76ers

Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

usa-greggpopovich-brettbrons-76ers-sixers-spurs.jpg

Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

SAN ANTONIO -- There was a friendly face waiting to greet Brett Brown everywhere he turned at the AT&T Center.

After spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with San Antonio, Brown returned to the AT&T Center on Monday for the first time as Sixers head coach.

“You get flooded with so many memories of championships and good people and just elite competitors under a roof of an organization that is so prideful in doing the right thing,” Brown said. “[They are] led by I think the best coach in the game and a general manager that complements the head coach so well. You come back here, you revisit with all those types of memories and friends you haven’t seen in a while.”

The trip down memory lane ended in familiar fashion for the Spurs -- with a lopsided victory -- if an unfamiliar outcome for Brown in San Antonio.

The Spurs rolled to a 113-91 victory on Monday night, extending their winning streak to 14 while handing the Sixers their 25th straight loss (see story).

The victory proved bittersweet because it came against “one of my best friends,” San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said.

“No, it’s never any fun doing that,” Popovich said. “Win or lose, it’s never fun either way. The wins aren’t as much fun and the losses are bad because they are losses, losses speak for themselves. You want to enjoy your wins, but it’s just harder when it’s with somebody like that.”

Making it even harder is the dubious path it kept the Sixers on.

The Sixers next play Thursday in Houston, where they can match the NBA record for consecutive losses of 26 straight set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11.

“I feel terribly for him, but I don’t feel sorry for him,” Popovich said. “I feel badly for him because he has to go through it, but I don’t need to feel sorry for him because he would be angry if he knew I felt sorry for him because he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.

“He doesn’t feel bad for himself, I can tell you. He looks forward to going to work every day and he’s going to work those guys to death and he’s going to love them to death, both at the same time, that’s who he is.”

One of the most important lessons Brown learned under Popovich is focusing on the bigger picture. Winning and losing streaks are never as telling as what they eventually lead to is a mantra the Spurs' coaches and players preach.

“Obviously, it's a rough season for them; it's a rebuilding season for them,” Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said. “[Brown] knows that. They know that. They have a lot of young guys. He's just trying to get the system in place that has them playing the way he wants them playing. It's a process. He knows that.”

Brown knows Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was San Antonio -- even if it seems that way.

Under Popovich, the Spurs have captured four NBA titles, won 50 games for a league-record 15 consecutive seasons and are vying for the league’s best record while earning their 17th straight postseason berth.

Yet before all that success, Popovich struggled with injuries and a fluid roster after taking over as coach 18 games into the 1996-97 season. San Antonio finished 20-62 that season, but the dismal record yielded the top pick, which the Spurs used to draft Duncan and begin one of the greatest runs in sports history.

The Sixers could be on a similar path, owning two first-round picks that are expected to fall in the Top 10 of one of the deepest drafts in a decade.

They will also have 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel, who has sat out his entire rookie year following left knee surgery, after being selected with the sixth pick in last year’s draft.

Adding all that talent to rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young could make the Sixers an instant contender.

But Brown knows it takes more than talent to be successful.

The Spurs have battled injuries all season, but their crisp ball movement, defensive intensity and unselfish play have allowed them to sit atop the league at 54-16.

San Antonio had 31 assists on its 44 baskets Monday night against the Sixers.

“In my opinion, that’s how you play the game,” Brown said. “So what you see is a system born out of many, many years of corporate knowledge where the winks and the blinks and the wrinkles and subtle nuances [allow them to] understand each other’s tendencies, and the offense shines. It’s not just a byproduct of good players or a great coach. It’s a decade worth of corporate knowledge. That’s what you aspire to get to.”

It can only come with structure and experience.

San Antonio's Big Three of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have played for 39 seasons, which is seven years more experience than the entire Sixers' roster combined. The Sixers have six rookies on this year's roster.

“We run the completely same offense,” Young said. “But they do all the ins and outs and we don't. That's the biggest thing. They ran a play that we knew, but they ran it a completely different way than we ran it. And that's because they knew we were going to pick apart the first side and second side, so they came from a whole different angle and ran the play. We were all mind-boggled about how they all knew ins and outs.”

Despite the early troubles, Popovich said the Sixers made the right choice in hiring Brown.

“I think he is as tough minded as the environment that exists there in Philly,” Popovich said. “He’s a very focused individual with great competitiveness and unbelievable fiber. He keeps an eye on what’s important. He will always be participatory and creative, but at the same time very consistent in his demands and knowing what wins and loses. He can stick with a program and is loyal as the day is long. He’s a winner in life in a whole lot of ways.”

This is the version of Wilson Chandler Sixers need

This is the version of Wilson Chandler Sixers need

When the Sixers acquired Wilson Chandler for “cash considerations” this offseason, it seemed like a great move.

The Nuggets, flush with young talent on the perimeter, were looking to get free of Chandler’s $12,800,562 cap hit. The Sixers, looking for a useful veteran, were happy to oblige.

Unfortunately, the Sixers hadn’t quite gotten the same player that they saw in New York and Denver through 29 games. 

There have been flashes — like the Christmas Day game against Boston — but no consistency. 

It’s been a tough transition for Chandler. Being traded from an organization you spent nearly a decade with isn’t easy. 

Nor is adjusting from being primarily used as a small forward for your career and now being asked to play more stretch four. Nor is getting used to playing alongside three All-Star caliber players.

“It’s been a tough process for me but I think I’m starting to figure it out,” Chandler said postgame Tuesday while sharing the podium with Joel Embiid. “Just playing off Jo and Ben [Simmons]. Knowing when to be aggressive and where to find my shots.”

There haven’t been many moments for postgame talks with the media for Chandler this season and Embiid made sure to bust his chops.

“You’re f------ trash,” you could hear Embiid jokingly whisper to Chandler while he attempted to answer a question about his fit. Chandler laughed before telling Embiid to “chill out.”

But all in all, it’s been a rough go for Chandler, who has missed 15 of the team’s 45 games. Every time it seems like Chandler might be able to start rolling, another health issue creeps up. 

First, it was the hamstring strain that cost him the first nine games of the season. As he was recovering from that, he suffered a bruised quad that lingered. That was followed by the upper-respiratory infection that’s passed through the team.

He appeared to turn a corner in Boston, but in the seven games he played in following the overtime loss to the Celtics, Chandler averaged just 4.7 points a game and shot 31 percent from the field (23 percent from three).

In Tuesday night’s blowout win over the Timberwolves, the 31-year-old combo forward gave yet another glimpse of what he can provide this team. 

He scored 14 points, tied for his second-highest point total of the season. He shot 5 of 7 from the field and 4 of 6 from three. He also added five rebounds and four assists in 25 minutes, showing off the all-around game he can provide.

Even with Chandler struggling, the Sixers’ starting lineup was lethal. If he makes shots like Tuesday? Good luck.

A new wrinkle Brett Brown spoke about postgame was pairing Embiid and Jimmy Butler on the court more. An offshoot of that is that Chandler got to spend more time on the wing — something the 12th year veteran admitted he felt more comfortable with.

A healthy and comfortable Chandler could spell trouble for Sixers opponents. With a brutal stretch coming up, the Sixers will need this version of Wilson Chandler.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

You have to give something to get something.

In the Sixers’ case, they had to part with two players that made up two-fifths of the best starting lineup in the NBA last season. Two players that helped them win 52 games and a playoff series. Two human beings that were adored and respected by their teammates.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric returned to Philadelphia Tuesday night as members of the Minnesota Timberwolves after being part of a package to acquire four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.

Though it wasn’t on full display with Covington out of the lineup and the Sixers crushing the Timberwolves, you could see what the Sixers are missing without the pair. Both players forged a relationship with the city and left an indelible mark on the organization.

“It’s more for me a respect thing, a friendship thing, an appreciation thing that they truly had a significant thumbprint on helping us grow this,” Brett Brown said. “Both of those two guys I’m very fond of. I’m grateful for their efforts here in helping us build our new program.”

Brown reminisced about taking the trip to Spain with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams to see Saric play with Croatia. He also took pride in seeing Covington in the D-League — now G-League — playing like a “street baller jacking up threes,” but becoming a true two-way wing.

Saric was beloved by the fans, but Covington’s relationship was a little more complicated. What’s not in question was the impact RoCo made on everyone in the building. He hugged former teammates, coaches, Wells Fargo Center staff and even media members.

Though he was ultimately traded, there’s nothing the player that went from undrafted to NBA player to NBA starter to an All-Defensive team pick would change.

“Everyone knows it’s been up and down,” Covington said of his relationship with Sixers fans. “They’re one of the craziest fan bases here, but die-hard fans. They love their sports teams. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I’ve enjoyed the fans, good and bad. Embrace it all. But overall, this is my true first home. I always love here. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Covington and Saric represented two large pieces of “The Process.” They were two of the biggest fruits of former GM Sam Hinkie’s labor. Covington was able to develop into a legitimate player while playing for a tanking team. Saric was acquired by a result of shrewd dealings by Hinkie.

One player still on the Sixers’ roster that also best represents “The Process” era is T.J. McConnell. Like Covington, McConnell was undrafted and has just continued to capitalize on every opportunity. It’s a group of players that’s truly bonded over the experience.

There was a fun on-court exchange between Saric and McConnell. Saric was guarding his good friend McConnell on a switch. McConnell proceeded to cross up Saric and hit a mid-range jumper. After the shot went down, McConnell gave Saric a pat on the behind.

#TrustTheFriendship

“I think that's a friend-to-friend [thing],” Saric said. “He didn’t want to disrespect me or something like that. We’re two good friends and we try to respect each other and that’s it.”

Butler is a phenomenal player, but it was a bold move by current GM Elton Brand to make the trade for the star wing.

Tuesday night was a reminder of the price the team paid off the court, not on it.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers