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.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Aaron Nola looks to build on extremely impressive return from DL

Phillies (16-29) vs. Reds (22-24)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Following their first win in a week, the Phillies open a new series this weekend against a beatable team in the Cincinnati Reds, who are 3-9 in their last 12 games and 1-7 in their last eight road games.

Let's have ourselves a look-see:

1. Nola's turn
Aaron Nola is on the mound tonight for his second start since a month-long DL stint. He was extremely impressive his last time out, allowing one run on four hits over seven innings in Pittsburgh.

Nola's fastball reached as high as 95.5 mph against the Pirates, which is notable because he threw only two pitches faster than 94 mph all of last season. His velocity was up before the lower back strain and it's a great sign that the elbow injury which ended his 2016 season is truly in the past.

In Pittsburgh, Nola (2-1, 3.52) threw 19 of 27 first-pitch strikes. He got 11 outs on the first three pitches of at-bats. 

He's faced the Reds twice in his career and dominated them both times, allowing two earned runs in 14 innings with one walk and 17 strikeouts.

Current Reds have gone 7 fo 39 (.179) against him with just two extra-base hits. Joey Votto is 0 for 5.

2. What to do with Odubel
Pete Mackanin has an interesting decision to make this weekend with slumping Odubel Herrera, who on Thursday became the first player in the majors this season to go 0 for 5 with five strikeouts in a game.

Herrera is down to .226 on the season with a .275 on-base percentage. In May, he's hit .194 with one walk and 28 strikeouts.

Mackanin could bench Herrera like he did with Maikel Franco for two games earlier this week. It would send a message to the player that poor at-bats and wild swings have consequences. And, quite frankly, sitting Herrera for a day or two might give the Phillies a better chance to win.

The issue, of course, is that there's a thin line between giving a player a chance to clear his head and ridding him of opportunities to get back on track.

Plus, the Phillies don't have great options in replacing Herrera in the lineup. They have a four-man bench at the moment and the only options would be putting Ty Kelly or Brock Stassi in left field and moving Aaron Altherr to center.

Herrera just has not been himself this season and it's troubling. At this point last season, Herrera was hitting .327 with a .901 OPS. He's been an undisciplined hitter in 2017 and when you have two of them in the middle of the lineup in Herrera and Franco, it makes things really easy on pitchers at times.

Herrera started the year hot, hitting in his first eight games. Since then, he's hit .203/.239/.324 in 155 plate appearances with six walks and 42 K's.

3. Tommy time
Tommy Joseph has been one of the very best hitters in baseball this month, batting .329/.400/.671 with six doubles, six homers and 15 RBIs in 22 games.

He's 148 games and 499 plate appearances into his major-league career and has hit .257 with 23 doubles, 28 homers, 69 RBIs and an .804 OPS. That's about 10 points higher than the league average OPS from first basemen over that span.

Had Joseph's April slump continued into May, prospect Rhys Hoskins might have already been called up. But Joseph has done enough so far to hold off Hoskins, who appears to have more upside because of his combination of power and plate selection.

Controlling the strike zone is the next step for Joseph. He has a .311 OBP so far with 33 walks and 112 strikeouts as a Phillie.

But over the last two seasons, he's been one of the few Phils who's taken advantage of this ballpark. Joseph's hit .276 with an .844 OPS at Citizens Bank Park compared to .240 with a .769 OPS on the road.

4. Scouting the Reds
The Phillies face 29-year-old Reds right-hander Tim Adleman (2-2, 6.19).

You look at the ERA and think, OK, maybe the Phillies' bats will wake up tonight. But keep in mind that the Rockies' four starting pitchers this week entered the series with a combined 5.27 ERA and the Phillies scored three runs against them in 27 innings.

There's nothing special about the 6-foot-5 Adleman. He throws his fastball and sinker in the 88 to 91 mph range with a mid-80s changeup and mid-70s curveball. His opponents have hit .300 against his fastball and have eight extra-base hits with a .290 batting average against his changeup.

In six starts this season, Adleman's yet to go deeper than six innings. The Phils faced him last season and scored three runs in five innings. Cesar Hernandez went 2 for 2 with a walk and Franco went 1 for 3 with a double.

