Sixers managing partner Josh Harris says Brett Brown’s coaching position was not in danger after the season that just ended. Goodness, where would anyone have gotten that idea?
“You can’t believe what you’re reading or what you’ve been hearing,” Harris said Tuesday. “Brett’s job was never in jeopardy.”
Hey, when it comes to job security, if you can’t trust a leveraged buyout billionaire whose company “restructures” its trembling acquisitions every day, who can you trust?
Same goes for general manager Elton Brand. Man, we’re all in this together and we’re all disappointed, but Brett is our coach despite the second-round loss to Toronto.
“We’re all evaluated from top to bottom in this organization,” Brand said. “Brett should be commended … 50-plus wins, the culture he’s built, the adjustments he’s made. I am proud of the job he’s done and what he had to go through this season.”
What the Sixers went through this season was the roster equivalent of chugging five cans of Red Bull and then trying to thread a needle.
After years of steady growth, the front office, with Harris and Brand pushing the fast break, made two heavy deals for very good players who also happened to be impending free agents. Not only was it a risky bet on the future, given the assets they gave up in the trades, but it also provided the coach a high-wire act for the present.
Go get ‘em, Brett. Deal with all of these egos and desires. Change your entire offense on the fly. Prepare for the reality that the most important player on your team might be able to play or he might not. Oh, and win a lot.
“We want to make sure at a minimum to advance deeper in the playoffs than we did last year,” Harris said in a March interview. “We’ve brought a lot of talent here. They haven’t been together that long, but we’re hopeful we can position them for a deep run.”
Brand’s message before the postseason was essentially the same.
“My goal and expectation is to definitely get past where we got last year with this team,” he said. “That’s why I made those moves. We got to the second round [last season]. We lost to Boston. So, I expect us to pass that.”
To review: We gave the coach great players. We expect more than last year. If it doesn’t happen, boy, it’s sure not our fault. Hmm, whose could it be?
The spin Tuesday that, after failing to fulfill those get-farther dictates, the partnership between coach and front office was not on thin ice was predictable, of course. We can all speculate on whether that would have been different had the Sixers lost Game 7 by 30 points instead of on a quadruple-doink prayer, but that, like Ben Simmons for most of the series, is pointless.
Brown showed himself to be a strong tactical coach this season. His strength is not necessarily with the dry-erase board during timeouts, drawing the movie frame by frame. The Sixers don’t run plays as much as they operate within what Brown likes to call “environments.” He created a pick-and-roll environment during the season to accentuate what Jimmy Butler can do, and an isolation environment as well.
The team can still rely at times on the screen-and-move passing environment that defined the pre-trades Sixers. He can put Joel Embiid on the low post — seriously, it has happened — and have them play two-man bully ball. In his most audacious move, considering the egos involved, he frequently took Simmons off the ball because opponents didn’t bother guarding him and made Simmons something of an afterthought in the offense.
In reality, it was a tour de force of brave coaching. This wasn’t a man coaching for his job — even if he really was. This was a guy coaching with his bearded jaw jutting out. You want to see some card tricks? I’ve got some.
If you want to criticize Brett Brown, and this goes for the entire organization, the criticism isn’t about the handling of the basketball, but the handling of the guys who play it. Everyone knows the NBA is a players’ league, and it is they who hold the power. But the Sixers are not great at demanding discipline and accountability from the roster, and that does start with the guy who has them in the gym every day.
Embiid has promised to get in shape, take care of his body, and understand that his workload during the season should be regulated. Simmons has promised to work on his game and develop a jump shot. The problem is that they also said those things last year.
Some of what the players do in the summer is out of the team’s control. There’s no question about that. But making sure they understand there are consequences for poor habits and lackluster commitment is a big part of what happens. At this point, what they understand is there have never been consequences.
Not that it’s a big deal. They are only the allegedly two best players on your team, although Simmons’ ranking in that group might depend on whether Butler returns.
Harris could have looked at all that and decided the team needed a coach who wields a heavier hand. The danger was that a strong personality could also have upset the delicate order in the organization in which everyone gets to play with the toy. Owners get to meddle in player-personnel decisions. The second-tier front-office executives put in place by Bryan Colangelo get to keep their jobs without anyone questioning them.
No, the safe play was Brown, and he’s as easy on the guys above him on the organizational chart as he is on the guys supposedly beneath him. The same logic drove the elevation of Brand last year rather than the bringing in of an established front-office presence. The last thing this franchise wants is an outsider to come in and say, “What the hell is going on around here?”
You can’t always believe what you’ve been reading, or what you’ve been hearing — even if you really thought you heard it right the first time — but you can believe that not changing the coach is about more than the coaching. Brett Brown deserves to stay in place, but some of this team’s habits do not.