76ers

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.

Without Joel Embiid in Toronto, Sixers 'jumped' in telling loss to Raptors

Without Joel Embiid in Toronto, Sixers 'jumped' in telling loss to Raptors

BOX SCORE

TORONTO — Ben Simmons' double-double feat aside, the Sixers have had little to enjoy about the start to the season.

They were outclassed Saturday night, 128-94, by the Toronto Raptors and have lost their first three games (see observations).

As has been their custom for back-to-back games, center Joel Embiid did not play Saturday after playing Friday in the loss to the Boston Celtics to protect his left knee.

Head coach Brett Brown said he did not expect things to go this way.

“I didn’t,” he said. “I knew the first three games were going to be difficult. I knew coming into this building after a back-to-back was going to be difficult, but you are certainly not expecting it to be that margin of a deficit. I give Toronto credit.

“We have a lot of work to do; we look forward to getting Joel (Embiid) back in this and continuing to learn how to play the group.”

After trailing by as many as 17 points in the first quarter, the Sixers whittled the lead to eight when Jerryd Bayless hit a couple of free throws with 2:22 left in the first half.

Toronto led 62-49 at the half and blitzed the Sixers to open the third quarter with Serge Ibaka scoring eight of their first 10 points of the second half. With 3:12 left in the third, the Raptors led by 29.

“They jumped us, especially at the start of the third, certainly portions of the first period but especially the start of the third and you’re just playing catch up pretty much for the rest of the game after that first almost minute, minute and a half,” Brown said.

“You’re just trying to find some type of order and purpose to end the game with that in mind.”

It was a subdued atmosphere in the dressing room after the game.

The edge surely was removed from another double-double by Simmons.

He had 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Simmons joins Oscar Robertson as the only NBA players to average 10-plus points, 10-plus rebounds and five-plus assists in their first three career games.

“It looks great, but I’d rather have a win,” he said. “I’d rather we had three wins than three double-doubles.”

Simmons said he is looking forward to Embiid returning to the lineup Monday against the Detroit Pistons.

He said he could feel the game slipping away Saturday.

“Toward the third, coming out we just didn’t click, didn’t have it together,” Simmons said. “It’s tough without Joel (Embiid), obviously there’s chemistry and then you switch it up, so that comes into it, but we need to learn to play without him, with those back-to-backs.

“We have to stay together as a team, talk it out, get through it, communicate on the court and hold each other accountable. … We have to sit down and look at what we did wrong, that’s with every game, you have to fix your mistakes and come out ready for the next one. It’s a long season.”

It could seem even longer if there aren't signs of improvement.

“Coach Brown has talked since Day 1 of camp about our goal; to build every day, to take something positive every day and I think for tonight, we were unable to do that,” guard J.J. Redick said. “I was just saying if it’s a six-minute stretch where we are doing things well, cutting into their lead, that’s something to build on. I don’t think we did that before but that’s what I was trying to get across.

“I’m a patient person; if we were 0-45 then I’ll start to panic. There are 82 games, we have a very tough schedule to start, we’re a young team, and that’s not an excuse but the reality is the team we played tonight and the team we played in D.C. Wednesday night, they’ve been together a long time and know how to play together. We have to figure out a way to jell quicker and we have to understand and close our margin for error.”

Sixers-Raptors observations: Not much life without Joel Embiid in blowout loss

Sixers-Raptors observations: Not much life without Joel Embiid in blowout loss

BOX SCORE

TORONTO — The Air Canada Centre has become a tough place for the Sixers.

Nothing has changed with a new season.

The Raptors defeated the Sixers, 128-94, Saturday night for their 16th win in the past 17 games against the Sixers, including 10 in a row at the Air Canada Centre.

The Sixers have problems beating the Raptors at home as well as away, which pretty well takes care of all the possibilities.

Say this for the Sixers, after falling behind by 17 points during the first quarter, they had the lead down to eight in the second quarter on a pair of free throws by former Raptor Jerryd Bayless. It was 62-49 for Toronto at the half.

Then there was the second half.

The Raptors raced out to a 72-51 lead early in the third quarter, with Serge Ibaka scoring eight of their first 10 points. Kyle Lowry finished the scoring in the third quarter with a three-pointer to increase Toronto’s lead to 102-71.

• Amir Johnson got the start at center with Joel Embiid missing the second half of a back-to-back to rest his left knee. Johnson knows his way around the Air Canada Centre, having played for the Raptors for six seasons before going to the Boston Celtics for the past two seasons. He received a nice cheer during the pregame introductions and then scored the game’s first basket on a dunk.

• Jahlil Okafor took over at center 5:27 into the first quarter and quickly scored to tie the game at 13, but he was out of the game after playing 2:49 after picking up three quick fouls.

• Ben Simmons had his third consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds. He also had eight assists. He already had accomplished something never done before in franchise history entering the game against the Raptors. The rookie forward recorded double-doubles in his first two career NBA games against the Washington Wizards and the Boston Celtics. He is the 11th player in NBA history to do so.

• Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan was listed as questionable for Saturday’s game because of flu symptoms. No such luck for the Sixers, he was in the starting lineup and looked quite well as he pumped in 15 points in the first quarter on 4 for 4 shooting from the field and a telling seven free throws in eight attempts. He finished with a game-high 30 points.

• As if the discrepancy in free throws has not been enough of a problem in the early going for the Sixers, Markelle Fultz missed three of his first four free-throw attempts against the Raptors. Toronto was 24 for 28 from the line in the first half and the Sixers were 12 for 18. Toronto made 31 of 37 foul shots on the game and the Sixers made 22 of 36. 

• Toronto reserve Lucas Nogueira scored on a breakaway dunk during the third quarter, which may redefine garbage time.

• For those who thought the 17 turnovers committed by the Sixers in each of their first two games were bad, what do you think of 20 turnovers Saturday night?

• Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas was restricted to 15 minutes (five points, four rebounds) because of a sprained left ankle. He had a double-double in the team’s opening game win over the Chicago Bulls.