Sixers move into cloudy offseason after finale win

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Sixers move into cloudy offseason after finale win

BOX SCORE

INDIANAPOLIS -- Doug Collins spent what was likely his last night as coach of the 76ers sitting quietly on the bench. Aside from timeouts, Collins did not race up and down the sidelines, nor did he protest the officials’ calls.

There was no need with the Sixers rolling to a decisive 105-95 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay). The Sixers led by as many as 26 points during the second half and saw that whittled down to just six points in the last minute of the fourth quarter.

Through it all, Collins remained calm and seated. For a coach who is often drenched with sweat after most games, the restraint was uncanny.

“I thanked them for the hard work,” Collins said. “They stayed together and once we got things squared away and guys knew where they were going to be, [we played well].”

Though multiple sources say Collins has coached his last game for the Sixers, the coach did not reveal his plans for the future after the game. The team will hold exit interviews starting at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning and Collins is expected to address the issue of his future then.

Until then, Collins remained mum.

“I don’t know, we’ll see,” Collins said. “I’m the coach.”

The season ended as Collins’ worst as a coach in the NBA. With a 34-48 record, the Sixers were expected to challenge the Heat in the East. Instead, the big moves never worked out. Andrew Bynum never played a second, Jason Richardson got injured and the players the Sixers traded away blossomed.

Who can blame Collins for ending his coaching tenure on that note?

And though the season ended with three victories in the last four games, there was an undertone of disappointment in the Sixers’ locker room afterwards. Players seemed to understand that changes were on the way.

Lots of changes.

“Any time you get done, you prepare for it more when you’re not going to the playoffs,” said Spencer Hawes, who appeared in all 82 games this season. “It’s always tough at the end of the year. For as much as you can relax and breathe a sigh of relief, we spent the last seven or eight months with these guys and it’s a cliché, but you see these guys more than your family. Some of the guys, if not most of them, you’re never going to have that relationship again. That’s one of the parts you don’t look forward to.”

As for the coach, the players still have not been informed one way or the other if Collins will return. When asked a yes or no question if he wanted Collins to return, Evan Turner didn’t exactly give a ringing endorsement.

Turner didn’t say he did not want Collins back, but he didn’t say that he did, either.

“Last I heard, it was his decision. Whatever he wants to do that makes him happy,” Turner said. “To go through that type of year, it’s strenuous. He has a lot of options and whatever is the best decision for him. He can go back to commentating and his son is coaching Northwestern.”

So it was a bittersweet win for the Sixers. The team had some tough times, but usually played with a strong effort. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t meant to be for the Sixers this season.

“It’s tough when you’re losing, especially with the high expectations others had and we had for ourselves,” Hawes said. “We aimed high and didn’t reach it.”

Turner added: “It’s definitely disappointing. We came into the season as one of the better teams in the East. We didn’t meet our expectations.”

As the book closed on the disappointing season, Collins told his players -- one last time -- to take a look around the room because it may be the last time most of them are together.

“Before every last game I always say the same thing. Get your hands together, look around this room -- the essence of the NBA is that the room always changes,” Collins said. “Look each other in the eye and appreciate what you’ve done this season and how hard each other worked. You’ll always be teammates and bonded.”

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

Brett Brown has 'completely different feeling' in training camp this year

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Brett Brown left training camp last September with an unsettling feeling. He had just completed long days of scrimmages, drills and planning, and yet he sensed the Sixers were not ready to tackle the 82 games that lied ahead. 

“I remember driving back to Philadelphia last year knowing in my heart of heart that this group was going to be challenged,” Brown said Thursday following the morning practice session at Stockton University. “That was a frightening drive home. That drive home scared me because I felt like, I know what we have and how are we going to be able to maneuver through this?”

Brown was right. The Sixers lost their first 18 games and began the season 1-30. They stumbled the rest of the way, finishing the 2016-17 campaign with a dismal 10-72 record. 

“We really didn’t know who the point guard was,” Brown said. “We came in extremely injured, we were trying to make the Nerlens [Noel]-Jahlil [Okafor] thing work, there really weren’t a lot of veterans to look around [and see], and you knew it.”

Now in his fourth training camp as head coach, with 47 wins and 199 losses with the Sixers behind him, Brown has different emotions as the team nears the end of training camp on Friday. 

Instead of a constantly-changing lineup of players, the Sixers are building a roster that can serve as the foundation for the future. There are nine new players on the team, including first overall pick Ben Simmons and rookie Dario Saric. Joel Embiid will make his NBA debut after two years of injuries, and the Sixers added veteran leaders in free agency.

Brown has a clearer picture of what the team could look like this season and beyond. He is coaching training camp to enter a new chapter, not to simply make it through the upcoming months. 

“You can leave and you can sniff reality,” Brown said. “Now what I see is there’s depth. There are challenges positionally as we’ve talked about. But there’s talent. There’s point guards. They’re sprinkled in with some veterans. How we grow it and play it is still on the table. To me, it’s a completely different feeling that I have now that I did not have last year.”

The additions of Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez at the one spot lessen the coaching load for Brown. He also can turn to T.J. McConnell from last season. The depth is a far cry from when the Sixers were quickly changing at that position and didn’t find a consistent starter until they traded for Ish Smith in late December.

“That position, I think, is vital when you start putting a bunch of 20-year-olds around it and trying to find some type of organization,” Brown said. “You just can’t replace a point guard’s intellect. You can’t replace, I think, somebody that has great command from that position. It certainly helps me.”

Brown expects to feel “proud” when the Sixers wrap training camp on Friday. He is looking forward to getting the season underway, beginning with two practices at the new training complex in Camden before their first preseason game Oct. 4 against the Celtics. 

Brown anticipates his drive home this time will be a much different trip. 

“I feel comfortable that we’re ticking boxes and we’re achieving the goals that we set out from the start of what we wanted to get done in Stockton,” he said.

The Sixers continued to monitor load management on Thursday, as Okafor, Embiid and Gerald Henderson did not participate in the morning scrimmage. Bayless also did not go through the scrimmage because of a sore left wrist. 

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

Nerlens Noel thinks he and Ben Simmons can be a lockdown defensive duo

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers' abundance of big men lends itself to numerous combinations in the frontcourt.

On Thursday, Nerlens Noel had his first experience playing with Ben Simmons. The center gelled with the rookie forward.

"It's a great duo, I think," Noel said following the morning practice session of training camp at Stockton University.

Noel has been paired with many big men during his career with the Sixers. Last season, he faced the challenge of playing out of position at times with Jahlil Okafor. The logjam prompted him to speak out about the current makeup of the roster (see story).

After playing with Simmons, Noel saw how the two can share the court.

"I think we complement each other very well, especially on the defensive end," Noel said. "He's definitely a lockdown type defender that digs in."

Even though Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, Noel already envisions how he can help the Sixers.

"He just plays basketball the right way," Noel said. "When your big man does that, it makes it a lot easier because he is very versatile being a point-forward type. That opens up a lot of things for him to be able to open up for his teammates."