Josh Harris

Al Horford inspired by former teammate Elton Brand, Tobias Harris stepping into new role, more from new and returning Sixers

Al Horford inspired by former teammate Elton Brand, Tobias Harris stepping into new role, more from new and returning Sixers

CAMDEN, N.J. — The dais was so packed, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris had to crane his neck as he tried to find the latest in the pack of new and returning Sixers he was introducing at Friday’s press conference. 

“Where’s James?” Harris asked, looking for James Ennis. 

The 29-year-old Ennis was one of eight Sixers on stage Friday, along with Harris, general manager Elton Brand, new additions Al Horford, Josh Richardson, Kyle O’Quinn and Raul Neto, and the returning Tobias Harris.

We’ll do our best to highlight the most interesting tidbits from Friday's press conference: 

Defense first 

Brand’s moves over the past few weeks largely spoke for themselves, but he removed any possible doubt Friday about the Sixers’ identity, saying the Sixers should be “one of the top defensive teams in the league.” 

That doesn’t seem like an especially controversial statement when looking at the team’s massive starting lineup led by a frontcourt with NBA All-Defensive Team credentials in Joel Embiid and Horford.

“We’re doing everything we can to bring another NBA championship to the city of Philadelphia,” Brand said. “So believe that. That’s our goal. This group up here is putting us in place to reach that goal. As we reach the summer, we wanted to solidify our team identity — versatility, size, length, athleticism, leadership, great, high-character players. And that’s what we have on the dais here.”

The offensive side of the equation is “going to take some time,” Brand acknowledged.

“I look forward to training camp,” he said, “and figuring all that out. “

'I'm hype'

For Sixers fans, seeing a former nemesis representing their team might be a little odd.

For Horford, it sounded like the shift from the Sixers to the Celtics felt natural. He said his relationship with Brand played a significant role in his coming to Philadelphia. The two played together from 2013-2015 with the Atlanta Hawks, in the later years of Brand’s playing career. Brand expects Horford to play both alongside Embiid and as a backup center. 

He's eager to have his former teammate in the lineup, and Horford feels the same way. 

First of all, this view gets me excited. See out there, the city? I hadn’t seen any of this before. I’m hype. I’m ready to go. I’m just letting you guys know right now. I have a lot of respect for Elton. I got to watch him as a younger player and see how professional he was, how he took care of his body. Really respected him. I’ll tell you a quick story about him: We were getting ready to go to dinner one night, some of the guys and I. We’re about to get into the elevator. ... He was just in the elevator going to his room, but he was coming from the gym, sweating. He’d just done like an hour of cardio and he was just drenched. His commitment to wanting to win and do the right things inspired me back then. 

Mike Scott, who did not attend Friday’s press conference, also played with Horford and Brand on the Hawks.

Harris stepping into a new role 

Speaking with a small group of reporters after the hubpub of the press conference had somewhat subsided and everyone had posed for their photos — Harris with his new No. 12 jersey — the 26-year-old reflected on the “sacrifices” required from himself and his teammates last season.

“I just wanted to adapt,” he said. “Not to be complaining about comfort or whatnot. I just wanted to be that guy who puts everything to the side and it’s about winning. Was that hard for me? Not hard for me with who I am, but for my own game, it was hard.”

Harris is going to have greater responsibility this season. In addition to more time with the ball in his hands late in games, that also means his personality can be a more prominent part of the team, not just a steady, selfless figure in the background.

With Brand and the Sixers committed to him long term, we’re already seeing a little more of Harris’ sense of humor and confidence.

He showed both of those qualities in a story about a recent workout with Ben Simmons in Los Angeles, noting with a smile how he’s working to encourage his All-Star teammate to expand his game. 

He's in the gym religiously every day — grinding, getting better. He's in great shape. Everyone was trying to figure out why I was guarding him at the three-point line. It was really because he hit two of them. I dared him to hit two of them and he hit two in a row — that's why I was there. He's made big improvements on his game. His jump shot is looking really good. He has confidence to shoot it. I just kept telling him there, even in these workouts when you're playing, have the confidence to shoot them and don't get discouraged when you miss … 

Still growing 

Though Brand is determined to compete for a championship this season, he also touted how the Sixers are built well for the future.

A major reason for his confidence in the team beyond this year is the growth he projects in Harris and Richardson.

Richardson, whose scoring, rebounding and assists numbers have increased in each of his four NBA seasons, doesn’t expect his upward trajectory to stop anytime soon. 

"Over the last four years in the NBA I attribute my growth and my progression to how I was kind of molded in college,” he said. "I didn't come into college like a five-star [recruit]. I was like a two-star out of high school. I had to work for everything at every level so coming here with these guys, it's going to be easy, I think, to continue that growth.

"You see how Tobias, you see this whole team, this whole roster is full of guys that have progressed a lot over their careers. I think it'll be fun to almost compete — almost see like who can be in the gym the most, see who can beat who or see how much better we can get over these seasons."

Simple goals

Each of the new Sixers have their own reasons for choosing to play in Philadelphia, but one dominant theme echoed throughout the press conference. O’Quinn, who’s with the Sixers on a one-year, veteran minimum deal, might have summarized it best.

