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May 11, 2019

Report: Brett Brown 'needs an NBA Finals berth' to keep Sixers job

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Brett Brown's job security has been a point of debate for most of the last two years, as the Sixers have completed the transformation from a team in the midst of a rebuild to a team with expectations to contend. And according to one prominent NBA reporter, there is a line in the sand drawn this season — NBA Finals or bust.

That's the word from Marc Stein of the New York Times, who believes it will be tough for Brown to survive if the Sixers do not emerge victorious in Game 7 on Sunday night.

Here's the relevant info from Stein's dispatch on Saturday morning:

The Sixers, meanwhile, will be swamped with what-next questions if they don’t advance.

Beyond the uncertain fates of Butler, Harris and the sharpshooting J.J. Redick, rumblings in league coaching circles have grown louder by the day that 76ers Coach Brett Brown needs an N.B.A. finals berth to keep his job. Brown, I’m told, has little chance of surviving a second-round exit.

Before we go any further, PhillyVoice reached out to some people around the team on Saturday afternoon to talk about the report and situation. To a man, the message was clear — no one is focused on anything other than Game 7 on Sunday night, and any declarations about what they will or won't do in hypothetical scenarios are simply speculation. It is important to note that here before moving further.

That said, Stein is not a reporter known for kicking up dust for no reason, and the declaration that a second-round exit would be problematic for Brown is not necessarily new, with Joshua Harris' previous comments on the subject making it clear that Philadelphia wants to see progress from their second-round exit last season. 

The Sixers invested serious resources to upgrade the top-end talent this season, and they want results. Totally fair.

But as I wrote before Game 6, deciding you are going to fire or not fire someone because of arbitrary benchmarks would be an absurd way to run a billion-dollar organization. 

Every employee is subject to a review process in their field of choice, and companies may draw lines in the sand the employee feels are unfair. But most of the best companies, sports franchise or not, are asking why someone didn't hit a specific goal in the event they don't get there. They evaluate context and relationships and future outlook and then make a decision, rather than drawing their line and refusing to move from it.

As these playoffs have unfolded, we have seen Brown rise to the occasion as the Sixers have needed him. It is worth a reminder as we wait for Game 7 that the Sixers came into this series as underdogs, and that the Raptors had the second-best record in the league during the regular season. Philadelphia's stars have imposed their will on this series, but Brown's adjustments against Toronto (and in round one against Brooklyn) have been a large part about of the playoff story for Philadelphia.

Philadelphia's offense has expanded, their defensive matchups have been realigned and rethought proactively, and they have ultimately forced a Game 7 while only getting one good offensive performance from their best player. They have figured out a way to survive and thrive in a low-scoring environment, which was not an area Philadelphia succeeded in all year.

The Sixers have arrived here today, by the way, in spite of inner turmoil in the organization dating back years. Philadelphia's roster has turned over repeatedly the last two seasons, their last GM was booted during the 2018 pre-draft process for disparaging players and leaking organizational secrets. All Brown did was lead the Sixers to another 50-win season in the middle of all that, survive some rocky moments with dominant players in the locker room, and deliver the team to the biggest moment the franchise has had in almost two decades.

Stability is something the organization has had very little of since the Sixers' current ownership group took control of the team. If you look around the league at the best and most successful organizations, the thing they share in common is an ability to contextualize failure just as well as they do success.

We will see how Game 7 unfolds on Sunday, and how more games unfold from there if the Sixers deliver a win against Toronto. Speculation could be rendered moot by simply winning. But while maintaining status quo is not inherently valuable on its own, the Sixers would do well to make sure they continue to value process when they make big decisions.

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