SALT LAKE CITY — There are certainly things the 76ers need to worry about and address, but for Brett Brown, Joel Embiid’s recent postgame comments are not significant or harmful.
After scoring just four points in the fourth quarter and overtime in the Sixers' loss to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, Embiid said that in the second half of games he is frustrated when the ball doesn’t come to him more often after a dominant first half. Embiid said he isn’t being put in the right situations down the stretch to be able to do more.
“At times there is some truth to that, but at times he’s been so dominant in first halves that people double-team him and they get the ball out of his hands,” Brown said Thursday before the Sixers' game against the Utah Jazz. “You can’t always promise that with opposition and scouting reports at halftime. I think he’s had seven 20-point games in the first half. So naturally people make adjustments.”
When opposing teams make adjustments and double- or triple-team Embiid, he becomes more of a distributor from the post rather than a scoring threat. It is in those situations that Embiid also racks up most of his turnovers and so there is some pivot away from him.
Additionally, Ben Simmons' lack of an outside game continues to hinder the team when defenses collapse on Embiid and are more readily in range to close off Simmons as a threat.
Finding production and versatility late in games and executing when teams close off opportunities for Embiid is a problem that Brown and the Sixers will need to address, and they are aware of that. Add it to the growing list of problems the Sixers are trying to fix, a list that Brown says his staff is always working on.
“We talk all the time,” he said. “Although it may at times not feel like that, we do talk all the time. It’s a strength of our program, it’s a strength of our staff. ... We all understand the challenges we have with bringing Jimmy [Butler] in and helping Ben and growing Ben’s perimeter game and recognizing JJ [Redick]. And the crown jewel is Joel.”
The biggest problem is that all of these things take time to fix. Despite the NBA’s long season, time for growth and change is not always on a team’s side.
Then, on top of the on-court issues, the narrative from the outside when a player makes frustrated comments after a game is that the harmony of the team has been disrupted. Unhappy NBA players can often lead to destructive outcomes.
Brown is quick to dispel that line of thinking because he is confident in the relationships and trust that have been built over time within the Sixers.
“If the culture and the fabric of our team weren’t as strong as it has been — we’ve grown something over six years — then probably stuff like that can rattle people,” Brown said. “You know, controversy is good nowadays. We don’t get sucked into that. I don’t. You admit that it’s just part of dealing with young pros and social media and money and contracts and winning and expectations. Put that all into a melting pot and figure that out.”
For Brown, it all comes down to communication and a foundation of trust. He points to the swell of problems the Sixers have faced during his tenure with the team.
The Sixers have endured everything from tanking, injuries, and Twitter scandals to front-office turnover and unsolved mysteries and undetermined futures of players. Through it all, Brown has been with Embiid and understands the type of person he is.
Even when Embiid says things after games that make headlines, Brown tries to find the silver lining. Embiid has also held himself accountable on nights when he has played poorly and lifted his teammates up when they’ve had bad nights, so when Embiid complains, Brown listens.
“We all get who he is, led by me,” he said. “I’ve been with Joel Embiid for the longest out of anybody in our program. I look at his comments as competitive, he wants to win. ... He really wants to grab this team and lead us.”
So are the Sixers walking on eggshells after another postgame venting session from Embiid?
“Nobody is walking on pins and needles; we communicate and we move on,” Brown said. “Over the years we’ve navigated a bunch of stuff and this is a very, very small blip on the radar.”
As long as this remains a blip on the radar and the Sixers are able to address the core issues that the team struggles with on the court, things will be fine. Time will tell.