Here and there, after particularly exasperating losses during his first season as a Sixer, Josh Richardson had hinted at or even freely acknowledged internal problems that went beyond Xs and Os.
If you followed closely or read between the lines, there were a couple of consistent threads. Sunday, after the team’s season ended with a 110-106 Game 4 loss to the Celtics, Richardson laid it out all rather clearly.
It began when he was asked his thoughts on head coach Brett Brown.
“He’s a good guy,” Richardson said via video conference. “He’s a good man. He means well. I just think going forward, we’ve just gotta have some more accountability. I don’t think there was much accountability this season and I think that was part of our problem.”
The natural follow-up question was to wonder how the Sixers could address that accountability issue. Richardson’s explanation was unvarnished.
"It just has to start,” he said. “There’s always gotta be a Day 1. We’ve just gotta start from scratch. It’s not gonna be easy and we’re not gonna be comfortable, but that’s what championship teams do. (When) guys are not doing their job on or off the court, there’s gotta be some kind of consequence — not consequence, but we’ve gotta be able to talk to each other and listen.
"And not (just) listen to say something back, but actually hear (each other). It’s a hard lesson to learn for some people, but in order for us to make this playoff run that I think we all want, I know we all want, it’s gotta start."
Richardson was acquired last summer in a sign-and-trade with the Miami Heat, an organization that’s known to be prideful about culture and holding players to high standards, especially in terms of conditioning. In some ways, his comments were parallel to the attitude of Jimmy Butler, the player the Sixers sent to Miami.
Butler had a slightly mischievous smile following Game 2 of last year’s first-round playoff series vs. the Nets when he recounted a fiery halftime speech Brown had delivered. It was not the norm, Butler suggested, but he preferred the profane and uncompromising approach.
“Yeah, he came in here and said a few cuss words,” Butler said. “Shocked me a little bit, to tell you the truth. But I like it. That’s that type of energy I love. Just make sure everybody did their job, letting them know you can’t have it — it’s not winning basketball.”
Tobias Harris, widely considered one of the team’s leaders, gave a typically diplomatic and measured answer about Brown.
“With Ben (Simmons) going down, I thought Coach did a good job trying to rally us up,” he said, “and get us going and keep our spirits up game to game — you go down one game, you go down two, just keep the vibe and the mood up. Before anything, I’ll take ownership on myself and trying to be a leader of this team and not being able to be successful in the playoffs.
“Before we go that way, ownership has got to come from the individual at the end of the day. I’m not going one way or the other. I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and be better for my team and be able to lead my team in a better way."
Last May, Joel Embiid had referred to the buzz that Brown’s job might be in jeopardy as “bull----.” Like Richardson, he praised Brown the person on Sunday but did not take a stance on whether he should retain his job.
“I’m not the GM,” he said. “I don’t make the decisions. All I know is that we’ve got a great organization, a bunch of great people. … I never judge people based on basketball, I judge them based on how ... they are (as people). I think in our organization, we’ve got amazing people. From the owners, management, staff, coaching staff, training staff. We’ve got a bunch of great people.”
The decision on Brown’s fate isn’t in Richardson’s hands either, but he made it clear that, should he remain a Sixer — he’s under contract in 2020-21 and has a player option the following season — he thinks there need to be major changes in how the team is led and how players interact with one another.
“I think we had good communication here (at Disney World),” he said. “I think we all had good intentions. I think on the court, we did a better job of listening. But there’s gotta be some conflict. I think that’s our next step, is being able to have some conflict on the bench, like you saw in one of our first (seeding) games. I think that was good for us.
“I think we’ve gotta be comfortable in uncomfortable times — in times of conflict, in times where if I’m not doing my job, I want somebody to cuss me out. That’s just what I grew up in, that’s what I came from. I’ve seen good teams and I know that conflict and accountability is a big part of that."