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Is Brett Brown really a coaching genius?

CAMDEN, NJ – JULY 12: on July 12, 2019 at the Philadelphia 76ers Training Complex in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images)

Everyone pretty much believes that the Philadelphia 76ers have underachieved under coach Brett Brown the past couple seasons. Maybe, just maybe, he is such a great coach that are expectations are too high for the talent he has been given.

Coaches in Philly:

Many Eagles fans thought Doug Pederson should have been fired early in his second year, when he went on to win a Super Bowl. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was continually put down as a bumbling bumpkin – until he won the 2008 World Series.

So championship coaches have been put down a lot in recent Philly sports history.

Of course, there is always a lot of hype surrounding the 76ers. Either there are ripped around the country for losing on purpose during ‘The Process’ or ripped for whatever people can think of to rip them, because they will be upset if the Sixers do well, which means The Process was a success.

Either way, Brett Brown was going to get attacked for his coaching ability. Hired by Sam Hinkie at the birth of the tanking, he now finds himself, according to multiple sources, having to reach at least the NBA or conference finals to keep his job.

Brown is kind of low-key guy. He never looks for any kind of accolades, he just likes to coach.

Looking at Brett Brown:

So here is a possibility that few might agree with behind the cacophony of ‘Brown Must Go’ that fills social media and talk shows: Brown makes the team look better than it really should be so he catches flack due to outsized expectations brought on by his superb coaching.

Let us start from the beginning. When Brown was hired his job was mainly to keep the spirits up of a revolving door of misfits, fringe players, not good enough to be fringe players, injured first-round picks and other various flotsam and jetsam Hinkie would hand him to develop – while losing lots of games.

Despite a mandate to not win a lot, Brown’s 76ers the first two seasons only had the third worst record in the NBA (which might be a comment on the incompetency of some NBA execs).

It was only in Brown’s third year, when Hinkie had bungled the point guard position so badly that the Sixers really had no one to bring up a basketball, that the Sixers finally were the worst in the NBA.

Increasing Expectations

But with Joel Embiid finally sort of healthy (for all of 31 games), Brown guided the team to 28 wins in the 2016-17 season. The city was so excited by the team’s rise into ‘not horrible’ status the Center was sold out for the next year (and has continued to be so).

With Ben Simmons ready to go the following year and some key free agent pick ups like JJ Redick, the 76ers suddenly rose to 52-30 record and third place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of LeBron James’ Cavaliers team.

So Brown in the space of two years had gone from 10 to 52 victories. Pretty good accomplishment for a coach.

The 4-1 loss to Boston in the conference semi’s left a bad taste in a lot of peoples mouths. Many felt the Celtics’ Brad Stevens had badly outcoached Brown.

Losing to Boston

But, if you look at the series, the Celtics were a bad matchup for the Sixers, a team filled with athletic wings going against a squad of poor defensive wings. Oh, and it did not take a coaching wizard to figure out Simmons could not shoot from outside and to slack off him.

Yet, if Marco Belinelli’s buzzer-beater in Game 4 is six inches farther away and Redick does not miss a WIDE OPEN three-point shot near the end of Game 5, the series easily could have gone seven games. Plus, remember outside of Redick, the Sixers had very little playoff experience.

The following season was the ‘Year of the 3 teams’.

Last Season:

Brown had to coach basically the team from the year from before to start the season, then two starters (Dario Saric and Robert Covington) were gone and the cantakerous Jimmy Butler arrived instead. Then there was the addition of Tobias Harris (and the losing of sharpshooter Landry Shamet and some bench players) for the final couple of months of the season.

If continuity is important to a team’s success, that was not something Brown could count on.

Yet, with virtually no bench, four centers he could not play clogging the roster, Simmons still unable to shoot outside, and Embiid sick for the middle games, it still took a lucky shot by Kawhi Leonard to eliminate them in Game 7 in Toronto.

Instead of being applauded for pushing the eventual NBA champions to the limit, rumors swirled that Brown would be fired due to — that is a good question.

With all the players (except the soon to be gone Butler) lauding the job he had down in the post-season interviews, Brown came back for this year.

Offseason Moves:

General manager Elton Brand handed Brown a team with lots of size and little shooting as gone were Butler and Redick and arriving were Al Horford and Josh Richardson. The team’s shortest starter was Richardson at 6-foot-6.

In 1997 the Sixers might have rolled to the NBA title but, in the current three-point happy NBA, having a team of big guys, none of whom is a particularly good outside shooter, is a big anomaly.

‘Clunky’ has best described the starting five of Embiid-Horford-Harris-Richardson and Simmons when they were on offense. Things got so bad that Horford was eventually taken out of the starting lineup despite inking a four-year, $103 million contract last July.

Because they spent so much money to get Horford (an error by management, not Brown), the Sixers could only sign for the bench, guys willing to play for minimum salaries. To make matters worse, the two subs who saw a decent amount of playing time in the playoffs last year, Mike Scott and James Ennis, started out in slumps and Ennis was eventually dealt to Orlando.

So what did Brown do when he was dealt such a mismatched hand?

Player Development:

He developed Furkan Korkmaz, a castoff ready to head back to Turkey in the offseason, into an effective bomber off the bench. Eased rookie Matisse Thybulle into becoming a defensive terror without being too reckless and promoted Shake Milton, an ex- G-Leaguer who had flopped as a summer league point guard, into an effective guard who scored 39 points against the Clippers.

The Sixers bench suddenly was not so awful. Horford was certainly a better backup for Embiid (albeit an expensive one) so the team did not fall apart when the big guy was not playing, and, with the addition of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III in February, the team was now awash in swing players who could shoot.

At home, the Sixers were virtually unbeatable, going an NBA-best 29-2 before play was stopped. Yes, the team had a miserable road record, but the roar of the crowd was not there to help Brown cover up the cracks in his roster.

Heading into the Bubble:

The 76ers enter the NBA bubble as only No,. 6 in the Eastern Conference but no one is taking them as an also-ran. Experts tag them as a team to watch and Brown talks about the quiet confidence the players have about the remainder of the season.

The job of an NBA coach is more than just running practices and diagramming plays. Particularly in today’s NBA, a coach has to be able to communicate with players. Outside of Butler, no player has really had a bad word to say about Brown. When general manager Jerry Colangelo resigned after ‘Burnergate’, Brown was named interim GM because he had such a great reputation with potential free agents.

Player development is also a key aspect of a coach’s duties. To start, it appeared players like Covington, T.J. McConnell and Korkmaz had little chance of sticking on an NBA roster but now they are all well-entrenched veterans.

Brown has not stood pat in the four months since their last game. He has tinkered with the lineup, moving Milton to the starting point guard spot and Simmons to power forward, a spot he was effective during stretches before the stoppage.

In Conclusion:

Brett Brown has the team believing in itself, the opponents worried and everyone anticipating the final eight games of the regular season and the playoffs.

If the Sixers end up making a run, maybe, just maybe, Brett Brown will be hailed as a coaching genius.

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