Matt Haughton

Is road trip crucial for Brett Brown's job?

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Is road trip crucial for Brett Brown's job?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, producer/reporters Matt Haughton and Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a look at whether the Sixers’ five-game road trip is crucial for Brett Brown’s job security.

It's only five games — that's less than 1/16th of the season. But it's funny how segments of a schedule and the results of particular segments can make or break a coaching stop. Except this is more than a "stop" for Brett Brown. As the head coach with the lowest win percentage in NBA history, it could very well be make or break time. The Sixers head into the five-game stretch away from Wells Fargo Center losers of four straight and eight of nine. After a 13-9 start, they're now a season worst-tying three games below .500 (14-17). This stretch is huge because of the stated goal by Brown and his players of making the playoffs.

Joel Embiid's day-to-day status is clearly up in the air and we already know he's going to miss at least one game against the Suns or Nuggets because it's a back-to-back to close out the year. They're 1-7 without him and have already lost with him to the Suns.

Simply put, Brown has to have his young team find a way to win at least two of these games. A 1-4 trip would leave the Sixers 15-21. Six games under is a deep hole to climb out of considering the East has proven to be way more formidable than I expected at the outset. I thought 39 games would be enough for the 8-seed. But a quick glance at the standings shows nine teams over .500 and the Sixers can ill afford to lose ground.

Here's the bottom line: whether Embiid can play or not, Brown has to have his team ready to win without him. Ben Simmons is taking a step in the right direction with his take-charge attitude in the team's home loss to Toronto. But they have to have results. Embiid is going to miss more time. We know this. That can't be the excuse of why they miss the playoffs. I'm not saying Brown will lose his job short of a 0-5 road trip. What I am saying is that if they don't start winning some of these games without JoJo, it won't add up to enough wins for Brown to reach his stated playoff goal and be back next season.

To me, Brown's coaching seat is lukewarm heading into this trip. No one expects them to become just the second team in 13 games to beat the Raptors in Toronto. But the rest of those games don't have the same degree of difficulty. The Sixers better win a couple. If they don't? That seat will be scalding to the touch when the Sixers return to Philadelphia.

While the Sixers’ holiday road trip is always an important one during the season, I don’t think this edition will make or break Brown’s immediate future with the team.

First, the Sixers have recently been hit with a wave of injuries. The biggest of those, literally, is Joel Embiid. Brown’s squad is an entirely different group with the young star anchoring the paint. That’s in addition to JJ Redick, Robert Covington, T.J. McConnell, Trevor Booker and, of course, Markelle Fultz all missing games in the past two weeks.

It’s hard to judge Brown when he’s not playing with a full deck.

Still, the biggest reason I don’t believe this five-game trip will decide Brown’s fate is that the Sixers don’t have any significant options outside of him at the moment. Lloyd Pierce, Billy Lange and Jim O'Brien are all fine assistants, but Sixers management isn’t about to hand them the keys, even on an interim basis, to this up-and-coming team. And I don’t believe the Sixers would go outside of the organization for a candidate (such as David Fizdale) during the middle of a season.

Unless the bottom completely falls out on the Sixers during this road trip, I fully expect Brown to make it through the regular season. Whether he’s around after that is anyone’s guess. 

At some point, Brown might be playing with a full deck. Right now, he clearly is not.

It’s hard to judge Brown when you see how flawed this roster is without Embiid or No. 1 overall pick Fultz. Embiid is this team’s best player on both ends of the floor. He is an elite talent and his presence is missed every time he’s not out there.

While Fultz has a long way to go to prove he’s an elite NBA talent, he did show something nobody else on this team has: the ability to create his own shot. Sure, it was only six games, but Fultz was able to take NBA defenders off the dribble and get to the rim or create space for a shot (that he probably didn’t take).

“Pace and space” is a great concept. But when you’re forced to play in the half court, having a beast in the post and a playmaker that can create off the dribble comes in handy.

Brown’s job is safe on this road trip and I’d guess through the rest of the season at the very least.

Why Sixers' turnover problem is mind-boggling

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Why Sixers' turnover problem is mind-boggling

Brett Brown is very aware of the problem. And it eats away at him just like it does to you.

To say the Sixers have an issue with turnovers is a severe understatement. There are teams in your local rec league that have better ball security.

