It’s been just under two months since the Philadelphia 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler and that seems to be all it took for Butler to have his first real blow-up with the coach, Brett Brown. In an ordeal that’s been devalued by both Butler and Brown, the Sixers guard apparently was angry about how he’s being used and things got tense between him and his coach during a team meeting. This came on the heels of Joel Embiid commenting that he feels out of place since Butlers arrival. So, what’s going on with the Sixers, right now?
This “drama” can be attributed to a few things like players not being happy with their role, the team not having success, or just a diva player teaching others how to act the same way, but it seems like it stems from a completely different side. Brett Brown is not a very good coach. He’s been given a pass for the past few years as the Sixers labored through “The Process” and the team didn’t really have any players that produced or represented any future value. So, as the team continued to lose, everyone developed a feeling of sadness and respect for Brown who kept coaching and appearing to move forward through all of those lousy seasons. But, last year was different. Joel Embiid was healthy, Ben Simmons came back from his foot injury that wiped out his rookie year, Dario Saric and Robert Covington developed in to quality players and the Sixers improved their record to 52 wins and even beat the Miami Heat in a playoff series before getting dumped from the playoffs by the Celtics, in an embarrassing fashion. In what’s become routine under Brown, the Sixers gave up some leads in the third quarter, ran out of gas in the fourth or just couldn’t make the right plays when it was needed.
At the start of this season, the team was expected to be one of the Eastern Conference most dominant teams. They have been a very good team, at times, and a very bad one at others. Currently, they’re the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference but, overall the team is tied for sixth in the whole league with the defending champion Golden State Warriors. The Bucks, Pacers and Raptors have all been playing very well and even though the Celtics sit two games behind the Sixers, they’ve been better when they’ve played head to head. So, the question remains, what’s going on with the Sixers?
They’ve been beaten badly by the Nets, Celtics, Bucks, Cavaliers, Trail Blazers, Raptors and Pacers. You read that correctly, the Nets and Cavs have both beaten the Sixers. At times, each team they’ve played has had one or two players look like the greatest players in the league when they face the Sixers. It’s really a shame that a team that was so good defensively, last season, makes everyone look so good this year. They’re just not the same team, even though they were built to have a much better defense this year. Having Markelle Fultz in for the full year along with Zhaire Smith, Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala was supposed to be improve the second team defense and the team defense as a whole. Yet, here we are again where Fultz is missing a huge chunk of time, no one has seen Smith since his foot injury in the summer, with the exception for when he had a surgery for an emergency allergic reaction, Chandler has been up and down.
What the Sixers do have is Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who are three very good defenders leading the team, but that doesn’t make up for the rest of the squad that can’t seem to do anything right. It seems to be a mess from what I’ve described yet, the Sixers are still winning a good number of games. So, why the hostility?
Like I said before, Brett Brown has been given some leeway as he hasn’t had a good team to coach in the past few years, but that is gone now that last year they played well and this year, they have quality players on the floor. But, Brown has an analytics driven way to coaching and it’s failing his team. He seems to have his timeouts, rotation, substitutions and plays all laid out prior to the game and nothing will change that. When the team is doing well, Brown will pull some starters form the game and it shows as the other teams start fighting back. When the team is going through a rough patch in the game, Brown doesn’t call timeouts. He lets the players sit out there and continue to get run through the ringer and it shows on their faces and in their actions. He continues to use Embiid as a facilitator in his game of handoff with the shooting guards like Reddick, Shamet or Korkmaz. Whereas Ben Simmons, the guy who has great court vision and passing ability, is relegated to standing around watching this all take place, once he walks the ball across half court. Butler is seeing the same thing. When you have three guys on your team like Butler, Simmons and Embiid, it’s best to play to their strengths. Allow Simmons to maintain control of the ball and look to make the right play, allow Butler to get the ball from his movement and either drive or shoot. Allow Embiid to get position in the post and have Simmons feed him the ball so that he can just dominate, as he does in the low post.
I understand that the league is in the mold of the Warriors as they seem to have started this style with a nightly barrage of three-pointers, but the team can still shoot threes and not run the same stagnant offense. Now, in the past week, Simmons says that he needs to improve his jump shooting in order to become a better player and Brown has said that he wants Simmons to take 3-4 jump shots per game. It’s only taken him a year and a half to let the guy shoot? What is wrong with Brown? I’ve said from the start of this season, Brett Brown refuses to allow Simmons to shoot and it’s been laughed at as Brown isn’t on the floor. Yet, here we are, three months later and Brown is now telling his player to shoot. His offense wasn’t allowing Simmons to shoot. His job was to run the plays that Brown calls.
I don’t believe that Brett Brown is the coach to lead this team to the next level. The team is winning games based on their talent and in spite of his coaching. The amount of talent, just in the starting five is obvious, and the young players are starting to come along. Jonah Bolden, Shake Milton and Landry Shamet have all shown improvement and growth, but it doesn’t seem that it’s because of Brown and his leadership. They’ve all been very good players and they’re all stuck in a poor fit system for them. When teams like the Nets and Cavs get ready to play the Sixers, their coaches are preparing their players to win against that team. The coaches are making the choices to adapt the style to win the games and it shows as the Sixers have lost to those teams and they weren’t close. Brett Brown doesn’t change anything. He continues to run the same plays, the same style and not using his best players to the best of their abilities.
The real shame is that this could be a wasted year for the Sixers and that Jimmy Butler, who the Sixers gave up quite a bit to trade for, may not want to stay if he can see that Brown is not a good coach. Embiid, may continue to be unhappy with how he’s being used and Ben Simmons will not be signing with the team if he can’t actually participate in the games because of Browns poor coaching.
While Brown has asked his players to work towards fitting in to his system, he should take a look in the mirror and ask himself to make the changes he needs to make, in order for this team to reach the next level. If not, the Sixers will continue to be a mid-level team, getting booted from the playoffs in the second round each year, giving fans some hope that they could go on some magic run and it will be like we’re living in the 2002-2009 years. The “Process” will have been for nothing and there will be no titles in the city of Philadelphia for the beloved 76ers.
Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports