The methodical, deliberate, patient approach by Sam Hinkie and the Philadelphia 76ers is either a blessing or a curse, depending on your viewpoint.
For some, their actions show an unwavering focus on reaching the highest levels of success. An attention to detail that inspires confidence. A willingness to play the margins, to focus on some of the aspects teams often overlook. To find inefficiencies in how they train, with the belief that if they do enough of the small things right, consistently, that they will eventually find success once the talent acquisition arm of the program does its job.
For others, their actions are a slap in the face to those who are supposed to be paying their hard earned money to watch entertaining basketball. That they see no reason to have faith in Sam Hinkie, who to this point has, in their mind, only torn something down. For some, Sam Hinkie will have done nothing more than make the Sixers the laughing stock of the league.
Regardless of where you stand on this basketball cultural divide, one thing is certain: the Sixers are still going to remain patient.
The fact is, the Sixers are looking to build: build a core, build a staff, build a culture, build a literal building.
"I don't know a clearer example that I could make where you highlight the word patience [than the 2014 NBA Draft]," Brown told a group of reporters. "When you win 19 games, and then you come back in the draft and you draft two players that have the situations that they have, timeline wise, I think it just makes a very bold statement of genuinely how patient we are."
That patience. The patience that either proves their resolve or that flies in the face of sport and competition.
"The fact that David Blitzer and Josh Harris let us draft those two players [Embiid and Saric], knowing the responsibility we have to this city, is a real statement," Brown added.
And that is perhaps the key to this whole thing. Ownership. It's one thing to talk about taking your time, about avoiding shortcuts. The Sixers aren't the first team in the history of the sport to realize that they're years away from contention, and that they have to build their talent base from the ground up.
As Brett Brown sat the the head of the table, talking about everything other than winning -- from the practice facility, to sleeping habits, to skin fold, and getting Michael Carter-Williams proficient from long range by the time he's 27 -- it became increasingly obvious that Brown, seemingly, has the job security to survive this process.
That doesn't come as a surprise for those following the team. Hinkie and Brown have always talked, from day one, that this would take time. "It's going to take every day of [3-5 years] to get a culture established," Brown would say yesterday. They have never even remotely promised immediate rewards, usually warning everybody who would listen of the pitfalls of that approach instead.
But the Sixers are entering practically uncharted territory. The number of coaches who have had consecutive seasons with as few wins as the Sixers had last season and have kept their job is extremely thin. They are out there, though. Tim Floyd's run with the Bulls jumps to mind, as he was given the chance to start his 4th year with the team despite winning only 21% of his games during the previous three seasons. A more positive example would be Bill Fitch, who eventually guided the Cavaliers to a 49-33 season in the mid-70's, the highlight of a 9 year run with the Cavs that started off with him going 38-126 in the teams first two seasons.
The parallel with Brian Hill is perhaps the strongest, as Hill's tenure with the Cavaliers -- his first head coaching gig -- started when Cleveland was an expansion team, where immediate results should have been obviously unrealistic.
The fact remains that if you go through the annals of basketball history you could count the number of head coaches who have had the kind of leeway that Brett Brown currently enjoys on one hand. Even coaches that have legitimate reasons for poor won/loss performance have had their jobs in jeopardy, such as Bob Hill, who couldn't survive David Robinson's injury with the Spurs, or P.J. Carlesimo, who was ousted in Oklahoma City Thunder despite a team taking a similar long term approach. Pressure, from ownership and from the fans, often times causes coaches to become scapegoats. The stuff rolls downhill, as the saying goes.
But there Brett Brown sat, more worried about skin fold and sleep patterns than wins this season. More worried about Michael Carter-Williams' ability to hit jump shots at 27 years old than whether they are high percentage shots now.
"I said from day one that it was going to be about sports science, health, and about development," Brown said.
"For me it's going to be about watching Michael's 3 point shot. How's Nerlens going to progress on the court with just understanding the NBA game?, "Brown said. "How am I doing with Joel Embiid, although he's injured, what systems do I have in place where he's being educated, where he's a part of the team, where he's a part of the travel?
"His health is everything. That the injury to his navicular has got to be so studied with his diet, and bone density. What are we doing with work load?" Brown said on Embiid. "How about his shooting form, and educating him through film? Do people understand the importance of showing up on time?"
"Am I true to my word on development and sports science? Keeping a locker room still positive and up-beat when you're taking hits with 20 year olds. Being candid with the city. I hope I do a good job in that regard, and I feel like if I can do some of those things, then I think that those should be my measurements."
Those aren't the words of a man fearing for his job.
That doesn't mean this is necessarily easy for Brown, though.
"I have to be ready, don't I?" Brown said about another rebuilding season. "Everybody understands the reality of what we started out with last year."
