By Spike Eskin
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The search for a head coach went from days, to weeks, to months. Sam Hinkie remained tight-lipped about candidates, but said many times that it would be his focus after the draft, and he was dedicated to the “process” of finding the right guy. The process, finally, led to former San Antonio assistant coach Brett Brown.
“It’s a long road,” Brown said of the one the Sixers must take back to being contenders. It’s part of the reason Brown said he would not have taken the job without a four year contract. “It was vital to my decision,” he said. “You get excited. You get excited to be part of the rebuild. We all know the pain of rebuilding is real. We’ll all experience. It will not happen quickly. There needs to be a tolerance, there needs to be a patience.”
Brown used many words to describe the process the Sixers will go through over the next few years, and all of them seemed like what you’d get if you looked up “difficult” in a thesaurus.
“Throughout this process, it became more and more clear that he had many of the qualities we need,” general manager Sam Hinkie said of Brown. “We think he has the ability to be a great, great coach in this league.”
Brown started with the Spurs in 2002 as the head of player development, and became an assistant coach under Greg Popovich in 2002. He’s the second assistant to leave the Spurs this year, with Mike Budenholzer the other, who left to take the Atlanta Hawks head coaching position He was named head coach of the North Melbourne Giants in 1993 and earned NBL Coach of the Year honors in 1994 after leading the Giants to the National Championship. Including his return to the NBL for three seasons with the Sidney Kings in 1999, Brown amassed 149 career coaching victories, sixth-most in league history.
A published report from the New York Daily News on the night of the NBA Draft said that the Sixers had already decided to hire Brown. We’ll never know if that report was accurate, prophetic, or lucky, but Brown acknowledged that he was watching what the Sixers did very closely, and his voice, which has more than a hint of a New England accent (imagine what someone doing an impression of Christopher Walken sounds like, but who grew up in Boston), seemed to get even more energetic when he spoke of Nerlens Noel.
So what led Brown to take the job, if it’s going to be so difficult?
“The hiring of Sam, and the analytics, it’s one of the big changes in the NBA,” Brown said. He went on to mention an ownership who he believes is committed to winning. He also mentioned the fans. “Having spent so much time in Boston, I am acutely aware of the proud history of this city. And the competitiveness of this city.”
A new practice facility, rumored to be headed to the Navy Yard, was somehting that Brown also mentioned as a reason to take the job.
“Brett brings a positive energy that’s sort of infectious. He has a lot of experience in player development in particular,” Hinkie said. “There are many that have that, but few with the passion that Brett brings. He has a diverse background in basketball that I really love.”
The team is at the start of a rebuilding process. The roster is arguably the worst in the NBA, even given the upside of their recent additions. It seems like a lock for the Sixers to lose at least 60 of their 82 games this season. So where do you begin?
“The first thing I did was went to the strength and conditioning coach, and put a huge premium of our health and fitness. We need to implement a system of defense, and we need to implement a system of offense,” Brown said. “It’s the same [preparing a championship team or a rebuilding team]. The process is still the same. I will speak to Thad Young, like I will speak to Michael Carter-Williams. I’m going to do my job. We’re going to put in those pieces, and the results are going to be the results. I’ve had experiences where losing comes into a team. The rebuild, part of that, has to be keeping that together. And keeping our eyes on the prize.”
“I’m not saying it’s going to be fine. It’s hard sitting there, going through a full rebuild process,” Brown said. Mentioning again, that the rebuild is not going to be quick, or pretty. “At the end of the discussions, it became very real what I was leaving [in San Antonio. I’m not a gypsy coach. I think the risk, reward here, there are so many coaches who would want this opportunity.”
Hinkie said the organization is going into the assistant coach search with an open mind, and that includes Aaron McKie and Michael Curry. Brown said he’s hoping to make headway on that front by the first of September.
“I am a defensive coach, I see the game through defense. We want to go. We want to get out in the open court, and we want to run,” Brown said.
Brown knows it’s a long road. He knows he’s just taking the first step. It will be interesting to see how he handles the long drives and sharp turns.