76ers

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

Brett Brown: Jahlil Okafor 'not in the rotation'

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s almost Halloween, and like a ghost, Jahlil Okafor has been invisible through the Sixers' first five games.

And don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

After practice Friday, head coach Brett Brown admitted that the former No. 3 pick is “not in the rotation.”

“I’m playing Amir (Johnson) ahead of him and that’s just the situation,” Brown said. “[Okafor] doesn’t let people know. He comes in and his head’s good and his spirit’s good. And he and I talk all the time, but that is the bottom line. He is not in the rotation.”

Okafor — who was not made available to the media Friday — has appeared in just one game this season, the second game of a back-to-back when Joel Embiid was unavailable. Okafor played 22 minutes, contributing 10 points on 4 for 7 shooting, nine rebounds and two blocks — an encouraging sign — in the Sixers’ lopsided loss to the Raptors. 

Not bad. So what’s the deal?

Right now — and for well into the foreseeable future — Johnson is the go-to guy when Embiid is on the bench. 

“I think it’s going to be Amir’s spot to lose,” Brown said. “If I see that there’s a decline in performance, then it’s going to be his spot right now to lose. It’s always competitive, but the competitive nature has shifted toward Amir’s performance." 

The Sixers have to make a decision by Oct. 31 whether or not to pick up Okafor's fourth-year option of $6.3 million for next season. According to ESPN's Chris Haynes, the Sixers are still trying to trade Okafor and their decision with his option is based on how those talks develop. 

Johnson hasn’t exactly been lights-out when filling in for Embiid. Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million deal with the Sixers in July, has appeared in all five games but is averaging just 3.6 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 30 percent from the field. 

With Johnson struggling and trade-bait Okafor toiling away on the bench, why not give the newly slimmed down Okafor a look? He can’t be much worse than Johnson, and if the Sixers are willing to trade Okafor — as they have made very apparent in the past — they’ll need to showcase him to garner any interest in the third-year pro. 

But that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for Brown and Co. In fact, Dario Saric seems to even be ahead of Okafor right now (see mailbag). The Sixers have used Saric sparingly at times this season in the five-spot when Embiid or Johnson get into foul trouble. With Ben Simmons a giant at point guard, it’s like a twisted version of small ball. 

Saric has struggled with the adjustment, and he failed to score for the first time in his career in Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. Saric seemed outmatched physically and was a liability on defense, as James Harden drove to the basket with ease. Brown took the blame for that one but seems committed to giving Saric a try down low. 

“Like the other night (vs. Houston) was such an outlier, where there was so much switching,” Brown said. ... “At times that doesn’t favor him with some of those guys, (Eric) Gordon and Harden, driving Dario Saric is not, really at times, wise for me to put him in that position.

“I think at times (Dario)’s also trying to juggle the four-spot and the intellect now of the five, when we get in foul trouble and other circumstances. I like playing him at some five because he can pull people out. The knowledge base of what that means from a structural standpoint and a play-call standpoint, it’s a different position and sometimes I think that that weighs on his mind too much, where he’s not playing as free.”

Johnson and Saric don't seem like a reliable duo to back up Embiid — especially with the limited minutes and games Embiid typically plays. But help is on the way.

Richuan Holmes, dealing with a fractured wrist, is inching back and has been cleared to practice on a limited basis. He will be reevaluated next Thursday.

“I think we’re gonna have another conversation soon, here comes Richaun — and here we go again," Brown said. "And that’s a good thing. It’s pro sports and it’s my job to figure it out.”

With all of the uncertainty surrounding the Sixers’ big men, one thing is clear: So long as Embiid is playing (fingers crossed), we won’t be seeing Okafor anytime soon as Brown looks to solidify his rotation as the season gets underway.

“But all coaches seek a level of consistency with rotation, you don’t want to get into a juggling act,” Brown said. “You want to get into some type of symmetry with who you’re playing and how you’re playing them, and have some type of semblance of order in what they can expect from a rotation standpoint."

