CHARLOTTE – Things just got urgent for the 76ers.
Brett Brown can no longer talk about the need to develop Markelle Fultz as a reason to be patient. The Sixers coach can no longer point out Ben Simmons' and Joel Embiid's youth whenever his team racks up an alarming amount of turnovers.
The expectations changed once the Sixers acquired Jimmy Butler from the Minnesota Timberwolves via a blockbuster trade that was made official on Monday.
Now, it's time to see the results instead of trusting The Process.
Butler gives the team its coveted third star to play alongside Simmons and Embiid. The Sixers also boast one of the league's elite three-point shooters in JJ Redick. While he's still getting in shape, Wilson Chandler, the fifth starter, is versatile and tough. And he said he'll be off his minutes restriction shortly.
Expectations changed after the acquisition of Butler and Justin Patton from the Timberwolves in exchange for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless, and a 2022 second-round pick.
The Sixers are expected to challenge the Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks, and Boston Celtics for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Poor defense, turnovers, and lack of execution can no longer be excused by the Sixers or their fans. Not with a squad led by two all-stars in Embiid and Butler and a budding one in Simmons, the 2017-18 rookie of the year.
"I think it's the beginning of something different now," Brown said. "I think there's a cleansing and sort of a base that has been built. We are very proud of the culture, the standards, the rules and all that stuff.
"But, to your point, I think there is a starting point now that's more pronounced as far as a base to take off than there has ever been."
The Sixers are 11-7 after defeating the Charlotte Hornets, 122-119, in overtime Saturday night at the Spectrum Center. They are fourth in the conference behind the Raptors (13-4), Bucks (11-4) and Indiana Pacers (10-6). The conference-favorite Celtics (9-7) are fifth.
Brown thinks it will take until Christmas for his team to gel.
The expectations are for them to make at least one more roster move and climb in the standings.
Wednesday, in Butler's first game, the Sixers blew a 16-point fourth-quarter lead en route to a 111-106 loss in Orlando. Butler basically deferred to teammates while trying to fit in.
By Friday, he was more aggressive and filled a much-needed veteran leadership role while scoring a team-high 28 points. Embiid added 23 points and three blocks in the 113-107 victory over the Utah Jazz at Wells Fargo Center. The duo combined to 21 (Embiid 13, Butler eight) of the Sixers' 27 fourth-quarter points.
Then on Saturday, Butler hit the game-winning three-pointer with 0.3 seconds left.
"We have options," Brown said of the addition of Butler.
Butler provides an option that Brown hasn't had in the past. The roster was loaded with fringe players while the team tanked during the 2013-14, 2014-15, and 2015-16 seasons and part of 2016-17. Embiid and T.J. McConnell are the only holdovers from a squad that finished 10-72 during the 2015-16 season. And Embiid, who was on the roster in name only, missed that season because of foot surgery.
Back then, the expectation was that players would struggle shooting, would turn the ball over at an alarming rate, and surrender huge leads.
"It was a different day where there was sort of no pressure to come out and win every game," Brown said. "You were trying to just find players and play with pride and maybe trip on a Robert Covington, as an example.
"With this right here, all of our ambitions and, to a point, expectations are increased — as they should be."
That has something to do with no longer having Fultz in the starting lineup as a way to build his confidence and/or showcase him for potential trading partners. Right now, they need to produce – not confidence-build or stay with a disastrous starting backcourt of two non-shooters in Simmons and Fultz.
The Sixers will tell you that Embiid, Butler, and Simmons are three of the league's top 20 players. That would place them second behind the Golden State Warriors in that area.
It's debatable if the Celtics have three players in the top 20. The Raptors, Bucks, or Indiana Pacers don't. So, based on star power, a second-round playoff exit for the second straight year would be a disappointment.
Simmons' game suffered a bit in the first two games after Butler joined the team. Choosing not to take perimeter shots, the point guard has been invisible at times when he doesn't have the ball. While always a topic of discussion, Simmons' decision to not shoot has been viewed as something with which folks should be patient.