Let’s assume for a moment you are not familiar with the recent history of the Philadelphia 76ers. Maybe you just tuned in last week during their Eastern Conference series against the Toronto Raptors and were beguiled for some reason.
Perhaps you were sitting there with the rest of us in the final moments of Game 7 watching Kawhi Leonard’s remarkable shot bounce, bounce, bounce and swish to give the dinosaurs an instant classic win.
You probably were thinking that everyone must be happy with the job Sixers coach Brett Brown was doing in his sixth year and how the community was looking forward to him taking the Sixers on their next step.
The truth is, that wasn’t the case. Brown’s status with the team was seriously in doubt until Monday when general manager Elton Brand and managing partner Josh Brown confirmed he would return to the team.
This is all very curious. A quick study of Sixers history the last seven or eight years tells the story of a train wreck slowly set back on track. From 2012 to 2017, the team never won more than 34 games and in 2015-16 it regrettably won only 10.
Brown arrived in 2013-14 and the Sixers won only 47 games over the next three seasons. They were a joke. Only they could do was assemble top draft picks and bide their time.
Over the last two years, the building has paid off. The won 52 games last year and made it to the Eastern Conference finals. They won 51 this season and were within Leonard’s freaky shot of at least getting a chance in overtime to make it to their first conference final since 2000-01.
For some reason, Brown had managed to lose favor with many Sixers fans and media members. Perhaps the team would let him go and pursue Villanova’s Jay Wright or Kentucky’s John Calipari and inject some excitement into the process.
This was the case even after he helped the franchise stay above water when draft picks like Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Markelle Fultz faltered. Brown even out-lived two previous GMs.
However, that turned out to be propaganda. On Monday, Harris delivered the state of the franchise and Brown was still smack in the middle of it.
“Brett’s job was never in jeopardy. We were very focused on the playoffs and we declined to get into a lot of questions people were asking us. I have a great relationship with Brett,” Harris said. “I’ve talked with him constantly through the playoffs, including last night in terms of planning for the future. We have been and continue to be excited that Brett is leading us.”
Word of Brown’s retention had one national radio talk show host absolutely apoplectic, calling it a dark day in franchise history, equating it to the college basketball tragedy the day before – the departure of one of the sport’s gate keepers, John Beilein, from Michigan to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
You figure in some recess of Brown’s mind he must have harbored thoughts the Sixers might have been second-guessing him, particularly after the final five minutes of Game 7 when his offensive sets ground to a halt and gave the Raptors life.
“First, it is accurate. Going into the Toronto series — and he (Harris) and I had multiple conversations — as it plays out, you’re never sure which way it’s gonna go. In regards to ‘is it a relief?’ It’s deeper than that, given the history that I’ve had here,” Brown said. “We have a chance for annual success. We have a chance to annually knock out 50 win seasons and truly contest for a championship. This is a destination. It wasn’t when I came here, in fact it wasn’t even close. What it did have was an amazing city.
“I’m proud of where we were and where we are. I understand the lay of the land as the head coach in the NBA just fine and I sleep fine. And I love coaching my players. We have a culture that they wanna be here, they want to play here.”
You’ll recall when Brown was hired away from Gregg Popovich’s staff in San Antonio, the organization spoke often about “the process” that would slowly turn the team into a contender. But this was also Brand’s first year as GM and many thought the organization would allow him the courtesy of having a hand-picked coach run his team. And then Harris threw gas when he refused to endorse Brown’s work prior to the playoffs, saying nothing short of an appearance in the conference finals would do.
Bounce, bounce, bounce, swish. Maybe next year.
“I think, obviously, there was a lot of noise in the press probably kicked up by our competitors … who knows? But there was a lot of comfort we were all in this together and we were focused on the playoffs and I think we made the appropriate decision not to respond to all the rumors and innuendo and incorrect facts that were out there,” Harris said. “ I think this was something that was moving forward. We always respect the opinions of our players and it was good to hear they were on board for it. It was an emotional moment and I’m glad they came out in support of our coach.”
What obviously helped Brown was the support of his players. Both Joel Embiid and J.J. Redick wrapped symbolic arms around his shoulders in the wake of the Raptotrs loss.
“What he’s done for this organization is nothing short of remarkable,” Redick said. “I would just say this in general, for any NBA team, when you think about a coach, and potentially replacing that coach, you have to consider what coaches are available. I don’t feel it necessary to defend Brett to anyone. I think his work speaks for itself.”