FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) — Behind the doors inside Moby Arena, there’s the blare of a DJ spinning tunes. There’s also the frequent sound of a shrill whistle as new Philly coach Nick Nurse halts practice to offer pointers on the free-flowing offense he’s installing.
Those are the sounds the 76ers hear at the moment.
The noise around disgruntled guard James Harden and his trade demand have been tuned out. Harden’s been steadily ramping up his participation during a training camp held on the campus at Colorado State that came to a close Friday. His teammates insisted his situation hasn’t been a distraction.
For however long he may be with Philadelphia — a week, a month, the trade deadline, all season — the Sixers players aren’t focused on anything other than hoops. They’re learning the nuances of Nurse’s offense, which includes more overall involvement than a year ago when NBA MVP Joel Embiid led the league in points per game (33.1) and Harden in assists per game (10.7).
“Energy’s been great. Everybody’s been great,” forward P.J. Tucker said Friday as the team began making its way east for its first preseason game at Boston on Sunday. “Everybody’s been all smiles and just getting out there and competing and doing what you do in camp. It’s been good.”
The vibe remained loose around camp, too, with a DJ brought in to play some music. They also made their way to Boulder to have dinner with and listen to Colorado coach Deion Sanders.
It masks some of the noise coming from the outside.
In June, Harden picked up his $35.6 million contract option for this season. He was hoping the team would try to trade him. When a deal didn’t happen, he blasted team President Daryl Morey at a promotional event in China and called Morey a liar.
Harden skipped the team’s media day in New Jersey on Monday before arriving in Colorado. Over the last few days, the 10-time All-Star has worked his way into more drills and scrimmages. On Friday, he went through everything, Nurse said. After practice, Harden ran the stairs inside the arena.
“We’re just trying to focus on getting the offense together and defense together, figure out how to play together,” Embiid said Thursday. “We don’t have a lot of time. We want to win and that’s the goal.”
Nurse takes over for Doc Rivers, the former Sixers coach who never led the team past the second round of the playoffs. Nurse has been preaching the little things in training camp — timing, rotation, speed of the feet — in an offense designed to get everyone more involved. He’s adding new defenses, too.
“Just throwing anything out there,” Tucker said with a laugh. “Triangle-and-two or box-and-one or 1-3-1. All this stuff, like college stuff. He’ll try anything.”
Nurse has given Embiid the green light to be “really risky” in the 7-footer’s shot-blocking endeavors. His 1.7 blocks per game last season were seventh in the league.
“I want them to swing at a lot of them,” Nurse said of the big men trying to alter shots. “The more they swing, the more they get.”
Nurse wasn’t sure what his playing patterns would be in the first preseason game against the Celtics. He wasn’t sure about Harden’s availability, either.
Through it all, Harden’s teammates have been supportive.
“I think he’s great for us,” Embiid said of having Harden back with the squad. “Coming in and not being a distraction — not that it was going to be a distraction to us anyway, because we’ve been so focused.”
This group, Embiid said, is different than when the team had a situation arise in 2021 with then-Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. Simmons was kicked out of a practice for being a distraction.
“I don’t think anybody has been distracted about what has been going on,” Embiid maintained.
To find out more about Nurse and his coaching style, the Sixers often turn to Danny Green. The veteran shooting guard/small forward was on the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors squad with Nurse that knocked off the Sixers in the second round on their way to winning an NBA title.
“He’s very laid back. He’s a little bit of Ted Lasso,” Green said of Nurse in reference to the hit television show starring Jason Sudeikis as an ever-optimistic soccer coach. “Has a lot of fun. Outside the box, throws some different things in there. … He’s very encouraging.”
One thing Embiid’s already a big fan of — the wide-open nature of the offense. It’s not centered on just Embiid and Harden.
“I think this is the best way to win,” Embiid said. “I want to be a playmaker. I want to score. I want to get my guys involved. I want to get them open.
“It’s fun playing with the ball moving side-to-side, everybody touching it. That means everybody’s happy.”
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba