A little over a month ago, the Sixers were in a deeply concerning place as a franchise. Facing an offseason after being embarrassed by the Celtics in the playoffs, the team was handcuffed by the max contract of Al Horford and had little draft capital to work with. The Sixers straddled basketball purgatory as they did not possess the proper roster to take the next step and they seemingly did not have the assets to attain players that could help them reach their championship aspirations.
The new-look Sixers mean business
However, after an eventful offseason, the Sixers are in a much better position than most could’ve imagined in such a quick turnaround time. Under the leadership of Daryl Morey, the Sixers overhauled their roster by adding shooters to space the floor and surround Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid with guys that can bring out the most in their styles of play. In such a short period of time, the Sixers transitioned from the awkward-fitting, sluggish roster that led to such disappointment into a team that fits in the style of modern basketball that has become so common. The team now has its sights set on becoming true championship contenders and the mindset and culture is beginning to change as a reflection of this.
Two guys that are playing a key role in developing this culture are former Lakers and defending champions- Danny Green and Dwight Howard. While there is certainly a need for these players on the court, and they will both be relied on for fairly significant minutes, the championship pedigree that they carry with them is hoped to have an even greater impact.
As the main prize in the Al Horford trade (besides getting Horford’s contract off the books), Green has been considered the prototypical 3-and-D guy throughout his career. Throughout his career, Green has averaged 8.9 points while shooting 40% on 4.7 three-point attempts per game. At 33 years old, Green has begun to lose a step on defense and can not be counted on for as many minutes as he used to, but he still a significantly better option than any shooter that was on the roster last season.
While his on-court impact will be felt a great deal, it is the veteran leadership that Green will be counted on for the most. Green is coming off back-to-back championships with the Raptors and Lakers, and also has a ring from the 2014 season he spent with the Spurs. He carries with him a pedigree of winning and jokingly has talked on his podcast and in his opening press conference about how the Sixers cannot break his championship streak.
By all accounts, Green is the consummate professional. He has played a valuable role on championship teams and complimented NBA stars year-in and year-out of his career. As he progresses toward the end of his career, Green will be looked to carry on a bigger role as a mentor for some of the younger guys such as Tyrese Maxey, Isaiah Joe, Shake Milton, and Matisse Thybulle. Green seems to have the right head on his shoulders and has repetitively stressed that he is taking this area of impact seriously.
It has been a long time since Dwight “Superman” Howard was flying through the air during dunk contests and starting in all-star games. Despite having his NBA career brought into question at one point, Howard has gone through a renaissance in his career and transitioned into a more complimentary bench piece in order to revive his NBA hopes. This is the role that Howard will fill on the Sixers, backing up Embiid and providing the best insurance policy behind Embiid that has been seen throughout his career.
On the court, Howard will play several minutes per game when Embiid is on the bench and also has the potential to play alongside of him in bigger lineups. Last season with the Lakers, Howard averaged 7.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He will be expected to be a dominant force on the boards and his role on offense will primarily be catching lobs and scoring on offensive putbacks. Last season, Howard attempted 78.4% of his shots around the rim and this should not be expected to change much in Philadelphia.
Despite the negative reputation that seems to have clung to him as his career progressed, Howard has impressed Doc Rivers as well as his new teammates. Ben Simmons spoke especially highly of Howard in his media availability after practice talking about how vocal he has been- especially on the defensive end. Doc Rivers spoke on how Howard has led by example, saying “He’s holding himself accountable, which I think is something great for all our guys to see. Every time Dwight makes a mistake, he’s the first one who raises his hand. ‘My fault. What do I need to do?’ He asks questions a lot, which a lot of veterans don’t… He’s been fantastic.”
Sixers are turning the page
The attitude in the Sixers locker room has been something that has brought to question over the past couple of years. Whether it be media criticism questioning Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid’s commitment, white-noise from Jimmy Butler or overall frustrations that have leaked out-it is still fair to say there has not been the ideal work environment created. While there is no real sustenance to these reports and it should not be believed that the locker room has ever been as toxic as it is portrayed, the environment still has not nurtured winning in the way one would hope.
Developing this culture and getting the team on the same page will play a major role in the potential of the team moving forward. One of the biggest influences on this is the veterans on the team and Dwight Howard and Danny Green seem to be a great match for the Sixers. The impact this pair has made throughout training camp has been vast already, and their roles will continue to be important as the team progresses through the regular season and beyond.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire