In first true offseason, Elton Brand is building Sixers in his image


CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s crazy to think about Elton Brand’s journey. He played his last NBA game on April 10, 2016. On Friday, he was introducing the newest additions to the team he has built as the Sixers GM.

One of the players introduced was Al Horford. The two big men actually played together for two seasons in Atlanta. Horford was just 28 when a 34-year-old Brand joined the Hawks.

Horford told those in attendance a story about their time together. While on the road, Horford and a few of his teammates were getting ready to leave the team hotel and head out to dinner. When they were heading into the elevator, they saw Brand, drenched in sweat, heading back to his room after working out at the hotel gym.

It stuck with Horford. It’s part of the reason that when Brand came calling, Horford was interested.

“I got to watch him as a younger player and see how professional he was, how he took care of his body,” Horford said during his introductory press conference. “His commitment to wanting to win and do the right things inspired me back then. I think that he believed in me, he believes in this group. When they came and approached me, it felt right. That's why I'm excited to be here, because I know he wants what's best for this city, for Philadelphia, and what we're trying to do."

If there was a theme for the Sixers this offseason, it seemed to be about building a culture. Brand signed players that fit the type of mentality he had as a player himself.

Culture can be a throwaway word in sports — as clichéd as “chemistry” and “taking things one game at a time.” But in this case, it seems clear Brand was looking for what Brett Brown may call, “Adults in the room.”

Horford is the type of player whose numbers won’t blow you away, but there is nothing he can’t do on a basketball court. He’s smart, disciplined and his 12 NBA seasons — all of which ended in a postseason berth — have molded him into one of the most respected leaders in the NBA.

Big man Kyle O’Quinn and point guard Raul Neto may not have been the sexiest signings, but both guys have experience and are willing to take whatever role is necessary in order for the Sixers to win.

“Simply my biggest task is gaining the respect of my colleagues and I think that’s why I’m sitting at this table — having somebody say good things about you without you saying it yourself,” O’Quinn said. “I think I’ve played every role in the NBA. Over my seven years I’ve had the luxury of starting and I’ve had the luxury of being the 15th guy. But the work doesn’t go unnoticed and I’m always ready for any opportunity.”

While experience certainly factors into things, 25-year-old Josh Richardson easily fits into a winning culture. Acquired in the sign-and-trade that sent Jimmy Butler to Miami, Richardson has a similar background to the player he was traded for. 

Richardson was a two-star recruit coming out of high school and was drafted in the second round out of Tennessee. He really had to earn his way onto the floor in the NBA with hard-nosed defense and high effort. His offensive game has steadily improved in each of his professional seasons, to the point in which he was the focal point of the Heat’s offense last season.

Playing with like-minded and exceptionally talented players is something the fifth-year wing relishes.

“I had to work for everything at every level so coming here with these guys, it’s going to be easy I think to continue that growth,” Richardson said. “You see how Tobias [Harris], you see this whole team, this whole roster is full of guys that have progressed a lot over their careers. I think it’ll be fun to almost compete — almost see like who can be in the gym the most, see who can beat who or see how much better we can get over these seasons.”

And let’s not forget about Harris, who crossed paths with Richardson at Tennessee. While Harris may have been a bigger recruit and a higher draft pick, he, too, has made strides in his game that have allowed him to reach this level. Harris’ reputation preceded him as a hard worker and tremendous teammate.

And we didn’t even mention James Ennis, who was a second-round pick out of Long Beach State and has bounced around six NBA teams in five seasons, will also be returning. As will fan favorite Mike Scott, known for his toughness and coming to the defense of his teammates.

Scott was also a member of the Hawks with Brand and Horford. While he wasn’t in attendance Friday to provide his usually colorful side of things, Scott, like the now 33-year-old Horford, would surely have a Brand story or two.

It just speaks to the impact Brand had as a player and the kind of impact he wants his current team to have.

"High-character guys who know how to play the game that can still step on the court and pay a lot of dividends — be actual players,” Brand said. “Not just locker-room guys, but we expect them to do a lot on the court, which helps a lot. 

“And our younger players that we're developing, just to see how hard they work. Al told the story of seeing me working out when I was an older player and he was younger. You kind of pay it forward. They see how hard you work, they see how professional you are, they see what it takes to win. That's our goal with having players like that, like Brett Brown would say, 'Adults in the room.'"

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