Back in January Philly fans rejoiced as a “double-doink” moved the Eagles past the Bears in the NFL Playoffs, so it’s nothing less than a poetic twist of fate that four months later the Sixers are eliminated by a quadruple-doink at the hands of Kawhi Leonard.
Yesterday’s loss was as heartbreaking as they get. There’s an argument to be made that the Sixers should re-sign everybody, bolster the bench, bring back Brett Brown, and “run it back” as they say. And when you look at the bigger picture — back-to-back 50 win seasons, across the board improvements from last season, and a young roster — that’s a reasonable argument to make, and appears to be the argument that the self-proclaimed “voices of reason” seem to be making.
But to make such an argument would be to ignore the evidence that we saw yesterday.
The argument to retain Brett Brown is largely focused on the ‘big picture.’ You hear fans say things like, “he’s been through it all, he’s barely had any time with this current roster, they’ve improved each of the past few years” and other arguments that focus on larger themes of Brett Brown’s tenure.
The biggest argument in his favor is based on the “culture” that he’s built in the locker room, and that the players love playing for him. Joel Embiid said after yesterday’s loss regarding Brown being on the hot seat:
“I thought it was bullshit… He’s done a fantastic job. He’s been there through everything and then this year I think he grew even more as a coach. He learned. We all learned.“
“Seems like it’s pretty obvious I would say that I love Brett, I love playing for him, and he has my full support, and what he has done for this organization is remarkable.” (via Philly Voice)
But when you’re evaluating a head coach — specifically, when you’re vetting him for his ability to ‘win on a championship-level’ — the devil is in the details. Looking at the larger picture to defend Brett Brown’s employment blatantly ignores the very real evidence that has played out before our eyes; BB struggles with multiple aspects of game management, play calling, and in-game (real time) adjustments.
Before I dive into this evidence I want to make a comparison that I think is obvious, and that I think we need to keep in mind when chewing on whether or not to fire Brett. Sports are about parody, and while everyone is trying to emulate the Warriors model for success on-court, we can learn a lot from the coaching change in 2015 that preceded their current dynasty.
Mark Jackson had taken over a 36-win Warriors team in 2011, and after a sub-.500 year in the lockout shortened 2011-12 season, he led Golden State to back-to-back seasons of 47 & 51 wins (in a Western Conference that was loaded at the time). Despite consecutive years of drastic improvement (and the development of young stars in Curry & Thompson) they failed to move past the second round of the playoffs, and Jackson was promptly fired and replaced with Steve Kerr.
At the time the move was met with widespread criticsim from both the locker room and the fan base. They had made steady improvements, and their young core was growing. Prior to being fired, Curry said of Jackson:
“I love Coach more than anybody, and I think for him to be in a situation where his job is under scrutiny and under question is totally unfair… I’m going to voice my support for Coach.” (via SI)
Jackson had a clear role in improving their team, and the defining characteristic of his tenure was his impact on culture — there’s that word again. Jackson, a devout Christian, used religion as the lynchpin on which he turned a dysfunctional Warriors locker room into what was considered one of the most cohesive, healthy locker rooms in the league. (For what it’s worth, that culture is still alive in their locker room today)
At the end of the day, the argument to retain Jackson centered on the big picture: their overall on-court improvements and his development of culture (both of which were undeniable). But that didn’t keep Warriors ownership from recognizing the tangible concerns that they had; Jackson spoke poorly about management behind their back, he failed to get the most on offense, and he got badly out-coached by Doc Rivers in their playoff loss to the Clippers.
These were all things that weren’t clearly impacting their ability to win in that moment (they met expectations for the season), but they knew those concerns would be obvious limitations when it came to taking the team over the top.
Let’s relate that to Brett Brown. The big picture argument that there has been clear improvements in the win-column, combined with his clear influence on “culture” should not overshadow the very real and obvious concerns surrounding his clock/timeout-management, play-calling, and failure to adjust in-game.
We witnessed each of these concerns doom the Sixers in yesterday’s fourth quarter — we have hard evidence of these issues. We need to understand — just like the Warriors understood with Mark Jackson — that these concerns will keep us from ever winning a championship. It may not be clear now, but the writing is pretty clearly on the wall, and in big bold ink I might add.
We can chat all we want about how “we’re young” or “yesterday is the learning moment, or tipping point that a championship team needs.” Yada-yada-yada. But all of that is a distraction from the reality that Brett Brown isn’t a championship-level head coach.
Remember, Brett was hired with the reputation and resumé of developing talent and fostering positive relationships. If they wanted the “X and O’s” guy from Popovich’s tree, that would be Mike Budenholzer — who has lead Hawks and Bucks team that are far less talented than the Sixers to more successful seasons than Brett has even come close to.
At two separate times throughout the fourth quarter, the Sixers didn’t even get an attempt off before the shot clock. While blame falls on the players for not recognizing the situation on the floor, one of those shot clock violations came out of a timeout — which makes me wonder what BB does during his timeouts. If he’s not drawing up a quick-hitter to get in rhythm, and if he’s not telling them to box-out (no need to elaborate here), then what the hell is he doing?
In regard to play-calling, I’m not expressing anything fresh when I wonder what Embiid is doing 25-feet from the rim on every possession, and why he has a tendency to pop out of a screen rather than rolling hard to the basket. These things obviously fall on Joel to some degree, but ground zero for strategy is your head coach, and I can say with confidence that one reason he doesn’t score more points as a roll man is because that simply is not in Brett Brown’s game plan (or maybe even playbook).
Simply put, if you think the best use (or a good use, for that matter) of Joel Embiid on offense is in dribble-hand-offs (to flare) at the top of the key, then you’re a moron — I don’t want to mince words here.
And in terms of giving props to Brett for adjustments, let’s get a little more specific with what we’re referring to. Adjusting game-to-game should be a prerequisite for any coach, so let’s stop patting him on the fucking back for finally making the adjustments in these playoffs that he utterly failed to last season. What makes a championship-level head coach is their ability to adjust in-game, and Brett has laid bare his inability to do that.
Prior to the game I wrote about how if the Sixers want to win Game 7 they can’t afford to get outworked on the boards. While they were tops in the league on the glass in the regular season, they got out hustled by Toronto earlier in the series, and we couldn’t let that happen again.
We did, of course. And not only did Brett fail to prepare for this prior to the game, but he failed to acknowledge it throughout the game. Or at least that’s what I have to assume considering at no point did Sixers players start putting bodies on Toronto players, and at no point did it seem like they were particularly inspired to rebound.
In short: it was a problem we had seen before, and it persisted throughout the entire game. That falls squarely on Brown’s shoulders.
I know it may be hard to believe, but it’s possible to simultaneously hold the belief that Brett Brown has improved this team and developed an awesome culture, while also thinking that we won’t be able to win a championship with him as head coach.
The Sixers are incredibly incredibly talented, but really really bad situationally. That’s an observation that I really hope isn’t controversial, because it’s as true as the sky is blue. Brett Brown is not a stratego, or a high-IQ basketball-mind. He’s a glorified cheerleader who, in my opinion, fits the mold of Mark Jackson or (dare I say) Jason Garrett.
He will win games, but he’ll never win championships. It’s time for the Sixers and Josh Harris to fire Brett Brown and go find their Steve Kerr (or Doug Pederson).