Young embraces veteran role for rebuilding Sixers


Young embraces veteran role for rebuilding Sixers

Thaddeus Young was back in Philadelphia this week, lending a hand to the community as he has done for the past six years.

Young hosted a children's basketball camp at Girard College. He was present every morning before heading over to the Sixers’ practice facility to work out.

Like any person associated with the Sixers, Young has repeatedly been asked the same set of questions by friends and strangers alike throughout the summer:

“'Who’s the coach? Have you guys found a coach yet?'” Young repeated, smiling. 

He always responds with the same answer.

“No, but we have been interviewing people and going through the necessary process to find the right coach,” Young said.

That's as straightforward as it gets. However, the 25-year-old forward would not be completely in the wrong if he were to show some frustration with the Sixers' situation at head coach. After all, Young, who enters his seventh season in the league as the longest-tenured Sixer on the roster, has seen his share of new faces holding a clipboard during games.

“This will be my fifth coach. Maurice Cheeks, Tony DiLeo, Eddie Jordan, Doug Collins and then this person,” Young said. “That is a hard-fought six years. I am going into my seventh [season]. Hopefully, this next coach is here for a very long time like a Coach Popovich. Hopefully, we can have some longevity and I can continue to be a part of the Sixers.”

Young ran into Michael Curry during one of his trips to PCOM. Similar to how people have had questions for Young, he had one of his own for the man who served as the Sixers' associate head coach under Doug Collins.

“I walked in and said, 'Are they going to give you the job or what?” Young recounted. “He said he didn’t know but that he was going to continue to do his job, 'do what I need to do to help you guys get better.’

Curry has continued to do just that, even coaching the Sixers' summer league team in Orlando.

Young believes that work ethic and a familiarity with the team makes Curry a nice replacement for Collins.

"I think he would be the perfect man for the job. He already knows the players and he knows what we need and what we need structure-wise to win games," Young said. "And he is great defensively. He is a great candidate for the job and I for sure would love to see him as a coach. But that is Sam’s (Hinkie) job. To go out there and basically find the best coach, the best person for the job.”

Hinkie has been the Sixers' president and general manager since mid-May. He made his first splash on draft night when he traded All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday to New Orleans for Nerlens Noel and a protected first-round draft pick in 2014.

“My first tweet was ‘Wow,’” Young said. “I talked to Jrue, because at the time he was preparing for his wedding, but he said he was actually house shopping at the time he found out he was moved. I said, ‘Are you serious?’ And he said, ‘Yep.’ It was one of those situations where it snuck up on all of us. It is the nature of the business and we just have to keep ourselves prepared for any given day.”

Young does not worry about his own stability with the team that drafted him in 2007 despite having the highest salary on the current roster. He is owed nearly $27.5 million for the next three seasons and is playing for an organization that is looking to be in a great salary cap position in the future to attract high-profile free agents.

“Anybody can be traded in the NBA,” Young said. “Any given day, someone can get traded and have to move to the next city. This is the NBA. It is the life we live in and the job we chose.

"I don’t have any worries about getting traded. If I get traded, it was a business decision, a move that had to be made. If I am not, then you know what you are going to get out of me. I am going to be here each and every day, 24/7, ready to go hard for my team.”

That team Young is prepared to go to battle for is unquestionably in rebuilding mode. The Sixers will likely start a rookie point guard in Michael Carter-Williams and Noel is still months away from being ready for game action after undergoing surgery in February to repair a torn ACL.

Young understands the Sixers' outlook for next season and that bleak times could be ahead. He is also prepared for the emotions that come along with a rebuilding franchise and is prepared to help the younger players that might not exactly know how to handle the situation.

“It is the toughest ever,” Young said. “The first text message I sent to MCW was ‘The ball is going to be in your hands with you being the point guard and floor general. You are going to take the blame for a lot of stuff. I am going to try and help you. I’ll say it was my fault because that is what veterans do.'

"They try and keep the young guys’ bad thoughts out of their head. You say it was my fault and then go to them and say, 'Try and do it this way and that will be the right way.’ I am going to try and help him as much as possible.”

