CLEVELAND - For the 76ers, if there is no effort, then really, there is nothing. There is no sense in looking forward to the rebuild. There is no sense in taking the floor as a respected underdog each and every night, and there is no reason for many players on the current roster to pursue the dream of a future in the NBA.
Lately, including Sunday's 108-86 loss to Cleveland, that has been the case for coach Brett Brown's team. We all know how incomparable the talent level is when you put the full Sixers' roster against just about every other team in the NBA. Brown has stated endlessly how he is coaching the youngest team in the history of the sport. There is the 1-28 record this season, the two 26-game losing streaks, the one win in the last 39 games the team has played. But through it all Brown courted a team that gained respect through a willingness to play hard, no matter the score, no matter the winless streak, no matter the opponent.
"Just trying to get a mindset that we used to have," said Brown. "I think in the last four or five games we haven't played with that defensive spirit or intensity like we started the year. We have lost. A lot. But in fourth periods we were there. The last four or five games I think defensively we have been poor and one of the things that we have been proud of as we have navigated this rebuild is that we leave arenas feeling proud of everybody's beyond-100-percent effort. The people have really played defense and applied a lot of energy and effort. The last four games I feel like I have to reward those that truly guard. We may take some hits offensively, but that's the choice I make. We need to grow the program through a defensive lens.
We talk all the time. If you give me your attitude and your effort, then I am unconditionally with you. When the effort wanes . . . It's not purposeful. It's just sometimes when you lose games, we're all human beings, it's hard. Sometimes that creeps in and you can't deny that."
There have been both mental and physical breakdowns, especially on the defensive end. Players got beat three times in a game against Atlanta last week on inbounds plays that produced layups. Being as you're taught in the fifth grade how to see the ball and your man on an inbounds play, it seems those lapses would fall into the effort category. Or, at least, you hope that players understand the simplest of defensive principles.
Of course all the losing would play a huge part. But could the players be wondering if all the off-the-court happenings, with Jerry Colangelo and Mike D'Antoni getting hired over the past couple of weeks, will affect the future of this organization a bit?
"I don't think so. We talk freely and you go through what Jerry Colangelo can bring to the program. You go through what Mike can do to the program and help us grow some of these guys. You talk about losing. You talk freely about the difficulty of trying to play Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) together and the responsibility that Tony (Wroten) and Kendall (Marshall) have to keep the game in front of them. Nik Stauskas being a two-way player. There is nothing that we don't talk about.
"This is an amazing opportunity. You want the greatest job interview you'll ever have, take NBA minutes and capitalize and maximize. But there's no punches that we don't throw."
Speaking before Sunday's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, Brett Brown had this line: "I tell them all the time this program needs to be grown from the bottom up. It's not me up at the top. Somebody gave me a stat that 20 out of our 34 players that aren't with us aren't in the NBA anymore. There not in the league."
Imagine that. Twenty of the 34 players that have come and gone since Brown's arrival weren't good enough to latch on to another team. Amazing.
On Twitter: @BobCooney76