For each of the past five years, I’ve attended Sixers Media Day. From Nick Young and Dorell Wright, to Michael Carter-Williams and Tony Wroten, to Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, I’ve seen dozens upon dozens of players pose for goofy promotional photos, take Twitter Mirror selfies, and make proclamations about the 15 pounds of muscle they’ve added during the offseason.
This media day, though, felt different.
The excitement around the club this year is palpable, with #1 overall pick Ben Simmons, a healthy Joel Embiid, a stateside Dario Saric, and a handful of competent veterans joining some familiar faces from the past several seasons. News of Nerlens Noel’s vocal displeasure with his potentially diminished role alongside fellow centers Embiid and Jahlil Okafor put a bit of a damper on the day. But even despite the sobering reality that the team will likely have to move one of Noel or Okafor sooner rather than later, and probably for pennies on the dollar, there was a lot to be excited about in Sixersland.
Some observations from Media Day…
Ben Simmons talks the talk and looks like he can walk the walk too
Throughout the summer, Sixers fans were treated to tantalizing photos of the progress 20-year-old Ben Simmons has made in readying his body for his rookie campaign. Standing 6’10” and weighing somewhere around 217 pounds during his lone season at LSU, Simmons was already an imposing physical specimen for a player who did most of his damage with the ball in his hands. But the point forward turned heads during his availability with local reporters when he stated that he’s gained 33 pounds of muscle since LSU’s season ended in early March. THIRTY-THREE. And it shows when you look at him in uniform.
Simmons was just as impressive physically as he was interpersonally. While more serious and reserved than teammate Joel Embiid, he allowed his personality to shine through during his first interview of the season. Asked about his relationship with Embiid, he implored reporters to grill the seven-footer about the FIFA beatdowns he’d suffered at Simmons’ hands. He expressed an adoration for the city of Philadelphia, noting that he’s been taken aback by the passion the city’s fans have for their sports teams. And he was even kind enough to answer a question I asked about his newly adopted kitten, whose name, apparently, is Bagheera. Biggie for short.
People are really excited about Joel Embiid, especially him
Two years ago, almost to the day, Joel Embiid spoke to reporters at Media Day. Since then, he’s spoken to the assembled press exactly one time, at Beach Bash earlier this summer. Sitting before about 30 media members at the team’s new training complex in Camden, which I should add is absolutely gorgeous, Embiid was the same affable, fun-loving personality we’ve come to love through his presence on social media. Some highlights from his chat with the media include him saying…
… he’s significantly better than he was when he was at Kansas in 2013-14
… in addition to film of Olajuwon and Ewing, he watches guard highlights because he believes he could play the point in a pinch
… he’s going to have a 20-year playing career
… he can’t enjoy college basketball anymore because the players aren’t good enough
… he watches his own college highlights every single day
… he ended his presser by pulling the mic to his face and saying “trust the process”
… oh, and he said he’s on pace to play next Tuesday’s preseason opener on the road against the Celtics
But what stood out to me more than Embiid’s own words were the words of his teammates. When asked about what the 7’2” center has shown in offseason scrimmages, point guard T.J. McConnell used the phrase “flat-out dominant.” Richaun Holmes said facing Embiid in offseason workouts has already made the sophomore big man a better player and that the hype is warranted. And the buzz from most of the media members I talked to was that he looks like he’s in the best shape he’s been in since joining the team two years ago; Embiid says he weighs 275 pounds.
Sixers President Bryan Colangelo noted that Embiid will likely be on a minutes restriction and/or be limited to only one game in back-to-back situations, at least for the time being. But regardless, we’re just a day away from seeing suit up for his first full, in-season practice as a pro and just over a week away from likely seeing him take the floor for the first time as a Sixer. Rejoice.
Dario Saric knows we’re fanatical weirdos, but he’s kind of into it
With all the excitement surrounding Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, it was easy to forget that Media Day was also going to mark the debut of Dario Saric in Sixers red, white, and blue for the first time since being drafted in June 2014. The 22-year-old from Croatia talked about the role he expects to play with the team – mostly logging minutes at power forward, but with some time at small forward and center sprinkled in, his growth over the past two years, and his decision to come over now instead of waiting an additional year and circumventing the rookie wage scale.
When I asked him about his interactions with Philly fans to this point, he expressed genuine shock about the ferocity of the support he’s experienced. He also said he feels like he owes it to the fans to reward their patience by playing well right out of the gate.
“Everything surprised me. You know, the people wait me there,” he said of our own Shamus Clancy and some other crazy people greeting him at the airport when he first arrived in Philadelphia. “I know people wait for me like two years to come here. I know is like some kind of pressure on me, some kind of stone. Everybody expect now, ‘Two years he spent in Europe, what he doing in NBA?’”
It sounds as if Richaun Holmes’ spot on the roster may be safer than we thought
With all the talent the Sixers have added this summer, both through the draft and free agency, some around these parts have wondered aloud what will become of some of the fringier young players on the roster. When the team signed veteran big man Elton Brand earlier this month, many began to speculate that Richaun Holmes could find himself on the chopping block. As a self-defined Richaun Holmes stan, I was disappointed in the prospect of that outcome. But today, Bryan Colangelo went out of his way to praise Holmes, noting that his presence must be taken into account when considering the logjam the team has in the frontcourt.
“[Nerlens Noel] left out someone who’s made great strides and improved significantly over the summer and his performance in the Summer League, Richaun Holmes,” said Colangelo, referring to comments Noel had made to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday evening. “He’s really kind of emerged as another player we’re excited about.”
BC and the organization are committed to supporting players’ right to protest
With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick garnering nationwide attention with his decision to kneel during the playing of the national anthem as a protest of systems of racial inequity in America, a number of players in the NFL and in leagues both amateur and professional across the country have taken his lead. Last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts penned a memo to players, requesting input on ways to effectively speak out against inequality and violence at the team level.
Bryan Colangelo was asked Monday to provide his opinion about such protests, should members of the Sixers decide to engage in them. He noted that whatever the players decide to do, they will have the support of the organization. Veteran Elton Brand made an interesting point when talking about his own views on the protests, noting that six of the 20 players currently on the roster were born outside the United States and come to the table with very different perspectives about patriotism, the American national anthem, and issues surrounding race. Something that would be interesting is how the team would handle any protests or public statements from players surrounding the upcoming presidential election, which will be coming to a head just as the season begins.