With Brown, player development will be key

slideshow-sixers-brett-brown-ap.jpg

With Brown, player development will be key

After Brett Brown had finished answering all the questions and meeting folks from the local media and Sixers’ front office, a tall fellow well dressed in stylish summertime clothing introduced himself to the new coach.

“Hi, coach. I’m World B. Free.”

Suddenly it was as if Brown had been transported back to the Boston Garden in 1977. That’s where one could have spotted Brown with a camera trying to snap pictures of all his heroes.

“World B. Free! You were my guy,” Brown said after meeting the Sixers’ community ambassador.

Brown said he felt quite humbled to be a part of the Sixers’ organization. While growing up in Portland, Me., Brown rooted for the Celtics, and the Sixers were always their biggest competition in the Eastern Conference.

But like any student of the game, Brown had plenty of respect for the Sixers.

“To be here is surreal. I can still see Doc (Julius Erving) and (George) McGinnis and Mo Cheeks and (Andrew) Toney,” Brown said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday, “and I’m sitting there at the Garden with my Polaroid camera trying to get any shot I can.”

Along with the guys he grew up rooting for (or against), Brown had a few potential Hall of Famers he helped groom with the Spurs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are two players Brown played a role in developing. But defender extraordinaire Bruce Bowen was Brown’s guy.

Now, Brown has to learn who his guys are with his new team.

So far, Brown has an outsider’s perspective on the Sixers based on game planning against them two times a year. He knows all about Thad Young and Evan Turner, while Spencer Hawes has a style that can present match-up issues. Those three players are the remaining veteran core of the Sixers, and they will all be 25 on opening night.

“I’ve always been a fan of Thaddeus. I see that potential in Evan. You pay attention to Spencer,” Brown said. “The pieces that are in place are workable pieces. I look forward to working with them.”

After that trio, which has a combined 15 years of NBA experience, the rest of the roster is even younger. Big man Nerlens Noel was the No. 6 pick in the June draft and won’t be able to play until December. Michael Carter-Williams, the No. 11 pick, is a raw talent with a shot that needs work.

Returning is last year’s first-round pick Arnett Moultrie, who is still just 22. Lavoy Allen, 24, will be back for his third year in the league in what could be a make-or-break season.

Then there is the enigmatic Royce White, still only 22, who was acquired from Houston after the draft, and Arsalan Kazemi, the first Iranian drafted, who will also be a project.

The Sixers have a lot of youth, not much experience and the most cash under the salary cap of any team in the NBA. In fact, the Sixers are flirting with the salary cap floor, which requires each team to use at least 75 percent of its cap space.

After spending the last decade with future Hall of Famers on those juggernaut Spurs teams, Brown says he knows what he got himself into with the Sixers.

“If I was going to leave the situation I had in San Antonio, it had better be for the right one,” Brown said. “I think this is a high-calculated chance. It's dangerous. [Rebuilding] is always a very hard thing, but I feel just thrilled to be here.”

Part of the trick of working with a young, rebuilding team is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Brown said one of his main tasks this season will be to make sure to keep “the locker room together.” Certainly that will be tough because there will be nights when the Sixers will be playing as hard as they can, and it won’t be good enough.

That’s why Brown wants to hit the ground running, literally. Fitness is going to be the cornerstone with the Sixers. They will be able to run and play defense, Brown said.

Of course, that leaves biggest issue: shooting. With Jrue Holiday traded to New Orleans, the Sixers lost their best shooter and assist man. Turner could be the go-to scorer, but he has struggled with his shot ever since he came into the NBA. Coming off his worst shooting season as a pro (41.9 percent from the field), Turner connected at 38.1 percent on shots 16-feet or longer.

Meanwhile, Young has played as an undersized power forward for the last several seasons and hasn’t developed his shot as much as he would like. And at 7-foot, Hawes isn’t conjuring thoughts of the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki.

That leaves the rookie Carter-Williams, who shot just 39 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent from three-point range for Syracuse last season. Brown was quick to point out that neither Parker nor Jason Kidd was much of a shooter when they came into the league.

“It’s a great example, comparing Tony and Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said. “There are lots of things that Michael is going to have to expect on how people are guarding him and to counter it he’s going to have to get better.

“Look at the history of Russell Westbrook. Look at the history of Derrick Rose. Those guys learned to take their speed and space and still be great. It’s not a matter of rising up and hitting threes. You have to use your environment wisely. With Tony, Russell and Rose, you can see the evolution of their shot. Look at Jason Kidd. There are a lot of examples where you can say, ‘Hey, Michael, here’s the whole chain of events.’”

It’s fun to talk about the future now, but in its infancy and development, there will be a lot of growing pains with the Sixers.

Doc, McGinnis, Cheeks and Toney won’t be walking through that door when training camp opens. Those guys are going to have to be made in the gym with Brown leading the way.

“Some of our players got better [Wednesday],” Sixers president and GM Sam Hinkie said when hiring Brown.

