In first true offseason, Elton Brand is building Sixers in his image

In first true offseason, Elton Brand is building Sixers in his image

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s crazy to think about Elton Brand’s journey. He played his last NBA game on April 10, 2016. On Friday, he was introducing the newest additions to the team he has built as the Sixers GM.

One of the players introduced was Al Horford. The two big men actually played together for two seasons in Atlanta. Horford was just 28 when a 34-year-old Brand joined the Hawks.

Horford told those in attendance a story about their time together. While on the road, Horford and a few of his teammates were getting ready to leave the team hotel and head out to dinner. When they were heading into the elevator, they saw Brand, drenched in sweat, heading back to his room after working out at the hotel gym.

It stuck with Horford. It’s part of the reason that when Brand came calling, Horford was interested.

“I got to watch him as a younger player and see how professional he was, how he took care of his body,” Horford said during his introductory press conference. “His commitment to wanting to win and do the right things inspired me back then. I think that he believed in me, he believes in this group. When they came and approached me, it felt right. That's why I'm excited to be here, because I know he wants what's best for this city, for Philadelphia, and what we're trying to do."

If there was a theme for the Sixers this offseason, it seemed to be about building a culture. Brand signed players that fit the type of mentality he had as a player himself.

Culture can be a throwaway word in sports — as clichéd as “chemistry” and “taking things one game at a time.” But in this case, it seems clear Brand was looking for what Brett Brown may call, “Adults in the room.”

Horford is the type of player whose numbers won’t blow you away, but there is nothing he can’t do on a basketball court. He’s smart, disciplined and his 12 NBA seasons — all of which ended in a postseason berth — have molded him into one of the most respected leaders in the NBA.

Big man Kyle O’Quinn and point guard Raul Neto may not have been the sexiest signings, but both guys have experience and are willing to take whatever role is necessary in order for the Sixers to win.

“Simply my biggest task is gaining the respect of my colleagues and I think that’s why I’m sitting at this table — having somebody say good things about you without you saying it yourself,” O’Quinn said. “I think I’ve played every role in the NBA. Over my seven years I’ve had the luxury of starting and I’ve had the luxury of being the 15th guy. But the work doesn’t go unnoticed and I’m always ready for any opportunity.”

While experience certainly factors into things, 25-year-old Josh Richardson easily fits into a winning culture. Acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Miami, Richardson has a similar background to the player he was traded for. 

Richardson was a two-star recruit coming out of high school and was drafted in the second round out of Tennessee. He really had to earn his way onto the floor in the NBA with hard-nosed defense and high effort. His offensive game has steadily improved in each of his professional seasons, to the point in which he was the focal point of the Heat’s offense last season.

Playing with like-minded and exceptionally talented players is something the fifth-year wing relishes.

“I had to work for everything at every level so coming here with these guys, it’s going to be easy I think to continue that growth,” Richardson said. “You see how Tobias [Harris], you see this whole team, this whole roster is full of guys that have progressed a lot over their careers. I think it’ll be fun to almost compete — almost see like who can be in the gym the most, see who can beat who or see how much better we can get over these seasons.”

And let’s not forget about Harris, who crossed paths with Richardson at Tennessee. While Harris may have been a bigger recruit and a higher draft pick, he, too, has made strides in his game that have allowed him to reach this level. Harris’ reputation preceded him as a hard worker and tremendous teammate.

And we didn’t even mention James Ennis, who was a second-round pick out of Long Beach State and has bounced around six NBA teams in five seasons, will also be returning. As will fan favorite Mike Scott, known for his toughness and coming to the defense of his teammates.

Scott was also a member of the Hawks with Brand and Horford. While he wasn’t in attendance Friday to provide his usually colorful side of things, Scott, like the now 33-year-old Horford, would surely have a Brand story or two.

It just speaks to the impact Brand had as a player and the kind of impact he wants his current team to have.

"High-character guys who know how to play the game that can still step on the court and pay a lot of dividends — be actual players,” Brand said. “Not just locker-room guys, but we expect them to do a lot on the court, which helps a lot. 

“And our younger players that we're developing, just to see how hard they work. Al told the story of seeing me working out when I was an older player and he was younger. You kind of pay it forward. They see how hard you work, they see how professional you are, they see what it takes to win. That's our goal with having players like that, like Brett Brown would say, 'Adults in the room.'"

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons out for Hawks game with back injury, will have additional evaluation Monday

Ben Simmons went through an initial evaluation on his back Sunday in Philadelphia, will have an additional evaluation Monday and is out for the Sixers’ game tomorrow night vs. the Atlanta Hawks, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.

