Elton Brand's bet on Tobias Harris — and himself — is one worth making

Elton Brand's bet on Tobias Harris — and himself — is one worth making

Tobias Harris is going to be a Sixer for a rather long time, so it seems appropriate to begin with a rather long story that illustrates why Elton Brand’s decision to offer him a five-year, $180 million deal Sunday night made sense.

Back in October, as he prepared for his first professional game, Landry Shamet said he liked his college teammate Fred VanVleet’s “little motto": Bet on yourself. Shamet did just that, forced his way into the Sixers’ rotation and established himself as one of the better young shooters in the NBA.

Back in February, Brand traded Shamet to the Clippers. He also gave Los Angeles Mike Muscala, Wilson Chandler, the Sixers’ protected 2020 first-round pick, Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder and the Pistons’ second-rounders in 2021 and 2023. In return, the Sixers received Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic.

Brand bet on the 26-year-old Harris in that deal. He saw a talented player on the trade market and was undeterred by the many things that might cause him to regret a deal with the Clippers — Shamet’s potential, that unprotected first-rounder in 2021, the possibility that Harris didn’t have much more room to improve.

Brand bet on himself, in a way, by re-signing Harris. The 32.6 percent three-point mark in 27 regular-season games with the Sixers didn’t spook him. The 15.5 points per game in the playoffs didn’t shake him from his original valuation. And the thought of paying a player who’s never made an All-Star Game $180 million didn’t alarm him. 

Harris was Brand’s guy in February, and he’s going to be his guy for at least five more seasons. 

It’s a futures bet, in part. Harris is already a very good player, excellent as a spot-up shooter and in the pick-and-roll with the Clippers, a 20 point per game scorer last season. A large part of his appeal, however, is the steady upward trajectory his career was on — outside of the dip in efficiency with the Sixers. 

There were adjustments and sacrifices required of Brett Brown, Harris, the departed Jimmy Butler and everyone involved with the final iteration of the Sixers last season. The team had a couple of actions they liked to run for Harris, but he spent a lot of time lingering on the edge of the play with things revolving around Ben Simmons, Butler and Embiid.

Now, Harris won’t be nudged into the background as often. The Sixers’ new starting five has incredible potential defensively but they’ll need perimeter scoring — especially if Ben Simmons doesn’t show significant progress with his jump shot —  and Harris will be called upon to provide it.

Brown was asked about Harris and his role with the Sixers before Game 3 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Nets. 

When you have Joel and you have Jimmy and you have Ben, there are mouths to feed, so to speak," he said. "Because he is inherently selfless, his mindset to sort of put his thumbprint all over a game and grab it is challenged. … It’s that more than the NBA playoffs type of pressure reason. I don’t see that. 

With Joel Embiid sidelined by injury, Harris scored 29 points and shot 6 for 6 from three-point range that night.

Brand is also betting on an individual Brown proudly described as “an elite human being” in his same prescient pregame response in Brooklyn. Human qualities are a factor worth considering when you’re giving a long-term, lucrative commitment, and the Sixers couldn’t feel much better about Harris as a person.

Bets always involve some risk, of course. Harris’ development could stagnate, he might struggle to guard wings — a job he’ll need to do as part of the Sixers’ gargantuan starting lineup — and the price tag might wind up being too high.

For Brand, it looks like a bet worth making regardless. 

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Why Josh Richardson should be the Sixers' backup point guard

Why Josh Richardson should be the Sixers' backup point guard

The Sixers brought in veterans Trey Burke and Raul Neto to compete for the backup point guard role. Brett Brown has made sure to note that second-year guard Shake Milton is also in the mix.

How’s the saying go? Plans are worthless, but planning is everything?

Yeah, that applies here.

Elton Brand did well to fortify the backup point guard position this summer, but Josh Richardson should ultimately back up Ben Simmons this season.

They certainly haven't performed poorly, but Burke, Neto and Milton haven't stood out through three preseason games. Brown has been hesitant to go there, saying that he wants the competition for the role to play out, but on Sunday night in Orlando, he unfurled a rotation featuring Richardson as the primary ball handler with the second unit.

And Richardson produced, recording five assists to just one turnover and was a team-high plus-23 in 26 minutes. It’s a role he’s familiar with, having done it a decent amount last season in Miami and his senior season at Tennessee.

“My main focus this season is trying to keep my mindset aggressive on both ends of the floor and do whatever I need to give us the best chance to win,” Richardson said to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters, “and yes, I'm fine with leading that second unit and keeping guys organized, keeping that aggression high.”

During the 2018-19 season, he posted his highest usage rate (20.9), PER (14.0), assist percentage (17.9) and his lowest turnover percentage (9.1). He’s an ascending player who’s become more comfortable initiating offense at the NBA level.

