Brown sees good starting point for Sixers

slideshow-sixers-morris-brown-ap.jpg

Brown sees good starting point for Sixers

The Sixers left Spain on Sunday with a two-point victory over Bilbao Basket and headed to Manchester, England for a second preseason game.

Critics will say a two-point win over a team that is not the equivalent of NBA talent is hardly impressive. However, Brett Brown saw the victory as a good starting point for his young group.

“We aren’t beating our chest because we have all this talent. We don’t,” Brown said via the Sixers’ web site. “We have good players who are trying to get better. We have some good veteran players, but we understand the monumental task we have of competing in the NBA. We need that kind of team chemistry to extract whatever we can from this year’s group.”

The task gets tougher for the Sixers on Tuesday when they take on Oklahoma City, one of six NBA teams participating in this year’s NBA Global Games.

One area of concern Brown sees heading into a matchup against the Western Conference power is on the backboard.

“Rebounding,” Brown said when asked what he would like the Sixers to improve on from Sunday. “Some of that is born out of us being so small and our big guys aren’t really that physical. Our guards are going to have to board. It is going to have to be a gang effort, a gang mentality.

“It is the physical design of our team, but that’s life and we just really have to understand how this team was built and what we need to do to fix it.”

The Sixers were outrebounded by Bilbao, 45-39. The team’s leading rebounder was guard James Anderson, who hauled in seven boards, including six at the defensive end.

Brown was impressed with Anderson’s consistent play on both ends of the floor (see story).

“James Anderson was really good,” Brown said. “I had James in San Antonio, so I knew what we were getting. But he is coming along, getting older. His time is now to claim his stake in the NBA. I liked his six defensive rebounds. He was 6 of 8 from the floor. I thought he played a solid all-around game.”

Evan Turner led the Sixers with 25 points. Turner knows it is a rebuilding year for the franchise, but he liked what his teammates brought to the table against their Spanish foe.

“Bring the same energy,” Turner said. “We made some mistakes in Spain but we competed. It is OK to make mistakes but it is not OK not to play hard all the time. So hopefully we do that and keep executing and carrying over stuff we learned today in practice.”

Turner is hoping the crowd in England will be as enthusiastic as the fans in Bilbao. Sunday’s crowd made sure the atmosphere was energetic and Brown knew it would be that way. Before the game, the coach shared with his players just how much Spain enjoys basketball and how the game has become a viable product worldwide.

“Commissioner (David) Stern and the NBA are very smart about how they built this brand over the years,” Brown said. “Having coached overseas for 17 years and travelled all over the world because of those experiences, I have had a chance to see the NBA logo and what it means to fans. It is a very powerful logo, so this process has been going on for many, many years.”

Report: Jahlil Okafor 'will get moved by Thursday'

Report: Jahlil Okafor 'will get moved by Thursday'

Will Jahlil Okafor be traded?

That is the big question surrounding the Sixers as Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline inches closer.

According to one report, there’s already an answer.

Appearing on NBA TV Tuesday night, NBA.com’s David Aldridge said Okafor “will get moved by Thursday.”

Aldridge, who said the Sixers have “a lot of offers to sift through,” mentioned the Pacers and Kings as potential landing spots. Following the DeMarcus Cousins trade, Sacramento is left with Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein, who aren't offensive bigs. Koufos is averaging 6.1 points in 57 games this season, while Cauley-Stein is scoring 5.8 per game in his second NBA season.

“[The Kings] can offer more minutes and more opportunities for [Okafor] now,” Aldridge said.

According to multiple reports earlier on Tuesday, the Pacers have emerged as a suitor in the Okafor trade talks. Indiana is 29-28 and in sixth place of the Eastern Conference, but only a game ahead of Chicago — also a reported Okafor suitor — and two in front of Detroit.

Through a trying season, the Sixers’ second-year big man is averaging 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game. He’s played in 38 contests, 22 of which he has started after playing 53 games (48 starts) as a rookie and averaging 17.5 points and seven rebounds.

