Brett Brown era in Philadelphia likely ends soon, but issues run deeper

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Not that many years ago, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers were both franchises hoarding draft picks — including a few very high ones — looking to use them as opportunities and assets to build a winner.

Sunday, young Boston stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown led a modern roster — with multiple playmakers and plenty of shooting — that swept Philadelphia out of the playoffs. The Celtics look like a rising powerhouse, a team that took advantage of those drafts and opportunities, while the 76ers looked like a dinosaur team from another era, a puzzle where the pieces don’t fit together.

Soon that sweep will cost Brett Brown his job as 76ers head coach, something several sources told NBC Sports was likely coming through much of a disappointing season. Multiple reports now (such as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN) make it sound like Brown will be out sooner rather than later. Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports detailed why.

Brown, who was chosen as the coach of “The Process” seven years ago, never grabbed full command of the locker room during his tenure, sources said…

Players often questioned Brown’s game plan on specific matchups, and there was a lack of trust that permeated the locker room and an inability to hold players accountable, sources said…

Josh Richardson, who spent his first four seasons immersed in the Miami Heat culture, spoke on the Sixers’ culture. “I don’t think there was much accountability this season and that was part of the problem,” he said following the season-ending loss.

If a player is saying that publicly, imagine what is said privately.

It was a time to change voices and styles in the Philadelphia locker room, and expect some big-name coaches — Tyronn Lue, Jason Kidd, among others — to have their name quickly thrown into the ring.

But bigger changes than just the coach need to follow.

The old-school 76ers roster doesn’t fit together or in the modern NBA — and no coach, no new set of Xs and Os, no emphasis on accountability is going to solve that problem.

Last summer, GM Elton Brand decided to be the contrarian. In a league going smaller — with multiple ball handlers on the court and an emphasis on spacing and shooting — the 76ers went big and with defense. They re-signed Tobias Harris to a five-year, $180 million contract. They poached Al Horford out of Boston with four years, $97 million guaranteed. They got Josh Richardson to come.

Pair them with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, and the 76ers had a big, long, defensive powerhouse. Brett Brown called it “bully ball” and it was all sold as a throwback team that could win in the modern NBA.

It did work on defense, the Sixers were top-10 defensive team this season and that starting five (Simmons, Richardson, Harris, Horford, and Embiid) allowed less than a point per possession when on the court together.

However, “bully ball” never clicked on offense — there was little spacing and not enough shooting — and that held the 76ers back. Harris is not a great shot creator — certainly not on the level of Jimmy Butler (who left for Miami). Shake Milton started playing a larger and larger role on the team because of his shooting. Defenses could pack the paint, drop bigs back and go under picks, and dare Philly to beat them. Embiid always put up numbers because he is a force of nature, but as a team Philly never looked right. Injuries played a role, but the issues ran deeper.

Season-ending surgery for Simmons, leaving the team without its best playmaker and best perimeter defender, doomed Philly in the bubble. Had he played, the series against Boston would have been closer.

Still, it was a stark contrast of styles — one team looking like a fit for the modern game, one team looking lost — as Boston swept Philadelphia these past eight days.

Now the 76ers will go get a new coach. It’s too hard to get elite talent in the NBA — and Simmons and Embiid are both elite talents — to talk trading stars. Not until a new coach has had a chance to fit the pieces together. There are ways this pairing might work.

But they all involve more shooting and playmaking around those young stars. Trading Harris or Horford are all but out of the question this offseason (big contracts are very hard to move in uncertain economic times), but the front office has to add some shot creation and floor spacing.

A new voice in the locker room and a focus on accountability can only take a team so far.

But that new voice is coming.

 

Ty Lawson dropped by team, reportedly banned from Chinese league after social media posts

Ty Lawson China
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Ty Lawson’s off the court challenges were among the reasons he was playing in China and not the NBA this season. He signed for good money in China instead.

That era of his career after some social media posts, apparently of him at a strip club in China, has him dropped by his team and rumored to be banned from the league.

Lawson’s team, the Fujian Sturgeons, apparently gave this statement to Chinese news agency Xinhua:

“His inappropriate words are inconsistent with the social responsibilities and values abided by our club and have brought serious adverse social impacts to the club and the league. We will not sign him for the new season.”

Emiliano Carchia, the CEO of Sportando, reports that Lawson is out of the Chinese Basketball Association for good.

Lawson’s quickness and ability to create space and score could help some NBA teams, but incidents like this make it less likely an NBA team would roll the dice on the 32-year-old point guard. Lawson spent eight seasons in the NBA then the last two in China.

Mike Brown reportedly on list of Indiana coach interviews

Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown
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The buzz for a while has been the Indiana coaching job is Mike D’Antoni’s to lose — the Pacers want to update their offense, and no one is more qualified to do it.

But other names are circulating and people being interviewed: Dave Joerger, the Spurs’ Becky Hammon, Miami’s Dan Craig, Dallas’ Stephen Silas, Milwaukee’s Darvin Ham, Minnesota’s David Vanterpool, Philadelphia’s Ime Udoka, Brooklyn’s Jacque Vaughn, Portland’s Nate Tibbetts, and don’t forget Chauncey Billups.

