76ers

Sixers weekly observations: 'The window is now,' challenges for Brett Brown, human side of Markelle Fultz saga

Sixers weekly observations: 'The window is now,' challenges for Brett Brown, human side of Markelle Fultz saga

We usually begin these weekly observations with a review of how the Sixers fared on the court over the past seven days. After the acquisition of five players and the departure of four, that doesn’t feel especially relevant.

But, in case you forgot, the Sixers lost to the Raptors on Tuesday and beat the Nuggets on Friday. 

'The window is now'

One of the more interesting parts of Elton Brand’s press conference Friday was his rationale for the bold Tobias Harris trade. Of course Brand cited Harris’ ability and seemingly excellent fit on the Sixers, but he also discussed the overarching philosophy of the deal. 

He attributed his move, in part, to the development of his two youngest stars.

“Joel Embiid, seeing his growth. Ben Simmons, seeing his growth,” Brand said. “They’re rapidly improved over the past season. The window is now. Our opportunity is now. So once I saw that window, we discussed taking a shot at it now, because who knows how long this window is going to be open.”

Before early Wednesday morning, the Sixers wanted to fight for a championship this season — any team in the NBA with three star players would. But Brand’s trade for Harris clarified the path forward, at least until this summer. Now Brett Brown has, as he put it, “a college season” to coach his new team and prepare them for playoff basketball.

A lot of good problems

Brown faces an abundance of challenges — how does he incorporate Harris into the offense, find optimal rotations for different situations, continue to ensure Joel Embiid is the “crown jewel,” as he said Friday, and maintain a cohesive culture?

These are all good problems to have. And, like Harris said Thursday at the introductory press conference for himself, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott, the Sixers “have a lot of smart basketball players.”

In their first game together, we also saw their unselfish instincts. We’ve seen the same thing with Jimmy Butler — he regularly passes up open shots and has to be told by Brown and his teammates that the Sixers are best when he’s less deferential offensively.

Good problems are still problems, it must be said. If the Sixers are still overpassing in late-March, and Brown still hasn’t figured out which players work best together, or when Marjanovic should play over Jonah Bolden and vice versa, that will be concerning.

'I'd be lying if I didn't feel sad'

The concept of a team trying to shape its roster for title contention by trading away a 20-year-old former No. 1 overall pick for anything less than a star is, out of context, baffling.

But Markelle Fultz’s tenure in Philadelphia was, if it was anything, very, very strange.

Less than a year ago, an emotional Brown announced Fultz would play vs. the Nuggets after a 68-game absence (see video).

“I get goosebumps telling you that,” he said. “I’m so proud of him.”

And on Friday night, before the Sixers’ game against the Nuggets, Brown reflected on Fultz being traded to the Magic in exchange for Jonathon Simmons and two draft picks. 

I’d be lying if I didn’t feel sad. It was two emotions I had. Sad personally, selfishly I suppose. And that I never really felt like I got a chance to coach him. I never really feel like this city got a chance to see him. I felt sad for that. And I was pleased for him that he had a new start, a fresh start, another opportunity.

Given the win-now mentality of the Harris trade, and given the uncertainty about Fultz’s future, Brand was smart to deal Fultz to the Magic (see story). But the human side of the Fultz saga can sometimes go overlooked, and perhaps nobody captures its emotions better than Brown.

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Sixers PA announcer Matt Cord on the origin of his pronunciations and his biggest fans

Sixers PA announcer Matt Cord on the origin of his pronunciations and his biggest fans

If you’re a Philly fan in a Sixers jersey walking down South Street, you may have been subject to an impromptu version of the Sixers' starting lineup intros.

“I’ll do the BEEEEENNNNN Simmons and they’ll look at me, like that guy's weird,” public address announcer Matt Cord joked.

Now in his 22nd season, Cord is always working on his craft, even if that means soliciting the reaction of fans strolling to their neighborhood bar. 

How he enunciates and emphasizes players names is constantly evolving, as are the physical movements he delivers them with, sometimes resulting in an inadvertent whack to those that dare cross behind his perch.  

For Cord, the starting lineup introductions are his performance, and the mic is his stage.

It wasn’t until about a handful of years ago that Cord started incorporating physical gestures into his routine. Out of necessity due to a neck accident, a stationary mic was switched out for one that Cord could move around with more freely, giving new life to his performance.

Recently, Stephen Curry approved.

“I totally knew he was watching everything, but I didn’t know anyone had taped it,” Cord said. “Now everywhere I go, people say that to me, ‘Hey! I saw that video Steph posted!'”

But, since Joel Embiid was out, there was one thing Curry missed.

“He missed my Process,” Cord said.

***

It’s true. There’s nothing quite like when Cord introduces the Sixers' "crown jewel" at Wells Fargo Center — especially if you sit behind the scorer’s table.

“When I do Joel ... from Kansas ... No. 21… JO-el, The Process EMMBEEEEEEEAD ... I turn around for ‘The Process,’ for whoever is sitting behind me.”

Take a look for yourself.

But, it wasn’t always this way.

In the summer of 2016, Cord ran into Embiid at a music festival.

“I go up to Joel and say, ‘Hey man, you’re going to start next year, and I’m working on your name and I need something else.'”

“Call me Hans, that’s my middle name,” Cord remembers Embiid saying.

