Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Sixers' vision of what Furkan Korkmaz could be shouldn't lead them to block out other options

Before his team played its preseason finale Friday night, Brett Brown labeled the game as something approximating a dress rehearsal. But, unless a flurry of unexpected misfortune hits the Sixers before their regular-season opener Wednesday night vs. the Celtics, Furkan Korkmaz will not start, as he did against the Wizards in place of Ben Simmons (out with back tightness).

It does appear, however, that the Turkish wing will play legitimate minutes early this season. Brown seemed to confirm as much before the Sixers' 112-93 loss, talking about Korkmaz’s progress and resilience in glowing terms.

The Sixers declined Korkmaz’s third-year option last season, then ultimately re-signed the 22-year-old in late July.

I am [looking for him to contribute]. And I don’t want to be harsh about it — that’s what he’s gotta do," Brown said of where Korkmaz finds himself now after his struggles last year. "That’s part of life in the NBA. It’s not like he’s an established player. … This is not the league for the weak. 

“He should go to Europe if that was going to dismember his spirit. He’s great people, and he’s fighting to stay in the league, he’s fighting to get minutes — he’s fighting. … That’s the phase and the stage that the young man is at, and I give him credit for not blinking. He just didn’t go away. Now, here he is.

Brown’s answer was impassioned, and his words weren't bogus. But Korkmaz’s character and attitude alone don’t warrant a spot in the Sixers’ rotation. He started Friday for one primary reason — the notion that he is an outside shooter. 

Though Brown praised Korkmaz’s defense and his maturation, the Sixers’ head coach also said this:

“We’re always just trying to mine shooters. You’re trying to find and mine and help cultivate shooters. If he is anything, he is that.”

Korkmaz has, in fact, not been a good shooter at the NBA level. He’s shot 38.8 percent from the field in 62 NBA regular-season games, 32.3 percent from three-point range. After a 2-for-9 performance Friday, he finished 10 for 25 overall during the preseason, 4 for 13 from behind the arc.

The concept of Korkmaz filling a three-point shooting void after JJ Redick’s move to the Pelicans is, on its face, appealing to the Sixers. Korkmaz has a pretty shot; he’s done well in international play; he had an incredible July night last year in Las Vegas, scoring 40 points in a summer-league game.

Perhaps those hints of promise will translate to the NBA. However, if there’s an assumption that Korkmaz’s identity as a shooter makes him worthy of a rotation spot, it would be misguided.

There are alternatives in that mix for bench wing minutes, though they’re also young and unproven in the NBA.

Shake Milton, a two-way player last year, has played both at point guard and on the wing during the preseason. The SMU product, who averaged 24.9 points in 27 G-League games as a rookie, is a more advanced playmaker and a superior defender to Korkmaz. 

The 23-year-old told NBC Sports Philadelphia he hasn’t been given an indication yet of his regular-season role.

“No,” he said. “My job is just to come in and do whatever the team needs me to do. I’ve kind of been flip-flopping during practice. I’ve just got to do whatever the team needs me to do, bottom line. Guard and either make plays for others or be ready to knock down shots and score.” 

This time last year, Milton was returning to competitive basketball after missing summer league because of a stress fracture in his back. He acknowledged Friday night he feels more explosive, and he’s looked it, showing off a burst on the fast break that wasn’t present early last season.

“I feel like it’s been a huge jump, personally,” he said. “For one, the confidence that I have out there, my body feels good, feel physically ready. I go out there with confidence, my teammates have confidence in me, the coaches have confidence in me. Just going out there and being fearless.”

Zhaire Smith, meanwhile, has been seen exclusively in garbage time this preseason. Just as Korkmaz’s shooting or Milton’s versatility might be attractive to Brown, one would think Smith’s “pogo stick” athleticism and penchant for on-ball defense could boost his stock.

That hasn’t been the case, with Smith’s novel of a rookie year — one that included a broken foot, a severe allergic reaction and jumpers with tubes in his stomach — putting him behind Milton and Korkmaz at the moment, in Brown’s eyes.

“He’s expecting me to develop all around,” Smith said Friday of Brown’s expectations. “Last year we tried to develop, but then obviously I had the setback. He feels like this is my rookie year, like this is [about] development.” 

The perspective that this season should be centered on learning and personal growth for Smith is fair enough. So is the idea that Korkmaz might have unique value for the Sixers. 

He hasn’t delivered it yet, though. The Sixers would, in this writer’s view, be wise not to let their vision of his potential block out other options. 

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Sixers pursued 'high-level, accomplished' executives before hiring Elton Brand as general manager

Sixers pursued 'high-level, accomplished' executives before hiring Elton Brand as general manager

In the wake of the absurd scandal involving Bryan Colangelo and burner Twitter accounts, the Sixers searched for their next general manager and handed Brett Brown the job on an interim basis. Eventually, they promoted Elton Brand.

He was certainly not their first choice, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“When they opened that job up, when Colangelo was gone and before they promoted Elton Brand, they went after any number of high-level, accomplished executives around the league,” Wojnarowski said on The Woj Pod. “They were willing to offer Daryl Morey, Bob Meyers, Dennis Lindsey, Sam Presti. There may have been more.”

Brand’s only previous executive experience was as the GM of the Sixers’ G-League affiliate, the Delaware Blue Coats (formerly the 87ers). It makes sense that the Sixers would have preferred more established candidates.

