Veteran talent is there to be found in the NBA, whether through signings or trades.
Finding the right veteran talent, however, is another matter.
There was little doubt that for the 2017-2018 season, the 76ers were going to make bolstering their stable of experienced players a priority.
This approach was confirmed at the outset of last summer’s free agency period, when Bryan Colangelo acted swiftly to sign JJ Redick and Amir Johnson. The two have gone on to have an immense impact on the franchise, which improved by a record 24 wins this year.
Once the regular season got underway, the Sixers, as circumstances dictated, continued to mine the league for veteran contributors.
When the Sixers started to show signs of being a legitimate playoff contender in early February, the front office turned to the buyout market, and successfully recruited Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova.
The two 30-somethings have since become absolutely vital components of the Sixers’ rotation. Even more in hindsight, it would be hard to imagine the club going on its late-season surge, and subsequently winning its opening-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, without Belinelli’s and Ilyasova’s involvement.
That Redick, Johnson, Belinelli, and Ilyasova offered skills that stood to make the Sixers a better team was one thing. That all four have also proven to be ideal character fits has been significant as well.
Given all they’ve accomplished in their respective careers, seasoned pros like Redick, Johnson, Belinelli, and Ilyasova could have easily walked into a situation like the Sixers, an unproven team with lots of youth, and exerted their personalities.
Instead, the four older heads, along with Jerryd Bayless, who’s assumed an active mentorship role throughout his time with the organization, have used their influence to empower the Sixers’ young core, headlined by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
The resulting dynamic has allowed Embiid and Simmons, in spite of their age and experience level, to grow as leaders, which Brett Brown considers crucial to the Sixers’ success in the short and long term.
“Those veterans are great people, and they understand there’s a level of responsibility that they have to to help nurture those young guys,” Brown said Thursday, following a practice session at the Sixers’ training complex. “Ultimately, it’s going to be Joel and Ben’s program. They’re going to be here a lot longer than all of us.”
In the here and now, as green as they still are, Embiid and Simmons have demonstrated themselves capable of being the best player on the floor - whether for the Sixers, or their opponent - on any given night.
That they thereby be given the chance to lead the team, and have their voices heard, is only that much more appropriate, and necessary.
The Sixers’ veteran contingent has helped give Embiid and Simmons the platform to do just that.
“Just to know that me and Ben can go out there and play our game, and got the support of our teammates and trust our teammates is always good,” said Embiid.
The vibes have been like this all season long.
So, it wasn’t entirely surprising that when Embiid came out publicly in the media and talked about lofty goals - a playoff berth, 50 wins, home court advantage in the post-season - the Sixers rallied around him, and rose to each of those challenges, too.
Simmons’ reserved demeanor might be vastly different from that of the emotional Embiid, but with his unflappable poise, business-like work ethic, killer competitive instinct, and immense ability, he’s won the admiration and respect of his teammates. Many Sixers - inexperienced, experienced, or anywhere in between - have willingly come to follow the rookie point man’s lead.
The team maintaining its composure in its ultra-physical and feisty Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series with Miami was a perfect case in point of Simmons’ cool rubbing off on the rest of his teammates.
For Redick, in his 12th year as a pro, letting a couple young studs take the reigns of the Sixers was a deliberate choice, and is now a source of pride.
“I’m like a proud older brother or uncle to some of these young guys,” he said. “Part of, I hope, my legacy as a player, is not going to be as a Hall of Famer. A big part of what I hope my legacy is is I got to see these guys blossom into the players and champions I hope they become, and I got to be a part of that.”
Having guided the Sixers into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in six years, Brown is appreciative of the veterans, the right types of veterans, Bryan Colangelo, the team’s President of Basketball Operations, has added to the mix.
“It always gets back to human beings and people,” said Brown. “You really hope those human beings and people are really good basketball players. Then you really got it all.”
By all accounts, that appears to be what the Sixers have.