76ers

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

The Spurs have been one of the most consistent NBA teams for nearly 20 years. They have made 19 consecutive postseason trips and won five championships during that span. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are entering a phase of building a new foundation with a group of young players. They are working to improve upon a 10-win season, let alone making the playoffs.

Yet four-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili saw more than records when weighing his options in free agency. The veteran point guard looked to the Sixers sidelines and was intrigued.

Head coach Brett Brown previously worked in the Spurs basketball operations department and on the coaching staff under Gregg Popovich. He was part of four championship teams in San Antonio. When the Sixers approached Ginobili this offseason, he gave them consideration before returning to the Spurs, where he has spent his entire 14-year career.

“The fact that Philadelphia had a great coach and a person I appreciate so much as Brett Brown, made it more appealing in the case the Spurs didn’t happen,” Ginobili told The Vertical on Thursday. “But the Spurs happened and they always had the priority.”

The Sixers reportedly offered Ginobili, 38, a two-year, partially-guaranteed deal worth around $30 million. The Spurs first offered him a one-year, $3 million contract. Ginobili ended up re-signing with the Spurs for one-year, $14 million. 

“It was not my main option. I never wanted to leave San Antonio,” Ginobili said. “But I had to listen to all the options that are there.”

Ginobili averaged 9.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 19.6 minutes coming off the bench last season. The Sixers are adding veteran leadership, and Ginobili is one of the most experienced in the game. In addition to his reliability at the position, he could have been a mentor to the entire team and worked with Ben Simmons to help hone his point guard skills as the rookie big man plays point-forward. His years of international competition would have gelled with incoming players such as Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Sergio Rodriguez. 

The Sixers signed point guards Jerryd Bayless (three years, $27 million) and Rodriguez (one year, $8 million) this summer. T.J. McConnell and Kendall Marshall still are under contract. Last season's starting point guard Ish Smith signed with the Pistons at the start of free agency. 

All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

Now that the Sixers have completed much of the process, the pressure rests on Brett Brown to deliver the team to the promised land.

The arrival of Jimmy Butler has brought a renewed vigor to the Sixers' season and represents an important step in The Process. The roster is much better than it has ever been under Brown’s leadership, and a fan base excited for the young Sixers to compete for a championship is ready to see dividends from their investment.

For Brown, signed through the 2022 season, the pressure may never be greater for him to win and win now.

Brown’s time managing a subpar roster made him one of the master tinkerers in the NBA, oftentimes piecing together rotations with players never intended to win games. Now comes another test of his coaching acumen, making these pieces fit.

The concerns regarding the rotation came up in Jimmy Buckets’ debut last night. Despite a strong start from Embiid (4 for 5 shooting, 11 points, three threes), Brown kept to his regular rotation, taking him out of the game halfway through the first quarter, seemingly stalling his momentum. And a hot shooting Wilson Chandler didn’t see the floor during critical moments of the fourth quarter. Those rotational issues will only get more complex, as it seems general manager Elton Brand isn’t finished making moves just yet.

For young teams in the NBA looking to make the leap from exciting lineups to competing rosters, it’s not unusual for front offices to bring in a different coach to continue the team’s growth. The Golden State Warriors replaced head coach Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr after three seasons in Oakland, even after Jackson took them from 23 wins to 51. Kerr was a major key, however, as the Warriors went on to win three of the next four NBA titles.

We're seeing this season the value new head coach Mike Budenholzer has added to the Bucks. The Raptors seem to be taking a forward step with Nick Nurse replacing Dwane Casey.

If Brown is unable to deliver significant progress this year for the Sixers, the new-look Sixers front office could look at some point to upgrade the position with a more win-now head coach.

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

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USA Today Images

Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

It took Robert Covington all of one night to endear himself to his new franchise and fan base.

Covington started at small forward and played a team-high 41 minutes for the Timberwolves Wednesday night in a 107-100 win over the Pelicans. He had a typical RoCo stat line, stuffing the box score with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.

T-Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for playing his core guys huge minutes. It's regarded as one of the reasons Jimmy Butler has had trouble staying healthy for a full season — the dude averaged between 36 and 39 minutes for six straight seasons.

Covington got his first taste of that Wednesday night.

“I didn’t know," Thibodeau told reporters of the 41 minutes. "I knew we could use (Covington) right away because he brings so much defensively. And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.’’

The 100 points scored on the T-Wolves were the fewest in 11 games and the second-lowest total all season. Some of that was because Andrew Wiggins actually used his athleticism and Karl-Anthony Towns actually played effective defense despite being plagued by foul trouble all game.

But a lot of it was the presence of Covington, who was all over the place, showing that his skill set can translate even before he knows the playbook. The Pels' leading scorer Wednesday was E'Twaun Moore, who was 3 for 10 for six points when guarded by Covington and 10 for 13 for 24 points when guarded by anyone else.

Dario Saric did not start. Thibodeau stuck with his favorite vet, Taj Gibson, who is still a solid four this deep into his career. Gibson played 28 minutes to Saric's 20. Expect that to move closer to an even split as Saric gets more acclimated. Saric is not as much a plug-and-play guy as Covington because his offense does require having the ball more. 

Saric finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, an assists and 2 steals on 3-for-7 shooting.

Thibodeau was excited by the versatility of his two newest pieces, particularly because it can lead to more effective switching on defense.

"I thought Cov had a great game going," he said. "You get a feeling when you're coaching against players — I remember last year playing against (the Sixers) and those guys, I like their mental toughness. What they were a part of in Philadelphia, they went through some really dark days and they just kept going and going and going. 

"Even last year, they were 25-25 and they just clicked and took off. ... I love what Covington has done, to go undrafted and be first-team All Defense. That says a lot."

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