Sixers Talk podcast: Training camp is coming

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/YouTube

Sixers Talk podcast: Training camp is coming

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick go back and forth about JJ Redick's comments about the importance of team dinners, five Sixers landing on SI's top 100, and Joel Embiid saying he has lost 25 pounds.

• Discussing nuggets about Jimmy Butler and the quadruple doink from JJ Redick's appearance on the Lowe Post.

• Sports Illustrated's Top 100 for 2020 came out. The rankings are mostly fair but the guys have one gripe.

• Joel Embiid said he lost 25 pounds ... but he clearly didn't lose his sense of humor.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

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JJ Redick believes Sixers needed more team dinners on road last season

JJ Redick believes Sixers needed more team dinners on road last season

Sixers fans are generally excited about the team's new roster construction heading into the 2019-2020 season, but there's no doubt the sharp shooting of JJ Redick will be missed.

Redick took his talents down to the bayou and will suit up for the New Orleans Pelicans this season. Redick joined ESPN NBA insider Zach Lowe on Lowe's podcast this week to talk about his new opportunity. They also reflected a bit on his time with the Sixers and the tough loss to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors in the playoffs after four bounces of a Kawhi Leonard desperation shot.

Redick is open about the fact that the decision to move on to New Orleans was partly financial.

"I never got the sense that [the Sixers] didn't want to bring me back. Unfortunately, it came down to a little bit of economics," Redick said.

Jimmy Butler's decision to move on to the Miami Heat obviously precipitated that move. Redick speaks highly of Butler regardless of his decision.

"I love Jimmy. I would play with Jimmy again," Redick said. "He is in the upper tier of two-way players and in the upper tier of offensive players in the NBA, period."

So Redick has moved on to New Orleans, but it's tough not to think back to what could have been. There was a point in the Toronto series where Redick believed the Sixers were capable of winning the NBA championship last season.

"Joel [Embiid] and I spent some time together after the season and we talked about it. It was Game 4 [against Toronto] for us. We lost that game and I felt like, for most of that game, we had control, not just that game but that series. We had a chance to go up 3-1. That was the opportunity that we missed. You lose that game and it's 2-2 and you've got to win 2 out of 3 against Toronto, and that's a tough task."

One other interesting nugget from Redick's time in Philly was his sharing that he believed they didn't do enough team dinners on the road.

"I wish, I've tried, I wish, the team meal on the road is huge. I think it's huge. We didn't do it enough last year in Philly. We tried. It wasn't enough. Some of that, look, nobody wants to be forced to go to dinner. It's got to be real and authentic."

Some other choice quotes from the pod below.

On Ben Simmons getting a jumper.

"Ben works. He worked all of last offseason. I witnessed him during the season get his shots up after practice every day. I think he'll be able to shoot at some point. A lot of it is confidence. He can shoot a high enough clip when he's shooting spot shots that it should translate to shooting threes in a game. The video that went viral, looks to me like he's shooting with some confidence there."

Lowe also asked Redick about the dagger shot in Toronto.

"I was on the bench," Redick said. "I sort of had that perfect angle 'cause as soon as the ball had come inbounds, I sort of walked onto the baseline. Not on the court, but onto the baseline so I could get a straight-on view of the action. My memory may be a little jogged but my arms were crossed, I was watching the ball bounce around the rim, and it went in. I'm not sure I had any initial reaction, I think it was just shock. Part of you wants to walk off the floor and punch a wall and the other part of you, if I'm the Raptors, I'd want to dap up the people that I had just played a seven-game series against. I stayed on the court and talked to Kyle, Marc, Kawhi, Danny and those guys. Told them I hope they win a championship and walked off. Then you get back to the locker room and you see the emotion, I was obviously feeling emotional, then Joel started crying. Those are the sorts of moments that you don't forget. As much as you don't forget the shot, the aftermath of moments like that, you just don't forget. There's just a lot of raw emotion."

You can listen to Redick's entire conversation with Zach Lowe right here.

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