76ers

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.”

Opening week affects MVP odds of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

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Opening week affects MVP odds of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

Ben Simmons had himself a historic first week in the NBA and as a result, his MVP odds have changed substantially.

Listed by Bovada on Oct. 10 at 80/1 to win MVP, Simmons is now at 33/1, tied with DeMarcus Cousins and ahead of Marc Gasol, Blake Griffin and Damian Lillard.

Simmons became the first player since Oscar Robertson to produce at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in each of his first three career games.

Teammate Joel Embiid had a less successful start to the year, averaging 14.5 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists in two games but shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and missing all 10 three-point attempts.

And yet somehow, Embiid's MVP odds have changed from 40/1 to 25/1. He has the same MVP odds as Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis.

Griffin, at 50/1, is a sneaky good bet for MVP. The Clippers are his team now with Chris Paul in Houston, and Griffin has added long-distance shooting to his game, making three triples in each game. Two games in, he's averaging 29.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists. 

If he can stay healthy (a huge if) and lead the Clippers to 52-plus wins in a loaded Western Conference, you'd have to think Griffin would be looked at more favorably in terms of MVP odds than someone on a star-studded team like any of the Warriors or Rockets, if Paul returns from his knee injury within a month and affects James Harden's stats even slightly. 

Giannis Antetokounpo and LeBron James look like the two players most likely to win MVP, but 50/1 for Griffin is good value if you think this is the year he stays healthy. If he didn't have a history of injuries, his odds right now would be closer to those of John Wall (28/1) or Towns (25/1).

Sixers-Pistons thoughts: Joel Embiid vs. Andre Drummond takes center stage

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Sixers-Pistons thoughts: Joel Embiid vs. Andre Drummond takes center stage

Dust yourself off and try again.

That's all the Sixers (0-3) can do as they again go for their first win of the new season. They'll get a slight break this time when they face the Pistons (2-1) at new Little Caesars Arena in Detroit (7 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports app). It's the Sixers' first opponent in 2017-18 that didn't reach the playoffs a season ago.

Let's take a closer look at the matchup:

• After resting for the second game of a back-to-back set in Saturday's 128-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, Joel Embiid will return to the Sixers' starting lineup on Monday night.

Embiid is still finding his way offensively to start 2017-18. He is averaging 14.5 points through two games but shooting just 35.5 percent from the field and he's missed all 10 of his three-point attempts.

Those outside shots should start to dwindle in the big man's first-ever meeting with Andre Drummond and the Pistons after Embiid made it clear that he wants more touches in the post.

• We'll see if Embiid's camping out in the paint can help the Sixers even out their foul disparity.

Through three games, the Sixers are ninth in personal fouls drawn (24.3). However, they have committed a league-high 28.0 fouls per game.

That has led to opponents attempting 35.7 and making 27.7 free throws per game against the Sixers, both NBA highs.

Officials definitely have tighter whistles when a new season begins as they want to drive home points of emphasis from offseason rule changes and discussions. Still, this is a problem the Sixers need to end quickly if they want to get in the win column.

• The Pistons have been strong on the offensive end so far, scoring over 100 points in each game.

While the entire team deserves credit with five players averaging in double figures, Tobias Harris is leading the pack with some impressive scoring marks.

Harris has put up 24.3 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting from the field and an insane 47.1 percent from beyond the arc.

While Embiid's matchup with Drummond will likely take top billing heading into this contest, the real heavyweight battle could end up being between Harris and defensive ace Robert Covington.

• The Sixers managed one win in three contests against the Pistons last season. The teams split the two matchups at the Palace of Auburn Hills, which has now been replaced by the $862.9 million Little Caesars Arena. The Sixers have the opportunity to become the NBA's first visiting team to notch a win in the new arena.

Richaun Holmes (wrist) is out for the Sixers.

Dwight Buycks (hip) and Reggie Bullock (suspension) are out for the Pistons.