A number of Australia’s NBA contingent were on court for their respective teams’ season openers with Ben Simmons and Patty Mills among those to savour wins.
When Brett Brown first became the Philadelphia 76ers’ coach in 2013, he knew that he was going to be part of something long term.
The 76ers would call it the process. Brett Brown would coach the team through four years of awful basketball, all in the hope that at the end of it, they would have a team of young stars.
By the 2017-18 season, it seemed as if they had done just that. After four years of tortuous basketball, Philadelphia fans were gifted with a 50-win season and the makings of a great team. Built around budding stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, this looked like the team that would make all the losing years’ worth it.
However, since that shining 2017-18 season, many critics and fans alike have said that the 76ers haven’t quite lived up to expectations. A team that was poised with great young stars and role players has dipped into near-unwatchable basketball. And because of that, someone had to take the blame. Unfortunately, that person was Brett Brown. But is he really to blame for the Sixers’ problems?
Brett Brown as the head coach of the 76ers had an abysmal record of 221-344. However, if the process years are removed, Brett Brown also produced a 62 per cent win ratio (146 wins, 91 losses) – a seemingly positive record for a team that spent years at the bottom of the NBA.
The playoff success, or lack thereof, is where Brown’s tenure takes a significant hit. During the three years of solid Philadelphia basketball, the Sixers only won two playoff series, never making it to the conference finals, a feat that should have been well in range for a team with so much talent.
Being swept out of the 2019-20 NBA playoffs spelled the end of Brett Brown’s tenure as head coach. Throughout the season Brown was criticised for his inability to have his two stars, Embiid and Simmons, functioning on the floor at the same time. However, during the 2017-18 season, this was not the case. Both players were on the floor, and the team seemed at their most dangerous. So what changed?
The team around Simmons and Embiid has changed dramatically over the years they’ve played together. This is due to impatience and hasty decision-making by the front office as they attempt to build around their injury-prone stars. A team and city that had immense patience under the guidance of Sam Hinkie have since thrown patience and slow team-building out the window in favour of the possibility of winning as soon as possible.
The 2018-19 season was filled with trades indicative of an impatient front office. Early in the season, the Sixers traded away solid three-and-D player Robert Covington as well as significant role player Dario Saric and other minor assets for Jimmy Butler.
Although Butler is a highly regarded player within the NBA, he came with locker-room issues and was on an expiring deal. Butler would go on to produce a solid season with the Sixers, however Butler like many stars in the league needed the ball in order to be effective. Unfortunately, Simmons and Embiid also needed the ball in order to perform at their best. Already the team was beginning to split at the seams in terms of their ability to share the ball.
In order to combat this, the Sixers’ front office decided to add yet another ball-heavy scorer in Tobias Harris, trading away promising rookie guard Landry Shamet and two first-round picks to secure him. The Sixers’ starting line-up was filled with stars who all needed the ball in order to perform. As well as this, their bench was significantly depleted of the key pieces that had helped them be effective while their stars were off the floor. The shooters that were surrounding Embiid and Simmons were now replaced by unreliable outside shooters, creating traffic in the lane.
Despite this, the 2018-19 iteration of the Sixers was just one game-winner away from getting to their first-ever conference final. Little did they know, the next off-season would spell more disaster and impatience for the team.
After invigorating the Sixers through the 2018-19 playoffs, Jimmy Butler forced a trade out of Philadelphia as he was not given the max contract money he was expecting from the Sixers. The money was instead spent on Tobias Harris (five years, US$180 million, A$246 million) and ageing big man Al Horford (four years, US$109 million, A$149 million).
In trading away Butler, the Sixers received Josh Richardson, who shot 35 per cent from the three-point line in his career. All these moves added significant size to the Sixers, so much so they became the largest team in the NBA. However, none of these moves helped the Sixers’ bench, one of the least talented in the league. None of these moves helped space the floor, which is essential when your two best players are an inside threat big man, as well as a point guard that can’t shoot outside.
Instead of conservative and patient moves, focusing on building correctly around their stars, the Sixers’ front office opted for flashy moves that have not paid off. Now, the Sixers are in cap hell and have a team that is not built for the superstars they have. However, Brett Brown is the one who is blamed for their inability to have success.
If the Sixers’ front office were able to hold it together this team had the potential to grow exponentially around their stars. Instead, there are now talks of trading away one of their franchise cornerstones and having to hire a new coach. Brett Brown took the bullet for the Sixers’ front office.
Eventually, the fans will realise the real culprits behind the lack of success are at the top, and the front office will have to face the issues they caused for themselves.