PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — He used to be able to walk around fairly unnoticed, or with a trail of inquisitive queries as who he is.
Even with the grey stubble that wrapped around his tan face, everyone at the NovaCare Complex knew Sixers’ coach Brett Brown.
In the last few years, no one had any interest in the 76ers. They do now.
So when Brown speaks, people tend to congregate around him, as they did on an overcast Monday morning to get his views on the most anticipated Sixers’ season in a decade.
“Anytime you can come over here and feel the city and feel the vibe, I’m a big Eagles’ fan and a big NFL fan, you leave feeling a little more attached to the community,” Brown said. “You’re always speaking to coaches about the difference from last year to this year.”
This is a lot to talk about this season with the Sixers.
Dario Saric made an amazing block in the closing seconds to preserve Croatia’s 72-70 upset of Spain on Sunday night. Joel Embiid has looked great in workouts, and Ben Simmons, the 2016 overall first pick in the NBA Draft, has his new coach intrigued.
“I think you’re looking at a young player who is extremely competitive,” Brown said of Saric. “Manu Ginobili was like his first year in the NBA. He wears his heart on his sleeve. You can see his aggressive nature in his body language. I feel like that, combined with learning NBA basketball, I’ll take that foundation all day every day.”
Brown admitted it will be a challenge in finding a way to put all of his “bigs” together to make it work. He told his team that he expects this season “to be incredibly competitive and they’ll make the decision for me” as to who plays where.
“Everything from the start begins with everyone being in career-best fitness,” Brown said. “Everyone better come in ready to go. There is a real delineated feeling of hope. I feel that we are all looking at players that could be with this organization for a long, long time and that they’re young, they’re talented. There is an excitement of not knowing really what we have. We think we know. But we’re all going to learn. I feel like, just from a head coach’s perspective, those things come easiest to mind when you ask that question.”
Embiid, according to Brown, is set to make his NBA regular season this fall.
“We’ve scripted a plan for [Embiid] that he’s following religiously, when we start talking about all of these different pieces, the city is going to see something very unique in a 7-foot-2 frame that has the skill package that is exceptional, albeit young, albeit he hasn’t played a second of NBA basketball,” Brown said of Embiid.
“I’m very, very excited to coach him. How can you not step back and see someone with that body, with that agility and that mentality do what he’s doing. Albeit against nobody [in summer workouts], I love him. We all see what he can grow to be.”
As for wins and losses, Brown said that there is no set goal. He said he wasn’t trying to avoid the question, but felt the market place will decide how many wins will mark progress for a team that has languished at the bottom of the NBA for the last three years (19-63, 18-64 and 10-72).
The Sixers will be judged differently this year.
But the pressing question is where does the 6-foot-10, 240-pound Simmons go? Brown hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Simmons taking on some point-guard responsibilities.
“I can’t wait for the season to begin and all over the place I’m very, very excited to start our season,” Brown said. “I think [Simmons] is going to have some taste of [point guard] for sure. He’ll dictate that himself when he rebounds and leads the break. I’ve said it many times, I think the NBA point guard is the hardest position in the NBA.
“He’s never played point guard, let alone NBA point guard, so what do you think he’s going to be? He has a real good chance to be that. I think initially we’re going to play him in different positions and that [point guard] will certainly be one of them. I believe he’s an elite passer. He has the mentality to do that first—and in a 6-foot-10 frame that weighs 240, 250 pounds, at 20 years old. That’s a great package to work with to play multiple positions.
“He’s going to be a facilitator. You’re going to see [Simmons] making plays. The ball will be in his hands and you can call what position you want. He’s certainly going to have the ball in his hands a lot, and everybody will certainly be reaping the benefits of that and truly enjoy playing with him. What we will say is we will give him the ball as much as we can.”