Brand knows Sixers, Philly not the tanking type

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Brand knows Sixers, Philly not the tanking type

Not even two years ago, the Sixers appeared to be three minutes from escaping the Boston Garden with a victory over the Celtics in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and moving on to face the Miami Heat for a chance to go to the NBA Finals.

Instead, Rajon Rondo took over the last few minutes after Paul Pierce had fouled out and the Sixers were sent packing.

Make that literally and figuratively.

A couple of months after that loss in Boston, the Sixers reconfigured the roster. Andre Iguodala, Nik Vucevic and Mo Harkless were traded. Lou Williams was allowed to move on via free agency and Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson were acquired for a run at the Heat.

The move that enabled much of those transactions to occur came in July of that year when the Sixers exercised the amnesty clause on the veteran and team’s heart and soul, Elton Brand.

Like Bynum, Brand was acquired with the hope of returning the Sixers to their former glory. Unlike Bynum, Brand left it all out on the floor for the Sixers, playing with broken hands, pulled muscles and separated shoulders.

“I understood why they broke that team up. I get it,” Brand said from the Atlanta Hawks’ locker room prior to Friday night’s game against the Sixers. “At the same time, we had a great run and we had some talent.”

Still, Brand admits to being a bit surprised at how quickly the Sixers fell into a complete overhaul. The Sixers haven’t been back to the playoffs since that game in Boston and it doesn’t appear as if a second-half run to sneak in this year is going to occur.

The Sixers were so close, but now so far away.

“It’s kind of surprising. I root for the guys and I still have friends on this team. It’s surprising that it got so bad so fast,” Brand said. “On another note, they swung for the fences. Sometimes when you swing for the fences you whiff.”

The Sixers whiffed with Bynum. But rather than take another swing for the fences, the Sixers are rebuilding from scratch.

Some call it tanking, but Brand -- like the Sixers’ players -- doesn't look at it that way.

“I say to those guys, ‘I know you’re not trying to tank,’” Brand said. “Because they aren’t tank kind of guys and this isn’t a tank kind of city. They’re just losing tough, close games. I played with those guys and I know them. As players you try to win every single game.”

With the Hawks, his second team since leaving the Sixers two seasons ago, Brand is settling into a new role. He’s still the veteran leader on the team, only these days his leadership comes with a lot less playing time.

“It’s an adjustment, but you still have to be prepared,” Brand said. “I was thinking a couple of months ago about what a great luxury we had. We have Paul Millsap, who is an All-Star and Al Horford and he’s an All-Star and then Al Horford goes down. So I’m thinking I can be a veteran leader and play where I need to, and then Al goes down and I have to change my outlook.”

Brand says he’s ready for anything asked of him from Hawks rookie coach, Mike Budenholzer.

“My best ability right now is availability,” Brand said.

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

Sixers intend to use Ben Simmons, Dario Saric in same lineup

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Training camp is an opportunity for Brett Brown to assess all the pieces he has available to construct the best roster possible. There are no clear-cut formulas to create the most successful lineups, not when the team has so many players that can be utilized at multiple positions. 

“There are a lot of moving parts,” Brown said Wednesday after Day 2 of training camp. “You’re going to see a bunch of different looks, blue and white. That’s part of my job. That’s part of what I’ve got to get done when we play on opening night.” 

Among these combinations is pairing Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. Given their versatility, the rookies can play multiple positions to share the court. Brown has eyed their size and skills at the two- and three-spots.

“The pluses are you have 6-10, do-alls that really can jump into a very versatile defensive world with perhaps a lot of switching,” Brown said. “I think they’re elite defensive rebounders that can rebound and lead a break and take off. ...

“The disadvantages are, you’re playing two guys out of position that’ve never played a second of NBA basketball and have never played together. It comes down to familiarity, it comes down to some type of comfort level that they’re going to have to navigate and figure out each other a little bit more.”

Saric and Simmons, like the rest of the Sixers, are learning one another’s games in training camp. Saric described Simmons’ skill set as “amazing” considering his stature and speed, noting, “I never played with somebody who’s that [many] kilograms.” 

“I think we will find a way to play together,” Saric said. “I think we can do it. Coach said most of the time we will play together. Maybe I can push the ball, he can push the ball too. ... He’s an unbelievably good passer and I think we’ll find a way how to play and I’m very happy because of that.”

Simmons entered the league touted as a point-forward. Exceeding the combo position, Simmons has played pure point at times, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He has been tapping into the Sixers' guards and veteran leader Elton Brand to help enhance his communication running the floor.

“[The] challenge is probably guarding the point guard position. They’re a lot quicker,” Simmons said. “But I also have a lot more length and strength. I think just being able to get to the rim. Also, if I have a smaller guy I can post it up.”

Saric also has ball handling skills in his arsenal. He grew up playing point guard from ages 8 to 14 before hitting a growth spurt. Saric looked up to Magic Johnson at the position. 

“To make other players happy and to make other players better, I think that’s the role of point guard,” Saric said. 

Brown will use the next four weeks as a trial period to maneuver different combinations and looks, including a towering duo of rookies.  

“Now is the time to do that," Brown said, "with the end game being whenever that type of thing happens, you have something quite special if they’re paired — when they’re paired, because I’m going to play them together — when they start really feeling each other’s game out in the environment that I've put them in a lot better."