Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 1:45 a.m.

By John R. Finger
CSNPhilly.com

MIAMI As he drew his sixth foul of the game and walked to the bench for the final time of the season, Elton Brand was put into an extra long hug from his coach Doug Collins. If anyone deserved it for the way he played over the final months of the season, it was Brand.

I was so proud of him, Collins said. What a great year it was for him with two tough years in Philadelphia. He has the heart of a lion and just competes every single moment. I am glad he is on my team. I thank him for all he has done this season. He is one of the ultimate professionals I have ever been around.

Thats high praise coming from a longtime coach and player like Collins, but there was more to it than just the points and rebounds Brand put up every night. After those two tough seasons Collins talked about, Brand led the team with 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. But more than that, Brand was the spiritual leader of the Sixers and along with Andre Iguodala, one of the mentors to a roster filled with young ballplayers.

So when Brand plays the final two months of the season with a broken right hand and a dislocated finger on his left hand, it resonates. It might even mean more to the team than the 22 points and eight rebounds Brand posted in the Game 5 defeat against the Heat on Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.

Though far from his best season statistically speaking, the 2010-11 campaign just might have been Brands most meaningful.

I was proud to have these guys under my tutelage, Brand said after the 97-91 loss to the Heat on Wednesday. They listen, work hard and will get better. Its kind of tough playing with young guys, but not these young guys. The guys just did a great job this season.

It takes a special kind of person to sacrifice himself for the good of the team. Thats especially the case for a player who has been in the league for 12 seasons, and takes a mentorship role on a young team. However, the young guys helped Brand get to the postseason for just the second time in his long career.

We had a great season. We played together, Brand said. There are definitely going to be different phases, it happens to every team, so we needed to enjoy the run we have. We worked hard this year.

Brand likens it to laying a base. It may have looked like a five-game exit in the playoffs to a superior team in black and white, but it was bigger than that.

We were in every single game, down to the wire. We are proud of ourselves, Brand said. We are definitely going to work harder. We know what we have to do to get better. Its obvious were not far away.

Headed into next season, Brand, 32, has two years worth more than 35 million on his deal and will be difficult to trade. However, one player who may be difficult to trade because of both his contract and his ability will undoubtedly be part of the offseason intrigue.

Typically when a season ends short of a championship, the speculation over which players will remain for the next year and which ones will depart. Needless to say, its the potential departures that garner the most speculation and media intrigue.

Certainly when it comes to staying or going, Iguodala is the first name mentioned.

Asked point blank if he wants to return to the Sixers in 2011-12, Iguodala said he wants to play for one team for his entire career.

Its always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team, Iguodala said. This has been a great ride so far. Im really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. Im looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

Like Brand, Iguodala battled an injury that would have sidelined a lesser man. With tendonitis in his knee, Iguodala appeared in 67 regular season games. Thats significant because in his first six seasons with the team, Iguodala missed just six games and played in every game during the past three seasons.

But going forward, Iguodala would like to put his stamp on the game as a 76er.

I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book, Iguodala said. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.

The season was something of a breakthrough year for Iguodala. Though he often took some ill-advised shots, Iguodala bought into Collins philosophy and thrived. Like Brand, his numbers were off from his best years, but Iguodala finished eighth in the defensive player of the year balloting and was the go-to guy for the Sixers not because of his shooting, but because he could find an open teammate.

Still, in Game 5 it was Iguodalas tough jump shooting that spurred the Sixers late charge and brought them to within a point with 36 seconds to go. He scored 18 of his 22 points during the second half.

He is a very good player, Heat coach Erik Spolestra said of Iguodala. He is so unique in terms of how many things he does to impact the game. He is such a good defender, hes long and he moves his feet. Also, he is a very good rebounder and an intelligent defender. Offensively, I think he gets judged on how many points he scores. He does so many other things.

Undoubtedly, Brand and Iguodala will return next season, though its clear the teams future lies in its youngsters. For now, the vets are passing along the knowledge until its time to pass the baton.
E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Fellow rookies predict Ben Simmons to come in 3rd for ROY award

Ben Simmons and Brandon Ingram headlined this year’s draft. Now that the players are nearing training camp, they are looking ahead to how their class will fair in the upcoming season. 

NBA.com talked to 38 rookies at the annual Rookie Photo Shoot this month to get their takes on their counterparts.

Simmons, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were named in the majority of the responses. Below are the categories in which the Sixers' rookies garnered votes. 

2016-17 Rookie of the Year
1. Kris Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.0 percent
2. Ingram (Lakers): 25.8 percent
3. Simmons (Sixers): 19.4 percent
Embiid and Saric also received votes

Best career
1. Ingram (Lakers): 26.7 percent
2. Dunn (Timberwolves): 16.7 percent 
3. Buddy Hield (Pelicans): 13.3 percent
Tie-4. Dragan Bender (Suns), Jaylen Brown (Celtics), Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Simmons: 6.7 percent
Dario Saric also received votes

Most athletic
1. Brown (Celtics): 38.7 percent
2. Brice Johnson (Clippers): 16.1 percent
3. Marquese Chriss (Suns): 9.7 percent
Tie-4. Malik Beasley (Nuggets), Kay Felder (Cavs), Gary Payton II (Rockets): 6.5 percent
Simmons also received votes

Best shooter
1. Hield (Pelicans): 65.7 percent
2. Murray (Nuggets): 20.0 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot also received votes

Best playmaker
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 29.4 percent
2. Simmons (Sixers): 26.5 percent
3. Tyler Ulis (Suns): 20.6 percent
4. Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 8.8 percent
5. Felder (Cavs): 5.9 percent
Saric also received votes

Funniest
1. Dunn (Timberwolves): 15.2 percent
Tie-2. Diamond Stone (Clippers), Denzel Valentine (Bulls): 12.1 percent
Tie-4. Brice Johnson (Clippers), Taurean Prince (Hawks), Ivica Zubac: 6.1 percent
Luwawu-Cabarrot and Simmons also received votes. Embiid ranked first in this category when he was drafted in 2014. 

