76ers

Elton Brand interview: Sixers GM discusses Ben Simmons' progress, NBA draft preparation

Elton Brand interview: Sixers GM discusses Ben Simmons' progress, NBA draft preparation

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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Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

Ron Brooks, virtual fans and what to expect for Sixers' 'home' games

The Sixers have yet to lose a home game this calendar year.

Monday night, they’ll look to maintain their home excellence, just not at Wells Fargo Center. They lost their seeding game opener at Disney World, a designated road matchup against the Pacers, and "host" the Spurs tonight.

The team has worked to replicate the environment in which the Sixers went 29-2 this season as closely as possible.

“We want to keep that going,” Sixers Chief Marketing Office Katie O'Reilly told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Paul Hudrick in an interview Monday. “Our fans are incredible. Our season ticket members are incredible, they’re loyal, they’re passionate. They really create that environment.”

For Monday's game against San Antonio, you’ll see on screens courtside “virtual fans," which will include, according to O’Reilly, “season ticket members, our marketing partners, our community partners, as well as friends and family of the players.” Those virtual fans have been given packs that have T-shirts, hats and noisemakers.

Several unique features of a typical Wells Fargo Center game night aren’t going anywhere. PA announcer Matt Cord has some pre-recorded segments, and, per O’Reilly, the beloved Ron Brooks — “the world’s first double amputee to achieve the rank of Eagle Scout,” as Cord always introduces him — will still be belting out the national anthem. 

“Even in-arena for our home games, we’ll have Ron Brooks, our guy, singing the national anthem,” O’Reilly said. “We’ll have our traditional bell ringing, we’ll have our player intros, we’ll have our open video. So that sort of entire pregame ritual that we have will run really exactly the same, just virtually on video.”

And the Wendy’s Frosty Freeze-out? 

“If someone misses two (straight) free throws, you will still be able to redeem for your free Frosty,” O’Reilly said. 

The roar of the crowd obviously won’t be nearly as loud or intense after a big play, but many of the “sounds of the game” should be familiar for players. O’Reilly didn’t mention the boos that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid hope to hear if the Sixers aren’t playing well, but player input factored into the new home gameday experience. 

“Our players are constantly collaborating with our marketing and game operations department on the look and feel,” O’Reilly said, “and they really feed off that home energy, so it was important for us to maintain as much of it as we could down in Orlando, and we’re excited to see it come to life tonight.

“Our players’ voices are always heard. We’re always receiving feedback from everybody, whether it’s front office, season ticket members, the players, the coaches, and we really take pride in delivering on that. … Every player has a song that they get to pick to play in-arena when they make a big play or a big shot. So it is really important to us that we sort of curate the experience based on everyone who is there, and we’re collaborating all the time.”

Given how invincible the Sixers appeared at home before the coronavirus pandemic forced the season to pause, the idea to essentially duplicate a normal home atmosphere that players feel comfortable in seems intuitive. We'll learn soon just how effective it is.  

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Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Spurs: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Updated: 1:48 p.m. 

The Sixers (39-27) and Spurs (29-36) will meet Monday over eight months after their first matchup this season, a 115-104 Sixers win on Nov. 22. It’s technically a home game for the Sixers, the team’s first since March 11. They were 29-2 at Wells Fargo Center. 

Mike Scott (right knee soreness) is out and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) is doubtful. Kyle O'Quinn missed his coronavirus test on Sunday and is not eligible to play, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 7 
Where: Visa Athletic Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

An outlier opener? 

In several ways, Saturday’s defeat to the Pacers wasn’t like most for the Sixers this season.

The team outscored Indiana by a point in nine Joel Embiid-Al Horford minutes but saw their 10-point fourth-quarter lead evaporate when Horford stepped in at center, the opposite of the trend this year. The starting backcourt combined for four points on five field goal attempts. Turnover problems that had characterized seasons past resurfaced as the Sixers gave it away 14 times in the first half and 21 times in the game. They’d been 10th in turnovers (14.2 per game) before the hiatus. Ben Simmons’ defense was not anywhere close to as great as it’s been for much of the season. 

A loss is a loss, but perhaps the Sixers on Monday will look more like the team we saw in their first 65 games. 

Another size disparity 

Jakob Poeltl is the only traditional frontcourt player in San Antonio’s starting lineup, which means the Sixers will again have plenty of size advantages. With LaMarcus Aldridge out for the season after right shoulder surgery, DeMar DeRozan is the Spurs’ second-tallest starter at 6-foot-6. Shake Milton and Josh Richardson are the Sixers’ shortest starters at 6-5. 

The Spurs have opened well at Disney World, winning their first two games and moving into ninth in the Western Conference, but the Sixers will present a unique challenge. 

'Walking that line'

Brett Brown doesn’t generally have an endless level of patience with younger players. He’s sometimes quick to pull the plug when they make mistakes or have trouble adjusting to a new situation.

Following Milton’s poor first game in the new starting lineup (no points, three assists, three turnovers, five fouls), it will be interesting to see Brown’s approach if Milton struggles again early. 

“The tolerance level … whether it’s trying to persevere and grow Shake, whether it’s the distribution of how you actually use Ben Simmons, all of those things are always on my mind,” he said Sunday. “It’s the launching pad that we have now where you’ve got some games before you enter the playoffs. And life moves quickly where you get stuck in this current where you’re going to blink and the playoffs are going to be right at your doorstep. 

“Walking that line of persevering and patience vs. gut feel — you like it or you don’t — that ecosystem is my job.”

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