JJ Redick

JJ Redick doesn't think Brett Brown was the Sixers' problem this season

JJ Redick doesn't think Brett Brown was the Sixers' problem this season

Despite leaving the Eastern Conference last July, former Sixers sharpshooter JJ Redick kept tabs on his old team's weird rollercoaster of a season. And he has thoughts about what did, and didn't, cause the Sixers' frustrations.

Appearing on the Sixers Beat podcast Friday, Redick talked fondly about his time in Philly, even noting that he wanted to return this season and ultimately finish his career in Philly.

But he also provided some helpful perspective on Sixers coach Brett Brown, who was often a punching bag this year for fans expecting more out of a talent-laden roster. Where some see Brown as unable to coax consistent greatness out of his team, Redick said he thinks Brown is "one of the best" coaches he's played for, and didn't see Brown as the reason for the Sixers' disappointing results this season:

We're all aware of [the criticism of Brown], right? I know there's some level of - I don't know what the word is - maybe animosity? And displeasure? It's always easy to blame certain people, but I would love to play for Brett again. I don't think Brett is the problem, if there's a problem. Sometimes things just don't work.

[...]

You can dissect this season with Philly however you want, and you can probably go in a lot of different ways with that.

That feels more like a comment on the team's construction, which Redick also alluded to in a separate comment earlier in the podcast.

Redick said he wanted to return this year, but felt like general manager Elton Brand and the Sixers' decision makers had a vision of a bigger team, one that could compete with the large wings and frontcourts of the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors:

I got the sense that they wanted to be bigger. And I also - when they made the moves, Joel stayed at the 5, and Ben at the 1, but then everyone across the board went down a position, right? Al went from the 5 to the 4, Tobias 4 to 3, Josh 3 to 2. It was sort of inevitable that they would have what I would call an uneven regular season.

It's extremely interesting to hear this from a former Sixers player, who is still in the league and ostensibly has his pulse on the league, because it largely falls in line with the two main complaints about the 2019-20 Sixers: either the problem is Brown's coaching, or Brand's roster construction.

While Redick says he understands what Brand was trying to accomplish, by trying to build a team that could beat the perceived best teams in the East, it certainly seems he thinks the odd construction of their starting five hurt the Sixers a lot more than Brown's coaching.

Just something to think about while we all sit, basketball-less, and ponder the Sixers' future.

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The start of Sixers-Nets Game 5 didn't make sense as you were watching it

The start of Sixers-Nets Game 5 didn't make sense as you were watching it

As NBC Sports Philadelphia prepares to re-air it tonight (7 p.m.), we look back on Game 5 of Sixers-Nets at Wells Fargo Center on April 23, 2019.

Joel Embiid had 10 points, Jimmy Butler had four and the Brooklyn Nets had zero.

When you’re watching a game, you’ll often have small notes — tidbits for future reference, interesting matchups or schemes, impressions in the moment. 

For Game 5 of the first-round playoff series between the Sixers and Nets last year, you kept returning to the score. 14-0. 25-3. 30-6. They’re the kind of numbers that don’t make sense, especially in a playoff elimination game, so you write them down hoping that will somehow help. The Sixers led by 29 points after two quarters, their largest playoff halftime lead ever.  

Looking back, there were logical explanations. The Sixers had won Game 3 without Embiid on the strength of big performances from Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris. They then took a Game 4 that was about as dramatic and intense as a first-round playoff game can be. Brooklyn was vulnerable, the Sixers’ defense was locked in and Embiid was coming off an incredible performance. 

“We had talked about how a team’s mindset down 3-1,” JJ Redick said, “if you can take their heart early, you might have a chance to put them away, deliver the knockout punch, all the boxing analogies I can come up with.

“I have some dark analogies, but I shared those with the team. I don’t want to share them with you guys, but they’re dark. But yeah, you gotta put people away.”

The game was over very early, with no Sixer playing more than 27 minutes and Embiid only needing to spend 20 on his troublesome left knee. There was a lot of time to consider what was next, and to wonder what the Sixers could accomplish if they put it all together consistently — though that reflection was interrupted with less than two minutes left by an altercation that resulted in ejections for Jonah Bolden, Greg Monroe, Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa. 

The Sixers had been on a search for identity and continuity that sometimes felt futile since trading in February for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic. Their first-choice starting five only played 10 regular-season games together. With the sample size so small, any time they had together felt worthy of deep analysis. Was Simmons having enough of an offensive impact in the “dunker spot?” How was the Butler-Embiid pick-and-roll coming along? Where did Harris fit in?

