For the last four seasons, Brett Brown has captained a publicly sinking ship.
Since being hired for the first time as an NBA head coach back in 2013, Brown has lost 253 games with the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown’s teams have never finished higher than 4th in the Atlantic Division, and until last season, his clubs couldn’t even crack the 20-win plateau.
However, when Brown took the Sixers job nearly four years ago, he knew this was going to happen. At the time, it was unchartered territory for Brown, a disciple of Gregg Popovich.
“You get excited to be a part of the rebuild,” Brown said back in 2013. “We all know the pain of the rebuild is real. There needs to be patience. I have not been a part of a rebuild since I was in the NBA. The rebuild has to be keeping the locker room together.”
The Sixers’ rebuild over the last four years has been one of the more documented and followed rebuilds of any sports team in recent memory. Much to their own accord, the Sixers fielded teams that probably would’ve struggled to compete in high school prep leagues, all for the chance to improve their draft position and build a championship contender organically. The bulk of that plan was spearheaded by former general manager Sam Hinkie. His game plan was simple: lose games and acquire assets.
When you look at the assets Philadelphia has now, it’s hard to question the method as to how they got them. Two straight number one overall picks, two finalists for Rookie of the Year last season, and still plenty of draft picks in the bank. Quite frankly, the Sixers are in one of the more enviable positions in the entire league.
Yet, for all of the promise on the horizon, Brown still stands to enter his fifth season as head coach while possessing just a .229 winning percentage.
And despite the gross record, Brown’s still the perfect man for the job to see the Sixers’ rebuild enter its next stage.
Gone are the days of Brown having to run out a lineup featuring the likes of Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims. Next season the former Spurs assistant will be able to tinker lineups with players like Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric. The Sixers have real talent on their roster for the first time since Brown was brought into the fold. No more is Brown being asked to babysit a roster full of fringe NBA players with no real discernible league talent.
Even without being given a chance to succeed, Brown still caught criticism for the Sixers’ woes. As the team’s head coach, that’s to be expected, despite the unique situation. As recent as early last season, Brown was chastised for running ineffective inbounds plays in late-game situations.
Yes, a coach and team who couldn’t reach 20 wins in a season for the previous three seasons in a row were being scrutinized for losing close games to the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers.
While that’s the nature of the beast, it’s unrealistic to expect players with no prior experience of competing late in games to suddenly be able to land knockout blows to the league’s heavyweights.
Despite the early season bumps last year, and the echoes of “fire Brett Brown” ringing through Philadelphia sports radio, the coach delivered the city their most exciting month of basketball in over three years, effectively silencing his critics for the time being.
Last January, the Sixers were 10-5. The team didn’t have top overall pick, Ben Simmons, as he was sidelined with a foot injury. The team’s most talented player at the time, Joel Embiid, wasn’t allowed to suit up for back-to-back games. And when he was on the court, Embiid was pulled from action when he reached 28 minutes of game play.
Other than that, Brown worked with Saric, T.J. McConnell, Sergio Rodriguez, Timothe Luwawu-Cabbarrot and other unproven players to steer one of the hottest starts to the new year around the league. During that span, the Sixers outscored their opponent on average for just the second month in Brown’s entire tenure. The last time the team accomplished that feat was Brown’s first month on the job when there was still veteran talent left over from the Doug Collins regime.
Brown has shown that he’s capable of making adjustments and winning games even with just the bare minimum of talent on the court. With a roster full of budding talents and some veteran leadership sprinkled in, Brown is poised to show the city of Philadelphia, and the rest of the NBA, just exactly what he can do as a head coach.
Even Redick, fresh off four seasons contending in the Western Conference with the Los Angeles Clippers shares a hopeful sentiment for what Brown brings to the table.
Despite the $23 million Redick will make next season as a part of the one-year deal he signed with the Sixers in free agency, the veteran shooting guard believes the Maine native head coach was the team’s biggest selling point.
“I think Coach Brown was really the biggest factor in me going to Philly,” Redick said.
To go from consistently competing in playoff basketball to the league’s worst team over the last handful of seasons is a huge downgrade from a player perspective, even despite the paycheck. But the faith Redick showed in Brown by signing with Philadelphia for next year, and even going as far as to say “I’m hoping this is sort of a long-term thing and I can kind of grow with these guys,” is further proof that there are veterans in this league with winning experience that trust Brown to take them into battle.
As the Sixers field their most talented team in recent memory next season, Brown finally has the opportunity to show everyone why he was hired by Philadelphia in the first place: to turn this team into a contender.
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