The sinking Sixers are a thing of beauty

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The sinking Sixers are a thing of beauty

There was a game before the game. About two hours before tip-off, a handful of Sixers and Bucks shot around on the Wells Fargo Center court. Some media members sat off to the side and watched. Someone wondered how many Bucks anyone could name. Someone else wondered how many Sixers could be identified. One of the arena security guards quickly joined in.

The Bucks and Sixers were wearing warm-ups. No jerseys with helpful numbers. Just random bodies with random faces before the worst team in the NBA faced the second-worst team. The winner named four out of five Bucks. The best anyone could do was three out of six Sixers.

These Sixers should be outfitted with “Hello my name is” stickers. It would be helpful. Does Brett Brown know all the names of all his players?

“Absolutely,” he said. “Yeah.”

Everyone laughed. He laughed, too.

“Absolutely,” Brown continued. “I can name them all. You’ll hear me say ‘Byron, Henry.’ You’ll hear me say ‘Eric, get that pushed.’ It’s part of the landscape. It’s just part of coaching the Philadelphia 76ers in the year 2014. I like it in a sadistic way.”

What’s not to like? If you’re part of the pro-tank faction, this is exactly what you wanted: A roster so shallow that Vegas installed the 10-win Bucks as a three-point favorite on the road on Monday. And why not? The Sixers have Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young and a bunch of other guys you either don’t know or will quickly forget. The Bucks might have the worst record in the league, but the Sixers have the worst on-paper players.

Bucks 130, Sixers 110 (see story).

It was a season-high for Milwaukee. The Sixers have lost 11 straight, and 10 in a row at the Wells Fargo Center. It’s the longest overall losing streak since a 12-game slide in 2009. And it’s the worst stretch at home since they dropped 12 straight on their court in 1997. As the Sixers try to limbo their way to the worst record in the league, you wonder how low they can go.

This is a big stretch for them. In addition to playing the Bucks, the Sixers will also face the Magic (owners of the third-worst record) twice in the next three games. But don’t count their ping-pong balls just yet. At present, the Sixers have a 19.9 percent chance to land the top pick. The Bucks have a 25 percent chance. Even though the Sixers just lost to the Bucks, and even though Sam Hinkie happily (and rightly) gutted an already empty shell at the trade deadline, it’s going to be tough for the Sixers to beat the Bucks to the bottom of the standings.

The Sixers are 15-42. The Bucks are 11-45. The Sixers are just three games up in the loss column. They’re close. But are they close enough? Let’s say the Sixers win three more games. Three victories in their last 25 games is a really small number. That would mean the Bucks -- who are truly awful, despite beating the Sixers -- would have to win seven of their final 26 outings to end with the same record. That’s 26.9 percent of the Bucks’ remaining games. That’s a lot for a team that hasn’t won back-to-back outings all season.

But, hey, it’s not impossible for the Sixers to play considerably worse than the Bucks for the remainder of the year. In fact, it seems likely. Maybe the Sixers will impress everyone with how unimpressive they can be.

Brown used several adjectives to describe the Sixers’ performance against the hapless Bucks. He called it “sloppy” and “hard” and “ugly.” He said they’re going through some “adversity,” but he also said “I guess that’s what we all signed up for.”

“You just stay true to what you know you have to do to get where you want to go,” Brown said. “You know, you can’t blink. We’ve had lots of these types of nights, haven’t we? And so, you stay the course. You just can’t blink. All the things that I’ve stood up here and said for several months in relation to how people prepare and how they practice and how they pay attention in the video room and in regards to their character and toughness as people. It goes on and on. We just can’t blink. We’ve got to make sure the model that we’re setting up is proper, and then you fill in the blanks with people.”

The filling in will come later. For now, the blanks will do just fine.

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

Up from 217 to 250, Ben Simmons also stronger mentally from work with LeBron

CAMDEN, N.J. — It appears Ben Simmons took the saying about having the weight of the world on your shoulders a tad literal.

The Sixers' No. 1 overall pick walked into the team's sparkling new training complex for media day sporting a much bigger frame than when his name was called on draft night.

"I'm a lot stronger. When I started getting ready for the draft I was about 217 [pounds] and now I'm around 250," Simmons said Monday.

When you're expected to be the centerpiece of an organization that managed just 10 wins a season ago, it helps to have that extra bulk to carry those expectations. 

But Simmons isn’t just being looked at as a key to help change the franchise’s fortunes. He’s also being viewed as perhaps a once-in-a-generation talent after drawing several comparisons to LeBron James, who Simmons shares an agent with in Klutch Sports Group.

So how did the incoming rookie deal with being likened to four-time MVP and three-time NBA champion James? He went to work like someone trying to achieve those same goals.

“Just being around him and learning from his habits and what he does has just helped me overall,” Simmons said of working out with James and other NBA stars during the summer. “He’ll be one of the first guys in the gym every day. It doesn’t matter what day it is. He’s one of those guys who gets the work in and enjoys the rest of his day. Just learning from him I think I can take a lot from what he’s done. ... He’s done a lot for me. He’s helped me experience things I need to learn.

