76ers

Jacob Pullen hopes 'great journey' comes to an end with Sixers

Jacob Pullen hopes 'great journey' comes to an end with Sixers

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There’s a very real likelihood that Jacob Pullen’s opportunity with the 76ers is over.

That’s the harsh reality of trying to make it in the NBA.

But if there’s anybody who understands the harsh realities of life, it’s the undersized journeyman from Kansas State, who parlayed his prodigious college scoring and prolific outside shooting into a lucrative and successful career overseas — only to feel the pull to give the NBA one more shot.

That is how Pullen found himself back in Sixers camp, five years after playing for them in the summer league, trying to force his way onto a roster packed with lottery picks.

“It’s just a great feeling, a dream come true,” Pullen said, sitting in front of a locker room inside the Sprint Center in Kansas City, where he once led the Wildcats against Kansas in the Big 12 title game.

“I just looked at this as a great opportunity,” he said. “They got a lot of great guys, a lot of great younger guys. I just felt like I had a chance to come in and help them. We’ll just see what happens when it comes down to the chopping block.”

Even if he’s chopped, Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged the impact Pullen has made in camp.

“When you study his background internationally, and listen to him, he’s an adult. And he has a grit about him that’s very endearing, you know?” Brown said. “He loves basketball, he’s tough, he’s had an experience that I think is very impressive. And like a lot of young guys we’ve had, he’s just trying to find a chance, to get an opportunity.”

The Sixers have plenty of backcourt weapons, though. They drafted Markelle Fultz first overall, signed arguably the league’s best three-point shooter in JJ Reddick, and are loaded with versatile perimeter players such as T.J. McConnell, James Blackmon Jr. and Jerryd Bayless.

Still, the soft-spoken Pullen has managed to at the very least raise eyebrows.

“He's been an A-plus teammate, A-plus worker, no back down,” Brown said. “I think all those things have made him a really professional addition to our roster.”

Most of those traits Pullen picked up playing overseas.

After going undrafted in 2011, he played a season in Italy, bounced through the Israeli league and back to Italy, then starred for FC Barcelona in Spain. He had a stint with the Flying Leopards in China, returned to Spain and Italy, played for a club in Croatia and spent last year with a Russian team based northwest of Moscow. Pullen even picked up Georgian citizenship along the way, allowing him to play for the country in European tournaments.

“It's been a great journey,” he said. “I saw a lot of culture, I grew up a lot. I spent a lot of time over there, embraced it, learned a lot of different languages. Now I just want to stay home, enjoy the States for a while.”

A big reason for that is his soon-to-be 3-year-old daughter, who lives with her mom in Chicago. Pullen has made enough money overseas that he’s able to fly her out to see him on the road, but living overseas would make those kinds of trips impossible.

That money stashed away is also why Pullen said he’s open to signing a two-way contract or playing in the development league. He doesn’t necessarily need an NBA paycheck to get by, at least for now, and he’d be willing to pay for pennies on the dollar if it means an opportunity to fulfill his dream.

“I had other teams that were interested,” Pullen said before he recorded three points and two assists in 10 minutes of action during Friday's preseason finale. “I just felt like Philly was the best opportunity — not to wish injuries or anything, but if something happens over the course of a season, I’ll be able to step in.”

Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

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Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid sometimes looks like he’s having a party on the basketball court. It’s no surprise, then, he credits some actual partying with turning around his season.

Yes, that’s right. After Sixers practice Friday afternoon, Embiid said hitting the town in Los Angeles on the team's recent road trip helped him out of a funk.

“All my close friends live in L.A., so before that, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was frustrated because I wasn’t in basketball shape and I wasn’t having fun on the court,” Embiid said. “So I won’t lie, I decided to go out, have fun a little bit. And that just kind of gave me the energy back, and the next game against the Clippers, I had more than 30 points [32], and then the following game I had more than 40 [46], so I think it’s just about having fun and making sure I can control what I can.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks since the Sixers arrived in Los Angeles. The Sixers are 5-1 in those six games.

