Mon. Jan 27th, 2020

In The Mind of Sixers Coach Brett Brown, It’s A Matter Of Where You Start AND Where You Finish – Forbes

In The Mind of Sixers Coach Brett Brown, It’s A Matter Of Where You Start AND Where You Finish  Forbes

The last time the 76ers reached the NBA Finals, in 2000-01, they opened the season 10-0 and 14-2, topped out at 42-14 and finished 56-26.

The last time they won it all, in 1982-83, they started out 10-1 and 13-2, soared to 57-9 and went 65-17.

This season, which begins with an exhibition Tuesday night at home against Guangzhou, a Chinese club, brings with it outsized expectations. And if these Sixers are to get where those earlier teams did, coach Brett Brown believes they will have to follow a similar path.

“I want us to come out of the gate swinging,” he said after an intrasquad scrimmage Saturday, referring to the Oct. 23 regular-season opener against Boston. “I want to come out of the gate playing as high (a) level of basketball as we can possibly play.”

It will be a challenge to scale that summit over the next two weeks. He will have two new starters, and a third who has played all of 39 games for Philadelphia (including playoffs). Brown has a center, Joel Embiid, whose health is constantly in question, and a point guard, Ben Simmons, whose jumper is constantly in question. And there are some new pieces on the bench, too.

But the Sixers are big and deep and hopeful. Embiid is 20 pounds lighter. Simmons swears he will shoot a 3 in anger. Tobias Harris, who came aboard last February, has a new five-year, $180 million contract, and is moving from quasi-power forward to small forward. The newcomers to the opening quintet are forward Al Horford, who is 33 and proven, and guard Josh Richardson, who is 26 and promising.

The revamped starting group looked “OK” in Saturday’s scrimmage, Brown said — capable, he added, of playing a game right then and having “some level of purpose and intent.” But some refinements are needed.

“I really feel like Ben, being our point guard and the guy that’s leading us out there, he’s really trying to make an effort to make sure everybody feels good and we’re all on the same page,” Horford said. “That’s good to see. The chemistry stuff, that’s going to take time.”

Horford, besides being a defensive savant, is a glue guy-plus. Signed as a free agent in July — to the tune of $109 million over four years — he will start at power forward but also play some center. He will work the post and fire from the arc. And he will guard the gym; when he was with Boston, his home the last three years, he alternately checked Simmons and Embiid. No surprise, then, that he is taking a workmanlike approach to a new role on a new team.

“It’s definitely difficult,” he said of the adjustment, noting that every team has different terminology and different principles. “I feel like a rookie at times out there.”

It is one thing, he added, to prepare for the Sixers as an opponent, quite another to fit into their framework.

“It is like going back to school,” he said. “It does take time. That’s why I’m happy we have a couple weeks in the preseason here to just really work all that out and feel good about it.”

Richardson betrayed no such concerns, saying the terminology is “straightforward.” Nor did he seem especially bothered that he came from Miami in a sign-and-trade for Jimmy Butler, the Sixers’ best player in last year’s playoffs, or that he would be filling the lineup spot occupied the last two years by JJ Redick, the team’s foremost sniper.

“I’m not coming in here, trying to be Jimmy Redick,” he said.

In his mind’s eye, Brown sees the 6-5 Richardson combining with the 6-10 Simmons to form a guard tandem that “can be elite defensively, really stalking backcourts.” He sees the team’s overall size — Richardson is the smallest starter — disrupting opponents.

And he wants to see all that, as soon as possible. History tells us, after all, that that really matters.