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Is Phil Handy the big sleeper in Nets coaching search?

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Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

No one knows when the NBA will be back, but the Nets will soon be looking for their next head coach. Maybe they already has. A lot of big names —mostly retreads who haven’t coached in years— have been mentioned, but as our Billy Reinhardt noted in handicapping candidates, there’s one sleeper, Phil Handy, an assistant coach with the Lakers ... and someone who’s been in the NBA Finals five straight seasons.

As Billy noted...

Handy is the wild card, under-the-radar choice in this search. Currently serving as an assistant coach with the Lakers, he’s a two-time NBA champion — with Irving and the Cavaliers in 2016 and the Raptors last season. He’s well respected around the league as a skills trainer and for what he brings as a coach — KD and Kyrie both follow him on Instagram. While in Cleveland, Handy was assigned to be Irving’s personal coach, going through workouts with him before each game. Many reports suggest that Handy was the coach Irving was closest with while in Cleveland — not Lue. If Irving and Durant truly have their way as decision makers in the Nets organization, it would make a whole lot of sense to see Handy in Brooklyn next season...

Brian Lewis spoke with Handy in L.A. on Wednesday. He admits he has had a good relationship with superstars, everyone from the late Kobe Bryant to Kawhi Leonard to ... Kyrie Irving.

“Obviously me and Kyrie spent four years together in Cleveland, tremendous growth for him,” Handy, 48, told The Post. “When I got to Cleveland, he was still a young kid just trying to figure it out. I was able to help him learn how to be a pro, and our relationship went way further than basketball.

“Off the court, we spent a lot of time together. We were neighbors. We lived two or three doors from each other, so it was a lot of growing and maturing.”

It’s more than that. It was Handy who introduced Kobe to Kyrie. He has good relations as well with Joe Harris, who played briefly on that 2018 title team before getting hurt and getting traded. Harris called Handy an “excellent coach.”

Moreover, Handy played professionally in Melbourne — where Irving was born, where his father played and where Nets performance team draws its key players. Dan Meehan, director of sports science; Les Gelis, director of sports medicine; and Daniel Jones, physical development coach all hail from Melbourne.

Handy also gave Lewis a thumbnail sketch of what motivates Irving. He won’t be happy unless he’s playing, Handy said.

“For him now, guys go through little phases in their careers where you hit little road bumps, you get some injuries,” Handy said. “He’s one of those guys, if he’s not playing basketball he’s not happy. So all of those things he’s going through are just growing pains.

“When he’s away from it — when he’s away from the court — guys that love the game that much, when they’re not able to play, different things begin to happen. But that kid’s future is still on the climb. He’s got a great future ahead of him. The more he can play, the happier he’ll be.”

Handy was non-committal about take a head coaching job ... but he didn’t say no.

“I’ve learned a lot about this business. One, I have a job — my focus is on my job here,” Handy said. “Whatever opportunities come, if it’s the right opportunity and it works out, I’ll be ready for it.”