Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries want to be more than just camp bodies for Sixers

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Emeka Okafor, Kris Humphries want to be more than just camp bodies for Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — There were few surprises when the Sixers’ training camp roster was released on Monday.

Unless you don’t count adding 22 years of NBA experience from the 2004 draft to the frontcourt as a surprise.

The Sixers signed veteran big men Emeka Okafor and Kris Humphries to deals prior to the start of camp.

Okafor’s presence is particularly surprising when you consider the nine-year veteran hasn’t played in the league since the 2012-13 season.

“You guys have trust the process slogan and I had my own little process going,” Okafor said during media day. “The timing just worked out now.”

Okafor, who turns 35 on Thursday, downplayed the severity of his situation by calling it a “little process.” In September of 2013 while with the Washington Wizards, he underwent an MRI after experiencing discomfort in his neck while preparing for the upcoming season. The former No. 2 overall pick was diagnosed with a herniated C4 cervical disc and ruled out indefinitely.

“Four years ago, I had a herniated disc in my neck. Surgery was recommended, but I opted to just go the natural path, which is rest and rehabilitation,” said Okafor, who has averaged 12.3 points and 9.9 rebounds during his career. “There was that, just letting things heal, taking time off and making sure that I felt that I was as healthy and strong and ready to come back and play the way I want to play.”

Humphries’ journey hasn’t been nearly as rocky from a physical standpoint. However, the forward with career averages of 6.7 points and 5.4 boards has still been through the rigors of the NBA business.

After spending the first five seasons of his career split between the Utah Jazz and Toronto Raptors, Humphries has now been with six different teams in the past eight years.

Some familiar faces in the front office led to Philadelphia being the latest stop for Humphries.  

“I came in like last week and worked out. It went well,” he said. “Kind of a fit, so it just went from there. I was with (Sixers president) Bryan Colangelo and (vice president of player personnel) Marc Eversley in Toronto from ’06-09, so I was familiar with those guys. It just kind of worked out.”

With Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor both limited by injury rehab entering training camp, it would appear the Sixers simply signed Emeka Okafor and Humphries to have enough healthy bigs for the preseason.

Just don’t tell the two veterans.

“In terms of my conditioning and my ability, especially after going down and playing with various teams, there’s no doubt in my mind I can play in this league and still contribute,” said Okafor, who chose the Sixers after working out for a handful of other organizations. “I can contribute a lot both on and off the court.”

“I just want to come in and continue to work hard,” Humphries said. “It’s a new challenge. I haven’t been on a non-guaranteed contract before, so it’s a challenge. I’m going to let it play out on the floor, compete a little bit.

“For me, I just want to play basketball and have fun as long as I can. I love basketball. It’s a good spot, good organization. I’m excited to be here.”

Sixers new GM Elton Brand encouraged by what he's seen from Markelle Fultz

Sixers new GM Elton Brand encouraged by what he's seen from Markelle Fultz

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s only fitting on the day Elton Brand is announced as the Sixers’ new GM that we get our first glimpse of Markelle Fultz’s rebuilt jumper.

Fultz released videos of him draining a bunch of threes as part of an interview with Isaiah Thomas for The Players' Tribune Thursday morning. The shots were taken by himself in a gym and were strictly of the catch-and-shoot variety, but an encouraging sign nonetheless. 

Brand has a connection to Fultz. Both players were selected No. 1 overall, so Brand has a unique perspective in being able to relate to Fultz. After having one of the oddest rookie seasons in which he played just 14 games and had the most scrutinized jumper maybe in NBA history — or maybe Ben Simmons does? — Fultz appears healthy and ready to contribute.

“We spoke as No. 1 pick to No. 1 pick,” Brand said during his introductory press conference at the team’s practice facility Thursday. “My stance was always it’s not about this practice or this game, it’s the big picture. 

