Not many years ago, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were both franchises racking up draft picks, including some very high ones, trying to use them as opportunities and resources to build a winner.
On Sunday, young Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led a modern roster – with multiple directors and lots of shooting – that swept Philadelphia out of the playoffs. The Celtics look like a rising power, a team that took advantage of those drafts and opportunities, while the 76ers looked like a dinosaur team from another era, a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit together.
Soon that sweep will cost Brett Brown his job as head coach of the 76ers, something multiple sources told NBC Sports was likely going through a disappointing season. Multiple reports now (like ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski) makes it look like Brown will be out as soon as possible. Yahoo Sports‘ Chris Haynes explained why.
Brown, who was cast as manager of “The Process” seven years ago, never took full command of the locker room during his tenure, sources said …
Players often questioned Brown’s game plan on specific matchups, and there was a lack of confidence permeating the locker room and an inability to hold players accountable, sources said.
Josh Richardson, who spent his first four seasons immersed in Miami Heat culture, talked about Sixers culture. “I don’t think there was much responsibility this season and that was part of the problem,” he said after his late-season defeat.
If a player says it publicly, imagine what is being said in private.
It was time to change voice and style in the Philadelphia locker room and expect some big-name coaches – Tyronn Lue, Jason Kidd, among others – to see their name quickly in the ring.
But the biggest changes that only the coach have to follow.
The old-school 76ers roster doesn’t fit together or into the modern NBA – and no coach, no new set of X’s and O’s, no emphasis on accountability will solve the problem.
Last summer, GM Elton Brand decided to be the contrarian. In a league getting smaller – with more ball carriers on the pitch and an emphasis on spacing and shooting – the 76ers have gotten big and defensive. They re-signed Tobias Harris for a $ 180 million five-year contract. They kicked Al Horford out of Boston with a four-year, $ 97 million guarantee. They convinced Josh Richardson to come.
Pair them with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the 76ers had a big, long and powerful defensive center. Brett Brown called it “bully ball” and it was all sold as a throwback team that could win in the modern NBA.
It worked defensively, the Sixers were the top 10 on the defensive team this season and that starting lineup (Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford and Embiid) conceded less than one point per possession when on the pitch together.
However, “bully ball” never clicked on the attack – there was little distance and not enough shot – and that kept the 76ers back. Harris is not a great creator of filming, certainly not on the level of Jimmy Butler (who left for Miami). Shake Milton began to play a bigger and bigger role on the team due to his shootings. Defenses could pack the paint, drop the bigs and go under the pickaxes and challenge Philly to beat them. Embiid has always put the numbers in because he is a force of nature, but as a Philly team he was never right. Injuries played a role, but the problems were deeper.
Simmons’ end-of-season intervention, leaving the team without their best playmaker and best perimeter defender, sentenced Philly in the bubble. If he had played, the series against Boston would have been closer.
However, it was a stark contrast of styles – one team looked fit for modern play, one team looked lost – as Boston swept Philadelphia for the past eight days.
Now the 76ers are going to get a new manager. It’s too hard to get elite talent in the NBA – and Simmons and Embiid are both elite talents – to talk about trading stars. Not until a new coach has had a chance to put the pieces together. There are ways this pairing might work.
But they all involve more filming and directing around those young stars. Trading Harris or Horford are completely off-season this off-season (big contracts are very hard to move in uncertain economic times), but the front office needs to add some framing and floor spacing.
A new entry in the locker room and a focus on responsibility can only bring one team so far.
But that new rumor is coming.