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.”

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

'Playing like a high school team' plaguing Sixers during losing streak

NEW ORLEANS — The Sixers have hit a four-game skid and there is not a clearly defined way out of it thanks to a laundry list of injuries.

“I think it’s painfully obvious,” Brett Brown said of what needs to be done. “Let’s get our better players back in a uniform.”

The Sixers have to play their best with their pieces available down two starters (Joel Embiid, Robert Covington) and a key bench player (T.J. McConnell).

There are adjustments that can be made to prevent a losing streak from spiraling the Sixers down in the standings.

“We need to be just smarter,” Dario Saric said. “I know we are a young team. I know are playing without Joel, without our very important players … we need to find a way. We need to be more calm down, don’t be nervous, especially on defense.” 

Saric pointed to the Sixers’ late-game defense in their 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). They were tied with eight minutes to play before the Pelicans hit threes on their next four straight possessions. Jrue Holiday drained four treys himself during a five-minute stretch to push the lead to 11. The Sixers were outscored 44-29 in the fourth quarter.

“In that situation, to me, we are playing like a high school team,” Saric said. “That cannot happen. We need to be smarter at that point. I hope we will grow up and we will be mentally ready for that last five, six, seven minutes.”

The Sixers also were in the position to come back Saturday in Cleveland. They trailed the Cavaliers, 99-98, with 1:39 to play and did not score after that point.

It was during that final stretch when Covington landed out of bounds and suffered a lower back contusion. A day later, Embiid was a late scratch because of lower back tightness (see story). McConnell has missed five of the last six games with a left shoulder injury.

“We’ve got to be consistent with making the right plays every time,” Ben Simmons said. “It’s hard to make mistakes without those guys there. When you make mistakes and you don’t have Jo or Cov and guys like that to make up for that, it’s tough. But we’ve got to just come together as a team and get through it.” 

The Sixers don't have it easy their next two games. They face the Timberwolves (16-11) Tuesday in Minnesota when Embiid said he expects to play but has not been cleared. Covington is doubtful, while McConnell's status is to be determined. The Sixers return home Friday from a three-game road trip to host the Thunder (12-13).

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

Joel Embiid: 'If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone'

BOX SCORE

NEW ORLEANS — Joel Embiid is trying to kick back tightness he has been dealing with since Thursday.

Embiid was a late scratch for the Sixers in Sunday's 131-124 loss to the Pelicans (see observations). He said he began to experience the tightness while playing Thursday against the Lakers. Embiid received treatment during the game but felt "pretty sore" after.

The big man already was slated to miss one of the two back-to-backs in Cleveland and New Orleans because of his medical restriction. He sat Saturday, but when he warmed up pregame Sunday, he still didn’t feel healthy enough to go.

“I tried to warm up earlier but I couldn't,” Embiid said. “If it was the Finals, I'm sure I could have gone. But we've got 82 games and they don't want me to push if I'm not a hundred percent, so that's what I did.”

The Sixers need Embiid (23.5 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.0 blocks) back on the court. They have dropped to 13-13 on a four-game losing streak, including these last two without him. Embiid is an integral part of the Sixers’ defense, especially against a Pelicans team with DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis in the frontcourt. The two bigs combined for 52 points, 17 rebounds and six blocks. 

Embiid said he expects to play in the Sixers' next game, Tuesday in Minnesota. Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns is posting 19.8 points, 11.6 boards and 1.3 blocks per game this season. Embiid still has to work out Monday before that his availability. In the meantime, he is receiving massage treatment.

“I just got to keep resting for a couple days and see how it feels day-by-day,” Embiid said. “But it's been getting better. It's a lot, much better.”

Embiid is the latest Sixers to be added to the list of injuries. Robert Covington suffered a lower back contusion Saturday and is doubtful for Tuesday (see story). T.J. McConnell continues to be hampered by a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder. He has missed five of his last six games. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) and Justin Anderson (left leg) are weeks out from another reevaluation.