The "eye test" vs. "analytics" battle is an argument I thought had long since played itself out. Within the broader hoops community, there seems to be an understanding that data -- whether that comes through hands-on scouting or number crunching -- is at the center of every successful franchise. Combining the merits of both has always been the goal for the side that is trying to establish itself as part of the conversation. Someone should probably tell this to Larry Brown.
I'm sure you've heard, but the former Sixers coach is unhappy with the franchise's direction at the moment. Specifically, Brown is not okay with the supposed lack of "basketball people" in the organization (among other things), according to a conversation he had with the Inquirer's John Mitchell. This led to a rebuttal from from Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil on the WIP Morning Show, which in turn spawned back-to-back interviews by Brown and O'Neil on The Fanatic.
What the current regime is doing is public knowledge; there's not much need to focus on O'Neil's rebuttal. Instead, let's focus on Brown. The crux of Brown's argument is a tune we've heard sung before, but I'll go through and discuss some of his points anyway, placing them alongside some information regarding his own career.
"Can you imagine telling Allen Iverson that this is a rebuilding season so we're going to be bad on purpose?"
The coaching staff and players are not stepping on the floor night after night and trying to lose games. What the front office decides to do with the roster and what the people on the hardwood have control over are two distinct entities. There is not a single coach on earth that would approach one of their players and tell them that they're going to be bad on purpose, unless they're involved in an elaborate point-shaving scheme.
This is the single biggest disconnect in the tanking conversation, and it's downright arrogant to suggest that athletes aren't equipped to handle rough circumstances. In essence, it frames them as children who can only stomp their feet and complain when things don't go their way, rather than professionals who are paid to do their job to the best of their abilities.
"Brett [Brown] can coach, he's one of Pop's guys...But how much teaching is going on?"
This sequence broke my bullshit meter. In assessing current Coach Brown, former Coach Brown suggests that while Brett is a good coach, Larry doesn't know how much the players can learn with the setup the team has now. This logic is on par with saying, "I'm not a racist, but" and then spewing some stereotyped garbage at whoever has the misfortune of listening to you.
Brett Brown has shown that he will waste no opportunities to teach his players; there were timeouts taken down 20+ with less than a minute to go last season. Barren as the roster is, the coaching staff is working hard with what they have on hand, and that's all that can be asked for the time being.
"How many years have we had this plan?"
One, and we're starting year two. Apparently Brown is not aware that the new regime is only just getting started. Does basic counting fall within the realm of "analytics" now?
"Let me explain something to you. I inherited San Antonio, we won 21 games in my first year. Won 56 the second year, but here's the deal. I had five guys on my team that won 21 games that had career years. You understand that?"
A 35 game boost from one season to the next is pretty impressive -- how did Brown manage that one?
In a surprising coincidence, the Spurs leaped back into the playoff picture due to former No. 1 pick David Robinson joining the team after fulfilling his service to the Navy. And if getting a future MVP / 10-time All Star wasn't enough, the Spurs also got a jolt from third overall pick Sean Elliot, obtained because the Spurs had sucked horribly under Brown the year before.
Also, the "career-best" argument is like if we held up the numbers of last year's Sixers as proof that the plan is working. Given the opportunity, anyone can turn in the best year of their life.
"Allen won 21 [ed note: 22] games as the first pick in the draft, with Jerry Stackhouse who was the third pick in the draft, with Clarence Weatherspoon who was the seventh [ed. note: he was taken 9th] pick in the draft, with Derrick Coleman who was the second or third pick in the draft. So think about that a little bit."
Here, Brown misrepresents why high draft picks are valuable, and uses a straw man to dismiss the merits of having young, cheap players. Once the Sixers identified and obtained their young superstar, they were able to leverage other assets of theirs -- namely Stackhouse -- to bring in talent that meshed with said star's game, maximizing his effectiveness in a team context.
No reasonable human being is asking for young players to come in and lead the team to a championship, or even the playoffs right away. Outside of outliers like Magic Johnson, most rookies that go to bad teams climb a steep hill to success. If pure wins and losses were all that mattered, Brown should have been fired for going 31-51 in his first season with Philly, and Iverson should have been discarded.
"My point is, you build a team by developing young kids, getting great contracts and draft picks, I understand that."
Good news! Brown was able to highlight exactly what the Sixers have been doing in describing what "his" strategy for rebuilding is. Thanks for the tip, Larry. This leads nicely into another talking point.
"Everywhere I went besides Detroit had a losing record... We were trying to win every game, trying to teach players how to win, and I didn't sit there and make an excuse that we got this long plan."
No, maybe he didn't use that excuse, but there have been plenty of others to explain away his failures as the game passed him by. Actually, more accurately, he used the same excuse more than once.
In taking potshots at the Knicks and Bobcats four years apart in 2008 and 2012, Brown separately accused both franchises of spying on him. Evidently, Larry Brown believes that the work he does on the basketball court was worthy of espionage on the behalf of his employers, telling Philadelphia Magazine in 2008 and Dan Patrick in 2012 that spies made his stops in New York and Charlotte more difficult.
Unless James Dolan and Michael Jordan went so far as to tap his phone and bug his house, these claims are laughable. I'm not sure what universe he lives in, but I'm pretty sure your employer is allowed to check what you're doing with the roster they're paying for. And if Brown is worried about whether enough "basketball people" are in an organization, what is he doing questioning Michael Jordan?
The bitterness never ends with Larry Brown. While the Knicks were courting Phil Jackson in April, Brown felt it his duty to rip GM Steve Mills. The reason circles back to his "basketball guys" argument:
I don't know what he knows about the sport, to be honest with you. I was with him. Isiah [Thomas] knows a lot. Isiah's a bright guy. I don't agree with the way he treats people, but he was a bright guy. Steve Mills has no clue.
As it turns out, Mills probably knows a thing or two about basketball. He played at Princeton under Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril -- just the man credited with perfecting the Princeton offense -- had a pro stint in Ecuador, and has been around the game in other capacities since 1984.
The basketball people claim -- or something like it -- continues to appear when people Brown likes or worked with are out of a job. In his interview with 97.5, he mentioned his disappointment with the departures of Sixers execs Courtney Witte and Tony DiLeo, as well as his connection to a number of basketball executives and coaches around the league, such as Jazz GM Kevin O'Connor and the irreverant Gregg Popovich. He repeatedly claimed Billy King as part of his influence, though I'm sure many people would disagree on that being a positive.
Brown's actions and his words reek of a self-important dick who refuses to believe that anything other than his way can work -- even if what he describes as "his way" meshes with what somebody else is already doing. For as much static as I've sent at Doug Collins, at least I get the impression that he gave a damn about the franchise. The same can't be said about Brown; while their old-school approach to the game is similar, Collins wasn't planning his escape when things got tough, as Brown has at nearly every stop.
If Larry Brown is "basketball people", the Sixers don't need any like him. Josh Harris, Hinkie, O'Neil and all the rest have shown themselves willing to go into the trenches and stay there until the war is won. No one will ever accuse the NBA's most infamous carpetbagger of possessing that type of resolve.