Having racked up just nineteen wins this past season, it's safe to say the Philadelphia 76ers are a work in progress, for better or for worse. As the organization continues to rebuild and figure things out, they featured and employed 28 different players to don 76er uniforms this year.
In a season full of twists and turns, Philadelphia's campaign was (negatively) highlighted by a twenty-six game losing streak.
Given such struggles, it's no surprise that the NBA D-League affiliated Delaware 87ers followed suit with their own respective difficulties over the course of the team's first season in the minor league. Though growing pains are to be expected in a team's inaugural year, the 87ers struggled to compete night in and night out, winning just twelve games overall.
But perhaps there's reason to be optimistic with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Brandon D. Williams has stepped up as the man with a plan in Delaware, and used this past season to experiment with the team's roster in hopes of furthering the development of the 76ers organization as a whole. It's in Delaware where Philadelphia's front office can keep an eye on potential NBA Draft prospects, experiment with different front office and.or related coaching strategies, etc.
RidiculousUpside.com caught up with Williams earlier in the season to reflect upon his first season as a D-League executive. The former well traveled professional (Williams' playing career was highlighted by stays in the NBA, D-League, and overseas), discussed his strategy for utilizing the D-League team, being able to experiment on the fly, and also recongized one of his team's most promising prospects.
Continue reading below for more.
Q: An expansion team in any pro sports league, let alone the NBA D-League, is sure to experience some growing pains as they attempt to find the formula for success. What have been some of the keys for your squad? What were some of your goals coming into this?
A: I think our focus is to really experiment and treat it like a laboratory. It's a lot about the players obviously. They're ultimately who will win games for us. But a lot of it is strategy. It's our coaching staff. We've done some experimenting with regard to when the right time to practice is, recovery time, [the timing/scheduling] of shoot-arounds, etc.
Ultimately, our D-League team was supposed to be an incubator of ideas. We put an experienced head coach in Rod Baker here, which I thought was ideal because I knew we were going to be really young. He's someone, who, not only has experience working with guys in their twenties, but teenagers as well. For an associate head coach, we brought in Kevin Young, because he was a guy who had been around the league. Personnel wise, we put together a group, that, while they may not have had any history together, could potentially play a certain style. They're athletic, fast, and fun. Now we have to teach them how to play.
We'd always like to be on the [winning] side of the column, but we see things from our young players and are happy with the choices we made.
Q: So would you say experimenting with the 87ers has just as much to do with the different personnel roles, coaching strategies, etc. as it does with the players?
A: Because our practice facilities and offices in Philadelphia and Delaware are so close, we've tried to treat our coaching staffs as one big staff, as opposed to two different ones. There are nine guys in Philly and another four in Delaware, but they huddle together and look at film. Sometimes they're involved in shoot-around or working out players. A lot of what we're thinking about in Philly resonates in Delaware, and vice versa. They're able to recommend. If there's something that's working well, just drop it in the "drop box." We don't want to develop strategies to be used just in Delaware or Philly, but rather an organizational strategy. It should be an umbrella strategy.
Q: What was your mindset when deciding Rod Baker was the best man for a job like this and to coach this team?
A: Rod was particularly experienced in the minor leagues, even though he hadn't had all too much experience in the D-League. [Being involved in a minor league] is the same in the sense that everybody playing at this level, wants to [move on to] somewhere else. They all have bigger dreams. And while many of those dreams include the NBA, I think many of these guys realize that not everyone gets there. But there are big jobs overseas. How do you manage those expectations everyday? How do you manage the frustrations of a player feeling like they outplayed a guy that got called up? Then there's that difficult time where a guy is wondering if it's time to go overseas, or if he should stay. It's about helping them push through it. Rod has been through that.
This job was particularly challenging, because we came together so late. We didn't have a lot of time to prepare, so I thought I needed a coach who could go from zero to sixty in a hurry. Rod and I shook hands right before our first meeting. He had never seen the guys before. I told him that I knew he had done this more times than me, so I was going to be quick. Then he would have the floor. That's how we started our season. I just think it's been a great fit. Challenging? Yes. Not a lot of wins, but that happens with all expansion teams. We've been able to acquire some real gems that have excited us to coach them more. Our young guys have continued to get better. It was really Rod's experience through a volatile career that made him a great fit for this.
Q: From a personal standpoint, what made taking charge of the 87ers so appealing to you?
A: My dream has long been to manage a team. I thought, with all of the operational experience I had on the league side, I also had a chance to look and see what different organizations' best practices were and what they were doing. But then my competitive sprits were taking over. I think everybody just wants to get into a team. I saw this and thought it was special, because I knew it was going to be a hell of a challenge. To start fresh, and have only a month and a half to do it, it was almost like a tech startup. Everyone was coming in, bringing in coffee, and buying staplers. Meanwhile, we're trying to manage a team in Philadelphia. I thought, what better experience than this? I prefer it, because of all of the things I get to work on. I was excited and was just glad that Sam Hinkie had the confidence and called me.
Q: One of your team's intriguing talents, Thanasis Antetokounmpo, was an instant fan-favorite this season. Why do you think that is, and what can you say about his development?
A: I think Thanasis just plays hard. He enjoys playing. These fans are great, but even they pick up on his energy. These guys are working hard and trying. You can see that they're passionate about what they do. It's hard not to root for them. I think what you pick up on with Thanasis, is that excitement. It sort of bleeds off of other people. He's continuing to learn. There's a steep learning curve between our game, the European game, and the level at which we're playing. But I think he's doing fine.