Can Brown build culture like mentor Popovich?

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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.”

Sixers Mailbag: Draft De'Aaron Fox at 3, re-sign Ersan Ilyasova?

Sixers Mailbag: Draft De'Aaron Fox at 3, re-sign Ersan Ilyasova?

This week, I tweeted asking for questions for a Sixers mailbag, and the replies came pouring in. (Thanks, everyone!)

So we changed it up and in addition to answering the questions in these articles, we also discussed some of the topics on PST Extra. Read below and watch the video for the responses. If you tweeted a question with #CSNSixersMailbag and don’t see it on here, don't worry, there will be plenty more answered leading up to the draft and free agency.

The Sixers should explore all possibilities: trade up, trade down, trade the pick, draft third. The draft is a little funky this year in that there is not a clear-cut choice between picks three through five, and perhaps beyond that. If the Sixers like either player, there is the possibility they could simply select that player No. 3.

I’ve said before, I could see Fox going third. The speedy point guard met with the Sixers at the draft combine and outlined how he would fit playing off the ball with Ben Simmons and finding opportunities with Joel Embiid. Is three a stretch for him? I don’t think so (more on why here).

Monk has not been projected as high as Fox, so the option of trading down for him is viable. If the Sixers draft for need, however, his skill set is a fit at three. Monk is their best option for a shooter, and they are lacking shooters. It's not uncommon for a prospect to jump in the draft order based on what the team at that selection is looking for. Of course, if the Sixers trade down, they could pick up another piece (future pick, etc.) in addition to Monk in the deal, which always is worth considering.

Ersan Ilyasova was a great veteran presence for the Sixers this season before they traded him to the Hawks at the deadline. He boosted their offense and, more importantly, helped in Dario Saric’s development.

The Sixers and Ilyasova had different plans for the future, though, and understandably so. Ilyasova, who turned 30 this month, was going to be looking for a longer-term contract this offseason than the Sixers were interested in offering. Ilyasova wanted commitment and security at this point in his career; the Sixers wanted flexibility with their options in the frontcourt.

Ilyasova has put together a résumé that will attract teams in free agency this summer.

The case for Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox to the Sixers at No. 3

The case for Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox to the Sixers at No. 3

Over the weeks leading up to the 2017 NBA draft, we'll be making cases for the Sixers to draft several prospects. Our series will kick off with options at No. 3 (or trade downs) followed by second-round possibilities. The 2017 NBA draft will take place on June 22 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

De'Aaron Fox
Position: PG
School: Kentucky
Height: 6-3
Weight: 170 pounds
Wingspan: 6-6½

The case for Fox
With maybe the deepest point guard class in recent draft history, Fox has been flying up draft boards in the past month while still staying relatively under the radar when compared with Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball — the expected top two picks in some order. He is electric on offense, and the Wildcats' guard posted double-figure points in all but four games during his lone collegiate season.

Against UCLA in the Sweet 16, Fox scored a career-high 39 and added four dimes. But perhaps more impressively, he shut down Ball, holding his 6-foot-6 counterpart to just 10 points on 4 of 10 shooting and one trey. And it wasn't just a one-time thing — two nights later, Fox held North Carolina guard Joel Berry II to just 11 points.

Although the Sixers have repeatedly said Ben Simmons will be their starting point guard at the beginning of next season (assuming the young star has no other setbacks), they will need someone to defend against opponents' quicker guards. With T.J. McConnell as the only true ballhandler currently on the roster, Fox certainly would be able to help spell Simmons at the point as well.

When experts began putting together their mock draft boards at the end of the college basketball season, Fox was frequently listed as a back-end lottery selection. Now, many have him as a potential top-five pick, and it's hard to see Fox slipping much past the Kings at No. 5 as Sacramento is a rebuilding team still in search of a point guard of their own.

The case against Fox
The biggest knock on Fox is his size. On Kentucky's website, he is listed at 187 pounds. But at the NBA draft combine, he measured in 17 pounds lighter. For scouts already concerned with his thin frame, this did little to reassure them that Fox will be able to hang with bigger guards at the next level — but maybe he fits as a complement to the 6-foot-11 Simmons.

Another worry is his three-point shooting. For the season, Fox shot just 24.9 percent from beyond the arc, attempting just fewer than two three-pointers per game. As a team in 2016-17, the Sixers took the seventh-most triples but ranked 25th out of 30 NBA teams from distance at 34 percent. With the Sixers in desperate need of consistent outside shooting, Fox would need to significantly improve that area of his game at the next level to help Brett Brown's team take the next step.

And, of course, as with most young ballhandlers (Fox is just 19), he has rough spots when leading the offense. Yes, Fox helped Kentucky to its fair share of highlight-reel alley-oops, yet he still struggled to command the Wildcats' offense at times and would occasionally get lost in pick-and-roll defense. Although his 5.8 assists per 40 minutes are a sign that he can eventually grow into the point guard that the Sixers need him to be, they could also use Fox to be an immediate impact player for a team that is finally trying to put all the pieces together.

Analysis
If the Sixers do in fact miss out on Fultz and Ball, Fox would certainly be a good consolation prize. He is incredibly quick with the ball in his hands and has the potential to improve defensively. In fact, our Amy Fadool lauded him as one of the most improved players in all of college basketball last season — he shot almost 48 percent from the field in Kentucky's final 14 games of the season.

There is no one on the Sixers' roster, as it stands, with a skill set comparable to Fox's, but it's still fair to question how he will handle some of the bigger and stronger point guards in the Eastern Conference, such as Kyrie Irving and John Wall, on both ends of the floor. With plenty of young budding talent in the fold, though, if Fox can immediately step in as a plus defender and a steady reserve ballhandler, he could definitely help the Sixers' core of Simmons, Joel Embiid and Dario Saric become even more lethal offensively.

A couple of weeks ago, I definitely viewed Fox as a stretch at No. 3. The more I think about it, however, he would not be an unreasonable selection for the Sixers. Yes, they also would likely have the option of Kansas' Josh Jackson or Duke's Jayson Tatum, as well as Fox's former teammate, Malik Monk, when they go on the clock, but Fox could fill a critical need. 

If the Sixers were somehow able to get the Kings to trade up to No. 3, Fox would be a great pick at No. 5 overall. And if Fultz or Ball were somehow available at No. 3, the Sixers would be hard-pressed to pass on either. Still, with so many talented point guards in this year's class, Fox is very much a worthy first-round candidate.