76ers

Managing partner Josh Harris, Sixers 'using the pressure as motivation'

Managing partner Josh Harris, Sixers 'using the pressure as motivation'

It’s been almost six months since Kawhi Leonard’s game-winning jumper hung on the rim for what felt like an eternity and ended the Sixers’ season.

An awful lot has changed since then.

Jimmy Butler and JJ Redick are gone. Al Horford and Josh Richardson are here. The coaching and medical staffs have seen plenty of turnover.

But more than anything, the mindset has changed. Part of that can be traced back to Leonard’s quadruple doink, but this attitudinal shift has been a long time coming. It’s what managing partner Josh Harris envisioned when he bought the team back in 2011. 

The Sixers were mired in NBA purgatory during the Doug Collins era. A playoff run that only occurred thanks to Derrick Rose’s significant knee injury may have provided some false hope, but Harris knew things needed to change.

I always loved the team and so when I when I bought the team, obviously they hadn't really made a playoff run since Allen Iverson,” Harris said to NBC Sports Philadelphia last week. “And it wasn't as connected with the city in terms of the stands were a bit empty and people weren't showing up as much. What we wanted to do is rejuvenate the franchise, make it exciting again and get the city really engaged.

This is likely why so many fans embraced The Process.

Though the strategy was far from universally loved, it did make sense. It was going to be hard for the Sixers to add stars through free agency because of their salary cap situation and the fact that Philadelphia had not been seen as an NBA destination for an awfully long time.

So then-GM Sam Hinkie’s strategy was about stocking up on lottery tickets in order to find his superstars. The strategy ruffled feathers and led to some franchise turmoil.

We wanted to build in an elite franchise that was going to be deeply involved in the playoffs and ultimately winning championships over time,” Harris said. “In order to do that, we concluded that we had to build through the draft. And so we went through some lean years, as is much chronicled. That was hard. But we kept focused on our North Star, which is creating a team that was going to be really competitive and something that we can be proud of, and the city can be proud of.

Three GMs later — four if you count Brett Brown’s brief tenure — and here we are.

Not every draft pick was a hit. The team struck gold with franchise cornerstones Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons but swung and missed on the likes of Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Markelle Fultz.

But if the goal was truly “creating a team was going to be really competitive and something … the city can proud of,” then mission accomplished. The Sixers are coming off back-to-back 50-win seasons and two first-round playoff victories.

Now, it’s about building on top of that. GM Elton Brand went out and attempted to build a bully that he thought could compete for a championship.

Though Brand wasn’t the most experienced candidate when the team found itself in dire straits after the Bryan Colangelo burner account saga, there were plenty of qualities Brand possessed that no other candidate had — and frankly, that neither of the two true GMs before him had.

Brand famously signed the “Philly Max” in 2008, making him the biggest Sixers free-agent signing since … well, maybe ever up to that point. He built up good will with the fan base with that and by re-joining the team after unretiring as The Process was ongoing. 

He came back to the organization in 2016 as a player development consultant. A year later, he was named GM of the team’s G-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers (now Blue Coats). A year after that, he took over the Sixers job.

Fast forward to now and he’s trying to build a title contender.

When the Bryan Colangelo situation occurred, we went through a really long search to try to figure out who was the right person for the job of general manager,” Harris said. “Obviously, [Brand] hadn't been in the front office very long, but all of his strength as a leader and his intelligence and his ability to communicate and his history with the game and with our team and with our city. All those things really were very large in the decision. …

“… And he's increasingly putting his insignia, his imprint on the team, and it's really great. I mean, today's NBA is a player's league. He was an All-Star player not that long ago. He's a really unique person. So I'm really happy that we're working together.

The last couple seasons, the stands have been filled. A winning team has been a big part of that, but the connection to the fan base Harris mentioned is also a part of it.

Brown, who Harris and company hired in 2013, has seen all the highs and lows.

… What I will say is the 21,000 fans were coming long before we were mentioned as contenders,” Brown said pregame on Oct. 30. “For that reason, I think two things — the responsibility that we have to go perform and bring our hard hat and play — I never underestimate that. I never shy away from that with my team. It's an easy thing to say because I believe it intimately.

"Two, there is a sort of opportunity and responsibility — call it whatever word you want. They've been coming since [Robert Covington]. Go back when we had Ersan [Ilyasova] and Dario [Saric] and [Covington] and we were getting 21,000 people when we're just cracking it and being sort of considered as a playoff team. And so Philadelphia doesn't just show up because now all of a sudden we're contenders. They have been coming and come they will, and they come with a spirit, and it's a real treat playing in this city. And I understand that the more and more I travel.

It’s been a long road from The Process to “bully ball,” but the Sixers have arrived.

They were possibly a few bounces from a championship last season. They have a roster that many people think is good enough to make the NBA Finals. The players and fan base have bought in.

But none of that matters if they don’t deliver. There are still 75 games to go.

“There's an emotional endurance, there's physical endurance, there's a mental endurance that I've learned you have to have as an NBA coach, because this just doesn't go away,” Brown said. “And my sights are set on something larger. It's set on something that's longer coming and to get twisted in a streak is not even close to where my head is at.”

Harris is happy, but far from satisfied.

