One month after being noncommittal about bringing back coach Brett Brown, 76ers managing partner Josh Harris said Tuesday that the coach’s job was never on the line.
Harris told ESPN.com on Monday night that Brown would be back next season. On Tuesday, seated next to general manager Elton Brand at their end-of-season news conference, Harris said: “A lot’s been made about this in the press, and truthfully, you can’t believe what you read or what you are hearing. Brett’s job was never in jeopardy.
“We were very focused on the playoff, and we declined to get into a lot of questions people were asking us.”
It was thought that Brown would have to reach the Eastern Conference Finals to keep his job. The Toronto Raptors defeated the Sixers, 92-90, in Game 7 of the semifinals Sunday night in Toronto. Kawhi Leonard’s 21-foot, fadeaway jumper at the buzzer that bounced four times on the rim before dropping through the net ended the Sixers’ playoff hopes.
But on April 13, Harris was given an opportunity to endorse Brown, but was noncommittal before a 111-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs.
That question came in response to Harris’ comments to ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan on May 1 at the MIT/Sloan Analytics Conference in Boston. At that time, the possibility existed that the Sixers could face the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
He stated that it would be problematic if his squad lost to the Celtics in the first round.
“Very problematic,” he told ESPN. " It would not be what we’re playing for.
“We’d be unhappy. I’d be unhappy. The city would be unhappy. We’re going to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. 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.”
So he was asked to clarify that statement on April 13, and if Brown would be his coach next season no matter what happened in the playoffs.
“What I meant by it is that all of us — Brett, Elton, me, a lot of us, the players on the team,” Harris said of his past comments. “ We have high expectations. So that is what I meant.
“Look, we have a lot of confidence in Brett and are glad that he is leading us in the playoffs and we are focused on that.”
The managing partner said Tuesday he has been constantly in contact with Brown, including Monday night.
“We have been and continue to be excited that Brett is leading us,” Harris said.
However, Harris was asked why he felt the need to come out late Monday to confirm that Brown was coming back next season. He also was asked why he hadn’t done it sooner.
“Brett is our leader going forward and he’s been our coach for the past years,” Harris said. “There was a ton of speculation about this. We were really focused on the playoffs. Once the playoffs ended, it made sense to put it all to rest and move on.”
He said the Sixers are always evaluating everything they are doing and “none of us are perfect.”
Harris was asked if he told Brown his job wasn’t in jeopardy when all the speculations was going on.
“Brett and I talk all the time and we had a lot of private conversations about the playoffs, and we were always in a good place,” he said.
But did he specifically tell Brown his job wasn’t in jeopardy?
“I had a lot of conversations with Brett that put us in a good place,” Harris said.
Later during the news conference, Harris revisited the question as a way to clarify himself. That’s when he said Brown knew through the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Raptors that his job was safe.
Brown’s news conference was little more than 30 minutes after Harris and Brand addressed the media.
He said that Harris was accurate and that the two had multiple conversations throughout the Raptors series.
“Just so that we’re clear, because — and I want to be clear — how do I say it?” Brown said. “Where do I begin? My discussions with Josh Harris since I’ve been employed have been very direct, in relation to ‘am I going to be the coach? Or am I not?’ Those discussions had been clear, like I’m talking to you now, for a long time.”
However, Brown didn’t look or sounds like a coach with a secure job when the Sixers were eliminated on Sunday.
"The club can respond to that,” Brown said at that time when asked about his job security.
But no one responded until Harris informed ESPN late Monday after Brown’s meeting with Brand and the ownership group in New York. The team owes the coach close to $15 million on a three-year contract extension that begins next season.
Harris was asked Tuesday if Brown would remain a Sixer for entirety of his contract.
“We’re very supportive of Brett,” he said. “He’s not coaching for his job. When people ask you to get into a million scenarios, it’s hard to give you an absolute answer. We’re all accountable. All of us. I’m accountable, I get it. ... But Brett is our coach, he’s out leader and we’re moving forward and very strongly behind him.”
Brand added: “We’re all going to be evaluated, like I said from top to bottom, including myself, at the end of the season.”
On Tuesday, Brown was passionate and proud while talking about the franchise.
He talked about free agency, Joel Embiid’s health, Ben Simmons’ jumper and the team’s state-of-the practice facility.
However, if the team informed Brown he would retain his job during the Raptors season, why not go public with it.
The New York Times reported Saturday, the day before the game, that Brown had ''little chance" to survive a second-round exit.
“I’m fine with them not responding to the noise that surfaced," Brown said of the team not issuing a public statement of its support during the playoff series.
But due to the team’s silence, his players were unaware of his job security, which could have been a distraction in Game 7. On Monday, Sixers players expressed their support for Brown after their exit interviews with the coach at the team’s practice facility in Camden.
Brown downplayed the thought that the team’s silence amid reports of his ouster could have been a distraction in Sunday’s Game 7.
“But maybe you could flip it around and say that they’re going to go play their tail off because they care about my future,” Brown said. “Maybe we could say that.”