Currently, Young, who averaged 14.8 points and a career-high 7.5 rebounds last season, is in the gym in the attempt to improve his own game. The lefty is sharpening his three-point shooting and ball-handling skills because, despite not having a coach, he has been told what style of play the Sixers plan on implementing in the future.

“My understanding is we want to be a running team that is going to put up a lot of shots and try and get out in transition and do many different things with the basketball,” Young said. “So I have really been working on my ball-handling and my shooting.”

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Ben Simmons is on track to return to the Sixers in January, Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. 

Previous reports indicated that Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in the Sixers' final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30, would be out three months. Friday's news jives with that, but this is the first time the Sixers have given a timetable.

"It's not doom and gloom," Brown said. "Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd (Bayless). Jahlil (Okafor) is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game."

With long-term ramifications in mind, there had been some speculation that Simmons' camp wanted him to sit all season. 

This is rather encouraging news and it means the Sixers may avoid watching another of their top picks miss his entire first year.

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

Sixers to ease in Jahlil Okafor off bench, expect more from him on D

The Sixers struggled to carve a clear role for Jahlil Okafor last season as he and Nerlens Noel split time out of position in the frontcourt. Brett Brown has a more clear picture of how to utilize Okafor in his second year, highlighted by goals and a shift to the bench. 

Okafor has been sidelined from preseason action because of his right knee. He underwent surgery to repair a meniscus tear in March and aggravated it during the final training camp scrimmage. 

Okafor said he felt “pretty sore” after scrimmaging Monday, his first since camp, and he was better after going through individualized training and work in the water on Tuesday. This setback has forced him to exercise patience. 

“I know I told you guys I wasn’t frustrated a few weeks ago, but at this point it has been frustrating because I’ve been doing all the right stuff and I want to see me back out there sooner,” Okafor said after practice Thursday. “But I can’t rush my body, I can’t rush my health. ... I would love to have the opportunity to be there for opening night and play in front of our fans. Right now it’s looking like that’s probable."

The Sixers plan to use Okafor in a reserve role to start the season. Okafor expects to be on a 12- to 15-minute restriction, similar to Joel Embiid, when he is cleared to play. 

“I think about it all the time, but I talk to him. We’ve talked about this for months,” Brown said of Okafor's coming off the bench. “It’s not anything that is going to surprise anybody. He’s been fantastic. ... I talked with Jahlil about a lot of things and that could be, to start the year it will be, a scenario.”

Okafor, the third overall pick in 2015, started 48 of his 53 games last season. He is approaching this year with realistic expectations given his restrictions and is not concerned about being out of the starting five. 

“I’ll be fine,” Okafor said. “That won’t be a tough adjustment for me. I came off the bench a couple of times last year.”

Brown’s focus is not necessarily on how Okafor starts the game, but how he finishes. He would like Okafor and Embiid to be able to play together at the end of games to give the team a fourth-quarter boost.

“If it ends up you’ve got Jahlil coming off the bench and he’s going against backup five men, you think you probably have an advantage there,” Brown said. “If he does anything, he scores the ball, he scores buckets, he gets points. You can see how that can be a really nice role for him and for us.”

Okafor led the Sixers in scoring last season with 17.5 points per game. Brown, though, is focusing on his defensive improvements. The Sixers are looking to play an uptempo system in which they will need Okafor to hustle on defense each possession. Okafor slimmed down and added muscle this summer to prepare for the season. 

“He has to be elite in two areas to me,” Brown said. “Transition defense first — A-plus-plus-plus, get back. If you’re tired, if you’ve got to conserve energy, it’s not that way. It’s running back on offense. We have to get him back on defense.

“Then he has to be better skilled, better drilled by me, [a] high level of accountability with pick-and-roll defense. ... You can go over to defensive rebounding (as) a close third, but those two things happen the most.”

Okafor expects to be more effective on the defensive end after getting adjusted to it as a rookie. 

“(I want) to be smarter on defense, knowing where to be,” Okafor said. “My first year playing in the NBA, it was just a lot going on. Everybody was so fast.” 

Brown sees a focused 20-year-old who is more disciplined and ready to embrace whatever role he is given this season. 

“I can’t wait to coach him this year," Brown said. "I think he’s going to come back and have a great year. His body tells me that, his attitude tells me that. He’s in a good place personally."