76ers

Elton Brand should help Sixers fuse new school with old school

Elton Brand should help Sixers fuse new school with old school

CAMDEN, N.J. — Elton Brand was a phenomenal basketball player.

The 1999 No. 1 overall pick played 17 seasons and made two All-Star appearances. He was on the court for the Sixers a little over two years ago. 

When the team named Brand their GM, it seemed like an odd fit. On the court, former NBA player and Philly native Malik Rose referred to Brand as an “old school Chevy.”

Now, Brand is charged with leading an NBA team in 2018. And not just any NBA team, but one that’s had a heavy focus on analytics, starting with former GM Sam Hinkie and “The Process.” 

“Analytics is a great tool,” Brand said Thursday at his introductory press conference at the team’s practice facility. “We’ve built one of the strongest analytical departments in the league in my opinion. But I’ll bring the human side. I’ll bring the 17 years of evaluating talent and being on the court to add to the analytics.”

This makes a ton of sense. With Brand’s promotion to GM, Alex Rucker took his former position as executive VP of basketball operations. Rucker’s most recent position was senior VP of analytics and strategy. 

With Brand embracing the analytical side of things, the Sixers appear to have an ideal front office situation. Everyone surrounding Brand will be able to provide him with all of the data that is out there when it comes to personnel decisions. Brand will then be able to couple that research with years of basketball experience.

“I’m not old school and trying to fight that and say, ‘let me pick with my gut,’” Brand said. “I think those little nuances, with the way the game is trending, I’m on top of that. I think I have the pulse of that.”

Brand was named the GM of the Delaware Blue Coats, the team’s G-League affiliate, just this past season. So it’s a quite a leap to go from that position to running an NBA franchise. 

He’ll rely heavily on the experience of people like assistant GM Ned Cohen and senior VP of player personnel Marc Eversley. After all, that group has led the way since Bryan Colangelo was relieved of his duties and head coach Brett Brown was given the interim GM title. 

But don’t expect Brand to simply just be the face of the franchise. Sure, that is part of his appeal after the unceremonious departures of Hinkie and Colangelo, but make no mistake, Brand will have the “loudest voice off the court,” according to managing partner Josh Harris.

Brand will bring his wealth of experience on the court into the front office. That’s another reason the Sixers hired him: his ability to relate to players as a former player himself. Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnel were among the players in attendance during his introductory press conference. 

But expect Brand to mix his old school approach with today’s way of thinking.

“In the parlance of basketball ops,” Harris said, “he’s a new school Tesla.”

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Jimmy Butler shines in his home debut ... and loves his new victory song

Jimmy Butler shines in his home debut ... and loves his new victory song

When the Sixers made the trade for Jimmy Butler, there were plenty of question marks surrounding the four-time All-Star.

In Friday night’s thrilling 113-107 win over the Jazz at the Wells Fargo Center (see story), the fans couldn’t have cared less about any of that.

Butler was sensational, scoring 28 points on an incredibly efficient 12 of 15 from the field in his first game in front of his new home crowd. After a somewhat tentative debut in Orlando, Butler was much more assertive Friday.

I came out gunning, I can tell you that,” Butler said. “Coach Brown called me last night and was like ‘Hey, I remember one time you were in this building and you scored 50 … do that,’ and I was like ‘OK.’ Then when we got in the little walkthrough this morning, he was like ‘Remember what I told you? … do that.’ I came out a little more aggressive.

There were concerns over Butler’s fit on and off the court. He looked just fine on the court against Utah. Aside from the 28 points, he dished out seven assists and played outstanding on-the-ball defense against Donovan Mitchell, holding the second-year guard to 13 of 35 from the field. 

The most impressive thing about Butler’s performance is that he did everything within the flow of the game and the offense. If anything, he could’ve been a little more aggressive – especially with Joel Embiid in foul trouble.

“I actually thought he could’ve, if he chose to, shot about seven or six more shots,” Brett Brown said of Butler. “You know, we put him in some stuff and you could see, like he’s trying to walk that line of taking control and being proactive versus passing the ball and getting other people involved.”

There were rumors about locker room issues in Butler’s two stops in Chicago and Minnesota. It’s obviously early in the process, but his teammates have said nothing but positive things about Butler so far. 

