Brett Brown won't coach scared: 'There's an expiration date on all of us'

Brett Brown won't coach scared: 'There's an expiration date on all of us'

Brett Brown has dealt with heightened expectations and harsh disappointment in his coaching career.

He was an assistant with the Spurs when Derek Fisher hit a game-winner for the Lakers in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals in 2004. L.A. won the series and went to the Finals.

He was there when San Antonio had the Heat on the ropes with a 3-2 series advantage in the 2013 Finals. The Spurs had a three-point lead in Game 6 with under 20 seconds left only to see Ray Allen bury a corner three to tie it. Miami went on to win the series.

But none of that hurt quite like Kawhi Leonard’s quadruple doink shot at the buzzer in Game 7 in Toronto.

“This one stings more than them all because I believe that we really could have won a championship,” Brown said at his annual luncheon Wednesday.

It’s fair to say that if a couple bounces go the Sixers' way, Brown would’ve been hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy after beating the injury-riddled Warriors. 

But that’s not what happened. Now Brown and his new-look roster have championship aspirations. There are so many factors that will determine how far the Sixers go — Joel Embiid’s health and Ben Simmons’ jumper chief among them.

What could’ve helped them last season was Game 7 being at the Wells Fargo Center. The way to ensure that happens in 2019-20 would be to lock up the Eastern Conference’s top spot.

And Brown didn’t shy away from that goal.

I want the No. 1 seed,” Brown said. “So what does that mean? To me, it just means what it means: I want to go for the No. 1 seed. Of course, I'm going to say the same thing — not to the detriment of Joel's health, and maybe not to the detriment at times of developing players and all the other things that I'm not thinking through right now. I will say that and this is true. But I will put out there now, I want to get the No. 1 seed.

The starting five is different. Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick are out. Al Horford and Josh Richardson are in. The bench will have veterans James Ennis and Mike Scott, both big parts of the rotation during the postseason, for an entire season. They also brought in veterans Kyle O’Quinn, Trey Burke and Raul Neto.

Is this group more talented than last year’s squad that came oh so close to a championship? You could certainly make the argument — especially defensively.

But it’ll take more than just talent to get the job done. Brown had talent last season when the team brought in Butler, Harris, Scott and Ennis. Though Butler was excellent in the playoffs, it took an awful long time for his role to be settled. Harris, who was having an All-Star caliber season with the Clippers, fell into a horrific slump while struggling to fit into the Sixers’ offense.

Heading into a critical training camp, the bulk of Brown’s roster is set. We likely know the top eight or so players in the rotation, something that Brown certainly couldn’t say heading into camp last season (remember when Markelle Fultz was named a starter?)

Unlike in the past, time is actually on Brown’s side.

“I said before, talent does not trump time. You need time,” Brown said. “I'm so excited about our training camp. We will start training camp with a full squad. We want to have a very purposeful, driven, disciplined, clearly articulated by me, this is who we are, these are our priorities, this is your role. I have no gray area in my mind right now of what we're going to do offensively, defensively, role. I'm clear.”

Despite the lack of time last season, rumors swirled about Brown’s job security. Reports surfaced that it would take a Finals appearance for Brown to avoid being fired. Obviously, the Sixers didn’t reach that goal and Brown is still here. Managing partner Josh Harris, general manager Elton Brand and even Brown himself denied that the coach’s job was ever in jeopardy.

There’s no denying that the pressure is turned up even higher this season. The East is considered a two-team race with the Sixers and Bucks — with several pundits believing the Sixers will be the team that comes out of the conference. 

Those are lofty expectations that Brown doesn’t take lightly, but he also doesn’t allow them to affect the way he does things.

The hot seat — my temperature concern is my team, it's the locker room, it's what are we doing, it's the health, it's spirit, all that,” Brown said. “I can't look at you and say, 'Oh, I don't care.' That's not true, either. But I can tell you that, completely, I feel at peace with a purpose. I feel at peace with what I need to focus most on. Does it drip feed at times into the pride of being a good coach and winning games and trying to deliver a championship to the city? Of course. Does it dilute or cripple my thinking? Hell no.

If you’re expecting Brown to temper expectations in an attempt to protect his status, that won’t happen either.

There's an expiration date on all of us,” Brown said. “My enthusiasm, my excitement, the belief that we really can contest for a championship. Whatever ghosts or demons you could have, you're reminded. 'Are you serious?' Remember my first press conference with you? I'm reminded by my media people. I actually forgot about it. 'Imagine if we can get this right.' And we're pretty close, no? Right? We're pretty close.

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson out for Saturday's game vs. Cavs

The Sixers will be down two starters Saturday night when they return to Wells Fargo Center to play the Cavs.

Josh Richardson will miss his fifth consecutive game with right hamstring tightness, while Joel Embiid is out with a left hip contusion.

A team source told NBC Sports Philadelphia that Embiid reported discomfort after the Sixers' 119-113 loss to the Wizards on Thursday night and is being treated for the injury.

Embiid had 26 points, 21 rebounds and eight turnovers Thursday.

Richardson and the Sixers have been cautious with his hamstring. He told reporters in Washington, D.C., that this is the first hamstring injury he's dealt with and admitted that it's been a frustrating process.

