Patient and positive, Brett Brown was the perfect coach for the Philadelphia 76ers when they set up a long-term home in the NBA basement.
They’ll be looking for someone else now that they want to be on top.
The 76ers fired coach Brown on Monday, a day after his seventh season ended in a first-round post-season sweep.
The 76ers were 43-30 this season and had woefully underachieved in a year when they were expected to be serious contenders in the Eastern Conference.
After the sixth-seeded Sixers were swept by the Boston Celtics, the move was expected.
“I have a tremendous level of respect for Brett both personally and professionally and appreciate all he’s done for the 76ers organization and the city of Philadelphia,” general manager Elton Brand said in a statement. “He did many positive things during his time here, developing young talent and helping position our team for three straight post-season appearances. Unfortunately, we fell well short of our goals this year and I believe it is best to go in a new direction.”
Brown finished 221-344, though his record was never going to be pretty because the Sixers weren’t trying to win when he was hired.
Brown was tasked with the leading the Sixers through a rebuild dubbed “The Process,” where management stripped the roster of serious NBA talent to lose games and increase their odds at better draft picks. Brown won only 47 games in his first three seasons, including a 10-72 record in 2015-16.
The philosophy paid off when Philly drafted Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, who would both become All-Stars and lead the Sixers to two straight trips to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
But Simmons missed the post-season with a knee injury and neither Embiid nor the players brought in in recent years could provide enough scoring in clutch situations against Boston.
The 76ers said they would begin a search for a new coach immediately to replace Brown, who quickly earned respect around the league for keeping a positive outlook even during a no-win situation.
“In 2013, I was employed to lead one of the most dramatic rebuilds in professional sports history. In the past seven years, our players and coaches have evolved and grown, and I have deep appreciation for the 102 players I have coached,” Brown said.
The Sixers believed they were ready to contend for their first championship in 37 years and Brand spent $180 million to re-sign Tobias Harris and nearly $100 million to sign free agent Al Horford away from Boston.
Instead, the Sixers had only snippets of consistent success and Brown paid the price. The longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant is now out of a job on a contract that runs through the 2021-2022 season.
Even with two 26-game losing streaks on Brown’s resume, the front office never wavered early in his tenure that Brown was the right coach to bring Philadelphia its first championship since 1983. He steered the franchise as interim general manager in 2018 after Bryan Colangelo was fired amid a Twitter scandal.
But the Sixers’ support started to wean at the end of the last season, as team owner Josh Harris for the first time put public pressure on Brown to at least reach the East final. And at an impromptu news conference before the start of the playoffs, Harris refused to say if Brown would return and offered only a lukewarm endorsement of his performance.
Another lukewarm endorsement of Brown came Sunday from guard Josh Richardson after the Sixers’ elimination.
“He’s a good guy, he’s a good man, he means well. I just think going forward he’s got to ask more accountability,” Richardson said. “I don’t think there was much accountability this season and I think that was part of our problem.”
There were also big basketball problems.
Simmons still hasn’t developed a reliable jump shot, Embiid can’t stay consistently healthy, and Brand’s off-season moves largely backfired. That left the Sixers with a mismatched roster and Brown was unable to make the pieces work.
Brown was part of three NBA title teams with San Antonio as an assistant and won another with the Spurs when he served in the basketball operations department in 1998-99. He left after that season to become the head coach of the Sydney Kings of the Australian National Basketball League, but rejoined the Spurs in 2002 as the team’s assistant coach/director of player development and was moved to the bench as an assistant under Gregg Popovich in 2006.
Brown often was deemed the de facto spokesman for the Sixers and had to explain numerous injuries and baffling transactions or speak about Twitter scandals while ownership and the front office were nowhere to be found.
He signed a four-year deal for his NBA first head coaching job in 2013 with the understanding the Sixers were trying to rebuild. But he would later admit he had no idea the 76ers would struggle so badly four years into a tenure filled with coaching developmental league castoffs and 10-day contract players for a shot at building a winner through lottery draft picks.
“To coach gypsies or to have to coach a revolving door is not what I am looking for,” he said in 2015.
Now, it’s Brown’s turn to hit the road.