Simmons missed Thursday’s game vs. the Nets with lower back soreness and irritated the injury in the first quarter Saturday night against the Bucks. 

Head coach Brett Brown said Thursday that Simmons was injured at the team’s practice Wednesday.

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

After drawing a foul on Milwaukee’s Brook Lopez with 7:21 left in the first on a running hook shot, Simmons put his hands on his knees and appeared in discomfort. He stayed in to make 1 of 2 free throws, and the Sixers then had Matisse Thybulle commit a foul to stop the game and allow Simmons to return to the locker room.

Before Saturday, Simmons had been averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.9 assists this season in a team-high 36.3 minutes per game. The two-time All-Star has an NBA-best 115 steals. 

Simmons had entered the All-Star break strong, with a 26-point triple-double in the Sixers’ Feb. 11 win over the Clippers. 

He’d posted 20.9 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game in the final 18 contests before the All-Star Game, shooting 68.9 percent from the foul line during that stretch. When Joel Embiid was out with a torn ligament in his left ring finger, Simmons had carried the Sixers to a 6-3 record. 

With 25 regular-season games remaining, the Sixers are 35-22 and fifth in the Eastern Conference standings. They have a 26-2 home record, best in the NBA, and a 9-20 away mark that’s the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. The team’s remaining schedule is the easiest in the league.

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If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

If Ben Simmons is sidelined for an extended period, how will Sixers adapt?

We don’t need to spend much time explaining how and why Ben Simmons is very valuable for the Sixers. 

The two-time All-Star leads the NBA in steals and, before irritating a lower back injury Saturday night in Milwaukee, was averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 assists and 7.9 rebounds.

Of course, the Sixers will hope the injury doesn’t keep Simmons out for long. The question of how the Sixers will manage if Simmons’ injury does sideline him for an extended period of time, however, deserves attention.

Who’d be in the starting lineup? 

Though Raul Neto started in Simmons’ place Thursday against the Nets, he didn’t play against the Bucks until the game was well out of hand.

Shake Milton handled much of the point guard duties after Simmons left and was solid, making 5 of 7 three-point shots and scoring 17 points.

Josh Richardson and Alec Burks are other ball handling options, with Brett Brown seeming to prefer Burks’ “scoring punch” off the bench.

In his second NBA season, Milton has posted 6.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game, shooting 36.9 percent from three. The 23-year-old was on a two-way contract with the Sixers as a rookie and starred with the Delaware Blue Coats, scoring 24.9 points per game in the G League.

Who else would be impacted? 

Between Jan. 25 and Feb. 9, Milton started eight straight games for the Sixers because of Richardson’s hamstring injury. Brown didn’t play him as much as a typical starter during that stretch, giving him 25.4 minutes per game. He only exceeded 30 minutes once, when he scored a career-high 27 points on Jan. 30 in Atlanta.

Milton again would not likely be assuming full-on starters minutes. Perhaps Richardson and Burks would combine for a greater sum of backup point guard minutes than usual. If Richardson were to handle backup point guard duties, that would presumably mean Glenn Robinson III, Furkan Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle would have more minutes to take on the wing. 

Simmons was averaging a team-high 36.3 minutes entering Saturday’s game, so there is simply a lot of playing time that would need to be allocated among multiple players. 

Where would the Sixers suffer the most? 

The defense would take a big hit. The on-off stats mysteriously indicate that the Sixers have been a better defensive team with Simmons not on the floor, but they’d clearly be losing one of the best defenders in the game. 

Along with being first in steals, Simmons has the most total deflections and the most defensive loose balls recovered. He can defend opposing stars and, in general, most point guards, wings and power forwards. The Sixers would not be able to replace that defensive versatility or overall quality.

They’d obviously gain something in terms of outside shooting but would lose a lot in other offensive areas. Simmons has assisted on more threes than any player this season.

How much would it hurt overall? 

Because Simmons has played in 214 of a possible 221 regular-season games over the last three seasons, we don’t have any meaningful track record of how the Sixers tend to fare without him.

Joel Embiid would be the focus of a Simmons-less team, and it would make sense for the offense to involve more Embiid post-ups than ever.

The most basic formula for success without Simmons would be an elite Embiid on both ends of the floor, Milton and other guards succeeding in expanded roles, and Tobias Harris and Al Horford being better across the board, especially as three-point shooters. It’s not impossible that all those pieces would come together, but it would be a lot to ask. 

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