THERE HAVEN'T BEEN many luxuries afforded to Brett Brown, now in his fourth season as 76ers head coach. Rosters have turned more quickly than the leaves do at this time of the year. There have been changes to positions above him, and the injuries accumulate almost as quickly as losing streaks.
The hope for this season was to gather a load of young talent, teach them the ways of the NBA and progress them into becoming parts in what will eventually become a highly success rebuild.
Joel Embiid, returning after missing two seasons with a foot injury, is on that path. He should see his first regular-season NBA action next Wednesday, when the team hosts Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though the 7-2 center has been on a rising minutes restriction since preseason games began, he and Brown hope to have him playing close 20 to 24 minutes come Opening Night.
Ben Simmons won't get his first NBA action for quite some time as he recovers from the Jones fracture he suffered in his right foot on the last day of training camp. His surgery, which the team hasn't given specifics on, will most likely keep him out of action to anywhere from three months or longer. Had he not been hurt, Simmons most likely would have been the central figure on this team.
The third key first-year player, Dario Saric, probably was going to get eased into his initial NBA season more so than the other two. That was the plan, at least, for the Croat, who spent the last two seasons playing in the Turkish league after being acquired on draft night in 2014 by the Sixers. Now, with Simmons out, Jahlil Okafor being eased back from a knee injury and Nerlens Noel sidelined indefinitely with a strained groin, Saric suddenly is a bigger ingredient than Brown had initially planned.
"I think that Dario, under normal circumstances, could feel his way a little bit more comfortably," said Brown. "Yes, he has been thrown into the fire. But I bet at the end of the year we will all look back and think that this situation has helped him more than hurt him.
"It's overwhelming at times to him, with the language barrier, NBA verbiage, some of the rules. I sit in film sessions and you show stuff. You've heard over the ages that vision trumps all senses. When you can see it, it eliminates confusion on words. So we're trying to go overboard on showing him a lot. I think that the wording and phrasing confuses him."
Saric's game really could translate anywhere in the world, with his tenacity for rebounding, terrific court vision and acceptable outside shooting. His biggest challenge will come with navigating the brutal road that is the NBA with constant travel and a heavy schedule, which he didn't experience Turkey.
"I'm a little bit tired," acknowledged Saric, 22. "Everybody knows I had the Olympic Games, a busy summer, my Europe season is 10 months. Maybe I'm a little bit tired, but here it might be a little bit easier, because we only have one practice a day."
Saric went on to explain that two-a-days were common with his former team, with a two-hour practice in the morning and another two-hour session at night. With all the playing he has put in over the past year, being heavy-legged is to be expected. That is why you might see his shot start to get a little flatter, his rebounding numbers dip a little. Add to that the learning curve of playing in a new league for the first time and it's understandable why Brown and the organization want to take things slowly with the 6-10 forward.
"It's a long year and it's a new year and an unfamiliar year with teammates and coaches and everything," said Brown. "It's just going to happen. It's stuff that we're going to help him navigate personally. There is a very strong belief and understanding that we have to be patient. We know that he cares, deeply, and he is talented enough for us to put him on a realistic road map."
For now, Saric will be allowed to navigate that map. Maybe a little sooner than Brown would have preferred, but, again, not a luxury afforded to him.
"Right now, I'm rushing my shot," Saric said. "I was shooting when nobody was in the right position, yet. That was my problem the last few games. I'm still young. Maybe I still have to slow down, step-by-step. If I do that, I think everything will be fine."