Sixers general manager Elton Brand joined NBC Sports Philadelphia for a video interview Tuesday morning to discuss preparing for the NBA draft, free agency, Ben Simmons’ recovery, a vacant spot in the team's front office, and the possibility of resuming play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Elton, human interaction is such a big part of what you do. What are some of the creative ways you’ve kept in touch with your players and coaching staff, and what’s been the biggest challenge to keeping everyone engaged?
"It’s been a challenge. We’ve been leveraging technology, a lot of phone calls. I’m old school, I like to call or text the players before you do a FaceTime or video conference. We are meeting every day, the scouting department is live. We are preparing as if the draft is going to happen in June, even though we don't know. We are scenario planning for free agency. It hasn't stopped. I actually had to set some boundaries, because when you are working from home, you can say, hey, let's have an 8:30 p.m. meeting."
Under normal circumstances, the NBA draft combine would be gearing up at the end of the month. How has your draft preparation and process changed, given the situation?
"[Vice president of scouting] Vince Rozman led our draft prep last year, and he's doing a great job again this year, giving me all the deep dives and all the video that we need to watch. We were actually one of the first teams to pull our scouts out of the field, off the road, to get them on to video conferencing, video scouting, so we have a leg up in that department. Tons of film work, and I'm able to talk to agents, able to talk to families, able to talk to prospects. I actually have a few calls and videos today, just to be able to get to know them a little bit better. It's not an in-person, but we're prepared."
Because it is really important to be able to look a prospect in the eye, right?
"Absolutely. It's very important just to be able to get to know that type of person. We want to build a certain character here with the Philadelphia 76ers, so we want to make sure that they are in line with that."
Do you have a sense yet for what kind of players you’ll target at this point?
"We can have up to five draft picks, as you know, so we always want versatile players, defensive-minded players — there could be some shooting in this draft — so we are just trying to add a lot of talent, and we think this is a deep draft, so I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited about it."
Marc Eversley, former 76ers VP of Player Personnel, has taken the job as the new Bulls' general manager. Obviously, that leaves an important spot open in your front office. How do you plan to go about filling that role?
"First of all, I would like to congratulate Marc Eversley. It's a dream come true for him to be a GM. Great relationships, great mind in basketball, very proud of him. I think him and [Bulls executive VP of basketball operations] Arturas Karnisovas will be a great combination there in Chicago. We are ready to step up. Vince Rozman, as I said, led the draft and pre-draft events last year. He is ready and doing it again this year. My group, [executive VP of basketball operations] Alex Rucker has been an executive for over a decade in the league, [assistant GM] Ned Cohen, 12 years with the league office and four years with the Sixers, [VP of strategy] Sergi Oliva, he's been with the Sixers four, five years, and 10 years in Spain. So I really like our group. We all have to step it up in Marc's absence."
The last time we talked to Ben Simmons was the night the league suspended the season. What can you tell us about Ben’s progress from the nerve impingement in his lower back?
"Ben is doing great, doing much better. I give him and our medical staff and our performance staff a lot of credit. I give Ben a lot of credit. Fortunately, we have been able to get him the treatment he needs, get him into facilities that he can rehab and get back. So every player is going to need a certain set of ramp-up. I don't know how long that is going to be, whether it's going to be 25 days, five weeks, but I am very encouraged that Ben will be along that timeline. His ramp-up may look a little different, but he will be fine and he will be right along with that, with him and his teammates."
The league announced last week that it plans to modify its guidance regarding the use of team practice facilities and player training, which could start as early as Friday. How do you expect this to look at your practice facility in New Jersey?
"Monitoring it all, some of the states have loosened their stay-at-home mandates, and we have not in New Jersey. We are just monitoring what the other states are doing, and it's going to be based on data, not a date. We want the community to be healthy, we want the players to be healthy, so if we do open the gym, we want to make sure that everyone is safe and they are keeping their families safe, but I'm definitely monitoring it, so that could be an option in the future."
There is still very little clarity about when or if the season will resume. How have you kept in contact with Adam Silver and the league office and are you open to finishing the season in arenas without fans?
"I'm on a weekly GM call, and commissioner Adam Silver leads it. I'm on a committee for return to play, so we are trying to figure all of that out. The league is going to lead us on that ... they are talking to all the experts around the world, and they are trying to figure out when it's deemed safe to play, listening to all options. Without fans is of course not the best way for us — we love our fans, but we want to keep everyone safe and healthy during this pandemic, so if that's what it is, then that's what it is."
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