Rome wasn't built in a day.
The old adage is meant to serve as a reminder about the time that it takes to build something truly great. The Eternal City didn't start off as the marvelous city of marble and power that we now know today. It didn't start off as the center of the ancient world, but as a tiny farming village on the banks of the Tiber river.
It's easy to look at something great, such as the Spurs, perhaps the greatest achievement of sustained team success in modern sports, and see only what it is, losing sight of the amount of effort, and time, required to get to that point.
Sure, the path for the Spurs was shorter than the one the Sixers hope to take, jump-started by injuries which placed an already good Spurs team artificially high up in a lottery that had one of the best players of his, or any, generation. Before the game, Popovich joked that, before dinner, "the first thing I say is 'Thank you Timmy', and then I have my dinner."
But what the Sixers are looking to build, through a mix of talent and culture, through hard work and good habits, was visible in the oponents locker room, even if the road to get there is painstakingly long.
The two teams have been linked for a myriad of reasons, including the Sixers investment in big men through two top draft picks. Most notably, it's the link between Sixers head coach Brett Brown and the Spurs, where he served as an assistant coach for 15 seasons, that ties them together.
The two still remain close. According to Popovich, he went on a walk with Brown yesterday, jokingly bemoaning that he "had to listen to [Brown] for an hour and a half."
"Well, I mean, you can probably figure out my answer and just write whatever you want. I'll say I said it, I don't care," Popovich jokingly said when asked what advice he gave to Brown when discussing the Sixers job opening
"He's a mench," Spurs coach Greg Popovich said about Brown before the game. "To go through what he's doing on a day to day basis is obviously beyond difficult. I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But if somebody's got to do it, he's the perfect guy.
"He is one of the most upbeat, positive individuals I've ever been around," Popovich said when describing his former pupil. "He's got great fiber. He's going to wake up every morning, go into work teaching, doing what needs to be done, because he knows what needs to be done to build a program."
Listening to him talk, it sounds almost like the exact same message Brown has been sending since he got here, which should surprise nobody.
"You guys might measure [the season] in wins and losses at times, but that's really got nothing to do with it," Popovich said. "It's building a base in a million different ways, that's got nothing to do with [immediate wins and losses], and he'll be great at it."
Popovich, who went 17-45 after taking over for Bob Hill during the 1996-97 season, described what Brown must be going through as unimaginably difficult.
"I mean, we've been fairly successful, and if we lose two in a row I'm thinking about how to build the confidence of the players back up. That's the truth," Popovich said. "You've got to constantly make sure that you're polishing: like cleanup, paint up, fix up. All the time. It was difficult, and this is like an unimaginable difficulty."
"Locker rooms can get chaotic, training sessions are taken for granted, losing becomes a real illness," Brown said about lessons he learned from Popovich's experience in that 17-45 season. "Lessons like that he shared with me all the time, especially as I'm personally going through trying to rebuild this proud franchise, to get it back to a level of respectability, and beyond."
Is what the Sixers are doing bad for the league, as many pundits, and coaches, have said over the past year?
"I think that to judge and talk about it's good, it's bad, is all psycho babble. It is what it is. Life goes on," Popovich said.
Last offseason, Sam Hinkie talked about acquiring guys with good habits, using Shane Battier as an example.
"We acquired Shane Battier in Houston and didn't have to say ‘Stop doing this and start doing all the million small things that drive winning.'," Hinkie said at the time. "It was like, ‘You've always done that, just do you'."
Greg Popovich, once again, echoed a similar sentiment.
"I don't get up any morning and say 'Geez, what am I going to do to get Timmy to play better, or play hard', Popovich said. "If I have a player that I have to motivate daily I shouldn't have brought him in in the first place. I'm an idiot.
"We do do our work as far as character is concerned. Bringing in the kind of kids that we think have the fiber to want to work every day, that can be coached, that don't mind being criticized, and want to learn," Popovich said about his team building strategy. "And, this will sound really strange, we also look for a sense of humor. A guy that is mature enough to laugh at himself. Because you're on the bus, you're on the plane, you're doing all kinds of stuff, you want to enjoy each other. If a kid doesn't have a sense of humor, no ability to be self-deprecating, it doesn't work as well.
"There's nothing new [in basketball]," Popovich said about his gameplan. "The people that compete the best, and execute the best, at both ends of the floor for more of the 48 minutes, they win."
All of this sounds eerily similar to what Brett Brown has been preaching since he got here last summer, about finding the guys with the right mentality, instilling the right habits in his young kids, and building a coaching and development staff that is world class, so that when the team acquires the talent needed that they are ready to cultivate that talent.
"I think that when we think of depth, you think of talent. And it most definitely is that. But there's mutiple layers beneath the talent where they co-exist. They get along," Brown said about what makes the Spurs tick, even as they sit some of their best players. "They pass the ball better than any NBA team I think I've ever seen. And there's a prideful attention to defense. So it's way deeper than a resume reads, [that] they did this there, or that there. There's a mate-ship, and a chemistry, and a camaraderie, that enables them to take that talent and really maximize it."
The fact that the Sixers are still this barren of talent in year two of Brett Brown's tenure is something that was unexpected, but not something he regrets.
"I didn't know it was going to be like this in year two. Nobody really planned on the draft picks aren't going to play in year two," Brown said before the game. "If I had to do it again I'd do it 50 times out of 50 times. The challenge is still there, the rewards are still there.
"I have to always just remind myself of why I took [the Sixers job], and what's most important," Brown said. "It's development, it's sports science, and it's defense. It's taking the youngest team in the history of the sport, with the least experience, and growing it."
MCW's improved play
The Sixers fell to the Spurs 109-103, with a second half rush falling just short.
Michael Carter-Williams finished the night with 24 points (9-19 from the field), 11 rebounds, and 7 assists, continuing his improved play of late.
"Not feeling, at times, the weight of a city to deliver, and force things too much," Brown said about what's driving Carter-Williams' improved play. "He's been a lot better the last 2 games. At times when he tries to do too much, and the ball's in his hands too long, a lot of times great things don't happen and it results in some turnovers."
"I think my teammates have done a great job of spacing out and letting me have driving lanes, and they're knocking down some shots," Carter-Williams said after the game.
Furkan Aldemir update
Furkan Aldemir is on his way to Philadelphia, leaving Galatasaray without asking for his unpaid salary. Galatasaray will reportedly retain his rights if he returns to play outside of the NBA.
Aldemir then posted a picture of his boarding pass on instagram, with a destination of Philadelphia.
Yahoo Sports reported last week that the Sixers and Aldemir agreed on a 4 year contract, with the first two seasons guaranteed.