PHILADELPHIA — 76ers coach Brett Brown met with the media Wednesday afternoon at Attico Rooftop restaurant on South Broad Street in the shadow of City Hall.
Brown spoke for more than an hour. He said plenty.
Brown proclaimed the Sixers will play smash-mouth offense and bully-ball defense.
He declared he wants the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
He wants Ben Simmons to shoot perimeter shots.
All that made for nice headlines.
But the most important topic Brown touched on — and really the only one that matters when it comes to the Sixers and their championship aspirations — concerned Joel Embiid, the player Brown consistently refers to as the crown jewel.
If the 7-foot Embiid is healthy and in peak physical condition to be able to play in the low post come April, May and June, the Sixers will have an excellent chance of winning the NBA championship.
If his conditioning is poor, he can’t make it to the low post, and is then forced to play primarily on the perimeter — as he did in last year’s playoffs — then the Sixers will come really, really close to a championship but eventually fall short as they did last spring when the eventual champion Toronto Raptors beat them in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Sixers were eliminated last May when Kawhi Leonard sank a corner jumper that bounced around the rim multiple times before it fell through the net.
Cameras capture Embiid sobbing after Philadelphia was eliminated.
Embiid’s diet and commitment to fitness has been questioned in the past. But from what Brown said Wednesday, the 25-year-old center seems to have gotten the message. Brown said Embiid has dropped 25 pounds in the offseason.
“He’s fired up,” Brown said. “He understands the responsibility. This is a partnership. If none of us understand that or believe that, go look at his face when the ball goes (in against Toronto). That’s where we’re at with Joel.”
Embiid averaged 27.5 points and 13.6 rebounds last season. There is no NBA player that currently combines his size and agility. Brown described Embiid as Shaquille O’Neal with soccer feet.
Embiid has never played 64 games in a season. He shouldn’t play more than that this season.
Expect to hear 76ers team spokesperson and Mays Landing resident Dave Sholler use the words “load management” and “Embiid” several times in the same sentence to explain why the center is rightfully missing games in 2019-20.
In the past, Embiid had sometimes balked at the team’s efforts to rest him. From what Brown said Wednesday, just as it did with his overall physical condition, last season’s loss to the Raptors has given Embiid a different viewpoint on this matter.
PHILADELPHIA - Dave Sholler will be even a more visible presence for the 76ers this season.
“Joel’s mind, his health his attitude and his willingness to go with our sports science department, I think is proportionate to his age,” Brown said. “He’s growing up. He understands.”
The Sixers will hold media day Monday. Training camp starts Tuesday. The season starts Oct. 23 at home against the Boston Celtics.
Now is the time for Philadelphia to strike.
“(Joel’s) legacy is something that I desperately want to do my best to help him leave behind, Brown said. “That always means (a) championship or championships.”
Embiid is what sets the Sixers apart from other teams, and NBA big men don’t last forever.
“Where should his bread be buttered,” Brown said. “It ain’t close, he should be in the paint. We should get him as many touches as we can deep. You need to hear that word — deep.”
Some time next spring, the 76ers will be involved in a pivotal playoff game. They will have the ball, down a point in the fourth quarter.
If Embiid is in the post, all is well.
If he’s anchored at the 3-point line, there’s trouble ahead.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.