In Brown’s four full seasons as head coach of the Sixers, the team finished 30th, 30th, 29th and 30th in turnovers per game. The trend has continued so far this season, as the squad again ranks dead last with a staggering 18.2 turnovers a night.

For a coach that comes from the Spurs’ system under Gregg Popovich where taking care of the basketball is a premium, it’s mind-boggling Brown hasn’t been able to get a handle on the dilemma.

“We’ve got to clean up on it,” Brown said after the Sixers committed 23 turnovers in Thursday’s 114-109 loss to the Raptors (see observations). “You go back, and without getting into too much coach speak, we can identify who and where and when turnovers happen. There are actually breakdowns of what’s this team like in half-court. If the game were just a half-court sport, what do they do? What do they do when it’s an early offense, like the first six seconds of a shot clock? What do they do underneath? What do they do on the side?

“We feel clear we know where the problem lies, but in general, it lies with us and I’m the head coach, and we’ve got to fix it.”

As time has proven over the years, that’s easier said than done. Mainly because the Sixers don’t just commit the expected miscues.

A team is bound to have a player dribble the ball out of bounds off his foot or have an errant pass go off the fingertips into the crowd throughout the course of an NBA game. The trouble comes in with the dreaded live-ball turnovers that tend to lead to points the other way.

The Sixers are 28th in the league in opponents’ points off turnovers with an average of 19.5 per game. That number jumped up to 32 against the Raptors as the team blew a 22-point lead in another crushing defeat.

Dario Saric said of the struggles, “It’s on us as players to fix it.” However, Brown didn’t want to make any excuses and put the onus on himself to figure out a solution.

“Some of that is easy to blame — we play fast … some of our guys are young. Most of them aren’t anymore,” Brown said. “I think when we really critically assess the turnovers, let’s dig deep and understand who, why and when and the world becomes a little bit cleaner. 

“It is something we can talk about, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to fix it. I’m the head coach. It is on me, and it keeps us up late at night.”

Okafor's parting shot at Sixers' coaches off base

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Okafor's parting shot at Sixers' coaches off base

Word travels fast these days, particularly in NBA circles. So by the time Brett Brown arrived at the Wells Fargo Center for Tuesday’s game against the Sacramento Kings, he was well aware of Jahlil Okafor’s comments about the Sixers’ coaching staff.

Okafor, who was traded to the Brooklyn Nets earlier this month, has played in just one of six games with his new team. That’s because head coach Kenny Atkinson feels the center’s stamina isn’t up to par just yet. 

Okafor agreed in a backhanded swipe at the Sixers (see story).

“A lot of the guys are in midseason form, where I feel like I'm at the start of the season because I haven't really played,” Okafor said to the New York Post. “I have to catch up to a lot of guys.

“That's why I'm happy I'm here with the actual NBA coaching staff that's taking care of me every day. When I was in Philly I was figuring it out on my own. I had my own trainer [Rick Lewis] that I've been working with since eighth grade working me out. But it's a different level when you're actually working with an NBA staff.”

Okafor later apologized, but Brown didn’t appear thrilled with the initial statement.

“Jahlil knows what we did here. It’s a young person who gave a quote,” Brown said of Okafor, who played 25 total minutes in just two games for the Sixers this season. “… I think everybody understands how we treat people here and the attention he received while he was here.”

You can call Brown a lot of things (and we’re sure you are after that rough 101-95 loss to the Kings), but the man is far from a liar. While he was busy going out of his way to be open with Okafor about everything from defensive deficiencies to bubbling trade rumors, the center opted to keep his feelings bottled up until he was shipped away.

From the Sixers going hard in practice for a coach who preaches to every person within earshot about “career-best fitness” or the voluntary scrimmages on off days for players that receive low minutes in games, there were plenty of opportunities for Okafor to stay in shape and sharpen his game.

That doesn’t even account for the actual on-court minutes Okafor had to prove his worth along the way. His rookie season, the big man played 30.0 minutes a night as he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games before suffering a torn right meniscus.

Last season, Okafor put up 11.8 points and 4.8 boards in 22.7 minutes a night as he struggled to find his role in the center trio along with Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel. Those numbers came in 50 games before he was ruled out for the remainder of the season again with right knee soreness.

Once Embiid finally took the court and provided the Sixers with a dominant man in the middle on both ends of the floor, Okafor instantly became expendable.

Having a coach spend more time working with him — or adopting a vegan diet — weren't going to alter that fate.