76ers

Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries want to be more than just camp bodies for Sixers

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Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries want to be more than just camp bodies for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — There were few surprises when the Sixers’ training camp roster was released on Monday.

Unless you don’t count adding 22 years of NBA experience from the 2004 draft to the frontcourt as a surprise.

The Sixers signed veteran big men Emeka Okafor and Kris Humphries to deals prior to the start of camp.

Okafor’s presence is particularly surprising when you consider the nine-year veteran hasn’t played in the league since the 2012-13 season.

“You guys have trust the process slogan and I had my own little process going,” Okafor said during media day. “The timing just worked out now.”

Okafor, who turns 35 on Thursday, downplayed the severity of his situation by calling it a “little process.” In September of 2013 while with the Washington Wizards, he underwent an MRI after experiencing discomfort in his neck while preparing for the upcoming season. The former No. 2 overall pick was diagnosed with a herniated C4 cervical disc and ruled out indefinitely.

“Four years ago, I had a herniated disc in my neck. Surgery was recommended, but I opted to just go the natural path, which is rest and rehabilitation,” said Okafor, who has averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds during his career. “There was that, just letting things heal, taking time off and making sure that I felt that I was as healthy and strong and ready to come back and play the way I want to play.”

Humphries’ journey hasn’t been nearly as rocky from a physical standpoint. However, the forward with career averages of 6.7 points and 5.4 boards has still been through the rigors of the NBA business.

After spending the first five seasons of his career split between the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors, Humphries has now been with six different teams in the past eight years.

Some familiar faces in the front office led to Philadelphia being the latest stop for Humphries.  

“I came in like last week and worked out. It went well,” he said. “Kind of a fit, so it just went from there. I was with (Sixers president) Bryan Colangelo and (vice president of player personnel) Marc Eversley in Toronto from ’06-09, so I was familiar with those guys. It just kind of worked out.”

With Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor both limited by injury rehab entering training camp, it would appear the Sixers simply signed Emeka Okafor and Humphries to have enough healthy bigs for the preseason.

Just don’t tell the two veterans.

“In terms of my conditioning and my ability, especially after going down and playing with various teams, there’s no doubt in my mind I can play in this league and still contribute,” said Okafor, who chose the Sixers after working out for a handful of other organizations. “I can contribute a lot both on and off the court.”

“I just want to come in and continue to work hard,” Humphries said. “It’s a new challenge. I haven’t been on a non-guaranteed contract before, so it’s a challenge. I’m going to let it play out on the floor, compete a little bit.

“For me, I just want to play basketball and have fun as long as I can. I love basketball. It’s a good spot, good organization. I’m excited to be here.”

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid will be restricted to fewer than 20 minutes early in the season, that much is known (see story). How Brett Brown fills the remainder of the minutes at the center position remains to be seen.

Brown has three healthy big men he can play behind Embiid: Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Richaun Holmes, an early candidate for backup minutes, is sidelined by a fractured wrist.

“Even without Richaun, you like the depth and versatility, the variety that is available to me at the five,” Brown said Tuesday. 

Each player is unique in their skill sets and experience levels. There’s the proven veteran in Johnson, the undersized center in Saric, and the sometime-starter-sometime-reserve-sometime-DNP in Okafor. 

Let’s take a look at Brown’s options and why he may lean toward one player over another. 

Okafor
Okafor finds himself in another season of uncertainty. The third-year Sixer still doesn’t have a consistent role in the rotation. In the past, his biggest opportunity for minutes has come when Embiid is out for the entire game. Could the slimmed-down Okafor return to the starting lineup when Embiid doesn’t play? The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games of the season on Saturday. 

Brown on Okafor 
“[His role is] evolving … it’s always fluid. There are times we’ll assess Joel, say, in a back-to-back situation that might free something up. We have one in Toronto coming up. … We all respect his attitude and we respect his body. I think he’s had a good preseason.”