The Sixers were “rebuffed” in their efforts to hire Morey, The New York Times’ Marc Stein reported in July of 2018. A mentor to former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, Morey won the NBA’s Executive of the Year Award in 2018 and is still GM of the Rockets. 

Stein also reported the Sixers “commissioned a clandestine run at prying Myers away from the Warriors that was likewise rebuffed.” Myers has served as the Warriors’ general manger since 2012 and won three championships with the team.

Lindsey is the executive vice president of basketball operations for the Jazz, while Presti has been GM of the Thunder franchise since 2007. 

The Sixers had an interview with former Cavs and current Pelicans executive vice president of basketball operations David Griffin but, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey, “felt he wasn’t a good fit for their front-office structure” and wanted to “make collaborative decisions instead of a GM who will have the final say.”

In July of 2018, Sixers managing partner Josh Harris told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Amy Fadool, “It’s very consensus-oriented, there’s a lot of people in the dialogue, and we want to make sure we find the right fit for that.”

Wojnarowski noted on the podcast that Harris and the Sixers’ leadership above Brand remain influential.

“Ownership’s got a lot of say in Philly," he said. “You’ve got a group of owners that are involved, that are there. How many team have multiple owners courtside each corner of the arena, each night?

Brand has made several major moves since assuming the GM job in September of 2018, including trading for Jimmy Butler, shipping Markelle Fultz to Orlando, trading for Tobias Harris and then signing him to a five-year, $180 million deal this summer, and giving Al Horford a four-year contract with $97 million guaranteed. At 37-23 this season and 9-21 on the road, Brand’s roster has not performed the way he envisioned. 

Wojnarowski and Max Kellerman also talk about expectations for the rest of the Sixers' season, the history of Sam Hinkie’s Process and more on the podcast, which you can listen to here

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Tobias Harris is blocking out outside noise about big contract, trying to carry Sixers

Tobias Harris is blocking out outside noise about big contract, trying to carry Sixers

When you’re given the largest contract in the history of a storied franchise like the Sixers in the city of Philadelphia, you’re going to face scrutiny.

Tobias Harris has gotten his fair share since inking a five-year, $180 million near-max deal this past offseason. The 27-year-old hasn’t consistently provided the scoring needed to complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

Though at times, like Thursday night against the Knicks, Harris has looked like the player GM Elton Brand traded for and then chose to re-sign as a franchise cornerstone. 

With Embiid and Simmons both on the shelf, this is the version the Sixers need to see a lot more of.

“At the beginning of the game, had some good looks going,” Harris said. “We had good pop to our flow, to our offense, and was able to get some just in-the-flow plays. Once I'm able to get into the flow and the ball is able to move around, that's where I'm at my best. And I just carried that throughout the game.”

Harris, who was one off his Sixers high with 34 points, has said since he arrived before last season’s trade deadline that he flourishes in systems with good ball movement. That’s likely why he’s shot the ball better from three with Simmons on the floor (37.5) than off (29.5).

Simmons leads the NBA in assists on threes whereas with Embiid, his methodical approach in the post can make the offense stagnant at times. With both off the floor, Harris will have to do more to get his own shot.

Brett Brown admitted after Thursday’s game that he’s simplified the offense with his two All-Stars out. Against the Knicks, Harris just attacked mismatches all night, punishing smaller defenders in the post and driving on New York’s bigs.

“With those two out, we'll have to find our identity of how we're going to play,” Harris said. “You saw tonight, we had a lot of just wide-open looks out of the initial pin down action either between Al [Horford] and [Josh Richardson] or Al [Horford] and [Alec] Burks so we got a lot of easy ones going and just were able to go at different mismatches that we felt.”

The trio of Harris, Horford and Richardson struggled in Cleveland, going 12 of 35. They all had bounce-back games of some sort, but it was Harris who likely got the most heat and responded in the biggest way.

Does he feel like it’s his responsibility to carry the team right now because of the large investment the they made on him?

“I would be naive to think there’s not a hint of that,” Brown said. “I think he’s really competitive and if you paid him a nickel or $170 million, I think that you’re going to get a highly competitive player. ... He’s very prideful. That’s why he’s good. 

“He’s trying to do his part obviously to earn his keep, but I think it’s way deeper than that. I think he just wants to be on a winning team for a long time and try to help steer this program to trying to find, at some point, a championship.”

With the fans, there's a sentiment of Harris being overpaid, so not much is made when he hangs 34 on a bad Knicks team. It makes sense. Fans would rather root for an underdog like Shake Milton, who's come out of nowhere to earn important minutes.

Harris has become a leader and a respected player in the Sixers’ locker room. That’s his only concern.

“There's obviously outside noise that comes involved with [signing a big contract],” Harris said. “I always look at it like the only noise that really carries weight for me is noise in our locker room, and with the guys on our team and coaching staff. I truly believe that you can ask every single one of them in the locker room, the value that I bring to this team, on and off the floor, and they will vouch for that. That's the credibility that I go with. ... So I just try to do my job on a daily basis, be a professional every day and go to work.”

With 22 games left and the Sixers trying to claw their way up the East with their All-Stars banged up, Harris will have ample opportunity to show his value to everyone else.

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