James Ennis won Brett Brown's 'quiet tournament' last season, but a new one could be coming for Sixers in 2019-20

James Ennis won Brett Brown's 'quiet tournament' last season, but a new one could be coming for Sixers in 2019-20

By early May, when James Ennis had outscored the Raptors’ bench through the first three games of the Sixers’ second-round playoff series against Toronto, Brett Brown’s “quiet tournament” felt like a distant memory.

About three months earlier, though, Ennis hadn’t left the Sixers’ bench in a game against the Celtics. Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Korkmaz instead combined for 25 minutes in a 112-109 loss to Boston on Feb. 13 as Brown experimented with the newest version of his team, searching for an adequate second-unit wing. Neither Simmons or Korkmaz are currently on the Sixers’ roster.

“It was tough at first because I was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said at his exit interview on May 13. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach Brown allowing me to play.”

Ennis’ spot seems secure for the upcoming season. The Sixers, as Brand noted at Friday’s press conference, are grateful he stuck with the team for less than his market value. Mike Scott is another known quantity off the bench, a player who gives you shooting, versatility, toughness and indelible quotes. Kyle O’Quinn will provide “much-needed depth at the center spot,” Brand said. When healthy, Raul Neto was a solid backup point guard for the Jazz, with three-point shooting ability (37.7 percent for his career) and a solid assist-to-turnover ratio (2.5 assists and 0.9 turnovers per game last season).

Thanks to those veterans, the Sixers should have a decent idea of what they’re getting from their bench. And, with 13 players on the active roster, the team could still add two more pieces. But don’t be surprised if another “quiet tournament” develops in 2019-20, with Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle at the center of the conversation.

Brown was bullish in May about Smith’s chances of factoring into his rotation this season, raving about everything from Smith’s “perseverance and love of basketball” to his defensive abilities.

Smith’s shot, Brown said, “will be the thing that ultimately makes his package whole.” The hyper-athletic 20-year-old made 5 of 16 three-point attempts in summer league (31.3 percent) and 6 of 16 (37.5 percent) in six games at the end of last season. Outside of his jumper, Smith has flashed the knack for making plays in transition, hunting offensive rebounds, cutting smartly and passing intuitively. It remains to be seen how well those other tools will convey in the NBA, though it’s worth considering Smith’s track record of learning new skills at a quick pace and his eagerness to put in the necessary work

Thybulle, selected 20th in this year’s draft and acquired by the Sixers in a trade with the Celtics, plans to play right away. Brand is on the same page.

“We need that piece that can step in right now,” he said on June 21.

There’s little uncertainty about what Thybulle can provide or the role he’ll play. His job will be to get his hands in passing lanes and detonate plays defensively with his impressive anticipation and closing speed. Offensively, he’ll be asked to convert spot-up threes at a respectable rate. The rookie did well in that regard during summer league, making 11 of 28 long-range shots (39.3 percent). 

Playing Smith and Thybulle together at times is an intriguing idea. The pair didn’t take long to form a connection. Thybulle mentioned at summer league minicamp that he was trying to “mimic” Smith, and the two shared some laughs in Las Vegas. There might be a “tournament” at times between the two for minutes, but there could also be an alliance if Brown is willing to tolerate a few youthful errors. As we contemplate the possibilities in July, plenty of options are on the table. Shake Milton could also be a factor at both guard spots.

We can say with plenty of confidence, however, that the 2018-19 edition of Brown’s “quiet tournament” was won in a landslide by Ennis. The 2019-20 version looks to be up for grabs. 

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Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

Kobe Bryant's 7 best NBA moments in Philly

We are paying tribute to a legend. 

NBC Sports Philadelphia will re-broadcast three of Kobe Bryant's landmark games Monday night — the 2008 Olympic gold medal game at 6 p.m., followed by Bryant's final game in Philadelphia at 8 p.m. and the 2012 Olympic gold medal game at 10:30 p.m. 

Bryant honed his Hall of Fame talents at Lower Merion High School and sharpened his skills and competitiveness in the Sonny Hill League and on playgrounds across the Delaware Valley. 

Bryant had his share of highs and lows as a professional in his hometown. 

He played 17 regular-season games in Philadelphia, finishing with a 7-10 record and a 22.8 scoring average. More importantly, he had a perfect 3-0 record in postseason games in Philadelphia, with all three wins coming in the Lakers' 4-1 series victory over the 76ers in the 2001 NBA Finals. Bryant averaged 25.7 points in those three games and captured the second of his five career NBA championships. 

Here's a look back at some of Bryant's most memorable moments in Philly. 

