Sit in a room with Sixers head coach Brett Brown, pregame, postgame or — anytime really — and one thing is abundantly clear: This guy knows basketball.
However, it's hard to credit an NBA coach with a career record of 64-227 (as of Sunday afternoon) as having a great NBA mind.
But the plight of 55-year-old Brett Brown's head coaching career is one we've never really seen in pro sports.
He's been hamstrung. He had the NBA Rookie of the Year — Michael Carter-Williams — and then he didn't.
He was gifted two third overall picks, one first overall pick, plus a bevy of other young talent only to be setback by injuries or by redundancies (like three superstar centers and not enough minutes).
He has also been given no veteran talent. He's been told not to play budding All-Star Joel Embiid more than 28 minutes per game and can't play last week's Eastern Conference Player of the Week in back-to-back games.
And he is coaching during a time period of absolute disparity in talent, coaching the team that is known more than anything else for tanking.
And yet, he's got Nerlens Noel playing like an All-NBA defensive player — and scoring, too. He has undrafted free agent T.J. McConnell looking like an NBA point guard and has turned 3-point savant Robert Covington into a lockdown defender. And if there was any justice in the world, Embiid would have been named as a member of next month's All-Star Team.
His Sixers clinched their first winning record in a month in years and they are playing on national television.
And prior to the team's respectable loss to the NBA's third best team, Houston, Brown's Sixers were 9-3 in 2017.
The numbers aren't there at the surface. But Brown, who has won four NBA titles as an assistant to Greg Popovich in San Antonio, is coaching better than anyone else in the NBA right now.
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski has lauded Brown's performance, saying on his website last week that: “In every way, Brown has emerged The Process unbent and undeterred. Around the NBA, people long wondered whether Brown could get through the tanking to the other side, survive the darkness of losing to reach the warmth beneath the light of victory. And slowly, surely, he is getting there. Brown probably won’t be the NBA’s Coach of the Year, but he’s one of the season’s best stories and perhaps owner of the league’s most steely sideline resolve.”
Brown has somehow been able to fight through adversity during extreme lows. And with Embiid playing like a star, top pick Ben Simmons weeks away from returning, as many as two top 10 draft picks coming in 2017 and what seems like a supporting cast of role players (and tons of cap room for Bryan Colangelo to work with) Brown deserves to be the man who takes the Sixers to the next level.
The 17-28 Sixers aren't likely to make the playoffs this season but the fact that Embiid and company are preaching that there is a chance is remarkable, looking at where the team was last year (they went 10-72). The five-year plan is looking more like a two or three year plan. And much of that is due to Brown's patience and eagerness to teach in practice.
"I think we are closer than what people think we are," the coach said after a recent win.
After seeing the team rip off back-to-back wins in a back-to-back without Embiid against the Clippers and Bucks last week — before a loss to Houston that saw Philly with the high-powered offense for all 48 minutes — I think they are, too.