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Sons of Liberty: A Conversation With Sevens GM Brandon Williams

Liberty Ballers talks to Sevens general manager Brandon Williams about the growth of the Sixers D-League team.

Brandon Williams is certainly a busy man. He’s been tasked with running the Philadelphia 76ers D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers, as well as maintaining a high-ranking front office position with the Sixers. It’s no easy task, but Williams seems to be handling it well. The Sevens have improved their record each year since their inaugural season back in 2013, and the Sixers are finally beginning to put the pieces together.

In advance of the Sevens’ open tryout at Temple University on Saturday, Liberty Ballers had the opportunity to talk to Williams about balancing his role with two teams, as well as the relationship between the Sixers and the Sevens.

Liberty Ballers: The Sixers front office directory lists you as Vice President of Basketball Administration as well as GM of the Sevens. How do you balance those jobs, and how often do they overlap?

Brandon Williams: The good news is we’ve always taken the approach that it’s one organization and two different environments. In a lot of ways — the basketball people are all Sixers. We view it as there are folks on staff that come October, November, we’ll be deployed to Delaware to continue the growth and development training of some of our young assets. I don’t feel like those things conflict, or they’re fighting for air space.

The reality is from time to time there are going to be some games that both teams may have on a Monday, and choosing the priority — it really matters what’s happening at that particular time. We have players on assignment, specific players we want to scout, maybe a new player that was traded for came in, and I like to be there for all of those firsts. When those two things like a game day collide, there are tough choices, but those happen infrequently, and that’s something that we can balance real well.

LB: You’ve been GM of the Sevens since day one. How would you evaluate the progress of the organization after three seasons?

Williams: It’s no different than any start up. There’s some early days when we’re digging in, taking turns bringing coffee or donuts, or trying to find the stapler. “Where’s the paper, I just need to write down a note.” We were a handful of people in a building trying to determine where we would play, where we would practice, where are the jerseys the league sent us. It’s hard to be a master of the rules and a master of the process. It’s hard to think forward when every day feels like a fire.

We’re now going into our fourth year — and just from a basketball perspective, knowing that we’re practicing and playing games at the [Bob Carpenter Center], that we have a team doctor in place, that we have our entire coaching staff and training staff in place. I don’t have to spend the month of preseason seeking those things out. We can actually dig in on players. We’re making intel calls and evaluating video, so we’re much further along in terms of the timeline because a lot of the foundation’s been laid over the early years.

LB: You once were quoted as saying that you view Delaware as a lab to develop players for the Sixers. How would you gauge the Sevens success in that thus far?

Williams: I wish that we had more success stories from a call up perspective on the [Sixers]. That would be something obvious for everyone to see. “Hey, that guy was a Seven and now he’s a Sixer.” To think of what’s happened from a staff perspective — Rod Baker, the first call up from the Sevens to go be a scout. Kevin Young and John Bryant as assistant coaches now on the Sixers staff. The ability to work with players and experiment and test to be a pipeline of thought for Coach Brown is proving to be valuable. So it’s a little bit more than the players, but as basketball guys you certainly want to see some young stud grow into a difference maker at the NBA level, and it would resonate loudly in the community here.

LB: The Sixers used the Sevens as a place for Christian Wood to get some game action because of the logjam in the front court. Because there’s only much playing time to go around, is there a chance that young guys like Richaun Holmes or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot could spend some time down there?

Williams: I think our organization has been at least forthright in talking about the opportunity. Bryan [Colangelo] is really focused on getting guys opportunity to play. We want our young players to develop. Injuries has a lot to do with that. We’ve gone into camps with four, five bodies injured, and it’s very difficult to manage an NBA season — starting in preseason and training camp, then to the 82 game schedule —injured and losing young players to the D-League. So, our D-League assignment process took a hit, all due to those injuries.

LB: The team never did this with Nerlens Noel or Joel Embiid, but with Ben Simmons on the mend, would the Sixers ever consider sending a guy down to Delaware for some sort of rehab assignment?

Williams: It’s something that’s probably flown under the radar. We’ve experimented with it last year with Tony Wroten and Kendall Marshall being injured with ACL tears. We had them spend some time in Delaware starting to work through one-on-one and two-on-two, and transitional work until the point that they could compete a bit. So, it was a good way to sort of test their readiness for NBA competition, and it went well. That's another way to get value out of our D-League program, and help the major program. I think something like that will be considered going forward. There’s a different level of attention on players like Joel or Ben, so for Bryan [Colangelo] and Coach [Brown] and the medical staff to mull over. I wouldn’t project anything there.

LB: Not to make you feel old, but you were in the D-League over 10 years ago. How much do you think the league has evolved since you played in it?

Williams: When I was in the league, it was like the "‘Ville League". That’s what we called it; Huntsville, Mobile, and Fayetteville, and Greenville, all these teams in the southeast. I remember all the bus trips — six, seven, eight hours on a bus. I remember playing games in arenas where you don’t feel like they’re studied basketball fans. There was a very limited connection to the NBA.

LB: The 87ers are holding an open tryout at Temple University this Saturday. What’s the motivation behind having an open tryout?

Williams: The concept of free agency doesn’t really exist in the D-League. Theoretically, yes, but not officially. There are players who are free that are not attached by contract, and we hope that they fit. There are certain designations — they weren’t one of the top players in the country, they weren’t all-first team, all-second team. But maybe you find a guy that was defensive player of the year. Maybe you find a guy that was on the all-defensive team. But in one way or another these guys fit the open tryout criteria, and if he does, then it’s our job to find out if he’s a fit for our team. There’s some recruiting and some scouting that goes into it. We push certain players to this tryout.

I think it’s great because it’s the only place I’m aware of where you can tryout for a pro team without a draft.

Any dreamers see an opportunity like this — there is a slight cost, we do pay to keep the lights on. But it’s really an opportunity to answer a lot of the emails that come in from everywhere.

LB: As a dreamer myself with very little talent and a lot of heart and grit, what are the chances I make the roster? [Editor’s note: Yes, Jake actually is trying out for the 87ers.]

Williams (laughing): Let’s start by getting you in a jersey. We’re gonna put you on a team and there’s probably 20 eyes sets of eyes from decision makers, so it’s going to be very difficult for good players to slip through the cracks over there. If it doesn’t go well, I’ll pat you on the rump and give you a shot in the arm.