76ers

Joel Embiid practices 5-on-5, could play in preseason after all

Joel Embiid practices 5-on-5, could play in preseason after all

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid checked off a key criterion in his return to play by participating in full-court 5-on-5 work on Thursday. 

This was the first time Embiid has played basketball to this extent since undergoing season-ending left knee surgery in March. He didn't experience soreness in the scrimmage.

"It felt great," Embiid said. "I was a little bit rusty but it felt great just running up and down. I've been doing quite a bit for the past few weeks as far as conditioning, so I felt a little bit better at the beginning. Toward the end, I was a little bit tired. But I felt great. I worked hard to get back. ... I've just got to keep on working to get back to playing shape."

Embiid has been eyeing a debut of opening night on Oct. 18. He would like to get into a preseason game before then, though. Last year, he found the repetitions before the regular season helped him get into a rhythm.

Embiid thinks he has a "pretty good" chance to play in a preseason game next week. He will not play on Friday against the Celtics. 

"It's on the medical staff. I trust them," Embiid said. "But at the same time, I have a voice too. I think they value my opinion too. It's about us being on the same page. If I feel good and I'm able to play, they're going to let me play. I want to be out there obviously."

Brown had trouble finding comparable matchups to Embiid in the scrimmage given his physicality. The Sixers had been tailoring their practices in training camp to incorporate Embiid as much as they could. Brown noticed the restrictions of half-court work in Wednesday's loss to the Grizzlies.

"I felt the pain of that last night," Brown said. "Transition defense, running, we played slow. We didn't get back. I didn't feel like that helped us. Today, having Jo where we could have no half-court restrictions and we could actually play basketball was excellent."

Brown's goal for Embiid is to do everything on the court "harder, smarter, longer." Even though Embiid is going to be one of the Sixers' offensive focal points, he is using these practices to focus on defense, too.

"I love being the best defender in the league," he said. "Obviously in my career, I want to win a few Defensive Player of the Year [awards]."

Embiid has been down the injury road before after missing his first two seasons. He is confident in the latest step he has taken. 

"It's all going to come together," he said.

In addition to Embiid, Dario Saric (rest) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendinitis) will not play against the Celtics.

Markelle Fultz (right shoulder soreness), Robert Covington (right knee soreness) and Amir Johnson (sprained right ankle) are probable. Fultz went through resistance and cardio training Thursday but did not practice.

Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

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Sixers' NBA draft decisions should serve as a warning for Markelle Fultz

The Friday after any NBA draft is a crowning moment for all of the league’s franchises. They trot out the previous night’s selections and hold introductory press conferences with smiles all around.

The Sixers were no different as they showed off first-round picks Zhaire Smith and Landry Shamet at their training complex Friday morning.

However, make no mistake that this one was a little bit different. 

While the event was all about the new faces joining the organization, it also served as a direct warning shot to Markelle Fultz.

Brett Brown sat at the podium sandwiched between the two players he selected in the first round of his initial foray as Sixers interim general manager. Both guys happen to be bigger guards and each possess a particular top skill (athleticism for Smith and shooting for Shamet) that the Sixers thought they were getting right from the start in Fultz.

“The real reason they’re here is their talent,” Brown said. “Their ability to grow into NBA players, to play a modern style of basketball. The ability we felt that their base foundation had so much more room to grow. 

“The notion of how we play here in Philadelphia. The values that we have on defense, how we want to play offense. How we all look into a crystal ball and suspect the sport is going to be played in 2025. When you added those up, it made perfect sense and aggressively targeting these two players that sit on my right and sit on my left.”

It was just a year ago that the Sixers made an aggressive move to the top of the 2017 draft for Fultz. And while the franchise isn’t ready to give up on him after a rocky rookie season, it certainly sounds more and more like the team has settled on him becoming just a piece and not a cornerstone.

“When we started looking at the players available and I especially start looking at how we want to play and who can be sandwiched in between Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, we’re looking for that modern-day type of player,” Brown said when asked whether taking two guards in the first round meant something about Fultz’s status. “To say position-less basketball, it’s really not that. To me, it might give you better vision of what I’m trying to say. I just think that the skill and things that we require, these two have, especially as you look sandwiched in between. And whether that’s Markelle, T.J. (McConnell) or Cov (Robert Covington), I would tell you the same thing. 