“They get in the gym and work. It’s one of those things where they don’t play around. They get straight to it. Obviously in the weight room too. LeBron loves the VersaClimber and they also brought two more in here. I’m starting to learn from what these guys do, D-Wade (Dwyane Wade) also. They’re all doing the same thing, working out every day and getting ready.”

That type of work ethic will go a long way toward Simmons' earning the respect of his Sixers teammates. The group was already eager to get on the floor with him for training camp at Stockton University and get a firsthand look at the versatile forward, especially his prowess as a passer.

“The most exciting thing that I’ve seen was his passing ability,” Jahlil Okafor said of Simmons. “That’s going to help me out a lot. He’s selfless. Being with the summer league guys he was always about the team. I’ve always considered myself a good teammate and he’s a great one as well. I’m excited to work with him.”

“I think for anybody who likes to shoot or likes to score, whenever you can have a big man who is a really good ball handler, can make good decisions, has great vision, it’s always a great thing,” Gerald Henderson said. “If you can be aggressive on the offensive end you don’t always have to have the basketball to be able to be right there and score. You have somebody that can find you and really is thinking pass-first. I think it’ll be great, not only for us but just our offense in general.”

Considering that the Sixers finished 29th in scoring a season ago, Simmons knows they will need him to be more than just a facilitator. The team needs consistent scoring from everyone on the court. And while the LSU product’s jump shot was questioned during his lone year in college, he believes he has worked hard to silence those doubts.

“I usually try to take what they give me. Obviously I’ve been working on my shot a lot with all the coaches,” Simmons said. “I can shoot the ball. I’m not really worried about that. Coming into training camp, it’s one of the things I’ve been working on since LSU.”

Simmons made it clear several times that he is confident in his offensive game and that the Sixers’ logjam in the frontcourt will work itself out on the floor. One thing he’s not so sure about: that he’s even in this position.

Despite dreaming about being in the NBA since he was a kid in Australia and being groomed to be the No. 1 overall pick for years, Simmons said it’s still a bit of a surprise to be at this point.

“I think it’s still surreal for me,” he said. “I think it’ll finally hit me once I step on the court matched up against OKC the first game.”

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Dario Saric wanted to come to the NBA. He just didn’t feel ready when he was drafted in 2014.

Saric spent the past two years furthering his basketball career in Europe after being selected 12th by the Magic and traded to the Sixers. Now 22, he is confident in his decision to start his NBA career in Philadelphia. 

“I grew up like a person first. After that, I grew up like a player to play against the best players in the world,” Saric said Monday at Sixers media day. “I think now I feel I’m ready. I feel I can give something to this team.”

Basketball itself wasn’t the issue — Saric has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has competed against top European competition, won numerous accolades, and was a member of the Croatian Olympic team this summer. 

Saric knew he could play in the NBA, but there is so much more involved in it for him. Joining the Sixers meant leaving Europe, moving to a new place to play in a new league, all at the young age of 20. 

“After NBA draft, I wasn’t ready to come here,” the forward said. “Not like a basketball player, like a man. I wasn’t ready because to take a big step, to go out of the family, to go to another country. For me it was so hard. ... I decide[d] during last season I would come here, I would try to play with the best players in the world.”

From season to season, the anticipation of Saric’s arrival grew. The Sixers' front office and staff kept in frequent contact. Saric often was in communication with head coach Brett Brown, former general manager Sam Hinkie and current president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. Assistant director of player development Chris Babcock also made trips to Istanbul to spend time with Saric.

All the while, Sixers fans eagerly awaited his decision. When he agreed to sign in July, he was taken aback by the reception. 

“I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be something like that,” Saric said. “I know people waited for me like two years to come here. I know there’s, I can say, some kind of pressure on me.” 

With that pressure, Saric hopes to bring a winning mentality from his successes overseas. Colangelo has been impressed by the sampling he has observed of Saric during informal preseason team scrimmages. He grouped Saric with 6-foot-10 rookie Ben Simmons when discussing the Sixers’ bigs with diverse skillsets.

“What I see is a versatile player, a skilled big man that can do a number of things,” Colangelo said. “When you’re talking about 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11 players that are skilled and adept at ball handling, passing, driving, kicking out, thinking team-first — it seems both players — I think that’s a tremendous asset to have.” 

Saric understands, though, there will be a transition period as he adapts to the NBA. In the short time he has been around the Sixers, he has already noticed differences in the style of play. 

“What I can see is faster,” he said. “Everybody said the first couple of months will be like that. After that you will catch that rhythm, or that speed for your eyes and you will be faster. That’s the first thing I recognized, that I saw.”

Saric also noted the difference in format of the seasons, pointing out the tightly-packed 82-game NBA schedule. With so many adjustments, he plans to lean on his network of European players in the league, past and present. This summer, he received advice from former Sixer Toni Kukoc when he worked on the Croation National Team coaching staff. Even the smallest suggestion like stretching after practice is resonating with Saric.

“Toni, he told me for sure it will be hard for you when you come, but you must try to keep work[ing] day-by-day,” Saric said. 

For the player who once didn't feel ready for the NBA, Saric quickly has been pleased with his decision to play for the Sixers this season. 

“Everything is better than what I expect,” he said.