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:
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. “
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 …
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."
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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