76ers

Sixers bring in former All-Star center Roy Hibbert ... but not to play

Sixers bring in former All-Star center Roy Hibbert ... but not to play

The Sixers are bringing in a former All-Star center … but not to play.

The team is hiring nine-year NBA veteran Roy Hibbert as a player development associate, a team source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Shams Charania of the Athletic and Stadium reported it first.

Hibbert, who announced his retirement a little over a year ago, is just 32 years old and played his final NBA game in April of 2017. He was a two-time All-Star for the Indiana Pacers and a Second Team All-Defensive pick in 2013-14. Hibbert is actually six months younger than Al Horford, the team’s new starting power forward that was just signed to a four-year deal. 

The team has overhauled the coaching staff quite a bit. Brett Brown lost top assistants Monty Williams (Phoenix Suns) and Billy Lange (Saint Joseph’s) to head coaching gigs. The Sixers also lost Lindsey Harding, the team’s first female assistant, to the Sacramento Kings this offseason. 

Hibbert will join Ime Udoka, Joseph Blair, Cameron Hodges and Andrew Jones III as newcomers to the coaching staff. Udoka and Blair will serve as assistants on Brown’s bench while Hodges and Jones will be part of the team’s player development staff.

Given Hibbert’s position in the league, it seems likely that he’ll spend time working with Joel Embiid. Hibbert was considered one of the top big men in the league at one point. It could be helpful to have a guy with Hibbert’s résumé that’s still young enough to relate to the Sixers’ young All-Star center.

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Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

The Sixers (18-7) will be in Boston Thursday night to take on the Celtics (17-6) at TD Garden.

This would be Al Horford’s first appearance in Boston as a Sixer — if he plays. The veteran big, who opted out of his player option with the Celtics to join the Sixers this offseason, is questionable for tonight’s matchup with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness. The 13-year veteran did participate in this morning’s shootaround.

Boston is coming off a tough loss in Indiana last night. It was also a rough night for Boston in the injury department. Gordon Hayward, who just returned to the lineup after missing 13 games with a broken hand, was forced to leave the game after taking a shot to the nose. He's listed as probable. Marcus Smart (eye infection) and Robert Williams (hip) will both miss their third straight game.

Here are the essentials for tonight’s game:

When: 8 p.m. ET 
Where: TD Garden
Broadcast: TNT
Live stats: Follow here 

And here are three storylines to watch:

Big Al returns to Boston

Whether Horford plays or not, the reception he receives should be interesting. When he signed his big free-agent deal with the Celtics back in 2016, it was a move that helped the revitalization of the franchise.

Though the fan reaction will surely be mixed with Horford returning with a rival, the Celtics’ players will be happy to see him again.

“He should be celebrated,” Jaylen Brown said to NBC Sports Boston. “Boston fans, they're gonna do what they want, right? Al came here, contributed, took this team the farthest it’s been since ‘08 [NBA champions]. Al served his time well here."

Brown added, “For me, he was a great leader, a great person … I know I’ll clap for him when they call his name. That’s just me.”

Just 23 games in a Sixers uniform and Horford has already had a similar impact on the players here.

“He’s just a real role model, in terms of how he lives his life,” Tobias Harris said to our Serena Winters. “There’s no real ups and downs with him. In my opinion, he’s the definition of a consistent person — comes in everyday, same attitude, same spirit, win or loss. The way he shapes his day-to-day life is inspiring for real.”

Embiid hears the criticism … and he agrees

In case you missed it, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were blunt if their criticism of Joel Embiid after Tuesday night’s win over Denver. They said they felt like the All-Star center wasn’t putting in the effort to be great.

Embiid, who said postgame Tuesday that he wasn’t having as much fun this season, wasn’t offended by the criticism. In fact, he agreed with it.

“That’s what they do," Embiid told reporters. "Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Embiid’s scoring numbers are down, but he’s still No. 1 in the NBA in terms of defensive rating for players averaging at least 25 minutes a game.

National TV, facing criticism, going on a tangent about not having fun, up against a rival — this seems like it’s lining up for a big night for the big man. 

J-Rich working off the rust

Josh Richardson was playing his best basketball as a Sixer when tightness in his right hamstring cost him six games. He returned Tuesday, but looked awfully rusty, going just 1 of 8 in under 20 minutes.

