Nobody knows if the NBA season will resume. Nobody knows what form any potential resumption would take. But the 76ers’ Brett Brown sounds like a coach who fully anticipates that there will basketball before the end of the summer, as well as one who is confident his team can be there at the end.
“We’re looking to contend for a championship,” he said Friday afternoon in his first press conference since the NBA halted play in mid-March. “That hasn’t changed.”
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Looking healthy and refreshed, Brown offered a considerable amount of interesting context to a number of Sixers-related storylines, including Ben Simmons’ health and Joel Embiid’s conditioning.
A few of the interesting highlights:
Ben Simmons was in so much pain when he injured his back in Milwaukee that he was vomiting.
The lower-back nerve impingement that knocked Simmons out of a February game against the Bucks has been shrouded in the Sixers’ usual veil of secrecy. Earlier this month, general manager Elton Brand all but said that Simmons would be ready to go if and when the NBA season resumed. Brown indicated that is still in the case, and offered an interesting recollection of the night Simmons went down.
“For those of you who remember in Milwaukee, that was as disturbing a memory as it relates to a player as I can think of," Brown said. “He’s lying on his back. He’s vomiting, primarily because of pain. Trying to get him ... back up to some level of health where he can play basketball again, and that timeline was always an interesting one. . . .The effort that he has put in, given where he was and the significance -- he hurt his back in a real way -- he is to be praised and applauded in a real way.”
Simmons has been allowed by the league to rehab at the Sixers’ training facility, and it sounds like he will be in peak physical condition if and when official workouts resume.
“The professionalism and discipline that he has shown, having that pass to get into the facility, he’s teed off on that,” Brown said. "He’s been outstanding. It could be a little bit of the silver lining on this pandemic, the opportunity to get somebody like Ben back into our team.”
Joel Embiid’s health and conditioning might be the most important variable in the Sixers’ eventual fate.
Brown sounded his usual optimistic notes when addressing the question that might be the most important unknown variable involving the Sixers. Embiid’s health and conditioning has been a constant battle throughout the first four seasons in the NBA -- what kind of physical shape will he be in after nearly two months of downtime?
“He’s got a real desire to be at the best playing weight that he’s been at since he’s been in the league,” Brown said.
Does he think that will happen?
“I hope so, and I feel like he has a chance to do it," Brown said. "Really, if the playoffs started, picking whatever date you want to choose, my ideal thing is I want to play him about 38 minutes. I really would. In a playoff situation, that’s my ideal number. I feel like Joel is completely aware that kind of as he goes with his health and his fitness, we go.”
Teams will need somewhere in the neighborhood of three weeks of a training-camp environment in order to get their legs back and be ready to play in competitive games.
Brown said he hopes that the season can resume in a fashion that maintains the integrity of the 2019-20 season.
“Let’s not overcomplicate things,” he said.
Getting the players ready to play is one of the biggest concerns of coaches and executives across the league, and it is a topic that Brand discussed at length during his most recent media availability.
“We’re gonna hit the ground running,” Brown said. “We do not want to use this at all as an excuse. We need to hunt for a championship. In many ways, I feel like the carpet has been pulled from this team" pointing to the way the Sixers have finished the past few seasons.
While other NBA teams have begun to hold limited individual workouts in their training facilities, teams in the Northeast are still subject to social-distancing mandates that prevent them from joining in. Brown downplayed the concern that this will lead to an unlevel playing field once (if) the season resumes.
“As far as the competitive advantage, I don’t really see it like that too much or worry about it too much," Brown said. "I don’t really see it as a negative where we’re behind the eight ball, where we’re not having the same opportunity as others.”
Brown still firmly believes that the Sixers were built for the postseason and that any final verdict on his team right now would be incomplete.