You can’t always believe a team’s general manager when they say they're not looking to trade certain players. In the case of Elton Brand, it’s hard not to believe him when he says that’s the case with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The Sixers’ GM, a day removed from firing head coach Brett Brown after seven seasons, spoke to the media Tuesday in a video conference call about that decision and where things went wrong. Brand talked about what he’s learned and about how he plans to restructure the front office this offseason.
While he acknowledged the team needs to make roster changes as well, he made it clear that it’s all about building around his All-Star duo.
“I’m not looking to trade Ben or Joel,” Brand said. “I’m looking to complement them better. They’re 24 and 26 years old, respectively. You try to make that fit as long as you can. They want to be here, they want to be with our organization, and I see them here for a long, long time.”
Brand is facing serious challenges as he seems to have more autonomy than he did when he was first hired. He’s spearheading the search for a new head coach. That can be challenging enough, but he also plans to restructure his front office and make changes to a roster that underachieved and looked like a poor fit.
If the goal is to build around Embiid and Simmons, who the next head coach will be and the players that are brought in will affect them both greatly. Though they won’t necessarily have a say, Brand will use discussions with his best players to help him form those decisions.
“I’m going to talk to Jo and Ben about just the game and how they see it,” Brand said, “and what’s going to help them and how to complement each other and what will complement them. I’m not going to put the pressure of ‘you wanted this new coach’ or ‘you wanted that player’ on them, but just the overall philosophy, basketball. Where they feel we were weak, where they feel we were strong and ways to get better. Just have some clear and candid conversations with them, absolutely, as I feel I should.”
The world “accountability” was thrown around an awful lot during the half hour or so Brand spoke. It makes sense given that Josh Richardson, a player that came from the Pat Riley-run Heat, had spoken about the team’s lack of accountability on multiple occasions — including after Sunday’s Game 4 loss.
There is a perception that Embiid and Simmons were given “star treatment” and that the next coach will have to curb that. Brown was certainly a positive person and seemed to be more of a player’s coach. While Brand didn’t say he was necessarily looking for someone “heavy-handed,” he didn’t rule out the possibility.
Brand said that it begins with him and that the coach he selects will need to find the appropriate balance.
“I think that accountability starts at the top of the organization, it starts with me,” Brand said. “I have to hold myself accountable in how to push these guys, how to push this group. The new coach, also, they’re going to have to find that balance on how to push these All-Star players to that next stage. It’s a great question. It’s not a collegiate level where you pull a guy, curse them out — or maybe it is, and that’s what we have to figure out, and we have to find that balance.”
Whether it’s asking Embiid to be in better shape or Simmons to shoot more, the next head coach of the Sixers will have to figure out the best way to motivate and get the most out of the team’s young stars.
Brand believes Embiid and Simmons will be on board.
“It is nuanced for each individual situation,” Brand said, “but overall, when it comes to accountability, you can’t treat the 15th player different than the No. 1 player or your top players. That can’t happen.
"When you’re a player and your coach is fired, you feel that internally that you failed also, so the next coach, you are going to have in your mind maybe I should do things different. Whatever that is — on the court and off the court — and you want to figure out how to be successful and that’s who our group is. They are passionate and they want to be successful so I don’t think it will be a big learning curve or any type of challenge for a new coach to come in here and do what they have to do.”