History with Brett Brown a big reason why new Sixers lead assistant coach Monty Williams returned to bench

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History with Brett Brown a big reason why new Sixers lead assistant coach Monty Williams returned to bench

CAMDEN, N.J. — Training camp doesn’t officially start for the Sixers until media day on Friday, but new lead assistant coach Monty Williams is already drilling his players on everything from the proper angle for elbow entry passes to new plays that make the most of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid’s abilities.

The fact that there were about a thousand people watching him Monday night at head coach Brett Brown’s annual clinic for local coaches seemed irrelevant to him. 

After two years away from coaching, working in the San Antonio Spurs' front office, Williams is happy to be back on the floor, drawing up creative options within the Sixers’ sets. T.J. McConnell, Norvel Pelle, Demetrius Jackson and Anthony Brown were supposed to be demonstrating different plays and concepts for the crowd, but Williams made sure they learned a couple new plays as well. 

“I know it’s cool in the NBA to get away from your job and not talk about basketball, but I’m not like that,” Williams said. “When I leave the floor, I talk about basketball, I talk about coming up with plays. So Brett’s like that, so when we leave the gym, we still talk about basketball, we text at night about basketball. It’s a good environment for me because it fits me.”

Williams, who was the head coach in New Orleans from 2010 to 2015, making the postseason twice during that span, has a history with Brown. After a nine-year NBA career, which included Philadelphia as a final stop for the 2002-03 season, Williams joined the Spurs as a coaching staff intern during the 2004-05 campaign. That’s where he first met Brown, then an assistant under Gregg Popovich. 

“He was the guy that gave me a shot,” Williams said. “Pop invited me to be around, but Brett said, ‘I got him. He can be in my stable.’ We spent every day together talking about coaching, life, on the elliptical. That stuff went a long way with me because he didn’t have to do it, and so when I left and went to Portland, we stayed in contact. 

“I got a head [coaching] job, he got a head [coaching] job, we starting competing against each other, and we never lost that relationship. Then when this opportunity came up, it just seemed like not only the right thing to do, but it’s been a good transition for me. We have a unique relationship that started about 15 years ago.”

Williams’ main focus with the Sixers will be on the offensive end, with an emphasis on set plays and special situations, while Kevin Young will shift to working on the Sixers’ motion offense. That said, Williiams noted Brown wants his coaches to have a say in everything the team does.

“He’s always telling me to coach, helping on defense, transition, talking to Kevin about our motion offense. Brett doesn’t put a limit on what you do. That’s why a number of the guys that have been here have grown so much.”

Billy Lange will be in charge of the defense, taking over Lloyd Pierce’s old role. Pierce left the Sixers to become the Atlanta Hawks’ head coach, which is why there was an opening for Williams. 

Williams said he thinks the biggest area he can help Brown is with the details. For instance, Williams showed the crowd a few variations he hopes to add to the Sixers’ “Ear tug world,” or their series of plays that begin with two big men in the high post and two wings in the corners. “Ear tug curl with up option” ends with one of the wings starting to curl up, but instead setting a back screen on the big man at the elbow to, if the first option is available, free Embiid for a lob.

While Williams is excited to be back crafting plays for players like Embiid, he said the drive he’s seen from the Sixers' players is also something that motivates him.

“I’m seeing a competitive edge from young, talented, generational players, and that’s exciting,” Williams said. “I feel like a lot of it is who they are, but I also feel like they’re chasing something. I watch Ben in here on the floor at eight o’clock in the morning, I’m looking at a young man that’s chasing something. When I see Joel dominating pickup games, every single game trying to win the game, he’s chasing something.

"I’m seeing Markelle (Fultz) with the ability to work on his game, JJ (Redick) in his 13th year in great shape and knocking down shot after shot after shot. I’m reminded that these guys are competitive. And that makes you want to be as sharp as you can for them.”

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LeBron James is on the verge of history; Sixers don't care

LeBron James is on the verge of history; Sixers don't care

The Sixers welcome LeBron James to the Wells Fargo Center as the King is looking to make history.

They’ll be shorthanded as Joel Embiid will miss his ninth straight game and Josh Richardson will sit with a left hamstring strain.

Here are three storylines to watch:

LeBron on the verge of history

With 18 points Saturday, James will pass not-quite-Philadelphia native Kobe Bryant for third place on the all-time scoring list.

After practice Friday, the Sixers were peppered with questions about James getting to that mark in their building. 

Their overriding response: They don’t care.

