76ers

Mixed messaging makes Sixers' coasting understandable, if not entirely excusable

Mixed messaging makes Sixers' coasting understandable, if not entirely excusable

CAMDEN, N.J. — On a day where his players spoke about telling unpalatable truths and having greater “accountability,” Brett Brown would not deny the obvious.

After the Sixers’ practice Thursday, he was asked whether he thought his team had, at times, been coasting through the regular season.

I definitely see it out of them, and it’s not acceptable,” he said. "I completely coach and live life thinking that good things add up, and you don’t just click your heels and April 14 is here — that’s not how I see anything. And we shared that notion today. They’re smart enough to agree. … That’s stuff where I’ve gotta continually remind them. At times, maybe remind them more than I have. There are so many bullets as a head coach in the NBA that you feel that you’ve got. I fire them responsibly, or feel like I have over the years.

And you do need some help. People do have to own things and be able to accurately answer the question, ‘What do I want out of this? What’s my role, what’s my responsibility? What’s leadership look like in my world?’ And I do the same. I don’t absolve myself from any of those questions. So, the notion of good days adding up I believe in, and I don’t think at all you click your heels and arrive. And I think some of the problem has been derived from that notion in a way that’s not smart.

Brown said Thursday that, in regards to motivation, he “owns it all” as the team’s head coach. He also acknowledged he “needs some help.”

It’s difficult to disagree with that perspective. What’s more concerning is the mixed messaging from the Sixers on the importance of the regular season.

Before the season tipped off, the organization was bullish on what it could accomplish.

General manager Elton Brand said in July the Sixers’ goal was to win a title. Brown said at his Coach the Coaches clinic in September that, “We have the capability of winning an NBA championship.” 

A few days later, he proclaimed, “I want the No. 1 seed.”

During a pregame Christmas press conference in which he preached the importance of further developing chemistry and continuity, Brand insisted the message hadn’t shifted — at least his message.

“Depends on who you’re talking to,” he said. “You’re talking to me, work in progress, we’re going to get there, home court advantage is important but having Joel [Embiid] healthy in the playoffs in May, June — that was important to us. We still could grow into a team that could get a No. 1 seed, but that wasn’t my words."

Embiid’s precarious situation has seemed to be a microcosm of the team’s. While he publicly grappled with questions about maturity and load management early in the season, his stance after the Sixers’ Christmas win over the Bucks was clear. 

 “… My goal is to get to the playoffs healthy,” he said. “But if my team needs me, I’m going to show up. … A lot of people have kind of forgotten, I guess, who I am. When I’m needed, I’m going to show up. But God willing, hopefully I’m healthy for the playoffs, and it’s going to be a different story.”

That mindset is sensible for Embiid, who was a full participant in practice Thursday after missing the Sixers’ loss to the Pacers Tuesday with left knee soreness. He has a history of injuries and is the Sixers' best, most important player.

Across the NBA, his attitude is not an exception. It shouldn’t be scandalous, either — no NBA team gives spotless effort for every single regular-season game, and prioritizing playoff success and the health of star players is the norm. 

The Sixers, though, have thus far been defined by their inconsistency. While they’ve played excellent games against quality opponents, collective lapses in intensity have usually corresponded with losses.

Did Ben Simmons think the team’s effort vs. Indiana was an issue?

“I mean, it depends how you measure it,” he said. “What are you measuring on? If you're saying guys didn't try, I don't think you're right. ... Teams make runs. They continue to do so and you don't stop them. That's probably what you saw.”

“Guys didn’t try” might not be the proper way to characterize the problem. “Coasting” is better. And, in the context of everything the Sixers' players have heard about how great they can be and why the regular season doesn’t matter very much, it’s understandable, if not entirely excusable.

Even Brown, after that Christmas victory, said he thought his team was "designed for the playoffs."

The struggling Al Horford, with 818 regular-season NBA games of experience to call upon, captured the state of his new team well Thursday. 

“Our focus needs to be better,” he said. “We need to be a little more consistent and I think that we will be. We went through this stretch and now we have to get through it together and be better.”

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Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

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NBCSP/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: The Sixers are bound to go on a run

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons' relationship, if the Sixers are going to go on a run, stability around the team and more on this edition of Sixers Talk.

• Are you encouraged by the way Jo and Ben acted toward each other during All-Star weekend? (2:00)

• The team's mettle will be tested with six of the next nine games on the road (5:45)

• Are the Sixers finally poised to go on a run? (7:43) 

• Eastern Conference betting odds (14:40)

• Is there enough stability and structure in the organization? (20:54)

• How troubling would it be if Jimmy Butler and the Heat go further than the Sixers? (31:47)

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Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

Brett Brown is more interested in Joel Embiid's head than his hand

CAMDEN, N.J. — In Sunday night’s NBA All-Star Game, Joel Embiid did not appear bothered by his left hand. He sought out contact, didn’t seem to be in pain or discomfort, and posted 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also did not wear a splint on his left hand, as he'd done since returning from a torn ligament in his ring finger.

A team spokesperson said Wednesday that will remain the case with the Sixers, and that Embiid will now use buddy tape on his hand.

After Embiid shot 6 for 26 on Feb. 6 against the Bucks, head coach Brett Brown told reporters in Milwaukee he thought Embiid’s hand was affecting his shooting. 

Embiid had also said his hand was having an adverse impact.

“The Miami game, you’re kind of scared sometimes, you’re just trying to look for a foul or try to be physical,” he said. “Especially on the rebounds — I think that’s where it affects me the most. But, like I said, it’s not an excuse. I’ve gotta just figure it out and keep pushing.”

Still, Brown leaned toward the metaphorical after practice Wednesday when asked a broad question about Embiid’s health. 

I think the place that interests me the most, where I see his conditioning incrementally getting to an elite level, is his head. I think he is in a space that is excellent as it relates to his excitement, seeing this final third home — to grab the team by the throat and lead us in a bunch of different areas. ... I've been with him a long time, and when I look at him and I talk to him and I hear his words ... and we're always sort of, like you would with your children, judging their body language and all that. 

“I just think he's in a really good space. As it relates to the physical conditioning, we just went up and down hard for about 60 minutes — really up and down, up and down, up and down — saw no drop off. If you study the tape from the other night and you watch Joel Embiid run the floor and some of his rim runs … we all would be saying, 'Well, shoot, it can't get any better than that.' And so I think his fitness level is fine, and I think his headspace is even better. 

As for Embiid’s hand, Brown deferred judgement. After missing nine games with the injury, Embiid has played in eight contests, averaging 21 points and 10.4 rebounds. He’s shot 44.1 percent from the floor, 38.2 percent on three-point shots and 69.9 percent at the foul line.

“I believe I'll be able to tell more when when he gets double teamed at what I call the up block … and he's forced to pass more with his left hand, which used to be all bandaged up,” Brown said. “I used to get worried in that environment where people would come hard looking to whack it or double team him from that floor spot. I look forward to seeing him pass from that floor spot.

“It's easier on the other side, the down side, with his right hand, and I think that's where it will stand out probably the most for me, to see the difference of no wrap and the one that used to be wrapped.”

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