Brown ponders possibilities with loaded roster
PHILADELPHIA — Basketball is seemingly always on Brett Brown’s mind.
Though training camp doesn’t begin until Tuesday, the 76ers’ head coach has spent hours pondering what might be his team’s most effective lineup combinations, how his rotation could look and so on.
Brown’s starting five of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid is all but set. The real fun should begin when Brown goes to the bench.
For example, does Brown opt for somebody like small forward James Ennis as his first sub midway through the opening quarter for Embiid, which would allow Harris to slide over from the “3” to his natural position of power forward, and Horford to switch from the “4” to center, which has been his primary spot in recent years? Or does he make more of a straight switch with, say, power forward Mike Scott for Horford?
“Since the team sort of took shape, yes I have started thinking stuff like this,” said Brown during Wednesday’s annual media luncheon prior to Monday’s media day.
With the Sixers boasting one of the league’s biggest starting units at 6-foot-10, 6-6, 6-9, 6-10 and 7-2, how will opponents match up with them? Will foes play more zone to help combat the Sixers’ size and potential rebounding dominance? If not, will be the Sixers be able to take advantage of favorable matchups? Who will Celtics point guard Kemba Walker, generously listed at 6-1, cover in the teams’ Oct. 23 opener (probably Richardson)?
On the defensive end, the Sixers’ weakest link among the previous starters, JJ Redick, has moved on to New Orleans, though they will really miss Redick’s 3-point shooting. Will teams try to exploit Harris, who told Brown he “will be better, defensively,” in his first full season despite starting at a position with faster, more formidable scorers.
Brown’s answer to Harris? “I hear you loudly and I look forward to seeing it.”
In addition, who defends Walker (Richardson)? Might Brown utilize some zone defense after declining to play any in his first six years here?
“I can go on and on and on,” Brown said. “All day, every day, I think like that.”
So let’s keep going.
Who is on the court at crunch time (primarily the starters)? Who is Sixers’ go-to guy with the game on the line (Embiid, who Brown again called “our crown jewel.”)?
Does Horford start at center and Harris move to power forward in the games Embiid sits out, or would sixth man Scott slide in as the “4” man? As for Embiid, whom Brown called “Shaquille O’Neal with soccer feet,” figure he won’t play in both games of the Sixers’ 13 sets of back-to-backs to increase the chances he’s finally in top condition for the playoffs.
While saying his goal is to earn the No. 1 seed in the East, Brown doesn’t want to do it if it means Embiid isn’t close to 100 percent for the postseason.
Brown is also looking forward to having what he hopes is pretty much the same team all season after essentially coaching three different ones last year — the group that started the season, the team after trading Robert Covington and Dario Saric to the Timberwolves for Jimmy Butler in November and the squad after acquiring Harris from the Clippers in February.
“The changes last year were challenging,” Brown said.
While admitting Wednesday that during the tanking years he sometimes doubted if he’d get to coach a championship contender here — the Sixers were 75-253 in Brown’s first four years — he believes he has the talent to win a title. Health is his biggest worry.
The Sixers have gone 103-61 over the last two seasons. They appear on course to be in the mid-50s and are capable of surpassing the 56 wins of the 2000-01 club that went to the NBA Finals.
Meanwhile, Brown is on the verge of becoming the secondlongest tenured coach in franchise history. Only Billy Cunningham, who coached eight years from 1977-85 and won the Sixers’ last championship in 1982-83, has been on the job longer. Brown and Cunningham have become good friends.
As long as he remains the Sixers’ coach, Brown will continue pondering all of the possibilities, searching for ways to give his team an edge. All day, every day.
Sixers coach Brett Brown has a loaded roster and one of the NBA’s tallest starting units.