76ers

Backup center near top of list for Sixers in NBA free agency, NBA draft

Backup center near top of list for Sixers in NBA free agency, NBA draft

The starting five was not the problem for the Sixers in their second-round loss to the Raptors. Their top two reserves, James Ennis and Mike Scott, were also strong.

The biggest issue was backup center … and it’s not even close. 

As we approach the draft and free agency, figuring out the situation around Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris is the priority. After that, finding a capable backup big is the most pressing need for GM Elton Brand.

“Definitely [backup center is] one of the priorities outside of free agency with the top guys,” Brand said at the team’s practice facility last Tuesday,” but I look forward to being the GM for the first time entering free agency to address certain needs of a backup center, certain depth, certain pieces that I feel needs to be in place.”

Joel Embiid wasn’t himself throughout the playoffs, but his impact was unmistakable. The Sixers were a plus-90 with Embiid on the floor in the Toronto series and minus-111 without him. In Game 7 alone, the Sixers were outscored by 12 points in the 2:49 Embiid was on the bench. 

The team certainly didn’t lack options. Greg Monroe, Boban Marjanovic, Amir Johnson and Jonah Bolden weren’t good enough. The three veterans just didn’t have the necessary athleticism and feet to hang in the series. Bolden’s inexperience showed up and discipline continued to be an issue.

So why didn’t the Sixers target that position sooner? Brand pointed out this will be his first real offseason as GM. While the role behind Embiid may not be what a free-agent center is looking for, Brand is confident he can convince players to come here.

Bolden will likely be the only one of aforementioned guys back next season. It’ll be up to Brand to find a capable five behind the team’s “crown jewel.”

“I had a voice and I didn’t speak up loud enough I guess, but there’s definitely some ways that we can sell Philadelphia,” Brand said. “We’re a destination team right now, we’re a destination city. Players want to be here. So if I say, ‘Hey, there’s going to be X amount of minutes for you, we’re going to have a deep playoff run,’ I’m confident we can get some talent in that backup center.”

Brand will scour the free-agent market for a veteran big. It’s likely not something he can address early. Butler and Harris will dictate what happens with the Sixers’ offseason. If they’re able to sign both, it could make filling out the bench a little trickier, but certainly not impossible. 

Brand will be able to use the mid-level exception, the amount of which we’ll find out later this offseason. He also has two trade exceptions ($2,339,880 from Markelle Fultz, $957,480 from Dario Saric) if he can swing a deal where the salaries don't match. Still, depending on what the Butler and Harris deals look like along with a possible Ben Simmons rookie max extension, Brand will have his work cut out for him in building his bench.

Former Process Sixer Dewayne Dedmon will be out there, though he may be out of the team’s price range. There are also players like Tyson Chandler and JaVale McGee, though both players seem to prefer the West. Nerlens Noel would be a perfect fit on the floor, but that doesn’t seem likely. Going down the list, Kyle O’Quinn could give you something for a few minutes a night.

But the Sixers could also use an infusion of youth. The draft isn’t exactly flush with centers, but there are a few options. Daniel Gafford from Arkansas is a super athletic rim-running center that could provide energy and toughness. Nic Claxton of Georgia and Bruno Fernando out of Maryland are long, offensively skilled and also athletic. Mfiondu Kabengele from Florida State is another big to keep your eye on. 

All of these players will likely be available at pick No. 24 or with one of the Sixers’ four second-round picks. And all four players to an extent fit what Brand said he was looking in this year’s draft.

“Where we are in our trajectory, we need players that can play, players that can add to our team now,” Brand said. “We’re looking for maybe older players. For sure, defensive minded players and we always place a premium on shooting. But defensive-oriented players that can contribute now, we may look at, I don’t want to tip my hand too much, but that may be something we’re looking at.”

Through the draft and free agency, Brand will have to give Brett Brown more options to back up the team’s best player.

And those options need be a whole lot better than they were this season.

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Sixers stumble without Joel Embiid, turn in a clunker against Nets

Sixers stumble without Joel Embiid, turn in a clunker against Nets

BOX SCORE 

The Sixers were due for a clunker.

With Joel Embiid out because of an upper respiratory infection, they lost Sunday night in Brooklyn to the Nets, 109-89, ending a five-game winning streak and stretch of 13 wins over the past 15 games. The 20-point loss is the Sixers' worst margin of defeat this season.

