Surviving a year as the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers could be rather difficult for Brett Brown.
As reported by Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen, the former assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs is officially set to call the shots for the Sixers. Now he has to figure out how he can find success, or at least survive, with his new team.
According to Thomsen, Brown is inking a four-year contract with guaranteed money, so the team is making a big commitment here. However, that doesn't make him safe from the axe, as Philly could still go in a different direction if Brown can't thrive as a head coach.
Making a checklist of steps to follow during his first season is crucial. He'd probably like to hang around for the 2014-15 season that promises to be more enjoyable than the 2013-14 campaign.
More steps will develop as the season progresses, but for now, Brown has six keys to follow.
Every time NBA head coaches sit behind a microphone, they face an interesting balance between optimism and realism. Should they tell the press that they have high hopes for a season when they really don't?
For a mediocre team looking to make the next step, sometimes it is better to raise expectations. Get people excited for the season, and show your players that you have confidence in them.
However, it's not the case for a true bottom-feeder.
And make no mistake about it—the Sixers will be leading the tanking race for Andrew Wiggins throughout the season. They finished just 34-48 last year and traded their best player, Jrue Holiday, this offseason. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the Sixers go wire-to-wire with the worst record in basketball.
Because of that, Brown can't make any pretense of having high expectations. He's in survival mode, and he can't afford for even a single person in the organization to feel like he's failing to meet the bar that was set, especially if it's one that he managed to raise.
This is the one key that has nothing to do with the team itself, but rather stems purely from selfish, personal motivations. When survival is the ultimate good, a lack of altruism can be not just a good idea, but a necessary one.
Statements like "Michael Carter-Williams is going to be a near All-Star point guard in his rookie season" or "Evan Turner is just waiting to become a superstar" are ones to avoid. So are things like "We think we can surprise a lot of people this year."
Whenever the media is looking for quotes, Brown must stick to talking about actual developments, not lofty and unrealistic predictions.
All the best NBA teams have established systems, and they don't stray from them.
The San Antonio Spurs are the premier example, as Gregg Popovich has established an incredible game plan that maximizes the talent of every player on his roster. Defensively, San Antonio thrives playing help defense and hiding liabilities. Offensively, screens and corner threes are the names of the game.
Obviously, that's overly simplistic, but there's no reason to dive too deep into the X's and O's here. The point is that the system exists, and the results have spoken for themselves.
Another example is the Miami Heat, as the defending champions weren't able to truly make the most of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh until Erik Spoelstra's system was fully fleshed out. The general perception may be that LeBron makes Spoelstra's job easy, but the offense the head coach developed is one of the most complicated ones in the NBA.
Fortunately for the Sixers, Brown has experience with the Spurs. He's learned under the best the Association currently has to offer, and that means he presumably understands the importance of developing a system.
It doesn't matter what it is.
Brown could run the triangle offense. He could develop a system that priorities plenty of off-ball screens. He could even employ the infamous "Seven Seconds or Less" offense invented and popularized by Mike D'Antoni.
What's crucial is that he picks one and sticks to it.
Through thick and thin, he must exhibit patience with the system so that he can see which members of the roster work best within the confines of his offense and defense. Then he can pass along those notes to the front office and have a hand in the development of the roster.
Brown has to make Philadelphia his team.
During the 2012-13 campaign, the Sixers didn't exactly play at an uptempo pace. In fact, the exact opposite was true.
According to Basketball-Reference, Philadelphia had an average of 91 possessions per game. That's only enough for the team to rank 20th in the NBA, and it's one of the first things that needs changing during Brown's tenure.
It all boils down to Michael Carter-Williams and maximizing his physical tools and overall skill set.
The Syracuse product is a fantastic distributor, but he's at his best in the open court. Using his massive frame and sneaky quickness, MCW was one heck of a transition threat under Jim Boeheim. He could score at the rim almost with a snap of his fingers, and his court vision didn't decline at a breakneck pace.
However, Carter-Williams struggled immensely in half-court sets.
He couldn't create his own shots consistently, more often clanging them off the rim than finding the bottom of the net, and turnovers ran rampant. As effective as he was, MCW was that ineffective when the game slowed down.
Well, the NBA is a faster game in general, which plays right into the point guard's hands, and he's also given a roster that is fully capable of running. He and Thaddeus Young should form a devastating duo in transition, and the eventual return of Nerlens Noel will give the Sixers an incredibly mobile big man.
Brown needs to hang up a banner in the locker room that simply says "Run."
Speaking of Noel...
There is absolutely no reason to rush him back. As is always the case with important decisions, it comes down to balancing the pros and cons.
What are they for Noel's return in his rookie season?
The best-case scenario is that Noel comes back early in the season, experiences no setbacks, wins Rookie of the Year thanks to his dominant defensive play and helps improve the Sixers. But even that has a downside, as Philadelphia wants to have the best possible odds in the Wiggins sweepstakes.
Worst case, the former Kentucky standout reinjures his knee and is forced to sit out well into the 2014-15 campaign, effectively wrecking the start of his career.
Is the risk of the latter really worth a few extra wins?
Brown can't put Noel into the lineup—certainly not in a prominent role—until he's demonstrated that he's at 100 percent. Playing him even a minute before he reaches that status would be sheer idiocy, as the rewards just aren't worth the risks.
As Master Po might say, "Patience, young grasshopper."
Patience doesn't just apply to Noel.
Brown must temper his expectations with the majority of the roster, letting them develop even if they're continuously struggling on the court. This lineup is full of young, high-potential players, but the only way to see how much of the potential will eventually be realized is to let them play.
Carter-Williams, Noel, Arnett Moultrie, Royce White and Arsalan Kazemi could all eventually develop into high-quality players, but not if they're yanked from games after mistakes. Sometimes the best way to learn is to struggle after being thrown into the fire.
In fact, even someone like Evan Turner could benefit from a bit more of this philosophy. The Ohio State product may be a veteran, but he's still only 24 years old and in possession of a unique set of talents that could eventually translate into more success.
Again, wins don't matter too much during the 2013-14 season. But development does.
Just as he needs to do with his system, Brown must develop a consistent rotation and let his players both struggle and thrive out on the court. It might be painful in the near future, but it will pay off rather significantly down the road.
At the end of the 2013-14 season, it will inevitably be easy for the 76ers to part ways with Brown.
He'll have coached the team to one of the worst records in the NBA (possibly the worst), even if it wasn't his fault. The roster is devoid of established talent, after all.
After an offseason that is sure to leave Philly in better shape, a new face wouldn't be the worst thing for the management. Brown could be viewed as just a temporary clipboard holder.
It's exactly why some encouraged the former Spurs assistant to decline the opportunity in the first place, choosing to wait instead for a more promising team to coach during his debut as the man in charge, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.
However, Brown can bypass this problem by developing support in the locker room.
If he can convince the players that he's the right man for the job, then he'll be standing on much thicker ice. Advocates on the roster will make it significantly more difficult for the front office to consider giving him the axe. Given Brown's natural talent for player development, this shouldn't be too difficult for him.
Brown thrived helping players take the next step, both during his time in San Antonio and as the head coach of Australia's national team. Young players should appreciate the time he invests in them, especially if the results are readily apparent on the hardwood.
At the end of the day season, the difference between finding success and surviving will come into play once more. Brown must do everything possible to do the latter so he can do the former going forward.