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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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Sixers trade rumors: Breaking down Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's fit

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Sixers trade rumors: Breaking down Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's fit

A popular name among Sixers fans came up in a trade rumor over this past weekend.

Suns swingman Trevor Ariza was mentioned in a possible move to the Lakers, per ESPN.

Ariza going elsewhere could be disappointing to some, but the reason we’re writing about it is that the Sixers are mentioned as a team that could help facilitate the deal. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is reportedly unhappy with his role and the Sixers "could be a landing spot," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Caldwell-Pope is an interesting player for the Sixers. The team needs bench help — either guys that can guard or guys that can shoot. Caldwell-Pope is a strong defender, both on the ball and at getting deflections. His length and athleticism are a big part of that. Aside from Jimmy Butler, he’d become the Sixers’ best defensive wing.

His shot has been inconsistent since he entered the league. He shot a career-high 38 percent from three last season but that number has dipped to 34 percent this year. Over the last two-plus seasons, he’s been right around the league average at 36 percent on 5.4 attempts a night. He’s still just 25 years old. Looking back at Ariza’s career, he didn’t become a consistent three-and-D guy until his age-27 season. 

Caldwell-Pope, the eighth overall pick in 2013, has also seen a reduced role this season. The Lakers signed some guy named LeBron James, and Caldwell-Pope is playing just 21.5 minutes a night. With younger perimeter guys like Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Josh Hart getting a larger role this season, there isn’t as much burn for Caldwell-Pope.

If he were traded to the Sixers, he’d likely become their sixth man almost immediately. He can provide more on both ends than Landry Shamet, T.J. McConnell or, when he’s healthy, Markelle Fultz.

A three-team swap between the Sixers, Lakers and Suns would be a little tricky. Ariza is making $15 million this season while Caldwell-Pope is making $12 million. Since both players were signed this offseason, neither player can be moved until Dec. 15.

What would the Sixers have to give up? Well they’d basically have to dump salary to the Suns in order to make the deal work. They do have a $2,526,840 trade exception from the Jimmy Butler deal — since they gave up more salary than they took on — so that should certainly help. But as far as actual assets, it’s hard to say.

If the cost is a couple bottom-of-the-roster players and cash, that’s a no-brainer. Caldwell-Pope becomes your best bench option and his contract expires at the end of the season. Also, the Lakers are likely giving up a lot more to acquire Ariza than what the Sixers will to get Caldwell-Pope.

Caldwell-Pope is not Ariza, but he’s an upgrade over what you have and a pretty damn good consolation prize.

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After pregame 'migraine and diarrhea,' Joel Embiid starts to look like himself

After pregame 'migraine and diarrhea,' Joel Embiid starts to look like himself

After playing the Sixers’ first 26 games this season, Joel Embiid was in danger of missing two straight.

Embiid sat out practice Sunday and his status for Monday night’s game over the Pistons was up in the air.

“I had a migraine and diarrhea,” Embiid said. 

Monday night understandably wasn’t his best performance, but Embiid’s presence was still valuable for the Sixers in a 116-102 win over Detroit. He had 24 points on 6 for 16 shooting, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals, finishing a game-high plus-30. 

Embiid admitted after the game that dealing with a migraine and, as head coach Brett Brown more delicately put it, “flu-like symptoms” before the game affected him.

“I was definitely rusty,” Embiid said. “I was kind of tired. I was frustrated with them resting me [Friday] because I usually get out of shape so fast, even if I miss a day or two, so I was kind of tired. As the game kept going, I started feeling more comfortable with the help of my teammates, especially [Furkan Korkmaz] and we got the win.”

Korkmaz sat next to Embiid at the podium, a rare occurrence for the second-year guard. His spot there was justified, too — his career-high 18 points were an important contribution for the Sixers with Jimmy Butler sidelined by a strained groin. Butler left the game early in the second quarter and did not return. 

“He’s got an inner belief,” Brown said of Korkmaz. “There is a swagger that he has where he may miss a lot of shots, he may make a lot of shots, but there really isn’t sort of a trepidation, a back down in Furkan. I thought he just played the game well and played it with a lot of confidence.”

Heading into Monday’s game, though, Korkmaz wasn’t grabbing many headlines. Perhaps the biggest buzz around the Sixers surrounded Embiid’s recent comments about being frustrated with his role in the offense.

Not the type to dance around an issue, Embiid addressed those remarks, explaining they stemmed from his frustration at his recent slump.

That was just me frustrated with the way I was playing. I know everybody took it out of context, but I love everybody; I love my teammates, I love the coaching staff, and I think everybody that knows me knows that. Me being frustrated because I hold myself to a really high standard played a role in whatever that was said. But I had a conversation with Coach. It starts with me. There’s a lot of adjustments that we can all make, but it’s just the frustration.

I’ve never really been in that situation. Usually if I’m in a slump, it’s two or three games, but I feel like it’s been going on for, I don’t know, 10 games. But also it’s because I hold myself to a certain standard. But it’s the past, we’ve moved on, and everything is great.

Embiid’s perception that he's been in a slump his last 10 games says a lot about his personal expectations. He averaged 24.3 points on 44.6 percent shooting, 13.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in his previous 10 games. Those numbers are below his season averages, but they’re not what many players would categorize as a slump.

For Embiid, though, there’s no question he hasn’t quite been himself recently. Perhaps a win over Andre Drummond (and a late technical foul drawn on the Pistons’ big man) will spark a return to form. 

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