“So then, the very first game, I see him in the back (at the arena), and I’m like Joel HANS Embiid, and he’s like, ‘No, no, no. I’ve changed it to ‘The Process.’ He was joking around, and he said he legally changed his name to The Process, so you have to call me The Process.”

Cord, worried Embiid could get in trouble, decided against it.

“I didn’t do it the first game … and he kind of looked at me a couple times in the game when he scored.”

And now, the rest is history.

***

Embiid isn’t the only player who has influenced Cord’s introductions.

“Years ago, (Allen) Iverson came up to me and said, ‘Make me 6-2.’"

And so, Cord obliged.

“And finally … a 6-2 guard…

“The next game, I did it again. And the next game, Eric Snow (formers Sixers point guard) came up to me and said, 'Can you make me 6-4?' And I’m like no, stop this, I’m going to get in trouble, everyone’s going to be seven feet by the end of this!”

Lucky for Cord, that same game, Iverson re-thought his request.

“He came up to me and said I think we better go back to six-foot.”

***

If you catch Cord at the arena, there’s one thing you’ll always see him doing: Smiling.

“Honestly, since I’ve been here, and I know you can’t have a bad game as a PA announcer, but he’s just always smiling,” T.J. McConnell said. “And just the way he announces so enthusiastically, he comes up with these things like Three-J (when McConnell shoots a three), and even stuff he said when I was a rookie with Ish Smith, like a 'dish from Ish.'”

Well actually, Cord doesn’t come up with all of those sayings. But, he did come up with Three-J.

Longtime statistician Ron Pollack has offered up sayings like, "Dish from Ish," "Feed from Embiid," and "Embiid indeed!" It’s a joint effort.

***

For players like JJ Rrrrrrrrrredick and Allennnnnn Iiiiiii-versooooonnnn, both say that when fans come up to them in the streets, they say their name like Cord says their name.

“That’s the coolest thing ever,” Cord smiles.

But what means more to him than anything else is his biggest fan, his almost 16-year-old niece, Lily, who has Down syndrome.

“She is fantastic, she imitates me. She can do Embiid. She can do Iverson,” Cord said as he pulled out his cell phone.

“Here she is doing Bobi, down by the beach.”

Watch out Matty, Lily might be coming for your job.

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'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

'Tired as s---' Jimmy Butler plays closer, seals the deal vs. Celtics

It was just a couple weeks ago that everyone was questioning Jimmy Butler’s role in the Sixers’ offense.

Why is he deferring so much? Does he not fit into the system? Has he lost a step?

Well, so much for all of that.

Butler’s role as the team’s closer was never more evident than in the Sixers’ 118-115 win over the rival Celtics (see observations).

The four-time All-Star put the team on his back, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, including a dagger jumper with 5.5 seconds left. He helped the Sixers conquer their Boston demons while showing just what he brings to the team’s elite starting unit.

“They put the ball in my hands in the fourth and tell me to make plays and make shots,” Butler said. “I think as of late I’ve been a doing good job of that, but that could be anybody to tell you the truth. As many weapons as we have on this team, anybody could get the hot hand, anybody could put the ball in the basket — it’s just the last few nights it’s been me.”

All this begs the question: Why can’t Butler do this through the first three quarters?

Butler was just 2 of 9 for seven points as the Sixers managed to cut a 15-point deficit to five entering the fourth quarter. Having just played 38 minutes in Charlotte on the first night of a back-to-back, Butler offered a pretty simple explanation for why he couldn’t get going early Wednesday.

I was tired as s---. I’m not even going to lie to you. That back-to-back got me. And we didn’t have [Joel Embiid] last night either. So quarters one through three I was trying, it wasn’t going my way, but we won, so I don’t care about quarters one through three.

While it’s certainly fair for Butler to blame fatigue, there is probably a better analytical explanation.

When the Sixers’ offense is going, there’s a focus on pace and space. Brett Brown’s system is predicated on player and ball movement. Even on a poor shooting night, the Sixers had more assists than the Celtics despite 11 fewer made field goals.

Butler is a player that excels in iso and pick-and-roll situations. While that may not fit perfectly into what the Sixers do offensively, in grind-it-out games like Wednesday against Boston and Sunday in Milwaukee, it’s necessary.

Before Butler’s arrival, there was no player Brown could turn to and just say, “Go get me a bucket.” 

Butler is that guy.

I don't think his demeanor changes. I think he's more comfortable in that static set where we're playing at a slower pace,” JJ Redick said. “There's a real value in having someone who's capable of making plays against a set defense, somebody who can shoot over the top of guys and really take advantage of mismatches. I don't know that you want to play that way for four quarters, but certainly at times going down the stretch, there's value in that.

While Butler sealed the deal, it was Joel Embiid who willed the Sixers back into the game in the third quarter (see story). Embiid dominated and kept the Sixers afloat until it was time for Butler to play the closer role.

And that wasn’t an accident.

“We talked about it before the game,” Embiid said. “I told him that I needed him tonight, that I needed this win and he told me to get him to the fourth and he was going to take over. That’s all I tried to do and obviously in the fourth, he’s our best closer. [We’ve] got to put the ball in his hands in the fourth and I’m going to do my thing whenever I have the ball, but that was my job tonight and he showed up and in the fourth he was fantastic.”

Embiid sets ‘em up, Butler knocks ‘em down.

Sounds like a hell of a plan.

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