Al Horford returned from a two-game absence with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness but did not have his finest performance, posting 10 points on 5 for 15 shooting, nine rebounds and five assists.

As a team, the Sixers shot just 5 of 26 from three-point range. They’re 3-3 this season without Embiid. 

Now 20-8, the Sixers will return home for the next three games, beginning Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. vs. the Heat. 

The rust factor 

Both Horford and Josh Richardson struggled with their shots. Horford couldn’t hit the open jumpers the Nets presented him, missing his first five three-pointers, and Richardson started 0 for 4. 

Richardson in particular looked a step behind offensively, playing his fourth game after sitting out the previous six because of a right hamstring injury. He made a handful of belated decisions and didn’t seem to trust his instincts. The absence of his regular pick-and-roll partner in Embiid also played a factor as he didn’t look as comfortable with Horford or Norvel Pelle.

Richardson likes to cross back on the pick-and-roll, changing directions after his initial drive, which can cause problems for big men who aren’t accustomed to playing with him. He was forced to leave after picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter on an off-ball whistle that Richardson and Brett Brown couldn’t believe. 

To his credit, Richardson played hard when he returned and began to have a bit more offensive success. 

The Sixers felt several aspects of Embiid’s absence. They took hits with their rim protection, post scoring and ability to create offense when possessions stagnated. Horford is obviously a strong replacement, but Embiid is central to the Sixers in so many ways. 

Spencer Dinwiddie (24 points) and Brooklyn’s guards attacked Horford time and time again in the middle pick-and-roll. The Sixers’ perimeter players consistently failed to work over the screen, leaving Horford in a vulnerable position against quicker guards who had momentum. He didn’t fare well in those situations. 

Mixed results for Simmons vs. Nets' sagging defense

This was a game where it would not have been difficult for Ben Simmons to fulfill Brown’s request for a minimum of one-three-point attempt per game as the Nets sagged well off him. The Sixers countered by having Simmons use the open space with drives and dribble handoffs to his teammates, and by looking to get Simmons the ball in the post. 

That approach, a familiar one for the Sixers, had mixed results. Simmons finished with a team-high 20 points, five rebounds and three assists but was rarely able to break free in transition. The Sixers had just eight fast break points. 

Turnover issues resurface 

In the first half, the Sixers turned it over 10 times. 

With no Embiid and Horford and Richardson’s shooting woes, they couldn’t afford those lost possessions.

Tobias Harris had 17 points on 8 for 17 shooting, but he gave it away a team-high four times and couldn’t sustain any offensive rhythm after scoring six of the Sixers’ first eight points.

A tough night for the bench 

Matisse Thybulle had a poor opening stint. He wasn’t as sharp as usual defensively and was indecisive on the other end, passing up open shots and committing a bad turnover that led to a Theo Pinson and-one which capped a 17-4 Nets run that put Brooklyn up 26-16.

The rookie was ruled out early in the fourth quarter because on an upset stomach.

It was a tough night for the Sixers’ second unit overall, with Brooklyn’s bench outscoring the Sixers’ 40-23. Much of that output for the Sixers came late in the fourth quarter.

The Norvel Pelle Experience 

Norvel Pelle might have the highest rate of attempted “poster” dunks against in the NBA. DeAndre Jordan added one in the second quarter Sunday in Pelle’s fourth NBA regular-season game, taking off with a head of steam on a fast break. Pelle went up with Jordan and the ball clanked off the back rim.

Jordan tried again late in the third quarter, and Pelle met him well above the cylinder. 

The two-way player was the Sixers’ backup center for the second straight game and posted two points, four rebounds and two blocks in 21 minutes. 

He generally needs to make an impact defensively because he doesn’t have many offensive attributes outside of screening and rolling, lob catching and offensive rebounding. A First Team All-Defensive selection last season in the G League, Pelle definitely has a track record of doing that at lower levels.

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NBA trade deadline: 6 trade targets for the Sixers

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USA Today Images/AP Images

NBA trade deadline: 6 trade targets for the Sixers

We've reached Dec. 15, a significant date in the NBA calendar. It's the first day that most players who signed this summer are eligible to be traded

NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick look at six players who might make sense for the Sixers to target. The trade deadline is Feb. 6. 

