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76ers finish Colorado camp with Harden situation still up in the air

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Philadelphia 76ers forward PJ Tucker, left, talks with guard James Harden during the team’s NBA basketball practice session Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, in Fort Collins, Colo. ( AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Behind the doors of Moby Arena, you can hear the sound of a DJ spinning music. There’s also the frequent sound of a shrill whistle as Philly’s new coach, Nick Nurse, stops practice to offer advice on the free-flowing offense he’s putting together.

These are the sounds the 76ers hear in the meantime.

The noise around disgruntled guard James Harden and his trade request has been ignored. Harden gradually increased his participation during a coaching camp on the Colorado State campus that took place Friday. His teammates insisted his storyline had not been a distraction.

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For as long as he’s been with Philadelphia — a week, a month, the trade deadline, the entire season — Sixers players focus on nothing but hoops. They study the nuances of Nurse’s offense, which includes more total involvement than a year ago when NBA MVP Joel Embiid led the league in points per game (33.1) and Harden in assists per match (10.7).

“The vitality has been nice. Everyone has been nice,” forward PJ Tucker said Friday as the team began heading east for its first preseason game in Boston on Sunday. “Everyone was all smiles and just showing up, competing and doing what you do at camp. Its been good.”

The atmosphere also remained intact around the camp, with the arrival of a DJ to play music. They also traveled to Boulder to have dinner and listen to Colorado coach Deion Sanders.

It masks some of the noise coming from the skin.

In June, Harden picked his $35.6 million contract pick for this season. He hoped the team would try to trade him. When a deal was not reached, he lambasted personnel chairman Daryl Morey at a promotional event in China and called Morey a liar.

Harden did not attend the team’s media day in New Jersey on Monday before arriving in Colorado. Over the past few days, the 10-time All-Star has been working on more drills and scrimmages. On Friday, he went through everything, the nurse said. After practice, Harden walked the steps inside the court.

“We’re just trying to focus on bringing the offense and defense together and learning how to play together,” Embiid said Thursday. ” We do not have much time. We want to win and that’s the goal.

James Harden

Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden, left, greets 76ers director of basketball communications Brandon Chinn during the team’s NBA basketball practice Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Nurse succeeds Doc Rivers, the former Sixers coach who never took the team beyond the second round of the playoffs. Nurse preached the little things in training camp — timing, turnover, foot speed — in an offense designed to get everyone more involved. It also includes new defenses.

“Just get something out there,” Tucker said with amusement. “Triangle-and-two or box-and-one or 1-3-1. All these things, like teacher stuff. He’s going to try something.

Nurse gave Embiid the green light to be “really dangerous” in attempts to block the 7-footer’s shots. His 1.7 blocks per game last season were seventh in the league.

“I’d like them to swing at more of them,” Nurse said of big men trying to change shots. “The more they swing, the more they get.”

Nurse was unsure about his playing habits in the first preseason game against the Celtics. He also wasn’t sure about Harden’s availability.

Through it all, Harden’s teammates have been supportive.

“I think he’s good to us,” Embiid said of Harden’s return to the team. “Coming in and not being a distraction – not that it was going to be a distraction for us anyway, because we were so focused.”

This group, Embiid said, is different than when the team had a situation in 2021 with then-Sixers point guard Ben Simmons. Simmons was kicked off a track for being a distraction.

“I guess no one was distracted by what’s going on,” Embiid argued.

To learn more about Nurse and his coaching style, the Sixers often look to Danny Green. The veteran guard/small forward was part of the 2018-19 Toronto Raptors team with Nurse that knocked out the Sixers in the second round on their way to winning an NBA title.

“He is once again very calm. He’s a little bit of Ted Lasso,” Green said of Nurse in reference to the hit TV show starring Jason Sudeikis as an ever-optimistic football coach. “Has many pleasures. Off the field, he throws various things there. … He’s very encouraging.

One factor Embiid is already a big fan of: the wide-open nature of the offense. It’s not just focused on Embiid and Harden.

“I think it’s one of the best ways to win,” Embiid said. “I want to be a point guard. I want to score. I wish my guys would worry. I want to open them.

“It’s fun to play with the ball moving from side to side, everyone touches it. This means that everyone is completely satisfied.

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