LAS VEGAS — Brett Brown missed the Friday press conference at the 76ers facility to introduce Al Horford and the club’s other signees. The coach was already back in his home state and in the process of traveling further into the wilds of Maine for his summer decompression.
This year, he gets to pack something quite comforting: the knowledge that he has Horford on his team — and doesn’t have to play against him.
Brown acknowledged the ancillary dividend of removing the big man from the rival Celtics.
“That was a byproduct and, like you say, an ancillary type of benefit,” Brown told the Herald in a phone conversation. “But it really didn’t influence one thing that we did to try to recruit him and sign him and all of that. But if you’re saying that losing a player like this hurts them, this is true. It’s an added benefit, I suppose, to what is a pretty attractive package for our team.”
The coach had a strong idea of what he’d be getting in Horford, but he realized even more when the two spoke.
“Just the intimate sort of competitive relationship we have had with Philly and Boston, you know, we were talking about some of those experiences,” Brown said. “We talked a lot about sort of what I feel like he’s going to bring to the table as I listened to him.
“And it was driven in about how do we put ourselves in the best position to try to contend for a championship. And it spun quickly into the defensive side of our team, the defensive capabilities of our team. We really feel fortunate that we’ve got the ability to have a variety of looks defensively with adding his DNA to the mix.
“We also talked about what I can do to help him play at the level that he wants to play at,” Brown added. “It’s just a very mature conversation.
“At this stage of my career, I really appreciate listening to people that have played the game as long as he’s played it, played it at the level that he’s played it. And ultimately this is going to be a collaborative partnership, and it’s just something I feel from how I’m wired, it’s how I enjoy coaching the most, where you can get a group of players to buy in to a common goal, to have an open line of communication and to try to grow the fabric of a team.
“His voice, his maturity, his willingness to share opinions — all of those things just become incredibly important when you’re looking at the fabric of the best teams that I’ve been on. You know, the championship level-type teams always have at some level that sort of DNA.”
How does Brown love Horford from a technical standpoint? Let him count the ways.
“What you notice is his ability defensively to keep multiple types of players in front of him. He was strong enough to play kind of dead behind Joel (Embiid) and move his feet and show his hands and always really forcing Joel to make a difficult shot,” the coach said, recounting what he saw from the other side in the Celtics-Sixers duels. “It wasn’t like Joel was going to manhandle Al at all. You know, there’s a strength to his base. There’s an intellect of how he prepares for a specific assignment, and I respected very much how he defended Joel. Then you get into his ability to switch, his ability to do different things, whether it was with Ben (Simmons), you know, at times switching out on some of our wing players. I loved his intellect and I loved his toughness and I loved his versatility defensively.
“And then you go to the other side of the ball, and it’s almost the same answer that I’ll give, talking about just offensively what he can do. He’s such a modern day player, in that he can post, he can pick and pop, he can catch and go if somebody is really worried about him picking and popping and making 3’s. You know, there’s just a completeness to his game on both sides of the ball that allows him to have the success and impact that he has had on the teams that he’s played with.”
Brown paused and added, “It’s just one of those rare opportunities to bring somebody like that into your program that we aggressively tried to do, and to finally pull that off certainly makes my job as a coach, I think, a little bit easier in trying to chase the goal that we all have.”
But the 76ers won’t, of course, be the only team chasing that goal. And their coach agreed the Eastern Conference race could get more than a little crazy.
“What we all learned over our years doing this is there’ll be surprises,” Brown said. “There will be, unfortunately, either injuries or surprises. On first glance when you start looking at the East and you start understanding on paper what looks to be good, you learn quite quickly that it’s not always the case that it’s going to work out that way. It’s going to be the case again next year. There’s going to be something that surprises us all.
“We could all probably write down similar names of teams that we suspect are going to be at the top of the East, but none of us can really anoint anyone. I think there’s a level of uncertainty that makes the league exciting.”
Brett Brown is just certain that Al Horford will improve the 76ers’ chances.
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