First NBA game in Philadelphia — Nov. 26, 1996
Bryant played his first professional game in his hometown as an 18-year old reserve, scoring 12 points in 21 minutes in a 100-88 Lakers win. He shot 4 of 10 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made both of his free throw attempts.  

Bryant's rookie counterpart Allen Iverson finished with 16 points on 6 of 27 shooting and 10 assists. Former Temple star Eddie Jones and Shaquille O'Neal each had a game-high 23 points for the Lakers. 

Bryant came off the bench in 65 of the 71 games he played as a rookie, averaging 7.6 points in 15.5 minutes per game. 

NBA Finals — June 2001
The Lakers and Sixers arrived in Philadelphia for Games 3, 4, 5 of the 2001 NBA Finals with the series even at one game apiece. The 22-year old Bryant famously proclaimed that he was coming to Philly to "cut their hearts out."

The Lakers went on to win the next three games in Philadelphia to secure their second straight NBA championship. 

Game 3 was the closest of the three games — the Lakers won 96-91 behind Bryant's 32 points. He had 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists in a 14-point win in Game 4 before closing out the series with 26 points, 12 rebounds and six assists in a 12-point win in Game 5. 

2002 All-Star Game MVP — Feb. 10, 2002
Bryant's "cut their hearts out" comment was still fresh in the minds of Sixers fans eight months later when the 2002 All-Star game was played in Philadelphia. Bryant was booed throughout the night, but he fed off the negative energy to score a game-high 31 points and win the first of his four career All-Star Game MVP awards. 

He was subsequently booed during the All-Star MVP presentation and admitted that his feelings were hurt by the frosty reception from his hometown crowd.  

Bryant averaged 25.2 points during that 2001-2002 season and led the Lakers to a third straight NBA championship. 

44-point outburst — Dec. 20, 2002 
Bryant's best game in Philadelphia came 10 months after that 2002 All-Star Game, when he posted 44 points and 10 assists in a 107-104 loss to the Sixers. He shot 16 of 35 from the field, 2 of 5 from three-point range and made all 10 of his free throw attempts. 

Iverson led the Sixers to victory with 32 points, nine steals and five assists. Keith Van Horn had a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds. 

The 2003 Lakers came up short in their quest for a fourth straight NBA title, losing to the Spurs in the Western Conference semifinals.

Snapping the streak — Dec. 21, 2007
Bryant and the Lakers got their first regular-season win in Philadelphia in nearly eight years, beating the Sixers 106-101 to snap a six-game losing streak at the formerly named Wachovia Center.

Bryant had 19 points in the win, but Andrew Bynum stole the show with 24 points and 11 rebounds. Andre Miller led the Sixers with 21 points and eight assists. 

The 2007-2008 season marked the first of three straight trips to the NBA Finals for Bryant and the Lakers. They would lose the 2008 Finals to the Celtics before beating the Magic in 2009 and winning a rematch with Boston in 2010. 

Last great performance in Philadelphia — Dec. 16, 2012
This was Bryant's last vintage performance in his hometown. The 34-year old Bryant had 34 points and six assists in a 111-98 win over the Sixers. Nick Young led the Sixers with 30 points, while Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes each scored 16 points. 

Bryant's 2012-2013 campaign ended with a torn Achilles tendon late in the 80th game of the regular season. The Kobe-less Lakers were swept by the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. 

This turned out to be Bryant's last great season. He averaged 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.6 rebounds to earn First Team All-NBA honors in his 17th NBA season. 

Final game in Philadelphia — Dec. 1, 2015
Bryant's last game in Philadelphia came nearly 14 years after he was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game. That proved to be plenty of time for old wounds to heal. He was showered with applause and tributes in his Philly farewell, and for a while it looked like he would deliver one final great performance in his hometown. 

Bryant opened the game by hitting 3 of his first 4 three-point attempts, whipping the Wells Fargo Center into a frenzy. But at 37 years old, Bryant eventually ran out of gas and finished 7 of 26 from the field in a 103-91 loss to a Sixers team that entered the game with an 0-18 record. 

Bryant scored 20 points and finished his 20th and final NBA season with a 17.6 scoring average.

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

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Sixers Talk podcast: Will Sixers have a chip on their shoulder if playoffs happen?

On this edition, Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss:

(2:12) — Questioning Joel Embiid's fitness is like beating a dead horse; will the Sixers have a chip on their shoulder?
(13:22) — Charles Barkley calls Moses Malone trade a disaster to his career.
(20:20) — Would the season being cancelled be worse than watching our most hated rival winning the Finals?

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