Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

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Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

SAN ANTONIO -- There was a friendly face waiting to greet Brett Brown everywhere he turned at the AT&T Center.

After spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with San Antonio, Brown returned to the AT&T Center on Monday for the first time as Sixers head coach.

“You get flooded with so many memories of championships and good people and just elite competitors under a roof of an organization that is so prideful in doing the right thing,” Brown said. “[They are] led by I think the best coach in the game and a general manager that complements the head coach so well. You come back here, you revisit with all those types of memories and friends you haven’t seen in a while.”

The trip down memory lane ended in familiar fashion for the Spurs -- with a lopsided victory -- if an unfamiliar outcome for Brown in San Antonio.

The Spurs rolled to a 113-91 victory on Monday night, extending their winning streak to 14 while handing the Sixers their 25th straight loss (see story).

The victory proved bittersweet because it came against “one of my best friends,” San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said.

“No, it’s never any fun doing that,” Popovich said. “Win or lose, it’s never fun either way. The wins aren’t as much fun and the losses are bad because they are losses, losses speak for themselves. You want to enjoy your wins, but it’s just harder when it’s with somebody like that.”

Making it even harder is the dubious path it kept the Sixers on.

The Sixers next play Thursday in Houston, where they can match the NBA record for consecutive losses of 26 straight set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11.

“I feel terribly for him, but I don’t feel sorry for him,” Popovich said. “I feel badly for him because he has to go through it, but I don’t need to feel sorry for him because he would be angry if he knew I felt sorry for him because he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.

“He doesn’t feel bad for himself, I can tell you. He looks forward to going to work every day and he’s going to work those guys to death and he’s going to love them to death, both at the same time, that’s who he is.”

One of the most important lessons Brown learned under Popovich is focusing on the bigger picture. Winning and losing streaks are never as telling as what they eventually lead to is a mantra the Spurs' coaches and players preach.

“Obviously, it's a rough season for them; it's a rebuilding season for them,” Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said. “[Brown] knows that. They know that. They have a lot of young guys. He's just trying to get the system in place that has them playing the way he wants them playing. It's a process. He knows that.”

Brown knows Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was San Antonio -- even if it seems that way.

Under Popovich, the Spurs have captured four NBA titles, won 50 games for a league-record 15 consecutive seasons and are vying for the league’s best record while earning their 17th straight postseason berth.

Yet before all that success, Popovich struggled with injuries and a fluid roster after taking over as coach 18 games into the 1996-97 season. San Antonio finished 20-62 that season, but the dismal record yielded the top pick, which the Spurs used to draft Duncan and begin one of the greatest runs in sports history.

The Sixers could be on a similar path, owning two first-round picks that are expected to fall in the Top 10 of one of the deepest drafts in a decade.

They will also have 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel, who has sat out his entire rookie year following left knee surgery, after being selected with the sixth pick in last year’s draft.

Adding all that talent to rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young could make the Sixers an instant contender.

But Brown knows it takes more than talent to be successful.

The Spurs have battled injuries all season, but their crisp ball movement, defensive intensity and unselfish play have allowed them to sit atop the league at 54-16.

San Antonio had 31 assists on its 44 baskets Monday night against the Sixers.

“In my opinion, that’s how you play the game,” Brown said. “So what you see is a system born out of many, many years of corporate knowledge where the winks and the blinks and the wrinkles and subtle nuances [allow them to] understand each other’s tendencies, and the offense shines. It’s not just a byproduct of good players or a great coach. It’s a decade worth of corporate knowledge. That’s what you aspire to get to.”

It can only come with structure and experience.

San Antonio's Big Three of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have played for 39 seasons, which is seven years more experience than the entire Sixers' roster combined. The Sixers have six rookies on this year's roster.

“We run the completely same offense,” Young said. “But they do all the ins and outs and we don't. That's the biggest thing. They ran a play that we knew, but they ran it a completely different way than we ran it. And that's because they knew we were going to pick apart the first side and second side, so they came from a whole different angle and ran the play. We were all mind-boggled about how they all knew ins and outs.”

Despite the early troubles, Popovich said the Sixers made the right choice in hiring Brown.

“I think he is as tough minded as the environment that exists there in Philly,” Popovich said. “He’s a very focused individual with great competitiveness and unbelievable fiber. He keeps an eye on what’s important. He will always be participatory and creative, but at the same time very consistent in his demands and knowing what wins and loses. He can stick with a program and is loyal as the day is long. He’s a winner in life in a whole lot of ways.”

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor relieved deadline has passed; Bryan Colangelo explains why no trade

Jahlil Okafor is still a Sixer.

He's not a New Orleans Pelican or a Portland Trail Blazer or a Dallas Maverick. He's not going back home to Chicago or to Indiana to play with Paul George. He's in Philly for at least the next 26 games and he's ready to get to work.

"I was happy that the trade deadline was over with and I knew where I'd be finishing the rest of the season," Okafor said. "After the past couple weeks I couldn't wait until 3 o'clock yesterday would pass, which means I wouldn't have to worry about where I would be and have to deal with all the trade rumors.

"It's a sigh of relief. I'm glad it's over with. I'm still a Sixer so I'm excited about playing tonight."

Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo on Friday spoke at length about the team's future. He's said he's planning to build around the team's "transformational players" in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

He also addressed the deal that sent Nerlens Noel to Dallas for a protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. With all of the rumors swirling around Okafor, there wasn't much chatter around Noel.