Richardson was acquired in the sign-and-trade with the Heat for Jimmy Butler and he’ll also take JJ Redick’s spot in the starting lineup. He’s not trying to be either player — "I'm not coming in here trying to be Jimmy Redick,” Richardson joked after the Blue x White Scrimmage — but he will fill a lot of their duties.

Richardson was used in dribble handoffs often in Miami and finished 10th in the NBA in points per possession on DHOs. That had been a staple of the Sixers’ offense with Joel Embiid and Redick. The two-man game with that duo was lethal. While Richardson won’t offer the same level of shooting, he’s not a slouch in that department — he’s shot 38.9 percent from three in three preseason games. He also adds a more dynamic element with his athleticism and passing ability.

“It’s different, but Josh brings something different,” Embiid said after the first day of training camp. “Obviously JJ with the crazy shots and off-balance threes and all that stuff, but we’ve got Josh, who’s more athletic than JJ, especially when it comes to back cutting, throwing lobs and him just turning the corner and attacking the defender. I think in that sense, he can do that better than JJ.”

And while he may not be trying to replicate what Butler did during his short time in Philadelphia, Richardson can fill a similar role. When Simmons struggled, Butler took over as the team’s primary ball handler. Butler excelled — and obviously enjoyed — being the ball handler in pick-and-rolls. Again, it's another aspect of the game offensively Richardson shined in with the Heat.

Brown’s rotation has remained similar in his time where he generally never goes to an entire second unit. For the most part, Brown likes to have two starters on the floor at all times. Judging by this preseason, you shouldn’t expect that to change. Given that, it appears Richardson’s minutes will always coincide with Embiid’s.

All of this and we haven't even mentioned Richardson's defensive role and prowess. He'll be tasked with guarding opposing ones with the starting unit this season. Quicker guards like Kemba Walker and Spencer Dinwiddie gave the Sixers fits last season. It’ll be Richardson’s job to remedy that — one he has an excellent chance of fulfilling thanks to his length and athleticism. At 6-foot-5, it's also quite an advantage for Richardson to be the shortest player on the floor for the Sixers.

Add it all up and Richardson seems like an indispensable part of the Sixers’ immensely talented starting five.

“I think Josh is almost kind of the secret — as important as any mortar,” Brown said at his annual luncheon before camp began. “He just holds us together. He really has a chance to hold us together.”

It wasn’t necessarily the plan for Josh Richardson to be the Sixers’ backup point guard, but here we are.

And it’s just another example of the critical role(s) he’ll play this season.

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Nike knock-offs and 'Jesus Shoes' — the strange and fickle sneaker world

Nike knock-offs and 'Jesus Shoes' — the strange and fickle sneaker world

The sneaker world can be a strange and fickle place. One minute you’re plunking down beaucoup bucks for the shoes you’ve been saving for, the next minute you find out your prized kicks are actually knock-offs from the black market.

Image credit: NBC News

Hey, it happens more often than you think. That scenario unfolded just this past week when almost 15,000 pairs of fake Nikes didn’t make it through customs at LA/Long Beach Seaport! A smooth $2 million plus of fake Off-White Jordan 1’s, Jordan 12’s, Jordan 11’s and Air Max ’97’s, all shipped from China in two containers labeled napkins.

You would probably need two containers of napkins to dry your tears if you put up a stack and a half for a pair of shoes that turned out to be just some Bobos with a fake swoosh. Ugh.

On the flip side, even when you are at an authentic retailer or website — deftly prepared with your credit card information at the ready, not even a freshly refreshed website is the right formula to bring home the shoes you’ve been plotting on for weeks, months or even years.

Image credit: Jesus Shoes Lookbook

Take, for instance, the $3,000 “Jesus Shoes” Brooklyn-based MSCHF put out last Tuesday, which sold out in mere minutes. The designers bought less than two dozen pairs of white Air Max 97’s for retail price, then transformed them by adding holy water blessed from the Jordan River (with some dye added to make the color more vibrant) in the sole of the shoe. They inscribed a Bible scripture in the side (Matthew 14:25, which chronicles Jesus walking on water) and added a mock blood drop on the tongue of the shoe to signify the blood of Christ. Not to mention, a crucifix interspliced through the laces, a red sole to mimic the red shoes worn by many popes and some type of frankincense accent. Crazy.

I personally have about a $200 budget on any pair of sneakers, so you won’t see me paying for wheels that go above $220 retail. Good luck to all of you who back up the Brinks truck for those crispy grails and the hypebeasts who live on the resale market and buy out releases in minutes.

May your toe box never crease and your laces stay clean.

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