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6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

6 takeaways from Sixers GM Elton Brand ahead of the 2019 NBA draft

Sixers GM Elton Brand spoke to reporters Tuesday ahead of the NBA draft Thursday night. Here are six takeaways including how close Brand thinks they are, "optionality" with five picks and more.

The agony of defeat

Any time you're not the last team standing at the end of the NBA season, it's not going to sit well. For Brand and the Sixers, watching the Toronto Raptors hoist the Larry O'Brien trophy stings a little more after taking them to seven games.

But Brand is looking ahead, and giving the reigning NBA champions their stiffest fight is only fueling him to make his team better.

"Hats off to the champs, but it just shows me that we were close," Brand said. "We are so close. So my goal this summer is to get better through the draft, through free agency, whatever we have to do and be able to compete again at that level. It definitely hurts. From the players to the coaches to my staff – we want to grow and we want to get better."

Embiid and Ben Simmons didn't take the loss well. Especially Embiid, who appeared to take all of the questions about his health and ability to play against Marc Gasol to heart.

Brand is confident his young All-Stars are prepared to use it all as motivation.

"A lot of promises, vows – it's raw. It hurts," Brand said. "You're passionate. 'I can't believe we lost like that.' They've been in the gym, they've been rehabbing, they've been working hard, so the goal is to just keep the momentum. How do we take that into the summer? But they've been executing their plans. They're still hungry. They still feel that pain to lose how they lost. As tough as it was losing like that, we're going to get better from it."

Character evaluations

Pre-draft workouts are a good opportunity for Brand and his staff to learn a little more about prospects. It gives them a chance to talk to the player 1-on-1 and see what they're all about. But it doesn't end there.

I don't want to give too much intel, but we talked to people that pick up their laundry," Brand said. "It's a whole range of people. From their coaches, their mom, their family, but we get specific intel, then we meet with them. It's different. It's like an interview. You're on your best behavior. So we try to just get to know them the best we can, know their personalities, talk to middle school coaches, high school coaches, just to be clear on what kind of person they are.

What kind of character are the Sixers are looking for?

"Tough, hard-nosed, respectful, wants to get better. Treat your teammates with respect. Younger players, we like a high IQ. A guy that knows how to play defense, make the right pass, take the shot when warranted and competitive. We want tough competitors that can think the game."

Feels like the first time

It's easy to forget that Brand wasn't named GM until after the draft last season. While he was part of the process, Brett Brown held the interim general manager title.

This year, Brand is running the show and will have final say.

"The first thing I learned is making a recommendation vs. making a call, there's a big difference," Brand said. "Under Bryan [Colangelo], it was, 'Oh yeah, that sounds good.' But now I'm making the call – that's a big difference. A lot of posturing going on. You talk to a team about future picks and it's like, 'Oh no, we don't want to give up futures.' But now as the draft comes along, getting calls like, 'Hey, would you consider it?' Similar to the trade deadline. Very similar to the trade deadline with everyone trying to get an angle and trying to get an advantage for their organization and their team."

With the team being so close and looking for guys that can contribute right away, Brand definitely understands the responsibility of being the one that pulls the trigger.

"It's definitely much more pressure than making a recommendation. Last year, I was just like, 'Yeah, this guy can shoot, I saw him in L.A. His change of motion, he can get to the rim. He has a short neck like me, but he's really taller.' Just whatever it is. But now I'm making that call, so there's more pressure to get it right, especially for the trajectory of our team, because we need young talent. Even if we do get to the championship level we aspire to, I don't want to fall off a cliff either. I want to have talent in the kiddies so they can grow and get better."

Optionality 

"Optionality" was a word former general manager Sam Hinkie used often and fondly during the days of "The Process," and it's one Brand returned to several times Tuesday when describing the Sixers' outlook heading into the draft. With five picks, it sounds like just about everything is a possibility.

Having the five picks, that gives us that optionality. If there's a player that we're targeting that looks like they could be available, we could move up. We could move back. We could move out. We could sell a pick. That's what's great about having those options. Regarding selling the picks, [it's a] possibility. There's some later picks that teams would pay for, and if we don't have anybody on our draft board that we want to grow with the Blue Coats or come to the G League, that's a possibility.

Because the Sixers have only four players guaranteed to be under contract next season and will need to commit a substantial amount of money should they wish to sign free agents Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, using four or even all five of the selections the team currently holds could be an appealing idea. That said, it's just one of many options on the table for what promises to be an eventful Thursday evening.

Looking for immediate contributors 

Unlike in previous years, when the Sixers were building for the future and willing to select developmental players, this draft is about snagging players who can help as rookies.

"We definitely are looking for players that can compete for a spot to be in our top-eight right now," Brand said.

That mindset has been reflected in the players the Sixers have brought in for pre-draft workouts – plenty of prospects in the 21 to 23-year-old range, with seasoned games and little projection required about their ability to play in the NBA. 

Senior director of scouting Vince Rozman has said the team is targeting "mature" players, which doesn't necessarily exclude one-and-done prospects. But, if there was any doubt, Brand made it clear Tuesday the Sixers are not going to place a high value on players with potential who lack an NBA-ready skill. 

"You're looking for a guy that can contribute right now," Brand said, "which starts with a specific skill where Brett [Brown] can look down that bench and say, 'All right, I need defense. … Oh, I need some shotmaking. The defense might not be there or something else might not be there, but I know I can get this from this rookie.' Just something that they can contribute right away and they might not be elite at it, but they'll be good at it."

Willing to wait

Brand and the Sixers have been consistent over the last five weeks in describing the type of players they'll be targeting in the draft.

However, Brand clarified Tuesday that the team won't automatically eliminate players who can't contribute immediately, whether that's because they need more time to develop overseas or because they're currently injured. 

