76ers

Nobody embodies 'The Process' more than Brett Brown

Nobody embodies 'The Process' more than Brett Brown

It was only five years ago that Brett Brown was giving big minutes to Tony Wroten and Hollis Thompson. 

Just two years ago, he was coming off an embarrassing 10-win season.

Now, he’s not only the head coach of a 52-win team with a bright future, but he’s running the basketball operations during arguably the biggest offseason in franchise history.

With the Bryan Colangelo burner account saga mercifully ending, the Sixers are left with a ton of work to do. The draft is less than two weeks away and free agency looms right behind it. There’s been damage done to the team’s image both with players already in the locker room and players considering the Sixers in free agency.

Brown is the perfect man to repair that image, because nobody embodies “The Process” more than the Sixers head coach.

Brown’s own path as a player and a coach was a “process” of its own. 

Brown guided Boston University to an NCAA Tournament appearance – the school’s first since 1959 – back in 1983. He then took a circuitous path to the NBA as a coach in the NBL in Australia which eventually led him to the Spurs.

Brown spent over a decade as an assistant for Gregg Popovich. Then in 2013, Brown was handpicked by then-GM Sam Hinkie. Why did Hinkie choose Brown? Player development. That had been Brown’s post with the Spurs. He aided in developing guys like Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, George Hill, Danny Green, Patty Mills and Kawhi Leonard, to name a few. 

After winning multiple championships on the sideline with the Spurs, Brown was asked to lead a tanking team. Sure, he was given millions of dollars to do so, but as a person with pride, it can’t be easy to accept a position where you know you’re going to lose … a lot. 

But that wasn’t even the worst of it. He had three different lottery picks not play in their draft year, a drama-filled logjam at center and, just when you thought the worst was over, 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz had the most bizarre injury situation possibly of all. 

He’s also dealt with the departure of two GMs under the most unceremonious of circumstances. 

And in all those situations, Brown was left out to dry. Neither Hinkie nor Colangelo nor the team’s ownership ever took bullets for Brown. Instead, it was the head coach that was left to deal with a media firing squad. To his credit, Brown never complained. He handled it all with class and aplomb. You don’t think his players noticed that? You don’t think the NBA world noticed that?

Fast forwarding to right now, you can see what he’s done with this current crop of players. T.J. McConnell and Robert Covington were castoffs and Brown turned them into legitimate NBA players. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons have evolved into much different players than they were during their one-and-done seasons in college.

Ultimately, the team will hire a GM with the proper front office experience. Whether it’s someone like David Griffin, who’s battle tested and has a championship ring, or it’s Mike Zarren, an extremely bright assistant GM who’s helped Danny Ainge build a force up in Boston, Brown will not hold this job forever. Once the GM is in place and the roster is built, it will be up to Brown to guide this team to a Larry O’Brien Trophy. 

Here’s what separates Brown and makes him such an asset for the Sixers: You can’t be good at developing the talent of players if you can’t develop relationships with them. Wins and losses do matter to Brown, but above all, he’s a teacher. He builds rapport with his students. He wants to know what makes them tick and he wants them to understand what makes him tick. 

That’s why he was the perfect man for the job when Hinkie hired him in 2013.

And that’s why he’s the perfect man for the job of making players “Trust the Process” again.

Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry on heckler: 'If they’ve got a problem, they can find me'

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USA Today Images/Bill Streicher

Philadelphia native Kyle Lowry on heckler: 'If they’ve got a problem, they can find me'

Kyle Lowry was in a constant dialogue with the referees during the Raptors’ 110-104 loss to the Sixers on Sunday night, complaining about everything from an air ball that he was convinced Matisse Thybulle had blocked to off-ball contact he felt wasn’t being policed tightly enough. He started another dialogue after the game with a heckling fan. 

After scoring 26 points in Toronto’s loss, the Philadelphia native, Villanova product and reigning NBA champion answered questions from reporters about the exchange.

“He’s talking too much,” Lowry said of the fan. “He talks too much. I don’t know him, but he ain’t worth my time.”

Any surprises about getting that sort of treatment in his hometown?

“I don’t care,” he said. “It’s Philadelphia — I respect it, I love it. Because when I come home, I’m going to be here. If they’ve got a problem, they can find me.”

Lowry’s Raptors, of course, bounced the Sixers in the second round of the playoffs last season in a seven-game series as close as one can possibly be. Their regular-season series this year is now tied at 1-1. The two teams play each other Jan. 22 in Toronto, and they next face off in Philadelphia on March 18.