As the Sixers keep winning, the expectations keep growing. Is this a legit playoff team? Contenders in the near future? Embiid deals with the pressure that sort of attention can bring the same way he does just about everything else.

“Just be myself," Embiid said. "Have fun on the court. You know, just be myself, and I know it’s going to come, I know the guys are going to find me whenever they have to find me, I know coach is going to call plays for me. I think I kind of figured out if I’m not having fun on the court, I’m not going to play well, so I really need to have fun, and that’s the main thing for me. From there, I’m going to be dominant.”

A big part of having fun on the court for Embiid is trash talk. He insists he doesn’t initiate it, but he’s more than happy to give it back. He’ll be without Ben Simmons Saturday night against Orlando, but he’s eager for some banter with the Magic.

“Me talking trash, it doesn’t usually happen because I want to, it’s because the other guys start talking trash. So if any of the guys want to, I’m up for it. It elevates my game, it makes me play better because I know if you talk trash to me I’m going to talk back, and I’m going to back it up, and that’s going to make me play better. I can’t wait, I really hope they do [trash talk]. It’s going to be exciting.”

Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

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Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Sixers aren't the same team without Ben Simmons. On Saturday, they'll see exactly what type of team they are this season without their 6-foot-10 point guard.

Simmons will miss Saturday night's game against Orlando because of left elbow soreness. Simmons, the early Rookie of the Year favorite, is averaging 18.5 points, 7.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds.

The Sixers said, after reviewing footage from Wednesday night’s 101-81 win over Portland, Simmons appears to have suffered the injury at the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter. He was in treatment during practice Friday and will be reevaluated Sunday.

Backup point guard T.J. McConnell will slide into the starting spot for Simmons, though Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged the rookie is impossible to replace.

“It changes a lot of things without Ben Simmons,” Brown said. “T.J. will come in and assume the starting point guard role. Obviously, the points of emphasis change, but that’s why you have a team. The team has responded without Joel (Embiid), now we’ll get to see how the team responds without Ben.”

McConnell, averaging 6.5 points and 5.3 assists in 23.9 minutes, doesn’t plan to alter much about his approach.

“Obviously me and Ben are completely different players," McConnell said. "He’s very special. I just need to play defense, get people the ball and shoot when I’m open, so I’m not going to change how I play.”

Brown has been impressed with McConnell’s development this season, especially as a shooter. He knows McConnell’s passion and effort are always going to be there but is pleased to see McConnell making strides with his shot.

“I think he’s doing fantastically,” Brown said. “I think his perimeter shot and the comfort level he feels taking the occasional three is evident; he’s spent a lot of time and effort over the summer trying to grow that. So now is the time, he’ll come in and start out as point guard and there’s a lot of responsibility and opportunity given to him.”

A few small tweaks seem to have significantly improved McConnell’s shot. Brown noted he’s brought the ball closer to his body and has better pre-shot preparation. McConnell said his focus in the offseason was on getting more lift and shooting in one smooth motion.

The results aren’t staggering; McConnell has made seven of 13 three-point attempts this season. Compared to his hesitancy to fire and 20 percent three-point mark last year, however, and the improvement is clear.

McConnell hopes he can jumpstart the Sixers' offense, which Brown graded a C-minus after the win over the Trail Blazers. Brown, McConnell and Embiid all pointed to ball movement as the key.

“We just need to keep moving the ball,” Embiid said. We are going to miss [Simmons] a lot because the way he plays, he gets everybody else involved and everybody else open. But if we stick to what we’ve been taught, our system, I think we’ll be fine.”

“It’s just ball movement, getting people open shots, just fluid offense,” McConnell said. "You can’t really ask for much more than that. Get the defense moving from side to side, and just playing hard.”

The Sixers are averaging 25.9 assists, second-best in the NBA, which indicates the team generally does a good job of moving the ball. However, Ben Simmons is usually the one anchoring the offense. T.J. McConnell will step into the job Saturday night.