76ers

Sixers, Celtics working to rebuild former glory

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Sixers, Celtics working to rebuild former glory

It might be hard to believe that the Sixers and Celtics are just 20 months removed from playing in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

When the two franchises meet for the first time this season on Wednesday night at TD Garden, they will do so in full rebuilding mode as the bottom two teams in the Atlantic Division.

Long gone are Andre Iguodala, Elton Brand, Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams, who made up the core of that Sixers team coached by Doug Collins.

The Celtics have since parted ways with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Ray Allen found greener pastures in South Beach and Doc Rivers is now guiding the Los Angles Clippers.

“It seems like it was just yesterday,” said Thaddeus Young, who averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds that postseason. “That was a great series, of course. In Game 7 (Rajon) Rondo hit some big shots.

“But this is a new year, new teams with different players and things have changed over the course of time. We both are now in a situation where we are losing teams and basically we are both trying to go out there and battle for wins.”

Rondo has played in just five games this season since recently returning from surgery to repair a torn right ACL last year.

The Celtics point guard is trying to regain the all-star form that allowed him to put together a personal 9-2 run with 3:30 remaining in that Game 7 to give them a series win. Rondo notched a triple-double in that game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Rondo’s performance that night was just the latest chapter in the rich playoff history shared between the Sixers and Celtics.

Brett Brown all too familiar with that tradition between the two franchises. The Sixers head coach was a Boston University student-athlete from 1980 to 1983, absorbing the city’s love for its Celtics and tense rivalry with the Sixers.

“What a special era it was selfishly,” Brown said. “I can still hear the NBA music and introduction to the NBA Game of the Week. To travel down to the Garden and be able to see [George] McGinnis and Julius Erving and Bobby Jones and [Andrew] Toney, [Maurice] Cheeks and Doug [Collins] play.

“I just couldn’t believe how Andrew Toney would just kick the Celtics’ tail. To me, he was unguardable. He was just such a one-on-one, triple threat. Rock a step, rock a step threat. He was a big part of my upbringing and my memory of the NBA, more so than the Celtics-Lakers battles.”

Brown hopes the days return when Sixers and Celtics can enjoy that kind of high-level success and rivalry that ruled the NBA’s Eastern Conference for so many years.

“They are two fantastic sporting cities that love basketball. It is ironic that we are on the same path of trying to find that balance of competing and rebuilding,” Brown said. “It is a difficult challenge, but I think it is in both of the programs to do it because they have such a history and rich tradition.”

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.