76ers

With everything at stake in Game 7, Sixers know they need to play with 'complete freedom' again

With everything at stake in Game 7, Sixers know they need to play with 'complete freedom' again

Brett Brown said Thursday night before Game 6 of the Sixers’ second-round playoff series against the Raptors that he wanted his team to play with “complete freedom.”

When you consider everything at stake, the fact that they pulled it off in a 112-101 win is highly impressive.

Joel Embiid said he’ll take the same simple approach Sunday night.

Just got to play basketball. Basketball is fun. I understand that it's Game 7, but we got to come in and fight, just like we did tonight. Our back was on the line tonight. I feel like our back is still on the line so we just got to do the same thing. It's all about defense. If we play defense like we did tonight or Game 2 and Game 3, I think we feel like we can beat anybody, so we got to come in and be ready.

The reality that the Sixers really do seem like they can beat anybody on some nights is one reason why this Game 7 might be more meaningful than most. Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks have been the best team in the Eastern Conference throughout the season, but the Sixers have shown they can beat them. You can’t dismiss the possibility of the Sixers making their first NBA Finals since 2001. 

First things first, though — they need to win a Game 7 on the road. The last time the Sixers achieved that was 1982 in Boston.

If they can’t do it Sunday, they enter an offseason with a seemingly infinite number of questions that need to be answered. How much money, and how many years, are they willing to commit to Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris? How different will the bench look next season? Can they find a dependable backup center, or do they think they might have one in house?

Out of the current roster, only Ben Simmons, Embiid, Jonah Bolden and Zhaire Smith appear to be guarantees to be back next season — barring any trades, a caveat we have to make in light of Elton Brand’s recent history.

Jonathon Simmons is locked in for $5.7 million next year with just $1 million guaranteed, although the Sixers will have to decide whether he’s worth a roster spot. James Ennis has a player option for $1.85 million, but he’s proven he’s worth more than that. Butler is seeking a max contract.

Outside of those players, the Sixers have eight unrestricted free agents on the roster, headlined by Harris. If they lose Sunday, we’ll shift from talking about championship aspirations to discussing which ones the team would be smart to keep around.

There’s plenty on the line for the Raptors, as well, beyond the obvious (their season). They’re looking for just their second Eastern Conference Finals appearance in franchise history.

The Raptors have been making their pitch to Kawhi Leonard all season. A chance to play in the Eastern Conference Finals and, perhaps, the NBA Finals seems a lot more attractive to a superstar than a third straight second-round exit and another 50-win season falling short of expectations.

You don’t need to explain any of this to anyone involved. Even if Embiid might not be thinking about things like Ennis’ player option or Vince Carter’s missed opportunity 18 years ago with the Raptors against the Sixers, he knows what Game 7 means and said he’s willing to play as much as his team needs.

“If I've got to play 45 minutes and push myself out there, then that's what I got to do,” he said. “If that's what it takes to win, if my presence on the court is needed, I've got to do that. Doesn't matter if it takes the whole game. I'm fine with it. I'll keep on pushing myself. In Game 7, we're going to need it."

*All contract information via Spotrac 

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Jerry Stackhouse tries to set record straight on scrimmages with 17-year-old Kobe Bryant

Jerry Stackhouse tries to set record straight on scrimmages with 17-year-old Kobe Bryant

At 17 years old, Kobe Bryant was scrimmaging against professional athletes and Philadelphia college stars, about to embark on a 20-year NBA career.

He impressed in those scrimmages with his skill and bravado. But, according to Jerry Stackhouse, Bryant wasn’t big on passing. 

Stackhouse, now the head coach at Vanderbilt, spent the first two-plus years of his career with the Sixers before being traded to the Pistons and matched up with Bryant in those scrimmages.

What happened with Kobe was nobody really wanted to play with Kobe,” he said on The Woj Pod. “[Former La Salle star and NBA player] Lionel Simmons, you used to always see him pulling Kobe to the side, like, ‘Man, you gotta pass the ball! You gotta learn how to do this!' Because the older guys were from Philly. … These stories kind of take on a life of their own. And yes, Kobe had some good days scoring the ball, because he could handle it so well. But he had tunnel vision at that point. You had pickup games, sometimes he didn’t even get picked up. 

“But again, because he’s so been great since this, these stories go back of ‘Oh, he beat Stackhouse one-on-one.’ Come on, man. Me at 20 years old, can you imagine a 17-year-old beating me consistently? I’d have hurt him first, real talk. Just physically, that could never happen to me. Did we play one-on-one? Yes. Did he beat me, did he maybe win a game? Yes. Did he consistently beat Jerry Stackhouse at 20 years old when he was 17? Hell no. I’m putting an end to that story. … Was he super talented and everyone saw great potential in him? Yes, but those scenarios … of Kobe Bryant, they’re a little bit of a different story when you go talk to people that were actually in the gym. 

Stackhouse noted that it took a little time for Bryant to adjust to the NBA game, which is true. The Lower Merion High School graduate played only 15.5 minutes per game as a rookie. Of course, he went on to make 18 All-Star Games, win five NBA championships and become one of the best players of his era. 

Though Stackhouse wanted to set the record straight on those one-on-one games with Bryant, he was still amazed by his ability at such a young age.

“This kid was unbelievable,” he said. “Just his ball handling ability … he grew up, obviously, emulating Michael Jordan.”

However, the members of the Philadelphia basketball community who were in the gym for those scrimmages were apparently ruthless in their critiques.

“I vividly remember the old heads from Philadelphia,” Stackhouse said, “[they're] like, ‘Come on, man, you gotta pass the ball! That ain’t how you gotta play!’” 

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Sixers fans can't stop laughing at Bulls for interviewing Bryan Colangelo

Sixers fans can't stop laughing at Bulls for interviewing Bryan Colangelo

Updated, Thursday, 12:35 a.m.: The Bulls are finalizing a deal to hire Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas as their Executive VP of Basketball Operations, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. 

**** 

Sixers fans, grasping at any semblance of basketball news, received a cruise ship-sized life line on Wednesday.

The Athletic's Shams Charania reported the Bulls have interviewed former 76ers president Bryan Colangelo for their top basketball ops position:

This is, of course, kind of a mind-boggling decision from the Bulls, considering the way Colangelo's bumpy tenure in Philly ended. 

You know, Burner-gate. Remember that insanity? Remember when the active general manager of the 76ers was linked to Twitter accounts actively disparaging his own players? That really happened!

And yet, despite the public unraveling of his time with the Sixers, and the unsavory nature of his resignation, the Bulls somehow deemed Colangelo worthy of an interview for this position as they try to kickstart their floundering franchise.

Sixers fans couldn't believe it:

Some laughed, and laughed, and laughed:

Some encouraged the insanity, because there's nothing Sixers fans love more than watching a tire fire form in real time:

And then, of course, Sixers Twitter came with the jokes, because they are ruthless and unceasing:

Colangelo actually landing the job is, admittedly, probably a long shot. But the fact that he could even garner an interview at this point in his career, and after his last stop, is both hilarious and confounding.

And Sixers fans are here for it, entirely.

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