With Brown, player development will be key

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With Brown, player development will be key

After Brett Brown had finished answering all the questions and meeting folks from the local media and Sixers’ front office, a tall fellow well dressed in stylish summertime clothing introduced himself to the new coach.

“Hi, coach. I’m World B. Free.”

Suddenly it was as if Brown had been transported back to the Boston Garden in 1977. That’s where one could have spotted Brown with a camera trying to snap pictures of all his heroes.

“World B. Free! You were my guy,” Brown said after meeting the Sixers’ community ambassador.

Brown said he felt quite humbled to be a part of the Sixers’ organization. While growing up in Portland, Me., Brown rooted for the Celtics, and the Sixers were always their biggest competition in the Eastern Conference.

But like any student of the game, Brown had plenty of respect for the Sixers.

“To be here is surreal. I can still see Doc (Julius Erving) and (George) McGinnis and Mo Cheeks and (Andrew) Toney,” Brown said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday, “and I’m sitting there at the Garden with my Polaroid camera trying to get any shot I can.”

Along with the guys he grew up rooting for (or against), Brown had a few potential Hall of Famers he helped groom with the Spurs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are two players Brown played a role in developing. But defender extraordinaire Bruce Bowen was Brown’s guy.

Now, Brown has to learn who his guys are with his new team.

So far, Brown has an outsider’s perspective on the Sixers based on game planning against them two times a year. He knows all about Thad Young and Evan Turner, while Spencer Hawes has a style that can present match-up issues. Those three players are the remaining veteran core of the Sixers, and they will all be 25 on opening night.

“I’ve always been a fan of Thaddeus. I see that potential in Evan. You pay attention to Spencer,” Brown said. “The pieces that are in place are workable pieces. I look forward to working with them.”

After that trio, which has a combined 15 years of NBA experience, the rest of the roster is even younger. Big man Nerlens Noel was the No. 6 pick in the June draft and won’t be able to play until December. Michael Carter-Williams, the No. 11 pick, is a raw talent with a shot that needs work.

Returning is last year’s first-round pick Arnett Moultrie, who is still just 22. Lavoy Allen, 24, will be back for his third year in the league in what could be a make-or-break season.

Then there is the enigmatic Royce White, still only 22, who was acquired from Houston after the draft, and Arsalan Kazemi, the first Iranian drafted, who will also be a project.

The Sixers have a lot of youth, not much experience and the most cash under the salary cap of any team in the NBA. In fact, the Sixers are flirting with the salary cap floor, which requires each team to use at least 75 percent of its cap space.

After spending the last decade with future Hall of Famers on those juggernaut Spurs teams, Brown says he knows what he got himself into with the Sixers.

“If I was going to leave the situation I had in San Antonio, it had better be for the right one,” Brown said. “I think this is a high-calculated chance. It's dangerous. [Rebuilding] is always a very hard thing, but I feel just thrilled to be here.”

Part of the trick of working with a young, rebuilding team is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Brown said one of his main tasks this season will be to make sure to keep “the locker room together.” Certainly that will be tough because there will be nights when the Sixers will be playing as hard as they can, and it won’t be good enough.

That’s why Brown wants to hit the ground running, literally. Fitness is going to be the cornerstone with the Sixers. They will be able to run and play defense, Brown said.

Of course, that leaves biggest issue: shooting. With Jrue Holiday traded to New Orleans, the Sixers lost their best shooter and assist man. Turner could be the go-to scorer, but he has struggled with his shot ever since he came into the NBA. Coming off his worst shooting season as a pro (41.9 percent from the field), Turner connected at 38.1 percent on shots 16-feet or longer.

Meanwhile, Young has played as an undersized power forward for the last several seasons and hasn’t developed his shot as much as he would like. And at 7-foot, Hawes isn’t conjuring thoughts of the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki.

That leaves the rookie Carter-Williams, who shot just 39 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent from three-point range for Syracuse last season. Brown was quick to point out that neither Parker nor Jason Kidd was much of a shooter when they came into the league.

“It’s a great example, comparing Tony and Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said. “There are lots of things that Michael is going to have to expect on how people are guarding him and to counter it he’s going to have to get better.

“Look at the history of Russell Westbrook. Look at the history of Derrick Rose. Those guys learned to take their speed and space and still be great. It’s not a matter of rising up and hitting threes. You have to use your environment wisely. With Tony, Russell and Rose, you can see the evolution of their shot. Look at Jason Kidd. There are a lot of examples where you can say, ‘Hey, Michael, here’s the whole chain of events.’”

It’s fun to talk about the future now, but in its infancy and development, there will be a lot of growing pains with the Sixers.

Doc, McGinnis, Cheeks and Toney won’t be walking through that door when training camp opens. Those guys are going to have to be made in the gym with Brown leading the way.

“Some of our players got better [Wednesday],” Sixers president and GM Sam Hinkie said when hiring Brown.

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons spending his summer getting bigger and better

Ben Simmons repeatedly emphasized at summer league he wanted to work on “everything” leading up to training camp.