Though the Sixers went 5-1 in the games he missed, what the Sixers lost on both sides of the ball with Richardson out was evident. In the six games before his absence, Richardson was averaging 20.2 points while shooting a scalding 55.9 percent from three and 53.1 percent overall.

The skill the Sixers missed most was Richardson’s ability to create off the dribble, especially in the pick-and-roll. Brett Brown hasn’t run a ton of pick-and-roll in the past, but that’s mostly because of personnel. Richardson excels in that action and it’s one that helps the Sixers put other teams in a bind.

Richardson will still likely be on some form of minutes restriction.

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Open Joel Embiid thinks Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were right, talks about everything he's juggling

Open Joel Embiid thinks Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal were right, talks about everything he's juggling

At times early in this season, Joel Embiid has sounded like he's been grappling with questions larger than how to counter an opponent's scheme. He wondered aloud after the Sixers' win over the Nuggets on Tuesday night whether his efforts to be more mature were worth it

Thursday in Boston, he gave perhaps the clearest picture yet of how he's juggling aggressive double teams, working with his new teammates, the priority on being healthy for the playoffs and many other factors.

He agreed with Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal's criticisms about him not pushing himself hard enough to be great. 

“That’s what they do," Embiid told reporters. "Maybe they’re right. Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate. I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Embiid's offensive numbers are down across the board, although part of that can be attributed to the fact that he's averaging 3.3 fewer minutes per game than he did last season. The two-time All-Star is averaging 22.0 points per game, compared to 27.5 in the 2018-19 season, and both his field goal percentage and free throw attempts have dropped. He also missed five of the Sixers' first 25 games as a result of injuries, his suspension for fighting with the Timberwolves' Karl-Anthony Towns on Oct. 30, and load management.

To Embiid, those aren't valid excuses.

I can’t pick and choose whenever I want to dominate. It has to be a nightly thing. Then again, I’ve also got to take care of my body, so I’m still trying to find that balance between kind of putting my body at risk during the regular season and when I have the goal to get to the playoffs healthy. Still trying to find that balance and like I said, playing with my teammates, I’m still trying to learn. It’s been a big adjustment for me this year. I’m still trying to get a balance and get a feel for everything, and I’m sure by the end of the regular season we are going to be ready for the playoffs.

Defensively, Embiid has still been highly valuable. His 95.3 defensive rating is best in the NBA among players who have played at least 25 minutes per game. He's posting up more than any player in the league, too, and doing so efficiently, averaging 1.08 points per post-up possession. However, he's still adjusting to the frequency and aggression of the double teams he's faced.

"I’ve said earlier that I want to get to the playoffs healthy," he said. "The last two years I have not been healthy. Two years ago it was my face, and last year it was my knee and I was sick, so this year I kind of told myself that I want to get there healthy. We’ve got a new group and I’m still trying to get used to it. It’s completely different, the way I’m being guarded this year, just every time I touch the ball, heavy double and triple teams, just trying to navigate through it and be a basketball player, make the right plays.

"If I get double teamed, my teammates know I’m going to pass it. It's a balance between trying to make something happen for the team and making the right plays."

The expectations for Embiid and the Sixers were very high entering this season. Even after watching the Sixers move to 18-7 and 13-0 at Wells Fargo Center, Barkley, who picked the team as his champion before the season, said they "ain't got not chance" at winning the title.

Embiid might not hear all of it, but he understands the gist of those expectations and the essence of the criticisms. He talked Tuesday about not wanting to be a distraction, which he seemed to think might, at times, curb his fun-loving side.

Thursday, he referenced O'Neal's comments about his scoring numbers not being enough.

"Yes, that’s the high standard that I set," he said. "It just feels like if I don’t score 35 points or 40 points, it feels like a down game — even when I have 30, so it’s just the way it is. I signed up for it. I want to be great. I put the work in to be at this level and to be better. I still feel like I have a lot of potential and people feel the same way. So, it’s only right for people to expect me to, like Shaq and Charles said, to drop 35 a night.

"So, like I said, I’m not a selfish player, I’ll take whatever the defense gives me. If they are going to double team me all night, and I only got to take two shots I will do that, too. I’ve got to play within the concept of the game and follow whatever the team wants me to do. I’ve been following it and if it takes me taking five shots a game, I guess I’ve got to do it."

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