The biggest reason for Noel's departure is his contract. Noel is set to become a restricted free agent this summer. He's a desirable player in today's NBA as a big that can run the floor and offer elite rim protection. Okafor can't become a restricted free agent until 2019.

Colangelo said there was a market for Okafor, but he just couldn't find the right deal.

"The market dictates what’s there and interestingly given our situation with the multiple talented bigs I think it's safe to say people view us as a place to come if they are looking for a big," Colangelo said. "Several bigs were out there and available on the market. A trade went down early. (Jusuf) Nurkic going to Portland. There was some conversation with Jahlil early, some advanced discussions to the point we pulled him out of a game situation just because there was so much at stake given the terms of a proposed transaction."

It seems like Okafor has been on the trade block since the day he was drafted third overall in 2015. With Embiid's emerging as a star and Noel's being the team's longest-tenured big, it had been difficult to see Okafor's long-term fit with the Sixers.

To Okafor's credit, he's taken it all in stride. As Colangelo alluded to, he had "advanced" talks on a deal that would send Okafor to Portland. The talks got serious enough to where Okafor was held out of a win over the Heat and began the handshaking ritual of a player on the move. He was also held out of the next game in Charlotte.

Through all of it, Okafor wasn't bitter. He just quietly kept working.

"I never looked at me being shopped as a negative thing," Okafor said. "It's just part of the business... I am here so there are no hard feelings or anything like that. No, not at all.

"I never felt disconnected from the team. When I wasn't traveling with the team I was still here in the facility with [Embiid and Simmons]. I was never just at home alone or anything like that. I was still with the team. Some of the coaches would stay back so I always felt connected with the Sixers."

Okafor will get his first action of the second half of the season tonight against the Wizards. He's been dealing with knee soreness, a result of a surgery to repair a torn meniscus last March. He said Friday afternoon that he's feeling healthy after the All-Star Break and the Rising Stars Challenge.

After all the speculation and rumors, Okafor just wants to play basketball.

"I think it's something a lot of players in the NBA have to deal with," he said. "We're all basketball players. We want to play well for ourselves and for our team.

"Whatever happens in a few months, we'll see what happens then. Right now I'm just worried about playing these last 26 games and playing well for the city and playing well for the team. "

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

Colangelo admits mistake when classifying Joel Embiid's injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- In retrospect, the Sixers would have done things differently.

For more than a month, the team did not announce a timeframe for Joel Embiid's return from a left knee contusion. After he missed 14 of the last 15 games, the Sixers said on Wednesday Embiid would be out the next four games and are targeting a March 3 return.

The next day, president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo addressed the lack of timetable provided. 

"We should have just said 'out indefinitely,' even though the treatment was still day to day," Colangelo said. "But the fact that there was uncertainty, I'll own that."

Embiid's injury goes back to Jan. 22 when he suffered the contusion against the Trail Blazers. After the Sixers held him out three games, he played on Jan. 27 against the Rockets and has been sidelined since.

Embiid was very candid on Thursday in expressing his displeasure of how his injury news had been shared. While he had been optimistic he would return earlier than March, citing a recovery period of less than a month, it didn't line up with the day-to-day status.

"I wasn't too happy with the way it was kind of handled before," Embiid said.

"I saw the day-to-day part. I was told that I was going to miss at least two or three weeks. So I wasn't happy with the way it was handled.

"I thought keeping my name out there was going to just like literally have people think about me all the time instead of just saying when I was going to be back. So I'm happy that they did that today and they said that I'm out for the next four games."

Colangelo addressed that timetable.

"The two-to-three week comment, I think I know where that came from," Colangelo said. "There was a lot of discussion, and despite the fact that we were saying it's day-to-day treatment and evaluation, two to three weeks may have been mentioned as a possibility of what it may be. But a possibility.

"To say that publicly may not have been the best thing at the time because I was also told sometimes it's four to six weeks for a bone bruise to resolve itself."

The lack of clarity on Embiid's return had upset Sixers fans who wanted more transparency. They had been through years of lengthy injuries, including the past two with Embiid, and were frustrated by this recent absence.

"There's never, ever been any effort to deceive fans, to mislead fans, to mislead [media]," Colangelo said. "We give the information as we're given the information. We've got very good medical care, very good medical oversight. Everything is explainable, but injuries are unpredictable is the best way I can describe it."

Embiid isn't the only player whose status was made public this week. On Friday, Colangelo also announced Ben Simmons will miss the remainder of this season. The first overall pick has been sidelined since training camp after suffering a Jones fracture in his right foot.

"There's no deceit, there's no movement toward doing anything to be dishonest here at all. It's quite simple," Colangelo said. "Injuries are a hard thing to manage. Injuries are a harder thing to manage with daily interface with the media, the public, games being played, the schedule, no practice, practice -- it's a sensitive issue. 

"And you're not talking about simple things. You're talking about complex injuries, you're talking about high-level performers and I'm calling them our stars. They're the ones everyone wants to see. Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. And they're both out. Nobody is more frustrated than them."

After not committing to injury timetables, the Sixers are committing to taking a different approach. 

"It was our mistake to put out 'day-to-day' opposed to 'out indefinitely,' Colangelo said. "But that mistake will not be made again."