Now add veteran coach Mike Brown to the list, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Brown was the head coach of both the Cavaliers and Lakers, leading the Cavaliers to the Finals in 2007 and being named Coach of the Year two years later. Brown has been the lead assistant under Steve Kerr for a few years now and has undoubtedly soaked up knowledge on setting up a modern NBA offense.

Whoever fills Nate McMillan’s shoes in Indiana has a tough job. Expectations may be high from ownership, but McMillan’s Pacers’ teams played hard and defended, making them difficult to play against. Their offense also was old school, which is why McMillan was fired after the Heat swept the Pacers in the first round, but it wasn’t terrible. How big a leap this team makes may rely less on the style of play and more on if Victor Oladipo has returned to his All-NBA form.

Don’t write of Boston off yet despite 0-2 deficit to Miami

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — If there was a sliver of consolation for the Boston Celtics on Friday, it probably could have been found within the understanding that a 2-0 lead for the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals doesn’t guarantee anything.

The Celtics learned that two years ago against Cleveland.

And Milwaukee learned the same last season against Toronto.

Dropping the first two games of the East finals to the Heat, obviously, isn’t the ideal scenario for the Celtics. But they’ve had chances to win both games – and might be getting Gordon Hayward back Saturday night for Game 3, when they’ll have the opportunity to get right back into this series.

“I think this series is far from over,” Celtics forward Jaylen Brown said.

Those aren’t fighting words. The Heat agree with him.

“We haven’t done anything. We haven’t,” All-NBA pick and Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “We can’t get excited that we’re up 2-0 because as good as it is to be 2-0, it could easily be 4-2 Boston. So, we’re going to come into the same way knowing that we’ve got to be better and stay humble about it.”

The Celtics were up by 14 in the fourth quarter of Game 1, then were up by 17 in the first half of Game 2 and lost both games. Seeing a 17-point first-half lead get erased in the NBA is no big deal anymore; the wasted lead that truly bothered Boston was the five-point edge they had with 4:25 remaining. They got outscored 17-7 the rest of the way, and tempers flared in the Boston locker room after the game.

“We feel like we could have won,” Brown said. “Should have won, and we didn’t. So just a lot of emotions flying around. That’s it.”

The Heat got some great breaks in Game 2, plays like Kelly Olynyk banking in a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to help finish off a 37-17 Miami run – and Butler getting a steal and then whipping the ball behind his back as he saved it from going out of bounds in the fourth, a play where not only did the Heat maintain possession of his heave but where he wound up getting a layup.

But the comeback had important tactical elements as well, such as Miami going to zone defense and stifling the Celtics with that scheme. If Boston gets Hayward – who hasn’t played in a month because of a bad ankle – back on Saturday, his shooting and passing ability will help when Miami tries the zone. Hayward was listed as questionable for Game 3 on the injury report that Boston submitted Friday to the league.

“This isn’t about zones or defenses and offenses and stuff like that,” Boston coach Brad Stevens said. “This is, we just got to be better.”

Boston led Cleveland 2-0 in the 2018 East finals before losing in seven games; Milwaukee led Toronto 2-0 in the 2019 East finals before losing in six games. Momentum can change just that quickly in a series, and the Heat know that to be the case.

“You get to this level, in the conference finals, it’s not going to be easy for either team – and it wasn’t,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who got his 81st postseason win Thursday to tie K.C. Jones for eighth on the all-time list. “Both teams are laying it all on the line. That’s the way it should be.”

Some of what else to know going into Saturday:

THE DRAGON

Goran Dragic, Miami’s 34-year-old point guard, has led the Heat in scoring in each of the first two games, 29 points in Game 1 and 25 in Game 2. “He’s a winner, man. That’s my guy,” Butler said. The only other player this season, age 34 or older, to have multiple 25-point games against Boston was Toronto’s Kyle Lowry – in the East semifinals.

FROM 3

Brown and Marcus Smart are a combined 13 for 27 from 3-point range in the two games for Boston; Celtics teammates Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum are a combined 9 for 34. Tatum knows he has to be more aggressive, after not taking any shots in the final 4:56 of Game 2. “Not looking at we got to win four out of five … just win the next one,” Tatum said.

CELTICS DEFENSE

Even after giving up 223 points in the first two games of the East finals, Boston still leads these NBA playoffs in points allowed per game (101.8; Miami is second at 104.4), opponent field-goal percentage (.413) and opponent 3-point percentage (.317). But after a 6-0 start to the postseason, the Celtics are only 2-5 since. That matches Boston’s worst seven-game stretch from any point this season.

Watch Rajon Rondo hit ridiculous behind-the-backboard floater

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Everything was going right for the Lakers Friday night. They made it look too easy.

On their way to a 1-0 series lead, some may have tuned out before the shot of the game — a Rajon Rondo floater from the baseline, over the backboard and in.

Incredible. You can end a HORSE game with that shot.

Rondo had seven points on 3-of-7 shooting but also dished out nine assists. Maybe not vintage playoff Rondo, but he fit in with a Lakers team that dominated the Nuggets in Game 1.

Game 2 is Sunday evening.