Sixers coach needs management's help
Jahlil Okafors reported missteps have made Brett Browns job even more daunting, as he alone is addressing it.
MEMPHIS - There is a scene in the movie "Field of Dreams" where Ray Kinsella watches jealously as Terence Mann gets ready to join the ghosts of baseball legends in the cornfield.
"I did it all," said Kinsella, played by Kevin Costner. "I listened to the voices, I did what they told me, and not once did I ask what's in it for me."
Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) asks: "What are you saying, Ray?" Kinsella responds: "I'm saying, what's in it for me?"
He would never say it, or even hint at it, but you have to wonder if Brett Brown isn't starting to think a little bit like Ray Kinsella. He is the one who is at the front line of the Sixers' organizational debacle that has now churned out 28 consecutive losses going back to last season, 18 of them this season. On most days when the media gets to meet with Brown, his hair is a bit mussed, like he just walked out of a windstorm.
It's no wonder, really, as he is caught in the middle of a dizzying situation that appears to be whirling out of control, and only some of it has to do with all the losing.
He is the one who must answer the questions about losing each and every day. He is the one who has to attempt to put out the fires created recently by Jahlil Okafor.
Early on Thanksgiving morning, Okafor was in an altercation outside a bar in Boston after a game against the Celtics. Then reports surfaced that he had been involved in an October incident in Old City that resulted in someone pulling a gun on him. On Sunday, a source confirmed to the Daily News that Okafor had been pulled over for driving in excess of 100 mph earlier this month on the Ben Franklin Bridge.
All the while, as owner Josh Harris is disrupting a youth soccer game by having a helicopter land in the middle of a North Jersey field, and general manager Sam Hinkie stays clear of the media, Brown suffers through.
And if that isn't enough, Brown is the guy who has to put a team on an NBA floor, bereft of much NBA talent. He's had to do that 182 times now, and has gotten rewarded with just 37 wins. Some of that, it can be argued, may partly be his doing. Most of it, however, goes directly to the front office.
There are many who believe veteran leadership is something a young team like this sorely needs, yet there is no one currently playing who has more than a couple of years in the league. But that issue wasn't addressed during the offseason. There is no doubt that the Sixers could have ended their losing streak in one of the four games prior to Sunday, had Brown looked down his bench and been able to call upon a veteran point guard to "walk down the game," as the coach likes to say. But management didn't give him that to begin the season.
Ish Smith isn't the answer at point guard, moving forward. But he is a veteran who is affable, listened to and respected. More than that, Nerlens Noel loved playing with him. Couldn't (shouldn't) management have thrown a bone to Noel by bringing Smith back? Even if it "costs" you an extra win or two?
"We are very proud of the infrastructure that we've built," said the dutiful Brown. "To think that you're going to build a program that we have built, which is dominated by 19- and 20-year-old kids, and for there not to be problems is very, very, very naive. We're not hiding from anything."
Brown says "we," but he appears to be all alone in having to deal with all the pitfalls that this process is producing. It's just not fair. If management watches firsthand what happens day in and day out - and it doesn't appear that management is watching - it would see the man needs a life vest because, whether he acknowledges it or not, he is doing a little bit of drowning every day.
Wouldn't it take a little of the burden off Brown if Hinkie would speak to the media when a negative story about the team arises? Wouldn't it help Brown a bit if the general manager strongly endorsed Brown as his coach moving forward, maybe even extending him past next season, when his contract runs out?
"A lot does fall on me because I'm just with them day-to-day," Brown said. "I view my job as one that is way more than a basketball coach. My world is steep, my world is deep with a lot of things on my plate, but I do have the resources around me to assist me.
"I feel capable. I want the responsibility to help grow our guys because I'm in front of you, I'm told, 456 times last year. It is unique, it is unusual, it is challenging all over the place. I don't feel like the organization is hiding. I feel like I just happen to be here a lot."
Brown spoke of having a daughter the same age as the 19-year-old Okafor, and having similar concerns. But Brown's daughter hasn't been involved in an altercation at a bar in the wee hours of the morning like Okafor has been - not once, but reportedly twice. That's not to say that Okafor is a wayward kid. It is a sign, though, that the team needs to get a better hold of its young players, and that starts with management. There have just been too many instances over the past couple of years to ignore.
Two years ago, according to sources, there was a traffic stop in New Jersey of a car occupied by four Sixers players. There was a small amount of pot found in the car, a source said, but there were no charges. The majority of those players are no longer with the team.
There is the fact that Nerlens Noel was fined heavily and often, to the tune of around $25,000, according to a source, for repeated tardiness and other violations during his first season, which he missed due to a knee injury.
Joel Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014 due to a foot injury. The team has taken disciplinary action against him numerous times for poor eating and workout habits.
Brown and his players never meet with the media before getting a long talking-to from the team's public-relations staff, a sort of semi-gag order. They need to get a stronger grip in other places.
Brown has been exceptional at dealing with this process, but he has been handed a roster that boasts only a few players who could latch on with another team. The off-the-court issues should not be forced on him, too. He has masterfully corralled a losing locker room for two-plus seasons. It should be someone else's job to make sure everything else is in line off the court.
It's time for management to do something for the coach. It's hard to imagine the burden he is shouldering. You wonder if Ray Kinsella's words haven't crossed Brown's mind at some point.