SINCE LARRY Brown left for Detroit after the 2002-03 season, the 76ers have tried seven different coaches to hold down the position. Seven coaches have been hired during the past 10 seasons, and seven have gone, from Randy Ayers to Doug Collins (with Chris Ford, Jim O'Brien, Maurice Cheeks, Tony DiLeo and Eddie Jordan in between). Cheeks lasted three seasons plus 23 games into a fourth. Collins had the second-longest tenure during that time, having stepped down in April after three seasons at the helm.
Yesterday, a source close to the situation confirmed to the Daily News that Brett Brown, who spent the past seven seasons on the bench as an assistant coach to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, had reached an agreement in principle for a 4-year contract to become the eighth head coach in the past 11 seasons.
"He's going to be a great coach, he's really knowledgeable, has great energy, great vision at both ends of the court and a great way with players," said Mike Budenholzer, who was an assistant with Brown in San Antonio before taking the Atlanta head coaching job in late May. "Players respect him. He's demanding but they love him. He's got a great sense of humor but he's a great competitor, too. The competitive nature for Brett may be with his good nature, but he's a tough, competitive dude and that's more important to him than anything. In that city he's a fit, because he's blue-collar and he's a tough dude. He's a competitive person in every way, shape and form at every moment. At this level everyone is a competitor, but Brett has that extra level of competitiveness."
Brown met with Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie on Wednesday last week in New York. It wasn't the first meeting between the two as Hinkie, then an assistant GM with the Houston Rockets, met with Brown for a position with that team a couple years ago.
The Sixers have been without a head coach since Collins resigned on April 18, the day after the season finale completed a 34-48 campaign. Since then there have been numerous rumors and a plethora of names bantered about as to who may replace Collins, with Brown usually in the mix. The team made no official announcement of the hiring, nor as to when Brown may be introduced as the new head coach, but a source indicated it could be as early as tomorrow.
A source told the Daily News on Friday that the job "was Brown's if he wanted it." Another source said that Brown wanted to make sure that years 3 and 4 were guaranteed, as his new team is in complete rebuilding mode.
"I think this is a great hire for the Sixers," said Malik Rose, current analyst of Sixers games on Comcast SportsNet and a member of the Spurs for 3 years when Brown was on staff as director of player development. "During a time when the fans of the team feel alienated, Brett is the kind of guy Sixers fans will love. He shoots from the hip, is a gym rat, energetic and the type of coach players really respond to. He doesn't sugarcoat things. He tells players what he wants and how he wants it. He knows how to motivate and he's a great teacher of the game."
Brown, 52, played collegiate ball at Boston University under head coach Rick Pitino. He was the MVP as a sophomore and remains sixth on the school's all-time list in assists (404) and ninth in steals (141). After his college career, Brown became a graduate assistant to John Kuester. He ended up in Australia, where he eventually became an assistant coach for the Australian national team. For four seasons he was an assistant to head coach Lindsay Gaze before spending 14 years as a head coach in the Australian National Basketball League. He was an assistant for the national team for eight seasons before becoming head coach in 2009. He was at the helm for the team during the 2012 Olympics, in which Australia advanced to the medal round.
The new coach certainly will have plenty of tough times ahead as the organization is still trying to dig out from trading its lone All-Stars the last two seasons. Last summer Andre Iguodala was dealt as part of a four-team deal that sent him to Denver and landed the Sixers Andrew Bynum. The 7-footer, of course, never stepped foot on the court and cost the Sixers not only Iguodala but Moe Harkless, Nikola Vucevic and a first-round draft pick.
On draft night in June, Hinkie shocked many by dealing point guard Jrue Holiday to the New Orleans Pelicans for Nerlens Noel and a lottery-protected draft pick. Brown is now inheriting a roster filled with holes, a reliable scorer and apparently a rookie (11th overall pick Michael Carter-Williams) manning the starting lead-guard spot.
Brown became director of player development in San Antonio in 2002 and was part of three NBA titles with the Spurs. When Brown was a candidate for the Nuggets job a few months ago, Popovich told the Denver Post: "We all know him as a lifer basketball guy who lives and breathes the game. He is an idea guy daily, just bubbling over and we all know that about him. But he's also a wonderful, humor-filled person who is filled with kindness."
With Brown now getting the job, it means that Michael Curry, who has overseen all on-court basketball activities since Collins' departure, most likely will be looking for employment elsewhere. Curry was the associate head coach in each of Collins' three seasons and had most recently coached the Sixers' entry in the Orlando Pro Summer League last month. Curry, as well as assistants Jeff Capel and Aaron McKie, are all under contract for the upcoming season. While it seems likely that Brown will bring in his own coaching staff, it wouldn't be surprising if McKie remained. The Temple product has been on staff here since 2007 and brings a knowledge and familiarity to the team and city that a new coach might covet.
"Brett was the good guy to Coach Pop's [Popovich] bad guy a lot of times," Rose said. "He was great at getting players to do what Pop wanted them to do, but delivered the message in a different way. He's such a good guy. Manu [Ginobili] is a very intense guy, and Brett talked him off the ledge many times. He has a great way with players and with everybody. This is probably going to be a really good fit."