Sixers CEO O'Neil urges patience during rebuild


Sixers CEO O'Neil urges patience during rebuild

The Sixers are sick of mediocrity, and new CEO Scott O'Neil wants fans to know it.

While next season's prospects look uncertain at the moment, ownership has made moves with an eye toward the long haul.

Appearing on "Philly Sports Talk" on Thursday, O'Neil discussed the franchise's goals and future plans.

"Sam (Hinkie) has set us up with cap flexibility to make some moves that will set us up for long-term, sustainable greatness," O'Neil said. "We don't want to flex between 38 and 42 [wins]. We can do that. We've done it. We've done it for a decade. We're not happy with that, the fans aren't happy with that and we're going to have to make some changes to make sure we're going in the right direction."

Historically, the NBA has been dominated by large markets. And while Philadelphia is the nation's fourth-largest media market, the Sixers aren't a team that has been able to lure free agents.

With that in mind, it's crucial that the Sixers build through the draft, much the way the Oklahoma City Thunder built their budding young franchise.

"We love getting two lottery picks this year," O'Neil said. "We love the fact that we have two No. 1's (first-round picks), in the deepest draft -- the pundits are saying the deepest draft -- since '04. You know that draft, right? LeBron, Wade, Bosh, 'Melo."

For clarity's sake, the draft that O'Neil's referencing is the 2003 NBA draft, one that has produced eight All-Stars -- four selected in the top five -- to date.

The 2014 draft has the potential to be the best in more than a decade, with prospects like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Jabari Parker, Aaron Gordon, Dante Exum and Marcus Smart all able to declare next spring.

Despite a future filled with promise, the organization is working on rehabilitating its image after mortgaging present success and future building blocks on Andrew Bynum.

Responding to a question regarding fans' bitterness and complaints about the Bynum situation, O'Neil focused on what's to come, not what transpired a year ago.

"We certainly hear it. Where our focus is when we hear it is pretty clearly to talk about what the plan is, and we like this plan," he said. 

However, the most pressing issue facing the Sixers is their current need for a head coach. According to a report last week, the team has narrowed its list down to Michael Curry or San Antonio Spurs' assistant Brett Brown. Still, the organization has been tight-lipped regarding the search.

Speaking on the lengthy process, O'Neil preached patience.

"I understand some of the questions, and I guess I would pose it to the fans to really ask themselves would they rather have this soon or right?" he asked. "We're always going to choose right."

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”