Elton Brand hasn't made Sixers any better, which makes you wonder about his job security

Elton Brand hasn't made Sixers any better, which makes you wonder about his job security

New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero was fired over the weekend, as the Devils spiral towards the worst record in the NHL's Metropolitan Division. Shero, a vaunted GM with a Stanley Cup to his name and roster-building experience, was expected to oversee the Devils' next few years of building towards something larger. Instead, he's out of a job mid-season.

Josh Harris, who is a managing partner of both the Devils and the Sixers, didn't mince words on Sunday when explaining the decision to move on from Shero.

"We're very committed to winning," Harris said in a press conference over the weekend, per ESPN. "We weren't winning enough."

If the Devils, who weren't expected to compete for anything significant this year, weren't winning enough for Harris, it's hard to imagine the Sixers are currently scratching his itch for wins. And it makes you wonder: is Elton Brand's job in danger?

After Monday night's loss to the Pacers, the Sixers are squarely the No. 6 team in the Eastern Conference. They've lost six of eight, are on pace for just 50 wins, and have by far the worst road record of the six actually worthwhile teams in the East.

Like the Phillies of last season, the question becomes how to parcel the blame between the front office, the coaching staff, and the players. Ben Simmons still can't shoot, Brett Brown has shown an inability to turn a team rife with talent into a consistent winner, and Elton Brand built the clunky, inelegant monstrosity you see in half-court sets each night.

It feels, right now, like Brand deserves the finger-pointing.

Night in and night out, the Sixers look like a jammed-up team without an offensive identity in a league obsessed with scoring, and that problem falls on the man who constructed this roster in the first place. It's not a surprise that the Sixers need shooters and players who can create their own offense — those problems existed last season — and yet, after a very expensive offseason, the same needs remain.

Brand has been GM for roughly 16 months. He traded for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, offloading picks and lesser pieces in the process, then moved Butler and brought in Al Horford and Josh Richardson. Whether Brand's moves have actually made the Sixers any better, though, isn't apparent.

They've been better against important teams — regular wins over the Celtics and the Bucks can paper over most problems — but they haven't been good enough in between the marquee matchups, including losing 14 of 21 road games this season, to put themselves in a good spot come playoff time. We know the Sixers can beat the Bucks and Celtics on a given night. Can they do it four times, without home court advantage?

With 10 games before the NBA's Feb. 6 trade deadline, Brand has one more chance to make a move (or two), which he likes to do, and possibly save the Sixers' season. 

If the Sixers aren't in the East's Top 4, they will lose in the second round again, and someone will finally have to answer. A player like Davis Bertans could help, and a player like Bogdan Bogdanovic certainly would. But if they don't arrive, or if they aren't enough, it's because Brand waited too long to fill his team's most glaring holes.

It feels unlikely that Harris would let Brand loose after a year and a half, but it also feels unlikely that he's OK with watching the capital he invested in the Sixers' win-now build go to waste.

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Sixers pursued 'high-level, accomplished' executives before hiring Elton Brand as general manager

Sixers pursued 'high-level, accomplished' executives before hiring Elton Brand as general manager

In the wake of the absurd scandal involving Bryan Colangelo and burner Twitter accounts, the Sixers searched for their next general manager and handed Brett Brown the job on an interim basis. Eventually, they promoted Elton Brand.

He was certainly not their first choice, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“When they opened that job up, when Colangelo was gone and before they promoted Elton Brand, they went after any number of high-level, accomplished executives around the league,” Wojnarowski said on The Woj Pod. “They were willing to offer Daryl Morey, Bob Meyers, Dennis Lindsey, Sam Presti. There may have been more.”

Brand’s only previous executive experience was as the GM of the Sixers’ G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats (formerly the 87ers). It makes sense that the Sixers would have preferred more established candidates.

The Sixers were “rebuffed” in their efforts to hire Morey, The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported in July of 2018. A mentor to former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, Morey won the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award in 2018 and is still GM of the Rockets. 

Stein also reported the Sixers “commissioned a clandestine run at prying Myers away from the Warriors that was likewise rebuffed.” Myers has served as the Warriors’ general manger since 2012 and won three championships with the team.

Lindsey is the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Jazz, while Presti has been GM of the Thunder franchise since 2007. 

The Sixers had an interview with former Cavs and current Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin but, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, “felt he wasn’t a good fit for their front-office structure” and wanted to “make collaborative decisions instead of a GM who will have the final say.”

