Philadelphia 76ers

With Markelle Fultz reportedly incoming, The Next Big Thing on the horizon for Sixers

With Markelle Fultz reportedly incoming, The Next Big Thing on the horizon for Sixers

There are images, great and small, of past switchbacks in Sixers history — of the moments when stars arrived (or were about to), and it was abundantly clear the franchise's fortunes were going to change for the better.

Or, as the kids like to say, when, uh, stuff was about to get real up in here.

Julius Erving, handed a doctor’s bag (naturally), as he was introduced before the 1976 season opener in the old Spectrum ... Moses Malone, meeting with the media in a storage room in the bowels of Veterans Stadium in the fall of 1982, before a Phillies game, of all things ... Pat Croce, high-fiving other teams' bemused executives after winning the 1996 draft lottery (shown at the 3:04 mark in this video), secure in the knowledge he was going to select Allen Iverson.

There have been false starts along the way, to be sure — none bigger than the dog-and-pony show at the Constitution Center five years ago. But the less said about Andrew Bynum, the better.

It felt like another fulcrum Saturday night when Washington point guard Markelle Fultz staged a solitary workout in the team's practice facility (see story).

Never mind that there were some rough spots; Tom Moore of Calkins Media tweeted Fultz bricked 14 of 18 three-point attempts in one drill.

And nevermind that we’re talking about a 19-year-old who is four years removed from the JV squad at famed DeMatha Catholic, in Hyattsville, Maryland. Or a guy that played for a 9-22 team in his lone college season.

This feels like a big moment, feels like The Next Big Thing.

The trade with Boston for the top overall pick in Thursday’s draft is by all accounts going to go through, likely as soon as Monday (see story). Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, as always the go-to guy for all matters NBA, reported the Sixers will surrender the third pick in this year’s draft and either the 2018 first-rounder they acquired from the Lakers (protected 2-5) or the 2019 choice acquired from Sacramento.

Seems fair, all the way around.

Boston stockpiles assets in an attempt to make a run at Jimmy Butler or Paul George and doesn’t muddle the backcourt picture that already includes Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart (with Thomas and Bradley poised to become free agents next summer).

And the Sixers get the best guy in this draft, as opposed to facing some thorny questions about the possibilities at No. 3. Would Lonzo Ball’s dad be a pain in the butt (if the Lakers, holding the second overall choice, pass on him)? Would Josh Jackson’s off-court issues be a preview of coming distractions? Can De’Aaron Fox shoot? Can Malik Monk do anything other than shoot?

None of that matters now. They will get their guy, with the help of assets acquired in the Sam Hinkie Era. (A pause here, while a certain segment of the fan base genuflects.) They have their nucleus and can watch it grow.

This is not to say that The Process ends here; it’s just to say that it’s at warp speed now, that basketball gypsies (to borrow Brett Brown’s terminology) have given way to basketball thoroughbreds.

Now they’ve just got to get ’em out and run ’em.

This, of course, assumes good health, the all-time asterisk with this outfit. That Joel Embiid, who has played all of 31 NBA games to date, can hold up. That Ben Simmons, last year’s top overall pick, has put his foot problems behind him. That Fultz, who missed six games last season with a knee issue, can avoid the time-honored tradition of the Sixers’ top pick sitting out his entire rookie season.

It also assumes Brown can sort out who plays where. He has said he is wedded to the idea of Simmons being his point guard, but that was before Fultz became part of the equation. Will that still be the case, and if so, can Fultz adjust to playing off the ball? Or will the team play more conventionally? (Side note: There is an NBA club in Northern California that has shown it’s possible, even prudent, to accommodate multiple playmakers, and is about to hang its second championship banner in three years.)

Even given those caveats, there would appear to be little downside. Fultz’s story — told by, among others, Bleacher Report’s Jason King in March and the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach on Friday — actually echoes that of none other than Michael Jordan: high school JV one year, varsity star the next. (In Fultz’s case, the process was hastened by a seven-inch growth spurt after that soph season; he now stands 6-foot-4.)

He averaged 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds last season for the Huskies while shooting 47.6 percent and 41.3 percent from three-point range.

Now he’s The Next Big Thing.

And it would appear that big things await the Sixers as well.

How Brett Brown got Sixers through 'The Process'

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How Brett Brown got Sixers through 'The Process'

Nineteen wins. Eighteen wins. Ten wins.

As the 47-199 record mounted over his first three seasons as head coach, the same question arose loss after loss: How does Brett Brown keep the Sixers together?

Those who played for Brown during this time could have given generic answers. They simply could have been happy for the chance to play in the NBA and commented on his optimistic demeanor.

When Henry Sims told the story about Brown dancing, though, it was clear there was more to their experiences with the coach than just going through the motions of losing basketball. Other players were quick to offer their enthusiastic responses, whether they had been on the Sixers for multiple years or 10-day contracts. 

Brown has the opportunity to coach a team on the rise next season. The Sixers are coming off a 28-win season. They have young talent, at least one future All-Star, a pair of No. 1 picks nearing their NBA debuts and a highly-coveted veteran free-agent signing. The playoffs even are in reach. 

To get a better sense of how Brown got his team to this point after the early years of “The Process,” the players explained it themselves. 

Henry Sims
Two years have passed since Sims played for the Sixers, yet one specific afternoon stands out vividly. Sims played 99 games for Brown during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. 

