What Are We Looking for From New Sixers Coach Brett Brown?

What Are We Looking for From New Sixers Coach Brett Brown?

The weird thing about following a team that everyone presumes is tanking next season--and everyone agrees should be following that exact strategy--is that it's hard to get excited about potentially positive developments for the team. Any personnel move that might make this team better had better not make the team that much better for at least another season, lest any slight improvement in team quality result in the Sixers falling out of the draft's top tier, and end up picking ninth in a draft that has eight potential franchise-changers.

So with news of the Sixers' recent hire of Brett Brown of head coach, and their recent press conference to introduce him to the Sixer faithful, it's hard to know exactly what we want from the guy. We don't want him to step in and be so brilliant and creative on both sides of the ball that he somehow leads this team to overachieve their way into playoff contention (and out of the lottery). But of course, we don't want him to be so incompetent that the team turns on him and has to replace him a year or two into his four-year deal.

What do we want out of Brown then, especially in his sure-to-be-rough first season? Let's review.

Building a good relationship with the young players. This is either priority #1 or #1a for Brett Brown, and probably the main reason he was hired from San Antonio, where as director of player development for 2002-2006, he played a part in turning then-unknown late draft picks Manu Ginobii and Tony Parker into the future Hall-of-Famers they are today. There's no saying that he has the magic touch to turn Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel into that kind of All-Star-caliber player, especially not in their respective debut seasons, but if he can at least get on the same page as them, develop trust and respect with them, then that will be undeniably important to the team moving forward. (And if he can get through to more veteran players like Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes and find more effective ways to use them than than Doug Collins ever did, even better.)

A recent analogue here would be head coach Scott Brooks with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Brooks was named replacement coach of the Thunder midway through Kevin Durant's sophomore season (and Russell Westbrook's rookie season), and lost a whole lot his first year--22-47 in his incomplete head coaching debut. But he built relationships with Durant and Westbrook, figured out that Westbrook could be trusted at point guard and that playing Durant at shooting guard was ridiculous, and the next season, the team won 50 games. That's a ridiculous turnaround that couldn't possibly be expected from the Sixers--especially since we don't have anything near a Durant on our roster currently--but it's a model of short-term pain to long-term benefit that could be worth seeing through.

Staying on the same page as management and ownership. Any NBA expert will tell you that the most important thing for a franchise's sustained long-term success is having the owner, general manager and coach all on the same page. Given the strenuous vetting process that Sam Hinkie presumably underwent both before being hired by majority owner Josh Harris and before hiring Brett Brown himself--if Hinkie isn't convinced that Brown is his man after the team's comically overextended coaching search this summer, he'll probably never be satisfied with anyone--we can probably assume that the three men are all ordering their cheesesteaks the same way these days, with no confusion or mixed messages between anyone.

In other words, there's little chance that Brown will be overloading on veterans and keeping his young players bench-ridden while Hinkie wants to develop the young guys and not mess with the team's draft standing, or that Brown will let his young players run amok while Harris loses patience with the rampant losing at the Wells Fargo Center and wants him to squeeze out every W possible. All three same to be working from the same playbook for the time being--you can practically taste the synchronicity at the team's pressers--and as long as they stay that way, the team should be headed in a good direction.

Installing logical offensive and defensive schemes. The Spurs were able to maintain consistent success for over a decade partly by having comprehensive strategies on both sides of the ball that allowed Popovich and company to seamlessly slot fungible players in and out of their rotations, with knowledge that all of their non-stars would know their roles and fit into them without overstepping or messing up their continuity. Brown talked about this during his press conference, and about how he'd like to run on offense next season, so next year is a chance to experiment with that and tool it around the personnel at hand, to get to a pace that both team and coach are comfortable with.

Consistency year-to-year is incredibly important in the NBA, so if the team can go into next year already knowing what they want to do on the court, that will give them a sizable advantage over other rebuilding teams still trying to find their way, and will help them create a comprehensive team culture that could, lord willing, eventually get them to a level approaching that of the Spurs. Of course, you need the pieces to do that as well as the concepts, but for now, Brown can only work on the latter, and hopefully Hinkie can help him out with the former over the next few years.

Figuring out specific areas where certain players need to get better. Michael Carter-Williams could really use a Tony Parker-like floater in his offensive arsenal for when defenders give him space after he turns the corner on the pick-and-roll. Thaddeus Young could help the team stay versatile in their lineups by extending his range to the three-point line. Nerlens Noel could probably stand to beef up a little, to avoid getting pushed around so much by stronger post players. Evan Turner should almost definitely stop taking those pull-up jumpers in transition. And Spencer Hawes needs to get a friggin' hand up to contest on defense.

Brett Brown will undoubtedly figure all this out, and more, over the course of the season. Isolating these micro problem areas and instilling in the players the importance of fixing them is a key first step towards rebuilding. A lot of that is on the players to actually put in the necessary work, but it has to start with Brown, and his sterling reputation for player development, to task them with doing so, and getting on them if they don't.

Staying on the good side of the fanbase. Brown seems like a likeable guy, someone who understands winning basketball and who even understand the city of Philadelphia fairly well. The fanbase is frustrated enough with the team's extended mediocrity and knowledgeable enough about the historic upcoming draft class that few if any will really get on Brown if the team loses big next season, so all Brown really has to do to survive his first year in Philly is to not piss people off. Don't snap at media, don't call out the fans, don't make inflammatory comments about any of the players--just keep a low profile, lose with class, and live to fight another season.