“When you look at the league, the league switches defensively a lot. When you look at the league, the league drives, dishes, needs three-point shot-makers and playmakers a lot. So whether it’s apples for apples is fine by me, but probably what you should hear the loudest is I don’t think there’s overlap. I think that they can play together.”

Playing together is completely different than playing around. It’s pretty clear the Sixers now reserve that status for Embiid, Simmons and whatever stars they plan to chase in free agency or via trade.

That doesn’t mean Fultz can’t reclaim the standing within the organization he was seemingly destined for when the Sixers called his name at No. 1 last year. After all, he just turned 20 years old last month (he’s actually 14 months younger than Shamet).

It all starts during this crucial summer for Fultz, which apparently is already going well (see story). But Smith and Shamet will have the chance to make impacts of their own coming up in the next few months as well.

“If you just base it on math and you look at percentages of what does a 10th player do and what’s a 26th player do, rarely do you see people immediately come in and claim a large role in rotations and heavy minutes. That historically isn’t the trend,” Brown said. “I say that from a factual base more than something that might be challenged. I expect these guys to challenge that. 

“Where this ends up, the expectations in relations to role and minutes and all of that, they’re going to tell me. We’ve got a summer league coming up. They will have ample opportunities to draw their own line in the sand.”

Fultz better be focused on drawing his too.

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Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Heading into the NBA draft, there was some uncertainty about how the Sixers would make decisions. Nobody seemed willing to say whether interim GM Brett Brown would have the final say, or whether it would be a truly collaborative process.

Thursday night, Brown confirmed he’s the man in charge.

“I was the one that approved the final decision,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first-round trade for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. “We have many people in that room that are aggressively speaking to people. We have information, we put it on a board and we discuss it. At the end of the day, (managing partner) Josh (Harris) looked at me and I did what I did. I approved the deal.”

Brown made sure to credit the people around him who made a difficult job easier. As Brown put it, “This has been a really different June” for him. There’s no way he could have expected he’d be pulling the trigger on draft night when the season ended, but he’s taken leadership of another team, this one in the front office.

“There is an incredible amount of teamwork that is required in that room,” Brown said. “You’re on the clock. I thought (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen did a fantastic job helping organize this. The analytics side with Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva, those guys were awesome. And then I think (vice president of basketball operations) Marc Eversley, delivering the group, you know, ‘These are the players with our scouts,’ it was a very collaborative process. It was a systematic process where you felt like you were a part of a team.”

Separating the head coaching part of his job from the GM duties he’s been thrown into hasn’t been painless for Brown. He acknowledged he felt the “human side” of trading away a high-character local kid whose mom works for the organization in Mikal Bridges (see story).

“The torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role I have for a moment as the general manager versus the role that I have as the head coach of this program, it’s a toggle,” Brown said. “And this is where we arrived.”

It’s obviously not a job Brown wants to do long term. At some point, he’ll be able to return his full focus to coaching. For now, though, he says he’s enjoying his new role. He’s always loved preaching about his program and cultivating a positive culture. Persistently optimistic, Brown looks at the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo saga as an opportunity to fully embrace those passions.

“I said right when I accepted the responsibility that I have no intent of doing this,” Brown said. “I’m a basketball coach. When this came up, I felt a responsibility to do the best that I could under the circumstances to help move us forward. ... Down deep, I love it, because you just bleed for the program. You’ll do whatever you can to bring a championship to this city. That’s the bottom line. As we corral the analytics people, the scouts, my coaching staff and the people that work in the building and try to hold us together and move us forward and show daylight, that’s my job.”

There’s still no official timeline from the Sixers on when Brown’s tenure as interim GM will end. But free agency starts on July 1, and Brown is ready to recruit. He also sounded prepared to go all-out in pursuit of possible trades for stars (see story), including a hypothetical example that seemed to very closely resemble Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio and has expressed his desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.

“When you talk about what are you going to do to show the program the way we want it to be seen, sometimes it’s in-house, sometimes you have to travel,” Brown said. “Whether we have to go mobile and, as an example, go to Los Angeles and deal with a family, an agent, the player. Whether we can attract him to come here to the city of Philadelphia.

“The whole strategy of how we do that, the presentation of information, we’ve been talking about that for a while. I feel completely that we will not miss a beat now that the draft is done, that we can focus in when free agency kicks in on July 1.”

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