Josh Hart, G/F

Most basketball fans in Philadelphia will be familiar with the name. Hart had an impressive career at Villanova, helping the Wildcats to a national championship. After starting his career with the Lakers, he was part of the Anthony Davis trade and wound up in New Orleans. With a Brandon Ingram extension likely, it would be a cost-cutting move for the Pelicans

Hart can do a little bit of everything. He’s athletic, has a decent handle, is a strong rebounder at 6-foot-5 (7.8 per 36 minutes) and is shooting the ball decently (36.5 percent on 6.1 attempts). He’s still just 24 so it’s reasonable to suggest he could get better — especially if he’s surrounded by players like the Sixers’. His defensive versatility and ability to hit shots are likely the most attractive qualities he has.

Bogdan Bogdanovic, G

The 2014 first-round pick is playing some of the best basketball of his young career over the last few weeks. He can create off the dribble and navigate pick-and-rolls well as a ball handler and is even better moving off the ball. While the jumper will stand out (38.6 percent on 6.9 attempts a game), he’s also an excellent passer, averaging 3.9 assists a night.

The defensive end is where you worry about Bogdanovic, but there are signs he may be improving in that regard. He has good length at 6-foot-6 and decent feet. With the Sixers’ defensive prowess, it could help mitigate those concerns. 

So, why could such a useful player be available? Money and fit. Multiple players on the Kings have gotten paid and De’Aaron Fox is up next. With Fox and Buddy Hield, it's hard to see his long-term fit.

Alec Burks, G/F

As a low-risk/high-reward signing, Burks was expected to add a scoring punch to the Warriors’ bench as they looked to cost effectively retool their roster. Instead, Golden State has been crushed by injuries and finds itself with the worst record in the NBA. Burks has been solid in stepping up into a larger role. He looks recovered from the injuries that plagued him over the last several seasons.

Still just 28, Burks can flat out score. He hasn’t been the most efficient player (43.2 percent from the floor, 35.7 from three), but just has a knack for creating and scoring — not skills prevalent on the Sixers’ roster. Though it’s not the sexiest skillset in today’s NBA, Burks excels in the midrange and is an excellent free throw shooter (89.7 percent). Like Bogdanovic, Burks isn’t the best defender, but offers good size and length.

Davis Bertans, F

Bertans was involved in a complicated situation during free agency in which he was dealt from the Spurs to the Wizards with the understanding that San Antonio would then sign Marcus Morris. At the last minute, Morris reneged on his agreement and decided to sign with the Knicks. 

“That was an unfortunate situation that was handled unprofessionally on a couple of different levels,” Gregg Popovich told reporters in September. “We made that move to make the signing that we did and got blindsided. Davis was a special player, as we all know. He’s young and getting better and better. We hated losing him.”

In his fourth NBA season, the Latvian forward is having an elite shooting year. He’s averaging 15.7 points per game, is ninth in three-point percentage among players with at least 45 attempts (45.6 percent) and is 12th in three-point shots taken per game (8.5).

Outside shooting hasn’t been a significant problem for the Sixers, at least in terms of efficiency — they’re hitting 37 percent from three. Bertans, though, would provide some of the off-ball movement, respect from opposing defenses and ability to hit tightly contested jumpers that the Sixers lost in JJ Redick. 

Bertans’ salary for this year is $7 million, and he’ll be a free agent after the season.

Jordan Clarkson, G

According to SI.com’s Sam Amcico, the Sixers are “supposedly among those with interest” in Clarkson.

The 27-year-old Clarkson is averaging 14.3 points and 2.5 assists in 22.6 minutes per game for the 6-20 Cavs. He’d be able to give the Sixers scoring and shot creation off the bench.

However, it seems like it would be difficult for Elton Brand to acquire Clarkson for an appropriate price because the 6-foot-4 guard has a salary of close to $13.5 million for 2019-20.

Langston Galloway, G

Galloway, the No. 2 scorer in St. Joe’s history, could be a decent fit with the Sixers.

Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press reported during the preseason that the Pistons were “very open” to trading Galloway

Through the Pistons’ first 26 games, Galloway, who’s in the final season of a three-year, $21 million contract, has boosted his value a bit. He's averaging career highs in points (11.9), field goal percentage (44.8) and three-point percentage (42.9). 

“Langston is a pro," Pistons head coach Dwane Casey said, per The Athletic's James L. Edwards III. "He’s a security blanket. He’s always doing the right thing, whether he makes a shot or misses a shot. He’s always making the right play. The other side of Langston (is) his defensive ability. If you notice, we put him on the hot players because he’s a tough guy, he’s consistent and persistent. His shooting is the ultimate crown on top.”

Sounds like someone who could help a contender.

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