76ers

Elton Brand — yes, Elton Brand — will have a say in Sixers' medical decisions

Elton Brand — yes, Elton Brand — will have a say in Sixers' medical decisions

WILMINGTON, Del. — Before Saturday’s Blue x White Scrimmage at 76ers Fieldhouse, Sixers general manager Elton Brand met with the media. Below are a few takeaways on what stood out from Brand’s availability.

A new kind of partnership 

The Sixers made significant changes to their medical and performance teams this summer, not renewing the contracts of vice president of athlete care Dr. Daniel Medina or director of performance, research and development Dr. David T. Martin. The team promoted Scott Epsley to medical director and hired Lorena Torres as performance director.

Brand also acknowledged Saturday there was a notable change the team didn’t announce.  

We brought in Lorena Torres from the Spurs — she had a great run there with the data science being her base and her background. And then Scott Epsley, who’s been here four years, his ability to relate to the players. … And with me. I admit it, I’ll be more a part of it with the players in a partnership for their care. I felt like for their daily care, changes needed to be made, but I’m confident in the changes we have made.

Joel Embiid talked at media day about the high level of trust he has in Brand, something he said didn’t exist under the regime of former president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo (see story).

Brand assuming a prominent role in the medical/performance sphere is unorthodox — especially when you consider the team has taken the duty of providing medical updates to the media off the plate of head coach Brett Brown — but it’s understandable. If it means Embiid and other Sixers are more inclined to buy in to the plan to keep them healthy, it’s a sensible shift. 

Speaking of Embiid, Brand classified the Sixers' approach with the All-Star big man as “daily, strategic, thoughtful consultation.”

He did not rule out Embiid playing more than the 64 games he did last year, or him suiting up for both games of back-to-backs. 

Though the team’s approach with Embiid will presumably be fluid, Brand was confident regardless that Embiid will be committed to it.

“I think the setback last year losing Game 7 in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, it really hurt and he understood that, ‘Look, I need to be the best in May and June.’ I think that helped us a lot, and he understands it.”

No pressure

Brand is surely aware of all the buzz around Ben Simmons’ jumper, and he’s confident enough in the work Simmons put into his shot over the summer to further feed that hype.

He’s worked hard at it. And we support Ben, we believe in Ben. We want him to shoot and he’s going to shoot. And he’s going to shoot the right shots — that’s what’s important to me. Just developing, it’s a team effort. So if he’s open from a corner three, I expect him to let it fly, and from what I’ve seen, I expect it to go in. Not to put pressure on him, but he’s worked, and he’s built for that. He’s worked his butt off all summer long. 

Simmons took plenty of three-point shots pre-scrimmage.

He only took one jumper during the scrimmage, a fadeaway from about 12 feet away which he airballed.

Don't except more blockbuster deals 

Brand’s first year as an NBA general manger was an active one, highlighted by deals for Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Things didn’t slow much in his first offseason either, with the departures of Butler and JJ Redick and the additions of Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

He wouldn’t rule anything out, but don’t expect that same level of near-constant roster turnover in Brand’s second year on the job.

“We have a championship-caliber team, for sure,” he said. “A lot of things have to fall into place for any championship, but I think we have the pieces. I’m certainly going to monitor and look at any way I can improve the team throughout the season.” 

The idea of being able to build chemistry and continuity is a positive in Brand’s mind, which is another reason why him making a huge move would indeed be a surprise.

“I’m happy we get it from Day 1 and it’s not at the deadline or moving parts around and making it fit,” he said. “Being able to start in the summer, a lot of guys came in early — it meant a lot.”



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Ben Simmons responds to potentially playing a different role for Sixers

Ben Simmons responds to potentially playing a different role for Sixers

Ben Simmons is exceptionally versatile, and he does not have a difficult time describing the multitude of things he can do well on a basketball court besides shoot. 

“I’m a basketball player at the end of the day,” he said in a video conference call Tuesday. “You know me, you put me on the floor, I’ll make anything happen, whether it’s plays, buckets, stops. I’ll guard anybody 1 through 5, I’ll run the floor, I can get to the rim, I can score the ball and I make plays happen. 