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' starting 5

Give and Go: Predicting Sixers' starting 5

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are CSNPhilly.com Sixers insider Jessica Camerato, CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton, and CSNPhilly.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick.

This week, we'll take a stab at the Sixers' starting five for opening night.

Camerato
Let’s preface this prediction with a projection: This lineup will change multiple times throughout the season. I expect Joel Embiid to be in the starting five once he transitions into his rookie year, his first since he was drafted in 2014. The Sixers also will have to assess how different combinations translate onto the court, which will play out in game competition. 

Back to opening night. The backcourt is up for grabs at both positions. Last season’s starting point guard, Ish Smith, signed with the Pistons and Brett Brown has said he plans to start Ben Simmons, who can play point-forward, at the four spot. Jerryd Bayless has the edge over Sergio Rodriguez and T.J. McConnell with his proven veteran experience in the NBA.

The same goes for Gerald Henderson at shooting guard. That starting role is up for grabs given the inconsistencies of it last season, and that rookie Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will be developing off the bench (or in the D-League).

Small forward is intriguing because the Sixers have so many bigs who can play the four and five ... so who’s the best fit for three? Dario Saric played power forward in Europe, but if Brown wants to incorporate him into the starting lineup, he could slide him into the 3-spot. Saric’s former teammate Stephane Lasme told CSNPhilly.com he could see Saric having offensive success at small forward with his size advantage, and defensively he could be challenged. The Sixers may go with non-traditional lineups when it comes to this position.

The power forward spot goes to Simmons. While he will handle point guard responsibilities, Brown wants to start him at the four at the beginning of his NBA career. 

So that brings us to center, the position that was in question last season and still is now. The conundrum of how to utilize Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor still exists. Both are natural fives, and last year they struggled playing out of position. I gave Noel the nod over Okafor in this starting combination because of the way he can run the court in an up-tempo system and spread the floor with Simmons. 

PG: Bayless
SG: Henderson
SF: Saric
PF: Simmons
C: Noel

Haughton
While the Sixers' final roster decisions shouldn't be too taxing for Brown, putting together the starting five will certainly prove to be tougher. Figuring out five players that mesh well on the court can take time and it will likely change throughout the course of the 2016-17 season.

The Sixers have options at point guard after signing Bayless and Rodriguez during free agency, but Bayless should get the nod here. His career numbers are better across the board than those of Rodriguez, who will take some time to readjust to the NBA game after not playing in the league since 2009-10. Plus, Bayless' ability as an outside shooter (shot a career-high 43.7 percent from three-point range last season) and the fact that he doesn't need to operate with the ball in his hands should make him an instant fit with No. 1 pick Simmons.

Shooting guard all comes down to what Brown wants in his starting lineup. Free-agent signee Henderson is clearly the best option, but Brown might prefer having the luxury of his skill set coming off the bench with Nik Stauskas opening up with the first unit. With that said, I still think Henderson will play with the starters. He gives the Sixers enough offense and is an upgrade on the defensive end.

The small forward spot belongs to Robert Covington ... for now. Sure, Saric is finally in the fold and figures to see time at that slot at some point in the future. I just don't see the Sixers throwing the Croatian into the fire during his rookie season. Jerami Grant will also snag minutes here, but he doesn't figure to get any consideration as a starter.

Power forward belongs to Simmons. That is all.

The crowded center position will be the Sixers' toughest selection. Embiid will be on a minutes restriction and won't play in back-to-back sets after missing two seasons, so he's likely out. That leaves Okafor and Noel. If you're like those in our CSN newsroom, you either fall in the Okafor camp or the Noel camp. Not both. I guess that means I'm on the Okafor side. I understand the complaints about his defense and they are valid, but when you give up 107.6 points per game as a team, that means everyone could stand to improve on D. Yes, even Noel. Okafor's talent on the other end, however, isn't up for debate. He can fill it up and will benefit from a gifted passer such as Simmons feeding him the ball.

PG: Bayless
SG: Henderson
SF: Covington
PF: Simmons
C: Okafor

Hudrick
Simmons, Henderson and Covington are almost locks to start. Many have penciled in Bayless at point guard because of his ability to shoot and how that will mesh with Simmons' playing style. Fair point, but Bayless is not a true point guard. Brown said that while he toyed with the notion of starting Simmons as a point guard, he didn't want to put that much on the rookie's plate. Enter Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is a true point guard that excels in the pick-and-roll, has good court vision and offers a calming influence. El Chacho, as the kids are calling him, has a great deal of experience in the Euroleague, taking home an MVP award and a championship with Real Madrid. He's not a knock-down shooter, but he can hit the occasional open three. His chemistry with Pau Gasol during the Olympics made me think of the possibilities of Rodriguez playing with Embiid, Okafor and Noel.

As far as center goes, you can really just take your pick. I'm going with Okafor only because he'll be the most helpful player to Simmons on the offensive end with his hands and ability to finish around the basket. Certainly Brown could opt for Noel if he wants a better defensive lineup. Both players may just be keeping that starting spot warm for Embiid.

PG: Rodriguez
SG: Henderson
SF: Covington
PF: Simmons
C: Okafor

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

AVALON, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”