Em­biid show­ing why he is Six­ers’ gem

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

PHILADEL­PHIA >> It had been less than 48 hours since the 76ers had be­come newer, bet­ter and more com­plete, and Brett Brown was al­ready pre­pared to call the most im­por­tant play in his head­coach­ing ca­reer.

Fi­nally fit with a start­ing five ca­pa­ble of match­ing up with any in the sport, he knew that it would work only with one stip­u­la­tion. So it would be, es­sen­tially vol­un­tar­ily, out loud and on TV that Brown ordered this en­try pass: “Joel Em­biid is still the crown jewel. Every­body should hear that.”

Every­body had to, in­clud­ing To­bias Har­ris and Jimmy But­ler, in­clud­ing Ben Sim­mons and J.J. Redick, all of whom lack the

one thing that Em­biid has and more: A long-term fi­nan­cial com­m­mit­ment from the Six­ers. The con­tracts of But­ler, Har­ris and Redick will ex­pire at the end of this sea­son. Sim­mons is signed through 2021, at which point he will be a re­stricted free agent in search of gen­er­a­tional wealth.

That means that, for the next cou­ple of months, Brown will be called to do the one task that sep­a­rates the NBA re­quire­ments from the rest of those in the coach­ing pro­fes­sion. He will be made to find shots for star-level play­ers who know, and whose agents re­mind them daily, that scor­ing is the only sure way to the elu­sive $190,000,000 con­tract.

For days, Brown has been recit­ing the ex­pected script, en­cour­ag­ing his newer lineup to max­i­mize the sud­den op­por­tu­nity to work to­gether and win a cham­pi­onship. There is some of that in play. Win­ning is a nice fringe ben­e­fit of the job, and the way the NBA has been al­lowed to rot, only a cer­tain few teams will have that op­por­tu­nity. But when he made it clear that Em­biid is al­ready in the $33 mil­lion a year club and is com­mit­ted to the Six­ers through 2023, it seemed to be di­rected right into the belly of the locker room.

It’s Em­biid’s team. Any con­fu­sion?

“It’s a good dilemma,” Brown said Sun­day, be­fore a 143-120 vic­tory over the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers. “When you’ve got tal­ent, and you’ve got mul­ti­ple tar­gets, every­body right­fully says, ‘How’s this go­ing to work?

How is every­body go­ing to eat?’ Some of that is on the team, fig­ur­ing each other out. And a lot of it is on me, declar­ing roles, and how I see the de­sign of the team. And I see it through that lens: Joel Em­biid is still our crown jewel.

“I said it be­cause I mean it,” he added. “It’s not any sort of off-sided mes­sage to the room or to you (the press). It is what it is within this topic. So I said it for those rea­sons.”

It was his best play. It was his only play. Al­ready, But­ler has been known to have chal­lenged some of his of­fen­sive philoso­phies in pri­vate. He will want to be paid at the end of the sea­son, and the Six­ers have to con­sider that strongly if only to re­cover their in­vest­ment of Robert Cov­ing­ton and Dario Saric for his rights. One rea­son Har­ris was avail­able is be­cause he soon can go free. His camp, it has been re­puted, is ever aware of his shot vol­ume. Redick, who will be 35 next sea­son, al­ready is at the one-year-at-a-time stage of his ca­reer. But he is shoot­ing at a level where he will rate an­other $10,000,000plus deal some­where. And Sim­mons, who long has been known to fa­vor what is best for Sim­mons, ab­so­lutely will re­ceive a max con­tract soon, if not in Philadel­phia, then some­where of his camp’s choos­ing.

And what was he do­ing, any­way, ask­ing Magic John­son for point-guard ad­vice?

Sun­day, ev­ery­thing meshed for the Six­ers, de­light­ing a crowd eager to heckle Le­Bron James, who barely sniffed at Josh Har­ris’ gen­er­ous of­fer to be make the Six­ers his team. For that, as Brown has made it clear, the team be­longs to Em­biid, whose MVP can­di­dacy was boosted with his 37 point14-re­bound per­for­mance in a na­tion­ally tele­cast show­piece event.

He was the crown jewel, even if he was not real quick af­ter­ward to em­brace the no­tion.

“Our cul­ture was built on shar­ing the ball, and mak­ing sure the ball gets through every­body’s hands,” Em­biid said. “If they need me, or if the play is bro­ken down, that’s where I come in. But re­ally my job is to make sure that we are shar­ing the ball.”

That’s the plan. But what hap­pens when the new-car smell is gone? What hap­pens when so many un­signed stars be­gin to sense that a four-star, one-bas­ket­ball lineup can af­fect their num­bers … those in the box scores, those in the bank ac­counts? What hap­pens af­ter the first two-game los­ing streak? What hap­pens the first time an­other star de­mands to be the fran­chise gem?

“I think there’s no mys­tery any more about whether Jimmy But­ler can score, or if To­bias can score, or if J.J. can shoot,” Brown said. “They can do it. Their runs are on the board. And so the in­tel­lect, the char­ac­ter of this team that can buy into this no­tion is ev­ery­thing. And when you win, those things take care of them­selves, I have learned and com­pletely be­lieve.”

There are ex­am­ples of that. The Golden State War­riors have been known to lob a com­plaint or two toward Steve Kerr. And they win. But Brown faces a tough sit­u­a­tion with so much star-power look­ing not just to win on the court, but in the freeagency race. For that, he has set one rule: There is one crown jewel. Not two. Not five.

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