With Brown, player development will be key

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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.

Sergio Rodriguez ready for 'opportunity' of 2nd NBA stint

Sergio Rodriguez ready for 'opportunity' of 2nd NBA stint

GALLOWAY, N.J. — It’s Round 2 for Sergio Rodriguez.

Ten years after beginning his first stint in the NBA, he is back as a veteran point guard on the Sixers. The green 20-year-old is now 30, with European and Olympic experience behind him. Rodriguez is looking to build upon his previous four NBA seasons, which culminated in 2010, in a leadership role in Philadelphia.

“It feels great,” Rodriguez said Thursday after the training camp morning session at Stockton University. “It’s a second opportunity for me.”

Rodriguez played three seasons for the Trail Blazers from 2009-10 and split his fourth year with the Kings and Knicks. He averaged a quiet 4.3 points, 2.9 assists and 1.3 rebounds in 13.2 minutes per game. Rodriguez returned to his native Spain and found a higher level of success, including winning the EuroLeague title with Real Madrid, being named EuroLeague MVP, and competing in the Olympics. Last season Rodriguez averaged 10.9 points (40.9 percent from three), 6.2 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 24 minutes for Real Madrid. 

Head coach Brett Brown considers Rodriguez one of the top point guards that had played in Europe. 

“He just has a real gift for understanding, especially offensive tempo,” Brown said. “I think that his ability to run a pick-and-roll and figure out how teams are playing it and where they’re rotating from about a pass sooner, one dribble sooner so he can pick off rotations. He’s very gifted in that environment. I think he’s got a bounce to his game and a pace to his game that he will be absorbed in how I want to play well.”

Both Brown and Rodriguez anticipate challenges on the defensive end as Rodriguez re-acclimates himself in the NBA. He will be tasked with guarding some of the league’s toughest point guards, and will also be involved in numerous pick-and-rolls each game. 

After years of playing in Spain, Rodriguez has to get to know a new group of players. He considers the responsibility of a point guard to be getting his entire team involved, particularly with all the youth on the SIxers.

“I will try to feel comfortable for my teammates. For a point guard, you need to have the confidence that everybody is happy playing with you,” Rodriguez said, also noting, “Always the point guard has to run the show. Especially for this team, we have so many young players that need to develop and need to know how to win.” 

So far that is working.

“Sergio’s great,” Nerlens Noel said. “He’s a real vocal leader, even with that little accent he’s got. He makes it work. I think as the season goes along, we’ll continue to get on the same page and really start to mesh a little better.” 

Rodriguez left the NBA as a young guard and is now ready to make a comeback with years of experience. 

"I’m very excited to have this upcoming season and to be successful for my team, my teammates, the organization," he said.

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist.