Looking back at Brett Brown’s time with the 76ers

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — When Brett Brown became head coach of the 76ers in the summer of 2013, the future of the organization was anything but certain. 
It was obvious the Sixers were about to undergo a rebuild, which Brown referred to as “one of the most dramatic” in pro sports history in a statement he released when the team fired him after seven seasons with them.

Statement from former #Sixers head coach Brett Brown pic.twitter.com/ZFu8QYiPhZ

— Dave Uram (@MrUram) August 24, 2020

To rewind to 2013 and poll fans on how long they thought Brown would’ve lasted in Philadelphia, it’s fair to assume most would not have come close to seven years. And some might have doubled down after some of the losses his teams endured.

“It’s hard sitting there going through a normal rebuild process, but I think that you have to just make sure you stay focused on what you’re really here for,” Brown said at his introductory press conference in August 2013.

Fittingly, Brown used the word “process,” which has defined his time with the Sixers. It was a process that featured four different general managers — including himself, for a very brief time. It featured injuries, off-court player incidents, a "Burnergate" Twitter mess, thoracic outlet syndrome and a lot of expected losing — especially at the beginning. 

After somehow starting 3-0, led by eventual Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, the 2013-14 Sixers finished 19-63. Carter-Williams was traded the following season. 

He was one of the 102 players Brown says he coached during his tenure. That number is symbolic of the franchise's rebuild in his first four seasons — a revolving door of players, especially in his early years. 

And it’s not like the team was on a gradual ascent either. They got worse. 

In 2014-15, the Sixers went 18-64. The next season featured a 10-72 record, which is the second-worst in franchise history — behind only the infamous 1972-73 squad. 

Promising lottery picks were either injured their rookie season — or, in Joel Embiid’s case, his first two seasons — or didn’t live up to expectations. 

Embiid’s physical condition improved, and he finally made his debut in 2016. While the Sixers jumped to 28-54 with a sense of direction and greater expectations of winning, Embiid suffered a meniscus injury that shortened his rookie season, and Ben Simmons missed the entire campaign after breaking his foot in the preseason. 

You’ll be hard pressed to find a coach who dealt with so many injuries to so many key players, which, in essence, delayed the Sixers' climb to where they’ve been the last few seasons. Brown became so used to these occurrences that he said on more than one occasion he was “numb” to it. In fact, prior to this season, Brown chose no longer to speak about the specifics of injuries, instead leaving those details to the team’s senior vice president of communications. 

Things started taking a turn for the better in 2017-18, when the Sixers surpassed the 50-win mark for the first time since 2000-01. This included a 17-game winning streak that went into the playoffs, putting the 76ers at the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They eliminated the Miami Heat in five games — their first playoff series victory under Brown. It was a very special occasion. 

“That is a monumental effort, given where we were and where we are,” Brown said in the locker room afterwards, in an NBC Sports Philadelphia video. “To win a round in the playoffs is not to be denied. That’s special, especially where we have come from.”

Not many people or coaches could lead a team and a city through what Brett Brown had to navigate the Sixers throughThis was a great moment when they won their first playoff series 2 years agoWish Brett the bestpic.twitter.com/rPESFunUJw

— John Clark (@JClarkNBCS) August 24, 2020

It seemed like the sky was the limit for this young, exciting, vibrant Sixers team.

But they were beaten by the Boston Celtics in five games the next round. It became a big focus to get a third star next to Embiid and Simmons. Through a couple of blockbuster deals orchestrated by rookie General Manager Elton Brand the following season, the Sixers landed Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris to join Embiid, Simmons and JJ Redick in the starting lineup. 

Injuries — mainly to Embiid — prevented that group from playing a lot together before the 2019 playoffs, but the team still finished with 51 wins after getting 52 the year before. It was the first time the franchise had back-to-back 50-win seasons since the mid-80s. 

Once again, the Sixers advanced to the second round — this time to face the eventual World Champion Toronto Raptors. Many believed a failure to go further than the year before would mark the end of Brown in Philadelphia. 

The series went to a decisive seventh game and ended on Kawhi Leonard’s epic buzzer-beating three, which bounced four times on the rim before going through the net. 

“I really felt when it hit the rim that it was gonna end up going in,” Brown said after the game on May 12, 2019. “It didn’t surprise me that it went in.”

Brown did not lose his position, even though his job security remained a hot-button topic in the city. 

“This is my sixth year in Philadelphia,” Brown said at his end-of-season press conference. “I have been fired everyone of these years. It’s true. It’s Philadelphia. Every single one of these years, somebody has me not coming back, and it will happen again next year — early.”

Despite a 5-0 start, 2019-20 was a bumpy roller coaster of an underachieving season. Butler and Redick left after 2019, and were replaced by Al Horford and Josh Richardson in the starting lineup. Horford — given a lucrative four-year contract at 33-years-old — has had struggles fitting with Embiid since they both play center and Horford had to move to power forward. Harris was given a max five-year contract by Brand, but many believe he underperformed the first year of that deal.

The 2019-20 Sixers were outstanding at home, but mediocre on the road — which showed once the season restarted in Orlando during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Not only did the Sixers not get past the second round, but they were swept in the first round by the rival Celtics. Brown’s dismissal was inevitable, even though many will argue this organization has several other problems beyond the head coach. 

“Unfortunately, we fell well short of our goals this year and I believe it is best to go in a new direction,” Brand said in his statement after the firing of Brown was announced. 

Brett Brown has been let go as head coach of the #Sixers pic.twitter.com/63JuUEnlMB

— Dave Uram (@MrUram) August 24, 2020

“This is a difficult decision, but one we believe is necessary,” Managing Partner Josh Harris said in his official statement.

Josh Harris indicated to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that more changed will like come in addition to Brown. 

Sixers managing partner Josh Harris: pic.twitter.com/5VD3I9MWD0

— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 24, 2020

Ultimately, Brown didn’t win a championship, which is what defines greatness in Philadelphia. But, he was the second longest tenured head coach in franchise history behind the legendary Billy Cunningham, back-to-back 50-win seasons is no joke, and the 2018-19 is one of only three Sixers squads to make it to at least Game 7 of the second round since 1983, when the 76ers went all the way. 

It would be unfair to say Brown didn’t leave a mark during his time in Philadelphia. He wasn’t perfect and certainly had his flaws, but he was also a major part of one of the most unique eras in 76ers history. 

And who knows. Things might have been different given another bounce or two.