Philadelphia 76ers general manager Elton Brand made it clear that while there are expected to be significant changes across the organization — changes that began Monday with the firing of head coach Brett Brown — the team will continue to be built around All-Stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid.
“I’m not looking to trade Ben or Joel,” Brand said during a virtual news conference Tuesday, two days after Philadelphia’s season ended in a four-game playoff sweep at the hands of the Boston Celtics. “I’m looking to complement them better.
“They are 24 and 26 years old, respectively. You try to make that fit as long as you can. They want to be here, they want to be with our organization, and I see them here for a long, long time.”
Everything else remains on the table for the Sixers, beginning with the search for a new head coach, which started as soon as Brown was dismissed after seven seasons.
After surviving constant roster churn in his first three years during “The Process,” Brown shepherded the Sixers to the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. Philadelphia won one series in each of the previous two years before this season’s first-round exit — which was aided in part by the absence of Simmons, who was sidelined because of knee surgery.
It was clear things weren’t quite right with the Sixers long before their ignominious exit from the NBA’s bubble at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. While the Sixers had the NBA’s best home record at 29-2, they had a worse record than the New York Knicks on the road.
That inconsistency was, in part, what led Brand to decide that a change needed to be made.
“Even in the playoffs, our intensity at times wanes,” Brand said. “A few offensive rebounds that Boston got that I’m just befuddled on how you can get that that easy in the playoffs, or missed assignments for a switch. … Little things that I thought [happened in the] regular season, on the road, and we’ll fix that for the playoffs. We’ll be able to turn it on.
“Now, of course, missing Ben Simmons — that’s a huge key to us getting swept. I would love to see this group with Ben Simmons, but I don’t want to make any excuses. But I think that attention to detail, that energy level, that certain push that we didn’t have at times.”
Brand will now begin his search to find a new coach who, the Sixers hope, will be able to instill that intensity and focus into a team that will enter next season, as constituted, with one of the NBA’s highest payrolls. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski recently reported that two names that could be involved are LA Clippers assistant coach Tyronn Lue, the hottest name on this year’s coaching carousel, and longtime Villanova coach Jay Wright.
Brand made clear that the decision will be his. He also said multiple times that he “can’t rush” into completing the search and that he doesn’t have a set timeline for finishing it.
Brand said that unlike previous collaborative decisions, he would be the one recommending Brown’s successor to owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer.
“To be clear and frank, we feel the collaboration days didn’t work too well,” Brand said. “So I will be leading the search. I will be making the recommendation to Josh and David, of course, but we’re getting better. And I’ve grown as a leader and I’ve grown as a general manager. I was put in the fire, had some tough decisions to be a part of, but now I’m looking forward to putting my stamp on this thing and taking full accountability for whatever happens next.”
Brand played the final games of his long NBA career with the Sixers in 2016 and was named the team’s GM two years later. After saying that the collaborative model hadn’t worked, he was asked if he had less decision-making authority over the past couple of seasons than a typical GM has.
“I’d say it grew,” Brand said. “It grew. I was a rookie, thrust into the position to lead a team with championship aspirations that the fan base has sacrificed and struggled for some years.
“As my understanding of the game grew, and how to manage and how to lead … I’ll admit, I didn’t know a lot. But now I do know a lot more, and I’ve been through almost every situation there is. So I’m looking forward to leading this offseason and figuring out how to get us on the right path.”
Part of the right path will include a full assessment of those working under Brand. When he was named GM, Brand inherited the front office that had been assembled under his predecessor, Bryan Colangelo, who left the organization in 2018 after a social media scandal.
Brand made it clear at several points Tuesday that he will be making changes in the front office, saying more than once he’d like to add more “basketball minds” to the staff.
“As I’ve been taking a deep dive in where we failed, what went wrong and how we can get better, I felt like we need to strengthen our organization from top to bottom, and that starts with the front office also,” Brand said. “Balancing our strengths and analytics and basketball strategy with more basketball minds.
“My goal with whatever happens going forward is making sure we are in position to truly contend. Not just lip service, to truly contend. So whatever role I have to take, whatever is going to happen, it’s going to be with the focus of getting this team over the hump. So I’m not sure exactly what changes are going to be made, but I’m assessing it, I’m looking at it, and I’ll make the right recommendations to truly have this team in a position to win.”
Brand said he remains in an evaluation phase across the roster. He told ESPN last summer that the Sixers were making bets on Simmons and Tobias Harris to take significant strides forward this past season. Simmons signed a max contract extension and Harris signed a five-year, $180 million deal to stay with Philadelphia, but Brand said Harris didn’t live up to those expectations in the playoffs.
“Ben had a great season,” Brand said. “He led the league in steals — should be on an All-Defensive team. You know, defense is important. He played great and is going to continue to grow on the offensive end, and he brings us a lot.
“Tobias, as he said in his press conference, he wasn’t happy with his performance in the playoffs. Regular season, he had a great regular season — All-Star-level if we won more games. So I’m looking forward to seeing how he comes back, how hard he works, because he’s really motivated to improve and show that he’s a leader of this team.”
One thing Brand didn’t have a problem saying, however, was that Al Horford can still be a good NBA player. The team’s marquee free-agent signing last summer, Horford struggled to integrate into Philadelphia’s mix all season long, never looking comfortable playing alongside Embiid.
Brand signed Horford to a four-year, $109 million contract to pry him away from the Celtics, but Horford was moved in and out of the starting lineup.
“That’s for the next coach to make that decision, determination on how the lineups work,” Brand said. “But Al Horford can fit on an NBA-caliber, championship-caliber team, absolutely.
“Whatever that role is, we’re going to have to figure out, but absolutely he can fit.”