76ers

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Heading into the NBA draft, there was some uncertainty about how the Sixers would make decisions. Nobody seemed willing to say whether interim GM Brett Brown would have the final say, or whether it would be a truly collaborative process.

Thursday night, Brown confirmed he’s the man in charge.

“I was the one that approved the final decision,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first-round trade for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. “We have many people in that room that are aggressively speaking to people. We have information, we put it on a board and we discuss it. At the end of the day, (managing partner) Josh (Harris) looked at me and I did what I did. I approved the deal.”

Brown made sure to credit the people around him who made a difficult job easier. As Brown put it, “This has been a really different June” for him. There’s no way he could have expected he’d be pulling the trigger on draft night when the season ended, but he’s taken leadership of another team, this one in the front office.

“There is an incredible amount of teamwork that is required in that room,” Brown said. “You’re on the clock. I thought (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen did a fantastic job helping organize this. The analytics side with Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva, those guys were awesome. And then I think (vice president of basketball operations) Marc Eversley, delivering the group, you know, ‘These are the players with our scouts,’ it was a very collaborative process. It was a systematic process where you felt like you were a part of a team.”

Separating the head coaching part of his job from the GM duties he’s been thrown into hasn’t been painless for Brown. He acknowledged he felt the “human side” of trading away a high-character local kid whose mom works for the organization in Mikal Bridges (see story).

“The torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role I have for a moment as the general manager versus the role that I have as the head coach of this program, it’s a toggle,” Brown said. “And this is where we arrived.”

It’s obviously not a job Brown wants to do long term. At some point, he’ll be able to return his full focus to coaching. For now, though, he says he’s enjoying his new role. He’s always loved preaching about his program and cultivating a positive culture. Persistently optimistic, Brown looks at the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo saga as an opportunity to fully embrace those passions.

“I said right when I accepted the responsibility that I have no intent of doing this,” Brown said. “I’m a basketball coach. When this came up, I felt a responsibility to do the best that I could under the circumstances to help move us forward. ... Down deep, I love it, because you just bleed for the program. You’ll do whatever you can to bring a championship to this city. That’s the bottom line. As we corral the analytics people, the scouts, my coaching staff and the people that work in the building and try to hold us together and move us forward and show daylight, that’s my job.”

There’s still no official timeline from the Sixers on when Brown’s tenure as interim GM will end. But free agency starts on July 1, and Brown is ready to recruit. He also sounded prepared to go all-out in pursuit of possible trades for stars (see story), including a hypothetical example that seemed to very closely resemble Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio and has expressed his desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.

“When you talk about what are you going to do to show the program the way we want it to be seen, sometimes it’s in-house, sometimes you have to travel,” Brown said. “Whether we have to go mobile and, as an example, go to Los Angeles and deal with a family, an agent, the player. Whether we can attract him to come here to the city of Philadelphia.

“The whole strategy of how we do that, the presentation of information, we’ve been talking about that for a while. I feel completely that we will not miss a beat now that the draft is done, that we can focus in when free agency kicks in on July 1.”

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Short night (and negative X-rays) for Joel Embiid, encouraging game from Tobias Harris in Sixers’ loss

Short night (and negative X-rays) for Joel Embiid, encouraging game from Tobias Harris in Sixers’ loss

BOX SCORE 

Minutes before the Sixers tipped off Wednesday vs. the Raptors, we learned that their game that night was, for all intents and purposes, meaningless. The Pacers’ win over the Rockets ensured that the Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs. 

So, while Wednesday’s result was irrelevant and the game was decided entirely by the reserves in the fourth quarter, it's worth noting that the Sixers did lose to the Raptors, 125-121. A short Stanley Johnson jumper in the lane with 4.9 seconds remaining was the winning basket for Toronto. 

The Sixers' final seeding game is Friday night at 9 p.m. against the Rockets. 

Here are observations on the game: 

A short night for Embiid  

Joel Embiid’s decision-making against double teams had been a major positive in Florida, but he committed a handful of mistakes in the first half, turning it over five times. One of those turnovers came when he was slapped on the right wrist by Marc Gasol, which appeared to cause Embiid some pain. He checked back into the game later in the first quarter but did not play the second half.

Embiid had X-rays on his right hand that were negative, according to a team spokesperson, and was scheduled to play limited minutes.

This didn’t resemble a playoff environment — Serge Ibaka was out because of a right knee contusion and the Raptors, like the Sixers, limited their starters’ playing time — but it was solid experience for Embiid (albeit brief) against Gasol, a player who has had success against him in the past, and against a defense that double teams unpredictably and aggressively. He couldn’t find many opportunities to attack, scoring just five points on four field-goal attempts, and didn’t have the poise or rhythm he’d shown in the Sixers’ first few seeding games. 

