Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons – along with veteran presence – equals winning mix for 76ers
By Melissa Rohlin
FOX Sports NBA Writer
Danny Green has become an interpreter of sorts for the Philadelphia 76ers.
After coach Doc Rivers speaks to his players, Green often has follow-up conversations with them, making sure they've truly understood what he said.
Green, a three-time NBA champion who is in his 12th season in the league, has made it his responsibility to make sure everyone on the 76ers is on the same page as they head into the postseason.
"Doc is hard on his young guys," Green told FOX Sports. "He's tough on his rookies sometimes. He's hard on everybody. He's trying to change the atmosphere, he's trying to change the DNA, the narrative. He came in and had his work cut out for him, but we have a good group here. They listen. They learn."
The 76ers have nine players on their roster who are 24 years old or younger. Their superstars, Joel Embiid (27) and Ben Simmons (24), are both under 30. And the team has undergone a lot of recent changes, including revamping the front office, coaching staff and roster this past season. It's working.
Since Green was acquired from the Los Angeles Lakers in November as part of Philadelphia's unloading Al Horford and his onerous contract, he has focused on instilling confidence in the team's young core and helping transform them from a team that has perpetually underperformed in the playoffs into title contenders.
When Green suspects there was a disconnect between Rivers and one of his teammates, he'll reiterate Rivers' words. "Sometimes they don't understand what he's saying or what he's talking about because Doc is probably used to having guys that he doesn't have to give the very detailed, specific definition of everything you need to do," Green said.
Green helps break down terminology. He simplifies things. He encourages players to turn off their brains and just play. "I'm constantly talking to them, constantly allowing them to be themselves, be free and play the game, play basketball," he said.
A young, talent-laden team infused with strong veteran leadership has been a successful formula for the 76ers, who have the top record in the Eastern Conference at 44-21, 1.5 games ahead of the star-studded Brooklyn Nets (43-23).
For the 76ers, Green's presence in the locker room has been immeasurable.
"I'm scared to say that he's a coach in uniform because he may start being the coach," Rivers said of Green with a laugh. "He's great. Him and [fellow long-time pro/first-year Sixer] George Hill, I would say, they just have so much knowledge they can share. We have a lot of young guys. It's always better from them than from us."
Green can relate to a lot of different players. He initially had to fight for his survival in the league, playing for three G-League teams before establishing himself as a sharpshooter and a strong defender with the Spurs, whom he played for from 2010 to 2018.
"All of us are thrilled for everything he's done for us and the fact that he's doing it for other people, too," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "It's a great story."
When Green joined the 76ers, he saw a lot of potential, but he didn't think the team would be this successful. The 76ers are second in the NBA in defensive rating (106.9), steals (9.1) and blocks (6.3).
Like many teams, the Sixers have constantly had guys in and out of the rotation because of health and safety protocols and various injuries, including Embiid missing 19 games and Simmons missing 12, but they've managed to stay atop the Eastern Conference.
"It's been a bunch of things," Green said. "I think Dwight [Howard], his energy has been amazing. Coaching staff has come in with a new, refreshing approach. Joel, Tobias [Harris], Ben are more mature guys now, a year older. And the biggest ingredient is guys want to win. Guys want to learn. Doc has changed the DNA. He understands it. Me and Dwight have been there before. George has been in this league for a long time. With that group or that foundation, it's helped a ton with the chemistry."
Last season, the listless Sixers were swept out of the first round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics after Simmons sustained a season-ending left knee injury in August. Out went head coach Brett Brown. In came Rivers and the veteran reinforcements.
According to Embiid, the leadership of Green and Howard, who were teammates last season on the Lakers, has left a big impression on the team.
"They've been great, I mean, just setting the tone," Embiid said. "They've been there. They've done it. Danny has won multiple championships. Dwight won last year, but you know he was at another level a few years ago ... They're a big part of it when it also comes to being able to contribute and having a new staff and a new front office. They've been huge about just building a new culture."
As for Green, this has been a redemption season of sorts.
He's shooting 40.5% from beyond the 3-point line, an uptick from the 36.7% he hit last season with the Lakers. Green spent his record-short, 71-day offseason working out with shooting coach Chris Matthews, aka Lethal Shooter, who helped him tweak his form, including making sure he's balanced, has good hand placement on the ball and is patient before shooting.
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"I was shooting it before I even caught the ball last year sometimes," Green said. "I would rush it and didn't realize I was more open than I really was. I think that was due to maybe the stresses and pressures of being in the Bubble and maybe getting into your own head … regardless of if you're a role player or superstar, it happens."
Green looks at his Lakers' championship ring every day. He's now pouring himself into earning another one with the 76ers, a proud and storied franchise that hasn’t won a title since 1983.
Things seem to be clicking on all cylinders for the team. For all of the chatter the past few years about Simmons' and Embiid's chemistry, Green says their bond is strong.
"[Simmons] and Joel have a great relationship. You can tell on the court when they're playing together, their pick-and-roll game when they lock in, and off the court, how well they interact," Green said. "They've known each other for years. That's a tandem that you can tell they've got a good understanding and a good flow on and off the court."
When something is off, Green steps in and gives the team a chiropractic adjustment, cracking this or tweaking that to make sure things are flowing smoothly and there aren't any blockages. It has been a new challenge for Green, but it's one he has embraced at this stage of his career.
"Most days I enjoy it and have fun with it," Green said. "Some days, obviously, it's an extra thing, an energy that sometimes I don't have. You have to coach, manage egos and play at the same time. It can be a lot at times. But for the most part, I'm having fun with it. I've enjoyed it. It's been great."
It's a responsibility he's honored to hold.
"They make it easy because they respect me," Green said. "They want to learn. They want to listen."
For Sixers fans whose patience has been tested the past few years, this is music to their ears.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.