76ers

With Jimmy Butler trade, Sixers GM Elton Brand prioritizes 'star hunting'

With Jimmy Butler trade, Sixers GM Elton Brand prioritizes 'star hunting'

The day before the Sixers’ season opener, general manager Elton Brand wasn’t pretending his team was title contenders.

“Honestly, I say we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “We’re not where I want to be right now. I’m not sure what the players feel about that. I know coach wants to see more growth and improvement. We have a lot to work on.”

Saturday, he showed he wasn’t satisfied with merely being one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. He wants the Sixers to be playing basketball in June, and he made a bold move to try to get his team closer to that goal. 

Brand’s trade for Jimmy Butler officially moves the Sixers into the final stage of The Process. After the Sixers patiently built up valuable assets and nurtured two of the best young players in basketball in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, development is now obviously a low priority for Brand.

While the Sixers managed to acquire Butler without giving away Markelle Fultz, the trade suggests Brand didn’t want to wait for Fultz to become the third star the Sixers hoped he could eventually become when they drafted him No. 1 overall. 

Fultz has made 29 percent of his jump shots and 62.1 percent of his free throws in the Sixers’ first 13 games. His shot looks better than the hesitant, broken version that marred his rookie season, but that’s not saying much. He has a long way to go before he’s a valuable NBA starter, let alone a star.

Saric and Covington are both good NBA players. Though Saric started the season in a slump, his toughness and grit were huge pieces of the Sixers’ personality. And when he was knocking down perimeter shots at the rate he did last season, the Sixers were tough to stop.

Covington is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. On the 14.8 field goal attempts he’s defended per game, opponents are shooting 35.8 percent. That’s the lowest of any player defending at least 13 shots per game by a wide margin. He was often maligned in Philadelphia, but his three-point shooting and defense were integral to the team. When Covington played well, the Sixers usually won.

Butler, however, is a bona fide star, a four-time All-Star and one of the best two-way players in basketball. 

If the Sixers didn’t land Butler, there weren’t many other realistic, big-name options. It didn’t seem likely that Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant were coming to Philadelphia in free agency. After the Sixers struck out on Leonard and LeBron James this offseason, Brand was determined to get a third piece to complement Simmons and Embiid, who is quickly emerging as an MVP candidate. 

The fit may not be perfect, but Brand, less than a month into his first season as an NBA GM, got the third star the Sixers have been searching for.

On draft night, Brett Brown famously said, “We are star hunting, or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.”

Though the star developing part isn’t over, it’s clearly taken a back seat. Brand was hunting for a star — he wasn’t willing to wait and see if one eventually blossomed from within.

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Watch NBC Sports BetCast for live betting analysis during Sixers vs. Pelicans

Watch NBC Sports BetCast for live betting analysis during Sixers vs. Pelicans

Marc Farzetta, Tyrone Johnson and betting expert Brad Feinberg will host NBC Sports BetCast Friday night on NBC Sports Philadelphia+ during the Sixers' game vs. the Pelicans. 

It will be the third of 10 BetCast broadcasts this season on NBCSP+, with Marc Zumoff, Alaa Abdelnaby and Serena Winters calling the game simultaneously on NBCSP.

The BetCast broadcast will focus on real-time sports betting data and provide live analysis on the odds.

Will the total score be over or under 223 points? How many points will JJ Redick score in his return to Philadelphia? After making two three-pointers Thursday night in Boston, how many will Joel Embiid hit tonight?

Farzetta, Feinberg and Johnson will break it all down as the game unfolds Friday night.

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Sixers vs. Pelicans: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Pelicans: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

After the Sixers' win over the Celtics on Thursday night at TD Garden, they're one of two remaining undefeated teams in the NBA, along with the Heat. Miami hosts the 22-3 Lakers on Friday night.

The 19-7 Sixers can move to 14-0 at Wells Fargo Center tonight with a win over the 6-19 Pelicans.

Here are tonight’s essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia (NBC Sports BetCast on NBCSP+)
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

No Horford again 

Al Horford will miss his second consecutive game with left knee soreness and left hamstring tightness.

The regular starting lineup was briefly intact for Tuesday's win over the Nuggets in Richardson's first game back after a six-game absence because of a hamstring injury, but that didn't last long.

Mike Scott took Horford’s place Thursday and played well in his second start of the season, scoring 15 points and making 5 of 7 three-pointers.

“I just do my job,” Scott told reporters. “Catch and shoot, move the ball, play hard on defense. Same role when I come off the bench, so it's pretty easy.”

Joel Embiid, after a 38-point, 13-rebound night against the Celtics, is not listed on the NBA’s official injury report, so it looks like he’ll play in the second game of this back-to-back.

Redick is back in the building 

JJ Redick is set to play his first game against the Sixers since signing a two-year, $26.5 million with the Pelicans this summer.

Though the Sixers’ offense has missed Redick’s outside shooting, savvy screening and two-man game with Embiid, the team's three-point numbers have not taken an extreme dip. 

The Sixers are shooting 37.1 percent from three-point range, sixth in the NBA.

Redick had interesting insights on the Sixers’ post-heavy offense, Joel Embiid’s maturity and more after the Pelicans’ shootaround (see story).

The Zion-less Pelicans are struggling 

No. 1 pick Zion Williamson is with the Pelicans, but he’s sidelined as he recovers from surgery on his right knee.

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry said Friday that Williamson is on schedule and the team doesn’t want to rush his return.

New Orleans comes into Philadelphia on a 10-game losing streak and has the third-worst defensive rating in the NBA. Former Sixers Redick, Jrue Holiday and Jahlil Okafor feature for the Pelicans, while Brandon Ingram is having a career year.

The 22-year-old Ingram, who was traded from the Lakers to New Orleans this summer along with Villanova product Josh Hart and Lonzo Ball, is averaging 24.9 points per game and shooting 40.8 percent from three-point range. 

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