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Inside the 76ers: Why is Mike D'Antoni with the Sixers?

CLEVELAND - Brett Brown called the addition of Mike D'Antoni as his associate head coach on the 76ers a good thing - one that will "make me better."

CLEVELAND - Brett Brown called the addition of Mike D'Antoni as his associate head coach on the 76ers a good thing - one that will "make me better."

"You have a resource next to you," Brown said after Saturday's practice. "You can combine philosophical beliefs."

He's right. Brown and D'Antoni can sit in a back room and talk for hours about basketball. The Sixers third-year coach can share what he learned while winning four NBA titles as a longtime assistant with the San Antonio Spurs. D'Antoni can enlighten Brown on what enabled him to win the NBA's 2004-05 coach of the year award.

But let's face it: D'Antoni wasn't hired just to assist Brown with offensive X's and O's, regardless of how the Sixers try to spin it. The former head coach is here to be the eyes and ears while new chairman of basketball operations Jerry Colangelo is more than 2,000 miles away in Phoenix.

So in reality, D'Antoni is the most powerful team employee not named Colangelo.

"If I'm Brett Brown, I'm pretty uneasy," an NBA executive said on condition of anonymity. ". . . [Colangelo is] doing it under the [thought] of helping Brett become a better coach, strengthening their bench.

"But in reality, he's reporting back to Jerry Colangelo. . . . 'Do you think Brett's doing a good job? Do you think Brett knows what he's doing on the offensive end of things? When you lose a game or your player is not playing well, what is Brett doing about it?' "

But Brown is safer than most with the Sixers - especially folks in the front office. After all, he isn't the reason why the NBA stepped in and urged the team to hire Colangelo.

Brown has been in constant communication with Colangelo. In his short time with the Sixers, the Hall of Fame executive has become someone Brown can bounce ideas off.

And the team has given every indication that his job is secure. The Sixers and Brown agreed to a two-year contract extension that runs through the 2018-19 season. The announcement came hours before word leaked that D'Antoni was in talks with Colangelo and Brown.

That leads to questions regarding the timing of his contract extension, especially since general manager Sam Hinkie had been noncommittal for months. The Sixers said they basically agreed on the extension on Dec. 6, the day before Colangelo was introduced.

Why wait five days to announce it? Was it to avoid having Brown look like a lame-duck coach, and having D'Antoni appear to be his coach-in-waiting replacement?

Sources have said D'Antoni isn't the type of person who would stab Brown, or anyone else, in the back for a coaching job.

It's too soon to say whether Brown is the Sixers' long-term answer. He's compiled a 38-154 record while getting the best out of squads constructed to fail. His best team was the one he coached two seasons ago. The opening day starters were Michael Carter-Williams, James Anderson, Evan Turner, Thad Young, and Spencer Hawes. That squad opened the season 3-0 before finishing 19-63. None of those players are still around.

Last season's Sixers finished 18-64. This season's team is by far the worst of the three.

It only boasts a few legitimate NBA players. And less than half of them know the meaning of defense. Yet he gets the Sixers (1-27) to play hard even though the mounting losses are inevitable.

But over his tenure he has never had to answer to anyone in regard to coaching decisions. He was able to implement things he learned in San Antonio and while coaching the Australian national team.

Now Brown gets a veteran assistant with a resumé (12 years as a head coach) greater than his after being accustomed to having a youthful staff.

"He's a hell of a resource and a hell of a coach," Brown said of D'Antoni. "I think we're all going to benefit."

But all coaches have egos and, to a certain extent, insecurities.

So what happens if they disagree on coaching philosophies or late-game management? What happens if D'Antoni doesn't like the way practices are run?

"In the short term, yes, it's great that D'Antoni comes here," the anonymous NBA executive said. "But you know, there's a reason why he's there. It's not only to help coach. He's the eyes and ears."

We'll just have to see.