There is no way Brett Brown could have possibly envisioned this when he signed up to serve as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. It’s not about the hard work he’s had to labor through in order to develop talent that wasn’t ready for the NBA level. It’s not about the losses that have piled up—all 127 over his first two seasons in Philadelphia—as he’s worked tirelessly to change the culture. This isn’t even about General Manager Sam Hinkie and his plan to rebuild his franchise with his vision regardless of its merits.
This is about the Philadelphia 76ers using Brown as a shield. This is about the Sixers asking Brown to answer all of the questions despite the front office remaining virtually silent. This is about an organization whose total lack of transparency simply does not fly among critics, analysts and fans because the Sixers haven’t earned the right to be trusted. This is a team that asks everyone, including Brown, to “trust the process” without providing any real insight as to what is actually going on.
Now preparing to enter Year 3 of Hinkie’s tenure, we still haven’t learned about what that process is comprised of or what its end result might look like. We’ve heard Hinkie speak like a politician, often delivering his official statements through a media release alone, but rarely is he forced to provide answers to the questions Brown is subjected to daily.
In June, when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported Joel Embiid had suffered a setback with the foot injury that cost him his true rookie season, Hinkie issued a press release—at 9:50 PM ET on a Saturday evening—that promised to “share an update once it becomes available.” The next time we heard from Hinkie was July 11, just about a full month later, when it was announced that Embiid, the perceived future franchise face of a team that still didn’t have a direction, would miss yet another full season as a result of a bone graft procedure. And for the second straight time, Hinkie’s announcement came after 9 PM ET on a Saturday evening. Embiid would eventually have that surgery, but not in the 7-10 days noted in the original press release. Instead, that procedure came more than a full month later on August 18—yet another incongruity between actions and words for a franchise that is attempting to work in relentless fashion in order to re-build its public perception.
For the man with the supposed master plan, Hinkie, the individual tabbed to be the architect of a team that didn’t have a blueprint, certainly doesn’t seem to enjoy being in the spotlight.
As Brown has attempted to prepare his team to move forward and demonstrate signs of progress that his front office, fans and players on the club are desperate to see, the head coach has been left on an island to be peppered with questions that should be directed elsewhere.
Having already lost his starting point guard in Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams to a three-team trade nobody saw coming, having had to deal with roster shuffling that you wouldn’t even see in a fantasy basketball league and being asked to maintain some semblance of continuity through it all, Brown has been tasked with more than enough without having to serve as the focal point of a team where the staff has more recognizable names than those wearing the 76ers uniform.
“The curveball in all of this definitely has been Joel Embiid,” Brown told Ian Thomsen of NBA.com in September. “It remains a worry to all of us,” the coach continued. “How can it not be?” And whether it’s the negative reports on Embiid’s commitment to the game (one from January, another in April and a third from the current month of October), Brown expressing disappointment in his work ethic or simply the fact that the big man has yet to take the floor, the Embiid situation is the shining example of Brown taking the bullet.
Despite the substandard results and constant jokes about the unclear future of the Sixers, there are a number of middling NBA teams that would love to be in Philadelphia’s position. The club is flush with assets, has at least one very real building block in Nerlens Noel and a promising future that will make the suffering of the past and present worth the wait if things work out Hinkie’s way.
If and when this Sixers team does finally come together through Dario Saric’s eventual arrival, when the point guard position stops becoming a revolving door and Embiid finally takes the floor, will it be Brown or Hinkie who stands in the spotlight and gets to claim credit?
I can’t wait to find out.