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Give and Go: What should Sixers be thankful for the most?

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Give and Go: What should Sixers be thankful for the most?

Each week, our resident basketball analysts will discuss some of the hottest topics involving the Sixers.

Running the Give and Go are NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Marshall Harris, NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Paul Hudrick and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com producer/reporter Matt Haughton.

In this edition, we examine what the Sixers should be thankful for the most on this Thanksgiving.

Harris
At first glance, you take a look at Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and remember that they combined for 31 games last season and the impulse is to say health. However, we can’t ignore the injuries that have befallen the team outside of those two engines. The Sixers have been hurting without the likes of Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless, Nik Stauskas and Justin Anderson at their full disposal of late. So health hasn’t been their thing, really.
 
What the Sixers should be thankful for is that despite being shorthanded, they made it through 17 games of the season with a winning record. That’s in spite of 10 of those games being on the road and two games each against Golden State and Houston already in the books. 

Since a 1-4 start, the Sixers have lost just three times in their last 12 games, and two of those losses were to arguably one of the greatest teams in history in the Warriors. Suddenly everyone is reaching for their abacus or calculator, and they should be. Who had the Sixers with a winning record at Thanksgiving?
 
Here’s the thing, two weeks ago Jim Lynam told me the Sixers would be a top four seed in the East. I wasn’t ready to embrace that idea. I’m ready to admit my 39-win prediction may not be up to the task. Perhaps we all need to recognize that the Sixers, youth and all, are up to the challenge of not just squeaking into the playoffs. At their current rate of growth, they look like a team that could get the 45 wins they’re already on pace to achieve and maybe even more.

Hudrick
Health is the obvious thing to be most thankful for, but I'll take it a step further. The Sixers should be thankful that the best is yet to come.

Any other season during The Process, Markelle Fultz's situation — being the No. 1 overall pick that the team traded up to acquire that suffered a weird injury the team appeared to mishandle — would be considered a catastrophe. To say Fultz has become an afterthought would be a stretch, but his situation has certainly taken a backseat to Embiid, Simmons and the Sixers' success.

We won't know the full extent of Fultz's impact and role for quite some time. But the thought of Embiid, Simmons and Fultz on the court together should still tantalize Sixers fans. I'm still dying to see what Fultz can do in pick-and-roll situations with Embiid and even Simmons.

Am I worried about the jumper? Yeah, a little. But this is a guy who took five threes a night in college and shot 41 percent from distance. He then went on to shot 38 percent on five treys a contest during three summer league games. I still believe the shot is there. He just needs to get his confidence back and his shoulder healthy.

And don't listen to the doubters. Markelle Fultz is an excellent basketball player and was the top pick in the draft for a reason. He's not Anthony Bennett or Andrea Bargnani. This kid can play.

And the Sixers should be thankful when looking at his future.

Haughton
While Embiid already shared what he’s thankful for on this holiday, the Sixers can only look back on how they landed the budding big man and smile.

Let’s rewind a bit. Embiid was well on his way to being the No. 1 overall pick in 2014 as he averaged 11.2 points on an insane 62.6 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game during his lone season at Kansas. That was until he suffered a stress fracture in his back late in the season that sidelined him for the Big 12 and NCAA Tournaments.

Even after the back injury, Embiid appeared on his way to locking up the top spot in the draft … until the next setback. This time it was a broken foot suffered just before the draft that cast serious doubt about his long-term health.

As Sixers fans know all too well, that troublesome foot caused Embiid to miss his first two NBA seasons. However, what they’ve witnessed since has been nothing short of spectacular. In just 46 career games, Embiid has averaged 21.0 points (48.2 percent shooting), 8.9 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 2.3 blocks. His superstar ability has captured the hearts of the team’s faithful, and his huge social media presence has only made them love him even more.

As for the two players taken before Embiid, their careers don’t exactly appear to be trending in the same direction. No. 1 overall selection and Embiid’s Kansas teammate, Andrew Wiggins, has shown flashes of brilliance. However, his production with the revamped Minnesota Timberwolves is down this season after signing a massive extension of his own, and questions remain about whether he can go from being a very good player to great. As for No. 2 pick Jabari Parker, he’s been a stud on the court for the Milwaukee Bucks but is recovering from a second left ACL tear since 2014.