"I'm like anybody, you're just crazy competitive, you want the world and you want it yesterday," Brown said about the rebuild. "I feel like it's an opportunity way more than it is a problem. How many times in a lifetime am I going to get the opportunity to actually come in and put your thumbprint on something that you are passionately involved in in regards to establishing a culture? Whether it's we need more natural light at the practice facility, whether it's the locker room needs to be changed, whether I can hire my own staff, whether it's how we travel, whether it's how we dress, whatever. This is an incredible opportunity, and I can't wait to do my best to see it through."
Brown did say that the 2014 draft has extended the process, and something that he didn't expect coming in. But he's okay with that.
"The rules changed a little bit when we had our draft this year," Brown said. "That wasn't something that I expected when I took the job. You expected to come in with two new draft picks that were going to walk on the floor and play this year."
"But when you step back and you say, 'well, what's best for the program?' What we did was best for the program."
"For me, I have to remind myself and coach myself that those covenants, those things that we declared from the day that I was hired," Brown said. "You really have to hold those near and dear to your heart and not blink."
What are those covenants? Fitness. Health. Culture. And hiring the right people.
"We're looking for A's. We don't want B-'s, we don't want B's. We're trying to find A's to bring forward," Brown said about his staff. "It's always about the people. I think that we've nailed it with some hires. Personally I feel great about our staff. I'm thrilled about our staff."
Brown has added two new people to his staff, adding Euguene Burroughs as a shooting coach, and nabbing Sean Rooks to replace the departed Greg Foster as big man coach.
One of the key components of what they're trying to build is the practice facility in Camden."That is a huge part of why I accepted the position," Brown said about the teams willingness to build a state of the art facility of their own. "People, just don't, I don't believe, understand how the program can go to a significantly higher level when you have your own home."
"It's something that meant something," Brown said about his experience when the Spurs built their own practice facility. "It was a meeting place, it was a place where players could interact, and the bottom line a place where players could work, 24/7. If we can create an atmosphere where they really want to be there, they know that while they're there they are being taken care of, especially with their health, all of those things matter."
Will the Sixers slow down the pace?
The Sixers led the league in pace last season, with an estimated 99.2 possessions per 48 minutes. Since the start of the 2000 season, only 3 teams have equaled that pace: The Warriors matched it exactly in 2006-07, the Nuggets had 99.7 possessions per 48 minutes in 2007-08, and the Warriors played at an incredible pace of 100.4 possessions in 2009-10.
Brett Brown did mention some unintended consequences of the breakneck pace that they played at.
"The pace thing caught me off guard with the unintended consequences behind that," Brown said. "Whether it was a quick bad shot, whether it was a turnover, whether it was poor floor balance coming back in transition defense, those type of things come to my mind.
"[When] you say 'well, what did you learn last year, and what's the point of emphasis going to be this year', it's going to be heavily, heavily, heavily tilted towards us establishing a better defensive identity. It has to be," Brown said. "That's who I am, that's the program that I've come from."
"I think that we may have to sacrifice a little bit with a crazy pace in exchange for building a better defensive base," Brown said. "I hope that that, plus the addition of Nerlens [Noel], and some long drafted wings, will enable us to play better defense. We have to build this program as a defensive program, almost end of story."
While the Sixers did lead the league in points generated from the fast break last season, they also gave up the second most points in the league in transition.
But don't expect the Sixers to slow it down too much.
"I find it difficult, and kind of counter-intuitive, to say 'you come in with a career best fitness level, your skin fold is this, your diet is this, your hydration is this, you're going to go to sleep, and we're going to walk it up.' It doesn't work," Brown said. "I hope that we continue to grow the program with pace."
Various odds and ends
- Brown said that Michael Carter-Williams has added 11 or 12 pounds to his frame this offseason, spending heavy amounts of time working on his core. That being said, Carter-Williams will be limited in his participation at training camp, and will not be ready when the team opens up its preseason schedule.
- Tony Wroten will start at point guard in Carter-Williams' absence. Brown wants to play Wroten more at the point guard spot this year, and the plan is to primarily play him as a backup point guard when Carter-Williams does return.
- Brown said that he intends to start Henry Sims alongside Nerlens Noel in the front court. Part of that is due to the work that Sims put in this summer, but part of that is also in anticipation of Noel playing with Embiid next season.
- Brown said that the wing spots were up in the air, but it seems highly likely that Hollis Thompson will be the starter at small forward. Brown prefers Thompson at the small forward position rather than shooting guard, as he believes Thompson would struggle to defend the elite wing athletes that are frequently found at the 2.
- The Sixers can recall Jordan McRae from Australia at any point, and insist that he is still in the mix.
- Arsalan Kazemi will not be coming stateside to join the Sixers this season.
- Brown intends to try Jerami Grant out at the small forward position, as he feels that he can always fall back to power forward if he struggles to pick the wing up.
- Brown said that once Sam Hinkie told him that Malcolm Lee was a willing defender, that he welcomed him with open arms.