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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James Harden may be MVP favorite, but Joel Embiid makes statement

James Harden may be MVP favorite, but Joel Embiid makes statement

Joel Embiid was listed as questionable for Monday night’s game, still dealing with back tightness.

With the league’s MVP favorite in the building and a national TV audience to shine for, there was little chance Embiid was going to miss this one.

Thanks in large part to the All-Star center, the Sixers rolled against James Harden and the Rockets, 121-93, at the Wells Fargo Center (see observations). Embiid’s stat line was again impressive — 32 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks in 26 minutes — but hardly shows the impact he had.

Veterans Nene and Kenneth Faired looked helpless against the league’s best big man. Then again, with the way Embiid was rolling, it’s hard to imagine anyone could’ve stopped him. While Harden may be running away with the MVP award, Embiid made a statement Monday.

He did his best to downplay the notion that Harden’s presence added any extra motivation.

“I do whatever my team needs me to do and that’s score the ball, be the best defensive player in the league, “Embiid said. “It’s good, everybody’s winning. If MVP comes with it, great. But right now we’re looking to win a lot of games and we’re doing that.”

Embiid has won the city of Philadelphia over with his game, but also his larger-than-life personality. His feuds with Andre Drummond and Russell Westbrook have reached legendary status. His Twitter and Instagram accounts have always been must-follows.

But you’ve seen less of it this season. As Embiid has matured and the goals of the team have gotten bigger, Embiid’s focus seems to have grown. Not as much trolling and what could’ve been viewed as silly arrogance has turned more into honest confidence.

And with all the injuries and minutes restrictions Embiid has dealt with, playing through some muscle soreness in his back isn’t hard.

I've been with him now for five years and the growth that he has shown through two naviculars, gaining weight, unsure if he's going to play,” Brett Brown said. “We sent him to the Middle East to find ways to help him recover and for him to come back and be rewarded with a contract, to be in MVP conversations — I appreciate him gutting something out, that is true, but it's the overall growth and the leadership especially that interests me the most.

While Harden is seen as the hands-down favorite for MVP, Embiid doesn’t even really seem to be in the conversation. Guys like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Stephen Curry seem to get all the attention.

Embiid is doing his best not to focus on that and while he has grown up before our eyes, he’s still having as much fun as ever.

The trash talking and trolling has quieted some, but we still get the occasional nugget.

“It was fun. We beat them by 30, so it was pretty fun for us, I don’t think it was fun for them,” Embiid said. “But [Harden’s] a great player. Have a lot of respect for him. The way they play, you just gotta key in on him and have guys like Corey [Brewer] that are really getting to him. … He’s fun. 

“I love playing against guys that you guys might say are better than me, just to prove to you guys that they’re not, but it’s fun to me.”

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Corey Brewer frustrates James Harden, earns cult hero status

Corey Brewer frustrates James Harden, earns cult hero status

It seemed like Corey Brewer had a smile on his face from the moment Brett Brown told him he’d be starting through his postgame availability.

Then again, in the short time he’s been around, it seems like this might just be the kind of guy Brewer is.

Signed last Tuesday to a 10-day contract by the Sixers, his eighth NBA team, Brewer was out there for anyone to snag. The 32-year-old wing has championship experience and started every game of a playoff series for the Thunder just a little under nine months ago.

But up until last week, he was on his couch. In Monday's win over the Rockets (see observations), he was starting in place of All-Star Jimmy Butler for a team with championship aspirations and asked to guard the most unguardable human on the planet.

I was happy. I get to play basketball. I’ve been sitting down, playing with my kids. I’ve been playing superheroes every day. I was really happy to get to play basketball. I’m a competitor. I love when I get to have a matchup like James Harden. It’s great. Let’s go.

As glad as Brewer was to be out there, this didn’t seem like an ideal matchup. 

Harden came to the Wells Fargo Center Monday looking like the NBA’s clear MVP favorite — and it doesn’t seem particularly close. He’s been playing on another planet from the rest of the league.

But for how pleasant Brewer was during his pre- and postgame availability, there was definitely a different guy out there getting in the grill of the league’s most dominant offensive player. It was clear Brewer’s goal was to frustrate Harden.

Mission accomplished.

He had some tenacity. There was swagger there,” Brown said. “I think Corey just set the stage. He set the table that spilt over with a pretty solid 48-minute performance defensively on [Harden]. For him to [finish] with eight free throws in itself is a good accomplishment.

Sure, Harden still poured in 37 points, but Brewer and company clearly got under his skin. 

There were multiple possessions in which Harden grew visibly annoyed by his former teammate in the second quarter. After the second such instance, Harden was whistled for a foul, much to the delight of the Wells Fargo Center crowd.

The fans were so appreciative that a “Cor-ey Brew-er” chant broke out. Signed to a 10-day deal and playing in just his second game, Brewer is already a cult hero in Philadelphia.

It’s Philly. They hate you or love you. I’m glad they’re on my side right now,” Brewer said. “I fit right in, I feel. We got everything — we’ve got a guy like Jimmy, a guy like Ben [Simmons], we’ve got [Joel Embiid]. Everybody else, we just gotta try to fit in. It’s all about getting to the next level, and that’s getting to the Finals.

It’s amazing that a player with Brewer’s résumé was just sitting out there. The biggest knock on him is his inability to hit threes. Basketball has shifted to such a three-heavy sport — Harden being a prime example — that Brewer’s career 28 percent mark from three perhaps overshadowed his value.

You saw that value Monday. He’s a crazy long athlete that loves to defend. Brown mentioned when they signed Brewer that he envisioned the veteran wing flying down the court with Simmons in transition.

Well …

This all begs the question: How the hell was this dude out there?

“Isn’t that what life’s all about? You get an opportunity and you hope to deliver. He did deliver,” Brown said. “I think that's what stands out most to me is you have to imagine when you’re not with a team and you’re trying to get back in the league, what you have to do physically to come out and play 34 minutes … 

“He’s good people and I’m thrilled he had the opportunity and to live it like he did.”

With how he performed Monday, Brewer certainly earned more opportunities.

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