When Brett Brown took his seat in the Wells Fargo Center next to Sam Hinkie and was introduced as the next head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, the former San Antonio Spurs assistant discussed how one measures the day-to-day success of a rebuild.
"We all know the pain of rebuilding is real. We all will experience it. It isn’t something that happens quickly," Brown said. "We need a staff that is going to be heavily focused on development. Pre-practice work, video work, ‘come in my office.’ All those kinds of things contribute to developing somebody."
Thus far, that miracle-working player development crew has guided the Sixers’ roster of misfits to a surprisingly successful start to the 2013-14 season. But in order to create that developmental atmosphere within the Sixers' organization, Brown dismissed the remains of Doug Collins dilapidated coaching staff in August.
Gone was Michael Curry, Collins’ defensive coordinator and the team's Summer League head coach. Gone were Aaron McKie and Jeff Capel as well.
The New England native did retain the 76ers’ strength-and-conditioning coach Jesse Wright and athletic trainer, Kevin Johnson.
Brown then scoped the country for some of basketball’s brightest and best at player development to join him on the Sixers’ bench. He enlisted the services of Chad Iske and Lloyd Pierce as assistant coaches. He also hired Greg Foster and Billy Lange as assistant coaches for player development to his full-time staff.
The Sixers have benefited from the help of Curtis Sumpter and Matt Carroll as well.
Iske spent 14 seasons with the Denver Nuggets, the last six as the lead assistant to George Karl. The Kansas alum specialized in scouting opponents and game preparations. Pierce, who reportedly interviewed for Brown’s position, spent the last two seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies as an assistant coach of player development. He broke into the League as the player development coordinator for the Cavaliers from 2007-2010 and also served as an assistant coach with the Warriors in 2010-11.
Brown poached Foster, a 6-11 13-year NBA veteran, from Tim Floyd’s staff at UTEP. Floyd utilized Foster’s size and experience to work with the Miner’s big men.
"A couple of the big guys specifically came here because of Greg. They really wanted to work with him," Floyd said. "The guy can really teach and coach. His biggest strength was individual player development. He’s been around the game for a long time. He articulates his message very well. People believe in what he is saying."
Floyd says Foster’s commitment to and passion for the game is what ultimately makes him so effective, a coaching style that he is bringing to Nerlens Noel’s daily on-court rehab.
"The thing I really loved about Greg was that he would get in the gym with these kids at 6 a.m. and go home at 10 at night," Floyd said. "He’s just a willing worker. We all love the game at least a little bit, but you have to be willing to get in the gym on a consistent basis to reinforce your message. That was one of Greg’s biggest strengths and that’s why I think he has a real future in the NBA."
Lange was pulled from the college ranks as well. The Rowan alum spent 2001-2004 as the director of basketball operations at Villanova before taking over the Navy program for seven seasons. He then returned to Nova and Jay Wright’s staff from 2011-2013.
"When we first got to Villanova, Billy played an important part in helping us establish our core values and he was at the center of everything we did these past two years," Wright said via email. "Having been a head coach, he understands all the elements that go into building a program. He sees the big picture."
Wright also says Lange’s enthusiasm mirrors that of Brown and Foster.
"Billy brings an incredible energy and passion for teaching the game to the Sixers," Wright said. "I think he’s a great fit for the kind of team Sam Hinkie and Brett Brown are building. Billy’s ability to connect with guys on a one-to-one basis is part of what makes him an outstanding teacher."
The Sixers’ success this season won’t likely be measured in wins and losses. It will ultimately predicate on the improvements and strides’ these players make from October to April.
Brown and his staff are already off to a solid start.