Brown's task: Making Carter-Williams tougher

Posted: January 15, 2014

It was a late night in Sacramento, and Brett Brown had seen so much slow and sluggish defense from Michael Carter-Williams, had heard him complain about so many fouls called and uncalled, that he tried to pull off a rare two-pronged trick.

On Jan. 2 at Sleep Train Arena, the Sixers were leading the Kings by 10 points with 4 minutes, 56 seconds left in regulation, and Brown wanted to win his team a game and to send a message to his most promising player to toughen up. So in went Tony Wroten, and Carter-Williams - the Sixers' starting point guard, the favorite to be the NBA's rookie of the year - stayed on the sideline for the rest of a 113-104 victory.

"I was a little confused and even a little upset," Carter-Williams said Monday after the Sixers practiced at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. "I wanted to be out there the last five minutes. But I know after talking to Coach that it was for the better of me and the team. I'm fine with that."

He had better be, because his coach doesn't plan to let up for a good long while. With the Sixers' short-term expectations so low, with owner Josh Harris and general manager Sam Hinkie giving him carte blanche to coach as he wishes, Brown has made it his mission to harden Carter-Williams, to transform a willowy 22-year-old rookie into a point guard with the physical and psychological stamina to withstand an 82-game regular season and two months worth of playoff series.

"If you want to play in June and late May, then there is an incredible quality of resiliency," Brown said. "I know what it takes, and it's beyond hard. People have no comprehension of what it takes to be the last man standing."

Brown was part of four championship teams with the San Antonio Spurs, and under Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili established a standard for toughness among NBA guards that Brown treasures and wants Carter-Williams to uphold.

He brings up the Spurs with Carter-Williams often - how Ginobili would drive the lane and sustain forearm shots from centers and power forwards that made it seem as if he'd been cracked upside the head with a baseball bat, how he learned to keep his fury and frustration simmering inside, to stop whining to officials and begging for whistles to go his way.

Carter-Williams still must master these subtler aspects of the sport, and Brown is committed to wringing the softness out of him, to teaching him to embrace the jagged edges of a run-of-the-mill night in the NBA. The 17.5 points, the 7 assists, and the league-leading 2.7 steals he averages per game are beyond what anyone would have hoped for him - products of a 6-foot-6, 185-pound, Plastic-Man body and an instinct for overplaying passing lanes.

To Brown, though, those qualities will do Carter-Williams little good if he won't fight through a pick for fear of an elbow to his solar plexus, or if he earns a reputation among referees as a bellyacher.

Brown said he doesn't worry about whether Carter-Williams will develop that toughness over time: "He's intelligent enough to know what it takes." But as a pillar of what's supposed to be the franchise's brighter future, Carter-Williams has to mature, and his in-game demeanor is enough of a concern that it has become a topic of discussion among Brown, Hinkie, and the Sixers' basketball people.

"They are fantastic. They let me do whatever I want to do, and I appreciate them trusting my judgment," Brown said. "I don't look at it as anything other than that's what a coach is supposed to do. I'm supposed to tell [Carter-Williams] the truth. I'm supposed to discipline him when it's not going the way that it needs to go. There'll be hard conversations that he'll have with me and I'll have with him, and it's just part of the working relationship.

"I love coaching him, and it's a chance to help him. He needs to be seen in his teammates' eyes, in this city's eyes, with referees, by peers and opponents, as somebody who has the ability to put his head down and his tail up and get through it."

So Brown sat him for a long and crucial stretch of a winnable game, and he's sent him to the bench for shorter stints since then, using bursts of salty language as the vessels to carry these lessons in tough love.

"It seems like he's always on me about something," Michael Carter-Williams said, and the kid had better understand: There are character traits in a player that his coach considers non-negotiable, and Brett Brown isn't about  to start compromising now.


msielski@phillynews.com

@MikeSielski

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