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Elfrid Payton scored 22 of his season-high 25 points in the first half and the Orlando Magic overcame John Wall's 52-point performance to beat the Washington Wizards, 124-116 on Tuesday night.

Wall had the highest-scoring game of his career and kept Washington in it with 33 points in the second half as the Wizards cut the lead below 10 in the fourth quarter. The guard made 18 of 31 from the field and added eight assists.

Payton went 8 for 8 from the field and 3 for 3 from the line off the bench in that first half, nearly matching his previous season best of 23 points in the first two quarters alone. Payton finished 9 for 12 and handed out nine assists.

Orlando won its third straight game and its 124 points were a season high (see full recap).

Spurs trounce Timberwolves to reach 13-0 on the road
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and the San Antonio Spurs improved to 13-0 on the road this season with a 105-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

Leonard hit 11 of 15 shots after not scoring at all in the first quarter and Patty Mills scored 15 points off the bench for the Spurs (18-4), who played without Tony Parker after he bruised his left knee against Milwaukee on Wednesday night. San Antonio overcame a slow start to shoot 52.7 percent.

The Spurs moved past the 1969-70 New York Knicks to take sole possession of the second-best road start to begin a season in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors started 14-0 last year.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 3 of 16 (see full recap).

Anthony, Knicks blow past depleted Heat
MIAMI -- Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the New York Knicks beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night.

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds (see full recap).

Sixers' gutsy effort not enough in tight loss to Grizzlies

Sixers' gutsy effort not enough in tight loss to Grizzlies

BOX SCORE

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The ice bucket where his feet were chilling, the ice bags on both knees, the tired, almost resigned look on his face — and the very full stat line — were proof positive that Ersan Ilyasova gave it everything he had, and then some, Tuesday night for the Sixers.

Yet in the end — again — it was not enough to keep Memphis' All-Star bigs, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, from pummeling their way to a ninth straight win over the Sixers, 96-91, before 13,521 at FedEx Forum (see Instant Replay).

Both teams were in the second game of back-to-backs. Both benches were severely depleted by injuries and illness. Randolph had not played since a double-overtime win in Philadelphia Nov. 23, just hours before his mother suddenly died. Star point guard Mike Conley is out with two fractured vertebra, leaving the point to a pair of rookies.

On the Sixers’ side, rookie star Joel Embiid was tethered to the bench for mandatory rest in the second game of a back-to-back. Jahlil Okafor (illness), Nerlens Noel (knee), Jerryd Bayless (wrist) and, of course, Ben Simmons (foot) were all out.

The Sixers had lost seven straight since that first meeting with the Grizzlies this season at the Wells Fargo Center.

Ilyasova did his part that night with season highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds. Thin up front on Tuesday, Brown relied on Ilyasova’s tenacity inside along with the ability of the veteran and Dario Saric to hit the three and drive to the hoop. Ilyasova, a pending free agent from Turkey, stepped up again with 23 points, including four threes, 17 boards, four assists and two blocks.

“That’s the only way we’re going to win,” Ilyasova said. “Come out with more energy and give it 110 percent. That, and play smart.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown said, “There is a toughness to him. He’s an acquired assassin. He goes about his business. He does it without emotion.”

Saric added 17 points, including the trey that helped give the Sixers a 77-76 lead after three quarters and the bucket that put them up, 91-89, with less than two minutes to play.

Gasol, coming off a triple-double with 28 points, 11 rebounds and as many assists in a double-OT win at New Orlenas Monday, had 26 points and 12 boards. Randolph struggled until the fourth quarter. He parked down low for eight of his 12 points in the frame. Randolph also finished with 14 rebounds and had a loving crowd wanting to give him a giant bear hug.

“He rebounds in his sleep,” Brown said of Z-Bo. “Any 50-50 balls that are close to the rim … he’s done that his whole life. … Zach and Marc are obviously NBA veterans very capable of closing out games.”

The Sixers, who stayed in the game by hitting 14 of 41 three-point tries, had two of their 16 turnovers in the final 1:06. They also hit just 13 of 26 free throws, were outrebounded, 53-45, and outscored in the paint, 52-34.

“We’ve got to play smarter and take care of little things like free throws and the glass,” Ilyasova said.

Still, Randolph left the door open. With the Grizzlies up 94-91, he missed two free throws with nine seconds left. The Sixers set up Nik Stauskas (12 points) for a left-wing three. But he missed the shot and was 1 of 8 from distance on the night.

“I got a really good look, it just didn’t fall,” Stauskas said. “That’s been the theme the last two years. We fight, we fight and things just don’t go our way. We make a few mistakes and teams capitalize.”

The Grizzlies came through again in “clutch time” and are now 11-0 in games decided by five points or less or that reached overtime. 

The Sixers are 4-18 for the season and losers of eight straight going into Thursday’s game at New Orleans.

Brown said he told his team after the loss that the group “showed tremendous character. Fourth game in five nights. We came down with nine guys, are playing a tough, playoff, hard Memphis team. We had a chance to win the game and I was proud of their effort.”

Still, Stauskas said effort without results “gets old. It really gets old.”