Brett Brown is walking the Gabe Kapler plank

Joe Giglio
January 15, 2020 - 10:13 am

We’ve seen this story before.

Big moves lead to high expectations. Bizarre roster construction leaves much to chance, leading to mixed results. “Accountability” is the buzzword thrown around because it’s easier than reconciling with flawed players and millionaire athletes that don’t care as much as we do. Star players expected to carry the day without having the true ability to do it. Anger falls back on the easiest guy to blame.

The lessons of the 2019 Phillies are easy to apply to the 2019-20 Sixers, and it’s not hard to see where this is heading: Brett Brown will eventually suffer the same fate as Gabe Kapler, scapegoated and blamed for things largely out of his control.

As the Sixers sputter into the NBA’s second half, we can hope and dream on improved play and a charge up the Eastern Conference standings. Maybe it happens, maybe it doesn’t. Here’s what’s evident regardless of where this team lands in the jumbled two through six range in the conference pecking order: This team isn’t as good as we hoped or thought it could be. 

When you know, you know. 

By late spring it was evident that the Phillies didn’t have enough pitching, didn’t have the depth to overcome injuries, didn’t have anything close to a Cy Young performer or MVP candidate in the lineup to will them to a division crown, and didn’t have the assets to add the help necessary to right the ship.

We’ve now reached a similar point in the Sixers season. 

This team doesn’t have enough shooting or players capable of getting to the basket. Depth is suspect, and what was once a treasure trove of assets to deal is dwindled down to the sad depths of the NBA’s trade machine. “Accountability” is being thrown out once again, this time by both fans and players within the team. 

Most stark: Despite the promise of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, neither are close to MVP-worthy players in the NBA. 

Simmons has grown on defense, but is woefully inept on the offensive end of the floor. His presence acts as a detriment in closing moments of games, and the problem isn’t going away. He’s too scared to shoot, and doesn’t care what anyone (including Brown) thinks of this issue. We’re watching a good young player, but this is far from a generational star.

Embiid has already missed 25 percent of the games this season, and moped up and down the court in November and December. When a max money NBA star needs high-profile criticism to show up, there’s a deeper issue than x’s and o’s and the man in a suit on the bench. Embiid showed more fight in a scuffle with Karl Anthony-Towns and more tenacity in childish Instagram battle than we’ve seen on the court vs. his toughest foes. 

Related: Brett Brown is walking the Gabe Kapler plank

Brown isn’t holding back the Sixers. Kapler wasn’t holding back the Phillies, evidenced by the team’s recent 85.5 over/under win line set in Vegas. Despite adding Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius, the Phillies are currently projected to finish in fourth place in the NL East next year. The reason: The core of last year’s team was a .500 group, exactly what it accomplished on the field.

None of that matters, of course. This is how pro sports work, and it’s Philadelphia’s turn through the cycle. 

Brown will take the fall for the sins of the front office, stars that aren’t quite as special as we want them to be and failing to “motivate” and “push forward” grownups that should be expected to give this city effort and energy regardless of the person writing out lineups or making substitutions. 

Brown is a smart coach. The Sixers are in a better spot than when he arrived. His idea of a modern offense and where shot distribution should come from has made sense from Day 1. It’s the same tale as how Kapler wanted to manage, eschewing small ball for forward-thinking run scoring probabilities and matchup-based bullpen usage. 

Both Brown and Kapler were hired to lead teams to where their respective sports were heading. One is gone, and the other is on that path because their best players weren’t ready to go on that journey, and years of front office errors made high expectations more untenable and ridiculous as each day passed.