to become a free agent this summer. [ESPN]

So will the Sixers be prepping to try and run it back with Harden and Embiid again? Can they afford to – both financially and for the long-term health of the franchise?

Buckle up. This summer might have gotten a whole lot more interesting. 

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