You can add 76ers coach Brett Brown to the list of those with playoff hopes.
He made his aspirations evident Tuesday after his team’s first training camp practice.
“As I said to the group, our goal is to make the playoffs,” Brown said. “There are several other teams … they are in a room saying something similar. So to me, let’s talk about what that really means.”
The fifth-year head coach was speaking in terms of what his team needs to do to make a playoff berth possible. That’s understandable. But before Tuesday, Brown spoke of the challenges that will come with starting two rookie ballhandlers in Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. He never publicly mentioned trying to make the playoffs. Simmons and Fultz have done a great job of that, while Brown and the Sixers’ front office downplayed the heightened expectations.
But Brown’s comments came after being asked what the Sixers did differently Tuesday compared to the first day of the last four training camps. Back then, the Sixers fielded one of the youngest rosters in the NBA. Their goal was to sacrifice wins for lottery picks in Brown’s first three seasons.
This season, the Sixers have veteran free-agent acquisitions in J.J. Redick and Amir Johnson. They’ve also signed two other veterans Kris Humphries and Emeka Okafor to non-guaranteed contracts. Okafor, who’s been out of the NBA for four seasons, is attempting a comeback.
Redick will start alongside Simmons and Fultz in the backcourt. Meanwhile, Johnson, Humphries, and Richaun Holmes rotated in and out with the first unit at the center and power forward positions in certain drills. This first practice was all about seeing what players could do in certain lineups. Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor participated in some drills, but not the five-on-five segments. Embiid is recovering from knee surgery, while Jahlil Okafor still has right knee soreness.
Guard Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee patellar tendonitis) also did not compete in the five-on-five segments while partaking in other drills.
But the Sixers still had a spirited practice in the portion that the media was able to watch. Redick was burying three-pointers. Ben Simmons and Johnson (on occasion) were dunking machines. Humphries looked solid in his role-playing role while running with the first unit. He and Redick had a noticeable chemistry. And Fultz had an easier-than-expected first practice.
“I was trying to think of the worst circumstances,” Fultz said of envisioning practice. “Run every time you lose, everything, just a lot of running, getting up and down, physical. Not saying it wasn’t, I just think of the worst.”
Johnson was satisfied with the results.
“A hell of a first day,” he said. “It was solid.”
Perhaps that why’s Brown is no longer downplaying a possible playoff berth.
The Sixers haven’t changed their offensive and defensive philosophies. The coach still wants a family atmosphere on the team. He’ll also continue to have guest speakers to motivate them from time to time. Former Sixer and Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley, spoke to the squad at Brown’s house Monday night.
But things are different.
“There’s a different firepower in front of me,” Brown said. “We’ve had a chance to build a base that absorbed the firepower and new players that we [have]. And there’s enough carryover from last year’s team that lets us be a little ahead of where we have been in years.”
The Sixers finished 28-54 last season after compiling just 47 wins in Brown’s first three campaigns.