'THE SUMMERTIME is where you make money," 76ers coach Brett Brown said yesterday. He was alluding to the work he believes his many borderline-NBA players must put in if they want to continue a career either here or elsewhere.
He could have been talking about general manager Sam Hinkie, though. Yesterday the players, coach and GM gathered for one last time before going their separate ways for the offseason, with the players and coaches also talking to the media.
Despite a season that produced only 19 wins, the third fewest in team history, the genuine mood the first day after the end of the season was mostly of hope and excitement for next season. Of course, many of the players will be happy just to get another chance to suit up for an NBA team. But for Brown and those who certainly will be in the mix next season, they really do believe they see a glimmer of light in the distance.
"Man, he did a tremendous job," Tony Wroten said of Brown. "Obviously, this is not your average NBA team. For him, the first time being a head coach to be thrown into the fire like this, he could have cracked or broke real fast, but he handled the situation really well. He had, like, six or seven rookies, not a lot of veterans, and he still stayed focused. No matter how many games we lost in a row, he still came into practice the next day like he was preparing for the playoffs."
When Brown was hired last summer, he said there was a plan. Then, and throughout the season, he talked of just trying to grow the talent. His reward isn't the amount of wins, but the fact that he'll probably have coached the rookie of the year in Michael Carter-Williams, turned borderline talents such as Wroten, Hollis Thompson, Henry Sims and James Anderson into serviceable NBA players, and kept an attitude that wouldn't seem possible for a group accumulating 63 regular-season losses.
"We dedicated the whole thing to development," Brown said. "We talked about implementing a culture with offense and defense and what does behavior mean off the court. That was where we hung our hat and we declared it from Day 1. It was a year of development.
"It's moving, whether it's the emergence of a practice facility, where you have your own home. Whether it's the draft opportunities coming up, influenced, obviously, by pingpong balls. Whether it's Sam Hinkie's talents continuing to be shown. How we act and behave and show up on time and coexist and have a level of spirit that we go about our business with, that means something to me. That's why I feel excited about [the fact] we're going in the direction we needed to go."
What players will surround him will be interesting. Besides the guys under contract, such as MCW, Thaddeus Young, Nerlens Noel and a couple of others, most of the players have non-guaranteed contracts. That ensures they'll be around when the team participates in summer leagues in Orlando and Las Vegas, and perhaps for training camp after that. There are so many questions with the seven draft picks they have in June (two in first round, five in second), a lot of cap space with which to work and the possible trade value of Young.
"It was a big learning experience for everybody, including the coaches," Carter-Williams said. "We were a team that never played together before. I had a lot of different teammates this year. I really just took it all in, learned a lot from the guys that were here and definitely had a good experience.
"We don't know who is going to be here, who isn't going to be here, what teammates we're going to have. All we can do is get better as individuals."
They'll have to. That is the plan laid out by the new GM and first-year coach. They say they didn't deviate this season, so doing anything but staying the course of development next year would be a shock.
"In August, I sat at a press table and accepted a position and laid out a 4-year type of vision," Brown said. "We measured that every single day. It was done in conjunction with Sam, and I feel strong that we stayed the course. We wanted to fly up and down the floor. We wanted to play with pace. We wanted to come in with a career-best fitness level. We said that in August, and here it is in April and we did that. We also led the league in turnovers, we were completely unbalanced in transition defense. How we use that will be another layer better next year.
"I look at it as, it's April and training camp starts in September. All of that time will be mapped out, with tremendous responsibility and precision on who does what and why. Everybody is going to have their own road map of what that particular person needs to do to improve and take care of their bodies."
That's where the money is made.