- Sixers point guard T.J. McConnell speaks to Sports Illustrated about the team’s newest additions, its NBA Finals aspirations, the challenge the Celtics present and the friendship shared by Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic.
T.J. McConnell has become one of the most important players on a loaded Sixers roster. The backup point guard has served as an emotional leader off the bench and will be a critical component as Philadelphia makes a push for the NBA Finals. McConnell joined Crossover TV to chat with Rohan Nadkarni about this year's Sixers team, social media's impact on NBA players' happiness and more.
[You can watch the latest episode of Crossover TV here. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
Rohan Nadkarni: The Sixers right now are playing really well. You guys have made a lot of adjustments to the roster this season. You have seen both sides of this right? You were on a 10-win Philadelphia team and you were on a 50-win Philadelphia team—can you describe what that experience was like?
T.J. McConnell: Yeah, I can tell you that winning only 10 games is not fun but coach Brown and his staff made it fun to show up everyday. It was great to be there but obviously not losing that many games but to go from there to where we are now—then going the next year and winning 28 games—and the year after winning 50 and we are on track to win 50 again this year, it’s a testament to our coaching staff and the way they built this team.
RN: Do you feel that you have a shift in pressure on you guys? You guys have pushed the chips—do you personally feel additional pressure on yourself?
TM: Yeah, I think any time you win there is going to be pressure and we fell a little bit short losing in the second round last year. Obviously, when you think you fell short making it to the conference semifinals there is going to be more pressure coming into next year.
RN: One of the guys that have spearheaded the change on your roster this season is Elton Brand, who was your teammate your first year in Philly. Is it weird that your ex-teammate is now your general manager? How does that dynamic work?
TM: It’s been great. EB has been on our side and now he is on the other side. I feel like it’s the best of both worlds for us. He understands what we are going through and he is on the business side of it now and he has to make business-like decisions and he has done a great job so far.
RN: What is your favorite memory of Elton as a teammate?
TM: Being in the era we have now with technology, we were at a shoot around one day and he was in there early and we all walk in and he was sitting there with his legs crossed, reading a newspaper and it was just so weird to see.
RN: Just reading a newspaper [laughs].
TM: You can now get your news from your phone or an iPad. We call him old school Chevy and he was reading the newspaper. That is just the kind of guy that he is.
RN: It is interesting that you bring up the newspaper thing because Adam Silver kind of made some headlines when he was talking about NBA players and he thinks some of these guys are unhappy. He traces part of the problem back to social media. What did you make out of his comments? Do you think social media can play a role in the way teammates interact with one another?
TM: My take on social media is different. Social media can be a very powerful thing and it could be used for a lot of good but I also think social media gives people an unfair voice where they can say whatever they want and there are no consequences. The moment a professional athlete responds that comes with the territory that we get paid to play and it makes us look bad if we respond. I think social media does a lot of good but there can also be a lot of bad to it.
RN: We talked about this earlier about you guys not meeting some of the expectations that you had for yourselves last year. This year you guys have still had some struggles against the Celtics. Us as fans, we love that rivalry and love seeing you guys go head-to-head against each other. What is it about Boston that has given the Sixers so much trouble?
TM: It’s just one of those things where we can’t really get over the hump. They are really well coached. They play well together and they have great players on their team. So anytime you put those three things together, it’s going to be tough to beat a team and you have to give credit to them. We say that it is a rivalry but we have yet to beat them this year. They took us out of the playoffs and almost swept us, so they certainly have our number.
RN: You guys made moves, obviously bringing in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, not only with an eye on Boston but it is obvious this team wants to make the NBA Finals. Do you think this Sixers team is better than last year’s Sixers team?
TM: I thought last year’s team was great. But I think the moves that we made, just to put it simply, made us have a lot more depth. Our starting lineup has a lot of firepower and a lot more depth just coming off the bench.
RN: It seems like Boban and Tobias brought their friendship over from L.A. You and Joel [Embiid] get up for a board game night every now in then. Who is the best set of friends amongst the Sixers?
TM: You have to go with Bobi and Tobi but I will put up a fight for me and J.J [Redick] and even me and Jimmy [Butler]. Me and Jimmy are really close. It’s hard to say but I think we are really close as a team but Bobi and Tobi have played together for a while and this is only my second year with J.J. and only my first with Jimmy but we are all extremely close.
RN: What is about the Bobi and Tobi friendship that makes it so special? We as fans love it.
TM: They are just two great guys. They connect and they are always laughing with one another. In this business, it’s crazy you don’t get to play with the same people a lot and they have played together in Detroit, Los Angeles and now Philadelphia. That uncertainty of going to another team made them closer together.
RN: How is Joel off the court? Does he have a soft side? Is he funny off the court like he is on Twitter? Give a peek at what it is like to be friends with Joel Embiid.
TM: I think you just noted right there. He is extremely funny and he has a soft side that not everyone sees. He is a very genuine person and a joy to be around. I love playing with him but I enjoy being his friend more.
RN: Obviously you guys have sights on doing big things this year. That is why you made all these moves. What kind of talk is there among the organization? Have you guys set concrete goals?
TM: You can’t just go out and be like ‘Yeah, we are going to the Finals’. We have to take it one game at a time. Obviously we know and think we have the talent to make it to the Finals but we have to put it together and take it one game at a time and not look ahead.