Life Lessons From The Last Dance

Friday afternoon, Sixers head coach Brett Brown held a Zoom meeting for Philadelphia 76ers beat reporters. This was our first opportunity to speak with the Philadelphia 76ers’ head coach since the NBA season was suspended on March 11th. Most press availabilities with the coach take place after practices or before and after games. Those meetings typically range from 10-20 minutes and tend to focus on the immediate. 

On Friday the zoom call was scheduled for 30 minutes, but Brown made it clear early on the call that he would make time to answer questions from anyone who had one. The meeting lasted roughly 1 hour and covered topics ranging from the COVID-19 pandemic to the Last Dance. 

ESPN’s documentary, The Last Dance, covers the drama and intrigue of the 1998 Chicago Bulls who were chasing their second three-peat and sixth championship of the 1990s. When asked about what lessons he believes can be taken away from the series, Brown said, “Just a maniacal competitiveness.” And said that he talks to his players at length about NBA greats. 

Are you a sick competitor? – Brett Brown

Continuing on, he said that watching the documentary of the Bulls’ dynasty brought up memories of his time with the San Antonio Spurs’ dynasty. He reflected on the relatively low maintenance and low drama of the Spurs team led by Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli. That team was a stark contrast to the chaotic and drama-filled saga of the Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman Bulls. But what both teams had was a competitive spirit driven by its star players. “Your best player has to grab things by the throat and lead,” said Brown. 

Return to Play?

Brown remains optimistic that the season will resume and looks forward to getting an opportunity to compete. The Philadelphia 76ers were billed as a roster that was built for the playoffs. Brown said, “We get that we needed to be better on the road, we weren’t. We were dominant at home.” He was in a positive and markedly more energetic spirit than he had seemed at times during a season that had been up and down. The team was 29-2 at home, a mark that was best in the league. On the road, however, the Sixers won just 10 of 34 games. That lack of consistency had a notable impact on the emotional tone of the coach whose job security has been questioned virtually each of his 7 seasons in Philadelphia.  

Brown spoke about the analysis of the season and taking an NFL blueprint to the compartmentalization of coaching staff. The staff is broken in offense (led by Kevin Young), defense (Ime Udoka), and special teams. Brown said they are reevaluating every aspect, during the break including what they did well and what they did not do well. The goal is to solve the problems and double down on the strengths. 

Joel Embiid

Elton Brand spoke to media recently in a conference call and said that Embiid has been working with medical staff at the Camden team headquarters. On Friday Brett Brown said that Joel knows that the team only goes as far as his health and fitness take them. He also said that the target for playoff minutes for Embiid is 38 minutes per game. That would be a significant increase from the roughly 30 minutes he targets during the regular season. It remains to be seen whether the break has a net positive impact on Embiid’s health and fitness. The optimistic view is that Embiid’s knees and joints will benefit from the lessened load. Additionally, his shoulder/collarbone injury should be fully healed long before any return to play. 

The pessimistic view is that a long layoff will impact the three-time All-Star’s fitness and game-ready shape. Embiid, like many 7-footers, does not have a natural basketball frame. Players like him, and Nikola Jokic, could potentially add significant weight during a layoff where gyms are not available for playing full court. 

Ben Simmons

On the subject of the team’s 6’10” two-time All-Star, Brown spoke about the back injury and some potential changes to how he is used. “I think of him on the floor vomiting from pain in Milwaukee,” said Brown. “We had to help get him to the locker room and onto the plane,” referring to the back injury that some think warranted season-ending surgery. The league suspension of play has helped Simmons get more time to recover from the pain, and Elton Brand expressed hope he would be available should the league resume the season.

Ben Simmons is doing very, very well; I’m very optimistic he will be ready to play if and when we are given the green light to resume. – Elton Brand May 5, 2020

When it comes to tactical utilization of Simmons’ talent, Brown backed off of his insistence that Simmons was a point guard. “Point guard, power forward, whatever you want to call him,” said Brown. Brown pointed to many factors including Shake Milton’s emergence as factors unlocking Ben Simmons’ potential as a roll man in a pick-and-roll. 

Final note: According to Brown, any return to play would require a minimum of three weeks of training and conditioning before he would be comfortable putting players into a live situation. He mentioned that while playing without fans in attendance would certainly be different, some of the most competitive environments he’s ever seen took place in empty gyms. This comment was reminiscent of the legendary 1992 USA Dream Team practice where Michael Jordan’s intrasquad team went against Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley. 

Virtually all of the NBA universe is watching The Last Dance, the final two episodes of which air Sunday, May 17. The lessons that players take could very well determine the outcome of some careers. 

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