It didn’t take long for the criticisms to rain on Sixers head coach Brett Brown. In fact, social media was flooded with second-guessing as soon as Game Seven of their semifinal-round series became history. Certainly, the heartbreak that Kawhi Leonard’s four-bounce prayer of a buzzer beater that sent them packing the other day served to rub salt on open wounds. Yet, if naysayers had any ground to stand on, it was precisely because the set-to had to be settled at the very last moment of the very last play. They forced the hosts to rely on inefficient isolation sets, and, still, they couldn’t get the job done, a reflection on lack of both planning and execution.
To be sure, Brown operates on a bum deal. He has had a moving target from the moment he was hired to mentor the Sixers in 2013. He endured seasons of losing under the Sam Hinkie dispensation, and then an understandably rough transition to a winning culture amid high expectations. Parenthetically, the uniqueness of their cornerstones hasn’t helped his cause any. Joel Embiid is a force, but prone to injury and perennially suffering from conditioning issues. Meanwhile, Ben Simmons possesses do-it-all skills — except, that is, for an outside shot that is so crucial in this day and age of pace and space.
Little wonder, then, that consistent competitiveness has remained elusive for Brown. He understood the stakes at the start of the season, and particularly after pickups Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris shored up the Sixers’ starting unit alongside Embiid, Simmons, and JJ Redick. On the flipside, he struggled to find the right measures to get them humming as a collective, and not because he wasn’t up to the task. Not even the best of the best can get high-usage names to share a single ball for the good of the lot on the fly, and then deem the sacrifice ingrained enough to withstand pressure.
Nonetheless, disappointment continues to cast a pall on whatever strides the Sixers made through their abbreviated campaign. And because it has come with considerable blowback, the natural reaction from decision makers at the top is to point fingers. Coaches have been easy prey in such situations, but, for Brown, the good news is that his charges remain committed to him. Even as their elimination from the playoffs hurt, they believe he wasn’t the cause, and that firing him isn’t the answer. Whether or not those pulling the purse strings share the same sentiment is anybody’s guess.
In any case, Brown’s fate isn’t the only one up for discussion. If nothing else, the Sixers have the benefit of time to assess the fit of free-agents-to-be Butler, Harris, and Redick moving forward. And if they’re willing, they may also want to see if Embiid has a modicum of durability to lead them to success, and if Simmons is an appreciable fit for him. That they’re still bound to address these questions says more about why they lost in the final analysis. The Process may be far from a failure, but it has been exposed as flawed at best.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.