76ers

Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

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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.”

Elton Brand and Brett Brown answer questions about Markelle Fultz's shoulder, but many still remain

Elton Brand and Brett Brown answer questions about Markelle Fultz's shoulder, but many still remain

CAMDEN, N.J — Markelle Fultz will see a shoulder specialist for a consultation on Monday in New York, as recommended by his agent Raymond Brothers, Sixers general manager Elton Brand confirmed Tuesday. He won’t participate in team practices or games until that consultation.

That much we know. 

The rest of Fultz’s situation is murkier.

Brand and head coach Brett Brown responded to the many questions about Fultz, but many still remain. Neither knew why Fultz went from saying “everything feels good” on Nov. 6 to seeking outside consultation.

“I’m not sure,” Brand said. “Whatever it is, we’ll support him. We just want the best for him, and we’ll figure out a way to get that out of him.”

It’s possible the normal “bumps and bruises” Brown and Fultz said the 2017 No. 1 pick was dealing with two weeks ago may not have been as innocuous as they sounded then. 

Brand said there had been specific conversations about Fultz’s shoulder, as well as other ailments that he classified as minor — not the kind of things that would keep someone “medically off the court.”

“Yeah, I’m sure there [were conversations]," Brand said. "Other things, too. Other things that players who are playing more than 20 minutes a game complain about or get treatment for.”

However, Brand said this isn't the first time Fultz will see an outside specialist.

“In the last year, yes, he’s seen specialists per Raymond’s recommendation," he said. "I don’t know how much we can talk about, but yes, he’s seen specialists.”

Brown was surprised by the news. He thought the scapular imbalance which sidelined Fultz for 68 games as a rookie was 100 percent healed. 

“It was my understanding that it was pointing in the right direction, that it was good,” Brown said. “I was playing him, he’s lifting weights, it’s all good. So, this situation has come up, and we’ll deal with it.

“This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard. But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. That’s what it is, and we’ll support him.” 

The motivation for Brothers seeking a consultation for Fultz remains unclear. Both Brand and Brown said they didn’t want to speculate that there might be a correlation with T.J. McConnell taking Fultz's backup point guard minutes in the Sixers’ win over the Suns on Monday night (see story).

Brand did say he spoke “a little about on-court stuff” with Brothers but that he wanted to focus on Fultz’s medical situation. 

The one obvious answer is who replaces Fultz while he’s out. There’s no question it’s McConnell. Brand wouldn’t entertain the possibility of external options until the Sixers know more.

“We’ll see after the agent-recommended consultation,” Brand said. "We’ll see how it goes. We’ll see how he feels and what’s going on. I’m sure T.J. is going to play a lot more minutes. I’m really glad we have a player like T.J. in the fold to be able to step up like I’m sure he will.”

To add another twist to an already bizarre story, The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Keith Pompey reported that Fultz “participated in light shooting with teammates” on Tuesday, though the team did not hold a formal practice. 

The last Fultz-related question Brown answered was about whether he sometimes wishes he could just walk into work and have a normal day.

“Our definition of normal in this building and with our program is probably different than most,” he said. “I’m personally fine with it. You just roll. You have to absorb things and move. ... I think that we’re pretty steady and consistent around here. I hope we are. 

"I’m the head coach, so I hope that is generated, as much as anybody, by me. And we’ll deal with this thing with Markelle accordingly.” 

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Sixers' Markelle Fultz to miss time, see shoulder specialist

Sixers' Markelle Fultz to miss time, see shoulder specialist

Updated: 2:07 p.m.

The Markelle Fultz shoulder saga just took a strange and troubling turn.

At his agent's recommendation, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick is scheduled to see a shoulder specialist Monday in New York and will not participate in practices or games until the evaluation is completed, Sixers general manager Elton Brand confirmed Tuesday.

The news was first reported by The Athletic's David Aldridge.

This is not good.

Drama surrounding Fultz's right shoulder gained serious steam Nov. 12 when the 20-year-old guard had a bizarre hitch in a free throw attempt during the Sixers' 124-114 win over the Heat. Fultz, who put up a concerning jumper a week prior against the Nets, said the ball slipped out of his hand on the inadvertent pump-fake foul shot.

Fultz's routine at the charity stripe then changed last week as he started juggling the ball between his hands, all the way up into his release, starting Friday vs. the Jazz.

Now, at the direction of his agent Raymond Brothers, Fultz will have to miss time as he seeks clarity on his shooting shoulder.

On Nov. 6, Fultz said “everything feels good.”

"For sure," Fultz said. "Nobody’s ever 100 percent healthy in this game. You play five games in seven days, you get bumps and bruises. That’s life in the NBA, that’s what you sign up for when you get here. But I’m working every day to get better.”

The Sixers play Wednesday (vs. Pelicans), Friday (vs. Cavaliers) and Sunday (at Nets), then have two days off before a home game next Wednesday against the Knicks.

Fultz played just 14 games his rookie season, which was marred by injuries and the mysterious shoulder issue. Before the 2017-18 campaign, he suffered a left ankle injury and dealt with soreness in his right knee. Then came the scapular muscle imbalance in his right shoulder during October 2017, forcing him to miss 68 games.

After some early positives with his shooting stroke this season, Fultz has attempted just one three-pointer (which was nearly a full-court heave) over his last 11 games and free throws have become a hurdle of sorts.

Another hurdle Fultz and the Sixers are trying to clear.

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