Brett Brown brings winning pedigree to Sixers

slideshow-sixers-brett-brown-ap.jpg

Brett Brown brings winning pedigree to Sixers

Everyone loves a winner.

Brett Brown, the Sixers’ new head coach and 24th in franchise history, has had the good fortune of being around winning people for as long as he can remember.

“How lucky am I to be around the coaches I have been around?” Brown asked Wednesday at his introductory press conference. “I have been around Hall of Fame coaches. Coach (Gregg) Popovich is a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame. Rick Pitino, in September, will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Last year, Lindsay Gaze, who is sort of the Pete Carril of the South Pacific with his motion offense, was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame. And my father, who raised me, has been inducted into the New England Hall of Fame. That is my background. The son of a coach, I have been around the game my whole life.”

Brown touched upon the many coaching influences he has had throughout his life. Perhaps the biggest one of those is Popovich, who Brown has spent the last 13 years with in the Spurs organization.

The longest-tenured coach in the league, “Pop” has a certain way of doing things. Members of his staff and his players understand you don’t venture far away from those principles.

“The first word that comes to mind is accountability,” Brown said of Popovich’s approach. “A mistake made against the Miami Heat in Game 6 is dealt with like we would deal with a mistake made at Charlotte in January. There is a brutal honesty in regards to accountability.

“There is a human side of Pop that a lot of people just don’t understand. He is a good man, but there’s a toughness and a competitiveness and a demanding, non-negotiable stance that you can’t help but bring with you. It is highly influencing.”

While having the right mentality goes a long way, Brown will be the first to tell you that NBA franchises win with stars. The Sixers will need to develop a star or attract one in free agency some time during Brown’s tenure in order to get the team among the league’s elite.
Brown was spoiled in San Antonio because the Spurs had a roster with three stars in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.

“Those three guys are pretty special and the fact that they have been with that franchise their whole career is very unique,” Brown said. “Those guys are different cats character-wise. They come to practice, they buy in, there is a discipline to their attitude, a discipline to their diet and a discipline to showing up on time. They genuinely care. They want to get better.

“Isn’t it interesting when you ask somebody if they really want to get better? Some people like that question. Some people, it takes them back. It is a strong, honest question and those three guys really display what a professional does and needs to do.”

Duncan, Parker and Ginobili have 21 All-Star selections between them. The Sixers’ roster is currently void of any All-Stars. However, Brown believes the roster he has inherited is full of “workable pieces.”

“I have always been a fan of Thaddeus (Young),” Brown said. “I see in Evan (Turner) just that potential. You see the versatility of Spencer (Hawes). You get a taste of Michael Carter-Williams from what he did in college. I think you see what a healthy, fit Lavoy (Allen) could bring to the table.

“I think there are pieces there that we can build around, and I think there is a toughness that the city almost demands. I really look forward to seeing the young guys that we are going to try and bring along.”

Brown, who initially joined the Spurs as the director of player development, spoke highly of San Antonio’s tools for helping players progress. Just as he wants to maintain Popovich’s sense of accountability, Brown also plans to follow a similar model for bringing players along.

“I have seen guys over the years get floaters and jump shots,” Brown said. “I saw for many years people go under pick-and-rolls on Tony Parker and we learned how to take advantage of it, and he became a better shooter and so on. Everybody has his own road map.”

Brown begins his journey with the Sixers after securing a four-year contract from the organization. He understands winning and even more so the work ethic that must be put in to reach a championship level.

“I have been a part of five NBA championships and we won four,” Brown said. “I have been a part of five Game 7s. You appreciate how hard it is to be playing in May and how really hard it is playing in June.”

Brown’s challenge has officially started this August and the Sixers hope one day it can end with a championship in June.

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”