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October 03, 2023

Kelly Oubre Jr. eager for fresh start with Sixers

Speaking with media for the first time, Oubre is ready to leave his mark in Philadelphia.

Kelly Oubre Jr. was presented a simple question to open his media day presser on Monday: why Philadelphia? The veteran wing, who officially signed with the Sixers early last week, kept his initial answer brief and candid.

“Well, you know, it was obviously late in the free agency period,” said Oubre, who averaged a career-high 20.3 points with the Charlotte Hornets last season.

But such a response does not convey the entirety of Oubre’s motivations or enthusiasm. Throughout the summer, as Oubre took time to “dial my life in and reenergize and refocus,” president of basketball operations Daryl Morey and head coach Nick Nurse were constantly trying to contact Oubre. Their determination and outreach reminded him of his younger days.

“I knew for a fact that I want to go somewhere where I'm wanted, just like Kansas. Coach [Bill] Self was the first person to recruit me,” Oubre said. “It really brought me back to my roots of basketball. You go where you’re wanted, you go where you’re loved, and I felt like this was the right place.”

Oubre joins a Sixers squad with glaring questions about its wing depth and viability. Philadelphia’s roster contains players best suited at the 4 like P.J. Tucker and Tobias Harris, and another in Paul Reed, who can toggle between the 4 and the 5. Defensive-minded backcourt members, Patrick Beverley or De’Anthony Melton, may slide down a position in three-guard lineups as well. Those actually maximized at the 3 are fairly scarce and comprised of Oubre, Danny Green and Danuel House Jr. That doesn’t guarantee anything for Oubre besides a chance to earn minutes — exactly how he prefers it.

“Only thing coach Nick said, which I would want any coach to say, is that there is no promises. But there is opportunity for the taking,” Oubre said. “That's all I need to hear and something that I really use to motivate me, and I respect that.”

After spending his first 3.5 seasons with the Washington Wizards, Oubre’s become something of an NBA nomad, bouncing among Charlotte, the Phoenix Suns and the Golden State Warriors over his past five years. He’s not established long-term residency anywhere over the past half-decade. Although his one-year, $2.9 million deal with the Sixers doesn’t change that reality, he certainly seems to find his newest organization and city already endearing itself to him.

“I don't want to bash any other organizations out there. But I've been on a couple of teams in my career, and this is the most well-oiled machine that I've been to. This is my first time actually sitting at a press conference table with this many people, and it's a culture shock, for real,” Oubre said. “And, honestly, man, this team wins every year, right? The fan base wants them to win more, but I come from teams where they have no hope, like, zero hope within the whole city. And this is not that at all. So, I appreciate this fan base man for being so hard to maintain and wanting to see greatness because they deserve it. And the organization gives the players a platform to do so with everything around us. So, it's night and day from what I've been to man, and I'm gonna just take advantage of it, soak it all in, and take it day by day.”

Beyond eating up minutes at the 3 on a team searching for that service, Oubre’s role is unclear, an ambiguity he seems content to navigate. He’ll likely emerge as one of the team’s chief secondary scorers, blending cutting, off-ball shooting and occasional creations reps, though made clear he’s also prepared to assume difficult defensive assignments if that’s what the circumstances dictate. 

“Whatever the team needs from me, that's what I do,” Oubre said.

If he cannot be the versatile role player unbothered by fluctuating minutes he described himself as Monday, effusive positivity in early October will be a forgotten relic. How he fares once the games matter is vital. But his enthusiasm, sincerity and cheeriness were palpable. A summer devoted to reinvigorating himself appears successful at the moment.

Various members of the organization addressed skepticism surrounding this team’s title hopes after its shaky offseason, particularly in contrast to the likes of Boston and Milwaukee, both of which landed All-Star point guards last week. An eagerness to take the floor and let on-court results speak louder than offseason transactions or predictions was expressed by many, Oubre himself included.

“I'm in the business of proving people wrong,” he said. “I love to kill the naysayers.”

Follow Jackson on Twitter: @jackfrank_jjf

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