By Ed Morrone
Why do I like Brett Brown?
Why does anybody like Brett Brown, especially when you consider he loses more than Eddie the Mush at the racetrack in A Bronx Tale? Yes, the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers has 199 losses stacked against just 47 wins in two-plus miserable seasons in Philly. Yes, that is just a shade more than a 19 percent win rate, for you mathematicians out there. And, yes, I still defend Brown, who has seemingly lost more than anyone ever in a city synonymous with defeat.
Don’t call me crazy. Rather, allow me to question the sanity of anyone who wants to unceremoniously fire Brown.
I’ll give you two words to back up the argument, and I promise they aren’t those nagging two that usually follow after the word “Trust” when it pertains to this organization. Instead, I’ll hit you with:
Perhaps you’ve heard of him. He’s won five NBA titles and counting as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs, with more than 1,000 wins to his credit since he assumed the position in 1996. From 2002-13, Brown served as an assistant on Popovich’s staff, the sidekick to more than 600 victories. Of course, most of the credit goes to Popovich and the core trio of players Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. At the same time, however, Brown held the title of player development director, not only working in close proximity to the aforementioned “Big Three,” but also assisting in the cultivating of the teams’ lesser-known players. The Spurs are always known for the deep supporting cast they installed around their stars to help make their jobs easier, and Brown was a big component of that.
Now, I get it: Not all assistant coaches are meant to be the headman in charge. We see coordinators/assistants get elevated to head coaching positions in the NBA and NFL all the time, and more often than not these guys are out the door in a few seasons. Jim O’Brien and Eddie Jordan are two names that come to mind who had success as assistants in the NBA, only to show they are by and large terrible head coaches in the league.
However, the simple fact remains: in order to win in the NBA (or any professional league), you need talent. Seems pretty obvious, so maybe somebody should tell the Sixers that. Yes, they have been victimized to a degree by the ping pong balls, as well as by major injuries to high draft picks Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid and now Ben Simmons, but the caliber of other players afforded to Brown have been downright ghastly. Sometimes, it seems like the front office has something against Brown. How else can you explain the putrid slop they’ve been running out there the past few seasons? It’s like playing with a team full of Willie Greens.
To get rid of Brown now when things are finally said to be coalescing would be another major misstep for a franchise that has seemed adept at consistently making the wrong choices (cough, Sam Hinkie, cough). To dump him now after seeing Embiid’s capabilities in a small sample size, with the future franchise star still on a minutes restriction, would be misguided. Fun fact: Popovich went 17-47 his first season as the Spurs coach; then he got Duncan to pair with David Robinson, and hasn’t posted a winning percentage below .610 in a season since.
I understand that the Sixers look terrible and blow a lot of close games in the closing minutes, up to and including Wednesday nights home loss to Memphis. Has there been some poor coaching involved? Absolutely. Phil Jackson, Brown is not. But when you have to watch Gerald Henderson kick the ball out of bounds or into the hands of an opposing player on multiple occasions, what else do you do then you throw up your hands and admit that players of his caliber are not what elite teams are built upon?
So until Bryan Colangelo, Scott O’Neil, Josh Harris and whoever else runs this team finally commits to bringing in actual talent, I’m willing to hold final judgment on Brown. If the organization develops these high draft picks and signs some reputable free agents and he still can’t win more than twenty-something games in a season, I’ll drive him to the airport myself. But the fact that there are people out there that want Brown gone now, especially before he even gets a chance to coach a supposedly transcendent, generational talent like Simmons, is just flat out ludicrous.
First things first: trade Noel or Jahlil Okafor IMMEDIATELY (preferably Okafor, because he is an abomination of a basketball player, but that’s an entirely different story) for some backcourt help. I like Sergio Rodriguez as a role player … everyone else that plays guard on this team needs to be driven out to the country blindfolded and left on the side of the road. Especially you, Nik Stauskas. Then, welcome back Simmons with open arms, see what he can do over the course of a half season and figure out what complementary pieces you need to put around him. Finally, you draft more guards in the draft, hopefully in the top five or top 10, depending on what happens with that Lakers pick. Get a legit ball handler/distributor and a shooter in the draft, sign another shooter in free agency and take it from there. When free agents see just how good Embiid and Simmons are together (they are going to be REALLY good), there won’t be an issue getting guys to come play here anymore.
If Brown still fails after all of that, then dump him. I’ll have no shame in admitting I was wrong after the fact (most of the time). But I really don’t think I am here. Brown knows the game. He knows Simmons. And last I checked, he’s gotten more out of most of these scrub players than anybody had any business doing. If it was someone else, the record might look worse than 47-199.
In the end, remember Popovich and remember that he, one of the best coaches in NBA history, kept Brown on his bench for more than a decade. There’s a reason for that: Pop is a winner, and he surrounds himself as such. There’s no way he puts guys on his staff who can’t coach and still wins multiple NBA titles.
He’s good, but he’s not THAT good. And neither is Brown.