Brown's way or the highway (I-95)

Sixers head coach Brett Brown instructs his players. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Sixers head coach Brett Brown instructs his players. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 07, 2014

The answer to the question, "How do you get to Newark, Delaware?" at least for Sixers forward Arnett Moultrie, turned out to be easy. Don't get into shape and then complain about not playing.

Like some of his teammates, Moultrie will now learn the intricacies of the I-95 corridor as he does penance with the Delaware 87ers. Here's a hint, Arnett. If you hit the toll booths, you went just a little too far.

"What a great thing that we have an NBDL team just 30 minutes down the road," Sixers coach Brett Brown said.

Moultrie might not agree with how great it is, but that is where he will be spending his time until he reaches the fitness level that Brown demands. Apparently, four months after ankle surgery, he isn't really close.

"We're adamant on what we think is best for the players," Brown said before Wednesday night's game. "It's not a punishment. It's not a scolding. It's helping professionals be professional. He's a 23-year-old who wants to play, and we want to get him in shape, and life moves on."

It moves on ponderously for Brown and the Sixers in this painful season. Given the thin nature of the roster, it isn't a surprise they have lost 14 of their last 17 games, including Wednesday's game against the Boston Celtics, an eye-searing 114-108 affair in which neither team brought a passable imitation of defense.

Losing isn't even the depressing part, since that is a large segment of the whole plan. The Celtics are reading from the same textbook this season, as are a number of other teams also hoping the draft lottery can help heal them for the future.

The tough part, for Brown anyway, is trying to keep the players focused on improving the team concept when, for most of them, their only hope of getting noticed for a job somewhere else involves stepping outside the team concept. How do you tell them that doing things the right way still has meaning in a season like this?

"I feel like the things we know are not negotiable, the things that have to be our compass, keep me on track. They ground me and remind me," Brown said.

So when Moultrie doesn't work hard enough to improve physically, and then makes the mistakes of mouthing off about his situation, there are going to be repercussions. That point was made to Moultrie on Tuesday, and you had better believe it didn't go unnoticed in the locker room.

Moultrie had said he didn't really know why he wasn't playing, since his recovery from surgery is complete and, at least in his mind, since his conditioning was just fine. He hinted at another, darker reason and might actually be delusional enough to think the organization is worried it would win too many games if he was playing. Well, he played in 47 of them last season, with Doug Collins complaining about Moultrie's fitness all the time, and that team certainly didn't win too many.

It's not uncommon for professional athletes to lack an awareness of their shortcomings, and, at least for now, the Sixers are in position to remind those under their care.

"You can get so tricked by talent, by what you hope develops into potential. Ultimately, it's about people and the integrity with which they approach their craft," Brown said. "The character, the toughness, the competitiveness. All those things mean something when you are building a program. Those qualities mean a hell of a lot more to me than some young superstar that can maybe get over the top, but there are character issues. Arnett is not one of those. He's just trying to get into shape."

All right, if you say so. Being sent a few planets from the sun might motivate Moultrie, though, and that might just be the idea. Either way, the Sixers will learn more about who he really is.

Meanwhile, the season goes on. The Sixers are 15-35 and will finish the season with a record somewhere among the bottom seven or eight in the league. After that, the building is scheduled to begin. This is a learning season for the players, and they have learned that losing stinks, although that isn't much of a revelation.

They have also learned that their coach means business. He wants things done a certain way and, if not, there is a highway beckoning right outside the door and a price that will have to be paid, even if you don't get to the toll booths.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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