Exit Interviews 2018 | After Dramatic Turnaround, Leadership Looks to Next Steps
When the buzzer went off Wednesday at TD Garden, it carried more significance than simply marking the end of the 76ers’ promising, expectations-exceeding season.
The horn also symbolized the sounding of a wake-up call, of sorts, for an organization with aspirations beyond the lofty success it’s achieved dating back to October.
Important, though, is distinguishing the nature of this wake-up call.
We’re not talking about the kind usually reserved for someone, or, in this case, something that’s lying dormant, and in need of a kickstart.
No, the type of wake-up call we’re referring to in respect to the Sixers is more of the eye-opening, inspirational variety.
That’s what a five-game exit from the post-season against not just a conference rival, but one from your very same division, will do, regardless of how hard-fought the series was, or how good of a year the losing team had.
And by all measures, the Sixers’ 2017-2018 campaign wasn’t just good, it was great, especially when taking into consideration what people thought the team would do prior to the start of the season.
But as the year went along, wins continued to pile up, into the 50s; home court advantage was secured; the Miami Heat were dispatched swiftly; and the internal and external confidence surrounding the Sixers rose accordingly.
The club had reason to believe it was capable of more than a 4-1 defeat to the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
“We were feeling pretty good about ourselves 10 or 11 days ago,” Sixers President of Basketball Operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday morning, in an end-of-season media availability at the Sixers’ training complex.
“It exposed us, to some degree,” said Colangelo of the Sixers’ series versus the Celtics. “It exposed individual weaknesses, and team weaknesses, and I think that we all have to learn from that, whether it be the players, the coaching staff, whether it be the management team.”
And so it was, with that collaborative tone, that Colangelo set the context for an all-important 2018 off-season, his third with the Sixers since joining the franchise in April of 2016.
Colangelo, speaking two days after the Sixers’ Game 5 loss to Boston, was clear in laying out the mission. The Sixers’ breakthrough season moved them closer to it.
“We are going to strive to get better, and continue to improve, and continue to aim for sustainable winning.”
And escalated winning, too, along with being “best in class” in the NBA on every level.
On the heels of back-to-back seasons in which the Sixers increased their win total by 18 and a team-record 24 victories, respectively, Colangelo spoke in similar terms as his players and his head coach, Brett Brown, in the aftermath of bowing out of this year’s Playoffs.
All parties agreed that the standard for the Sixers has reached a higher level.
“We’re here to win a championship,” said Brown, his fifth season with the Sixers now complete. “That’s the only thing that drives me when I park in my spot. That’s the motivation.”
If the past eight months have shown Colangelo anything, it’s that his club is moving closer towards this destination. His confidence in Brown, and the direction that Brown’s impassioned, development-centric approach has steered the Sixers was was apparent at Friday’s press conference (Brown’s media availability preceded Colangelo’s).
“We’re on a path, a path to greatness, a path to winning a championship,” Colangelo said. “That remains our sole focus.”
The question, of course, facing Colangelo, Brown, and the rest of the Sixers’ brain trust heading into the rest of the spring and summer is, “Now what?”
While there might be the path that Colangelo alluded to, the journey will likely require more steps. He and Brown know this.
Like any good wake-up call or alarm, the ousting of the Sixers from the Playoffs appears as if it will stir action.
First things first. The Sixers are intent on improving their dynamic nucleus of young studs. During rapid-fire formatted exit interviews held Thursday in Camden, Colangelo and Brown gave each player a folder containing a four-page document representing a “detailed road map,” as Brown called it, for the off-season.
Page One laid out the entire summer calendar. Page Two focused on skill set development. Page Three was about strength and conditioning. Page Four painted a picture of what the pre-season will look like.
In the case of Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons, for instance, the offensive skill plan revolved around the following items, in priority order: free throw shooting, finishing efficiency, jump shooting, and, if there’s still time left in the summer, maybe some perimeter work.
All-Star Joel Embiid, meanwhile, has been asked to zero in on three specific areas: his body, his low-post game, and continued leadership growth. This shouldn’t be a problem, based on the big man’s “I-want-to-be-MVP” comments from Thursday’s exit interviews.
As for someone like Markelle Fultz, the marching orders were more holistic. They begin, Brown said, with the 2017 no.1 pick channeling his “mojo,” and “playing basketball in a high-level, individualized instruction environment.”
And so the summer itineraries went for the rest of the players who finished the year with the Sixers.
But for as confident as Colangelo and Brown are in the Sixers’ base, they each separately acknowledged that extra bricks will likely need to be added to the foundation, whether it’s this off-season, or, perhaps, in 2019.
“I agree with the sentiment that we need to add something to get better,” said Colangelo. “We’ve obviously got a great young core that continues to improve. What you saw out of this group, that’s the worst you’ll see, in terms of Playoff performance.”
There certainly could be less advantageous launching points. For that exact reason, Colangelo indicated it’s imperative for the Sixers to hunt for more “talent,” a word he used with deliberate purpose.
“Talent comes in many forms,” Colangelo said. “Talent comes in a possible trade, possible free agency. Both options loom, with cap space and flexibility. If the right deal comes along, we’ll certainly pursue it. We will explore any and all options to add that talent.”
The fit, however, would have to be right. Colangelo was also adamant that a move won’t be made simply for the sake of making a move.
“There may or may not be a good decision ahead of us,” he said. “It’s important that we don’t disrupt our optionality going forward.”
Colangelo and Brown held court with reporters for about 45 minutes apiece Friday. They each had a lot of positive things to say, and rightfully so, given the Sixers’ progress, and the team’s auspicious future.
Colangelo’s closing comments, however, were among those that resonated the loudest.
“I hate to say that there is some positive that comes out of a series losing 4-1, but it was a wake-up call for many. I think think Brett and I have probably been there before, but some of these young players have not. It serves as a motivator. If you’re not motivated by what just happened to us, then something’s not right. I think there’s a fire burning right now. This is a learning experience, it’s a young group, a young core. I think that a lot of positive things are happening, and perhaps the way we went out is going to be one of those positives at the end of the day.”