76ers

2017 Sixers training camp: 5 storylines

2017 Sixers training camp: 5 storylines

Monday is media day, which means the start of training camp is 24 hours away. The Sixers are positioned to be a team to watch in the NBA this season, and with that comes storylines to pay attention to before it kicks off. From health to new additions to contract extensions, here are five things to look for in training camp. 

Restrictions
Minutes. Games. Back-to-backs. Those are in question when it comes to Joel Embiid. Last season the big man was limited to 31 games, did not play in back-to-backs, followed a closely-watched minutes restriction, and underwent season-ending knee surgery in March. Embiid has not been cleared for 5-on-5 yet, making his game availability to be determined during camp.

“It’s not about being ready for the first practice or the first game,” president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said regarding Embiid last week. “And he will be out there for the first practice and the first game. The question is how much, how little, if at all. Those things will be determined by certain criteria along the way.”

It also remains to be seen if Ben Simmons, who missed all of last season because of a Jones fracture, will end up being placed under restrictions as well. The Sixers have enhanced their medical staff with the addition of Dr. C. Daniel Medina Leal to the newly-created VP of athlete care position. Leal previously worked for FC Barcelona.

Embiid contract extension
The Sixers and Embiid have a very significant decision to make before the start of the regular season. The deadline for Embiid’s contract extension is Oct. 16, two days prior to opening night.

For such a serious business matter, there are so many question marks involved on both sides. How many games will Embiid play? How is his health after yet another injury last season?

If the Sixers offer the max in the extension, would they be overpaying? If Embiid accepts a percentage of the max based on these uncertainties, will he be taking less than if he waited for restricted free agency?

These questions will be answered in less than a month.

Point guard role
The Sixers plan to utilize Simmons as an unconventional 6-foot-10 point guard. Expect him to be tasked with defending power forwards on defense. This role will lend itself to more versatile lineups wherein the Sixers can be a position-less team in many cases. With Simmons at the point, Markelle Fultz will slide over to the shooting guard spot when they are paired on offense. The Sixers traded up to draft him No. 1 in part for his ability to play off the ball.

The backup point guard roles will have to be sorted out. Jerryd Bayless is returning from appearing in just three games last season because of a wrist injury. The veteran can play both guard spots in the backcourt. T.J. McConnell, who started 51 games last season, will once again find himself fighting for minutes.

Jahlil Okafor's future
The Sixers are entering another season with a logjam of centers. Jahlil Okafor still does not have a clearly defined role with Embiid as the starter and Richaun Holmes making a strong case for increased minutes as the backup.

The team remains open to trading Okafor, as they attempted to do last season, if they find the right fit. Okafor’s health will factor into the Sixers’ opportunity to make a deal. He continued to battle right knee soreness after undergoing surgery for a meniscus tear in March 2016. Okafor last played on March 22.

Looking to improve his game, Okafor has gone “mostly” vegan. He is down to 258 pounds, 20 less than his weight in last year’s training camp.

Starting 5
The Sixers had 30 starting lineups last season and will be looking for more consistency this time around. Don’t expect standard roles, either. With Simmons running the point, players will be shifted into different positions depending on matchups.

Back in July, I projected the 2017-18 starting five and that group hasn’t changed, in my opinion. I am going with Fultz, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Simmons and Embiid. 

There are many people who reacted strongly to the idea of Covington as a starter instead of Dario Saric. Covington is key to the Sixers' defense, though, and Saric can thrive as a go-to in the second unit if he embraces that role.

Sixers thankful to have Embiid tonight vs. reigning MVP

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AP Images

Sixers thankful to have Embiid tonight vs. reigning MVP

Updated 5:28 p.m.

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid will play tonight as the Sixers need all hands on deck to defend Russell Westbrook.

The big man's status was uncertain leading up to the game because of back tightness. Embiid missed Sunday's game against the Pelicans with the issue but played a career-high 39 minutes on Tuesday in the Sixers' overtime win against the Timberwolves. 

Embiid was on the court after shootaround draining threes barefoot. He commonly puts up shots without shoes.

The Sixers will require a total team effort against Westbrook. They will have their top perimeter defender Robert Covington back in the lineup after he missed the last two games with a lower back contusion.

Brett Brown will try different looks on Westbrook, but one thing is already known: There's no clear-cut formula to contain the reigning MVP. 

"Russell Westbrook demands a team to guard him," Brett Brown said Thursday. "He comes at you with such cocky aggression. How about the athlete that we're seeing and the mentality of that athlete? It is bizarre to me. That is a fierce, competitive person that just doesn't seem to get tired ... He's amazing to me. He really is amazing to me." 

Westbrook is averaging 22.6 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.9 assists per game this season. All those stats don't really project much considering he's capable of going off for 30, 40 points any given night. He scored 30-plus points in three of his last five games. 

Even though the Thunder are below .500 (13-14), the Sixers are not ignoring the offseason additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. Veteran scorers cannot be overlooked, regardless of a team's record heading into the game. 

"[Westbrook] is a special player in our league and he's going to be tough to contain one-on-one so it's going to be a group effort tonight," T.J. McConnell said. "Even with the other two, Carmelo and Paul George, it takes a team and following your principles and playing hard. That's all you can really do." 

• The Sixers will wear their red Statement Edition uniforms tonight for the first time. The jerseys were designed to reflect the history of the franchise and the city of Philadelphia. "Sixers" is written in cursive for the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

• The Sixers are unveiling a sculpture of Maurice Cheeks in front of their training complex in Camden. Cheeks is now an assistant coach for the Thunder. The point guard was a member of the 1983 championship team and earned four All-Star selections with the Sixers. Cheeks' sculpture will join those of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham already on "76ers Legends Walk."

Ben Simmons takes 4 families on holiday shopping spree

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Photo courtesy of Sixers' Twitter account

Ben Simmons takes 4 families on holiday shopping spree

Four families gathered in a roped-off waiting area adorned with Sixers decor inside of a Philadelphia Target store. They were told they were getting a surprise Thursday evening, but they didn't know who or what until a car pulled up outside ... and Ben Simmons walked through the door.

Simmons gave each family a $1,000 shopping spree right then and there. The room erupted in cheer.

"Beautiful," a mother exclaimed at the news. One child put his head in his hands in disbelief when he saw Simmons. Another said, "This is the best day ever."

"It's one of those things I always wanted to do growing up," Simmons, who came up with the idea for the shopping trip on his own, said. "It's the perfect time, season of giving. It just means a lot for me to be able to do this for some families."

The towering 6-foot-10 point guard walked through the store on Monument Road with each family and helped them choose their gifts along the way. 

They headed straight to the toy section, where the children piled in Legos, dolls and anything else that grabbed their attention. Then it was on to electronics. One child filled his cart with video games and a gaming system. Another family selected a television and soundbar. 

Shopping carts accumulated quickly as the kids ran in and out of aisles with bright smiles on their faces.

"Seeing them pick out what they want, not having to worry about it, I think that was the biggest thing," Simmons said. "It was a great time. I had a lot of fun, can't wait to do it next year."

The recipients were selected through Unity in the Community, a nonprofit organization based in South Philadelphia. Each had been through tough times in the past year and this trip helped to put the happy in their holidays.

"They can enjoy it now," Simmons said. "It's great for them to have no worries, especially on Christmas."