Brett Brown still has lasting effect on Gregg Popovich's Spurs

Brett Brown still has lasting effect on Gregg Popovich's Spurs

Brett Brown left the Spurs in 2013 to become the head coach of the Sixers. Four years since his departure, his influence is greatly felt by his former team.

During the Spurs' trip to Philadelphia on Wednesday, head coach Gregg Popovich, and players alike, raved about Brown’s 11-plus seasons with the organization.

“He’s the most incredible, positive, sort of force that I’ve ever been around in my life,” Popovich said. “I don’t just say that because we worked together for all those years. He was with me from Day 1, putting our program together. So I know how intense he is, I know how much he loves the game, I know how he teaches, and when I would get down he’d be the positive one to lift me up.

“It’s just incredible to me that he stayed so even temperament-wise and still is in love with teaching guys. He doesn’t care if it’s somebody who’s a pickup for 10 days or a high draft pick. He just enjoys the process and he just never gives in."

Brown had an established coaching career in Australia when he first came to the Spurs on a volunteer basis in 1999. Popovich had heard about Brown’s reputation overseas as well as his college experience playing for Rick Pitino at Boston University. Popovich was intrigued by what Brown could bring to the table.

“I had heard good things from people back East about him and checked him out a little bit,” Popovich recalled. “... I thought that would be a good addition, just to see what I could learn from him, that kind of thing. As soon as he got there, we started putting it together, the way we wanted to run the program. We became fast friends and never changed since then.”

Brown returned to Australia after that first stint. He was then hired by the Spurs in 2002 as the director of player development.

That season, a rookie guard from Argentina, a former 57th pick was joining the organization after years of international experience. Brown was tasked with tapping into the talents of Manu Ginobili.  

“He was basically the guy assigned to me,” said Ginobili, now a 15-year NBA veteran. “We spent a lot of time together. We worked out a lot of hours. I absolutely love the guy. High-quality coach, even higher quality guy, fun to be around. I’m completely biased talking about him. I really appreciated him. He’s one of my favorite people, not coaches.”

Brown and Popovich struck a coaching balance that shined in the Spurs’ championship-winning culture. When Popovich was hard on the team, Brown, who was promoted to assistant coach in 2006, was there to lighten the message. Their dynamic helped breed success, including four NBA titles (1999, 2003, 2005, 2007).

“He’s always the cup-is-half-full kind of guy,” Popovich said. “With that, he’s got a really cool sense of humor. He’s a funny dude. The players appreciated it. He knew how to laugh at himself, he knew how to make them laugh. Win or lose, how to go on to the next game, or turnover or missed shot, how to go on to the next play. Sometimes I’d be more focused on something else and he would be there to slap somebody on the butt after I just drilled them, especially Tony Parker.”

That constant encouragement had long-lasting effects on the Spurs. Take Danny Green as an example. Green joined the Spurs in 2010, already on his second team in as many years after being waived by the Cavaliers.

Brown urged Green, who shot a mere 27.3 percent from long range his rookie season, to keep taking his looks no matter how many times he missed. Green listened and went on to set the record for most three-pointers made in the NBA Finals in 2013. Brown has been instilling the same mantra in Robert Covington on the Sixers.

“Brownie’s amazing,” Green said. “He was always the positive guy and kept things even-keeled. He always told me to shoot the ball every time. … He’s always that guy to brighten up the practice, brighten up the day, made our lives easier for us, made our jobs easier for us.”

As the years went on, Brown forged special bonds with the players. He poured into them and got to know them as both athletes and people away from the game. In turn, the players learned about Brown as more than a coach. Spurs guard Patty Mills, who also played for Brown on the Australian national team, was struck by his family values.

“I love him. He’s one of my all-time favorite coaches,” Mills said. “I remember how passionate he is. He uses a lot of his time and energy to making sure that whatever he’s doing, he gets the most out of it. It’s good when you have a leader or a coach that puts everything into it ... I think the word I would use to describe him is ‘genuine.’”

Brown’s tenure in San Antonio came to an end in the summer of 2013. The Spurs lost to the Heat in Game 7 of the NBA Finals that June. Both Brown and fellow assistant coach Mike Budenholzer (Hawks) accepted head coaching jobs for the following season. Brown’s presence was quickly missed when he parted ways to begin his career in Philadelphia.

“When he left and also Bud left, it was just different,” Green said. “It was after we lost, it was a tough summer, it was a tough year. ... Until we got back to the playoffs and back to the championship and won it, finally, the whole year was kind of a drag. … Everybody was hard on each other. There was a lot of tension, a lot of hostility, a lot of still thinking about that previous summer, previous year of losing.

