Brand knows Sixers, Philly not the tanking type


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.

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

Embiid and Okafor want to play together, but not just yet, says Brown

CAMDEN, N.J. — If all goes as planned, a time will come when the Sixers can roll out a dominating frontcourt duo with Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor sharing the court in lengthy stretches.

That moment has to wait, though, as both Embiid and Okafor are on minute restrictions. As he returns from a knee injury, Okafor currently is coming off the bench and backing up Embiid.

“This conversation with Jahlil and Joel is more intelligent and applicable at a later date,” Brett Brown said at practice Friday. “When Jahlil’s minutes start going up and Joel can, then it’s a real conversation. I do think you may see them sooner than even I thought together. But as far as making it a real constant part of a strategy or rotation, it’s beyond too early days.”

In an ideal world, Brown could pair the two bigs now and use all of their allotted minutes (Embiid 20, Okafor 14) at once. That would leave an extensive workload on second-year bench player Richaun Holmes.

“This is a hot topic,” Brown said. “I will say it one more time: If I play Jahlil and Jo together, I hope Richaun can play 35 minutes.”

It’s an unrealistic expectation for Holmes, who averaged 13.8 minutes in 51 games last season. Brown caps the majority of the Sixers at six-minute segments to keep them competing at a high energy level.

“Right now, he’s a backup,” Brown said of Holmes. “I think he’s going to be an NBA player for a very long time. I just feel like in the role, he’s a second-year player that didn’t really have much of a role last year. He’s shown everybody that he’s for real. He really can play a role. At this early stage, that is the key word.”

Embiid and Okafor have been envisioning competing together since Okafor was drafted two years ago. They became friends long before they were NBA players and have an easy chemistry on the court as a result.

“I think it’s going to be exciting,” Embiid said. “We played a little bit together today in practice. We’re figuring out how to play with each other. It’s a process and we’ve got trust it.”

Yes, the players know they have to wait, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy for them to resist an opportunity to play with one another.  

“I think once we figure it out, we can really dominate together,” Okafor said. “We were able to flirt with it again today. We accidentally keep ending up on the same team even though Coach keeps telling us to make sure we alternate. But we’re having fun. We’re trying to put some pressure on it because we want to play together.”

Is that accidentally with air quotes?

“Yeah, exactly,” Okafor said with a laugh.

'Trust the process' has a different, more personal meaning to Joel Embiid

'Trust the process' has a different, more personal meaning to Joel Embiid

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is all about trusting the process.

He manages to insert the well-known phrase into just about every interview, hashtags it on social media and soaks in the chants during games. 

While “trust the process” is commonly associated with former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s patience-required approach to building the team — which resulted in three years of dismal losing and suffering setback after setback — Embiid has his personal take on the mantra.

“I think I have my own process,” Embiid said Friday at practice.

Embiid is playing for the first time this season after waiting two years to recover from foot injuries. His long-anticipated debut was a focal point of “the process,” and his return to the court marked a new chapter in the organization.

“I went through two surgeries, lost my brother, thought about some stuff I shouldn’t have thought about, so that’s my own process,” he said. “And then the process of going through the rehab and finally getting back on the court and getting the chance to finally play in the league, that’s my process.”

Embiid is now synonymous with the word. He credits Sixers fans for the moniker, which he added to his Instagram profile. 

“I don’t think it came from me,” he said. “Fans just started and then I just went along with it.”

Wednesday marked the next step in the process, both for the Sixers and Embiid. His regular-season debut (20 points, seven rebounds, two blocks) was a long time coming and garnered buzz all over the NBA world.

“I was the third pick and then I missed two years,” Embiid said. “The excitement in the city, everybody’s happy to finally see me play. Even though it was weird because a lot of people kind of wrote me off a long time ago saying that I’d never play as a Sixer, I’d never play in the league. So it’s all fun. Everybody’s going to have an opinion.”

He’s just got to trust in his own.