HOUSTON — Brett Brown has been here before.
The 76ers coach has been dealing with questions surrounding his job security since the end of the third season of what is now his sixth year on the job.
This time, however, things appear to be different. No one has to say that. You sense the pressure, mounting stress and seeming paranoia surrounding the coach.
And it didn’t help things when co-managing partner Josh Harris told ESPN recently that he would not be happy if the team suffered an early exit in the playoffs.
“We’re going to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Harris said. “We have enough talent on our roster that if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat any team in the East.”
» READ MORE: See Josh Harris’ comments to ESPN
So who would be blamed for an early exit if talent isn’t an issue? Coaching? Scheme? Leadership?
Brown declined to comment following Friday night’s loss to the 107-91 loss to the Houston Rockets when asked about the pressure he’s under.
The setback at the Toyota Center marked the Sixers’ second straight loss and third in four games. But to be fair, only one of the losses — Wednesday at the Chicago Bulls — was unexpected due Brown’s squad being without two integral players in All-Star center Joel Embiid (left knee tendinitis) and his backup, Boban Marjanovic (right knee bone bruise, mild sprain). Embiid has been upgraded to questionable for Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, while Marjanovic is still out.
Aside from that, at 41-25, the Sixers have the sixth-best record in the NBA. They’ve come a long way from the tanking squad that finished the 2015-16 season with a 10-72 record.
But back then, there were no lofty expectations. Brown’s main job was to try to develop talent and have his team play hard in games they were expected to lose.
His roster was made up of mostly fringe NBA players on minimum non-guarantee salaries. They wouldn’t dare voice their displeasure about their roles or Brown’s coaching tactics for fear of being cut.
Those days are over.
The Sixers now boast high-profile players in Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris, who all in their own right are part of the power structure. One could argue that each of them ultimately has more power than their coach, And that’s understandable, considering the NBA is a player’s league and how much the team will have invested in them in the next year or two.
Embiid’s power comes from not only being the franchise player, but having the ownership group’s ear. Simmons is the All-Star point guard who is eligible to receive a maximum-salary extension before the start of next season. Meanwhile, Butler and Harris are the newcomers the team gave up valuable assets to acquire in order to contend now.
The Sixers could be in tough shape if the two opt not to re-sign with the team this summer. They’re both looking for an opportunity to win a championship for a team that will utilize their strengths.
The Sixers say they’re invested in bringing both of them back.
Yet Brown must be able to manage personalities, show strong leadership, win games, and align with his standouts. Anything less could lead to some of his players losing confidence in him. After all, these Sixers are veterans who have high basketball IQs.
Fair or not, Brown and his coaching staff received criticism for their lack of adjustments and late-game decision making after losses to the Bulls (Wednesday) and Golden State Warriors (March 2).
An ESPN nationally televised audience saw an emotional Butler say, "I told you, that don’t work, man” after confusion about the team’s defensive strategy to switch led to Zach LaVine scoring uncontested on a go-ahead layup with one second left.
Butler wanted to stay on LaVine, but was instructed to switch on to Robin Lopez, who handed the ball off to the Bulls guard. The problem is that Mike Scott remained on Lopez, leading to an easy basket for LaVine.
Some have argued that mistakes fall solely on the players. Others feel that the Sixers should have had a better defensive strategy. The Bulls had success with that play all night and it was obvious they would run it at that moment.
Early last week, Brown’s decision to have Simmons purposely miss a foul shot with 10.3 seconds left and his team down two against Golden State was a hot topic on sports talk radio. The Warriors were awarded the ball due to Simmons’ attempt being ruled a violation for not hitting the rim. Golden State went on to win by three. But very few people mentioned that Butler (5-for-16), Harris (7-for-20) and JJ Redick (2-for-9) shot a combined 14-for-45.
But feeling this type of pressure isn’t new to Brown.
His job security appeared to be in question at some point for the past four seasons. Yet, he always found a way to survive and has even received two contract extensions.
Last season, the pressure had to do with making the playoffs. This time, he’s expected to make a deep postseason run.
Harris said they have enough talent to do it.