Can Brown build culture like mentor Popovich?


Can Brown build culture like mentor Popovich?

They went to dinner the other night -- shared stories, told jokes, reminisced. It was just like old times. They’ve had a lot of those together.

Brett Brown was an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio for years. They have been friends for so long that Popovich couldn’t recall when he knew Brown was ready to lead his own NBA team.

“I’ve known him for way too long to remember,” Popovich said. “He’s got a great personality, a great energy and exuberance about him. He has a love for the game and a love for people, and it shows in everything that he does. He’ll infect the players with that, and they will respond. And over time, you’ll all be very happy.”

Time. They talked a lot about that on Monday -- about all the time Popovich has put in with the Spurs and all the time Brown still has to put in with the Sixers. Popovich has been the head coach in San Antonio since the 1996-97 season. His first year, the Spurs won 17 games. The next year, they won 56.

Popovich’s teams have won 50 or more games in 15 of the last 17 seasons. They would have done it in 1998-99, too, except it was a strike shortened 50-game campaign. (The Spurs won 37 games that year.) They have won the NBA championship four times under Popovich. Brown was there for all of them.

The victories and the titles would be nice, but when Brown was asked what he would like to borrow from San Antonio and bring to Philadelphia, he didn’t hesitate.

“The opportunity to build a culture,” Brown said on a night when the Spurs smacked the Sixers, 109-85, at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). “You look at that team, and I’m watching them play the New York Knicks [on Sunday], and they’re bringing Kawhi Leondard, Manu Ginobli and Tiago Splitter off the bench. Now, you’ve got some gold medalists in there. You’ve got future All-Stars in Kawhi. You’ve got a lot of talent just rolling in off the bench ... they’ve had the opportunity to build a culture.”

That last part was important. In case anyone was confused by his meaning -- or by the fact that the Sixers have surprised people by winning half of their games so far -- Brown explained.

“You don’t use the word culture without respect for what it really means,” he continued. “People kick around that word like it’s a word. It takes time. Never can you associate culture without applying longevity. There’s been a length of time that that group has been with each other. They’re veteran. They’re men. They’re Hall of Famers. They’re gold medalists. You’ve got a Hall of Fame coach. It’s just a machine. That thing just chugs along and moves along and they’ll bang out another 50 [wins] this year and be amongst the NBA’s best again and again.”

Unless the Sixers go from early-season surprise to late-season mind-blowers, they will not win 50 games or be among the NBA’s best this year. The Spurs are in the advanced stages of culture cultivation. The Sixers are in the embryonic phase. As Brown said, the Spurs have men and Hall of Famers and the Sixers are trying to develop youngsters like Michael Carter-Williams -- and whichever players they pluck with all those draft picks they’ve stockpiled.

It will take time. Luck too. The Spurs have been at it a while, but you don’t get to be at it a while -- you don’t get the longevity necessary to build a culture -- unless you’re fortunate enough to land quality talent.

“This is repetition a million times,” Popovich said. “What we did is, we didn’t screw it up. We’ve had a lot of good fortune. When you can have David [Robinson] in your program and you’re fortunate enough to draft Tim Duncan to follow him, you’re talking about a couple of decades of possible success, obviously, if you don’t screw it up. I try to leave it at that. We don’t know anything that other people don’t know. But with those guys as the base of an organization for 20 years, anybody would love to have that good fortune.”

It has been a good start for Carter-Williams, but the Sixers are a long way from knowing what sort of player he’ll be over his career. They’re even further from knowing about Nerlens Noel and whomever they end up drafting or adding next year and beyond. Time and luck. Building a culture with the Sixers was never going to be easy. Brown knew it all along.

“When you see that, the undercurrent behind the scenes [with the Spurs], is detail and pride for day-to-day work,” Brown said. “That’s in all areas. It’s not just what you do on a court. It’s how you act in all capacities and how you build a program -- from general managers to equipment managers to head coaches to trainers, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.”

And there, once more, just to fully explain himself, just to make sure there was no confusion about the heavy lifting ahead and all the backs it might break, Brown clarified.

“The program is looking for A’s,” Brown said, “not B-pluses.”

Nerlens Noel undergoes surgery on sore left knee

Nerlens Noel undergoes surgery on sore left knee

Nerlens Noel has had surgery on his sore left knee, and the Sixers have not disclosed a timetable for the disgruntled center's return.

Noel has been out since the team's first preseason game. He initially had a left groin strain before experiencing soreness in the knee during rehab, and it was discovered he had an inflamed plica. 

The team is calling the surgery a "minor elective arthroscopic procedure." It was performed in New York by Dr. Riley J. Williams at the Hospital for Special Surgery.

Noel eventually will travel to Birmingham, Ala. to rehab with associate clinical director Kevin Wilk at Champion Sports Medicine.

The Sixers expect to have a timetable for his return once Noel returns to Philadelphia. According to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, Noel is expected to miss three to five weeks. 

This has been a rough preseason for Noel, who hasn't hidden his displeasure with his role on the Sixers' jammed frontcourt. The team has until Oct. 31 to extend his rookie contract but, per a report in the Inquirer earlier this month, the two sides have yet to discuss it. 

Sixers still deciding who will start opener, how long Jahlil Okafor will play

Sixers still deciding who will start opener, how long Jahlil Okafor will play

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown doesn’t have many options at his disposal for opening night against the Thunder, but a day before the Sixers' regular-season tip-off, he still is considering how to utilize his shorthanded roster.

What Brown is sure of is Joel Embiid will be capped at 20 minutes in five four-minute segments. Embiid, coming off two years of foot injuries, began the preseason playing 12.

The Sixers have not locked in a minutes restriction on Jahlil Okafor. The second-year big man aggravated his right knee during training camp and played eight minutes in his first preseason game last Friday.

“You’ll intermittently sub that and Richaun Holmes will make up the rest,” Brown said after practice Tuesday. “The five-spot is locked in with those three, and I feel like tomorrow we’ll be able to better figure out how many four-minute sections does Jahlil actually get.”

Brown started Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, Robert Covington, Dario Saric and Embiid in the final two preseason games. On Tuesday he did not announce a starting five, specifically a point guard. That role is between Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell because of the injury to Jerryd Bayless (wrist). 

“Still considering a lot,” Brown said of the one-spot. “Not prepared right now to say one thing or another.”

Rodriguez, who has been practicing with the white squad, anticipates he will be given the nod. It will be his first regular-season game in the NBA since 2010.

“Yes, I expect, but for me that doesn’t matter,” Rodriguez said. “It’s going to be a big game for everybody. Everybody needs to be ready. We will need all we have to beat them.”

The Sixers' inactive list includes Bayless, Ben Simmons (foot) and Nerlens Noel (knee), all of whom could be starters if healthy. With so many injuries to major contributors and the implementation of segmented minutes, Brown will have to look down his bench over the course of four quarters.

“We’re going to have to go 10-deep. I bet we could even go 11-deep,” he said. “We’re in a very unusual circumstance that players can’t play multiple minutes. ... That, coupled with I think you can’t expect to have the energy and effort that we want on the floor without giving people six-minute chunks.” 

The Sixers and Thunder face off at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center.