76ers

Sixers know actions will speak louder than words in crucial offseason

Sixers know actions will speak louder than words in crucial offseason

It’s something you hear practically every NBA player say after the season.

“I’m going to work on my game this summer and get better.”

Sounds simple enough, but the process of professionals recognizing their flaws is much deeper than it seems.

“We all go through experiences in our lives that words don’t have the impact that they should have. You wish they did,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said last week during his end-of-season press conference. “Actions, most times, speak louder than words. 

“And as I said after we lost the series, I told the guys — and it was memories that we had from my old life — you’re going to learn more about yourselves in the next few weeks or while we’re playing in the playoffs maybe than you’ve ever learned in your career about your game and the psyche, the human side of it all.”

What the Sixers learned as a whole is that as presently constructed, the team doesn’t have enough to climb that championship mountain. 

So how do they get there? Without the benefit of projecting the roster for next season, it starts with every player returning after recognizing their biggest flaw and attacking it this offseason. That mindset has to start with the stars.

“What inevitably sort of rules most successful people that I’ve been around is there’s an immense competitor in all of them,” Brown said. “Like there is a prideful competitor in the great players that I have coached.”

If the Sixers’ young studs, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, hope to reach that level of greatness, it’s a must that they identify how to fix their weaknesses. For Simmons, the one major blemish in his game jumps out at you.

“It’s difficult for Ben to play in the environment the Celtics guarded him and find ways to impact the game as much as he can without the thing that we’re talking about,” Brown said. “And so whether it’s a jump shot, whether it’s a free throw, the inspiration to work is real in his head given the situation that we just left. So to carry over with his sort of personal desire to improve along with the memory of what just happened, how teams were guarding him, it’s an easy sell for the summer. And I think Ben’s going to knock it out of the park.”

The primary summer work for Embiid would appear to be less complex but just as equally vital to the center taking his game up another level.

“His whole future is his body, and that’s not going to surprise anybody,” Brown said. “How does he master his diet? How does he master his strength and conditioning? How does he master rehab, prehab, all the things that you know equal health?"

Not that the All-Star’s actual skill set can’t use some refinement.

“I think that with Joel, now that we have a starting point, his health is going to let him take his post game, I think, to a different level,” Brown added. “When you zoom in on development in the summer, his ability to navigate post play, turn and face, back down, pass out, that world he’s got to own. He really has to own that and I believe that he will.”

The Sixers know if their two leaders take the offseason work suggested by the franchise seriously, it will only trickle down to the rest of the roster. 

“They’re fantastic because we talk freely about you have to let me coach you. You have to let me coach you because if we can coach our two best players, we got this thing,” Brown said. “Dario (Saric) can take a hit, Cov (Robert Covington) can take a hit, T.J. (McConnell) can take a hit. They are all coachable.”

All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

Now that the Sixers have completed much of the process, the pressure rests on Brett Brown to deliver the team to the promised land.

The arrival of Jimmy Butler has brought a renewed vigor to the Sixers' season and represents an important step in the Process. The roster is much better than it has ever been under Brown’s leadership, and a fan base excited for the young Sixers to compete for a championship is ready to see dividends from their investment.

For Brown, signed through the 2022 season, the pressure may never be greater for him to win and win now.

Brown’s time managing a subpar roster made him one of the master tinkerers in the NBA, oftentimes piecing together rotations with players never intended to win games. Now comes another test of his coaching acumen, making these pieces fit.

The concerns regarding the rotation came up in Jimmy Buckets’ debut last night. Despite a strong start from Embiid (4-5 shooting, 11 points, three threes), Brown kept to his regular rotation taking him out of the game halfway through the first quarter, seemingly stalling his momentum. And a hot shooting Wilson Chandler didn’t see the floor during critical moments of the fourth quarter. Those rotational issues will only get more complex as it seems GM Elton Brand isn’t finished making moves just yet.

For young teams in the NBA looking to make the leap from exciting lineups to competing rosters, it’s not unusual for front offices to bring in a different coach to continue the team’s growth. The Golden State Warriors replaced head coach Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr after three seasons in Oakland, even after Jackson took them from 23 wins to 51. Kerr was a major key, however, as the Warriors went on to win three of the next four NBA titles.

We're seeing this season the value new head coach Mike Budenholzer has added to the Bucks. The Raptors seem to be taking a forward step with Nick Nurse replacing Dwane Casey.

If Brown is unable to deliver significant progress this year for the Sixers, the new-look Sixers front office could look at some point to upgrade the position with a more win-now head coach.

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

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USA Today Images

Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

It took Robert Covington all of one night to endear himself to his new franchise and fan base.

Covington started at small forward and played a team-high 41 minutes for the Timberwolves Wednesday night in a 107-100 win over the Pelicans. He had a typical RoCo stat line, stuffing the box score with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.

T-Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for playing his core guys huge minutes. It's regarded as one of the reasons Jimmy Butler has had trouble staying healthy for a full season — the dude averaged between 36 and 39 minutes for six straight seasons.

Covington got his first taste of that Wednesday night.

“I didn’t know," Thibodeau told reporters of the 41 minutes. "I knew we could use (Covington) right away because he brings so much defensively. And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.’’

The 100 points scored on the T-Wolves were the fewest in 11 games and the second-lowest total all season. Some of that was because Andrew Wiggins actually used his athleticism and Karl-Anthony Towns actually played effective defense despite being plagued by foul trouble all game.

But a lot of it was the presence of Covington, who was all over the place, showing that his skill set can translate even before he knows the playbook. The Pels' leading scorer Wednesday was E'Twaun Moore, who was 3-for-10 for six points when guarded by Covington and 10-for-13 for 24 points when guarded by anyone else.

Dario Saric did not start. Thibodeau stuck with his favorite vet, Taj Gibson, who is still a solid four this deep into his career. Gibson played 28 minutes to Saric's 20. Expect that to move closer to an even split as Saric gets more acclimated. Saric is not as much a plug-and-play guy as Covington because his offense does require having the ball more. 

Saric finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, an assists and 2 steals on 3-for-7 shooting.

Thibodeau was excited by the versatility of his two newest pieces, particularly because it can lead to more effective switching on defense.

"I thought Cov had a great game going," he said. "You get a feeling when you're coaching against players — I remember last year playing against (the Sixers) and those guys, I like their mental toughness. What they were a part of in Philadelphia, they went through some really dark days and they just kept going and going and going. 

"Even last year, they were 25-25 and they just clicked and took off. ... I love what Covington has done, to go undrafted and be first-team All Defense. That says a lot."

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