76ers

Elton Brand ready if needed, but value not tied to playing

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Elton Brand ready if needed, but value not tied to playing

It’s been just about a month since Elton Brand came out of retirement to re-join the 76ers, and aside from some practice sessions, the 16-year veteran has not yet put on a uniform.

Whether or not he suits up and gets into an actual NBA game any time soon remains to be seen. Better yet, Brand might not need to see playing time in order for his true value for the Sixers to be realized.

“My first reaction is no, he doesn’t need to get into a game to provide our team tremendous value,” coach Brett Brown said after Tuesday’s practice at PCOM. “He never needs to step onto an NBA court. He probably will and he’s been working and he’s been fantastic with his condition. The leadership he provides all over the place has nothing to do with 48 minutes. He’s wonderful to have around all over the place.”

Since joining the Sixers on Jan. 4, Brand has been something of a coach on the playing roster. He’s taken rookie Jahlil Okafor under his wing and mentored many of the Sixers’ young players. Though he takes part in practice, Brand is a vocal presence on the team’s bench during games, getting in his teammates’ ears in regard to game situations and providing guidance with his years of experience.

That role can’t be underestimated, says Brown.

“He’s great to talk to. Sharing information with Jahlil, he’s great,” Brown said. “And I think he’s in a place personally that he’s allowed himself to be great.”

But Brand didn’t come out of retirement just to practice and sit on the bench. At some point he’s going to play. As for when that day will be, that's something of a mystery.

“Practice-wise things have been pretty good,” Brand said. “With me, I’m not trying to take anything away from the development of the young guys. We need to get these young guys some looks and whenever they need me, I’m ready. I can play if need be.”

In other words, Brand doesn’t need to play. 

“My ego [doesn’t need the attention],” Brand said. “But if there is a situation where I can help, yeah, I’d love the opportunity [to play]. Coach talked to me two weeks ago if it was OK to be active and I said, ‘Yes, if you need me, let me know.’ It’s more of that kind of case.”

There are a lot of game situations where Brand can speak to players in the way a coach cannot. In a sense, he serves as a translator between the coaching staff and the Sixers’ young players, which helps both sides communicate better.

“It’s the little things that these guys need to improve on,” Brand said.

As for off-the-court activities, Brand has also sat on the bench. Last week when the Sixers were in Orlando, Fla., many of the players went to the Universal Studios theme park, but Brand sat that one out.

“I took a nap,” Brand said.

That’s about the only event in which Brand has sat out. Normally, he's at the end of the bench, he said, waiting for the call.

“If they need me, I’m ready,” he said.

The 'jaw-dropping' education Brett Brown is receiving on racial injustice

The 'jaw-dropping' education Brett Brown is receiving on racial injustice

Brett Brown was eager on Wednesday to speak about the subject of racial injustice.

It’s a topic that has dominated recent conversations with his team, he said. 

“My last two Zoom calls with my team have had about 1 percent of basketball and 99 percent of all of the racial injustice circumstances we’re all living and breathing now,” Brown said in a video call with reporters. “That’s on my mind.”

According to Brown, the killing of 46-year-old Black man George Floyd on May 25 by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin jolted the NBA’s head coaches into action. 

“On May (25), George Floyd was murdered, and all of a sudden everybody starts to pay attention in a hyper-aware way — certainly in the United States, and we all see what’s happened around the world,” Brown said. “The Coaches Association got on the phone, 30 head NBA coaches.

"We tried to figure out quickly, what can we do to help? From those 30, it branched off into 11 people that formed a committee. I’m proud to be a part of that committee. I think we all have to give (Atlanta Hawks head coach) Lloyd Pierce, my old assistant coach, a lot of credit for driving this.”  

Brown recalled an extensive list of figures both he and the committee have met with to address racism and police brutality, including:

-DeRay McKesson, an activist who advocates for 8 Can’t Wait, a series of “policies that can reduce the harm caused by police in the short term.”
-Wally Adeyemo, the President of the Obama Foundation 
-Michael Smith, Executive Director of My Brother’s Keeper, an Obama Foundation alliance that aims to build “safe and supportive communities for boys and young men of color.”
-Pastor Mark Tyler, of Mother Bethel AME Church and a member of POWER 
-Former Camden County Police Chief Scott Thomson 
-Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw 
-Former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey
-Bryan Ramsey, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative 

That is, of course, a lot of information and expertise to absorb over the course of approximately five weeks. And though Brown has been thinking about the Sixers’ second training camp and how to best position his team for success at Disney World when the NBA plans to resume in about a month, he’s determined to make racial justice a priority. He wants to learn more, to further fill his gaps in knowledge.

