CAMDEN, N.J. — When a player on a team throws around the word "accountability,” more than a few eyebrows get raised.
Comments like that seem to come out more often when you’re in the midst of a three-game losing streak, with the last game being a lifeless blowout.
But the overall consensus after practice on Thursday is that Josh Richardson, the player that expressed those concerns after Tuesday’s drubbing by the Pacers, was right.
“Yeah, I agree,” Ben Simmons said. “We sat down and talked this morning. We all know why we're here, what we want to get out of being here — that's a championship. And we just have to hold each other accountable.”
While Richardson’s comments were a topic of conversation, that wasn’t the sole reason for the team meeting. This was just the first chance the Sixers had in a while to sit down and talk as a team in their facility.
When a question of accountability comes up, the head coach is often in the crosshairs. Brett Brown wasn’t shirking responsibility, admitting that he needed to do a better job getting his team ready to play on a nightly basis.
Brown sees positivity in the fact that the team was able to practice. The Sixers’ schedule has felt non-stop, but the games are more spread out in January. That will afford them more opportunity to practice and perhaps allow the starting five more time to gel in a more controlled setting.
In the long term, Brown believes Richardson’s comments will wind up galvanizing the Sixers.
“I understand what was said but I don’t try to dissect that and look deeper,” Brown said. “I think it’s quite honest and simple. I understand it, I think that we will be better off for this situation — I truly do. I think today’s practice was awesome. It’s one of the first days you really had a chance to sweat and have a legitimate practice in a very, very long time.”
Another positive sign is that Joel Embiid, who missed Tuesday’s game with left knee soreness, was a full participant on Thursday.
Embiid didn’t comment directly on Richardson’s comments. Instead he mentioned that he thought the team was in a good place after talking openly Thursday.
He did have one interesting remark when asked about the team’s starting five not clicking offensively.
“We just got to look at ourselves and see what we can do better individually,” Embiid said. “We gotta help each other, even if that means being outside of your comfort zone as far as to help the team win. Meaning that if you gotta space and shoot it, you gotta do it. We need everybody to buy into that. We'll be fine. We're gonna be fine. We're still finding our groove. We haven't been totally healthy, the whole starting lineup. Like I said, we'll be fine.”
You likely don’t have to strain your eyes too hard to read between the lines here. Though some may view this as a “call out,” it’s in line with Embiid’s comments about Simmons to the media earlier this season and what his message has been to Simmons as a teammate.
It's no secret that Simmons’ unwillingness as a shooter has hurt the Sixers offensively. His propensity to go to the dunker spot has made for a clunky fit on offense.
Though Embiid and Simmons are the team’s All-Stars and longest-tenured players, they’re not above reproach. While acknowledging that he’s looked to as a leader on the team, Embiid said he welcomes any criticism his teammates have that will make him better.
“Everybody has the freedom to do whatever they want,” Embiid said. “[Ben and I] are not entitled. I've been here the longest. Ben has been here. We're not entitled. The way I get better, I like people telling me what I don't do best, and I feel like every time, if I do something wrong, these guys let me know. Like I said, we're humble. We want to learn. We want to get better. He wants to learn, he wants to get better. So there's no sense of people being afraid to speak up. Everybody has a freedom, and that's the culture that we have. And there's nothing going on.”
Adding to the team’s wonky fit offensively is the addition of Al Horford. Horford is the team’s oldest player, but he’s also new. He admitted that though Embiid is younger, he looks to the All-Star center as a leader. Horford is getting more comfortable when it comes to speaking up, but his role is still growing.
Horford came away from Thursday’s team meeting and practice encouraged, saying the vibe was “all positive.”
The consummate teammate, Horford is not going to ruffle feathers over his role despite his recent struggles.
“He’s so classy and at times just wanting to be a good teammate that he doesn’t sort of impose himself all the time on the game,” Brown said. “And at times I don’t call his number a lot, either. We’ve been going to a lot of Tobias [Harris] and Joel, as an example. So, I do not worry about it, and I most importantly go back and ask how do I help him?”
It looks like the Sixers are holding each other accountable. We’ll see if that helps them in Houston Friday.
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