THE DEFINITION of insanity is trying the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.
If anyone knows anything about insanity over the past few years, it's 76ers fans. Forty-eight wins in 254 games (including Friday's initial victory of this season against the Indiana Pacers by 109-105 in overtime) over the past four seasons plays a big part of that. Four of the team's seven losses this season have come by a total of 16 points.
Fingers have been pointed at the head coach for late-game decisions in those contests, but his job is saddled by a plethora of injuries to main pieces of his roster. Friday, he was able to ride Joel Embiid when the 7-2, 276-pound rookie scored nine key points down the stretch in regulation and made every key play in overtime.
When Brett Brown walks into his office, a list of players awaits him. Some will have green marks before their name, meaning they are fully healthy. Others will have yellow ones, meaning there are restrictions as to how many minutes they are allotted for that certain game or practice. And others, will have red marks, which indicate no or very limited availability.
That is the coaching life Brown has inherited. It has played a major role in each of the four seasons he has been at the helm and it isn't going to change any time soon. Embiid's action Friday means he'll sit Saturday in Atlanta. Jahlil Okafor was held out for all but three minutes on Friday so as to be ready for Atlanta. Who is able to go Monday in Houston is anyone's guess, including Brown's right now.
That's why, as fans, you can't look at this season in a tunnel vision way, with wins and losses dominating your sight lines. So in order to keep your sanity during what is playing out to be another trying season for you and the team, you have to change the way you see things. It's really going to be the only way to get through. Don't belabor the losses, because there will be many. Don't get overly excited with the wins, because they really will just be a partial indication of what is yet to come for this organization. Instead, you need to break down the games into little sections, and here's a little bit of a guideline:
* The evolution of Embiid and Okafor.
Brown has said that he wants to get the pair of centers on the floor at the same time, but the 24-minute restriction attached to Embiid, which probably will last at least until the holidays, makes it somewhat difficult. It will get easier, though, as Okafor's minutes grow, which they should.
Together, it has to be learned how they can share a floor at both ends of the floor. It shouldn't be too hard offensively, where both are smart enough to give the other one room when needed. Defensively, however, Okafor has shown that he still needs tremendous improvement there, whether on the floor with Embiid or not. His movement and decision making has to get better, as does his effort to go for the ball on the defensive glass.
Keep an eye, also, on how each perform offensively at the end of games, from the way they set picks, to how they hold a low-block, to their shot selection with a game on the line.
* Guard play.
Until Jerryd Bayless takes the floor once his wrist heals, the focus needs to be on Sergio Rodriguez. His play has been good so far, albeit with major deficiencies at the defensive end. But evaluate him as a backup to Bayless and Ben Simmons, when he returns from injury. See what strengths he could bring in a 15-to-20 minute role, mostly against the other team's second unit.
Ersan Ilyasova could really lend something to this team moving forward. He is a legitimate NBA outside shooter. That will go a long way in the development of Embiid and Okafor at the offensive end. Watch how that plays out the rest of the season and see if bringing him back next season would be a good idea.
This is a year for Dario Saric to get used to what life is all about in the NBA. He has shown flashes, and will continue to do so throughout the season. He'll also struggle. When he gets more comfortable, watch how his all-around game forms. He really hasn't shown much of the terrific passing ability he possesses just yet. Watch his progression and how it meshes with the other keepers.
"I look at him as such a generic player," Brown said of Saric. "I look at Ersan (Ilyasova) and I think that is a veteran NBA four man. And I see Dario growing to that veteran-type presence that Ersan currently has, but Dario has more of an ability to put it on the floor. I think historically he's been known to be an excellent passer. I think he's got an extinct of high-lows working with bigs, like legitimate centers where he flashes to the high post and he can deliver a post feed and make a three. I see him being a very versatile forward, maybe it's going to be a small forward, maybe it's going to be a traditional forward, but I think his holistic package can grow to be something that is very, very complete."
Besides the limitations Brown is facing with the restrictions on his players, he also has the reality of trying to grow the players that are a part of the future. Wednesday night in Indiana, Hollis Thompson had 19 points in his 26 minutes of play, including three three-pointers. Brown chose to keep him on the bench for the last two minutes, 46 seconds of the fourth quarter and all of overtime. At the time of Thompson's departure, the team was up 104-98 in what eventually became an overtime loss.
But that instance wasn't Brown trying to move forward with other core players. Rather, he says, as always, it was just him trying to do whatever possible to win a game.
"I feel like my only motive is to win and it has zero to do with (gaining) experience and it is 'How do you go and win a game?' The decisions that we have made to put somebody in position, like Jahlil, to go win a game, we all would guess who our best scorers are," said Brown. "Even though other teams do, too, you have to stop them. My simple answer is it has nothing to do with (gaining) experience for me in those situations. It's all about how do you win."
As much as Brown wants that for his team, growing the core is still paramount. That will be his struggle, along with so many other things, to deal with.