I LOVE Larry Brown. Love him. At 74, he is the gift that keeps giving, the ex-coach whose six seasons developed, quite unbeknownst to us, a deep love and passion for this city and the professional basketball team that represents it.
If we had known Larry loved us like this . . . well, he might still be our coach and never had to sell his Bryn Mawr mansion and move to Texas.
OK, strike that. Because if you remember back just a few years and connect just a few dots, you might remember that he reportedly did want to be our coach again back in 2013, but the guy who bought the team and the guy he hired to run it didn't seem at all interested.
They were talking about analytics. Not games. Analytics.
Not games. Analytics.
Apparently, Larry is to analytics what Allen Iverson was to practice. He doesn't see any reason for it, even as it sounds like he's not quite sure what it is . . .
Which makes at least two of us.
"These analytics, they don't mean squat to me," Brown said Tuesday in New York. "Throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. To say that these analytics guys have the answer is crazy. It doesn't apply to basketball. Everybody uses the data you get, but that's what coaching is. Maybe it will work, I don't know. But it's a shame what those fans are going through waiting to see if it will."
Yep, pretty sure Larry and I are on the same level when it comes to analytics.
Which is probably why he didn't get the job here back in 2013, despite the resume. So Larry stayed in Texas, where he is coaching the Southern Methodist University program, where he has done a very Larry Brown-like job in just a few years, making an irrelevant program relevant and using his Hall of Fame coaching credentials to lure blue-chip athletes. SMU is 22nd in the USA Today preseason coaches poll and might have been even higher if one such recruit, Emmanuel Mudiay, had not opted to sign a $1.2 million contract to play in China back in July.
A 6-5 guard, Mudiay is expected to be one of the first two or three picks next spring, which if plans go well (or badly - it's tough to pick the right modifiers when writing about the analytics plan) could put him in a Sixers uniform next season when Joel Embiid is healthy and Nerlens Noel has a year under his belt and Michael Carter-Williams has a few hundred more protein shakes under his.
At that point, presumably, we will be justifiably juiced, rushing to buy Sixers tickets in numbers not seen since they traded for Andrew Bynum.
Now . . . not so much. I watched some of the Sixers' opener the other night in Indiana and I have this suggestion: Put a microphone on the funniest player you have, fill up a few buckets of confetti, de-pants a referee at some point in each game. It still won't be basketball out there, but I might watch longer wondering what will happen next.
Now I kind of know. They lose. Which is what we want to happen. Again. Because, according to the analytics model Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie is working off, that is how you accumulate enough assets to build and sustain a championship squad.
This perturbs purists like Brown who, had he trademarked "the right way" when he first started saying it 5 decades ago, might be worth more than Bill Gates by now. The Sixers' strategy sent Brown on a well-documented rant during the American Athletic Conference media day Tuesday, saying things like, "I hate what's going on in Philly," and "They don't have a basketball person in the organization" and "It makes me sick to my stomach."
And finally, this: "What they are doing to that city to me is mind-boggling. That's the greatest basketball city in the world with its fans and you want them to sit back and watch you lose."
Certainly if polls are any indication, Larry is feeling worse about us than we are feeling about ourselves - which is no easy task. Hinkie's analytics approach may not give you much to watch in terms of an 82-game regular season, but . . . boy, has draft day been exciting since he got here!
Admit it, you're more of a college basketball fan than you ever were too, since even those late-night Pac-12 games may include that future Sixers stud who will convince us all of Hinkie's genius, or at least stop the growing speculation that he really needs to get out in the sun a little bit more.
Heck, now that I know about that kid who went to China, I plan on calling my local cable company to see if there's a sports-channel package that contains games from Asia.
Or Turkey, where 2014 first-round draft pick Dario Saric is honing his skills without endangering the Sixers' won-lost record.
Really, anywhere but here.
We're OK with it Larry. Really. It's not like it's been that exciting around here anyway since you abandoned us a decade ago. No skidding little guards making impossible shots, no playoff runs, no last-second heroics.
There hasn't even been a lively press conference in which the same word is repeated over and over again in derision.
But a few more years of this? Well, then there probably will be one of those. And we already know what that word will be.