Remembering the Brett Brown era
Many speculated that if the Philadelphia 76ers once again failed to perform in the postseason, head coach Brett Brown would lose his job. This appeared to be the case despite the cards being stacked against this team, having lost Ben Simmons just before the playoffs began. Brett Brown would need a miraculous effort from his squad, particularly from all-star Joel Embiid to keep the series competitive. It was not. The Sixers failed to take a game off the Celtics and Brett Brown was unceremoniously let go following the defeat.
Brett Brown accepted the head coaching position of the 76ers in 2013. While it was his first opportunity as the top coaching dog of an NBA team, he had sufficient experience to suggest he was more than ready. He coached a number of professional teams in Australia and still continues to coach their national team. Additionally, he had proven himself as a valuable assistant coach under Greg Popovich in San Antonio. He was a clear commodity as a basketball mind in 2013 and only accepted the Sixers position, instead of remaining in San Antonio, because he was offered a guaranteed four year contract.
While the beginning seasons for Brett Brown were rough, the consolation was that they were absolutely expected to be. He inherited a team under the direction of general manager Sam Hinkie who famously championed “the process” and consequently was in full rebuilding mode. As a result, the Sixers were filled with inexperienced players, qualifying as the youngest team in the league during Brown’s first season. That lack of experience coupled with poor talent led to a lot of losing. And I mean a whole lot of losing. Down the stretch of the 2013-2014 season, the 76ers managed to lose a record-tying 26 games in a row.
During Brett Brown’s fourth year as head coach of the Sixers (2016-2017) things started trending ever so slightly upward. The team was still poor and failed to make the playoffs, but the 28 games they won that year were a huge improvement from the horrific 10 the year before. While this was due in large part to the presence of Joel Embiid, who only played limited minutes in 31 games but posted an impressive 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per game.
Brett Brown finally steered the 76ers to a playoff berth in his fifth season with the team. The team posted a 52-30 record during the regular season, ultimately losing in the conference semifinals to the Boston Celtics. Despite the loss, this Sixers franchise was now filled with hope as their young core of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were both flashing as true stars for the future of the league. Concerns about filling out the remainder of the roster persisted and the following off-season Jimmy Butler was acquired. At this time, many felt that the Sixers were only one piece away from seriously competing for a championship. The organization heard the buzz and responded by trading for forward Tobias Harris, someone they saw as being the final piece to their championship puzzle.
Brett Brown was now tasked with handling a team that was chock-full of roster talent, a complete turnaround from his early days with the team. Simmons was nominally the point guard but Embiid needed a healthy amount of touches in the post. Jimmy Butler was used to being a high usage and ball dominant player both with Chicago and Minnesota. Additionally, Tobias Harris had been having a career year with the Clippers and needed to fit in as well. Managing both minutes and egos proved to be a new challenge for Brown, but he nearly got the job done. It wasn’t always pretty, but the Sixers obtained the third seed in the eastern conference down the stretch. They took the Toronto Raptors to game seven before losing in heartbreaking fashion to the eventual champs. Several sources reported that Brown was on the hot seat after this defeat, but the Sixers kept him on for another year.
That year would bring even more on-court change for Brett Brown to sort through. Guards Jimmy Butler and JJ Reddick both left town. Meanwhile, Josh Richardson and Al Horford were brought in to round out the starting lineup. The season was once again filled with expectation. This time though, the Sixers failed to deliver in increasingly frustrating ways, ultimately culminating with their first round exit last week
I do think it was time for the Sixers to move on from Brown, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy as front-office management hurt this team more than anything. The teams Brett Brown coached were always changing and one gets the sense he didn’t have a lot of say in the matter. He may only be remembered in Philadelphia as someone who couldn’t make Simmons and Embiid work together, but I’m confident he will have another shot as a head coach in the NBA.