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.

Joel Embiid: All-Star voting 'shows fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad'

Joel Embiid: All-Star voting 'shows fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid didn’t earn enough overall votes to be named an All-Star starter, but he has no disappointment about the outpour of fan appreciation he received during the campaign.

“It shows that the fans support me, that’s why I’m not even mad,” Embiid said after shootaround on Friday. “The fans are going stick up for who they love, and I love that.”

Embiid finished third among frontcourt players in fan votes behind only LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo, which counted for 50 percent of the votes this season. He made a late push after trailing Kevin Love for third place in the second return of votes last week.

“They’re behind me and they want me to succeed,” Embiid said. “That’s what I took from it.”

Embiid ranked fifth in media votes (25 percent), but there was a drop-off in the player votes (25 percent). Embiid was eighth in player voting, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kristaps Porzingis, Carmelo Anthony and Love.

Embiid is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. He is under a 28-minute restriction this season and sits out one matchup of each back-to-back series. Veteran Gerald Henderson believes Embiid’s lack of games was a factor the player votes.

“I feel like since all the players vote, it’s probably important for you to play consistent and let all the players see night to night how good you are,” Henderson said. “I think that’s the difference. You’ll see Joel’s numbers are better than a lot of guys, but because some guys have been doing it year after year consistently and guys have seen how good they are, it helps them. I think if Joel continues to play like he’s been playing, he’ll earn everybody’s respect.” 

Embiid saw the competitiveness of the frontcourt race as a sign the league should revert back to the previous voting format which included centers. He has been advocating for that the entire season as he’s faced high-caliber players on the court.

“There’s a lot of talented big men in the league, especially at the center position,” Embiid said. “That’s something the NBA should think about, putting the center back on the All-Star ballot.”

Part of Embiid’s All-Star push centered around his opportunity to land a date with an unnamed celebrity if named a starter. So what happens now if he gets in as a reserve next week from the coach’s votes?

“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure that out.”

In spite of battling illness, Embiid plans to play Friday in front of the home crowd that was behind him during the voting process.

"I feel pretty sick still but I’ll be fine," he said. "I've been coughing a lot, sneezing, headaches, sinuses, can’t really breathe. But I'm fine."

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright amazed by Joel Embiid's improvements since Kansas

Jay Wright remembers facing Joel Embiid's Kansas team, and he's shocked by the improvements Embiid made while sitting out the last two years.

"Could you imagine not playing for two years and getting better?" Wright said Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad. "We played against him in college and he was not close — he was good but not close to the player that he was at the start of this year. 

"What [the Sixers'] staff did while he was out is incredible. I don't know what other pro athlete has done that or could do that — not play and improve drastically.

"He's a unique force. We haven't seen a guy that's got this will defensively and ability defensively and then the skill level and mobility offensively. I've heard some people compare him to (Hakeem) Olajuwon. He's far more mobile than Olajuwon. Olajuwon, offensively, had his set of skills, which [Embiid] will develop. But the mobility he's got far exceeds Olajuwon. He's exciting. ... It's nice to feel this vibe with the Sixers right now."

Wright was also asked if he, as a coach, would want a player on a minutes restriction participating in the All-Star Game.

"Yeah, I would," he said. "I think that it's such an accomplishment for Joel Embiid. It would build his confidence so much to be on the floor with those guys and realize he's earned this. And to have that a part of his psyche going into the next season — 'OK, I've already been separated during the regular season with those guys, I belong with those guys.' So next year I'm thinking, 'I wanna beat these guys, I wanna be better than these guys.' 

"I think it'll be great for him. I think it's awesome ... what Brett Brown and his staff have done with this guy."

As lucky as good?
With a national championship and another No. 1 ranking this season, it would be understandable if Wright was feeling himself right about now. 'Nova is 17-1 and back atop the AP poll after a brief stint at No. 3.

National Player of the Year candidate Josh Hart is leading the way for the Wildcats with 18.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game. A lot of Villanova's success this season is owed to Hart's decision to return for his senior year, so Wright has no issue admitting there's been some luck involved in the Wildcats' recent success.

"It's a tremendous advantage and it's really been probably the most important factor in our success the last three, four years," Wright said of 'Nova's senior leadership Friday on TCN's Breakfast on Broad.

"A lot of it is, on Villanova's side, luck. Josh Hart could have left last year. He just looked at it and kind of said, 'I could be maybe a late first-round, early [second-round pick]. I'd rather come back and get my degree.' 

"Having people that make that choice, you're lucky. If we lose him last year, we're a lot younger team this year. Daniel Ochefu the year before was faced with that decision. He stayed. 

"So when you get those guys that decide they're gonna stay, you catch a break because they're invaluable, a senior of that level. Daniel's playing in the NBA now. So we had a guy for a year that was an NBA player. And we have that with Josh this year. Kris (Jenkins) is developing into one, Darryl (Reynolds) has a chance."

Villanova, which destroyed Seton Hall 76-46 on Monday, hosts Providence Saturday at noon.