76ers

LeBron James reportedly declines player option with Cavaliers, which is good news for Sixers

LeBron James reportedly declines player option with Cavaliers, which is good news for Sixers

After months of anticipation, LeBron James declined his $35.6 million player option with the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, Cleveland.com's Joe Vardon reports. He’ll become a free agent Sunday at midnight.

James had until Friday at 11:59 p.m. to make a decision on his player option. He still could ultimately re-sign with the Cavaliers in free agency.

From a Sixers perspective, this is a positive development. Because the Sixers and Lakers are the only teams vying for James with easy paths to make room to sign James outright, they're in a much better position with teams such as the Rockets and Celtics effectively eliminated from the sweepstakes. 

This time around, James reportedly does not want any big pitches in free agency (see story). However, Kawhi Leonard has reportedly made his own personal pitch for why James should play with him (see story).

The Lakers are the current favorites to land James. The Sixers have the fourth-best odds, at 10/1.

One implication of James opting out is that it likely removes Houston as a possible destination. The Rockets’ most feasible path to acquiring James was through a trade, as the team would have to free up substantial cap space to sign him in free agency. 

Interim GM Brett Brown has said the Sixers are “star hunting,” and there’s obviously no bigger star in basketball than James. After James, Paul George is the highest-profile free agent. 

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Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

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NBC Sports Philadelphia/USA Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: What is going on with Tobias Harris?

Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick discuss Tobias Harris' struggles continuing, Ben Simmons' unwillingness to shoot the ball, and why Matisse Thybulle isn't seeing more playing time.

• Another rough night for Harris. What the heck is going on?

• Simmons was strong, but still refuses to shoot the basketball outside the paint.

• Should Thybulle be getting more minutes?

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Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

Sixers' putrid fourth quarter dooms them in loss to Magic

BOX SCORE

In a game between two of the best defensive teams in the NBA, the Sixers weren't able to get enough offense to win.

The Magic used a 32-15 fourth quarter Wednesday night to down the Sixers, 112-97, at Amway Center.

With Joel Embiid out (injury management/left knee soreness), Ben Simmons shined on both ends of the floor, but Tobias Harris' struggles continued. The Sixers move to 7-4 as they fly to Oklahoma City for a date with the Thunder Friday night (8 p.m., NBCSP).

Here are observations from the loss.

Getting defensive

Coming into tonight’s action, these were two of the top six teams in the NBA in terms of defensive rating. It didn’t look like that from the jump as both teams got off to hot starts from the field. The Sixers’ transition and pick-and-roll defense weren’t great in the first quarter but tightened up in the second. They appeared to turn up the heat a little bit, pressuring at full court a couple times and also trapping more. But the Magic appeared to get whatever they wanted in the fourth.

The biggest surprise was Orlando’s three-point shooting early. The Magic came into the contest as the worst three-point shooting team in the NBA — yes, much worse than the Sixers. But they shot a torrid 42.9 percent (6 of 14) in the first half. Those percentages evened out as the game went on. Orlando hit just 2 of 11 in the third quarter. It was the Magic's defense that clogged the paint as the Sixers were unable to capitalize on their open looks from the outside. A night after hitting just 8 of 38 from three, they hit 8 of 30.

Simmons shines

This was arguably the most attacking and aggressive Simmons we’ve seen since opening night. He had a strong performance — especially on the defensive end — which went for naught. He was engaged and put an awful lot of pressure on Orlando’s ball handlers. It led to a couple fast breaks and easy transition baskets for Simmons.

This lob from Shake Milton was mighty impressive.

He finished with 18 points (9 of 12), eight rebounds and five assists.

Simmons was also called for a technical foul in the second quarter. 

There was a huge free throw disparity in the first half. The Magic got to the line 17 times while the Sixers got there once. In defense of the officials, Orlando did do a nice job packing the paint.

Mixed results with no Jo

With Embiid sitting, Al Horford got the start and Kyle O’Quinn saw a jump in minutes. O'Quinn was more effective than Horford in this one.

Horford, who sat Tuesday night for load management purposes, looked spry but perhaps a little rusty early. As he got into the flow of the game, he was strong in pick-and-roll defense, but his shot just wasn’t falling (5 of 18).

This drive and dunk was done by a man with fresh legs.

O’Quinn continues to impress with his passing prowess. He dished out four assists in the first half and hit yet another three. Just a 22.4 percent shooter from three for his career, he’s now 6 of 12 this season. Snagging O’Quinn as basically a third-string center was one of the shrewdest moves of GM Elton Brand’s offseason.

A bounce-back game for J-Rich

Josh Richardson didn’t have a stellar shooting performance Tuesday (1 of 8 from three) but looked good against the Magic. A new wrinkle Brown seems to like is using Richardson as a ball handler and Simmons as a screener and roller in the half court. With Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot, but strength as a roller, it’s an action that makes sense for both players.

Richardson also navigates the pick-and-roll well as a ball handler and did so a bunch with Horford in the second half. Richardson had 19 points (7 of 14, 2 of 4 from three), six rebounds and five assists.

More struggles for Harris

Harris made his first shot after dipping in and swishing an elbow jumper. Unfortunately, that was really the last highlight of the night. Following his 0-for-11 performance from three-point range Tuesday night against the Cavs, it appeared Harris was trying to be aggressive and get to the rim. Too many times he looked indecisive — getting caught in between whether he should pull up or try to finish at the basket. He also had a couple brutal turnovers in the fourth quarter on back-to-back possessions.

He went just 4 of 13 for eight points. These issues sure look mental. This is a guy that shot the ball at an elite level from three over a large sample size. I’m not sure what you do if you’re Brown, but you have to do something. 

Not quite the Markelle Fultz revenge game

Fultz looked a lot like the player he was early last season for the Sixers. He’ll make some tremendous plays off the dribble and flash some defensive potential, but while he is willing to shoot again, the form just doesn’t look right. He missed a three late in the first half that just barely grazed the rim and missed another badly in the second half. He still just looked like he’s pushing the ball from his chest. It was D.J. Augustin running the point off the bench that led Orlando's late run.

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