Training camp begins with 76ers setting their sights on major accomplishments
The long process that the 76ers hope culminates with an NBA championship in mid-June began Tuesday at the team’s training facility.
The starting five of Ben Simmons, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid joined 15 others for the opening day of camp.
It was the first official Sixers practice for Richardson, who was acquired from the Heat in the Jimmy Butler trade, and Horford, who signed a free-agent deal in July. As for Harris, who only played 27 regular-season games for Brett Brown after arriving from the Clippers in February, he’s moving from power forward to small forward.
Simmons, a fourth-year pro, raved about the session afterward, calling it “the best first practice I’ve been a part of since I’ve been a Sixer.” He attributed it to the players realizing the opportunity they have to accomplish something the franchise hasn’t done since 1982-83.
“We went straight at it,” Simmons said.
“Everybody was locked in,” Embiid said. “Everybody followed what they were supposed to do. It was a different intensity.”
Simmons raved about Tuesday’s offensive performance by Trey Burke, who is competing with Raul Neto for the backup point guard spot.
While those are all encouraging signs, the Sixers understand they have plenty of work to do between now and the Oct. 23 season opener against the Celtics. There is getting all of Brown’s concepts and systems installed and getting the players acclimated with each other.
There could be as many as five new Sixers in Brown’s 10-man rotation, depending on whether rookie Matisse Thybulle or second-year pro Zhaire Smith winds up as the No. 2 shooting guard.
For Horford, who spent the last three years in Boston after nine as an Atlanta Hawk, Tuesday was a day he’d been eagerly awaiting.
“Just exciting to finally get on the floor and start working with this group,” Horford said. “It’s more weird looking at Joel and Ben and being ‘I’m on their side’ type thing. It’s exciting to think about.”
Brown could barely contain his enthusiasm at having the 33-year-old Horford in red, white and blue instead of the kelly green of the Sixers’ Atlantic Division rival in Beantown.
“Just incredible,” Brown said. “I’m blown away that he’s here.”
“That’s a guy I’ve had a lot of battles against,” Embiid said. “It’s cool. I can learn a lot from him.”
Perhaps the biggest thing Horford, the starting power forward who is more accustomed to playing center, and Embiid are going to have to work on is offensive spacing, according to Embiid. Both can play inside and outside, but Embiid is most effective in the low post and Horford is a better 3-point shooter than Embiid.
“We’ve talked a lot about trying to figure out how to play together,” Embiid said.
Embiid is still recovering from the knee tendinitis that bothered him late in the regular season and in the playoffs. His basketball activities were limited this summer and he said he was held out for part of Tuesday’s practice, none of which the media got to see.
“It’s going to take some time to get back on track, get back to the flow of the game,” said Embiid.
While it’s too early to tell, Embiid could conceivably start another season on a minutes restriction. He said he plans on playing more than the careerbest 64 games he logged last year.
Embiid believed he and Richardson can be an effective combination similar to the way he and JJ Redick, who signed with the Pelicans, had been for the past two years.
Embiid and Redick screened for each other, with Redick benefiting from Embiid giving him the space to launch his 3-pointer.
While Richardson isn’t the shooter Redick is, he is “more athletic than JJ, especially when it comes to backcutting and me throwing lobs or him just turning the corner and attacking the defender,” according to Embiid.
So much to do and so little time. Then again, tomorrow is another day.
76ers center Joel Embiid says he can learn a lot from new teammate Al Horford, whom Embiid battled the past three seasons while Horford played for Atlantic Division rival Boston.