76ers

LeBron James 'thought long and hard' about playing with Sixers' Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

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LeBron James 'thought long and hard' about playing with Sixers' Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid

LeBron James seriously considered signing with the Sixers in free agency before deciding to join the Lakers, he told ESPN's Rachel Nichols.

But ultimately, the allure of trying to bring a historically great franchise like the Lakers back to the top drew him to Los Angeles.

Nichols asked James why he chose the Lakers over "going to a team that was closer to winning a championship now." Here's his full response:

I definitely thought long and hard about the possibilities of lining up alongside Ben [Simmons] and [Joel] Embiid, or lining up alongside [James] Harden and Chris [Paul]. I felt like at this point in my career, the ultimate for me — just like when I went to Miami, everyone kind of looks at me joining a super team. I think Miami was [47-35] the year before I joined the team. You look at the Lakers’ record. So I like the challenge of being able to help a team get to some places they haven’t been in a while, and obviously the Lakers haven’t made the playoffs in a few years, but the Lakers’ organization and historical franchise matches up there with all the greats. You can look at the Cowboys, you can look at the Patriots, you can look at Manchester United, the Boston Celtics — these are like historical franchises, and for me to be a part of that, it’s a great moment for not only me but also my family, and the history of basketball in general.

There's a lot to break down there. First of all, it's noteworthy that Simmons and Embiid are the first two names James mentioned. It's an indication that the Sixers were, indeed, serious contenders.

James' response also acknowledges that he sees the Sixers as close to winning a championship, and he's aware he could have immediately boosted their chances of a title.

It's also clear that building up a lesser team and joining a "historical franchise" were two things James highly valued. While that makes sense, it's odd to think that the Sixers might have been a more attractive destination for James if they were still in the earlier stages of "The Process." And, if James likes "the challenge of being able to help a team get to some places they haven’t been in a while," that absolutely would have been there with the Sixers, who haven't made the Finals since 2001 and last won it all in 1983.

James' examples of "historical franchises" definitely wouldn't be teams on any Philadelphia sports fan's list ... the Cowboys, Patriots and Celtics are not exactly the most loved teams in this city.

But for James, joining a team with a prestigious past was important. While the idea of playing with young stars like Simmons and Embiid was attractive to him, the Sixers just didn't meet all his criteria. 

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All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

All of Brett Brown's decisions under more intense scrutiny than ever

Now that the Sixers have completed much of the process, the pressure rests on Brett Brown to deliver the team to the promised land.

The arrival of Jimmy Butler has brought a renewed vigor to the Sixers' season and represents an important step in the Process. The roster is much better than it has ever been under Brown’s leadership, and a fan base excited for the young Sixers to compete for a championship is ready to see dividends from their investment.

For Brown, signed through the 2022 season, the pressure may never be greater for him to win and win now.

Brown’s time managing a subpar roster made him one of the master tinkerers in the NBA, oftentimes piecing together rotations with players never intended to win games. Now comes another test of his coaching acumen, making these pieces fit.

The concerns regarding the rotation came up in Jimmy Buckets’ debut last night. Despite a strong start from Embiid (4-5 shooting, 11 points, three threes), Brown kept to his regular rotation taking him out of the game halfway through the first quarter, seemingly stalling his momentum. And a hot shooting Wilson Chandler didn’t see the floor during critical moments of the fourth quarter. Those rotational issues will only get more complex as it seems GM Elton Brand isn’t finished making moves just yet.

For young teams in the NBA looking to make the leap from exciting lineups to competing rosters, it’s not unusual for front offices to bring in a different coach to continue the team’s growth. The Golden State Warriors replaced head coach Mark Jackson with Steve Kerr after three seasons in Oakland, even after Jackson took them from 23 wins to 51. Kerr was a major key, however, as the Warriors went on to win three of the next four NBA titles.

We're seeing this season the value new head coach Mike Budenholzer has added to the Bucks. The Raptors seem to be taking a forward step with Nick Nurse replacing Dwane Casey.

If Brown is unable to deliver significant progress this year for the Sixers, the new-look Sixers front office could look at some point to upgrade the position with a more win-now head coach.

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

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Robert Covington immediately impresses Tom Thibodeau, T-Wolves fans

It took Robert Covington all of one night to endear himself to his new franchise and fan base.

Covington started at small forward and played a team-high 41 minutes for the Timberwolves Wednesday night in a 107-100 win over the Pelicans. He had a typical RoCo stat line, stuffing the box score with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block.

T-Wolves head coach Tom Thibodeau is known for playing his core guys huge minutes. It's regarded as one of the reasons Jimmy Butler has had trouble staying healthy for a full season — the dude averaged between 36 and 39 minutes for six straight seasons.

Covington got his first taste of that Wednesday night.

“I didn’t know," Thibodeau told reporters of the 41 minutes. "I knew we could use (Covington) right away because he brings so much defensively. And he goes so hard … if you go hard enough it’s going to make up for a lot of things, including being new to a team.’’

The 100 points scored on the T-Wolves were the fewest in 11 games and the second-lowest total all season. Some of that was because Andrew Wiggins actually used his athleticism and Karl-Anthony Towns actually played effective defense despite being plagued by foul trouble all game.

But a lot of it was the presence of Covington, who was all over the place, showing that his skill set can translate even before he knows the playbook. The Pels' leading scorer Wednesday was E'Twaun Moore, who was 3-for-10 for six points when guarded by Covington and 10-for-13 for 24 points when guarded by anyone else.

Dario Saric did not start. Thibodeau stuck with his favorite vet, Taj Gibson, who is still a solid four this deep into his career. Gibson played 28 minutes to Saric's 20. Expect that to move closer to an even split as Saric gets more acclimated. Saric is not as much a plug-and-play guy as Covington because his offense does require having the ball more. 

Saric finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, an assists and 2 steals on 3-for-7 shooting.

Thibodeau was excited by the versatility of his two newest pieces, particularly because it can lead to more effective switching on defense.

"I thought Cov had a great game going," he said. "You get a feeling when you're coaching against players — I remember last year playing against (the Sixers) and those guys, I like their mental toughness. What they were a part of in Philadelphia, they went through some really dark days and they just kept going and going and going. 

"Even last year, they were 25-25 and they just clicked and took off. ... I love what Covington has done, to go undrafted and be first-team All Defense. That says a lot."

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