However disappointed the Sixers and their fans may feel about a five-game series loss to the depleted Celtics, their season was an enormous success. They won a playoff series, and were the favorites to win another, and they certainly look closer to championship contention than all but maybe two or three other teams in their conference. The first steps towards determining whether they can get the rest of the way there, and how, will be taken this summer.
In addition to needing to decide what to do with important unrestricted free agents like J.J. Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, and Marco Belinelli, the Sixers will have to decide what to do with head coach Brett Brown, who now has just one season left on his contract. The Sixers are now good, and Brown deserves a lot of credit for patiently stewarding the team through several long years of as cynical a tanking project as any sports league has ever seen, but he seemed roundly overmatched by Brad Stevens in these playoffs, and, anyway, the characteristics that make a coach the right guy to lead a rebuild aren’t necessarily the same characteristics that make someone fit to lead a contender.
But Brown is for sure a good basketball coach, and Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo reportedly intends to hammer out a contract extension with him this summer, according to ESPN:
“I don’t think it’s the healthiest of situations for coaches to go into a season with one year remaining on their contracts. It impacts so many aspects of what you’re doing,” Colangelo said.
The 52-win season doesn’t mean the Sixers don’t have room to improve during the offseason: Ben Simmons needs to figure out a jumper; Joel Embiid needs to improve his conditioning; Markelle Fultz needs to learn the difference between shooting a jump shot and throwing a shot put. Brown hit on all this stuff during his Friday exit interview—“intense planning” to help Simmons get comfortable shooting, including possibly expanding the team’s roster of shooting coaches; Fultz “getting back his mojo”— and more, including his belief that the ultimate key to developing this core into a championship contender will be found in free agency:
The way the question of free agency versus “organic” growth is framed is interesting (at about the 31-minute mark in the video above): it acknowledges a divide, between Sixers fans who believe the next step is for the team to spend money in free agency, and fans who would prefer that the Sixers eschew free agency and focus their efforts on maximizing the development of the players brought along during the Hinkie-era tanking project. Brown says that while he appreciates the patience and loyalty of fans who “showed a consistent kind of resilience” and bought into The Process, he has his own idea of what it will take for the Sixers to become championship contenders:
“Let’s start with the fans. They have showed a consistent kind of resilience...there has been an acceptance of trying to grow this organically. We’ve all lived through the pain of what we all went through five years ago and four years ago, and so there seemed to be an acceptance that we declared our hand and this is what we’re gonna do, and for the most part we’ve kind of done it. If that portion of the fan base is still prepared to take this notion and that’s gonna equal a championship, you know, it’s noble, but I don’t agree with it.”
Brown went on to say that he believes a “high-level free agent is required” for the Sixers to become championship caliber. To be clear, this line of thinking doesn’t necessarily run afoul of The Process—it was always a part of the latter stages of Hinkie’s plan that the Sixers would be players in free agency once they’d established a core of star-level talent. But there are only so many free agents, and since the Sixers clearly wouldn’t be able to survive the addition of [gulp] LeBron James, you may find yourself forced to conclude that if the Sixers don’t already have what it takes to develop into a championship contender, the only possible solution is a complete rebuild.