The dynamic between Lowry and Sixers fans might not be at the top of the list, but it’s one reason why those games should be worth watching. 

“There’s a rivalry here,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse acknowledged before the game. 

At Wells Fargo Center, where the Sixers are now 12-0, the fans tend to make themselves part of any rivalry. 

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Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle come up large in Sixers' win over Raptors

Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle come up large in Sixers' win over Raptors

BOX SCORE

It may be early in the NBA schedule, but this wasn’t just another game for the Sixers.

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere, they held on to beat the Raptors, 110-104, at the Wells Fargo Center Sunday night.

Ben Simmons played composed, Tobias Harris and Matisse Thybulle came up large and the Sixers’ defense imposed their will on Toronto.

Josh Richardson missed his sixth straight game with right hamstring tightness.

With the win, the Sixers remain unbeaten at home at 12-0 and improve to 17-7 overall. They host the Nuggets Tuesday night.

Here are observations from the win.

Steady Ben, Jo struggles

Joel Embiid was not doubled on his first touch … so he naturally turned it over. To Embiid’s credit, he didn’t let a tough start get to him. He was under control, handling double teams and taking what the game gave him. When Marc Gasol picked up his second foul, it allowed Embiid to get some looks against Serge Ibaka, which opened things up. With the Sixers out to a big lead in the fourth, Toronto used full-court pressure and Embiid struggled with it.

While a lot of attention has been paid to Embiid’s struggles against Toronto, let’s not forget that Simmons had his issues in the last matchup — even with Kawhi Leonard gone. Simmons also got off to a shaky start, looking like he was playing a little rushed. He started to let the game come to him a bit and settled in.

Embiid’s numbers weren’t mind-blowing (10 points, eight rebounds, six assists), but up until that weird fourth-quarter stretch, he didn’t force anything and his teammates made the Raptors pay.

Despite the five turnovers, Simmons had a strong overall game, flirting with a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds and  nine assists.

In general, the Sixers just seemed to handle the Raptors’ ball pressure significantly better — fourth quarter excluded — than they have in games past. A strong game from three-point range (14 of 32) also helped that cause.

Tobias makes Raptors pay

The Sixers have constantly talked about exploiting mismatches this season with their size. With the Raptors starting two smaller guards in Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, there was bound to be a matchup they could exploit. 

Early on, it was Harris who was by far the Sixers’ most aggressive player in attacking Lowry. In a game where the Sixers did a lot of over-passing, Harris did not. The most impressive thing about Harris’ start was the way that he attacked the rim — even when Ibaka was in the game.

With head coach Nick Nurse’s game plan to take Embiid and Simmons out of the picture as much as possible, it was on the Sixers’ supporting cast to make them pay. Harris did just that with a game-high 26 points on 4 of 8 from three and 10 of 22 overall.

Bully ball defense

The most impressive thing from the Sixers was their defense, using their length to frustrate and challenge Toronto.

Brett Brown switched up the matchups, starting the game with Al Horford on Pascal Siakam and Simmons on Kyle Lowry. Still, it was Simmons’ defensive versatility that stood out. He did well in his matchups against Siakam, who is playing at an elite level (the Sixers held him to 16 points on 7 of 18). He was also the one that was able to draw Gasol’s second foul after he was switched onto the center in the post.

You’d be hard pressed to find many — if any — players that are better than Simmons when it comes to switching one through five.

The Sixers’ defense was also big in leading to offense and easy transition looks.

This play by Horford, where the Raptors essentially had a 3-on-1 fast break, was mighty impressive and led to a transition bucket.

In general, Horford was strong in this one. With how unequipped the Sixers were at the backup center position against Toronto last postseason, it was evident the impact Horford had Sunday.

The rook continues to pass every test

Thybulle was questionable heading into this one with a sprained right ankle, but there was nothing questionable about his play.

He frustrated Lowry at every opportunity, continuing to excel at his “rearview” contests and making life miserable for his opponents. He also drew an offensive foul on Ibaka while he was screening for Lowry. The 22-year-old is getting better at walking that fine line defensively.

And what Thybulle game would be complete without a steal highlight? This was one of his three on the night.

He also continues to make shots, like this one he hit at the buzzer at the end of the first quarter which turned into a four-point play.

He also nailed two big threes in the third quarter to extend the Sixers’ lead to 18. He made a rookie career-high 5 of 8 from three and set a new high mark with 20 points. This may have been the biggest test for Thybulle this season, and he passed with flying colors.

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