There even appears to be a little bromance forming between Butler and JJ Redick. During his brief time as a Sixer, Butler has really gravitated toward the veteran guard. One thing we know is that Butler isn't afraid to speak his mind and the two have been communicating an awful lot already.

"I think everybody knows when I say something to you, it’s never personal and if you want to win you’re going to take that criticism," Butler said. "Same thing with me, if somebody says something to me. JJ was like ‘Hey, don’t do that’ and I was like, ‘You’re probably right, it was my fault.’ But everybody wants to win so we take it in stride."

So far, Butler has earned the accolades of his coach and teammates. He also earned chants of “Jim-my But-ler” after a deflection. He then promptly hit a three to send the crowd to a fever pitch in the first few minutes.

The scene was surreal.

He loves his new home court … and his new victory song.

“You can for sure hear them,” Butler said of the chants. “I’ve always said this that ya’ll – or we – have some great fans and it’s definitely an advantage. And then ya’ll have one of the catchiest things in the whole ‘1-2-3-4-5 Sixers’ deal. When I was the away team I was always singing it, so it’s still stuck in my head.”

The more he hears that song, the fewer question marks there will be.

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Sixers 113, Jazz 107: Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid come up huge in thrilling win over Jazz

Sixers 113, Jazz 107: Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid come up huge in thrilling win over Jazz

BOX SCORE

There’s what you hope for out of a home debut and there’s what Jimmy Butler did.

Butler got off to an outstanding start and finished strong in leading the Sixers to a thrilling 113-107 win over the Utah Jazz in his first game with the team at a raucous Wells Fargo Center Friday night.

The Sixers improved to 10-7 and a perfect 8-0 at home. Butler and Joel Embiid combined for 21 points in the fourth to secure the win.

Here are observations from the win.

• In his home debut, Butler got off to a great start to say the least. Like in Orlando, the Sixers ran a play for Butler on their opening possession. Unlike against the Magic, Butler aggressively took the ball to the hole with a beautiful finish.

After denying an entry pass to Rudy Gobert, chants of “Jim-my But-ler” filled the Wells Fargo Center. Butler promptly hit a three as the crowd then gave him a standing ovation.

This place probably hasn’t been that loud since Markelle Fultz hit his first three in the opener.

Brett Brown has faced a ton of unfair criticism recently, but like him or not, you have to admit that his out of bounds plays over the last couple seasons have been exceptional.

Exhibit A with Butler.

Butler is definitely a complete basketball player. What caught my eye in this game was Butler’s ability to facilitate. He had seven assists, none prettier than this one.

Butler finished with 28 points on an impressive 12 of 15 from the field, including eight points in the fourth quarter.

• No matter how great Butler is, it’s clear that Embiid is the catalyst of this team. Embiid received a technical after picking up his second foul late in the second quarter. It appeared the officials got the call right on a moving screen from Embiid and the T was simply out of frustration. 

It really hurt the Sixers as Embiid then picked up his fourth foul on the Jazz’s first possession of the second half and was removed from the game immediately. He didn’t return until the fourth. The team struggled without him on the floor as veteran Amir Johnson, despite going 2 of 3 from three, isn’t giving them enough off the bench.

Embiid came up huge in the fourth, scoring 13 of his 23 points in the final period.

• Ben Simmons had a bounce-back game of sorts. He looked more aggressive than in Butler’s debut in Orlando. He finished with 10 points, eight assists and eight rebounds.

• There was more good and weird from Markelle Fultz Friday night. On his first touch, he came off a screen from Embiid and nailed a mid-range jumper. It looked confident and smooth.

Then this happened.

That form is certainly new to me, but the shots themselves actually looked good. It appears that the more time Fultz has to think, the worse his shot gets. He finished 2 of 4 from the line. Whatever works, I guess. 

Fultz also had some trouble shedding Mitchell, who picked his pocket twice near the end of the first quarter. He did have two great drives late in third quarter. He drove right into the chest of Gobert and got a layup and drew a foul.

• After showing promise in their first game as a unit, the Sixers’ new starting five of Butler, Simmons, Embiid, JJ Redick and Wilson Chandler got off to an impressive start. They opened the game with a 16-4 run, making 8 of 8 from the field.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see the unit long in the second half after Embiid got into foul trouble, but it did close out the game on a strong note.

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