“A hamstring is one of those things where you can think that you’re fine and then you take a wrong step and it’s a week or two-week setback," he said. "I don’t really want to get into that whole cycle. ... It’s just one of those things where I just don’t really know where I’m at most of the time. It always feels like I’m tiptoeing, trying not to do too much.”

The Sixers' preferred starting five of Embiid, Richardson, Ben Simmons, Tobias Harris and Al Horford have played just 102 minutes together this season, posting a plus-21.3 net rating. 

Furkan Korkmaz has started the past four games in place of Richardson. Without Embiid, the Sixers will need to plug in another spot starter and perhaps search for further big man depth. Kyle O'Quinn hasn't played since Nov. 23, but he might be called upon vs. Cleveland.

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How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

How Joel Embiid can improve with the subtleties of screening and rolling

The Sixers, through 22 games, have run the fewest pick-and-rolls in the NBA, and at the worst efficiency

Joel Embiid is in the bottom top 10 percent of the league in efficiency as a roll man. 

None of those stats are encouraging at first glance.

That said, are there any positive signs for Embiid’s progress as a screener and a roller? And how can he get better?

Rolling isn’t always the right option

While Brett Brown said after practice Wednesday that he wants Embiid “screening and rolling more than popping,” rolling isn’t always the right option for the All-Star center.

Because Ben Simmons frequently stations himself in the “dunker spot,” Embiid often needs to float out behind the three-point line for the Sixers to maintain proper spacing.

When opposing big men drop on the pick-and-roll, there’s typically not much to be gained by Embiid rolling.

Embiid pops on the play below against the Raptors, and it’s a reasonable move with Marc Gasol dropping into the paint on Josh Richardson’s drive. Ultimately, the bigger issue is he settles for a mid-range jumper instead of either taking an open three or putting pressure on Gasol to guard a drive to the rim. 

A game-winning variation  

Before Richardson’s hamstring injury, the Sixers were incorporating the action above more into their offense. It’s a basic look — Richardson rubs off a screen to the top of the key, then Embiid steps up to give him a ball screen. 

Embiid’s game-winning dunk on Nov. 12 vs. the Cavs came from a smart variation. After Embiid’s roll to the rim, he set a strong down screen for Tobias Harris, flowing into a perfectly executed high-low.

On most of the occasions Embiid rolls to the rim and doesn’t receive the ball initially, a deep post-up is the next best option. Instead of finding Embiid on the high-low Nov. 15 in Oklahoma City, Al Horford swung the ball to Harris and created a good angle for a post catch. Embiid will score or get fouled in these positions more often than not. 

Getting snug

The “snug pick-and-roll” is, in theory, a way to allow Embiid and Simmons to both be near the rim at the same time without the only result being claustrophobic spacing. 

Embiid set a hard screen on RJ Barrett, forced the desired switch and got an and-one Nov. 29 against the Knicks. 

“We've been trying to do that bit by bit over the years,” Brown told reporters. “I think that you have a deep pick-and-roll with those two, a lot of times they do switch. I thought Ben did a good job of finding that and if they don't switch you got Ben going downhill, and we're trying to just continue to work on his finishing. And it is a look that I think, especially in crunch-time environments, interests me a lot.” 

The obvious problem with the snug pick-and-roll is there’s minimal space for anything to develop. Simmons has little margin for error with his first read. 

Though Embiid eventually had the switch the Sixers wanted against the 6-foot-5 Malcolm Brogdon on the play above, Simmons had already committed to a righty jump hook on Myles Turner and didn’t have room to change his mind. 

Developing the tricks of the trade 

Embiid’s value as a roller increases against teams that aggressively hedge the pick-and-roll.

He didn’t even roll very far on this play from Nov. 8 in Denver — just a couple of feet after screening for Richardson — but the scheme the Nuggets were using meant Will Barton had to tag Embiid before flying out to Furkan Korkmaz. Barton couldn’t recover in time.

Embiid’s chemistry with his new teammates is predictably not yet at an advanced stage. Richardson has a tendency to snake back in the opposite direction of his initial drive, and Embiid still seems to be figuring that out. 

They were on different wavelengths here. 

Since Embiid draws so much respect from opposing defenses, many pick-and-roll actions involving him are going to be inelegant. Especially late in games, teams often know what’s coming and load up to stop it.

He can still be helpful in those situations by focusing on doing the simple things. The technique isn’t textbook on this play, but his screen on Donovan Mitchell gets the job done. 

One of the next steps in Embiid’s evolution as a screener and roller will be applying a few of the dark arts that are prevalent across the NBA, whether it’s stealthily using his upper body like Horford or giving the ball handler space to drive by sealing his man in the lane.

He did the latter well vs. Larry Nance Jr. and the Cavs. 

As a 7-foot, 280-pound player with diverse offensive skills, Embiid is a threat as a roller, at least on paper.

It often won’t be as easy for him as just rolling with purpose to the rim and being rewarded with dunks, but he’s shown he has the ability to help himself and his teammates get good looks. 

For Embiid, it’s clearly important to work on dealing with double teams, refining his post game, limiting turnovers and hitting open three-point shots at a decent rate. 

But the 25-year-old big man also has plenty of room to improve as a screener and roller. 

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