“We had went on a road trip and lost like four straight. They were pretty bad losses. We got home and Brett Brown came in the gym dancing with the assistants. They had some song. It lifted guys’ spirits — life isn’t so hard playing basketball. 

“I give a lot of credit to Brett Brown because he kept everybody positive and in a good attitude. I know it was tough for him to walk in that locker room every day. As a coach, you want to win. He kept us going, he kept us working hard. If you were watching our practices, you would have thought we were one of the top teams in the NBA because of how hard we were playing in practice.”

JaKarr Sampson
Brown had a fondness for Sampson, exhibited when Brown said “I miss JaKarr” a day after Sampson had been waived. Brown admired Sampson’s spirited attitude, and the sentiment was mutual. Sampson suited up for 121 Sixers games over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons. 

“The energy he brings is natural. He’s very good with the young guys and keeping us energized and motivated when things aren’t looking good, he’s always there motivating us. He really cares about his players, that’s what makes him a good coach. Even now, he texts me sometimes now and then. He cares, that’s the key with him. 

“[He organized] a lot of team stuff, team dinners, we had a Christmas gift swap. He was really good at keeping us together and keeping us liking each other during that time. We never turned on each other. He kept the locker room a good atmosphere. Things are looking bright for him right now.”

Larry Drew II
Before Drew was on the Sixers summer league roster this year, he was with the team for a pair of 10-day contracts during the 2014-15 season (he played in 12 games). While Brown made an impact on the court, Drew remembers very unique conversations away from the game. 

“A lot of people don’t know, I don’t watch too much television and when I do, I watch a lot of National Geographic, the History Channel, Discovery Channel. One of the first non-basketball conversations I had with Coach Brown was actually about the universe and the stars and the galaxy. That was one of the things that stood out to me. I’m a huge geek when it comes to stuff like that, and just the fact we were able to have an open dialogue about theoretical physics and what not, it was cool. He has a very open mind and he’s very easy to speak to.

“His spirits were never down. Even after losses, he never made it feel like we were doing anything wrong, per se, but that we were headed in the right direction and that it was a couple of little things we needed to tweak. I think that’s huge for a coach to be able to speak to his team in a way to make them feel that it’s going to be ok at the end of the day.”

Hollis Thompson 
Thompson was one of the longest-tenured players under Brown (Sept. 2013 to Jan. 2017). The two shared an interest for deep conversations about education and world events. Thompson played 256 games for Brown.

“He’s got a great attitude, a positive spirit. Even when you’re going through a tough year and losing a lot of games, he finds a way to get everybody going, get everybody excited to play. Even in the midst of a tough game, a tough losing streak, he finds a way to make you laugh or finds the positive in it. … You could see him for who he is as a man [talking about shared interests]. He’s a great coach, but he’s a great human being. I love that dude and I wish him the best.”

Kendall Marshall
Marshall’s stop in Philadelphia was filled with injuries and a crowded point guard position that kept him off the court. He played 30 games during the 2015-16 season. Nonetheless, Marshall barely had finished hearing the question about Brown when he jumped to answer with a strong tone of emotion. 

“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach Brown as a coach, from what I’ve seen as a father, as a competitor. His ability to come to that practice floor and game arena every single day with the intensity, passion, willingness to teach in those circumstances winning 10, 15, 20 games every single year, that’s one of the most impressive things that I’ve seen in the pro level … He was always in a great mood, unless we were messing up (laughs). He’s always joking, that Boston accent is always strong.”

Chris Johnson
Johnson played for Brown during training camp and saw how he prepared the team for the regular season, even though the odds of winning were against them. His time with the Sixers spanned nine games over less than two months in the Fall of 2014. 

“He brought a positive attitude to practice. He kept everybody’s spirits together. We kind of knew what was going on, but Brett was a great coach, he was a smart coach, and he had the best interest for his team and the players. In preseason, two-a-days, guys were tired, but one thing I always remembered was he always came in and tried to keep everybody’s spirits together, let everybody know it’s part of the grind and it makes you better.”

Joel Embiid, T.J. McConnell win NBPA Players Voice Awards

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Joel Embiid, T.J. McConnell win NBPA Players Voice Awards

Joel Embiid was a big winner in the 2017 NBPA Players Voice Awards.

He earned honors for Comeback Player of the Year and, in what seemed like a lock all season, Best Social Media Follow.

Embiid made a huge impact in only 31 games after missing his first two seasons because of foot injuries. He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks, all while being capped on a minutes restrictions and held out of back-to-back games. Embiid was on pace to win Rookie of the Year before suffering a season-ending knee injury. He underwent surgery in March. 

His influence was just as big on social media. Embiid became a Twitter star before he even played an NBA game. Now with over 857,000 followers, he has kept fans entertained with everything from his admiration of Rihanna, an All-Star campaign to get a date, and his recent beef with LaVar Ball. Embiid frequently posts videos engaging with fans (who usually are chanting "Trust the Process") and puts a creative spin on his Instagram locations.

Embiid wasn't the only Sixer to win an award. T.J. McConnell earned the well respected "Best Teammate" award, presented to one player from each NBA team. McConnell’s hard-nosed approach and relentless hustle earned him the starting point guard role in late December. The underdog has fought to establish his place in the league for the last two seasons and has made an impression on the Sixers' staff, fan base and his peers while doing so.  

NBA players voted on these awards at the end of the regular season. The winners were announced on the NBPA's Twitter Friday morning.