Brett Brown has often frankly talked in recent years about the pressures and expectations that come with coaching the Sixers.
“There’s an expiration date on all of us,” he said last September.
Brown’s expiration date was Monday, when the Sixers fired him as their head coach. ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news, which the team later announced.
Brown was hired before the 2013-14 season by Sam Hinkie, then the team's general manager. In his first three seasons on the job, he earned just 47 victories. Hinkie, with a long-term vision in mind, gave Brown a frequently rotating cast of players not meant to win games. Despite that reality, Brown approached his work with a persistent positivity.
A native of South Portland, Maine, Brown began his coaching career in Australia and had experience as a director of player development and assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs. That background helped prepare him for a difficult job.
The 2016-17 Sixers won 28 games, an 18-win improvement on the previous season. Behind young stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Brown then led the Sixers to back-to-back 50-win seasons for the first time since 1984-86.
Following a bizarre scandal involving president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and burner Twitter accounts, Brown assumed the role of interim general manager in June of 2018 until the team hired Elton Brand.
Brown’s players endorsed him strongly last May when there had been speculation about his job being at risk. The Sixers were a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater away from heading to overtime in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the eventual champion Toronto Raptors.
Entering this season, Brown guaranteed expectations would be high for himself and the Sixers when he said, “I want the No. 1 seed.”
The Sixers went 43-30 in a regular season shortened because of the coronavirus pandemic, finishing sixth in the Eastern Conference.
Brown promised “smash-mouth offense” and “bully-ball defense,” a vision his team ultimately did not meet. The large roster assembled by Brand and the Sixers’ front office disappointed, with the free-agent contract of four years and $97 million given to Al Horford an especially costly mistake. Horford’s pairing with Embiid and poor fit on the Sixers were season-long problems.
"The thing that I found the most challenging as the season played out (was) space became an enormous issue," Brown said on Sunday. "Effectively, you had a mismatch every possession down the court. And the fact is, that’s Joel’s world. That’s Joel’s domain. Trying to help the team, trying to coach the team, conquer that problem, I felt was a challenge. From a spatial issue, from a team sort of design, that was an area that we needed to get done, and I don’t believe I did that great of a job coaching that.”
Simmons’ season-ending left knee injury sustained in the NBA’s Orlando “bubble” made the task of beating the Celtics in the first round a greater challenge, and Boston's sweep of the Sixers sealed Brown's fate.
Josh Richardson on Sunday said he thought the Sixers didn't have adequate internal accountability under Brown.
“He’s a good guy,” Richardson said. “He’s a good man. He means well. I just think going forward, he's 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 Sixers will now search for a new voice to guide Simmons, Embiid and a group of complementary players that did not support the team's stars well this past season.
Brand and managing partner Josh Harris released statements about Brown on Monday:
“I have a tremendous level of respect for Brett both personally and professionally and appreciate all he’s done for the 76ers organization and the City of Philadelphia,” Brand said. “He did many positive things during his time here, developing young talent and helping position our team for three straight postseason appearances. Unfortunately, we fell well short of our goals this year and I believe it is best to go in a new direction. This will be an important offseason for us as we look to get back on track towards our goal of competing for an NBA championship.”
“I want to thank Brett for not only what he did as our Head Coach, but for the impactful community work he and his family did across the Greater Philadelphia Area over the last seven years,” Harris said. “He is a high-character coach and leader and we’re fortunate to have had him here. This is a difficult decision, but one we believe is necessary. I wish Brett and his family well.”
In a statement released by the team, Brown signed off on his tenure with the following message:
"In 2013, I was employed to lead one of the most dramatic rebuilds in professional sports history. In the past seven years, our players and coaches have evolved and grown, and I have deep appreciation for the 102 players I have coached. I am grateful for my coaching staffs and their dedication to our common goal, while also proud to see three of my former assistants now deservedly NBA Head Coaches, and one a major college Head Coach.
"I would also like to thank the ownership group, led by Josh Harris and David Blitzer, former GM Sam Hinkie, the 76ers’ historic alumni, our passionate fans, and finally current GM Elton Brand, who I coached and worked for. He is a high-character talent that the 76ers are fortunate to have. I sincerely wish him, the players, and the next coaching staff my very best in their pursuit of an NBA championship.
Thank you, Philadelphia. Respectfully,