76ers

Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

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Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

It was bound to happen. It’s bound to continue. The rumors about potential trades. The speculation about which players might be involved. It is how things go in the NBA, particularly with a team that has assets it could be willing to unload.

The latest report by ESPN -- unconfirmed by CSNPhilly, it should be noted -- speculated that Philadelphia could be “a viable destination” for marginalized Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. The potential price? Thaddeus Young (see story).

The salaries match up. Asik’s cap hit for this season and next is approximately $8.37 million. Following next season, he would become a free agent. Young will make $8.85 million this season and $9.41 million next year. He has a player option for 2015-16 for $9.72 million.

One of the main benefits for the Sixers would be an extra year of possible cap flexibility, since Asik is under contract for just one more season after this while Young could potentially be on the books through the end of the ’15-16 campaign. That’s not nothing. The increased freedom, particularly for a team that’s rebuilding and will already have quite a bit of cap space for the 2014 offseason, is attractive. But is it enough?

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie, who previously worked in the Rockets’ front office, is obviously well-acquainted with Asik and his abilities. Asik is the sort of in-the-paint presence the Sixers currently lack. For his career, Asik averages 53.3 percent shooting from the field, 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He doesn’t get to the line that often (2.4 free throw attempts per game), and he doesn’t shoot very well when he does (53.4 free throw percentage).

Asik averages 0.9 blocks per game and 0.4 steals. He’s not a great passer for a big man, averaging 0.6 assists. And unlike Spencer Hawes, Asik doesn’t take shots from distance. Ever. He’s attempted exactly one three-pointer in his career.

Back when he played for the Bulls, Asik was regularly on the court late in games because of his defensive abilities. He’s big. Asik is listed at 7-foot, 255 pounds. If he got regular starter's minutes, particularly in Brett Brown’s system, you’d expect his rebounds, steals and blocks per game to spike significantly.

(The Sixers could certainly use someone in the middle. While they average the second-most points in the paint, they surrender the eighth most.)

But, again, is that enough to unload Young, who’s having a solid season? I’m not sure it is.

Young is averaging 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s also taking more three-pointers than he has in four years (see story), and he’s hitting them at a career-best percentage. He’s a good all-around player.

Young is listed at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he’s a willing and capable defender on the interior or perimeter. Between the versatility he’s shown this season, and his reasonable contract, he has to be worth something to a team that’s in playoff contention. Or at least he should be worth more than Asik.

It’s a plus that Asik’s deal would expire after next season. But if he did land in Philly, how would his presence affect Nerlens Noel’s development upon his return? Let’s say both are in a Sixers uniform next season. What kind of minutes would Asik require to be productive and happy? Houston has already learned that Asik can turn pouty if he doesn’t play enough. There were reports that he was scratched from several games this season because he was “so unhappy” with his reduced role that he was “in no state to play.”

Juxtapose that attitude against Young, who has proven to be a quality teammate and professional. Under Doug Collins, Young was asked not to shoot from long range, to treat the three-point line as a “barbed wire fence,” to put on weight, and to serve more as a power forward. He obliged on all fronts. This season, under Brown and his radically different system, he’s been asked to take shots from the outside when he’s open, to carry more of the offensive load, and to guard swingmen and power forwards depending on what’s needed on a given night. He’s obliged on all fronts.

None of that means the Sixers can’t or shouldn’t trade Young. As Young himself said before Monday’s game, “it’s a job” and “a business.” But that doesn’t mean the Sixers have to trade him right now for Asik.

“I see it. I see it pop up on my Twitter page and stuff like that,” Young said when asked if he was aware of the latest trade talk. “When you see that type of stuff, you can’t help but read the article. But, hey, it is what it is. If they see fit to trade me, I have to go. I have to move to the next city and take my family with me, pack my bags and be ready to play the next game the next day.”

He gets it. He understands that he could be here today and gone tomorrow. But if that’s the case, the Sixers should get something more than Asik and his contract that won’t expire until after next season. They can do better -- can’t they?

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

Banged-up Markelle Fultz is latest chapter in Sixers' painful rookie history

CAMDEN, N.J. — Brett Brown has been here before. The scenario isn’t as drastic as in the past, but it’s familiar nonetheless: starting the season with an injured rookie for the fifth straight year.

Markelle Fultz will begin his first NBA season dealing with ongoing right shoulder and right knee soreness. The No. 1 pick is expected to play on opening night Wednesday, but will come off the bench after appearing in only two preseason games. 

Brown has learned to manage this type of situation after years of experience. Nerlens Noel missed Brown’s entire first season because of an ACL injury. Joel Embiid sat out the following two seasons with foot injuries. Ben Simmons suffered a season-ending foot fracture in last year’s training camp. 

The biggest lesson? 

“To go slow,” Brown said. “To not put them in a position where it’s going to produce some difficult times.” 

Fultz was likely to be a starter when the Sixers traded up to draft him first overall in June. The 19-year-old guard hasn’t had that much experience since then thanks to injuries in both summer league and preseason. 

The Sixers face John Wall, Kyrie Irving and Kyle Lowry in the first three games alone. That would be a tall defensive task if Fultz were to start. 

“This league is driven by men, this league is driven by veterans,” Brown said. “To just put him in that environment is just, I think, poor coaching and I’m not doing it.”

Just as Simmons took advice from Embiid during his injury, he is offering words of wisdom to Fultz.

“[You’ve] got to to take your time and you definitely have to take care of your body,” Simmons said. “Put your body first. There’s no need to rush.”

The Sixers have the backcourt depth to adjust without Fultz in the starting lineup. They have been turning to veteran Jerryd Bayless at shooting guard alongside Simmons, their intended backcourt pairing last season. 

In the meantime, Brown will balance Fultz’s health, his growth as an NBA player, and the team’s success. 

“The end game needs to be developing Markelle Fultz," Brown said. 

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

Joel Embiid disappointed Brett Brown has him on another minutes limit

CAMDEN, N.J. — Joel Embiid would like to play 48 minutes every game. The Sixers are looking at a maximum of 20 for opening night.

"I don't really know if there's a solid number," Brett Brown said Monday after practice. "I can tell if you were to choose a number, it's somewhere in the teens."

Embiid was hoping for more playing time on Wednesday against the Wizards, his first regular-season game since Jan. 27 (left knee surgery).

"I didn't know about that, but that's very disappointing," Embiid said Monday of the minutes restriction. "I feel great and hopefully that changes based on today's practice and tomorrow's practice."

The Sixers are being cautious with Embiid, who has both a lengthy history of injuries and a massive new contract extension. He clocked 15 minutes in both of his preseason games last week. Embiid felt he could have played twice as many minutes.

While the Sixers aren't ready to go as high as 30 minutes yet, they could exercise some wiggle room based on the flow of the game.

"There will be some minutes restrictions, but it's also a judgment of how is the game being played, not just looking at rote, rigid number," Brown said.

The NBA's new timeout rules could impact Embiid's playing time. The updated format changes include a decrease in the maximum number of timeouts allowed (18 to 14), 75-second team timeouts and fewer timeouts in the final minutes of the game. 

"One of the things that we're doing this year unlike previous years is there's a little bit of a looseness in relation to it doesn't have to be rigid if the game didn't dictate some track meet," Brown said. "This is like I'm coaching in the London Olympic Games again. The game moves. I can have guys at a scorers table for two minutes with no stoppage. So sometimes the torrid pace of a game doesn't favor Jo where you go flying up and down."

In addition to individual games, it remains to be seen if Embiid will be cleared this season for back-to-backs. The Sixers face their first set of consecutive games this Friday and Saturday against the Celtics at home and the Raptors in Toronto.