MIAMI - This past season, as horrific as the 19-63 record may indicate it was, will not be swept under the carpet by first-year Sixers coach Brett Brown. He will not hide from it, won't deny it and won't try to defend it.
It was exactly what he expected when he signed his 4-year, guaranteed contract in August. Perhaps the win total was a little south of his expectations, but that was never the mark by which he was going to judge the season. So now that his first season is behind him after last night's 100-87 win against the Miami Heat, the excitement of moving this rebuilding project forward hasn't been dampened, but rather only heightened in the coach's eyes.
"I wouldn't call it relief as much as I would call it excitement," Brown said of the season's end. "Really. I'm not taking deep breaths and saying that I'm glad this is over. I'm not doing that at all. What I see is just how exciting the next phase is going to be. And that trumps all of my emotions. It certainly isn't one of relief.
"It continues to be the individual development, the improvement. It's just been a year where we've delivered on what we've said we were going to - uncover young people, help them develop, give them opportunities - and I'm proud to say that we've done that, and surprisingly under a roof that has bonded and produced tremendous chemistry and for the most part plays each night with their best efforts."
The weeks and months ahead will be as important to the organization's future as the 82 games that were played. There is the June draft, in which the Sixers now have two first round picks and five second-rounders. There will be free agency, trade talks and competition in two summer leagues in which the new rookies and injured Nerlens Noel will give a sample of what next season may hold.
"It is so complicated," Brown said of getting ready for the offseason. "I will be led by Sam [Hinkie, the general manager]. I've gone through a very system-oriented process for the past 12 years with an organization [San Antonio] that has proven that they've made way more good decisions than bad decisions. That is Sam's strength. I've got faith in Sam. It is a very large reason why I'm here.
"I'm going to let him use me the way he wants to use me. That's pretty much my nature, to immerse myself into it all and by highly opinionated. Somewhere out there, analytics people, and Sam, as the architect of all of it, and coaches will share in an opinion and the club will roll with it. Ultimately, that's Sam's responsibility and why he was hired, and I'm thrilled to be with him."
The Heat decided to rest stars LeBron James and Chris Bosh, along with fellow starter Mario Chalmers and key reserve Chris Andersen in the last game before it starts its playoff push in the hunt for its third consecutive title. So the game for the second-seeded Heat was nothing more than one final run before the playoffs begin and a chance to get some work in for Dwyane Wade, who was playing his third consecutive game after missing nine with a hamstring injury.
So the Sixers took advantage, bookending their season with wins over the defending champs. Afterward, Brown said he was grateful for his players' coachability.
"It's a close team," he said. "They are good people. They genuinely care. They truly allowed me to coach them, and I appreciate that, more than people might know."
Thaddeus Young led the Sixers with 20 points and nine rebounds. Michael Carter-Williams scored 12 and Brandon Davies 11, while James Anderson, Henry Sims and Casper Ware had 10 each. Ware's was a career high.
Wade scored 16 points in just over 23 minutes for the Heat (55-27).
The players will meet with Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown today for their exit meetings, then head their separate ways. Brown said he will head home to San Antonio and visit with his former team, the Spurs . . . The players and Brown will speak to the media one last time today. Hinkie will not . . . Adonis Thomas dislocated his right pinkie in the second quarter and did not return . . . Chris Bosh was in street clothes on the bench, though there was no sign of LeBron James.