In Brett Brown, the Philadelphia 76ers have found a coach who embodies their team

Golden State Warriors v Philadelphia 76ers

The NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement is an agreement between the NBA and the world of basketball players, pertaining to all that which relates to the players. It involves a very wide array of topics, including everything from how big of a per diem players are given every day for food ($129, apparently) to the rules surrounding first class travel (teams have to guarantee first-class travel on any journey longer than an hour...unless you’re a two-way contract player receiving a call-up from the G-League or being sent back down to it, in which case, ask nicely).

Perhaps most importantly and certainly most famously, it handles all the rules related to the salary cap, the formation of new playing contracts, and the options available with incumbent ones.

However, in no way has the CBA inhibited a team's ability to spend on its off-court product. There are no limits to what teams can pay to coaching staffs and front office executives, and there have never been.

San Antonio Spurs v Philadelphia 76ers

In recent years, NBA franchises have begun to increase the amount they spend on their coaching and front office staffs, perhaps more greatly understanding the exploitable market inefficiencies it opens up.

Coaching and executive salaries are far more difficult to verify than player salaries. There is an internal NBA database of player salaries; there has to be, as the exact figures involved matter for the purposes of meeting specific CBA provisions and roster management. Executives of rival teams still need to know the salaries of another team's players lest they seek to acquire them, for the salary they earn determines how they can do so. For front offices and coaches, however, the information is much harder to come by. They are things that only the relevant parties need to know. Nevertheless, hearsay and media reports allow for a picture of the NBA coaching salary market.

The increases to coaching salaries are not commensurate with those of the players, but they are increasing. Culminating in some reported eight-figure annual salaries for some coaches, including Doc Rivers and the transcendent Gregg Popovich, coaching salaries have been on the rise for a while.

Minnesota Timberwolves  v San Antonio Spurs

Not all teams desire to spend big in this way, though. In keeping with the principles espoused by The Process, and ones axiomatic to their playing roster, the Philadelphia 76ers went cheap and went young when they hired Brown back in the summer of 2013. 

While not young in the traditional sense – being aged 52 at the time of his hiring – Brown was young in the sense that he had never been a head coach at the NBA level before. Brown had spent a decade and a half with the San Antonio Spurs in various roles, including six years as an assistant coach. At the time of his departure, Brown was being offered another promotion, that of the lead assistant coach job after Mike Budenholzer departed to become the head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. He declined it to join an unclear future in Philly.

To bring in a coach who embodies the playing staff that the team was trying to put together was a deliberate strategy. Just like so many of Sam Hinkie’s minimum salary contracts, Brown signed a four year deal, for what was at the time one of the lowest head coaching salaries in the league, if not the outright lowest. It was certainly far below the annual salary of what he has since signed an extension for, one which now brings him back to the middle of the pack. From worst to average, Brown's salary is again mirroring the progression of his team. 

Unlike all the four-year player signings, however, Brown's deal was fully guaranteed. He reportedly insisted upon it, needing guarantees that he would be given the opportunity to develop the team (whoever was on it) in his vision over a period of some years. Equally committed to the long-term over short term impatience, the Sixers agreed. And nearly five years later, Brown is still here.

Due to the extremely unique circumstances of the team into which he was hired, Brown's career win-loss record is pretty terrible. With a 94-272 record all-time, Brown is 284th out of 324 head coaches all time (including interims) with a .257% winning percentage, rising to tenth-worst if only coaches with at least 82 games coached (equivalent to a full regular season) are included. Brown joined a team with every intention of not winning, and could not make them win.

Let us never confuse that, however, for poor coaching. Brown was brought in to do a specific job. He was brought in to implement the very things that the Sixers, once they had the talent to actually get somewhere, would want to define them. 

Specifically, that is defence, the foundation around which pretty much every coach wants to be based. It is a universally held if not universally true belief that players need to be encouraged to play defence more than they do offence, and that implanting principles and effort was imperative from day one. Brown was charged with the task of doing that.

The results were not there initially. In Brown's first season, Brown's 76ers had a 109.9 defensive rating, 3.2 points worse than the league average and the fifth-worst mark in the league. This improved to a 104.8 rating the following year, 0.8 better than average and good for 13th in the league, but regressed in 2015/16 to 109.2 the following year, once again fifth-worst. Having to give 2,000 minutes to each of Nik Stauskas, Hollis Thompson and Isaiah Canaan will do that to a man's rating.

As any shooting coach, life coach, parent, teacher, dog trainer or stop-motion clay animator can attest to, change needs time. And in Brown's case, he was trying to teach principles to many players who would not be around to be the beneficiaries of it down the road. The aim was incremental improvements and instilling good practice for when the time is right.

That time is now. This year, Philadelphia has a 106.2 defensive rating, 1.8 points better than the league average and the seventh-best mark in the league. Their endlessly-turgid offensive struggles are being eradicated, too, with a 106.8 offensive rating that ranks 18th best in the league. This is still not great - however, compared to the sub-100 rating of Brown's first three years, it is a marked improvement.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers

Any coach needs talent, and Brown is no different. If he wants a scheme in which the big man contains both halves of the pick-and-roll, lurking in space between the screener and the ball-handler while being able to switch into whichever becomes the scoring threat, then he needs players with the length, mobility and smarts to do that. Joel Embiid is that player. Nerlens Noel at one point was that player. Richaun Holmes can be that player. Jahlil Okafor cannot.

Similarly, offensively, the right pieces are needed. Brown's teams move the ball and always have, yet without shot-making threats at every position, or talented ball movers, this movement often did not mean much. Players such as T.J McConnell can have the best intentions in the world, but need a talent level around them to work with. Now, however, the 76ers are starting to find that. In Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia has two excellent scorers with a strong understanding of team basketball and the vision to do something about it.

And Markelle Fultz is still to come, of course.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers

The Process in its very foundation seeks to be seen as the bastion of patience and long-term strategy over the impulsivity that too often rules the roost in professional sports, especially at the ownership level. It only works, though, if the same long-term measured approach can be adopted at the coaching level. Hitherto, it has. The look now is to the future.

To truly test Brown's limits, more talented is needed. Simmons and Embiid are shot creators, and McConnell will give it a darn good go, but beyond them, offensive creation is not currently to be found. J.J Redick, Robert Covington, Amir Johnson, Trevor Booker, Justin Anderson and Richaun Holmes are finishers not creators, as is Dario Saric when he is at his best. Only Simmons can create regularly off the bounce, and only Embiid is a threat with deep post touches that the opposition want to guard against. And both Simmons and Embiid - the latter in particular - are turnover prone.

The next test for Brett Brown, then, is in how he will incorporate Markelle Fultz when he is back and healthy again. Fultz is the theoretical answer to all these offensive questions. An extra ball-handler, a tremendous shot creator, a shooter and a Kyrie-type, Fultz's return will mean three above-average creators alongside two finishers. At that point, Brown's offence will be properly examinable.

Brown passed the patience test, the defensive test, the temperament test. Now, he needs to evidence that he too can do enough to be a part of the journey to the next level.

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