PHILADELPHIA — Brett Brown’s thick, New England accent wouldn’t have fit well in Philadelphia when the 76ers and Dr. J were one of the NBA’s elite teams, consistently battling Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics for Eastern Conference titles in the early 1980s.
Those days are long over. The Sixers haven’t won it all since Julius Erving and Moses Malone led them to a championship 30 years. So, they’re turning to Brown to build them into a contender again.
“To be here is surreal. I can still see Doc and George McGinnis and trying to take their photos (as a kid),” Brown said after he was hired to replace Doug Collins.
The deal was completed earlier in the week, and Brown was officially introduced as the 24th head coach in franchise history on Wednesday. Brown is the eighth coach to lead the Sixers since Larry Brown left in 2003.
Collins resigned in April after the Sixers went 34-48, a year after advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals. He led the Sixers to the playoffs his first two seasons and left with one year remaining on his original four-year deal.
“We went through an exhaustive search to find the right head coach for our organization, one who had a passion for developing talent, a strong work ethic to help create the kind of culture we hope for, and a desire to continually improve,” general manager Sam Hinkie said. “Brett has all of that. He also has a wealth of experience as a head coach and a championship pedigree, to boot. We are delighted to welcome him as our coach, and I am invigorated for the two of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work.”
The 52-year-old 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 also coached the Australian men’s national team from 2009-12, and played a key role in helping Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker develop into All-Stars with the Spurs.
“If I was going to leave a situation like San Antonio, it better be for the right one,” Brown said. “It’s a privilege to be here.”
Brown inherits a team in total rebuilding mode. Hinkie, who was hired away from Houston, traded All-Star guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans on draft night for the rights to Kentucky center Nerlens Noel. Hinkie also drafted Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams with the 11th overall pick in the first round.
Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes are Philadelphia’s main holdovers, giving Brown some talent to develop.
“I’ve always been a fan of Thaddeus. I see that potential in Evan. You pay attention to Spencer,” Brown said. “The pieces that are in place are workable pieces. I look forward to working with them.”
Asked if he sees any star players on the roster, Brown said: “I don’t know enough about the players to give an accurate answer.”
A year ago, the Sixers were coming off a first-round upset of top-seeded Chicago and were counting on going further in the playoffs after the acquisition of former All-Star center Andrew Bynum. But things unraveled quickly, and Bynum never played a game in a Sixers uniform because of knee problems.
Brown is used to a winning program at San Antonio, so he’s not familiar with starting from the bottom. But the Sixers realize it’s not an overnight process and gave him a four-year contract to turn things around.
“You get excited to be a part of the rebuild,” Brown said. “We all know the pain of the rebuild is real. There needs to be patience. I have not been a part of a rebuild since I was in the NBA. The rebuild has to be keeping the locker room together.”
What type of offense will the Sixers have under Brown? That depends on the players and their ability, though Brown has his preference.
“We want to go. We want to get out in the open court, and we want to run,” he said. “It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to run for 82 games. You have to have a tremendous fitness base.”
Brown expects his coaching staff in place by Sept. 1. It doesn’t appear he has to be concerned with owner Josh Harris moving the team.
There had been speculation that Harris may consider taking the team out of Philadelphia after his purchase of the NHL’s New Jersey Devils is complete. But Hinkie dismissed that idea.
“Josh Harris is more committed than ever to owning the Sixers, the fans of Philadelphia and to keeping the Sixers here forever,” Hinkie said.