CHARLESTON, S.C. — It would’ve been easy for a player in Paul Reed’s shoes to slump his shoulders and sulk.
After receiving very limited opportunity in the 2021-22 regular season, head coach Doc Rivers called on Reed to be a regular in the rotation in the playoffs. In the highest-leverage games, against some of the most physical and athletic players the Eastern Conference has to offer, Reed held his own in substitution of Joel Embiid.
Just when it seemed like Reed was primed for a promotion in the 2022-23 season, the Sixers signed veteran big man Montrezl Harrell.
Most humans are discouraged and frustrated when passed on promotions that they were once assumed to land. And perhaps Reed is more than he lets on. But, he insists that the addition of Harrell changed nothing for him.
“That didn’t change anything about my mentality. Montrezl is a great player. I think he’s going to come in and help us win some games and I think he’s a great addition to the team,” Reed said at media day on Monday. “I’m just glad that we got some extra guys on the team that’s gonna help us go out there and win games. But, my mentality stays the same. I’m still the same dude that’s gonna go out there and play extremely hard and keep working on what I need to get better at.”
Of course, it’s much easier to trust that your humility and work ethic will pay dividends sooner rather than later when a teammate who really believes in you sits to your left.
“One of the main things I’ve really kind of focused on is trying to become a better leader. I feel like I have this personality where I’m always smiling. I’m always happy and I work extremely hard,” Tyrese Maxey said on media day.
“So I try to push my teammates and I push him [Paul Reed, sitting to Maxey’s right] all the time. I talk to him, pull him to the side, because he’s a key part of our team. What he does, what he brings to the team, a lot of guys can’t do. He can switch one through five, he can get offensive rebounds, he can play with energy. He has a special talent. And I just want him to go out there and show that every single night and help us try to win games. So, that’s just another thing I try to bring.”
The more you talk to other members of the team, the more it seems Maxey’s words are less company monologue and more traces of authentic, high character.
“Man, besides basketball, he’s just a really good dude. He’s down to earth, cool, laughing all the time, funny,” De’Anthony Melton said after the first practice of training camp on Tuesday.
Maxey leads by example as much as personality, though.
“But, his work ethic is the biggest thing. Just talking with him. By the time we worked out, he said it was his second workout already. I’m like, ‘Bro, it’s like 9 a.m.!’. But yeah, his work ethic is the biggest thing. It’s contagious with his team, too. So, just him and his development, I know it’s going to go a long way.”
Free-agent signee Danuel House Jr. shared similar sentiments. “Maxey as a young player, okay, it’s always max, he’s the guy, he’s got to be a really good individual,” he said. “He’s gonna play the game, he’s always getting extra work. He’s a student of the game, he’s always learning so he’s a joy to play with.”
According to Rivers, “getting extra work” might be an understatement.
“Sam called me probably 10 times. My son even rang my doorbell one time, with Sam. They weren’t invited, is what I was saying, to my house,” Rivers joked on media day. “But, they came to have a sit-down about calling him, making him shut it down. But, man, it’s hard to shut a guy down like that. It really is. Paul Reed too, I mean, it’s kind of hard. But, they’re young and you kind of let them do it.”
“He’s a quick, decisive guard. He’s able to get downhill, but he can pull up on you at any time and he’s very good at getting to the paint and finishing and stuff like that,” Melton said on Tuesday. “It’s his offensive game, it’s evolving as he gets older.”
That evolution doesn’t happen overnight. It’s not a random gift from the holy spirits of basketball that Maxey possessed when he woke up one morning. It happens through the work Maxey does when there’s no one around to see it. It’s being the first one in the gym and the last one to leave it.
And on Tuesday, when almost everyone else was taking part in their post-practice routines, there was Maxey, participating in an unguarded catch-and-shoot drill with Melton and James Harden.
“Listen, he’s put in the work. I’m not really as focused on individual expectations as probably you guys are because you have to write about it. I’m more focused on the team and trying to be the best possible team. So on Tyrese, I just feel like he’ll play a big role in that,” Rivers said on Monday.
“His growth, the work that he’s done with Sam and my son, Spencer, has been amazing. Between him and Paul Reed and Matisse, no one has out-worked those three guys, I can guarantee you that. That doesn’t guarantee, that you put in all that work and you still need another year for it to come through. But, he’s done everything — more — than we’ve asked him to do.”
Maxey shares that mindset with his head coach, too.
“I want us to improve one percent better every single day. We have new guys on his team, new group. We’re blessed to have James for training camp this year and not just 21 games,” the third-year guard said on Monday.
“So, we want to go out there and we want to compete extremely hard. I’m not really worried about the individual accolades. I just want to go out there and help my team as much as possible.”