Brown's greatest feat with Sixers has been teaching his players

Posted: April 04, 2014

UNDOUBTEDLY, this has been a forgettable season for the 76ers, with 59 losses coming in their first 75 games, a record-tying 26-game losing streak and 22 players having played for coach Brett Brown.

It isn't far from what he imagined when he was named coach in August. The losses were expected. Management laid out to him the game plan of stripping the roster of its limited amount of true NBA players in favor of gathering assets in the form of draft picks and saving money.

Brown has said all season long that the wins aren't the numbers on the left side of the win-loss column, but instead are the small victories needed to create a winning program and winning players.

His biggest challenge this season wasn't to win games - or to lose them - or to even grow the young players he was given. Instead, his biggest concern was keeping the team together, no matter what strangers made up the roster. As the losses grew, the fear was that players' interest would wane, that the teaching lessons Brown brought with him from San Antonio would fall on deaf ears.

In that aspect, it has been a remarkable season for the Sixers. Sit near the coach during a game and all he does is teach. "This is how it should be done in the NBA," he'll scream. "That kind of work will only get you better and keep you in this league for years."

It isn't just talk, either. The man is as tuned in to improving his players every minute of every day as he is to the big picture of this organization.

"For guys that have had this stretch of losing, it's remarkable to me how hard they still play," said Charlotte coach Steve Clifford, a longtime friend of Brown. "They are playing every night at a high level of energy and enthusiasm and intensity. I think back to the teams that I've been around with losing streaks and it's very hard to do. You lose five or six in a row, and it's tough for players to hang in there."

But somehow, Brown has gotten them to. And it has been done in a very uncommon way - by telling the truth.

"I feel like it was one of the sole things and I said it when I accepted the job - can you keep a locker room together was my biggest fear," Brown confessed. "I said it in August. You knew the landscape. You could forecast what was going to happen. It was something that I didn't have any problem admitting. With that, you try, consciously, every day to find a way to keep the gym alive, to keep them up, to show them different things to keep them engaged and continue to reinforce that they're getting better. I've got a great staff. We've weeded through different people to end up with, I think, character guys, good guys that allow us to coach them. Keeping their spirits up, keeping the group up has been one of the biggest challenges I've ever had as a coach. It's something that has been calculated as a staff. I just give so much credit to our players, my staff and our organization for never really blinking. We've stayed pretty focused and remarkably the group has bought in and stayed together."

Brown knows how hard to push a player, when to back off. He has that rare ability to teach in a fiery way to get his point across, while, at the same time, having the player still be on his side.

The other day, after a shootaround the morning of a game, a few players stayed behind to get in some extra practice. Realizing the team bus was being held up, Brown gave the driver the go-ahead to head back to the hotel with the other players and stayed to watch the workout, ordering a couple of cabs.

"Thaddeus Young has been so terrific this season and I'm going to make him sit on a bus waiting for some guys to work out?" Brown asked.

He gets it.

"He's great at gathering the guys up and continuously talking to them and staying on guys to make sure that they're going down the right path as far as getting to the next level and trying to figure out what it is to become a better team, a better teammate and a better family for each other," Young said. "He's been great, especially for me. He's pulled me aside several times to talk about things that are going on. He's a great listener. He'll listen to a lot of the stuff that I tell him that I think we should be doing or shouldn't be doing, and he tries to incorporate it into what we're doing on the court."

Dribbles

UPCOMING GAMES

Sixers at Boston Celtics

When: Tonight, 7:30

Where: TD Garden, Boston

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: Before the record-tying 26-game losing streak, this is the last place the Sixers won a game. In that contest, Evan Turner hit a runner in the lane to seal it. How times have changed.

Brooklyn Nets at Sixers

When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Wells Fargo Center

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: After a slow start, the Nets are where many people expected them to be, in the playoff hunt. Jason Kidd seems to have found his coaching style, winning Eastern Conference coach of the month for March.

Sixers at Toronto Raptors

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Where: Air Canada Centre

TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/ ESPN (97.5 FM)

Game stuff: The Raptors are one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season, and a lot of it has to do with the play of local product Kyle Lowry, who is having one of the best seasons in his career, though he’s been dinged lately with a sore knee.

BY THE NUMBERS

2,362: That’s the number of consecutive games played by Cal Ripken Jr., breaking the mark set by Lou Gehrig. It’s also the number of consecutive games refereed by 74-year-old Dick Bavetta when he called the Sixers-Hawks game on Monday. Bavetta worked No. 2,363 Wednesday night.

19: That’s how many times the Sixers have allowed 120 or more points this season, the most since 1992-93, when it happened 21 times.

25: That’s the amount of losses compiled by the Sixers at home in their past 28 games.


cooneyb@phillynews.com

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