All in all, Embiid is the prize of the crop and fell into the Sixers’ laps. So this Thanksgiving the Sixers should take a moment to reminisce about the process that brought them “The Process.”

Give Brett Brown, Sixers credit for not playing NBA draft safe

Give Brett Brown, Sixers credit for not playing NBA draft safe

The Sixers had every reason to play it safe.

Selecting in the lottery without an actual general manager in the war room to make the tough, bold decisions and two franchise players already in place, not many would’ve rolled their eyes if Brett Brown and company simply sat at No. 10 and took a safe prospect that would fit and contribute right away.

At first, that’s exactly what it appeared they had done.

Mikal Bridges, who didn’t even look like he’d last until No. 10 a few weeks ago, fell right into the Sixers’ lap. And despite reportedly having discussions about taking high-risk/high-reward wing Michael Porter Jr., the Sixers ultimately selected the safest prospect and best fit on the board in Bridges.

But as the Malvern, Pennsylvania, native was making his media rounds wearing a Sixers hat and talking about continuing his basketball career in the Philadelphia area, Brown and the Sixers' front office didn't stop working the phones (see video). And just before the Suns were about to select fellow Villanova Wildcat Donte DiVincenzo No. 16 overall, the Sixers were faced with an offer they couldn’t refuse. 

Bridges was shipped out to Phoenix in exchange for Zhaire Smith out of Texas Tech, who the Suns took at 16, and an unprotected 2021 Miami Heat first-round pick. Less than an hour after selecting a hometown kid whose mom worked for the team and could contribute to winning basketball from Day 1 as a three-and-D wing, the Sixers traded him for a raw, freakishly-athletic guard who attempted just 40 threes in college and a future first-rounder.

Look, this move was obviously surprising and sprinkled with some bad optics. There were rumors all week leading up to the draft that the Sixers had interest in trading up into the top five, but it just seemed unlikely they’d make that drastic a move for a prospect, especially without a GM in place. That narrative felt legitimized when the Sixers wound up staying at 10 and selecting a high-floor/low-ceiling player. And that’s what made flipping Bridges six picks later for a raw player like Smith and a future pick so surprising. It was an abrupt shift from a win-now move to a long-term, upside play.

But after the initial shock (and awkwardness of Bridges’ Philadelphia professional sports career not even lasting as long as Frank Gore’s) of the trade wore off, it was hard not to be impressed with the value that the Sixers came away with. Brown told reporters that Bridges was their “1A” and Smith their “1B.” If that’s indeed so, the Sixers got one of the top two players on their board, at least at the time of making their pick at 10, and added a potentially super-valuable pick in the process. Put aside how perfect a fit Bridges would’ve been or how concerning Smith’s shot is, that’s a great value deal in a vacuum.

Is it a sure thing that pick even lands in the lottery? Of course not. But the Heat’s pick was slated 16th this year and they’re projected to be over the cap for the next two seasons. Then, the only players currently under contract for the 2020-21 season are James Johnson, Kelly Olynyk, Josh Richardson and Bam Adebayo for a total of $23 million. While they have a ton of projected cap space to still improve their roster in the 2020 offseason, that’s not too bad of a current outlook for the pick.

And there’s certainly risk in swapping out Bridges for Smith as well. For starters, it’s not a reach to say it probably makes the Sixers worse in the immediate. And if Smith’s three-point shot doesn’t develop, it’s hard to see how he fits with Ben Simmons and the Sixers long-term, whereas Bridges would've been a perfect complementary player.

But the reason you make this deal is for the upside. Smith has a ways to go to be more than just a slasher in a half-court offense, but if he can improve his shot, which Brown seemed optimistic about, and handle he’ll become a dynamic two-way player. And remember, the Sixers surrendered an unprotected 2019 Sacramento Kings pick (which still conveys to the Sixers if it lands at No. 1) in the Markelle Fultz trade. While the Heat pick they acquired isn’t currently as valuable as the Kings pick, it gives them a future asset that could bolster their trade package for a star or just be used to draft a cost-controlled player in 2021, when the one-and-done rule could be abolished.

