When Brett Brown signed a four-year contract to take the Philadelphia Sixers head coaching job in August, he did so with the understanding that it was going to be an uphill climb from Day 1.
After trading away two of their best players—Andre Iguodala and Jrue Holiday—over the course of 11 months, Philadelphia's cabinet was bare. In steps Brown, a longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant with zero head coaching experience at the NBA level. While the immediate future of the Sixers is bleak—and that's putting it nicely—here are a few keys that Brown needs to focus on if he wants to restore the franchise to relevance.
Rely on the young guys
Between Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and even Royce White, the Sixers have at least three guys with the potential to be productive players. When healthy, Nerlens Noel is also a part of this group.
Carter-Williams, the 11th overall pick by the Sixers this past April, was chosen because of his athleticism and size at the point guard position. As someone who can score and dish it out to his teammates as well, he's a good piece of the puzzle in Philadelphia's rebuilding process.
Wroten was a first-round draft choice of the Memphis Grizzlies last year but didn't see much time before being traded to the Sixers in the offseason. While his decision to leave the University of Washington after his freshman campaign was questionable from a development standpoint, he has enough talent to draw comparisons to Tyreke Evans—if he pans out.
White is the biggest wild card of them all, suffering from a severe anxiety disorder that causes him to fear flying. While those issues have held him back so far in his career, he still has potential and was even compared to LeBron James, according to this July 2012 article from Sports Illustrated's Pablo Torre.
If Brown wants to build for the future, he needs to establish these players now. With the prospects of two top-10 picks in a strong 2014 draft, it's hard to imagine the Sixers retaining Evan Turner and Thad Young past this season.
Carter-Williams and Wroten need to be given opportunities on a consistent basis. Brown needs to throw them into the fire instead of easing them in. He has to let them learn through repetition.
White's situation is different, but if he's healthy enough to play consistently, he should get every possible opportunity to showcase his talent. After all, he has the potential.
Give Carter-Williams the ball with five seconds left on the clock. Let Wroten play freely and drive the lane at will. The development of Philadelphia's young talent isn't going to come by holding them back. It's going to come by letting them learn on the run—even if that means a rocky first year.
Don't rush Noel back
When the Sixers pulled the trigger and sent Holiday to New Orleans, the initial reaction in Philadelphia was that of disbelief. But when the dust settled, the mental image of Nerlens Noel roaming the paint in Philadelphia helped relieve the sting—a lot.
Projected for quite some time as the No. 1 overall pick, Noel slipped all the way to New Orleans at No. 6 due to an ACL injury he suffered in February. The notion that he was injury prone was unfair, to say the least—the incident occurred after he landed awkwardly trying to block a shot. It would be a lot more concerning if the injury occurred by simply running or changing direction.
While Noel is arguably the most exciting Sixers draft pick in a long time—I'd go as far as to say more exciting than Evan Turner was—they don't need him now. The presence of Noel in the lineup isn't going to make Philadelphia a contender by any means, so it's Brown's job to allow the youngster to take as much time as he needs.
There will be only two months left in the 2013-2014 season when Noel is a year removed from his knee injury, and by that time the Sixers will be so far back in the standings that they shelve Noel to avoid any further damage. Keeping him out the whole year won't hurt their chances at the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 draft, either.
If their interaction with each other in this video is any indication, it seems as though Brown and Noel have already developed a good relationship. They'll have at least four years to continue to grow that relationship on the court, so Brown needs to be patient with his future defensive star and allow Noel to come back when he feels ready.
Be honest and interact with the fans
If we've learned anything so far from Sam Hinkie's short time as general manager, it's that he's not going to sugarcoat anything. He'll tell you how it is, and that was evident during the post-draft introductory press conference.
"We should keep our end goal in mind, which is to build a championship caliber team in Philly," Hinkie said, per NBA.com. "That won't come overnight. That's not a surprise."
"We started down that path last night. We'll keep climbing, and we'll try to keep climbing a hill that we think ends somewhere that we'll all be proud of."
For Philadelphia fans, this is a breath of fresh air. For the past several seasons, they've watched as the Eagles, Flyers and Phillies made big moves in an attempt to secure a championship, only to see those moves backfire and ownership not right the wrong before it was too late.
Hinkie, on the other hand, recognized there was a problem and is now starting to fix it. This team is bad right now, but that doesn't mean he's not going to try his hardest to fix it. The difference between the Sixers and the other Philadelphia franchises is that the Sixers aren't going to try to get better by stockpiling top talent.
They're going to get better by drafting young players. They're going to build.
Brown needs to convey that same philosophy, especially when interacting with the media and fans. No matter how much the truth might hurt right now, there's nothing more refreshing than a franchise and its coach telling you like it is—and then telling you they're working to make it better. That work started off on the right foot this offseason.
It's going to be hard for the Sixers to keep the casual fan interested this year considering how bad they'll be, and Brown can't afford to be a coach who doesn't want to make himself a visible part of the franchise. Things like getting involved in the community and being involved from a marketing standpoint are just a few ways that he can interact with fans to foster interest in the Sixers.
Although they are in the cellar of Philadelphia sports right now, that might not be the case five years in the future. The Sixers need to plant the seed of hope this season, and that starts with Brown—on and off the court.
He has his work cut out for him. But if Brown is able to develop his young players and exude a positive energy off the court, the franchise will be headed in the right direction. With the chance of two lottery picks next year, many Sixers fans wouldn't mind a horrid season now—but that shouldn't come at the expense of Brown and company starting to build something for the future.
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