PHILADELPHIA (CBS)– As Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning shot bounced, for what seemed to be an eternity, on the rim Sunday night, one thought was inescapable in my mind. The Sixers should not fire head coach Brett Brown.
The shot fell of course, giving the Raptors a 92-90 win in Game 7 to take the series and boot the Sixers from the playoffs in the second round for the second consecutive year. That kind of heart-wrenching playoff exit, combined with the amount of talent on the roster, immediately makes fans and often owners, agitated and wanting to see changes made. We heard as much prior to the game when New York Times insider Marc Stein reported that Brown’s job could be on the line depending on the outcome of Game 7.
The looming decision was foreshadowed during the season when owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand both stated that expectations for the team were to make it past the second round. So, in the aftermath of last night, it would seem a foregone conclusion for the team to make a change in the coaching ranks.
It shouldn’t be. Brown had arguably the most unenviable task in the league this season outside of Brad Stevens. He had to find a way to not only continue to develop his young stars in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, but also to integrate two new All-Star caliber players in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris both of whom arrived after the season began. For what it’s worth, Embiid and Redick have already been vocal in defense of Brown.
Amassing star-power is the name of the game in today’s NBA and credit to Brand for doing just that. But, as the Golden State Warriors and Miami Heat before them have shown, it often takes nearly a full season in order for players of that caliber to figure out how their games fit best together in addition to the general pecking order on offense. Brown has had, including these playoffs, 22 total games with which to work through these complex fits. That isn’t nearly enough time for him or for the players to figure out how to best play together.
And yet, when the starting five of Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid were on the floor together this season they had a net rating of plus-17.6 in the regular season. In the postseason, the unit was even better, posting the best Net Rating in the playoffs at plus-24.9. Given more time with that group, it’s hard not to wonder what could be accomplished.
But, unlike the Heat, the Sixers don’t have their stars locked in. Outside of Embiid and Simmons who are under contract for next season, Butler, Harris, and Redick are all free agents. The team has said their intention is to bring Butler and Harris back, but there is no guarantee that happens. Heading into an offseason where there is so much uncertainty, why add to it by making a coaching search part of the juggling act?
One thing that the Sixers have never had in the entirety of Brown’s tenure is continuity. Over his six seasons as head coach, Brown has worked for three different GMs. His young stars, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, have played two full seasons together and we’re stretching the word full there based on Embiid’s time missed due to injury. Not one bench player has been with Brown for his entire time with the team.
Continuity tends to matter in the NBA. The core of the Warriors, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, have been together for seven seasons. The aforementioned Heat were together for four. In the Eastern Conference, the Bucks core group of Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Malcolm Brogdon have been together for the past three seasons.
Maybe none of that matters, and your argument is that the team needs a new coach to bring fresh perspective to the organization. Fine, and that is a fair point as both Golden State (Mark Jackson) and Milwaukee (Jason Kidd) have gotten rid of coaches in recent years only to see the new guys come in and lead them to new heights.
But, I would push back on that by noting that both Jackson and Kidd had at least one full offseason and season with their core group of players. They had the chance to fully install the systems they wanted to run. For Brown that just hasn’t been the case.
For an organization that has been teetering on the brink of chaos in recent years, Brown has been a steady hand. To let him go now would be to tip the scales ever more slightly back towards chaos entering an offseason where there are already so many questions to answer.