“And I’ve been so encouraged about what I’ve seen. A special young man. I know why he was the No. 1 pick. He’s going to do great. I’ve been very encouraged by what I’ve seen. When I got the job [Wednesday] it was 8:00 p.m., stayed until 10 p.m., who was here? This was after practice. Before practice today, who’s here? He’s been in the gym working tirelessly to develop and become a great player.”

There’s going to be a ton on Fultz’s shoulder(s) this season. The Sixers moved up from the No. 3 to No. 1 pick to acquire the rights to draft him. They made that pick in hopes that he’d be a perfect fit to develop alongside Joel Embiid and Simmons.

It obviously didn’t work out that way during his rookie season. Now he’s healthy after having to watch most of last season while his team had its best record since 2001. Everyone saw that this team needed something during the loss to the Boston Celtics last season. They needed a player that can create shots for himself and others.

The goal for Brand and the Sixers is to win an NBA championship — he made that abundantly clear. Managing partner Josh Harris also made it clear that he believes hiring Brand for this post gives the team the best chance to land star talent in the future. 

But for the immediate future, Brand wants to get the most out of the players that are in house.

“Immediate goals are to develop this young core,” Brand said. “It was Joel’s first time in the playoffs. It was Ben’s first time in the playoffs. We talk about adding a third superstar — we may have that third superstar in this room right now. And fourth — we have that much talent. They’re young but we have that much talent.”

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Elton Brand should help Sixers fuse new school with old school

Elton Brand should help Sixers fuse new school with old school

CAMDEN, N.J. — Elton Brand was a phenomenal basketball player.

The 1999 No. 1 overall pick played 17 seasons and made two All-Star appearances. He was on the court for the Sixers a little over two years ago. 

When the team named Brand their GM, it seemed like an odd fit. On the court, former NBA player and Philly native Malik Rose referred to Brand as an “old school Chevy.”

Now, Brand is charged with leading an NBA team in 2018. And not just any NBA team, but one that’s had a heavy focus on analytics, starting with former GM Sam Hinkie and “The Process.” 

“Analytics is a great tool,” Brand said Thursday at his introductory press conference at the team’s practice facility. “We’ve built one of the strongest analytical departments in the league in my opinion. But I’ll bring the human side. I’ll bring the 17 years of evaluating talent and being on the court to add to the analytics.”

This makes a ton of sense. With Brand’s promotion to GM, Alex Rucker took his former position as executive VP of basketball operations. Rucker’s most recent position was senior VP of analytics and strategy. 

With Brand embracing the analytical side of things, the Sixers appear to have an ideal front office situation. Everyone surrounding Brand will be able to provide him with all of the data that is out there when it comes to personnel decisions. Brand will then be able to couple that research with years of basketball experience.

“I’m not old school and trying to fight that and say, ‘let me pick with my gut,’” Brand said. “I think those little nuances, with the way the game is trending, I’m on top of that. I think I have the pulse of that.”

Brand was named the GM of the Delaware Blue Coats, the team’s G-League affiliate, just this past season. So it’s a quite a leap to go from that position to running an NBA franchise. 

He’ll rely heavily on the experience of people like assistant GM Ned Cohen and senior VP of player personnel Marc Eversley. After all, that group has led the way since Bryan Colangelo was relieved of his duties and head coach Brett Brown was given the interim GM title. 

But don’t expect Brand to simply just be the face of the franchise. Sure, that is part of his appeal after the unceremonious departures of Hinkie and Colangelo, but make no mistake, Brand will have the “loudest voice off the court,” according to managing partner Josh Harris.

Brand will bring his wealth of experience on the court into the front office. That’s another reason the Sixers hired him: his ability to relate to players as a former player himself. Joel Embiid, Markelle Fultz, Robert Covington and T.J. McConnel were among the players in attendance during his introductory press conference. 

But expect Brand to mix his old school approach with today’s way of thinking.

“In the parlance of basketball ops,” Harris said, “he’s a new school Tesla.”

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