KISSIMMEE, Fla. – It’s hard to describe Brett Brown’s tenure with the 76ers.
The team hired him in August 2013, shortly before the team began its first of three seasons of deliberately losing dubbed “The Process.” At the time, the belief was that he would rack up a lot of losses, develop fringe players, and be gone before the team started to turn things around.
The coach, however, defied the odds during the seven-year coaching tenure that concluded Monday.
He survived a 10-72 record during his third season. He outlasted two general managers and briefly was interim general manger before one of his former players, Elton Brand, became his third GM. He took a team from 28 wins one season to 52 the next. He led that Sixers to three consecutive NBA playoff appearances.
Yet his players felt that he didn’t hold them accountable, and that they didn’t know their roles.
Perhaps that is why the team couldn’t live up to its lofty expectations and even some of his self-promotion. The team that he and other Sixers repeatedly proclaimed was “built for the playoffs” was swept in the first round by Boston Celtics. Sunday’s 110-106 victory by the Celtics was the fourth and final game of the sweep.
This came after a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Eastern Conference standings.
So on Monday, the team let him go.
Brown left the organization with a 221-344 regular-season record and 12-14 postseason mark. But perhaps his most telling statistic is having coached 102 players in what resembled a revolving door.
He thanked the ownership group, led by managing partner Josh Harris and co-manager partner David Blitzer, former general manager Sam Hinkie, Sixers fans, and Brand in his farewell statement.
“He is a high-character talent that the 76ers are fortunate to have,” Brown said in praising Brand. “I sincerely wish him, the players, and the next coaching staff my very best in their pursuit of an NBA championship.”
Brand will remain as the general manager, but the Sixers are expected to make changes to his front office.
Los Angeles Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue is a candidate for the job. Multiple sources have said Lue and the Sixers have mutual interest. Lue would bring an NBA championship resume.
He won consecutive NBA titles as a reserve guard for the Los Angeles Lakers in 2000 and 2001. His second title came against the Sixers. As a head coach, he led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their only NBA title, in 2016.
Lue knows Brand from their playing days.
However, the Sixers aren’t the only team that has expressed interest.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich appears to be a popular candidate for the Brooklyn Nets job. Sources have said Lue expects an offer from Brooklyn. The New Orleans Pelicans have also expressed significant interest. However, Lue wants to coach a contending team and is said to be intrigued by the Sixers.
Villanova coach Jay Wright’s name has come up as a possible candidate for the Sixers job. So has current assistant Ime Udoka and former Memphis Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger.
The new coach will have to make players accountable, something that didn’t happen during Brown’s tenure.
The players appeared to realize a new voice was needed.
“He’s a good guy. He’s a good man. He means well,” Josh Richardson said Sunday. “I don’t think there was much accountability this season, and I think that was part of it.”
From the start of “The Process,” young lottery picks were treated like NBA All-Stars even before they played in their first NBA games. As expected, that gave them a sense of entitlement.
Standouts such as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could basically do whatever they wanted to do. They still do.
Despite that, his Sixers still blossomed into a successful team.
He had some success after three seasons of tanking under Hinkie and a transition season under Bryan Colangelo.
The Sixers’ 52-win season in 2017-18 ended in a five-game conference semifinal loss to the Celtics. Last season, Philly won 51 games and concluded its season in a seven-game conference semifinal loss to the Toronto Raptors. That game ended with Kawhi Leonard’s four-bounce basket at the buzzer.
Shying away from confrontation also might have doomed Brown.
He didn’t care for Jimmy Butler, who got into a verbal exchange with Brown on Dec. 29, 2018, in Portland.
As a result, multiple sources said, Brown had a hand in breaking up the 2018-19 team because he didn’t want to deal with Butler, who was the team’s closer and is never afraid to speak his mind.
So the Sixers moved on from Butler and brought in Al Horford, and this season was a major letdown.
Another problem under Brown was a heavy reliance on analytics instead of a feel for the game.
Brown also fit players into a certain scheme instead of taking advantage of individual skill sets.
“[I was] learning how to play differently to what I’ve been accustomed to my whole life,” Horford said.
Brown’s tactics led to free-agent and/or trade acquisitions of Sergio Rodriguez, Jerryd Bayless, Wilson Chandler, Amir Johnson, Trevor Booker, Butler (in the regular season). And now Horford and Tobias Harris have failed to live up to expectations.
Under the coach, Philadelphia turned into a place where many veterans have had their careers go to die.
The expectation was that Brown would have to lead the Sixers at least to the Eastern Conference finals to keep his job. He is still owed around $10 million on the final two years of his deal.
“He did many positive things during his time here, developing young talent and helping position our team for three straight postseason appearances,” Brand said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we fell well short of our goals this year and I believe it is best to go in a new direction.”
So Brown leaves the organization with a 221-344 regular-season record and 12-14 postseason mark.