76ers

Sixers have questions with possible extensions looming for Embiid, Covington

Sixers have questions with possible extensions looming for Embiid, Covington

CAMDEN, N.J. — The front offices of professional sports teams are always dealing with a delicate balance of competing in the present and positioning for a successful future.

The Sixers are no different.

As the team officially tips off training camp on Tuesday for what it hopes to be its most successful season in years, there are still some serious question marks about the future of the roster.

The biggest one surrounds center Joel Embiid. Embiid is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract. Embiid and the Sixers have until Oct. 16 to reach an agreement on a rookie scale extension. If the two sides can’t strike a deal, the big man will become a restricted free agent next summer.

Embiid, who is currently still rehabbing from surgery for a torn meniscus, finally burst onto the scene last season by averaging 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. However, he knows that by being limited to just 31 games during his career and with the team holding all the cards regarding his immediate future, he isn’t in a position of power during any contract negotiations.

“At the end of the day, I don’t have the leverage," Embiid said. "I’m going into my fourth season and I’m going to be a restricted free agent, so there’s no leverage, they can do whatever they want. There’s been discussions about it. Hopefully, something does work out” (see story).

Embiid isn’t alone. Robert Covington, also coming off both a breakout season and meniscus surgery, is in a similar situation.

The Sixers picked up the fourth-year, $1.57 million option on Covington’s contract in June. That’s a steal considering Covington finished fourth in the NBA in Defensive Player of the Year voting while scoring 12.9 points a night.

The Sixers can't sign Covington to an extension until Nov. 15, the three-year anniversary of when they originally signed him.

“We’ve definitely been in talks and everything,” said Covington, who this offseason reportedly switched agents to the powerful CAA Sports. “Both sides are very open to what is going on. It’s just a matter of the right move that’s to be made. Bryan is playing chess right now with the pieces that he’s adding. Now it’s just making sure that everything stays the way that he pictures.”

Then there’s the curious case of Jahlil Okafor. In just two seasons with the team, the center has witnessed his name in just about every trade rumor imaginable. Okafor, who recorded 11.8 points and 4.8 boards a game in a reserve role a season ago, was apparently so close to being dealt at last February’s deadline that he was held out of two games only to rejoin the Sixers.

Team president Bryan Colangelo would never rule anything out in regards to shipping Okafor, but at the moment all plans are for the big man to remain a Sixer.

“There’s no problem between us and Jahlil right now,” Colangelo said. “If he had his druthers would he be with another club? I can’t answer that question, but I think that he’s happy being here. He’s been treated well. The coaches coach him like they coach every other athlete. 

“Again, any discussion about things that are out there — whether or not he’s been traded or not, whether or not he’s being shopped or not — I can say I have not actively been shopping Jahlil Okafor. … But the narrative is he’s here, he’s going to be an active participant in the things that we’re doing preparing for this season and he’s a part of this basketball team until he’s not.”

While things are a very murky with Okafor, the writing appears to be on the wall for Nik Stauskas as he enters the fourth year of his rookie deal. 

The team specifically targeted scoring from the off-guard position over the summer (drafting Markelle Fultz to play alongside Ben Simmons in the backcourt, signing JJ Redick in free agency and bringing Furkan Korkmaz from overseas). With Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot also expected to vie for time at shooting guard, Stauskas’ future in Philadelphia doesn’t exactly seem bright.

“Not at all, no,” Stauskas sternly responded when asked whether his contract status was on his mind heading into the new season.

NBA Notes: Bulls' Mirotic suffers broken bones in fight with teammate Portis

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NBA Notes: Bulls' Mirotic suffers broken bones in fight with teammate Portis

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls say forward Nikola Mirotic suffered multiple broken bones in his face as well as a concussion in a fight with teammate Bobby Portis during practice.

The team says Mirotic will likely need surgery and is out indefinitely. They say they are "evaluating disciplinary action" after Tuesday's incident.

Mirotic averaged 10.8 points over his first three seasons with Chicago. A restricted free agent, he signed a two-year contract that could pay as much as $27 million in September. The club holds an option on the second season.

A 2015 first-round pick, Portis has averaged 6.9 points and 5 rebounds.

