Last Season’s Finish Fuels Determination for New Year

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

When last we saw Brett Brown coaching the 76ers, disappointment was understandably fresh. How couldn’t it have been?

By all accounts, his talented, hard-fighting squad had exceeded expectations, considerably: an NBA-record 16-game regular season-ending winning streak, 52 victories overall, and home court advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

But still, as the Sixers got ready to disperse for the summer following a five-game loss to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Brown couldn’t avoid feeling some
real hurt.

Now that the off-season has all but come and gone, any leftover sting has since been replaced by enthusiasm and energy.

“You look at our gym, there is excitement all over the place,” Brown said Tuesday, during an hour and a half-long luncheon with reporters.

Markelle Fultz’s swagger. Ben Simmons’ form. Joel Embiid’s health, and continued progress.

Sweat equity. #HereTheyCome

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These are just a few of the things that have caught Brown’s eye around the gym in recent weeks, as more and more of his players started to trickle back into the team’s training complex in Camden.

The picture he painted was one of a hungry group, determined to improve upon where it left off.

“All over our building, if you walk in, the messaging and the signage is ‘More to Do,” said Brown. “We have more to do.”

The ‘More to Do’ motto was first rolled out by Brown in the days between the Sixers’ post-season series with the Miami Heat, and Celtics.

Clearly, the saying has had staying power, which seems appropriate.

Compared to last year, the Sixers, especially their youthful core, are now collectively more experienced. They’ve had more time to develop individual skills, and work on fostering more team chemistry.

If “more” is what Brown wants the Sixers to do, then “more” is what the club could very well be positioned to accomplish.

“I can say we’re a hell of a lot smarter and more experienced than we were this time last year, and that counts for something. I think that dealing in general with the obvious expectations that are now on us because of the success that we had, we welcome it.”

At Tuesday’s gathering with reporters, Brown wasn’t quite ready to define, quantify, or give “more” a context. Of course, he said, there are goals and dreams he has for the upcoming season, but he wants to share them with the team first (which he’ll do at a dinner this Friday), before going public.

Simply listening to Brown Tuesday, however, should have provided of clues about where is mind is at, at least in terms of the ultimate end game for the Sixers.

“Last year, in my head and in my heart, we could have played in the NBA Finals,” he said. “Now think about that.”

With a subsequent five-second pause, he then allowed his guests to absorb his comments about reaching the Finals.

“Coaches and programs aren’t often able to say that. In my head and my heart, we could have done that. And that is exciting. Is it offset with pressure? Maybe. Is it said with no responsibility? No. I say that to say that we’re growing something unique. I am here to win a championship. That’s all that drives me.”

Just because the Sixers came up short in this pursuit last season doesn’t mean that Brown will now attempt to reinvent the wheel in training camp. His conviction in the Sixers’ style of play is well-justified.

By the end of 2017-2018, they ranked fourth in the NBA in pace, 11th in offensive rating, third in defensive rating, and fourth in net rating.

“I’m excited to take our base, and add some wrinkles.”

Maybe these wrinkles, Brown said, take the form of something like new pick-and-roll packages involving Fultz, or tweaks to how he uses a Simmons or Dario Saric in the post.

But in terms of the big picture, Brown thinks the foundation - from a personnel, schematic, and cultural standpoint - is in place, with the Sixers headed down a promising path.

The previous season represented an auspicious step. Now, it becomes a matter of taking another one.

“The pain of losing in the playoffs, and the belief we had more to do, more to give, that sits with you over a summer,” said Brown. “It’s motivated, in a different way, all of us, to come back, and be better.”