"It was very hard and we lost that guy that mediates the locker room and the coaching staff — him and Bud. It was very different until we won it and then it kind of eased up a little bit. But still, since he’s gone, the locker room’s been different."

There was an adjustment period for Brown as well. His time with the Sixers has been far from smooth. The team went 47-199 in his first three seasons during the phase known as “the process.” It seemed hard enough to remember everyone’s name in the revolving door of players let alone win games. Still, Brown kept the locker room together.

Brown finally has the opportunity to coach a foundation of players with a more clear direction of the team’s future, centered around Joel Embiid and the anticipated return of first overall pick Ben Simmons.

“I think he’s the perfect fit for this job to turn things around, keep guys positive, stay above water,” Green said. “If there was any guy to do it throughout a whole season with things going in the opposite direction, it’s him.”

The Sixers matched last season’s win total (10) in early January and went 10-5 on the month. They were one of the most successful teams in the league during that stretch before hitting a current five-game skid without an injured Embiid. The Spurs looked past the record and see progress from years past.

“It’s night and day,” Parker said. “They’re playing a lot better. They’re understanding what Brett wants on the court and moving the ball and playing good defense. Their energy was pretty good and I feel like they’re going in the right direction. When everybody’s going to be healthy, they’re going to be pretty good.”

Popovich has gone up against Brown twice in the last week. Even though the Spurs won both of those games, Popovich had plenty of compliments after Wednesday’s contest for the job Brown is doing.

“They executed better than we did,” Popovich said. “They moved the ball better than we did. It was very impressive. I thought they outplayed us in a lot of ways. Their grit, their hustle, their denying, their defensive aggressiveness was great. … Totally impressed with the Sixers.”

Brown's time with the Spurs meant just as much to him as it did to those he worked with and coached. He brought the same approach to the Sixers and it hasn't changed, win or lose. For Brown, basketball always has been just as much about those involved with it as the final score.

“You went through five championships — four of which you won — a bunch of All-Stars, a lot of incredible memories,” Brown said. “But it always gets back to relationships. It always gets back to people. The defensive accountability was what I remembered most at the start and then it blossomed into this freestyle Euro ball and people passing, along with the accountability defensively.

“Somewhere in that world, you hope you had a small part in the way they do things.”

A small part seems to be an understatement.

Report: Clippers trade star Chris Paul to Rockets in blockbuster

Report: Clippers trade star Chris Paul to Rockets in blockbuster

HOUSTON — Chris Paul is heading to Houston to join James Harden, and the Rockets will soon have two All-Stars in the backcourt to lead their chase for a championship.

The Rockets have reached an agreement to acquire Paul from the Clippers in exchange for Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and a protected first-round pick next year, a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The pick is only protected if Houston's pick lands in the first three of the 2018 draft, according to the person who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the teams haven't finalized the trade with free agency coming up on Saturday.

The 32-year-old Paul opted in for the last year of his contract so the Clippers could work on a deal.

The nine-time All-Star has averaged 18.7 points, 9.9 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals over his 12-year career, though he has been dogged with criticism in recent years for failing to help the Clippers get out of the second round of the playoffs. Los Angeles reached the postseason in each of Paul's six seasons with the team, but the Clippers were eliminated in the first round three times and in the Western Conference semifinals three other times.

Perhaps the most crushing playoff series loss of his tenure with the Clippers came to the Rockets in 2015. Los Angeles had a 3-1 lead in the conference semifinals before Houston won the last three games of the series to send Paul and the Clippers home early yet again.

The Clippers were eliminated in the first round the past two seasons and are likely to look much different next season. The Paul trade comes after Blake Griffin informed the team last week that he is opting out of the last year of his contract to explore free agency. J.J. Redick is also a free agent.

In Houston, Paul joins a team led by Harden that was eliminated by the San Antonio Spurs in the conference semifinals last season. With Harden's move to point guard last season, Paul's role will probably be a bit different than it has been in Los Angeles.

But he will add another scoring dimension in replacing Beverley in the starting lineup. Beverley received NBA defensive first team honors last week, but averaged just 9.3 points in his five seasons with the Rockets. He's the only Houston starter involved in the deal, with Williams and Dekker playing reserve roles last season.

Williams, the 2014-15 NBA Sixth Man of the Year, was traded to the Rockets from the Los Angeles Lakers in February. He averaged 14.9 points and three rebounds in 23 games for Houston after the trade.

Dekker, the 18th pick in the 2015 draft, missed all but three games as a rookie because of back surgery. The small forward was healthy this season and appeared in 77 games and averaged 6.3 points and 3.6 rebounds.

