Cooney: Celtics rebuilding faster than Sixers because they started with a more solid base

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Boston Celtics' Jaylen Brown in action during an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Philadelphia.

FOR Meghan Trainor it's all about the bass.

For the rebuilding 76ers, it's all about the base.

Brett Brown's squad lined up against Brad Stevens' Boston Celtics early Sunday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center in a late-season game that once again meant virtually nothing for the Sixers, but was vitally important for the Celtics, who have a shot at taking over the top-seeding from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both were missing star players - Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons out for the Sixers, Isaiah Thomas sidelined for the Celtics. But the game had that old Boston-Philly feel to it, with the Sixers grinding out a 105-99 win. The Celtics, who entered the game a game and a half behind Cleveland for the top spot in the East, fell to 44-26, while the Sixers improved to 26-43.

It was just four years ago when the Celtics took a huge gamble on the then-36-year-old Stevens, who had a wonderful six-year run at Butler, taking the Bulldogs to consecutive national title games in 2010 and 2011.

It was also four years ago when the Sixers handed Brown the reigns after 12 years and five championship appearances as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs.

Though both were given their new jobs at the beginning of a rebuild for their organizations and hired before the same season, those are where the parallels end.

Stevens arrived in Boston on July 3, 2013, eight days after head coach Doc Rivers left for greener pastures in Los Angeles with the Clippers. Nine days later, Boston traded aging veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn, which garnered three first-round picks for the Celtics, tremendously boosting their rebuild timetable.

Brown, of course, inherited an organization that was basically mired in mediocrity since the days of Allen Iverson. There had been a really nice playoff run under Doug Collins in 2012, when the team went to a Game 7 against the Celtics in the Conference semifinals, it was such a lightning-in-a-bottle season that the organization decided to implode and start over.

Both rebuilds. Both started four years ago. One well ahead of the other. The reason? The base in Boston was in place much earlier than here.

Though his original roster was in flux, Stevens had some strong veterans in Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass and Jeff Green. After the initial season finished at 25-57, the Celtics - with the arrival of Jae Crowder in December and Thomas at the trade deadline joining second-year forward Kelly Olynyk - turned that into 40-42 and a playoff appearance a year later. Now they are fighting for the No. 1 seed, while the Sixers hope for the No. 1 draft pick - as do the Celtics, who own Brooklyn's first-rounder.

"They are different and even were different from the beginning," said Brown of the Celtics. "They are a step further than kind of what a Milwaukee used to be or even Minnesota. The inclusion of Crowder when he came into it and the retention of Avery and Isaiah and then the inclusion of (Al) Horford, an All-Star, they've had a base and they've built it really well. I respect the job that (general manager) Danny (Ainge) and Brad have done together. I think that their starting point was way further along and they've taken that and they've just made it better and better and better.

"When you look at their players, there are veterans. They are growing (rookie) Jaylen Brown, he's done a good job. There's the inclusion of Marcus Smart, who they drafted and has done a good job. But people like Avery and Isaiah Thomas and Horford, you call them veterans - not like old wisdom but they're old enough - that they've grown that with spirit and by that design and I say that with respect. Do you look over your shoulder and look at them always? Yup. There's a lot to be learned from them. With the asset that they have with the Brooklyn pick, there's a whole other world that they're going to be considering in another few months. I look at them as one of the teams in this Eastern Conference that is very, very dangerous."

The present, as long as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are together, is Cleveland. But the not-too-distant future is the Celtics and perhaps, if health holds and draft picks pan out, the Sixers.

Maybe it's not too long before the rivalry, which was one of the best in all of sports, is renewed between the two.

Though the Sixers battled to get the win, Sunday was sort of an indication where the teams are. Rookie Dario Saric led the Sixers again with 23 points, while Horford, the reliable veteran piece, eased his way to 27.

So, is Brown happy with the base that his organization currently has?

"I am and I think that I'd say that a little more freely if you could project out on health," he said. "I think, assuming everything's moving forward and the retention and the attention to some people's health and some good luck, I'm extremely comfortable with our base.

"If you said throw out Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and what we've seen in Dario Saric and the growth of some of the guys that we've been able to groom, I look at this year's team that has far more capable bodies and players that can move forward next year as a cultural piece, as a corporate knowledge piece. Usually you are looking at six guys or four guys. We have significantly more people that you are excited to grow the program with from this year's group."

Probably something Stevens was saying when he took over the Boston program.

"It's a little too arrogant for me to even go there," said Brown of the two teams being closer than what their records indicate, "because we're unknown. Nobody knows about Ben Simmons. We think we know about Joel. We're learning about Dario. They've done it. It's completely not fair for me to say that. They are further along. This is one of the best teams in the NBA. It's not fair for any of us to go there."

Stevens isn't. Asked if the Sixers are one of the teams that has his attention in the conference moving forward, the mature-beyond-his-years Stevens quipped: "as one of the teams to fear moving forward, the 40-year-old coach said: "Every team has my attention every night."

Perhaps the Sixers will garner a little more of it sometime soon.

cooneyb@phillynews.com

@BobCooney76

Blog: philly.com/Sixersblog

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