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, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com 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.