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' Joel Embiid jokes he'll lose 50 pounds because of food at Disney World

Sixers' Joel Embiid jokes he'll lose 50 pounds because of food at Disney World

The Sixers departed on Thursday for life in the NBA’s quasi-bubble in Orlando.

They stepped on board their flight with a variety of styles. Joel Embiid’s all-white, hazmat suit look was by far the most unique. 

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If you need me I’ll be in the bubble 😤 📲

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⚫️⚪️

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The NBA’s health and safe protocols mandate that a player or staff member stays in their individual hotel room — the Sixers are at Disney’s Grand Floridian Hotel — while the result of the coronavirus test they took at arrival is returned. Another test then must be taken at least 24 hours after that initial test and also come back as negative for one to advance to Phase 4, which includes team activities such as practice. 

Not every player in Orlando has been a fan of the food during this quarantine period and photos like the one Nuggets guard Troy Daniels shared were not the most appetizing. 

This prompted The New York Times’ Marc Stein to report that “player meals won’t look like airline trays after the first 48 hours.”

As the Sixers transition to the next stage of this unprecedented process, Embiid showed his meal on Instagram with some characteristic humor. 

Yes, that last photo is really Embiid, at a Basketball without Borders camp in 2011.

Though Embiid said Tuesday he doesn’t believe in the NBA’s plan to resume play and laid out a number of concerns, he seems to be having as much fun as he can under the unusual circumstances. 

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Twitter drama with Joel Embiid and Kendrick Perkins involves liked and deleted tweets

Twitter drama with Joel Embiid and Kendrick Perkins involves liked and deleted tweets

Joel Embiid doesn’t tweet much nowadays.

He appeared to make a statement, though, via a recent tweet he liked.

ESPN analyst Kendrick Perkins on Wednesday night criticized Embiid for noting he “hated” the NBA’s plan to restart the season at Disney World and still does not think it’s safe enough. Perkins’ reaction was devoid of empathy and did not address Embiid’s legitimate concerns, instead framing Embiid's comments as "just an excuse."

Embiid then liked a tweet showing “prime Kendrick Perkins,” which features air balled jumpers, ungainly charges and many other lowlights. 

Perkins later felt compelled to reply with a reel of more positive NBA moments for himself. 

A champion with the 2008 Celtics, Perkins averaged 5.4 points and 5.8 rebounds in 782 NBA games. A three-time All-Star, Embiid has career averages of 24.1 points and 11.5 rebounds. There's clearly a disparity. 

There was another layer to the mini-drama Thursday afternoon as Perkins reacted to Embiid wearing a hazmat suit before boarding the Sixers’ flight to Orlando.

Perkins tweeted the following in response to Embiid’s attire: 

However, according to a slew of Twitter users commenting on that post, Perkins initially sent and then deleted a harsher message that told Embiid he should have opted out.

While Perkins’ antics have been foolish, they shouldn’t overshadow Embiid’s legitimate concerns. Perkins does not seem to acknowledge that it's possible to weigh various factors before making a difficult decision, which is what Embiid has done by choosing to travel to Orlando despite being wary of playing during a pandemic, and in an area where cases have recently spiked. 

The Sixers’ first game at Disney World is scheduled for Aug. 1 against the Indiana Pacers (see schedule).

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