Johnson
The 30-year-old Johnson gives the Sixers a veteran presence and assuring presence on the court. He started in 77 of his 80 games for the Celtics last season and will be an in-game leader for younger players like Markelle Fultz in the second unit. 

Brown on Johnson
“He started for a really good team last year. He’s been in the league for a while. He’s a great pickup. Bryan (Colangelo) did a really great job of signing him. He’s good people.” 

Saric
At 6-foot-10, 223 pounds, Saric is the most unlikely candidate of the three backups. Brown has seen enough from Saric in the NBA and internationally, though, to feel confident in shifting him from the four to the five. Saric showed he can hold his own against traditional bigs when he shot 5 for 8 against the Nets in the preseason. 

Brown on Saric
“He’s stronger than you think. He’s been used to guarding behind people over in Europe on switch outs with four-five pick-and-rolls. … He gives up some weight, he gives up some height. But the trade-off might be he pulls them out and makes threes like he did against (Timofey) Mozgov. You weigh it all up. It’s a little bit unconventional but it is there in our arsenal if we choose to go there.”

Joel Embiid thinks his minutes restriction is 'f---ing BS'

Joel Embiid thinks his minutes restriction is 'f---ing BS'

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid is letting it be known he is unhappy about his minute restrictions to start the season.

"That's f---ing BS," he said after practice Tuesday. "I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I'm ready for more than I don't know whatever number they have."

The Sixers are eyeing 16 minutes for Embiid on opening night on Wednesday. He played nearly 15 minutes in his two preseason games and feels he can handle more, adding his previously-injured left knee and ankle "felt great." 

He has expressed his feelings to the team. 

"I always think I have a voice so I'm sure they're listening to what I have to say too," he said. "But they're making a decision based on what they think. But I think that's BS."

Embiid's desire to play more minutes likely will be an ongoing situation this season, or at least early on. He expected to be cleared for 24 minutes at this point. (In comparison, he logged 22:25 last opening night.) Embiid feels the best way to get his body in game shape is to actually be in the game, not training on a cardio machine. 

"I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated," Embiid said. "I don't think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it's reacting." 

The Sixers, however, are continuing to proceed with caution with the injury-prone big man. After missing his first two years because of his foot, he underwent season-ending knee surgery in March. Embiid also sprained his left ankle in the preseason finale. He has not played in a regular-season game since Jan. 27. 

Add that to the fact Embiid is a centerpiece of their future after inking him to a five-year, $146.5 contract extension last week.

"They know that I'm frustrated, but once again you've got to trust the doctors," Embiid said. "They care about me. It's all about the long-term view." 

The coaching staff is faced with the tricky task of managing Embiid's allotted minutes over a 48-minute span. Brett Brown is considering using up his playing time in the first half instead of spacing it out to have him available in the fourth quarter. 

Embiid estimates if he started the third, as an example, he would be resting for 16 minutes before he got the nod late in the final quarter. He said that is "tough" on both his body and on the coaches. Brown agrees after trying to balance his playing time last season. 

"You think it's smart to save four minutes to end a game with him, but the canyons in between where he just sits there and sits there and then he's got to come in and save the day, I don't know if I like that," Brett Brown said. 

"It's on my mind, do we just spend our money and we'll get you more money the next game and so on, and just play him regularly and grow it from that base versus he sits forever and then he's just got to come in and save the day. Or oops, it goes to overtime and, 'Sorry, you can't play against Memphis in overtime.'"

The Sixers will have to balance the medical staff's minute guidelines with Embiid's intense desire to be on the court and the team's record. They are looking to make a significant push in the win column, and Embiid is the driving force behind that jump.

"I think this is a big year for the whole team and me personally," Embiid said. "I feel like I've got something to prove, too. So I want to be out there with my teammates and win some games."

If it were Embiid's call, he would play until he didn't feel like he could anymore. It's not up to him, though. And so there's just one thing left for him to do.

"Like I always say," he said, "you've got to trust the process."