The deal was first reported by The Vertical.

Knicks, team president Phil Jackson agree to part ways

Knicks, team president Phil Jackson agree to part ways

NEW YORK — Phil Jackson wanted to trade Carmelo Anthony and wouldn't rule out dealing Kristaps Porzingis.

Turns out, Jackson is the one leaving.

Jackson is out as New York Knicks president after he oversaw one of the worst eras in team history, with the team saying in a statement Wednesday that they had "mutually agreed to part company."

Days after Jackson reiterated his desire to move Anthony and said he would listen to deals for Porzingis, Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan reversed course and cut ties with Jackson with two years remaining on his contract.

"After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction," Dolan said. "Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched."

But his work as a first-time executive was awful. The winner of an NBA-record 11 championships as coach, Jackson couldn't engineer one playoff berth while running the Knicks. The team was 80-166 in his three full seasons, including a franchise-worst 17-65 in 2014-15.

His departure was quickly welcomed by Knicks fans such as film director Spike Lee, who posted a picture of himself on Instagram in a celebratory pose after it was first reported by The Vertical.

The move comes less than a week after Jackson led the Knicks through the NBA draft and on the eve of free agency that opens Saturday. Dolan said he would not be involved in the operation of the team, adding that general manager Steve Mills would run the day-to-day business in the short term and that former Toronto executive Tim Leiweke would advise him and help develop a plan going forward.

Jackson was a Hall of Fame coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, delivering titles with some of the game's biggest stars like Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant. He also played for the Knicks when they won NBA titles in 1970 and 1973.

He was welcomed back to the organization with a $60 million contract to huge fanfare in March 2014, but it soon became clear the transition would be a poor one. His first coaching hire, Derek Fisher, lasted just 1 seasons, and Jackson's trades and free agency moves also failed to improve the club.

"I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren't able to do that," Jackson said. "New York fans deserve nothing less. I wish them and the Knicks organization all the best -- today and always."

The turbulence he created off the court may have led to his departure more than the Knicks' record on it.

Jackson publicly talked about moving without Anthony -- angering the National Basketball Players Association -- though the All-Star forward has two years left on the five-year, $124 million deal that Jackson gave him shortly after taking the job. Anthony has a no-trade clause and has said he wants to stay in New York, and the stalemate that hung over the team for much of last season threatened to linger throughout the summer.

Then Jackson said before the draft that he was listening to offers for Porzingis, the 21-year-old forward from Latvia whom he drafted with the No. 4 pick in 2015 in one of his few successful moves.

Coach Jeff Hornacek, in Orlando with the Knicks' team preparing for summer league, thanked Jackson for bringing him to New York last summer.

"It's a tough day for us but our group, really our focus is to get this team better, continue to build our young players and figure out a way to win," Hornacek said. "We have a lot of time before the regular season and we will figure that out."

Jackson believed the Knicks would compete for a playoff berth last season after he traded for Derrick Rose, signed Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee and hired Hornacek. But after a solid start, they quickly spiraled toward their familiar position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference and finished 31-51.

Despite all that, Dolan said during an ESPN Radio interview in February that he would allow Jackson to finish his contract, and the sides picked up the mutual two-year option on Jackson's contract.

But the instability involving Anthony and Porzingis threatened to damage the team's ability to lure free agents and may have spurred Dolan's decision. Though he had been intent on keeping Jackson, the dysfunction within the franchise showed no sign of ending even as Jackson, 71, largely stayed out of sight.

He never spoke to the media last season after vowing openness upon taking the job and refused to provide Anthony with the communication he sought.

"It's like a total train wreck ," tennis great and Knicks fan John McEnroe told The Associated Press last week.

"I mean, he's known as the Zen Master, like a master talker, and then he's not talking to anybody," McEnroe said of Jackson. "So this whole thing seems to have gone completely off the rails."

There was also incessant debate about Jackson's insistence that the team employ the triangle offense, which potential incoming players were schooled on during the run-up to last week's draft. The Knicks wound up taking 18-year-old French point guard Frank Ntilikina, who spoke highly of the triangle and Jackson's belief in the scheme.

"I think I can definitely fit with this system," Ntilikina said on draft night.

Not even a week later, the triangle is probably gone, and the Knicks will start anew.

Rose, the 2011 NBA MVP, will be a free agent. Noah -- whom Jackson gave a puzzling four-year, $72 million contract last summer -- will start the season by finishing out a 20-game suspension for violating the league's anti-drug policy. He averaged 5.0 points and 8.8 rebounds in his first season in New York, shooting just 44 percent from the foul line.