“So wherever you put me — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 — it’s going to happen. I don’t really look at it as a title or position. That’s mainly for you guys to put down in your articles.” 

Reporters’ articles on Monday were obligated to mention that Brett Brown said he has been using Simmons exclusively as a power forward in the Sixers’ practices at Disney World, and that he’s been employing Shake Milton as the team’s starting point. Simmons did not seem worried about whether that shift meant he’d now have the ball in his hands less often. 

“It’s basketball, you’ve gotta get the ball,” he said.

Fair enough. 

In the eight games Milton and Simmons started together between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, the two-time All-Star was often stationed as a playmaker at the elbow and still had many chances to be the hub of the offense, like on the play below vs. the Lakers. Milton dished the ball off to Simmons and then set a cross screen to free Tobias Harris, who Simmons hit for an open three. 

Simmons averaged 20.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.4 assists during that stretch, and the Sixers went 4-4. He may not be as commanding an all-around presence as his star teammate, but Milton is a multi-dimensional offensive player, one Simmons feels complements him effectively. 

“He plays really well,” Simmons said of Milton. “He can shoot the ball, he has a high IQ, he can get to the rim, he can finish. He’s just somebody you can play with, and you can say something to him and he’ll put it into play and try it out. And that’s what you need in somebody like Shake or players like that. He’s developing still and he’s come a long way since the first day I’ve seen him play. He’s only getting better.”

If the Sixers ultimately decide to start the never-used lineup of Milton, Josh Richardson, Harris, Simmons and Joel Embiid — Brown emphasized again Tuesday that it’s still “incredibly early” in this second training camp of sorts — one imagines we’ll see less of Simmons as a middle pick-and-roll ball handler and more of him as a screener. Ideally, that would mean fewer possessions where the defense sags off and Simmons’ weakness as a shooter hurts the team.

It also should mean greater opportunity for Simmons to grow pick-and-roll partnerships with Milton and Richardson.

Given how the Sixers had fallen short of their expectations before the NBA’s hiatus, Simmons is open to experimentation. He just doesn't care about the labels.

You've just gotta work with different things,” he said. “You’ve gotta try different things out, see if they work. We’re not at a stage where we can be comfortable yet. I’m still trying to figure it out myself ... what feels comfortable, what’s right for this team and how we’re gonna win. 

“If it’s this way, then I’m all for it. I’ve been having fun in that position — whatever you guys say, the four — whatever it is. But at the end of the day, when you see me I’m on the floor, I’m making plays.

As for who will handle the ball late in close playoff games, Brown has not yet settled on an answer. 

“He does have the ball at times,” Brown said of Simmons. “I have played him as a four-man. And so I suspect that will continue where I use him in many ways, and I think that when it gets a little bit closer than four days into practice, I’ll probably be able to give you more detail. 

“But I think about it all the time and we still have a lot of things as it relates to just to the preseason games, the eight regular-season games — the runway is long. We have enough time to establish a lot of these things that might remain a little uncertain or flexible.”

With Simmons’ unique skill set, the ultimate correct answer might not be a simple or conventional one. 

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2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

Former Sixer Richaun Holmes breached the NBA’s health and safety regulations by picking up a food delivery, he said Monday afternoon. 

Holmes will now have to quarantine for eight additional days. 

Earlier Monday, ESPN reported that the Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo unintentionally broke quarantine. 

Shortly after Holmes released his statement, the NBA and NBPA announced that two players of the 322 tested in Orlando since July 7 were positive for the coronavirus. Those players never cleared quarantine, according to the joint statement. 

All-Star Rockets guard Russell Westbrook announced Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19 before Houston’s departure and is quarantined. New Sixer Ryan Broekhoff said Sunday he didn’t travel with the Sixers to Orlando so that he could focus on his family after his wife tested positive.

Joel Embiid was skeptical last week that all players would follow the league’s protocols.

“Some guys like to go out and some guys like to do stuff, (there are) some guys that like adventure,” he said. “So that’s the way I’m thinking. I know myself. I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk, but the question is, is everybody else going to do the same? And just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”

A second-round pick of the Sixers in 2015, Holmes played the first three seasons of his career in Philadelphia as an athletic, high-energy backup big man. He’s had the best season of his career with the Kings, posting 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this year. 

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