Brown's fingers all over Sixers this summer

Posted: July 24, 2014

AFTER THE SIXERS' crop of rookies, young players and free-agent hopefuls finished their stint in the Las Vegas Summer League, Sixers assistant Chad Iske, who directed the squad, observed, "Overall, the effort we preached in both camps, especially mine, our transition defense, protecting the paint, I think we are getting better at it."

A week earlier at the Orlando Summer League, Sixers assistant coach Lloyd Pierce ran the show, and he was able to talk about the play of center Nerlens Noel, second-round picks K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant, and such free-agent hopefuls as Casper Ware and Ronald Roberts.

And somewhere in the Magic's practice gym or in the Las Vegas arenas, Sixers coach Brett Brown was in the stands watching, assessing and evaluating.

Brown met with his assistants after each game, telling them what he wanted to see players work on in the next one.

That is the major difference between the Sixers' experience in the 2014 summer leagues and in the 2013 summer leagues.

Last year at this time, Brown was still an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs when the Sixers' rookies and free-agent hopefuls were trying to make impressions in summer-league play.

Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie did not hire Brown as coach until August. Brown's first chance to make a first impression was missed.

In the 2013 summer leagues, Michael Curry and Aaron McKie, both holdovers from the staff of former head coach Doug Collins, coached the team. It wasn't that Curry and McKie did not perform their duties professionally, but both knew they unlikely would be included on the staff of the new head coach.

And to be fair, they could not have been blamed if their thoughts were also divided about where they were going to be working come the 2013-14 season.

But more than anything, it was about the players.

The young Sixers, including 2013 first-round pick Michael Carter-Williams, knew the franchise was going under a major transition, but in their first experience with the team, they had no idea who would be the coach leading them into the future.

With no head coach and little guidance into the philosophies and style of play the organization would take, the 2013 summer leagues were a lost exercise for the entire Sixers organization.

That was a huge deal for Brown, who was being asked to be the director of Hinkie's massive plan to blow up and then reconstruct the Sixers.

I'll give Brown credit, because he tried to be as insightful as he could about the team at his introductory news conference last August, but it became quickly obvious that most of the people asking the questions knew more about the makeup and character of the Sixers at that time than Brown did.

The start of Brown's first training camp was more like a "Hello, glad to meet you," session than actual practice.

That won't be the case this year, when the Sixers open training camp for the 2014-15 season. Brown is a year into the job, and those who played for him last season know his expectations and most of the newcomeers will have at least had a taste of what to expect because of the summer leagues.

To most fans, summer-league play is viewed as little more than glorified pickup games, but for the folks who make livings building teams, it is a valuable learning opportunity.

Eagles second-year coach Chip Kelly had talked about how much efficiently things ran during his second year of OTAs and minicamps because he simply was familiar with his players.

It helps the Sixers' program that Brown and his staff were able to have a 4-day minicamp before heading to Orlando for the first games.

Not only were they able to lay a foundation for what they expected, but they also were able to get a taste for which players might be worth watching or to see whether they were something special.

No player will make an NBA roster based solely on summer-league play, but the sharp evaluator can separate potential diamonds in the rough from those who are not worth wasting valuable training camp time on.

I can't say this for sure, but perhaps if Brown had been hired and had a staff in place before the 2013 summer leagues, the Sixers might not have had to spend so much time revolving D-League players on 10-day contracts throughout the season.

Maybe with Brown able to watch and, by proxy, coach the Sixers' 2014 summer-league teams, he'll start training camp knowing that second-round picks such as McDaniels, Jordan McCrae and Jerami Grant showed some signs that they could hold down the roles of strengthening the bench.

Perhaps Brown will push Hinkie to sign a guy such as Ware or Roberts to a contract to get them into training camp, because they might have those intangibles needed to make it in the NBA.

After seeing his young players during the summer, Brown should have a better idea of his team's most pressing needs and give Hinkie a little guidance as he goes about using that ample salary-cap space to at least meet the league minumum for team salary.

At least this season when Brown opens training camp, he won't have to operate in complete blindness about what he has or might have on his roster.


Email: smallwj@phillynews.com

Columns: ph.ly/Smallwood

Blog: ph.ly/DNL

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