Jerry Colangelo talks Joel Embiid's progress, 'guarded optimism' for Sixers

Jerry Colangelo talks Joel Embiid's progress, 'guarded optimism' for Sixers

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Jerry Colangelo is no stranger to the most elite NBA talent. With roles including chairman of the board for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and USA Basketball Board of Directors Chairman, he is around the best in the game, past and present.

Colangelo has the same objective of success in his position as a special advisor for the Sixers. Following a disappointing 10-win season, the Sixers looked to change directions by landing Ben Simmons with the first overall pick and signing experienced veterans in free agency. They also are anticipating the long-awaited debut of Joel Embiid. 

Rather than making a complete overhaul and throwing mega-dollars at star free agents like Kevin Durant, the Sixers took a step-by-step approach this offseason in building a foundation for their young, developing players. It is a method that can take time, but it's designed with long-term goals for winning. 

"I'm sure that everyone should have optimism," Colangelo told CSNPhilly.com at the Basketball Hall of Fame. "But there's a word I've always used over the years about optimism. It should be guarded optimism because things take time. When you're building teams — and I've had the privilege of doing that quite a few times in my career — you're adding pieces here and there, and then once in a while you strike out and get that last piece. I think where the Sixers are today is, this is the beginning of that particular process, and that is building what everyone would hope to be a championship team."

Two focal points of the Sixers' future are Simmons and Embiid. Simmons, a 6-foot-10 point-forward, is ready to make an impact as a rookie. Embiid, on the other hand, has been waiting two years to play following foot surgeries. Last month Embiid said he feels "100 percent" and plans to participate in training camp. 

"With all of the reports that I've seen and all the footage I've seen in terms of video, it appears that he's headed in the right direction," Colangelo said of Embiid. "I know that everyone's excited about training camp because of all of the new faces. ... The fortunate ability to have the first pick and select Ben Simmons, you put all those new players on paper and to add that to a roster, it's going to be really interesting, exciting to see how it all plays out."

When it comes to incoming international players, Colangelo's involvement with Team USA gave him the opportunity to meet with Dario Saric and Sergio Rodriguez in Rio during the Olympics. Saric, who signed with the Sixers two years after being drafted, had a solid showing for Croatia, while Rodriguez helped Spain win bronze. 

"I thought [Saric] played very well and I complimented him on his performances," Colangelo said. "Both of them showed great enthusiasm about coming to training camp. I think it's going to be exciting to have them in Sixers uniforms very shortly."

In building a roster, teams hope they have a star (or stars) in the making in their organization. The Sixers had just that for over 10 seasons with Allen Iverson, one of the inductees in this year's Hall of Fame class. 

"What sets him apart from so many is that he did it his way," Colangelo said. "It may have been a little counter to what other people would have expected, but give him credit for being a big man as a little man in a big man's game. He made himself known. His presence was felt by anyone on the court, and his numbers speak for themselves. They're off the charts. A long career, a very successful career, and someone who justifiably deserves to be in."

Sixers respond to blowout with skid-snapping road win over Bulls

Sixers respond to blowout with skid-snapping road win over Bulls

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Sixers' win over the Bulls on Friday was a culmination of recent successes, losses and learning experiences.

One could call it a makeup for Wednesday's 25-point defeat to the Thunder; a lesson learned from blowing late leads against the Warriors and Magic; or a carryover from maintaining their poise in a victory over the Celtics. 

Take those games (and more) and roll them into a 117-107 victory (see Instant Replay). It marked the Sixers' first win over the Bulls since Nov. 2, 2013, to snap a 12-game skid.

That victory included coming back from a 10-point first-quarter deficit, pushing a lead up to 26, and holding on for a win when the Bulls got back within 10 in the fourth. They also withstood 36 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds from Jimmy Butler. 

"The better team wins today," Dario Saric said. "We controlled the game like 45 minutes maybe or all the time and we deserve this win. A little bit scared in the end when they came within 11, 12 because we lost a couple games like that this season. We were up around 15 points, 20 and we lost because sometimes a young team, we don't have experience, but I think we will learn something from that and I think this will be something that's good for us."

There were key performances throughout the game that impacted the Sixers' success in different ways (see highlights).

Saric scored a career-high 32 points. He made it a double-double with 10 rebounds. Saric scored 13 in the fourth, including a late three-pointer that halted the Bulls' momentum. 

The rookie said he tried to play smarter, including shooting with more balance, finding his spots on the floor and dribbling more frequently. That seemed to be accurate as Saric shot 12 of 19 from the field.

"Huge," Brett Brown said of Saric's game. "I thought in that fourth period he sort of willed his way to the basket and found multiple ways to score and at big times when the game really fell in the balance."

On the opposite end of the court, Brown praised Sergio Rodriguez for his defensive efforts in the second quarter. Rodriguez was a plus-17 as the Sixers held the Bulls to just 18 points in the quarter. 

"Defensively is where we have been on him relentlessly," Brown said. "He has taken it, he has allowed us to coach him. He has improved and so we rode him out in that second period and he really set the table, I think, for the rest of the game."

And sometimes it's an unlikely player who provides that extra spark needed to defeat a team with playoff aspirations. Shawn Long, who spent most of the season in the D-League, scored a career-high 18 points along with seven rebounds in only 19 minutes off the bench. How efficient was he? Long finished a massive plus-31. 

"I think the main reason maybe is because Shawn Long, where he comes in from the bench, he gave some kind of energy. He was tough," Saric said. "I think he is the guy who brings us some changes than the game before."

The Sixers have been through the ups and downs of wins and losses in just a week. Their victory over the Bulls was a high mark in the roller coaster of results. 

"I think how teams respond is always an interesting litmus test for coaches," Brown said. "We responded in a way that I expected them to. We played well against a team that is fighting to get into the playoffs, and all over the place, we leave here proud of our guys."

Jahlil Okafor gives special treat to his high school team in return home

Jahlil Okafor gives special treat to his high school team in return home

CHICAGO -- Jahlil Okafor was not able to play in front of friends and family on Friday because of right knee soreness. He did, however, have a special evening in his hometown the previous night.

Okafor took the entire boys basketball team from his alma mater, Whitney Young High School, to dinner to celebrate its recent state championship. He estimates there were 35 people with him at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse.

"It was pretty cool," Okafor said. "Two of the guys that were on that team were guys I actually played with, they were freshmen when I was a senior. They already had one state championship (with Okafor). It was cool for me to go back and do something like that for the team."

Okafor won a 4A state title as a senior before playing one season at Duke. His career has been so fast-tracked that Okafor, 21, is only three years removed from high school. He encouraged the players to be in the moment and enjoy every game and accomplishment as they happen.

"My message is just enjoy it," Okafor said. "Just enjoy high school. To the seniors, enjoy going to college. Just enjoy it all. My process went by a lot faster than the average person, so I told them to just enjoy everything."

Okafor would have enjoyed playing Friday. He banged his knee against Victor Oladipo in Wednesday's game against the Thunder. Okafor remained in that game but experienced soreness later. Friday was his eighth game missed this season because of the injury.

"I was in discomfort but I was just thinking I didn't want to miss another game," Okafor said. "I know against Boston (on Sunday) I didn't play the second half and I didn't want that to be the same case. So I was pretty much just trying to tough it and just trying to play."

Richaun Holmes got the start in place of Okafor. He scored eight points and grabbed three rebounds in 29 minutes of the Sixers' 117-107 win over the Bulls (see Instant Replay). Backup Shawn Long had another efficient game, scoring a career-high 18 points off 8 for 10 shooting. He also pulled down seven rebounds in just over 19 minutes.