76ers

Elton Brand resisted #RunItBack and built a bully instead

Elton Brand resisted #RunItBack and built a bully instead

You can blame a lot of things for the Sixers not being able to take down the reigning NBA champion Raptors.

Joel Embiid’s health or Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris not giving them enough or just bad luck for a ball bouncing off the rim four times — whatever you want to blame, the season ended in disappointment.

But while the above reasons are clear, there was one thing that happened before Kawhi Leonard sunk that shot and Sixers fans’ hearts in Game 7.

Before Jimmy Butler made a layup to tie the game with 4.2 seconds left, the Sixers hadn’t made a field goal for over three minutes. Toronto turned up their defense and bullied the Sixers out of the gym to help close out the series.

Fast forward to July, and Elton Brand has decided to build a bully of his own and not give in to the #RunItBack crowd.

JJ Redick’s deal with New Orleans was one of the first signings to get reported at 6 p.m. Butler was looking into a sign-and-trade with Miami and eventually got his wish.

Wasn’t it interesting, though, that the Al Horford signing was announced almost immediately after the Butler sign-and-trade to the Heat that got the Sixers Josh Richardson? Reports were surfacing almost immediately after Horford declined his player option with the Celtics on June 18 that a team was prepared to offer him a four-year deal for over $100 million. It seems as though the Sixers were that team all along.

The plan seemed to be to build a defensive bully — even going back to the draft when the team had targeted Matisse Thybulle, the two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and traded a pick to move up to No. 20 to get him.

The starting lineup will be long and feature essentially four elite defensive players and perhaps an underrated one in Tobias Harris. In the era of positionless basketball, they’re at the frontline with a 6-foot-10 point guard, a 6-9 wing, two extremely skilled centers and their smallest starter standing at 6-6. If ever a team looked like a bully on paper, this is it.

Even the bench moves by Brand signal an obvious focus on the defensive end of the floor. The team brought back Mike Scott and James Ennis, two switchable, tough and versatile defenders. Thybulle will join 2018 first-round pick Zhaire Smith as another young, bouncy perimeter player that has tremendous defensive potential. Even the signing of veteran center Kyle O'Quinn represents an upgrade over any player Brett Brown used to spell Embiid last season.

It likely won’t all go swimmingly. Harris will be tasked with guarding wings on a nightly basis, something that may be a challenge against quicker swingmen. In theory, the idea of Embiid and Horford sounds like a nightmare for players driving to the rim, but the two will likely have to get used to playing with each other. Even Richardson, for as talented a defender as he may be, will likely be matched up with opposing point guards as the shortest Sixer on the floor. And the Sixers will miss Redick's shooting and Butler's shot creation ability and clutch shotmaking.

The Sixers were painfully close to beating the Raptors with Redick and Butler in the fold. Taking the champs to seven games is great, but it doesn’t bring you hardware or a parade. Brand knows that, which is why the status quo wasn’t good enough. Butler is a star. Redick has been a huge part of the fabric of this team for the last two years.

But Brand had a different plan this season. While most would’ve been on board for the #RunItBack philosophy, he was not.

And no team will be able to push these Sixers around.

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A sneak peek at the Sixers' 2019-20 City Edition jerseys

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A sneak peek at the Sixers' 2019-20 City Edition jerseys

It appears we got our first peek at the Sixers’ 2019-20 City Edition uniforms.

Though the uniform won’t officially come out until Wednesday morning, team president Chris Heck gave us a sneak peek Tuesday during the last night of the 76ers Crossover: Art Exhibition.

The design is similar to the 2017-18 version, but with “Philadelphia” written and the copper stripe down the side. The copper stripe appears to be an ode to the Liberty Bell. Before Heck entered the exhibit, he said the jerseys would “tell a story.”

Apparently, that story is America’s. We’ll likely get more info when the uniforms are officially released.

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Sixers' imperfect fit has led to growing pains offensively

Sixers' imperfect fit has led to growing pains offensively

CAMDEN, N.J. — Through 13 games, the Sixers’ offense has been far from a well-oiled machine.

There are plenty of factors contributing to that. Joel Embiid missing four games hasn’t helped. Ben Simmons missing two hasn’t either.

But the biggest factor — other than perhaps Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot — is time.

Brett Brown, who slyly remarked, “I have no idea what you're talking about” Tuesday on reports that he’s in talks to coach Team Australia in 2020, has often cited Christmas as a time when he expects things to start to come together. Though he was vocal about his disappointment with the team’s defense in their loss last Friday in Oklahoma City, Brown is feeling good about that end of the floor.

But offensively, with his team’s size, it can be an awkward fit. Al Horford is figuring out how to play with a center as dominant as Embiid. Josh Richardson is learning how to play next to a 6-foot-10 point guard that doesn’t shoot from the outside. And Tobias Harris is still figuring out exactly what his role is.

It’s up to Brown and the players to figure it out, but it won’t happen overnight.

“But at some point, when somebody claims that part of the floor, other people have to react to like, well, that real estate's bought,” Brown said. “That takes time. And forget the coach on the sideline saying it, I bet if you ask the players, they'll give you heartfelt -- I hope -- answers on the truth and this is my point: You don't just click your heels [and win], even with talent. 

“This is a different type of team. It's not like you got a traditional point guard, a bunch of shooters, you know Joel Embiid and a stretch four — it's not that. It ain't that at all. I like what I got. I like the people, I like the talent, but it's not a perfect fit that happens straightaway. And that's not an excuse. That's just the way I truly see it.”

Horford’s struggles while playing next to Embiid are evident. His best minutes as a Sixer have been when being used at the five with Embiid out. He’s also shooting just 31.6 percent from three after connecting on 38.2 percent of tries during three years in Boston.

Though he wasn’t as willing to give a timeframe for things to come together, he echoed his coach’s sentiments about the team’s offense — and defense.

“I think we're just a unique team,” Horford said. “We want to play a certain way and it's more in the paint, bully ball and scoring at will with that. We need to continue to find ways to be efficient scoring in the paint but also hitting shots. But I always go back to defense. The more comfortable that we feel defensively I think that'll take us out of a lot of jams and put us in good position.”

There’s little doubt this team was built more for April and May than it was for November. We’ve seen stretches of how good they can be defensively when all five guys are engaged and on the same page.

One area where they should certainly be better and that can help them when the games get tougher is getting to the line. They're 21st in the league in free throw attempts per game. With their size, this should be a team that lives at the line.

Why is there such a disparity on a nightly basis?

“It's a trick question. I don't want to lose no money so ain't going to say nothing,” Harris said. 

When the reporter clarified that it was not a trick question, Harris gave a layered response.

“Look, my whole career I've haven't been really able to get to the free throw line at a consistent rate that I would like to. I've watched film, done a lot of studying how to draw those files and whatnot. It's still a work in progress. I'm not a flopper so I think that kind of like hinders me sometimes a little bit. 

“I think we can find some more ways to kind of get to the free throw line a little bit more [as a team]. Maybe that's limiting some midrange jumpers and getting all the way downhill. Maybe being more physical. But we'll work at it.”

Like everything else with the 2019-20 Sixers, it’s a work in progress.

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