“I'm going into my eighth year,” he said. “I can't look at a role that's bigger than the picture that I need. I need to win. I like to win. I can't really think of anything other than winning. When the games start rolling, the season's long, you have to step in and I think that's when you really earn your respect and you really get a tap on the back from yourself — stepping in when you need to be ready. That's been my career. 

“I don't shy away from it. I never say a role is too small for me. I embrace it. I really enjoy that. Whether it's a 10-game stretch or two-game stretch, minutes up and down, I'm ready for that. I heard Elton [Brand say Al Horford is Joel Embiid's backup] just like you, but that's just a vision. When you're trying to win you'll do anything to win and I think that part of it is more important in my career right now.”

Ennis, as Brand was sure to note, left money on the table because he believes the Sixers can win a title. 

All the buzzwords about culture and team may be attractive, but it’s hard to beat the basic draw of having a real opportunity to win a championship.

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Top takeaways from Sixers' press conference with Josh Harris, Elton Brand

Top takeaways from Sixers' press conference with Josh Harris, Elton Brand

CAMDEN, N.J. — It's been a whirlwind 48 hours for the Sixers.

After getting bounced in Game 7 in the second round on a Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater Sunday night, the team returned to their practice facility in Camden for exit interviews.

On Tuesday, managing partner Josh Harris and GM Elton Brand addressed Brett Brown's future, the health of Joel Embiid and much more.

Here are four takeaways from today's availability:

Brett Brown's future

Reports surfaced before Game 7 that Brown may have been coaching for his job. Late Monday, the team confirmed that Brown would return for his seventh season.

"I think a lot's been made about this in the press and truthfully you can't believe what you're reading or what you're hearing," Harris said. "Brett's job was never in jeopardy. We were very focused on the playoffs and yeah, we declined to get into a lot of questions that people were asking us, but I have great relationship with Brett. He's been our coach for six years. I've talked with him constantly through the playoffs, including last night in terms of planning for the future. We have been and continue to be excited that Brett is leading us."

The timing of it all was certainly odd. 

It's fair to wonder why the team didn't address the rumors sooner, putting to bed any notion that Brown's job may have been in jeopardy. Harris mentioned that the team was focused on the playoffs as a reason for not addressing the situation.

When pressed if Brown had known his job was safe, Harris didn't give a definitive answer at first, just saying that he "had a lot of conversations with Brett that put us into a good place." In the middle of answering another question, Harris had a more straight answer.

"Just going back to [that question], Brett knew through the Toronto series that his job was not in jeopardy. Let's be really direct about it."

When asked about why his players felt the need to come out and defend their coach on Monday, Harris doubled down on the notion that the report was false.

"Brett knew he was not coaching for his job through the Toronto series and otherwise. You can ask him," Harris said. "I think obviously there was a lot of noise in the press, probably kicked up by our competitors, who knows? I think we made an appropriate decision not to respond to all the rumors and innuendo, all the incorrect facts that were out there.

"We always respect the opinions of our players. It's good to hear that they were on board for it. It was an emotional moment and so I'm glad they came out in support of our coach. It's great."

When asked for an evaluation of Brown, Harris gave him an "A."

Joel's health

Joel Embiid's health is paramount to everything the Sixers do going forward. He is their best player and his impact was made even clearer in the Toronto series — especially when he wasn't on the floor.

Whether it was the tendinitis in his left knee or illnesses that plagued him, the Sixers didn't get the best of Embiid in the postseason. Load management will be a priority for Embiid next season.

"He's one of the top players in the world so it's a unique situation where he didn't play early on in his career so when he had a chance to play and he was healthy he was like 'I'm out there,'" Brand said. "Now, he sees what other players have done, he spoke to other players, he saw how he felt in the playoffs, which is the most important time, and he doesn't want to go there [like that] again. So absolutely we're going to monitor minutes, we're going to monitor workload and he's on board for all of that."

Much has been made about Embiid's diet and the plan going forward. Brand claimed he had not heard the infamous story about his Chick-Fil-A orders, but said there is a nutrition plan in place.

"I didn't see the four chicken sandwich story," Brand said. "Four chicken sandwiches…yeah, I guess that's a lot. I haven't heard that story, but I know he's focused on his body. He's very intelligent. He eats salmon, he eats vegetables — when he's locked in, he's locked in. He knows he can do it and he knows what he has to do. An actual target weight, we'll decide that together and see where he wants to be, where needs to be, not just what's best for next season, but postseason and long term."

Ben's shot

No matter what Ben Simmons does, until he develops a jump shot, he's going to be under scrutiny. Brand was peppered with questions about Simmons' shot and his plans to improve.

Simmons has worked with his brother on his jumper and Brand has no issue with it.

"I would never ask him not to work with his brother," Brand said. "What he wants to do personally on his time that's on his time. He's not doing that on our time. He works with our coaches during our time. I have a great relationship with his agent Rich Paul and he also has people that he wants him to work with. We're looking for the best in class for him to work with so we're putting that together."

Pending free agents

Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were both acquired in trades and both are pending free agents. 

Brand said he was pleased with what both players brought. As far as finances, Harris reiterated that ownership is not afraid to go over the luxury tax for the right players.

"That was the goal — to bring in talent, elite talent, All-Star-caliber talent," Brand said. "We tried to accumulate that with the assets that we sent out. Management, Josh and Dave [Blitzer], are committed to giving me the resources to spend if necessary to get to a championship level and win championships."

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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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