The Bulls open at Toronto on Thursday. Chicago is rebuilding after trading Jimmy Butler and parting with Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo (see full story).

Nuggets: Jefferson reportedly agrees to deal
DENVER -- Michael Malone knows all about Richard Jefferson. Just not Tuesday, with the deal for the veteran forward still waiting on official word.

"Who's Jefferson?" the Denver Nuggets coach coyly said after practice.

Jefferson will join the Nuggets on a one-year deal, a person with knowledge of the negotiations confirmed to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the agreement hasn't been disclosed by the team. ESPN first reported the deal, which it said is worth $2.3 million.

After weeks of fine-tuning his roster through training camp and the preseason, Malone suddenly has to juggle things around. Not that he minds carving out minutes for a player he can't even name just yet. Jefferson adds another leadership presence to a young, playoff-hopeful roster (see full story).

Jazz: Timeline unknown for injured Exum
SALT LAKE CITY -- Dante Exum knew he had a significant injury the moment he awkwardly hit the floor during a preseason game against the Suns on Oct. 6. The diagnosis was a separated shoulder, and the Jazz guard and the team took the next 10 days to decide what to do.

Exum saw three doctors and spoke to several more before deciding to have a surgery on Oct. 24 that will keep him out for an unknown amount of time.

"Even just walking back (to the locker room), obviously I was frustrated," Exum said. "Everything was going through my head. I remember just looking up at everybody and they were just speechless. Didn't know what to say. A lot of people within the Jazz organization know how hard I've worked to get to the point I was. To get an injury like that and the way it took place just sucked."

There were non-surgical options for Exum, but the decision was made in his long-term interest after talking to family, his agent and the organization. That, however, complicates things in the short term financially. The 2014 No. 5 overall pick was hoping to have a breakout year as a restricted free agent.

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Exploring the Sixers' 3 options to back up Joel Embiid

Joel Embiid will be restricted to less than 20 minutes per game early in the season, that much is known (see story). How Brett Brown fills the remainder of the minutes at the center position remains to be seen.

Brown has three healthy big men he can play behind Embiid: Amir Johnson, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric. Richaun Holmes, an early candidate for backup minutes, is sidelined by a fractured wrist.

“Even without Richaun, you like the depth and versatility, the variety that is available to me at the five,” Brown said Tuesday. 

Each player is unique in their skill sets and experience levels. There’s the proven veteran in Johnson, the undersized center in Saric, and the sometime-starter-sometime-reserve-sometime-DNP in Okafor. 

Let’s take a look at Brown’s options and why he may lean toward one player over another. 

Okafor
Okafor finds himself in another season of uncertainty. The third-year Sixer still doesn’t have a consistent role in the rotation. In the past, his biggest opportunity for minutes has come when Embiid is out for the entire game. Could the slimmed-down Okafor return to the starting lineup when Embiid doesn’t play? The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games of the season on Saturday. 

Brown on Okafor 
“[His role is] evolving … it’s always fluid. There are times we’ll assess Joel, say, in a back-to-back situation that might free something up. We have one in Toronto coming up. … We all respect his attitude and we respect his body. I think he’s had a good preseason.”

Johnson
The 30-year-old Johnson gives the Sixers a veteran presence and assuring presence on the court. He started in 77 of his 80 games for the Celtics last season and will be an in-game leader for younger players like Markelle Fultz in the second unit. 

Brown on Johnson
“He started for a really good team last year. He’s been in the league for a while. He’s a great pickup. Bryan (Colangelo) did a really great job of signing him. He’s good people.” 

Saric
At 6-foot-10, 223 pounds, Saric is the most unlikely candidate of the three backups. Brown has seen enough from Saric in the NBA and internationally, though, to feel confident in shifting him from the four to the five. Saric showed he can hold his own against traditional bigs when he shot 5 for 8 against the Nets in the preseason. 

Brown on Saric
“He’s stronger than you think. He’s been used to guarding behind people over in Europe on switch outs with four-five pick-and-rolls. … He gives up some weight, he gives up some height. But the trade-off might be he pulls them out and makes threes like he did against (Timofey) Mozgov. You weigh it all up. It’s a little bit unconventional but it is there in our arsenal if we choose to go there.”