"With the five picks, it depends on where – later in the second round, one of those picks, if the value proposition is there and you're like, 'OK, he has to rehab and get better,' you think of that because in two years, we're going to need talent. But the appetite to wait, it's all going to be determined on the clock and who the player is."

Nineteen-year-old Croatian forward Luka Samanic is one player who the Sixers might consider worth the wait if he's available late in the second round, though Samanic said at his pre-draft workout with the Sixers that he believes he's capable of playing in the NBA next season.

Auburn's Chuma Okeke, who tore his ACL during the NCAA Tournament, is one player who could slip in the draft because of his injury. His "3 and D" skills would seem to fit well on the Sixers. 

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Brett Brown calls out Sixers' turnover problem: 'Until we fix this, this is a house built on sand'

Brett Brown calls out Sixers' turnover problem: 'Until we fix this, this is a house built on sand'

Brett Brown has been asked about turnovers many times during his six-plus years as head coach of the Sixers. They are a concern, he has acknowledged often. 

“Our turnovers continue to haunt us and we can’t let it go,” he said in December of 2016.

“It is on me, and it keeps us up late at night,” he admitted a little over a year later.

On March 13, 2018, Brown said of the Sixers’ turnover woes, “As a team, we have to get better. Some of it I have to own.”

So, in one sense, what Brown had to say Sunday night about the Sixers’ turnovers shouldn’t be shocking. He hasn’t shirked away from this problem. And, for the most part, it’s been an issue that’s gnawed at the Sixers throughout his tenure. The team has finished either 29th or 30th in turnovers in the NBA every season under Brown besides last year, when they were 25th. After recording 20 turnovers Sunday in a 114-106 win over the Hornets, the 6-3 Sixers are last in the league with 18.8 turnovers per game. But Brown’s comments Sunday were perhaps as impassioned as we’ve heard him on the subject.

This is what I tell the team: Until we can fix this, this is a house built on sand. It is fool’s gold. And we have to find a discipline and a better way to control that. Because the turnovers in the first half, some of them were live ball, a lot of them were just getting things batted out of our hands. We can’t fool ourselves — this is a problem. This is a problem. And we need to own it. I’m the head coach, I’ve gotta find a way to fix it. There needs to be a level of accountability with the players. And that’s that. It’s not anything that we take lightly — we don’t dismiss it. The times are over when you’re looking at some of the young guys and you can justify it. You can’t do that anymore. It’s time that we get better at that. And the players know it. They understand it. But we better fix it.

Like in years past, there are a variety of reasons the Sixers have committed this volume of turnovers. Joel Embiid inflated the number by coughing it up eight times in the Mile High City. There are two new starters in Josh Richardson and Tobias Harris, and some new players coming off the bench. As Brown said, though, youth is no longer a good excuse. 

“That’s definitely our biggest flaw right now,” Richardson said. “I think sometimes we get careless. And I think sometimes we get too unselfish, too. On possessions where you get a decent look and pass it up and then we end up turning it over. It’s like, could we really have gotten a better look at it? But I think that’s a good problem to have. I think we’ve just gotta watch the film and figure out what we’re doing wrong outside of that.”

It’s possible to turn the ball over a lot and still go far as a team. Last year, Monty Williams — at the time an assistant with the Sixers, now the head coach of the Suns — noted that “being in the top five or even the top 10 in turnovers does not guarantee you success.” 

The Sixers have mitigated some of their turnovers by being the best offensive rebounding team in the league. They’re also forcing 16.8 turnovers per game, over four more than they did in 2018-19. The turnovers hurt, but perhaps not as badly as they would for a team also losing possessions in those other categories. 

“That’s been our biggest thing this year,” Tobias Harris said. “A lot of them have just come from — like myself today, I had two travels in the beginning. We’re going to find each other and our spots and how we want to play, things we can do to execute better. If we can just limit to half of those, protect the ball a little bit better, I think that will help us out a whole lot.”

Cutting their turnovers in half would lead the Sixers to be the best in the league at taking care of the ball, so that’s likely not a realistic goal. But Harris’ overall point is fair. It’s not this simple, but if the Sixers could, in each game, eliminate an unforced turnover, an excessively unselfish turnover, and a “new guys getting used to each other” turnover, that would go a long way. 

The NBA started officially recording turnovers in the 1977-78 season. No team has both led the league in turnovers and won an NBA title since then. 

“I think a lot of them were guys mean[ing] well and trying to make certain reads,” Horford said. “We’re just not necessarily clicking how we need to be. Maybe some plays are there … we’re just getting to know each other. Also, we have to be more conscious about taking care of the ball. I believe that as the season goes on, we’ll be fine.”

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Sixers' Josh Richardson opens up about mental health: 'It's tough to dig yourself out of that hole'

Sixers' Josh Richardson opens up about mental health: 'It's tough to dig yourself out of that hole'

After being traded from the Miami Heat to the Sixers this summer, Josh Richardson admitted he was in a "hole" with his mental health.

“It’s one of those things you constantly have to think about," Richardson said. "You have to consciously stay on your mental health, because if you don’t, you can look up and you’re depressed or you’re just not in the right state of mind. I’ve seen guys succumb to that. It’s tough to dig yourself out of that hole. I was there, to be honest. I was there this summer for a while. I got a therapist and I’ve been trying to work that out."

In an open interview, which you can watch above, Richardson discussed the challenges of being diligent about mental health in the highly competitive environment of the NBA, and explained why he tries to “embrace the negative.”

NBC Sports Regional Networks has launched a multi-platform campaign on mental health and men's health, HeadStrong: Mental Health and Sports, for the month of November. You can find more information about the initiative here

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