In the first quarter of Game 5, there wasn’t an opportunity to ask any of those questions. The defense was physical, focused and discouraging, and the lead kept growing and growing. We may sometimes overrate body language in pro sports, looking for signs of weakness that don’t exist, but the Nets just didn’t have the confidence they’d maintained through most of the series. D’Angelo Russell was tossing up contested jumpers because he knew it might be the best shot available that possession against Simmons, not because he believed he would make them. Russell ended up shooting 3 for 16 in the game, 35.9 percent in the series. 

Everyone understood the second round against the Raptors would be more of a challenge. Toronto had won 58 regular-season games and four straight to clinch their first-round series against the Magic, Marc Gasol was a tougher matchup for Embiid than Jarrett Allen or the Nets’ zone defense, and Kawhi Leonard was waiting. 

Those were concerns for another day. That night, the Sixers were pleased to be moving on and aware of just how well they’d opened the game, but not overjoyed. 

“I thought the start to this game was impactful, was powerful for us,” Harris said. “When we talk about imposing our will, that was a sound example of that.”

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Jimmy Butler talks relationship with Brett Brown, Sixers on JJ Redick's podcast

Jimmy Butler talks relationship with Brett Brown, Sixers on JJ Redick's podcast

After teasing for months that the reason he didn’t re-sign with the Sixers would come out, Jimmy Butler didn’t hold back on JJ Redick’s podcast.

Butler, who left via a sign-and-trade with the Heat this past summer, sipped on wine with his former teammate as the two discussed a variety of topics. 

The most interesting was Butler's time with the Sixers and why it didn't work out. The biggest factor for Butler’s departure seemed to be a rocky relationship with Brett Brown.

Hell yeah it was difficult,” Butler said of last season. “It was so different. On any given day, me as a person, as a player, I didn’t know who the f--- was in charge. I think that was the biggest thing. I didn’t know what the f--- to expect whenever I’d go into the gym, whenever I’m going to the game. … I think I was lost as the next motherf---er.

Butler forced a trade out of Minnesota that landed him in Philadelphia. The offensive fit was clunky from the start and was never truly resolved. Butler described a meeting early on with Brown, Redick, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons that set a bad tone for Butler’s tenure.

“And that f---ing meeting,” Butler said to Redick.

“We’re all sitting in there and nothing got accomplished at all. I told you this as I walked: ‘JJ, why would I ever go back in there again?’ Nothing is getting accomplished. Nobody’s saying nothing to anybody and we’re just sitting in here watching film and you can literally hear the thing just clicking, and we’re all just looking around.”

That’s what led to the infamous film session in Portland last season where Butler reportedly “aggressively challenged” Brown. Turns out, that meeting wasn’t nearly as confrontational as it was portrayed. Both former Sixers said it was a normal team conversation about pick-and-rolls.

As Redick talked about his relationship with Brown — which he’s mentioned as being great — Butler continued to go in on his former coach.

During the playoff series against the Raptors, Brown made Butler the team’s primary ball handler instead of Simmons. It apparently didn’t sit well with Butler, who’s flourished with the ball in his hands in Miami and at other stops, that the offense had changed so drastically.

“I would say [his relationship with Brown] was professional, but to this day, I don’t think that was fair to switch over like that,” Butler said. “Even though we played great basketball like that, I don’t think it was fair because the entire year, Ben had the ball. So you mean to tell me, in one playoff series, you just switch it up like that? I would be — like [Simmons] was — I would feel a type of way. I would think that it’s f---ed up to play one way the entire year and then be like, ‘You know what, boom, this is how we’re going to do it.’”

But what happened between Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 shot and Butler being sent to Miami?

The details are a little unclear, but it seemed like Butler didn’t like what was said to him when discussions of him returning to Philly occured.

A main reason I didn’t go back was because somebody asked, ‘Can you control him?’ Like, ‘Can you control Jimmy? Because if you can control Jimmy, we would think about having him back.’ I was like, you don’t got to worry about it. S---, ain’t nobody f---ing control me. For one, I ain’t just out there doing no bulls---, but the fact that you’re trying to control a grown man, … nah, I’m cool. Because I don’t do anything that’s just drastically f---ing stupidly crazy. I do not do that. So don’t come at me with the, ‘let me try and control him.’ You good. Don’t even worry about it. … If that’s what y’all are worried about, then good luck to y’all.

Butler didn’t reveal who this conversation was with and who asked if they could “control him.”

With 18 games left for the Sixers in the regular season, they currently sit in sixth and just a half a game behind the Pacers for fifth. If they were to get into the fifth or fourth position, there’s a strong chance they’d take on the Heat in the first round.

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