- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Brett Brown pulled out a chair, propped a foot on the seat, and settled in for another pep talk.

Brown had one more pregame speech to deliver, one that was less about X’s and O’s, and more about rallying the fan base to keep supporting - in both faith in management and faithful ticket purchases - the woeful Philadelphia 76ers.

About an hour before tipoff, all eyes were on the rookie coach in charge of one of the one worst teams in the NBA.

“We’re now in its hardest moment,” Brown told about 20 select ticket holders. “Getting through this period of time as the season winds down, there’s attention on records and this and that. I’ve told the media before and I’ll tell you here, we’re good to go. I don’t mention it once to the team.”

Brown can be excused for not bringing up the Sixers’ losing streak, one that hit 22 straight games the night of his latest chat, only four losses shy of matching the worst skid in NBA history. After all, as the roster rotates, Brown is one of the few to have suffered through each defeat in the franchise-worst streak, and he needs to convince himself as much as the fans that the Sixers are building a long-term winner.

Brown was at his best as team pitchman, selling patience and trust in team President Sam Hinkie’s vision of stockpiling draft picks, and using shrewd trades and salary cap space to transform the Sixers from lottery-bound losers into a championship contender. Brown is all in on the plan and has jumped in as much behind the scenes as he has behind the bench, even making phone calls to potential season ticket holders.

On the court, the Sixers are a mess, stripped to nothing more than a D-League team with a couple of ringers, all part of an ideology that could net them two lottery picks in the 2014 NBA draft.

Off the court, the Sixers are working at a championship pace, trying to convince a city where they’ve long lagged behind the Eagles, Phillies and Flyers in popularity that brighter days and the team’s first celebratory parade since 1983 are indeed ahead.

But that route starts at rock bottom, where the losses pile up a record rate.

“I’m grateful to see you here,” Brown said after a brief Q&A; with fans. “I hope if you stick with us now, you’ll be proud you did, and excited you did, when good times come our way.”


“We don’t use the ‘T’ word in this organization.”

Sixers CEO Scott O'Neil can’t avoid the chatter that the Sixers have tanked this season, gutting the roster to field a noncompetitive team for the sole purpose of losing games and securing better odds of landing the top pick of what is expected to be a loaded draft.

Former NBA coach Stan Van Gundy is among many critical of the Sixers’ approach, calling it “embarrassing.”

“If you’re putting that roster on the floor, you’re doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose,” Van Gundy said at a recent sports conference.

O’Neil, former president of Madison Square Garden Sports, said the Sixers simply hit the reset button through “a well thought-through strategic plan.”

“We knew this would come with some pain, and it’s hard,” O'Neil said. “It’s both terrifying and exhilarating.”

The 76ers have placed their trust in Hinkie to wheel and deal, giving him free rein to shape a roster that, this year, comes loaded with players no one will confuse with Julius Erving or Allen Iverson. Philadelphia has used 21 players and five times has signed a player to a 10-day contract.

The reboot efforts are in full swing a few blocks away at team headquarters. O'Neil turned one floor into the kind of workplace where Jordan Belfort would feel at home, where 20-somethings are always on the horn making the latest pitch to on-the-fence ticket buyers, filling the building with the kind of enthusiasm the Sixers would love to pump into their dreary home court.

With losses expected, the Sixers have to find other measuring sticks for success, and O'Neil has done it on the business side with a variety of incentives to get his crew to sell, sell, sell.

There are boards and banners set up tracking each big score for individual sales associates.

Somehow, for a team that ranks 29th in attendance, O'Neil said the Sixers sold 500 new full-season tickets over the first 10 days of March.

“There’s no dark cloud,” O'Neil said. “None. The market is responding. They’re betting. I’d bet on this team, too.”

O'Neil wants the arena to be packed and full of life again, unlike this season when the only packed house came when the Sixers retired Iverson’s No. 3 earlier this month.

As much as the Sixers plan for the future, the ownership group has strengthened ties with the past, and Iverson will soon join Erving as a team ambassador.

Iverson, their last No. 1 overall pick, and actor Will Smith, who owns a small stake in the 76ers, are also under consideration to represent the team at the draft lottery.


O'Neil was relaxed a few hours before the New Jersey Devils were set to play the Flyers in a big division game. But O'Neil, and owners Joshua Harris and Dave Blitzer were nowhere to be found later that night inside the arena.

Harris and Blitzer own both franchises, and O’Neil is CEO for both teams, as well as the Newark, N.J.-based Prudential Center.

They lay low when the Devils are in town.

“It’s not good for my mental health or physical well-being,” O'Neil said. “Both of them want to go every single time. I don’t think it’s good for the Flyers or the Sixers or the Devils. I don’t want to be an idiot. It would be disrespectful. They’re our partners. We care about them, they care about us. We want to be part of the city, not be disrespectful, so we won’t be.”

Management has been quick to squash talk that the Sixers will move to New Jersey and play at the Prudential Center. They are adamant the team is staying in Philly, and will prove it again next month when they announce the site of a state-of-the-art practice facility. O'Neil said plans are underway to upgrade the locker room and workout facilities at the 18-year-old Wells Fargo Center, and the team is locked into a long-term lease.

“I understand the angst,” the 43-year-old O'Neil said. “But it has nothing to do with our heart and soul being thrown into making the Sixers great. But I did get a few nasty tweets.”


At $10,000 for a pair of full season tickets, Ian Meklinsky seriously considered not renewing or finding cheaper tickets for 2013-14.

When he has extra tickets, the New Jersey attorney usually can’t find any takers.

But his teenage son - and some added perks thrown in by the 76ers - persuaded him to renew for a 13th straight season.

“It can’t get worse,” Meklinsky said.

Meklinsky sat in the postgame press conference room for Brown’s “Coach’s Chalk Talk,” session and came away impressed with what he heard.

The Sixers have a rookie of the year candidate in point guard Michael Carter-Williams, injured rookie and No. 6 overall pick Nerlens Noel, Thaddeus Young and a slew of picks that could form the nucleus of a winning team.

But as the Sixers limp toward the finish of the season, the potential of turning 50 losses into 50 wins seems a daunting task.

Brown hopes the fans are ready to go along for the ride.

“Thanks for sticking with us,” he tells them. “We hope to get this done together.”



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