As always, Embiid’s health is paramount. He will, in all likelihood, need to be brilliant and able to play major minutes for the Sixers to go far in the playoffs. 

Starters gelling 

The Sixers’ first-choice lineup without Ben Simmons started Wednesday after every member besides Shake Milton missed Tuesday’s game because of either rest or minor injuries. 

On a night when there were many excuses available to coast through the action, the high intensity early on stood out as the Sixers built a 18-8 lead before their first substitution. The offense flowed well, with Tobias Harris hitting his first three shots and the team converting 6 of its first 7. 

Defensively, there was sustained effort throughout the shot clock, something that hasn’t been present at times in the seeding games. Everyone seemed to be on the same page and sharp in rotations. And, against a team like the Raptors with a small starting backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet, you’re reminded just how much of a nuisance the Sixers’ size and length can be, even with Simmons out. 

Brett Brown said before the game he was looking for “common denominators,” areas that could apply to both the final seeding games and the playoffs. Defensive fundamentals would fall under that category, and they were strong overall from the starters in this one. 

Along with Harris, who had 22 points, six rebounds and five assists, Al Horford (nine points, five assists, four rebounds in 18 minutes) looked especially good. He made 2 of 5 threes vs. Toronto and is 8 for 16 from long range at Disney World. 

Ironing out the rotation 

Injuries have prevented the Sixers from fully solidifying a playoff rotation. Neither Alec Burks (left foot soreness) nor Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) was available Wednesday. 

Brown has indicated the rotation will likely be dictated in part by matchups. For instance, Mike Scott would probably be on the bench against a smaller Celtics lineup that would have him face a player like Gordon Hayward. In addition to Scott, who it appears could be classified as a situational player, Burks, Robinson, Matisse Thybulle and Furkan Korkmaz are in the conversation. 

Korkmaz had a strong shooting night, posting 21 points and making 5 of 9 three-point attempts, but his defense may be worrisome against Boston’s wings. If Robinson’s lingering hip injury isn’t a problem, Brown has said he likes his “clean” 3-and-D skill set. Thybulle, meanwhile, will surely have value because of his defensive talents. Burks has boosted his stock with efficient scoring and sensible playmaking. Since he turned it over four times against the Pacers on Aug. 1, he has 12 assists and two turnovers. 

Raul Neto is a ball handling option, but Brown said after the Brazilian’s 22-point performance Tuesday that he did not see him as part of his postseason rotation. In 27 minutes vs. Toronto, Neto had 17 points and five assists. 

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2020 NBA playoffs: Sixers will take on Celtics in first round

2020 NBA playoffs: Sixers will take on Celtics in first round

It’s seemed an inevitability for a while, but now it’s official: The Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.

The Pacers beat the Rockets on Wednesday, which means the Sixers cannot finish ahead of Indiana. Though the Sixers could still end with an identical record to the Pacers', Indiana would hold the tiebreaker because of a 3-1 edge in the regular-season series. This will be the second time in the past three years that the Sixers have played Boston in the postseason. With the help of valuable contributions from current Sixer Al Horford, the Celtics won a tight five-game series in the second round in 2018. 

The winner of the Sixers-Celtics series will take on either the No. 2 seed Raptors or No. 7 seed Nets in the second round. 

The Sixers beat Boston in their first three regular-season meetings this season, then lost 116-95 on Feb. 1, a game in which Joel Embiid shot 1 for 11. Embiid, who is available to play Wednesday after suffering a left ankle injury Sunday, will be especially important with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee. While the Feb. 1 performance against the Celtics was one of his worst this year, his 38-point, 13-rebound, six-assist effort in a Dec. 12 win over Boston was one of his best. 

He expects to face relentless double teams from the Celtics — and from any opponent, for that matter. The 26-year-old had been responding to double teams well at Disney World before his injury and averaged 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the Sixers’ first four seeding games. 

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better,” he said on Aug. 3, “because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled, so I’ve gotta just figure that out to be the offense and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Perimeter defense will be a challenge for the Sixers without Simmons, especially against All-Stars Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle and Glenn Robinson III are among the players who should draw the most difficult assignments.

In addition to Robinson, trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks hasn’t played this season in a Sixers-Celtics matchup. He’s been a bright spot in the seeding games as a shot creator off the bench and has also made 12 of his 22 three-point attempts (54.5 percent). 

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