THE NEW YEAR is a time for new hopes, resolutions and change.
The 76ers are no different. Coach Brett Brown hopes that more wins come his way as the team enters the second third of its schedule (the final third being the stretch after the All-Star Game to the end of the season). There are many things players could resolve and certainly tons of changes on the horizon as the rebuild continues its process.
The first change, starting with Tuesday's matchup at the Wells Fargo Center against the Minnesota Timberwolves, looks as though it will involve the big-men trio of Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel. Before and during most of the recent four-game road trip, Brown started a lineup that included Embiid and Okafor. The last game of the trip, however, Brown started the successful tandem of Embiid and Ersan Ilyasova, with Okafor delegated to bench duty and Noel getting 19 minutes in a subbing role.
The team has won six of its eight games when Ilyasova starts, so perhaps Brown will stick with that pair of starters in his frontcourt. But his experimentation will continue and Noel, who has appeared in just seven games encompassing 81 minutes this season, will most likely see a good load of action.
"We want to see Nerlens and Joel a little bit," said Brown. "I think the Jahlil and Joel pairing we've seen. We've seen them separated and a lot of discussion has gone into all of this. I think it's fair to say, mostly, that there is nothing 100 percent certain with all of this, and I mean everything we've just said, that gives us hesitation to not look at some things. We have a situation in the next (five) weeks where it's (five) back-to-backs where Joel won't play and I'm thrilled to have those bigs, under those circumstances. It sort of gives you depth and you can see how you can rotate that. All of that is part of where I am at and what we've learned."
It doesn't mean that the testing of Embiid and Okafor is done, but it appears as if it won't be paired as much as it has in the past couple of weeks.
"I think over the course of the year you're going to see different things," said Brown. "To do it as much as I have done it, I don't believe that that will be the case. But there are going to be times when you'll see them paired up just through situations - in foul trouble, through injury. I feel like the mistake that we could all get into, led by me, is to categorically stamp off on anything. It is incredibly fluid still and will be while we have all of these bigs on the team. I feel like the clarity comes a little bit more when you talk about Joel not playing in back-to-backs. That's where you see just a little bit of daylight."
Noel, sidelined after a knee procedure early in the season, embraces that he may be seeing the floor more, especially with Embiid.
"We're just playing. He's a basketball player and I'm a ball player," said Noel of he and Embiid. "We both have good feels for the game and we'll be able to play off each other in any way possible. We both are athletes and get up and down the court. I think that will be a big thing, too.
"The more I play the better condition I get in. Playing in games, I get in game shape. As I continue to go on and get my timing back and be able to get my niche of where to be at the right time, I'm going to get better and better."
Following practice Monday, Ben Simmons was on the floor, casually shooting some standstill shots with his teammates.
"You are going to start seeing him integrated more and more as this New Year is now upon us," said Brett Brown. "Nobody is comfortable of giving dates (for a return to the court). He is moving along just fine. It's still, obviously, not to the point where he's on the floor practicing. But nobody should be worried that his foot is not healing."
Sergio Rodriguez (sprained ankle) and Richaun Holmes (concussion) are both doubtful to play Tuesday against Minnesota at the Wells Fargo Center. Gerald Henderson (sore hip) went through limited practice on Monday but is probable to go against the Timberwolves. Rodriguez missed the team's last game, a win over Denver. Holmes has missed the past five games while Henderson's return would end his two-game absence.