Brett Brown is a loser.
That’s what the numbers say, anyway.
No head coach in the NBA over the course of the last three years has lost more games than Brown has in Philadelphia, yet because of the circumstances, all that losing has come with an incredible amount of patience. In fact, Brown is widely considered to be an excellent coach—one of the many promising offshoots of the Gregg Popovich Coaching Tree—but he hasn’t been given much to work with during his first three seasons with the Sixers.
That, of course, has changed this year, as Philadelphia is just two games shy of tying Brown’s season record for wins, and there’s still almost half a season to go. In a lot of ways, he has turned the corner with his organization, and it has everything to do with the quality and growing experience of his young core.
“They work hard. They really believe that good days add up,” Brown said before Sunday night’s loss to the Chicago Bulls. “I respect their professionalism, how they come into a gym, how they come into the weight room, how they come into a weight session, how they let me coach them. They are a good group… Collectively you get punched around at the start of the year and we all take our hits, but nobody caves in. Nobody pivots into a different direction. What we’re doing now, we did in training camp. There are no new players, no new plays. I think they just really believe they’re getting better, and wins along the way validate that belief.”
Those wins haven’t gone to anybody’s head, however. Despite the team’s recent success, they still are 12 games below .500 and a full five games out of the playoff picture. Brown understands the team still has a ways to go. He also appreciates the challenge of balancing the progress associated with winning and the struggles that come with developing young talent.
“We’re in the infant stages of figuring out what people can do,” he admitted. “I walk this line in Philadelphia of trying to develop our guys, of experimenting with rotations and trying to win. These things don’t coexist. They are sort of mutually exclusive. They don’t overlap. As far as when have we arrived? We’re a long ways in my eyes away from doing what I want to do and what we want to do as an organization. We want to be among the annually-elite teams in the NBA, and that takes a lot. It’s a well-administered league, it’s a well-coached league, and it certainly is a well-played league. It’s still a very distant feeling.”
In the meantime, he’s tasked with bringing along his youngsters, wins be damned.
“There’s no book that tells you how to [balance everything],” he said. “We’re still in a development phase. That’s still part of my job. When I see Robert Covington’s growth, T.J. McConnell’s growth, I feel like we’re achieving the broad-based goal that the organization has set out.”
Even though there’s still so much work to be done, Brown believes his team is starting to understand what it takes to be the elite team he believes they can be.
“I tell our guys all the time: you start looking at those guys who are walking off the court on June 17th, and you’re just blown away at what you really have to do to be the last man standing. Everything we talk about in Philadelphia is about playoff mentality, playoff preparation, and it’s to harden our guys and to remind them, this is where we want to get to.”
In the meantime, Brown continues to take an incredible amount of pride in the work he’s doing with what has been the league’s worst team over the last three seasons. This is a job that would have broken many other men, and so many other coaches would have quit or been fired after the first year or two. Somehow, Brown continues on, and he’s a good enough coach to deserve the turn he’s starting to see in Philadelphia. We should all be so lucky to feel the same tangible success in our own careers.
“You didn’t take this job to build your coaching record. You took it for a whole different set of circumstances,” he said. “I have learned since coaching in Philadelphia, we are able to hold a locker room and survive the abundance of losses. People think the plan was hard, but it actually was kind of easy. I was able to tell the guys candidly, we will get better. We will develop you. We will care for your future, and we’re going to help grow you guys. You may not be here a long time, but in the time that you’re here you’re going to get our best effort and opportunity.
“When guys look around and they wonder about their own future, and they wonder whether or not they’re going to be a part of it when this thing finally kicks in, I feel very transparent and candid with my players. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I do know that when you’re with me and you’re with us, we’re going to give you our A-plus effort. We’re going to give you everything we’ve got to make you better and teach you the lay of the land. Let me coach you, let me help you get to wherever you’re going to be, and that has helped me hold the locker room together through these difficult years of losing.”
The losses are fewer and farther between, and the future looks even brighter than the present. Brown may technically have been a loser for three seasons while Sam Hinkie’s “process” got underway, but with new management in Philadelphia and now plenty of talent, the tides are turning.
Frankly, Brown deserves to see some success after those first three dismal years with the Sixers.
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