As for Cincinnati's offense, Votto is obviously the hitter you worry about most. He's hit .299/.422/.591 this season with 12 doubles, 12 homers, 38 RBIs, 35 walks and 24 strikeouts. A typical Votto season.

Shortstop Zack Cozart has been surprisingly hot these first two months, hitting .340 with 20 extra-base hits, 22 walks and 29 strikeouts. It's most surprising to see him walking this much because he never has. He's 15 walks away from matching his career high.

Leftfielder Adam Duvall has killed the Phillies over the last two seasons. He went 5 for 11 with two doubles and a homer in the season-opening series in Cincy and went 8 for 18 with four doubles against them last season.

5. This and that
• Over the last seven games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just two earned runs in 22⅔ innings.

• Howie Kendrick started at third base for Lehigh Valley during his rehab assignment Thursday. He was hit by two pitches and removed from the game.  

• Reds closer Raisel Iglesias is one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. He's 8 for 8 in save chances this season with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. He's struck out 28 and allowed just one home run in 24⅔ innings. His ability to go multiple innings is what makes him stand out — he's Andrew Miller-like in that regard. Iglesias has pitched more than one inning in 7 of his 19 appearances.

Catching up on some big Eagles stories from Week 1 of OTAs

Catching up on some big Eagles stories from Week 1 of OTAs

It was great to be back at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday and take in an Eagles practice, even if it was non-contact. There’s a lot of buzz around the team right now, and minimal time to cover everything, so let’s dive into some of the storylines that slipped through the cracks during the first week of OTAs.

The thought that the Eagles are secretly fuming over Carson Wentz seeing a private quarterback guru seems ridiculous. It’s not uncommon for NFL players -- even quarterbacks -- to seek council during the offseason. Tom Brady did it, and I don’t recall any drama ever unfolding with the Patriots as a result of that. Perhaps some mild concern has been expressed behind closed doors, as Wentz’s mechanics are a constant work in progress, and Eagles coaches surely prefer he learn the methods they’re teaching. Then again, I highly doubt somebody earned the title of “quarterback guru” if they’re not passing along standard NFL techniques. It was an even bigger reach to suggest Doug Pederson’s displeasure over this development was on display during his press conference on Tuesday.

I’m not one to place a whole lot of stock into OTAs, but seeing rookie cornerback Rasul Douglas on the field with the first-team defense in nickel situations is a promising sign. He didn’t look out of place, either. At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, Douglas matched up well with Alshon Jeffery. I could see his size being an asset against NFC East rivals like Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall and Terrelle Pryor -- bigger receivers the Eagles will face two times each this season. While performance in OTAs typically means squat, it was about this time last year when Jalen Mills began ascending the depth chart, and he wound up playing quite a bit. It’s early, but given the situation at cornerback, not at all far-fetched to anticipate a similar role coming for Douglas.

While I agree with the premise Nelson Agholor could improve and go on to have a respectable NFL career, Eagles teammate Brandon Graham isn’t really the most relatable example. It’s time for the seemingly annual reminder that Graham’s progression was derailed by a major knee injury as a rookie. He essentially missed the following season, and was buried on the depth chart upon returning. A year later, the defense switched to a 3-4, which was an adjustment as well. Yet, time and time again, Graham would perform at a high level whenever he got into games, finally earning his starting job back in 2015. Agholor has been a starter the past two seasons, and aside from a high ankle sprain his rookie year, he’s been relatively healthy. What’s the excuse here? Agholor may be a late bloomer, but Graham’s experience breaking into the league was vastly different.

The revelation that Vinny Curry was affected by a knee injury last season can be taken one of two ways. Some may see it as an excuse for his modest performance after signing a massive contract extension a year ago, which currently looks like an expensive mistake. I prefer to view the injury news as another reason to give Curry a slight pass. We’ve all seen what an explosive pass rusher he could be, racking up 9.0 sacks in 2014 while playing only one-third of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. If he was hampered by the knee -- Curry admitted wearing a brace for much of the season -- that could certainly help explain why he often seemed invisible. Even if he simply wasn’t very good, Curry has another opportunity to prove himself in 2017. Might as well take the optimistic outlook.