76ers

Making sense of Sixers' flurry of early moves in free agency

Making sense of Sixers' flurry of early moves in free agency

Tobias Harris is running it back. Jimmy Butler is not, and Josh Richardson is coming to Philadelphia. Al Horford has turned from rival to Joel Embiid's partner in the frontcourt. JJ Redick is reportedly heading to New Orleans. Oh, and fan favorite Mike Scott is sticking around

The Sixers made a flurry of franchise-altering moves Sunday night. "Franchise-altering" is probably an overused phrase, but it's a fair one to describe the first night of free agency for the Sixers. 

We'll have more time to make sense of it all once free agency concludes and the Sixers fill out their bench, but here are a few initial takeaways:

• The Sixers' starting five will presumably be Embiid, Horford, Harris, Richardson and Ben Simmons. That is a massive, defensively imposing starting five. Richardson is the shortest player of the group at 6-foot-6, with the other four players all 6-foot-9 or taller. Factor in Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle off the bench, and the Sixers are going to be very difficult to score against.

• We'll have to wait to learn more details before making full judgement on the sign-and-trade, but Richardson is a good young player (25 years old) under contract for the next three seasons. He's gotten better every season in the NBA, averaging 16.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game in 2018-19 with Miami. 

• The decision to give Harris a five-year, $180-million deal also had to be motivated by the belief that he'll keep getting better. He had an untimely shooting slump in the second half of the season, but you can understand the Sixers having faith he'll keep growing. He's a great "culture" guy, too, embodying consistent class and professionalism. Harris' production is ultimately what will determine whether his contract is worth it, but the Sixers will like having him around as a human being for five more years. 

• Butler's departure is not shocking, but it still qualifies as a surprise. He seemed to enjoy his role as a leader to two young stars in Simmons and Embiid, and to savor the responsibility of taking over in the fourth quarter. You'd expect more details to be revealed later about why he didn't return to Philadelphia and what the Sixers were offering him. When the team traded for Butler, acquired his Bird Rights and said they'd be willing to pay the luxury tax to retain him and Harris, it was natural to assume Butler would be back.

• We talked a ton about Butler's fit last year, and that's going to again be an interesting question with Horford. Will Brett Brown use him primarily as a traditional power forward, given Horford's three-point shooting ability (37.1 percent from long range on 3.2 attempts per game over the last four seasons)? Will Brown stagger his minutes with Embiid, making Horford the de facto backup center? Does that mean a backup big guy should now be a lower priority in free agency? Regardless, the Sixers got an excellent player who does a lot of things well.

• It's worth noting that Horford is 33 years old. There's a chance the Sixers are paying Horford a lot more than he's worth in the last two years of his deal, and the odds of decline are perhaps higher than they would have been with a five-year deal for Butler, who turns 30 in September. It will be worth it if Horford helps the team win a title at age 33 or 34. 

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It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

It sounds like Brett Brown has a long-term plan without Ben Simmons in mind

Updated: Tuesday, 5:09 p.m.

We now have a diagnosis on Ben Simmons' injury. Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia (see story). Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news.

Speaking before the Sixers' win Monday night over the Hawks, head coach Brett Brown was unsure how long the injury would sideline Simmons. The 23-year-old sustained the injury at practice Wednesday going up for a rebound, according to Brown, and irritated it in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game against the Bucks.

“I don’t know,” Brown said. “And it really is like how long is a piece of string — who knows? Who knows? … Whatever the time equals on days, games, period of time, we can talk more honestly as this thing shakes out.”

However, it sounded as if Brown was preparing for his two-time All-Star point guard to be out for a while. He framed the situation as one the Sixers can cope with if other players take advantage of the chance to play expanded roles.

There’s 25 games left. … It’s an eternity,” he said. “Just keep going back to the end game. What’s the bottom line? I’ll say it again — if you get their health and their spirit, it’s got a chance to equal form. … And it’s all about landing the plane. And so with 25 games left, we’ve taken a hit with Ben. 

"I do see it this way. I’m not spinning it. It’s an opportunity for us to learn and something will emerge. And we need something to emerge. It’s not like we were all saying, ‘Oh, here it is, it’s anointed.’ It wasn’t that. So, I think we’re going to learn something and find something. If this was six games out, I wouldn’t be telling you this story. When it’s 25 games out, it is, with all my heart, what I think. That’s what I said to the team, that’s what I really think and that’s what I’m going to try to pull off.

Who specifically will take over ball handling duties? Brown said it “will be done by committee” for the time being, and he named a few players who he expects to be in that mix. Monday night, the team started Shake Milton, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris, Al Horford and Joel Embiid. 

“The candidates could be Raul Neto or [Furkan Korkmaz] or Alec Burks or J-Rich, Shake," he said. "So, you have capable people that aren’t traditional point guards but have the ability to get the ball up the floor. Then at that point, you’re probably going to have to be in something that has motion and continuity instead of just giving Chris Paul the ball and saying, ‘Go to work’ out of a pick-and-roll, as an example.”

Regardless of Brown’s attitude, the tangible impact of not having Simmons will clearly be significant. He leads the league in steals, has assisted on the most three-pointers and is a highly athletic, versatile and talented player.

The loss of all those attributes will no doubt be difficult to overcome.

“When there is a vacuum, as there is right now with Ben, something will happen,” Brown said. “Somebody will step up. I’m trying to see the world through those eyes, and I really do — it’s not even creative coach speak. I see it as an opportunity, and I think I need to see it that way.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons suffered nerve impingement in lower back

Ben Simmons suffered a nerve impingement in his lower back and will be re-evaluated in approximately two weeks, a team source confirmed Tuesday to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Simmons will undergo daily treatment. 

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the news. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports “there's little expectation that [Simmons would] be ready to return to lineup that soon,” and says “doctors are hopeful treatment can drive improvement, but Sixers are preparing to play without him." 

According to head coach Brett Brown, Simmons was first injured at the team’s practice last Wednesday. The 23-year-old All-Star missed the team’s first game after the All-Star break, a win Thursday over the Nets. 

“It was a play where he went up for a rebound and I looked over and he left the court, and went and got treatment,” Brown said Thursday. “And it has played out as it has played out. We don’t believe it’s anything too significant.”

Simmons sat out the Sixers’ game vs. the Nets on Thursday and played Saturday in Milwaukee. He appeared to be in discomfort after drawing a foul in the first quarter on the Bucks’ Brook Lopez. The 23-year-old stayed in the game to make 1 of 2 free throws, then exited when Matisse Thybulle committed a foul to create a stoppage of play and ensure Simmons could return to the locker room.

Ahead of the game against the Bucks, Simmons had averaged 16.9 points, 8.3 assists, 7.9 rebounds and a league-best 2.2 steals. He’d played 36.3 minutes per game, most on the Sixers and third-highest in the NBA ahead of Saturday’s games. 

Brown talked before the Sixers’ win Monday over the Hawks as if he was prepared for a long-term absence. He said the team would split up ball handling responsibilities by committee, with Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Alec Burks among the possible candidates. Milton started on Monday. 

The 36-22 Sixers are fifth in the Eastern Conference and play the Cavaliers on Wednesday night in Cleveland. 

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