Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown sat down for lunch with reporters on Thursday afternoon at Lo Spiedo restaurant in the Navy Yard for his annual media luncheon. He spoke for almost an hour, so there was a lot more to digest than just chicken wings.
Brown spent part of the morning at the team gym watching Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric, and a handful of other Sixers run up and down the floor playing together. It was a scene that's been years in the making and one that is sure to bring a different kind of excitement to basketball lovers in Philly.
"How can we not feel a breath of fresh air, a new bounce, a higher level of hope, and an excitement that together we haven’t experienced for a while," Brown said about the state of Sixers basketball.
A big reason for that is Joel Embiid finally suiting up and getting a chance to play in an NBA game for the Sixers. Much more on Brown's thoughts on Embiid here.
But there's also bigtime buzz about the Sixers' having a No. 1 overall pick play for them for the first time since 1996.
Brown loves what he's seen from Simmons this summer, both on and off the court. But Simmons' development isn't going to happen over night. It will be a season-long progression.
Fans want to pigeonhole players into a particular position. "Is Ben Simmons a point guard?" for example. Brown thinks that's a futile exercise.
Many of the Sixers' players have been in the gym together only a couple of days.
"The reality of it is you’re seeing it unfold slowly before my eyes now of what these guys can do," Brown said.
He didn't hesitate, however, to say with Simmons in the fold, “this is the best passing team we’ve ever had here since I’ve been coaching.”
Brown labeled all of Simmons, Saric, Sergio Rodriguez, and even Embiid as "elite world-class passers."
And that's not even including the team's likely starting point guard.
“I think if the season started today you’d give Jerryd Bayless the ball and you’d go from there," Brown said of the PG position. "I feel like there will be times you’ll see Simmons with the ball as the traditional point guard. I think you’re going to see Dario and Ben a lot, defensive rebounding, leading the break, and we’ll run with them.”
Fitness was stressed as key given the direction of the league. Even with a big guy like Embiid, Brown wants his team running. “I don’t want to play static and I don’t want to play slow.”
Along with his shot, Brown wants to see Simmons develop his transition game without the ball in his hands.
“I feel like his growth of learning how to run a lane and play ahead of the ball, that second pass, and we get him going in the open court on a kick ahead, where it’s not always Ben ball-dominant, will be a part of his growth offensively," Brown said. "His evolution will be rapid.”
Throughout the hour-long lunch, the concept of a team culture and value system came up repeatedly. Brown has seen what it takes to win a championship in his 31 seasons of coaching, so he knows the importance of building a culture that is led by the players as much as the coaches.
“We need to grow this," he said. "You don’t want it to be a coach-drive formula. Ultimately, it needs to be a player-driven type formula. The players determine the behavior. The players determine the culture.”
Brown sees that type of player in Simmons.
“I think he’s very mature in how he sees things as it relates to his responsibility to himself and the city. I think he understands that the media and the public, there are all eyes on him, that it’s twofold," he said. "There is responsibility to carry himself in a way that the franchise and the city would want, with a bit of class and a bit of grace. I think he understands that. He’s been extremely well raised."
It was a question about what other players' skills did Brown see in Simmons that brought out perhaps the most important attribute in a young talent: desire.
“Different times, different players," Brown said. "I’ll ask your editors to be gentle with me here too. You guys have all said it. At times you’ll see Magic Johnson dribbling up the floor at 6-10, other times you could see a runaway train running up the floor like LeBron [James] just moving ahead and going coast to coast. Sometimes you’ll see a little bit of bounce with Draymond [Green]. I just said a big point guard and some mobile 4-men, but what you mostly see is a 20-year-old young man that is 245 pounds that I think, and I don’t throw this sentence out lightly, I think truly wants to be great. I really think he wants to be great. So that’s my job to help him understand, well what does that mean, because that’s a hell of a sentence.”