Look, it's awesome,” Harris said of the excitement surrounding the team. “I mean, particularly seeing people's faces when you win and hearing the buzz in the city, it's awesome, but on the other hand ... the biggest happiness or prize for me will be obviously when we do win that championship and helping to be part of delivering that for the city with the players and the front office and everyone. 

“But at the same time, I think we all realize that there's pressure on us to deliver. It is the NBA and there's 29 other teams, so we're not ready to declare victory yet. We're in the middle of this. We saw what happened last year and we were all disappointed at the end of the season. So we're really using the pressure as motivation to really keep our heads down and keep working hard. The players are really bought in. I see them — they stay late, they get here early, everyone is focused and locked in. So I think the feel of it is very different. But it's a long season. I think we'll be able to talk much more completely in May or June.

If Leonard’s shot falls off the rim, do the Sixers become champions?

You know, it's so hard to play the what if game,” Harris said. “I would hope so.

The hope is this year’s team leaves Leonard’s shot as just a footnote in a championship story.

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

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Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

BOX SCORE

In a game between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA, the Sixers weren't able to get enough offense to win.

The Magic used a 32-15 fourth quarter Wednesday night to down the Sixers, 112-97, at Amway Center.

With Joel Embiid out (injury management/left knee soreness), Ben Simmons shined on both ends of the floor, but Tobias Harris' struggles continued. The Sixers move to 7-4 as they fly to Oklahoma City for a date with the Thunder Friday night (8 p.m., NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss.

Getting defensive

Coming into tonight’s action, these were two of the top six teams in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. It didn’t look like that from the jump as both teams got off to hot starts from the field. The Sixers’ transition and pick-and-roll defense weren’t great in the first quarter but tightened up in the second. They appeared to turn up the heat a little bit, pressuring at full court a couple times and also trapping more. But the Magic appeared to get whatever they wanted in the fourth.

The biggest surprise was Orlando’s three-point shooting early. The Magic came into the contest as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA — yes, much worse than the Sixers. But they shot a torrid 42.9 percent (6 of 14) in the first half. Those percentages evened out as the game went on. Orlando hit just 2 of 11 in the third quarter. It was the Magic's defense that clogged the paint as the Sixers were unable to capitalize on their open looks from the outside. A night after hitting just 8 of 38 from three, they hit 8 of 30.

Simmons shines

This was arguably the most attacking and aggressive Simmons we’ve seen since opening night. He had a strong performance — especially on the defensive end — which went for naught. He was engaged and put an awful lot of pressure on Orlando’s ball handlers. It led to a couple fast breaks and easy transition baskets for Simmons.

This lob from Shake Milton was mighty impressive.

He finished with 18 points (9 of 12), eight rebounds and five assists.

Simmons was also called for a technical foul in the second quarter. 

There was a huge free throw disparity in the first half. The Magic got to the line 17 times while the Sixers got there once. In defense of the officials, Orlando did do a nice job packing the paint.

Mixed results with no Jo

With Embiid sitting, Al Horford got the start and Kyle O’Quinn saw a jump in minutes. O'Quinn was more effective than Horford in this one.

Horford, who sat Tuesday night for load management purposes, looked spry but perhaps a little rusty early. As he got into the flow of the game, he was strong in pick-and-roll defense, but his shot just wasn’t falling (5 of 18).

This drive and dunk was done by a man with fresh legs.

O’Quinn continues to impress with his passing prowess. He dished out four assists in the first half and hit yet another three. Just a 22.4 percent shooter from three for his career, he’s now 6 of 12 this season. Snagging O’Quinn as basically a third-string center was one of the shrewdest moves of GM Elton Brand’s offseason.

A bounce-back game for J-Rich

Josh Richardson didn’t have a stellar shooting performance Tuesday (1 of 8 from three) but looked good against the Magic. A new wrinkle Brown seems to like is using Richardson as a ball handler and Simmons as a screener and roller in the half court. With Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot, but strength as a roller, it’s an action that makes sense for both players.

Richardson also navigates the pick-and-roll well as a ball handler and did so a bunch with Horford in the second half. Richardson had 19 points (7 of 14, 2 of 4 from three), six rebounds and five assists.

More struggles for Harris

Harris made his first shot after dipping in and swishing an elbow jumper. Unfortunately, that was really the last highlight of the night. Following his 0-for-11 performance from three-point range Tuesday night against the Cavs, it appeared Harris was trying to be aggressive and get to the rim. Too many times he looked indecisive — getting caught in between whether he should pull up or try to finish at the basket. He also had a couple brutal turnovers in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions.

He went just 4 of 13 for eight points. These issues sure look mental. This is a guy that shot the ball at an elite level from three over a large sample size. I’m not sure what you do if you’re Brown, but you have to do something. 

Not quite the Markelle Fultz revenge game

Fultz looked a lot like the player he was early last season for the Sixers. He’ll make some tremendous plays off the dribble and flash some defensive potential, but while he is willing to shoot again, the form just doesn’t look right. He missed a three late in the first half that just barely grazed the rim and missed another badly in the second half. He still just looked like he’s pushing the ball from his chest. It was D.J. Augustin running the point off the bench that led Orlando's late run.

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