76ers

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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2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

A day after the NBA’s Board of Governor’s approved a 22-team return to play format, the NBPA did so Friday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

All 28 player reps approved the plan, which would see 22 teams head to Walt Disney World in Florida to finish out the 2019-20 season beginning July 31. The league will play eight regular-season games with the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth seed. The playoffs will follow the traditional format.

One of the new pieces of information presented Friday is that there will also be two or three preseason games before the season resumes.

On TNT Thursday night, commissioner Adam Silver said the league is in the “first inning” in its quest to return to play. The NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Charania, players will undergo testing every day and there will be a minimum seven-day quarantine for any player that tests positive. If a player does contract the virus, play would continue.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

Another sticking point was a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under this return-to-play plan. The NBPA told the players it’s “unlikely” the 2020-21 season would start on Dec. 1 and that it’s still being negotiated, per Charania.

With no fans in the stands, the two sides have also discussed pumping fan noise in courtesy of NBA2K.

The league and NBPA are still continuing to work out the health and safety details in the weeks leading up to a return.

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2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

2020 NBA Draft profile: Jordan Nwora is a proven scorer, shooter

Jordan Nwora

Position: Forward
Height: 6-7
Weight: 225
School: Louisville

Six months ago, Jordan Nwora seemed like a lock to be selected in the first round of the 2020 NBA Draft. Nwora was the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, poised to lead Louisville to a big season and cement his status as one of the best players in all of college basketball.

By all accounts, he had a very good — if not great — junior season. Nwora averaged 18 points and just under eight rebounds per game for a Louisville team that finished with a 24-7 record. He was named First Team All-ACC and finished second in conference player of the year voting behind Duke’s Tre Jones.

Yet here we are looking ahead to the draft and Nwora is considered a fringe first-round pick who is more likely to be selected in the second round. 

So, what went wrong? There are a couple theories. One, Nwora struggled in a handful of marquee games last season. He scored just eight points on 2 of 10 shooting in a loss at Kentucky and was held to six points on 3 of 12 shooting at Duke a couple weeks later. To make matters worse, he scored a total of seven points in back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Clemson in mid-February.

There are also doubts as to whether Nwora showed enough improvement between his sophomore and junior seasons. Does he work hard enough? Is he committed to improving his game? These are questions that will follow Nwora as the draft approaches.

Strengths

Nwora is a proven scorer. He averaged 17 points as a sophomore and 18 points as a junior. He did so wearing a target on his back, particularly this past season. Opponents game planned to slow him down and he still put up big numbers against very good competition. 

He’s also a very efficient three-point shooter. Nwora shot better than 37 percent from long range during his sophomore year. He was even better last season, making 40 percent of his three-point attempts. His combination of size and shooting ability is very attractive to NBA talent evaluators.  

Weaknesses

Ball handling and defense top the list. Nwora should be an effective spot-up shooter in the NBA but his ability to create his own shot is questionable. His ball handling skills need significant improvement to be considered NBA-ready.

There are also legitimate concerns about his ability to defend on the pro level. Is he quick enough to guard smaller players on the perimeter? Is he strong enough to hold his own in the paint and on the boards? If Nwora ends up slipping to the second round, the defensive question marks will be the biggest reason why. 

Fit

Nwora could very well be selected early in the second round. The Sixers currently own the 34th and 36th picks and they need shooters. Nwora certainly fits that description. 
    
The Sixers could target him for his shooting ability and live with his shortcomings on the defensive end of the floor. Nwora to the Sixers isn’t a far-fetched scenario and definitely warrants serious consideration.  

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