Sixers keep sinking, but Brown stays the course

Sixers head coach Brett Brown. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)
Sixers head coach Brett Brown. (Ron Tarver/Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 09, 2014

The days have dwindled to a blessed few for the 2013-14 chapter of the 76ers' rebuilding process, but not so few that there wasn't time to add yet another new player on Monday.

One undrafted 6-foot-7 swingman went out the door and another entered for his 10 days under the microscope. He'll be prodded and tested and assessed and, more than likely, discarded, but that's understood.

For the record, it was James Nunnally whose contract expired and Adonis Thomas who took his place, although committing their names to memory probably isn't necessary. In fact, very few names on the active roster are written in anything but pencil. If Thomas gets into one of the final five games, he will become the 23d player to take the court for the Sixers this season.

"It's part of the plan to be able to touch as many people as we can at this stage for us," coach Brett Brown said. "This is just another example of us doing what we said we were going to do to try to uncover young talent."

Eight of the 14 players on the full roster were born in the 1990s, so the Sixers have the "young" part of the equation surrounded. The part about the talent is not as easy to calculate, but the team was disassembled thoroughly enough that its 17-60 record is no accident.

Looking at the schedules involved, it appears nearly certain that the Sixers will finish with the second-worst record in the league and, according to the mathematics of the NBA lottery system, will have a 54 percent chance of getting one of the top three picks in the draft in June. The lowest they can go with their own pick is fifth.

So, the operation was a success, even though the patient took quite a beating in the process. Brown, an ultracompetitive man given the task of coaching a team built to lose, took the worst of it, but never strayed from the message.

"All day, every day. He was always the same," said forward Thaddeus Young. "Even with the way everything's been going, he brings it every day."

In a season with few remarkable performances, Brown's is the one that really stands out. There are coaches, even some very good ones, who would have shrugged at the situation, gone through the motions and waited for better days and better players. That isn't what happened here, and it makes you hope he eventually gets a team as good as the plan.

"We would have had this practice in November. We haven't changed a thing," Brown said after a Monday session at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine that stretched for more than two hours. "I don't want to give an inch. In fact, I want to go the other way. Our season's coming to an end, and everybody gets where we're at, but we want to end strong and end improving. In kind of a twisted way, I'm going to miss coaching some of these guys despite all the headaches we've had. I like their work ethic. I don't care what the record says."

The record says that - even with two fairly high first-round picks from this year's draft, even with center Nerlens Noel paroled from his one-season house arrest, even with Michael Carter-Williams with a full year of experience - even with all that, the Sixers probably won't be very good next season. That is by intent, too. If they finish better than 16th in overall record, they lose the 2015 first-round pick the previous administration gave up to obtain the fabulous Arnett Moultrie.

General manager Sam Hinkie loves draft picks, so giving up that one isn't part of the plan. (The pick becomes two second-rounders if not surrendered by 2015. How they get around losing another first-round pick, to Orlando starting in 2016, the one owed in the Andrew Bynum trade, is another matter. They would have to stink until 2018 to avoid that, and it's possible the local fans aren't quite that patient.)

In any case, the losing and the pain aren't over.

"You put on a brave face from time to time when the losing mounts and at times you can't believe the enormity of the job at hand," Brown said. "We started the year at ground zero and if there's something that's below ground zero, we were there when we traded those guys in the middle of the year and let Danny Granger go to the Clippers. There are times you are overwhelmed because you want to be perfect."

But all day, every day, Brown came to work even though perfection wasn't possible. On Monday, the teaching theme concerned shot selection and how to tell a good shot from a bad shot. For some of the current players, a good shot is one in which the ball is in their hands. Almost all of them will take these lessons elsewhere next season. Still, it was another day in the gym and Brown doesn't want to give an inch.

"I can see daylight. There are times I feel I know something that others don't and I get excited about what I think could happen," Brown said. "I am so excited to try to get this right."

The muted excitement of this chapter lasts five more games. The temptation is to skip ahead and see how it comes out, but Brett Brown still wants to turn every page by hand.


bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports

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