“It’s not on my mind,” Brett Brown said. “I think he’s class, and he’s a champion, and he’s incredibly important to our league. To feel at all the need to come in and if he scores whatever number you just said against Philadelphia ... I don’t care. I want to beat the Lakers and it doesn’t enter my mind, that side of the equation of defending him or the Lakers.”

Veteran Al Horford, who’s had plenty of battles with James in his career, was even more indifferent. 

“I don't care about [it],” Horford said. “Obviously, we want to win the game. That's all I care about. He's got a great body of work, career for him when he accomplishes that feat, but I don't care about that.”

The Sixers are dealing with injuries and are sixth in the East. They have much bigger things to worry about.

How do you slow LeBron down?

If the Sixers want to win the game, they’ll have to at least slow James down. Not having two of their best defensive players in Embiid and Richardson makes that task even more difficult.

When it comes to LeBron, there is no one defender that can get the job done. It has to be a collective effort.

“You’ve got a few choices — you can either take a charge and take a few years off your career, or you can wrap him up and make him go shoot free throws,” Brown said. “The unlikely instance where you’re going to go block a shot or steal the ball, I doubt it. And so your options are minimal when you’re on an island. They increase when you can actually show a crowd. And therefore you need a team — it’s a team thing that we’re talking about. Otherwise, you can’t. I don’t think you can.”

Brown wouldn’t reveal who’d get the first opportunity to guard James, but did hint that impressive rookie Matisse Thybulle could get a look.

Brown has been hesitant to put Ben Simmons on the opposing team’s best offensive player because of the big minutes the point guard plays. Tonight may be an exception. Simmons is having a Defensive Player of the Year caliber season and is one of the few players in the league that can match James’ physical prowess. It’d be a big test for Simmons and fun matchup to watch.

Who will step up?

With Embiid and Richardson out, the Sixers are losing a combined 38.4 points per game. For a team that’s had its struggles offensively this season, it’s less than ideal.

So where do the Sixers go for answers?

One player that’s stepped up in a big way recently is Furkam Korkmaz. The Turkish wing, who seems to be in line to start Saturday, is shooting 50 percent from three on 7.6 attempts over his last five games. He’s averaging 16.6 points during that span.

“I think during the season we’ve had a lot of challenges like this,” Korkmaz said. “It’s a long season, anybody can get injured. I hope that’s not going to happen, but when someone is out you need to play more for each other. I think we’re going to figure it out. I don’t know who’s going to lead it … but I think the most important thing is to stay together. And like I said, until now we’ve had a lot of challenges like this, so we’re going to figure it out.”

When Richardson went down just four minutes into Wednesday’s loss in Toronto, Brown turned to second-year guard Shake Milton. Milton played his most minutes since last season’s season finale.

While he spent much of last season in the G League with his two-way deal, he improved his ball handling and in running the pick-and-roll. While his shot hasn't translated consistently on the NBA level, it’s part of what made him so attractive out of SMU.

The one thing the 2018 second-round pick does have is the confidence of his coaches and teammates.

“Offensively, I'm not worried about him,” Horford said. “He can really, really shoot the ball and he'll have his looks, his opportunities and I'm confident in him.”

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NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

NBA trade rumors: Davis Bertans reportedly might not be available

“The Latvian Laser” might not be for sale.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, the Wizards haven’t been listening to offers for sharpshooter Davis Bertans. 

“Inquiries to Washington have gone nowhere; several executives tell SI.com that the Wizards wouldn’t even discuss a deal,” Mannix reports. “Some teams, though, are holding out hope Washington will make Bertans available before the trade deadline."

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor and Mannix have all reported that the Sixers have interest in Bertans, who’s shot 42.6 percent from three on 8.7 attempts per game. That’s the best percentage in the league among players who have attempted at least eight threes per contest. 

Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Wizards were “fielding calls” for Bertans despite general manager Tommy Sheppard saying the team had “every intention of retaining” the forward in free agency. The Celtics, Lakers, Hawks and Nuggets are also suitors for Bertans, according to Hughes.

Bertans is making $7 million this season but looks set to earn substantially more when he becomes a free agent. The Wizards hold Bertans’ Bird Rights after landing him in a trade this summer, which means they could go over the salary cap to re-sign him.

The trade deadline isn’t until Feb. 6, so it’s certainly possible that the Wizards will be open for business when it really matters. It seems that it would make sense to at least consider offers. 

Regardless, Bertans is an attractive player for the Sixers, and for contending teams in general who want an elite shooter. 

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