As a point-forward who plays multiple positions, he has more than just one role to address this offseason. But what does “everything” entail? With a wide range of responsibilities on the court, Simmons is honing in on specific areas.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

Shooting
Simmons has been criticized for his reluctance to shoot. During his one season of college ball at LSU, he averaged 19.2 points off 11.7 field goal attempts per game (56 percent made). Over six summer league games (including both Utah and Las Vegas), Simmons took 22 field-goal attempts and shot 32.2 percent. He had less than 10 attempts in four of the games, and attempted 15 in the Sixers’ finale. Simmons attempted one three in summer league action.

While in Utah and Las Vegas, the Sixers encouraged Simmons to be more aggressive. At 6-foot-10, Simmons is able to get to the rim. Once there, many times he passes it off rather than finishing himself. The Sixers don’t expect Simmons to become a 30-point-per-game scorer, but he will be a key part of their offense.

“You always want him to be as good of a shooter as he can be,” Las Vegas summer league head coach Lloyd Pierce said this earlier month. “It’s not going to be his strength. His strength is going to be passing, facilitating, playmaking. That’s going to be an added bonus, whatever the percentage or the number is.”

Dribbling
Simmons averaged 5.5 assists per game during summer league (second on the team by 0.3 dimes to T.J McConnell). Conversely, he committed 3.8 turnovers.

The Sixers signed two point guards this summer, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez, and McConnell is returning from last season. Head coach Brett Brown said after the draft he does not plan to utilize Simmons as the primary one-guard right away as the 20-year-old learns the league. But early on, Simmons will have the rock in his hands plenty of times given his natural ball-handling abilities, especially when grabbing the rebound and running the fast break.

"I think it's the hardest position to play in the NBA,” Brown previously said. “I think to just give him the ball in that capacity is borderline cruel. He needs to feel NBA basketball. And maybe he evolves there."

Weight room
After college, Simmons put on 20 pounds from his training and entered the draft at 242 pounds. He stood out among the competition in summer league play with his NBA-ready stature. Simmons said he would like to get up to 246 or 247 pounds this offseason.

“Not too heavy,” he said.

With the size of a forward and the skills of a guard, the Sixers will be able to utilize Simmons to create mismatches both in the backcourt and at the hoop.

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

Adjusting to new home, Ben Simmons plays role model at Sixers Camp

WAYNE, Pa. — Three steps. 

That’s all it takes before Ben Simmons is recognized walking through the streets of Philadelphia. 

This year’s No. 1 pick has been in the spotlight long before the Sixers drafted him in June, and now he's experiencing what it's like to be known as an NBA player in his new city. 

“I’ve been enjoying walking around South Street, getting some Ishkabibble's,” Simmons said Tuesday after a special appearance at the Sixers' Camp at Valley Forge Military Academy. 

At 6-foot-10, Simmons towers above most on the court, let alone on the sidewalk. Fans have been eager to welcome him to Philadelphia for a new chapter of the organization after three years of struggle. 

“Positive things,” Simmons said of the comments he receives. “I think a lot of people are excited, so I’ve been looking forward to it.”

Simmons understands the impact a professional athlete can have on young fans, and was excited to be at camp Tuesday.

Growing up in Australia, he never had the opportunity to hear from NBA players when he attended basketball camps. Now that he's in that position, the 20-year-old was glad to provide that memory to the 240 campers. 

“That would mean a lot if I was able to experience that,” Simmons said. 

Simmons demonstrated skill drills, such as passing fundamentals, interacted in a Q&A session and signed autographs for each camper. He also took individual photos for those who traveled internationally, including from Nigeria, Italy and Greece. 

“I’m just like them, but older,” Simmons said. “I’m just trying to be a good role model to them.”

Simmons plans to spend most of the offseason in Philadelphia as he gets settled into the city. He still has to move into his new home, but at least he knows where to get a cheesesteak in the meantime. 

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

NBA Notes: Dion Waiters signs 1-year deal with Heat

Two people with knowledge of the situation tell The Associated Press that the Miami Heat have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with free agent guard Dion Waiters.

The two sides came to agreement on Monday. Waiters will make $2.9 million. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because the team has not announced the deal.

Waiters averaged 9.8 points for the Oklahoma City Thunder last year, but had several big games in the playoffs. He played particularly well against Dallas and San Antonio in the playoffs before his role was reduced in the seven-game loss to the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals.

Waiters will give the Heat another scorer off the bench (see full story).

Blazers: C.J. McCullom inked to four-year extension
PORTLAND, Ore. -- A person familiar with the deal confirms that guard CJ McCollum has agreed to a four-year, $106 million contract extension with the Portland Trail Blazers.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity on Monday because the deal hadn't been formally announced by the team. It was first reported by Yahoo Sports.

McCollum, who was named the NBA's Most Improved Player, averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists for the Blazers during the regular season. He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season.

As the 10th overall pick for the Blazers in the 2013 draft, McCollum bided his time on the bench for his first two seasons. He became a starter in the backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team's starters departed in the offseason (see full story).

Michael Jordan donates $2 million to ease racial tensions
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Michael Jordan is trying to help ease tension between African-Americans and law enforcement.

The NBA great and Charlotte Hornets owner said Monday he's giving $1 million to the Institute for Community-Police Relations and $1 million to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The aim is to help build trust following several shootings around the country.

Jordan says in a statement to The Associated Press on Monday that "as a proud American, a father who lost his own dad in a senseless act of violence, and a black man, I have been deeply troubled by the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement and angered by the cowardly and hateful targeting and killing of police officers," (see full story).