Seems obvious, but losing takes different tolls on different sorts of demeanors, and we won't know how Brown will react until we see it first-hand. Better times are ahead for this franchise, but Brett needs to weather the bad ones first, and hopefully without alienating the city in the process.

Alec Asher lone bright spot as Phillies continue to limp to finish with another loss to Mets

Alec Asher lone bright spot as Phillies continue to limp to finish with another loss to Mets

The Phillies returned home from a bad road trip Friday with only three games to play and the only thing to play for being the role of spoilers.

With the New York Mets in town looking to put a stranglehold on a wildcard spot, the Phillies, as another losing season finishes out, could be a thorn in the side of their rivals.

Alec Asher looked like he was playing the part of spoiler, retiring the first 11 batters he faced, but the Mets rallied, got behind starter Robert Gsellman, and turned back any Phillies sabotaging on this night, beating the home team, 5-1.

The two teams are heading in quite opposite directions.

The Mets, with their win, clinched at least a tiebreaker in the wildcard and guaranteed their season not ending on Sunday, the league’s final regular season date.

The Phillies on the other hand… 

“We’re certainly limping home,” said manager Pete Mackanin an hour or so after being ejected for the first time this year. “Not playing well, not swinging the bats very well.”

They struck out 14 times Friday night. And after scraping a run across in the second inning, never really looked like they were in the game at the plate.

Mackanin's ejection came in the eighth inning. Mackanin wasn’t happy with first base umpire Will Little and was thrown out of a game. Reliever Michael Mariot threw a fastball in on Yoenis Cespedes and Cespedes appeared to lose control of the bat through the strike zone. When appealed to, Little ruled Cespedes did not swing, and out came Mackanin.

"I had to get thrown out there," Mackanin said.

Perhaps he just couldn't stand to watch anymore. 

Gsellman battled through some early struggles and stymied the Phillies’ offense. Gsellman turned in six innings of one-run baseball, improving to 4-2 on the year. He allowed one run on seven hits and struck out seven.

Asher, in his last start of 2016, was the lone bright spot on this night.

With two outs in the fourth, his brief perfect game bid was ended with a single from Yoenis Cespedes. That was followed by another from Curtis Granderson. 

Jay Bruce then worked a full count but Asher couldn’t put him away. On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Bruce singled home Cespedes to tie the score. 

A fourth consecutive single, this time off the bat of T.J. Rivera, allowed Granderson to cross the plate for a 2-1 Mets lead.

Asher’s night and season ended with a Bruce home run - his third in as many games - to lead off the top of the seventh.

“I wanted to go sinker away and just kind of got it mid-thigh belt,” Asher said. “He took advantage of the mistake.”

Asher, 24, went six-plus innings Friday, throwing 104 pitches while allowing three runs on five hits. He struck out four and walked zero.

His 2016 finishes with a 2.28 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 27 ⅔ innings pitched. He struck out 13 and walked four.

“Last year when Asher was here I recall being asked if it was a smart thing to do because he got rocked so badly,” Mackanin said. “We talked about if and when he did get back to the big leagues if he would be able to handle it. What kind of make up he had. Certainly he made an adjustment. Added a two-seam fastball which he never had. Has a plus changeup. He needs a little more work on his breaking ball, but nevertheless he’s pitched well since he’s been back. He’s done a good job.”

The Phillies bullpen hasn’t lately.

Mariot, in relief of Asher, gave up two runs in 1 ⅔ innings of relief, including Bruce’s third RBI of the night to give the Mets a 5-1 lead.

The Phillies offense then went quietly into the fall night. The Mets didn’t allow a hit from the final 12 Phillies hitters.

Their season will continue beyond Sunday.

“It’s step one of a bigger accomplishment,” said Mets manager Terry Collins. “We’re certainly pleased we get to play past Sunday.”

The Phillies are just limping.

Orthopedist on Ben Simmons' injury: 'The prognosis is good'

Orthopedist on Ben Simmons' injury: 'The prognosis is good'

On Friday, Sixers fans got some bad news when the team revealed that No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons fractured the fifth metatarsal in his right foot.

The Sixers didn't give a timetable for his return, saying that they were reviewing treatment options for the 6-foot-10 point-forward.

As a guest on CSNPhilly's Sportsnet Central, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Schwartz gave a little insight into Simmons' injury. Schwartz is not treating Simmons, but has dealt with similar injuries. Schwartz believes the prognosis is good for the Sixers' rookie.

"The big question is where the exact location of this fracture is," Schwartz said. "That will dictate the prognosis and the treatment. If it's at the base of the fifth metatarsal, it's usually a non-surgical treatment. It's usually a cast/boot for six to eight weeks and return to play somewhere around eight weeks."

That would be great news considering Sixers fans didn't get to see Nerlens Noel the year he was drafted and are still awaiting the debut of 2014 draft pick Joel Embiid. 

Schwartz warns that the injury could be something known as a Jones fracture, which would likely require surgery and the recovery could be three to four months. The prognosis would still be good, according to Schwartz, but other NBA players have had lengthy recoveries with a similar injury.

"The prognosis is still good, but we know that Kevin Durant had a Jones fracture and he was out for an entire season because of it not healing," Schwartz said. "But the prognosis is good, however, the question is whether it's going to require surgery or not."

For more from Schwartz on Simmons' injury and possible timetable, check out the video above.