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor's Duke network helping him through up-and-down season

Jahlil Okafor’s second season in the NBA has been one of learning, marked by injuries, trade talks and DNPs. Throughout these shifting uncertainties, he's had a constant foundation: his fellow Duke players.

“It’s a brotherhood,” Okafor said. “We’re all friends, we’re all a family.”

From those who burst onto the scene to those who struggled to veterans who have seen it all, Okafor has a network of players who already have been through the ups and downs of the league. Even though Okafor competed for only one year at the college level, he got to know many of them while he was coming up the ranks in high school. He formed a stronger bond once he got to the pros.

“He always knows I’m one phone call away no matter what,” Kyrie Irving said. 

Okafor began his second year dealing with a knee injury that held him out most of preseason action. When he got back into the mix, the Sixers looked to determine his place in a logjammed frontcourt.

Minutes were more available at the five-spot when Nerlens Noel was sidelined for the first 23 games of the season. Once all four centers (including Richaun Holmes) were healthy, it was Noel who found himself the odd man out of the rotation. Then the Sixers tried experimenting with a “twin towers” starting lineup of Embiid and Okafor. That pairing didn’t pan out and roles changed.

The Sixers narrowed their roster to a 10-man rotation with Noel as the defensive leader in the second unit. Okafor, for the most part, got the start when Embiid did not play because of back-to-backs or injuries, and was a DNP otherwise.

That situation changed again when the Sixers sat Okafor recently for two games as he was involved in trade discussions. Okafor did not travel with the Sixers for their Feb. 13 contest in Charlotte and rejoined them in Boston for their Feb. 15 game when a deal did not transpire. 

Okafor has a long list of players he can ask about these trying scenarios.

“I get help from all those guys,” Okafor said. “I can look to any one of [them] for advice.”

Former Blue Devil Austin Rivers has been in Okafor’s situation when it comes to decreased playing time. The 2012 10th overall pick had troubles carving out a role early on with the Pelicans. He dealt with injuries and was hit with DNPs when the team added more guards to the mix. Now in his fifth season, he has established a spot on the Clippers. 

“It’s a good thing,” Rivers said of the challenges. “If you’re truly a good player and a competitor, it’ll breed maturity and a level of respect and hard work. It’s a humbling experience. It’s the best thing for you; it’s the best thing that happened to me. I went through struggles to come back a better player and person. I think it’s the same thing he’s doing now. He’ll appreciate it.”

Irving, formerly the first overall pick, didn’t struggle with his role with the Cavaliers. He was a focal point from the start and had become a three-time All-Star and NBA champion by the end of his fifth season. Because of this, Okafor looks to Irving for his knowledge of managing the spotlight.

“Guys have to go through what they go through just to build character, build whatever they need, that armor, to deal with what this NBA life entails. It comes with a lot,” Irving said. “It’s just patience. Despite what's going on in the outside world, you’ve got to remain calm and give everything you have to this game of basketball.”

Last season, Okafor established a mentor relationship with Elton Brand when the 17-year veteran signed with the Sixers in January of Okafor’s rookie year. Okafor still speaks with Brand, who became a player development consultant for the Sixers, on a weekly basis for guidance.

This season, he has another veteran Duke player in the locker room. Gerald Henderson got to know Okafor before they played together on the Sixers. Henderson was on campus completing his degree when Okafor was there ahead of his freshman season. The two spent time together then, and Henderson continues to look out for him now as a teammate.

“I was around him a lot, working out with the team, seeing how good of a kid he was,” Henderson said, also adding, “It’s a man’s league. It’s not like you’ve got to hold somebody’s hand through something. Jah’s a man in himself. But at the same time, I’m always checking on him, seeing how he’s doing, make sure he’s not down, make sure he’s still getting his work in and focusing on the right things.”

The trade deadline is two days away.

Whether Okafor remains in a Sixers jersey or puts on a new uniform, the one he wore in college always will be a part of his journey through the NBA.

“It’s bigger than basketball,” Okafor said.