Was news of Brett Brown’s reported three-year contract extension a smoke screen for the Colangelo/Ringer bombshell?
I have no idea, but it’s not like any misdirection would be strong enough to pull us away from that story.
So on Tuesday, the most talked about Sixers’ news probably went in this order:
- Colangelo Twitter allegations
- Simmons dating Kendall Jenner report
- Markelle Fultz doing cartwheels
- Joel Embiid dunking on fools
- Brett Brown extension
I could sit here and list out reasons why locking up Brett Brown is a good idea, but let’s actually do it in reverse order. Phil is not a Brown fan for many reasons, so I’ll give him the floor first to lay out his argument on why this is the wrong move.
There’s nothing like getting it when you haven’t gotten it in a long time. For men, it can lead to “I love you” or even “will you marry me” way sooner than it should.
Some of you are nodding knowingly; a lot of you are pretending to know but you’re not fooling me.
Anyway, the Sixers hadn’t had it in a really long time — playoff basketball that is — and after winning one series against a pretty bad Miami Heat team and then getting humiliated by a crippled iteration of the Boston Celtics, the Sixers have extended their head coach for three seasons beyond the one he was already signed for.
And there’s no good reason why.
Even if you are willing to overlook the seasons where he had little talent (I don’t), judging him on only the past season still doesn’t justify this extension.
Ben Simmons won’t shoot from outside five feet. Markelle Fultz gave them nothing this season. Even if the coach didn’t draft these players, isn’t he supposed to make them better? In Fultz’s case, to make him play at all?
The Sixers won a lot of games in the Eastern Conference. The conference champion is an absurd underdog in the Finals. Making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference has little competitive value.
He worked with Gregg Popovich for awhile. Great. Charlie Weis worked for Bill Belichick, too. And Pop just fell out with Kawhi Leonard. Brand names aren’t always as good as the packaging.
Add in the multiple blown 20+ point leads — one in Game 2 of the Boston series — and the urgency to extend a 57-year-old basketball lifer just because he’s what’s here… just isn’t there.
Five years is a long time to go dry, but that’s no reason to put a ring on it before it’s even remotely necessary.”
For starters, I disagree with the stance on the Process years. I’m willing to overlook the seasons that Brett Brown coached Kendall Marshall and Phil Pressey and Henry Sims. I’m on the record saying that I considered 2017-18 to be his first year in charge of a real roster, but if you want to lump in the prior year to his evaluation period, the year where Joel Embiid played 30-some games and you had guys like Dario Saric and Ersan Ilysasova in the fold, then I think that’s probably fair.
Here’s the thing – and I mentioned this yesterday – but the modern-day NBA is less about coaching and much more about talent. How much coaching did Ty Lue, Mike D’Antoni, and Steve Kerr do in their respective conference finals? D’Antoni watched his team miss 27 straight three pointers in a game seven at home. Kerr found a way to play nine and 10-man rotations in games four and five. Lue just stood there watching LeBron James. Coaching matters to a point, then it’s all about star power from there.
Anyway, Phil mentions Ben Simmons’ inability to shoot. If you wanna blame Brett Brown for trying to mold a 6’10” ambidextrous dude into a point guard, sure, that’s fair, but I think you give it 2-3 years before deciding if it’s a success or failure. Markelle Fultz feels more like a Colangelo misstep at this point, but again, we’re a whopping one year into a kid’s NBA career. He turned 20 yesterday. Sure, Brown is ultimately responsible for improving these guys, but Markelle needs to get out of his own head and Ben just needs to start knocking down shots that we know he can make. You need a sample size > 1 season.
Yes, there’s no guarantee that assistants are automatic slam dunks. Phil correctly mentions Charlie Weis, who is 41-49 as a head coach. Romeo Crennel and Josh McDaniels were whatever at the helm after branching out from the same Belichick tree. James Borrego probably won’t do a ton with that Charlotte roster right away. I think the Spurs/Popovich thing is a little overvalued, if we’re being honest. Hiring the assistant brewer at Smuttynose doesn’t mean he or she is gonna automatically roll out a killer Old Brown Dog spinoff at your industrial park startup. The water is different and so are the co-workers and customers.
