CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers’ most recent bonding experience was a screening of the movie Joker.
Don’t worry, no spoilers here.
Al Horford said he was “disappointed” by the critically acclaimed filmed about the DC comic book villain, but he was pleased with the experience being around his teammates.
While this might seem silly, it’s no small thing. JJ Redick mentioned on Zach Lowe’s podcast last month that he felt like the Sixers didn’t have enough team dinners. Those dinners on the road are often looked at as team bonding experiences.
Horford is easily the team’s most seasoned player at 33 years old and a veteran of 12 NBA seasons. He’s seen his fair share of changes and roster turnover now playing for his third team.
But it’s been two of the returning Sixers that have led the way when it comes to team bonding.
“I think the willingness of everyone trying to make that happen,” Horford said after practice Thursday. “Tobias [Harris] I think has been a big influence on all of us making sure that we're all getting together. Ben [Simmons] as well has taken that leadership role. So we're doing stuff — not all the time — but we're going to watch movies together, we're doing things as a team, as a group and that has been nice. I feel like those kind of things bring teams closer.”
It was Harris and Simmons who organized the Joker screening during the road trip in Charlotte and the paintball excursion a few weeks back before camp began.
And it’s not just the players that feel the chemistry growing. Their head coach has also seen the growth from the start of training camp until now.
“That they coexist well,” Brett Brown said when asked what he’s learned about his team. “That they seem to enjoy each other's company. That they have bought in in a significant way that we are a defensive-oriented team. That we are long — we can be disruptive. And there has been an unselfishness on the offensive end that hasn't been hard to extract. It's quite actually organic. The guys sort of think like that, which makes my job a lot easier.”
The idea that the Sixers will be a defensive-oriented team started with the way GM Elton Brand constructed his roster. Bringing in Horford and Josh Richardson to create a monstrous starting five is part of it. It’s also just having a bunch of players that have that mindset.
Both Embiid and Simmons have stated their goal is to win Defensive Player of the Year. Horford and Richardson have always been praised for their two-way play. Even Harris, who has shown signs of improvement on that end, went to Brown this offseason and told him he wasn’t going to be the weak link of the team defensively.
It’s quite a change from a team that took a huge step back defensively last season. Going into opening night against Boston next week, the Sixers want to be the best defensive team in the league.
“We know we certainly have the capability, but just guys giving multiple efforts gives me the sense we can be very special,” Horford said. “But it's one of those things that we have to be consistent with that every day in order to accomplish those goals, and we've been doing a good job of that. We just have to continue to do it.”
With just one more preseason game on the docket Friday night against the Wizards, there is certainly a vibe with the team of just wanting to prepare for next Wednesday. Brown admitted that he’s already begun his prep for the Celtics.
It’s an encouraging sign that his team appears to have come together so quickly but Brown knows none of that matters if it doesn’t translate to when the games count.
“I would say yes. I feel that if you looked at just the character of the people, I'd say no,” Brown said when asked if he was surprised with the team’s bonding. “But in general — and let's call it also what it is — we really haven't played legitimate, NBA basketball yet. …
“You roll into Wells Fargo against the Celtics on opening night, the rules change in significant ways. And that's when we're all going to have more meaningful conversations about like, 'Where are we at? What have I learned? Have they come together quickly and why?' It gets far more scrutinized when it's that type of environment than it does right now.”
Hopefully Horford enjoys his team’s performance on opening night more than he did Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal as the Crown Prince of Crime.
“Oh, a lot of the guys liked it,” Horford said. “I thought it was going to be different. I thought it was going to be more action. So it was one of those things, I was a little disappointed.”
Spoiler alert: Al Horford is a better teammate and basketball player than film critic.
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