76ers

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

Last year, the Sixers’ pre-draft process was, for some time, a mystery. As the team investigated then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s alleged use of burner Twitter accounts, the typical pre-draft routine was interrupted. Then, with the search underway to replace Colangelo, the Sixers took on the NBA draft with Brett Brown as the interim general manager at the head of a collaborative leadership structure.

Elton Brand was a part of that group that helped shepherd the organization through the draft — and came away with a commendable haul of Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Shake Milton. 

Now, Brand is the man in charge. He attended the team’s first pre-draft workout on May 6 in Camden, New Jersey — the team will hold its second group workout Monday — and was at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this past week. The draft is a month away and then, soon enough, the Sixers will shift into free agency mode.

Brand said at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday that he’s looking forward to it all. 

I’m excited. We have a great group. Dynamic core. I look forward to being the GM for the first time going into free agency, going into the draft. We were in [Game 7] until the last shot to go into overtime and win and get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Disappointed we didn’t get there, but highly optimistic and I’m proud of what we've done. I look forward to this offseason. I know we’re going to grow and get better.

Things change rapidly in professional sports, but let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, even by the warped standards of the Sixers, it’s been quite a year.

Brown famously proclaimed on draft night that the team was “star hunting, or star developing.” The “star hunting” part ended up falling on Brand, since the Sixers’ two biggest summer acquisitions under Brown were Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. Brand later traded away both players in the early-morning, pre-deadline deal for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic that confirmed, if there was any lingering doubt, his willingness to be bold.

Though Brand didn’t hold much back in his first attempt at lifting the Sixers to title contention, he gave himself ample flexibility this offseason. The Sixers have more free agents than players under contract for next year, and they have five draft picks, tied with Atlanta for the most of any team. There’s no undoing the moves he made in his first season, but Brand has the choice to fundamentally reshape the Sixers again if he’d like.

Another path Brand could take is paying what’s necessary to bring back Harris and Butler and figuring out the rest at the margins. (Regardless, upgrading at backup center will be a priority.) It’s also very possible Brand tries to find a middle road.

Managing partner Josh Harris said Tuesday he’s comfortable going into the luxury tax, though Brand added, “We’re going to be fiscally responsible. We’re not just going to be jumping into the luxury tax with the moves we make.”

Brand will, of course, have a team to support him with all the minutiae of the salary cap — trade exceptions, the mid-level exception, you name it — in his first offseason. After experiencing a bizarre last summer in a peripheral role, Brand is in the limelight. 

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2020 NBA schedule: Sixers set to play 3 scrimmages before season resumes

2020 NBA schedule: Sixers set to play 3 scrimmages before season resumes

The NBA on Saturday released its scrimmage schedule for the 22 teams participating in the league’s restart in Orlando. 

The Sixers are set to play three scrimmages:

July 24, 3:30 p.m. — Grizzlies
July 26, 12 p.m. — Thunder
July 28, 8:30 p.m. — Mavericks

The scrimmages are intended to serve as a final ramp-up into the resumption of the season. The Sixers, who began holding mandatory individual workouts at their practice facility in Camden, New Jersey, starting on Wednesday, are scheduled to arrive at Disney World next Thursday.

Brett Brown said Wednesday he’d like his team to be at a “B” fitness base that he can help improve to an “A” by the time seeding games start. It’s been challenging for many players to stay in shape because of restrictions related to the coronavirus. Matisse Thybulle, for one, said Thursday he doesn’t like running but it was his “only choice.”

"It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning,” Thybulle said, “but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off.”

The hiatus has allowed Ben Simmons to recover from the back injury that sidelined him for the Sixers’ last eight games, and Simmons noted he's added muscle and feels more explosive.

Al Horford also said, “I probably wasn’t where I wanted to be this season” in terms of health, and that the time off has been helpful for him. 

Below is the Sixers’ schedule for the final eight games:

Aug. 1, 7 p.m.: Indiana
Aug. 3, 8 p.m: San Antonio
Aug. 5, 4 p.m.: Washington
Aug. 7, 6:30 p.m.: Orlando
Aug. 9, 6:30 p.m.: Portland
Aug. 11, 4:30 p.m.: Phoenix
Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m.: Toronto 
Aug. 14: Houston 

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How bubbly Matisse Thybulle is taking things in stride during bizarre rookie year

How bubbly Matisse Thybulle is taking things in stride during bizarre rookie year

Matisse Thybulle was his usual bubbly self Friday. The Sixers’ rookie literally hopped — like he actually jumped into his seat — on a video conference call with reporters. He signed off by calling all of us nerds.

The 2019 first-round pick was having a standout first season before play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. Though his playing time had fluctuated, head coach Brett Brown said earlier in the season that he was grooming the young wing for the playoffs.

Still, Thybulle won’t take anything for granted as the team prepares to leave for the Disney World “bubble” next week.

“For me, every time I get out on the court, it’s a challenge to maintain, to keep my spot on the team,” Thybulle said. “And then with keeping the spot, you can never be stagnant.”

On opening night, Thybulle was asked to defend All-Star guard Kemba Walker. Walker had given the Sixers problems in the past and the rookie didn’t get off to a great start, committing two quick fouls. As the game went on, Thybulle settled in and showed the defensive prowess the Sixers drafted him for.

All season long, Thybulle has done well to take things as they come during a bizarre rookie year. He’s planning to take that same mentality to Florida.

Nobody really knows what’s going to happen," Thybulle said, "nobody really knows what to expect, or how things are going to go, or what anybody or any team looks like. Instead of setting expectations for myself or what I think the experience is going to be like, it’s been just trying to take each new step of this process as a new challenge, and then figuring out, when I get there, how I’m going to get through it.

"If you want to look at all the unknowns, you’ll just go crazy. Taking what I know and what I can control and trying to make the best out of that.

What we know about Thybulle is he has a propensity for disruption on the defensive end. He leads all rookies in steals — by a healthy margin — and is fifth in blocks. He’s one of only eight players in the NBA to have at least 80 steals and 40 blocks.

In order to get so many deflections and wreak havoc defensively, you need to be in top shape. If you’ve seen Thybulle’s Tik Tok adventures from early in the quarantine, you know that he lives in a small apartment and didn’t have the opportunity to keep up with basketball activities.

So, he turned to the only form of exercise he thought could help — even if he didn’t enjoy it.

“I don’t like running. I really don’t like it,” Thyulle said. “But through the quarantine, it was like my only choice. ... It’s obviously not basketball-type conditioning, but it kept me at a cardio fitness level to where now that we’ve come back and started, and I’ve started doing my basketball workouts, I have a really solid baseline to build off. In a matter of two weeks, I feel like I’ve gotten back into really good shape and I think it’s going to be easier to build on after this.”

Thybulle has been given a bunch of tough assignments this season. While he’s looked like a rookie at times, when he’s kept his fouls down and his three-point percentage up, you see a player that should be able to help come the postseason.

And in a year where nobody knows what the NBA playoffs will be like, it could be to the rookie’s advantage during his first postseason run.

“I think what I’ve heard about the playoffs is a little different than what the playoffs are going to look like this year,” Thybulle said. “Obviously, I’ve heard amazing things. Especially playing in Philly, I’ve heard so many great things about having our fans behind us.

"We’re finding ourselves in a situation where that’s not going to be the case, so I think it’s going to be new for everyone, even vets who have been part of the playoffs, trying to get a feel for what this is going to be like. But I’m open to the challenge and I’m excited for what’s in store.”

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