May 13, 2019
It took less than 24 hours for the Sixers' top players to offer their response to the rumors about Brett Brown's job security. They were clear, they were concise, and they were unified in one belief: the coach deserves to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
That message was most important to hear from Joel Embiid, who went about sticking up for Brown in the way only he can.
"I heard about all these rumors and stuff and I just thought it was bulls***," Embiid said during exit interviews. "He's done a fantastic job. He's been there through everything and this year I think he grew even more as a coach. He learned, we all learned."
"It's hard when you've got five guys that can score the ball and do a lot of things on the basketball court, it's hard to put it together. At the end of the day, it comes down to the players. I don't think he should have anything to worry about. He's an amazing coach, a better person, and obviously, I've got a lot of love for him. If there was someone to blame, put it all on me."
That is as strong of an endorsement, as strong of a message of protection for the head coach as you're going to hear publicly. And it means the most coming from Embiid, the team's most important player, whose voice will hold sway in their decision-making whether they cop to that publicly or not.
But you almost came into the day expecting this from him — he's the team's longest-tenured player and the man who probably has the deepest bond with Brown on the roster. Anything less than a ringing endorsement would have been a shocker.
To a man, the Sixers' stars lined up one-by-one to offer similar thoughts. There was Jimmy Butler:
I think he realized how different of a human being that I am, how I can be difficult at times, but I swear it’s from the right place. I love to win, I work so hard and study my game and everybody else’s. But I think he has a huge heart. He’s a great, great dude and he works incredibly hard. You’ve gotta respect that about him. He’s always thinking of how he can make everybody great, which is hard to do when you have a roster like we have/had, but I think he’s going to be here for a long time.
There was JJ Redick:
It seems like it's pretty obvious that I would say that I love Brett, I've loved playing for him, he has my full support, and I think what he has done for this organization is nothing short of remarkable...I don't feel it necessary to defend Brett to anyone, I think his work speaks for itself.
On and on the interviews went, with role players and stars alike expressing their gratitude for the experience they had in Philadelphia this year. Even Furkan Korkmaz, who recalled demanding a trade early this season and then watched as half the team get traded, referred to the Sixers as a "basketball culture," rather than an organization or a franchise. Think about that — an end-of-bench guy who wanted out still couldn't stop himself from praising the culture built in Philadelphia.
The mood at the practice facility on Monday was one of regret and an opportunity gone by, but it was not a day filled with angst over the failures of the leaders in place. There are so many competing interests that it would have been easy for one of the Sixers' players to give a half-hearted endorsement or open the door for speculation about Brown's ability to keep control of the locker room.
Instead, we were given the opposite impression. The players felt the staff behind them did everything they could possibly do to help them win in the playoffs, and that there should be no doubt about his long-term security as the day-to-day leader of the Sixers. Ben Simmons reflected on his childhood connection to Brown, and noted that few coaches would have taken a chance on him playing point guard full-time as Brown did over his first two seasons.
Embiid doubled down on his assertion that he would take all the blame for the fate of the Toronto series to close his presser, going out of his way to mention that blame should not be pinned solely on the coach.
"I'll take it all. You can put this loss on me, you can put everything else on me, but don't just put it on the coach or anybody else," Embiid said. "I love when you guys or anybody else talks sh**, I guess, because, I see it all somehow... I love when people tell me that I can't do something because I'm going to go back and work hard and I'm going to get it right. I'm excited. Tough ending of the season but I feel like everybody did their job, we played hard, we're going to get back here."
Whether or not the Sixers bring Brown back remains unclear. Exit interviews with Brown and Brand are tentatively scheduled for Tuesday morning, which will tell us a lot more about where he stands with the organization than words of support from his players.
But the players did not shy away from the subject. Are the Sixers willing to part with the man whose support is that strong in the locker room to take a crack at an uninspiring crop of candidates? It seems they probably shouldn't be.
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