Sam Hinkie is still the one whose name is placed on banners and hoisted aloft like pirate flags above the good ship Process as it sails through heaving seas toward the coming shore.
He deserves that much. Hinkie built this thing in his mad professor laboratory, with that sideways smirk and the slicked-down patter of a car salesman trying to stay one step ahead of the odometer reading. He warned that it could all blow up, and it has tried several times, but when you picture one face on the commemorative stamp — “USA Process Forever” — it would be Sam’s.
Bryan Colangelo might not be down with that assessment, but he’s smart enough not to disavow Hinkie for two reasons: A lot of fans wouldn’t like it and, don’t forget, Hinkie would still be a convenient repository for blame if the experiment does go all bubble-gum-on-face eventually.
Where each man will stand in the ranks when the accounting finishes is unknown. Success has a hundred fathers and failure is an orphan, and all that, and it’s too early to tell whether anyone will claim the baby in five years. Give me an advance peek at the won-lost records and the number of surgical procedures still to come and we could all make a guess.
In the meantime, there is another face of the franchise, and his has been the most consistent of all. Through all the losing, through all the roster turmoil, through the injuries and minutes restrictions, through the sometimes lousy communication between the franchise and the fans, Brett Brown has stood there and stood up straight. Hiding his emotions is not one of Brown’s strengths and he was on public display every night for four years, wrung-out and spent after each of the 75 wins, still resolute and defiant after each of 253 losses.
It’s been amazing, really, that he hasn’t cracked somewhere along the way. When a coach is rubbing his hands together on draft night because the team has two lottery picks and then learns that neither one will play for at least a year, that’s a test right there. But Brown stuck to the company line of pain before gain, and eventually Joel Embiid and Dario Saric showed up in uniform.
It was easy to take notice of how Brown handled everything here in Philadelphia. His frustration didn’t become exasperation. His passion didn’t morph into impatience. His empathy for his players didn’t waver even when they weren’t very good players. He always understood their suffering. (“How can you nawt?”)
Apparently, other people have been watching, too. When J.J. Redick signed as a free agent with the team, one of the main reasons — leaving aside that $23 million, of course — was his admiration for the head coach.
“I told Brett Brown this when we met on July 1. The Sixers haven’t been very good. There’s something about his disposition, the way he has coached this basketball team, the way he has embraced the process,” Redick said. “The spirit of the Sixers has never been broken.”
Haven’t been very good? Well, that’s putting it mildly, but they have been increasingly interesting and Redick took a one-year deal at least partially because he’s betting the pass line, figuring the dice are finally heating up for the Sixers. If he’s right, he’ll have an opportunity to stay. If not, the market for great shooters is never dry.
That’s just good business sense on his part, but some players would have never taken the chance. At 33, they would have taken the multiyear deals on the table even if the opportunities weren’t as intriguing (looking at you, Brooklyn Nets).
“To be honest, Coach Brown was probably the biggest factor in this decision,” Redick said. “He is someone I have watched and I’ve wanted to play for. For me personally, that was the biggest thing. Just the fit of playing in his system and, of course, the young talent this team has and where I fit and sort of complement their talents. I think it’s a great match.”
So far, the “system” is still being developed, particularly as it will work in the offensive half-court. Until Ben Simmons operates successfully as the primary ball handler, none of the other pieces can be reliably fit around him. We know that Redick is going to be a spot-up three-point shooter, but don’t know exactly how he’s going to get the ball. Brown’s job will be to make damn sure that he does get it, and Redick’s faith in the coach is more rooted in the man than the X’s and O’s anyone has seen yet.
Speaking of faith, Redick has four Bible verses tattooed on his body. He doesn’t wear his religion on his proverbial sleeves, but he does wear it. One of the verses, from the Psalms, speaks of being lifted from “a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings.”
In deference to avoiding sacrilege, we’re not going to compare gaining eternal salvation to leaving the Los Angeles Clippers, but here’s a guy who clearly embraces the need for outside help. He’s looking for it, in a basketball realm, from a coach who dragged himself four seasons through the miry clay and might be reaching firmer ground only now. Maybe they will get there together.
Brett Brown isn’t the face on the flag or the postage stamp. That’s someone else. But he’s the face on the sidelines that players see, and he represents the place they want to be when all that resolute goodness finally gets its heavenly reward. That’s not nothing. In fact, for J.J. Redick, it was nearly everything.