In July of 2018, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool, “It’s very consensus-oriented, there’s a lot of people in the dialogue, and we want to make sure we find the right fit for that.”

Wojnarowski noted on the podcast that Harris and the Sixers’ leadership above Brand remain influential.

“Ownership’s got a lot of say in Philly," he said. “You’ve got a group of owners that are involved, that are there. How many team have multiple owners courtside each corner of the arena, each night?

Brand has made several major moves since assuming the GM job in September of 2018, including trading for Jimmy Butler, shipping Markelle Fultz to Orlando, trading for Tobias Harris and then signing him to a five-year, $180 million deal this summer, and giving Al Horford a four-year contract with $97 million guaranteed. At 37-23 this season and 9-21 on the road, Brand’s roster has not performed the way he envisioned. 

Wojnarowski and Max Kellerman also talk about expectations for the rest of the Sixers' season, the history of Sam Hinkie’s Process and more on the podcast, which you can listen to here

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Tobias Harris is blocking out outside noise about big contract, trying to carry Sixers

Tobias Harris is blocking out outside noise about big contract, trying to carry Sixers

When you’re given the largest contract in the history of a storied franchise like the Sixers in the city of Philadelphia, you’re going to face scrutiny.

Tobias Harris has gotten his fair share since inking a five-year, $180 million near-max deal this past offseason. The 27-year-old hasn’t consistently provided the scoring needed to complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Though at times, like Thursday night against the Knicks, Harris has looked like the player GM Elton Brand traded for and then chose to re-sign as a franchise cornerstone. 

With Embiid and Simmons both on the shelf, this is the version the Sixers need to see a lot more of.

“At the beginning of the game, had some good looks going,” Harris said. “We had good pop to our flow, to our offense, and was able to get some just in-the-flow plays. Once I'm able to get into the flow and the ball is able to move around, that's where I'm at my best. And I just carried that throughout the game.”

Harris, who was one off his Sixers high with 34 points, has said since he arrived before last season’s trade deadline that he flourishes in systems with good ball movement. That’s likely why he’s shot the ball better from three with Simmons on the floor (37.5) than off (29.5).

Simmons leads the NBA in assists on threes whereas with Embiid, his methodical approach in the post can make the offense stagnant at times. With both off the floor, Harris will have to do more to get his own shot.

Brett Brown admitted after Thursday’s game that he’s simplified the offense with his two All-Stars out. Against the Knicks, Harris just attacked mismatches all night, punishing smaller defenders in the post and driving on New York’s bigs.

“With those two out, we'll have to find our identity of how we're going to play,” Harris said. “You saw tonight, we had a lot of just wide-open looks out of the initial pin down action either between Al [Horford] and [Josh Richardson] or Al [Horford] and [Alec] Burks so we got a lot of easy ones going and just were able to go at different mismatches that we felt.”

The trio of Harris, Horford and Richardson struggled in Cleveland, going 12 of 35. They all had bounce-back games of some sort, but it was Harris who likely got the most heat and responded in the biggest way.

Does he feel like it’s his responsibility to carry the team right now because of the large investment the they made on him?

“I would be naive to think there’s not a hint of that,” Brown said. “I think he’s really competitive and if you paid him a nickel or $170 million, I think that you’re going to get a highly competitive player. ... He’s very prideful. That’s why he’s good. 

“He’s trying to do his part obviously to earn his keep, but I think it’s way deeper than that. I think he just wants to be on a winning team for a long time and try to help steer this program to trying to find, at some point, a championship.”

With the fans, there's a sentiment of Harris being overpaid, so not much is made when he hangs 34 on a bad Knicks team. It makes sense. Fans would rather root for an underdog like Shake Milton, who's come out of nowhere to earn important minutes.

Harris has become a leader and a respected player in the Sixers’ locker room. That’s his only concern.

“There's obviously outside noise that comes involved with [signing a big contract],” Harris said. “I always look at it like the only noise that really carries weight for me is noise in our locker room, and with the guys on our team and coaching staff. I truly believe that you can ask every single one of them in the locker room, the value that I bring to this team, on and off the floor, and they will vouch for that. That's the credibility that I go with. ... So I just try to do my job on a daily basis, be a professional every day and go to work.”

With 22 games left and the Sixers trying to claw their way up the East with their All-Stars banged up, Harris will have ample opportunity to show his value to everyone else.

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