There’s no crowing a winner of this trade at the moment, that won’t come for a few years down the line when the actual value of the three assets in this trade is actualized. But give credit where credit is due to Brown, who is wearing two hats all of the sudden during the franchise’s most important offseason of this century and isn't shying away from it. A concern with coaches also acting as general managers is whether they're able to keep their natural desire as a coach to win in the now out of their executive decisions. 

Making his first major transactions as interim general manager Thursday night, Brown rightfully left his coach’s hat at home.

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Brett Brown admits human side of Mikal Bridges trade is 'disturbing'

Brett Brown admits human side of Mikal Bridges trade is 'disturbing'

CAMDEN, N.J. — As far as basketball is concerned, we’ll see how the Sixers’ move to trade Mikal Bridges for Zhaire Smith and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick works out.

From a human side, it was absolutely brutal to watch Bridges talk about playing for his hometown team with a huge smile, minutes after proudly putting on his Sixers cap and shaking hands with Adam Silver, unaware of the report that the seemingly perfect fit wasn’t to be (see video).

“She’s very, very excited,” Bridges said of his mother’s reaction, before he was informed of the trade. “She’s been wanting this. She’s probably more excited than I am. She’s about to cry and all that but she said she didn’t want to ruin her makeup, so she’s trying to hold it in. But she’s very excited. I’m her only son, momma’s boy, so she’s happy her son is right there around the corner again, and it’s just really cool.”

By now, you probably know Bridges’ story. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is the Global Vice President of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns the Sixers. Bridges went to Great Valley High and won two national titles at Villanova.

Coach and interim general manager Brett Brown knows Bridges’ story, too. When the Sixers took Bridges 10th overall, Brown was thrilled, and not just because he thought Bridges was a great basketball fit.

“I live in this city with you all," Brown said. “I watch Villanova. I love his mom. I love his college coach. There is a human side of this that’s really kind of hard to explain. And we all, I’m assuming, go from this level of excitement and coincidence, like you can’t make this up, to there’s this thing that involves our 1B, who we had targeted and brought back twice…”

That “1B” is Zhaire Smith. According to Brown, he felt obligated to do what could best help the organization win championships. To him, the high upside of Smith and a valuable asset in that future unprotected first-rounder outweighed the defensive ability, three-point shooting and winning mentality Bridges would have brought to the table. That doesn’t mean it was easy to pull the trigger.

“There’s a 20-minute, 15-minute window where you play text tag with the people involved," Brown said. "Everyone in that room knew how excited I was personally. As I said before, it really was 1A and 1B. And they’re really different, because Mikal could probably come in and play and embrace an immediate role now. And Zhaire is this thing that can definitely turn into something incredibly unique, I really feel that.

“Emotions carry over that it’s pretty cool, he’s from Villanova, it’s the city of Philadelphia, you can’t make this stuff up, his mom works across the street, all that stuff. And then the human side of, ‘Wow, look at this deal!’ Look at this incredible Godfather of a deal that can move our program forward in ways we couldn’t have imagined before this draft. So you’re caught. You really toggle between different emotions. Everyone here gets it. We all live here and understand the city and all that, and just at the end of the day, as time unfolds we’ll realize how important a decision [this was] and how unusual an opportunity that we had that we just didn’t feel comfortable [not] accepting. That’s the human side of tonight.”

Ultimately, Thursday night could work out just fine for everyone involved. Bridges could have a long, successful NBA career, Smith could fulfill his intriguing potential, and that 2021 first-rounder could be an important piece in the Sixers acquiring a star.

But it sure would have been cool for Sixers fans, 15 years from now, to be able to smile looking back on Mikal Bridges talking about how thrilled his mom was when he was taken by the Sixers. Instead, even if the Sixers form a dynasty thanks in part to Smith and that 2021 pick, they’ll probably still cringe watching a beaming, oblivious Bridges think he’s staying home.

“The human side of tonight is disturbing," Brown said, "but the process and how we grow the program and the thoughtfulness and the study that we put in, I feel like is wise for the program.”

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