As for the blown leads, I’d simply chalk that up to a young team not knowing how to close out games. The Sixers were fast starters and came ready to play. Isn’t that a credit to the coach that his team was often prepared? You can’t blow a big lead if you don’t build a big lead, but you know as well as I do that the NBA is a game of runs, and the Warriors’ third quarters in these playoffs should prove that. It’s misguided to think that any double-digit lead built up in the 1st or 2nd period is going to OBVIOUSLY hold until the end of the game. The Sixers got much better at this as the season continued.
But more than anything, when you evaluate Brett Brown, you need to look at what he’s building here from a big picture sense. Here’s a coach that won 52 games with a rookie converted point guard and second-year big man coming off of multiple injuries. He’s constructing a high-tempo, pass-happy team that values the sharing of the basketball, three-point shooting, defense, and consistent rhythm and flow. He is diametrically opposed to slowing the game down and playing isolation ball, which he’s said on the record several times before. He doesn’t want to walk the ball up the floor and play a deliberate and conservative game just to curb turnovers and stem runs.
Now, of course you can approach that philosophically and say that it’s stupid to try to mirror what the Warriors are doing. Playoff basketball, as Boston and Cleveland showed us, is about defensive matchups, hunting mismatches, exploiting weaknesses, and game planning around or against superstars. The Sixers were a freight train built for the regular season that hit the skids in the playoffs. Brown’s biggest challenge moving forward will be to tweak his team for April and May basketball while keeping intact the fan-friendly and aesthetically pleasing brand that he’s installed over the last few years.
If you accept that, you can tolerate blown leads and turnovers, because that’s just a natural by-product of the play style. The Warriors get disjointed and sloppy, too, and they cough up the ball and go cold from the floor. But when they’re on, they’re on, and it’s the best thing to watch in the association. Similar to Chip Kelly’s Oregon, Brett Brown is not going to line up with a fullback and run out the clock. Should he learn how to do it? Maybe.
As for the timeout issue, yeah, I think Brett can be better there. I think he got better with it as the season progressed and he became comfortable with the new rules, and you’d see him often call time right the beginning of an opponent run, or when he saw something defensively he didn’t like. He’d usually nip it in the bud, so game two in Boston was a bit of a head-scratcher to me. He also should have kept T.J. McConnell in during game two and was slow to make his adjustments overall.
And when it comes to play calls, Brett Brown is not incapable of dialing up looks for JJ Redick from dribble hand-offs and a variety of off-ball screens. He’s not incapable of baseline designs that get Ben Simmons posted up on the low block. He called some beautiful “horns” sets this season and was very good in ATO and BLOB/SLOB situations.
At the end of game four in Miami, he whipped up two brilliant calls, essentially icing the game with this Redick/Embiid fake pick and roll + DHO action:
So whether or not he calls more set plays or prefers to let his players freestyle out there, that’s a really interesting thing to pay attention to going into this next season, when the stakes are higher and the excuses are fewer.
I always viewed this season as a developmental year bridging the end of the Process era to the future. For that reason, I wouldn’t have cared whether the Sixers won 52 games or 32 games if we saw significant progress. Ben Simmons looks like a stud who needs to work on his shooting. Joel Embiid became an All-Star. Dario Saric was an unheralded banger. Redick was, more or less, a natural fit. The jury is still out on post-contract Robert Covington and Fultz was really the only true disappointment of the season.
So if the alternative is to fire Brett Brown (and bring in who?), or to leave him guessing on the final year of his deal, I don’t think either of those strategies make sense. Most teams are going to extend a 52-win coach with a young core of players who like him. If he ultimately fails, like Dwane Casey, then you can always justifiably pull the plug after 59-23 and a semifinals sweep.
We’re not at that point yet. We’re not even close to it.