Not that many years ago, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were both franchises hoarding draft picks — including a few very high ones — looking to use them as opportunities and assets to build a winner.
Sunday, young Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led a modern roster — with multiple playmakers and plenty of shooting — that swept Philadelphia out of the playoffs. The Celtics look like a rising powerhouse, a team that took advantage of those drafts and opportunities, while the 76ers looked like a dinosaur team from another era, a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit together.
Soon that sweep will cost Brett Brown his job as 76ers head coach, something several sources told NBC Sports was likely coming through much of a disappointing season. Multiple reports now (such as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) make it sound like Brown will be out sooner rather than later. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports detailed why.
Brown, who was chosen as the coach of “The Process” seven years ago, never grabbed full command of the locker room during his tenure, sources said…
Players often questioned Brown’s game plan on specific matchups, and there was a lack of trust that permeated the locker room and an inability to hold players accountable, sources said…
Josh Richardson, who spent his first four seasons immersed in the Miami Heat culture, spoke on the Sixers’ culture. “I don’t think there was much accountability this season and that was part of the problem,” he said following the season-ending loss.
If a player is saying that publicly, imagine what is said privately.
It was a time to change voices and styles in the Philadelphia locker room, and expect some big-name coaches — Tyronn Lue, Jason Kidd, among others — to have their name quickly thrown into the ring.
But bigger changes than just the coach need to follow.
The old-school 76ers roster doesn’t fit together or in the modern NBA — and no coach, no new set of Xs and Os, no emphasis on accountability is going to solve that problem.
Last summer, GM Elton Brand decided to be the contrarian. In a league going smaller — with multiple ball handlers on the court and an emphasis on spacing and shooting — the 76ers went big and with defense. They re-signed Tobias Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract. They poached Al Horford out of Boston with four years, $97 million guaranteed. They got Josh Richardson to come.
Pair them with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the 76ers had a big, long, defensive powerhouse. Brett Brown called it “bully ball” and it was all sold as a throwback team that could win in the modern NBA.
It did work on defense, the Sixers were top-10 defensive team this season and that starting five (Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford, and Embiid) allowed less than a point per possession when on the court together.
However, “bully ball” never clicked on offense — there was little spacing and not enough shooting — and that held the 76ers back. Harris is not a great shot creator — certainly not on the level of Jimmy Butler (who left for Miami). Shake Milton started playing a larger and larger role on the team because of his shooting. Defenses could pack the paint, drop bigs back and go under picks, and dare Philly to beat them. Embiid always put up numbers because he is a force of nature, but as a team Philly never looked right. Injuries played a role, but the issues ran deeper.
Season-ending surgery for Simmons, leaving the team without its best playmaker and best perimeter defender, doomed Philly in the bubble. Had he played, the series against Boston would have been closer.
Still, it was a stark contrast of styles — one team looking like a fit for the modern game, one team looking lost — as Boston swept Philadelphia these past eight days.
Now the 76ers will go get a new coach. It’s too hard to get elite talent in the NBA — and Simmons and Embiid are both elite talents — to talk trading stars. Not until a new coach has had a chance to fit the pieces together. There are ways this pairing might work.
But they all involve more shooting and playmaking around those young stars. Trading Harris or Horford are all but out of the question this offseason (big contracts are very hard to move in uncertain economic times), but the front office has to add some shot creation and floor spacing.
A new voice in the locker room and a focus on accountability can only take a team so far.
But that new voice is coming.