This thing that we’re talking about, for me, as a 59-year-old white man, has been just jaw-dropping in relation to being educated,” he said. “When we would go into Memphis and you’d go out of the (National Civil Rights Museum), I’d go out of that thing and turn to my team every single time and apologize. I was just ashamed. And so this thing here we’re living right now — all of us — is real. It is incredibly real with my team.

At the moment, Brown is unsure how exactly he and the Sixers should go about seeking positive change. For now, he’s valuing what his players have to say, and he believes they can make strategic progress in Orlando. Several Sixers protested in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing, including Tobias Harris, Matisse Thybulle and GM Elton Brand. 

“What the league has decided to do in Orlando and some of the things that are now going on with Black Lives Matter, I look forward to getting into Orlando and looking at my guys,” Brown said, “and trying to figure out, what’s our path? What can we do as a team? How about Philly? When you really dig in, what’s going on in Philly where we can maybe make a difference? 

“As I said, I do not walk in my players’ shoes, but I do know a good heart. I do know right and wrong. And I hope in the role I have to lead as best I can. How that impacts and what it means as far as what the league does … I don’t know. But I do look forward very much to getting with my players and discussing this very real topic far more in-depth, and having the ability to see them.”

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A team will rise from the NBA chaos — why not the Sixers?

A team will rise from the NBA chaos — why not the Sixers?

Plucking a quote from one of the most despicable characters in 21st century television isn't my customary method of persuasive writing, but …

"Chaos is a ladder," Petyr Baelish said.

The guy has a point. Amid the rubble of the stalled NBA season an opportunity has arisen. 

At 39-26, the Sixers have limped to an inauspicious spot as the sixth-best team in the East. Whether the eight games they have left before the playoffs changes their seeding or not, this unanticipated sprint to the NBA title following an abrupt four-month layoff could benefit the Sixers.

Back in March when the season was first put on ice, Sixers fans weren't sure when a nerve impingement in Ben Simmons' lower back would allow him to play again. Some very convincing Instagram videos and more than four months since his last game has seemingly allowed him to heal and squelched concerns about a lingering injury.

Joel Embiid was nursing a banged-up shoulder which has had the same time to mend. When Alaa Abdelnaby joined us on the latest Sixers Talk podcast, he said he heard Embiid is working out six days a week. So, forget about the quarantine 15 for “The Process” and the obligatory conditioning conjecture that goes with it.

The Sixers top two players are healthy and conceivably the rest of the roster is as well — save the bedeviled Zhaire Smith — all benefitting from the extra healing time the layoff provided. A lack of health is one reason for the team's lack of chemistry this season. It’s a point Tobias Harris acknowledged as a source for the team's struggles and inconsistencies on a recent television appearance.

For my money, although it may not seem like much, grabbing Ryan Broekhoff and throwing him into the mix was a sound move as well. He helps to increase the healthy competition for minutes among a bench where playing time will be hard to come by if you don't have a defined role.

The Sixers are expected to be in Orlando and enter the NBA bubble on July 9, with the playoffs wrapping on or before Oct. 13. The marathon that was the NBA campaign is over. Following the coronavirus shutdown, 22 teams are now poised to try to race to the finish of a season which could be the most challenging ever, all things considered. 

Charles Barkley endorsed the Sixers’ talent by saying he thinks they have the best two players on the floor, in Simmons and Embiid, against any Eastern Conference foe except Milwaukee. Talent will take them far in this resurrected season, but a test of their minds and wills is likely where the most intense battles will be fought in the months to come.

If this team is really built for the playoffs, as GM Elton Brand proclaimed before an assembled room of players and media before the season, the gauntlet of the NBA bubble will reveal the truth like a soothsayer's decree. Chaos could surely be a ladder for the team who galvanizes quickly in this nouveau world of no fans and neutral sites.

Why can’t the Sixers be that team?

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