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July 20, 2023

Who is Bryan Gates, the Sixers' newest assistant coach?

Gates is a well-traveled veteran coach, who like Nick Nurse, took an unorthodox path to the NBA. He's also highly regarded as a relationship builder, which might be critical to this year's Sixers.

While Sixers fans would be more excited about the team poaching a free agent who can help them on the floor, the franchise managed to snag a coach away from another job opportunity, after assistant coach Bryan Gates was lured away from the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday evening.

Gates, who had most recently been with the Phoenix Suns as a member of Monty Williams' staff, was all set to join Jason Kidd's staff in Dallas this offseason. According to Adrian Wojnarowski's initial reporting on Wednesday evening, it was the prospect of a "significant step up in role" that allowed the Sixers to steal him away from Luka Doncic and the Mavericks.

While he isn't a big-name guy in the way that Rico Hines and Bobby Jackson are, Gates adds a good bit of experience to Philadelphia's bench. A veteran of 15 years at the NBA level, Gates has been on the staffs in New Orleans, Minnesota, and Sacramento, in addition to serving as a head coach in the G-League and other, less prominent pro leagues. Gates is well-traveled, with stops in Florence, Beirut, and throughout middle America, as he attempted to make a name for himself after graduating from Boise State in the late 1990s.

(On Beirut, Gates once described the complexities of coaching there to the Minnesota Star-Tribune, as he would cross the border between Lebanon and Syria for multiple games per year: "One of the most disturbing sights I’ve ever seen in my life. People living in tarps, it rained and it was wet and mud and tarps. People were trying to get out and here we are, riding a bus over the border to play a basketball game.”)

Deep in Nick Nurse's CV is where you'll find the first connection between the two men. In a role reversal, it was Gates serving as a head coach on the staff of the Oklahoma Storm in the USBL, with Nurse briefly serving as an assistant under Gates before heading back to England for a gig leading the Brighton Bears. Their shared experience as coaches who took unorthodox paths to NBA benches — Gates is a native of Anchorage, Alaska, hardly a basketball powerhouse — no doubt bonds them together in some unique ways.

In his most recent gig with the Suns, Gates' focus was on the defensive side of the ball, though it's unclear if that will continue to be the case on Nurse's staff. During Gates' two years with the Suns, Phoenix finished toward the top of the league rankings on that side of the ball, seventh in 2022-23 and third in 2022-21 during the regular season. While those results did not hold up in the playoffs, Gates' work on defense helped provide the Suns with a two-way floor that helped them win a ton of games.

Another point of interest from his time in Phoenix — Gates was said to have spent a good bit of his time with the wing pair of Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, who have since moved on to the Brooklyn Nets. While I wouldn't go so far as to call him a "wing guru" or anything of that nature, the Sixers are currently at a deficit of wings on the roster, so any growth they can get from the few they have right now will be essential. De'Anthony Melton, who is heading into a contract year this season, is one of a small handful of players Philly could use a big step forward from.

Perhaps most importantly, Gates has been praised as a relationship builder, a motivator, and a man who can develop talent, reflected in the Coach of the Year awards he won in the G-League in 2007 and 2008.

“Having worked with Bryan for a season, I gained tremendous respect for his basketball acumen and ability to work with players,” former Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said back in 2019, when Gates was hired to join his staff in Minnesota. “I saw firsthand how he creates relationships with players and coaches, as well his attention to detail and ability to teach the game. We are excited to have him on our staff.”

Bridge-building is going to be a key trait for anyone in Philadelphia this season, whether that means trying to get James Harden back on board or working with Nick Nurse to keep Joel Embiid content with his situation. If Gates can pitch in there beyond what he offers in tactics/X's and O's, he'll add plenty of value to the bench.

And look, anybody who can go 23-0 coaching a team called the "Hickory Nutz" has to be onto something. 

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

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