76ers

Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons reportedly off limits in Kawhi Leonard trade talks

Markelle Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons reportedly off limits in Kawhi Leonard trade talks

The Sixers still believe in Markelle Fultz.

They've never publicly wavered in their support of last year's No. 1 overall pick, even throughout the mysterious saga involving his right shoulder injury and broken jump shot. And with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reporting Sunday that Fultz, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are off limits in trade talks for Spurs star Kawhi Leonard, it sounds like they're keeping their faith in Fultz.

Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer reported Thursday that the Sixers were batting around a combination of Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the Heat's unprotected 2021 first-round pick (see story). Fultz was conspicuously absent from that trade package, and he's apparently still not someone the Sixers are willing to part with.

There are compelling arguments to be made for making Fultz off limits, and for including him in trade discussions. On one hand, if Fultz would be the piece that seals a deal for Leonard, it would be tempting to include him. His future, especially his jumper, is still a major question mark, and he could help the Sixers land a known star (when healthy) in Leonard.

On the other hand, Fultz was the No. 1 pick for a reason, and he could still end up turning into a star. He's just 20 years old and he did show flashes, albeit very brief ones, of his handles, athleticism and explosiveness last season. If his offseason work with trainer Drew Hanlen helps him rediscover his shot, he could make a lot of the people who have written him off look pretty foolish.

It's also worth noting that Fultz's value might not be the highest in trade discussions given that the Spurs would be banking on the potential of someone who has only played 14 regular-season games.

As for Embiid and Simmons, it's obvious why they would be excluded from any trade. Those two are the kind of special talents you just can't afford to give up easily.

Saric and Covington are both valuable players for the Sixers, but it makes plenty of sense to include them in trade packages. While Saric's "glue-guy" qualities and improved long-range jumper are integral to the Sixers, he's never going to be a star. He's the kind of guy you unfortunately need to part with if you want someone like Leonard. Covington, though much-maligned, is a first team All-Defensive player and capable three-point shooter. However, Leonard is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year. The Sixers likely wouldn't have much of a problem replacing Covington.

Especially given ESPN's Ian Begley's report Sunday that "there are several people with Philadelphia who feel confident that Leonard would strongly consider re-signing there next summer if they traded for him," it makes sense for the Sixers to pursue Leonard aggressively.

It appears that they're trying to do just that while still prioritizing their trust in Fultz.

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What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons


What’s in a name? Alec Burks, Trey Burke and where Sixers stand without Ben Simmons

When Ben Simmons missed his first game of this season on Nov. 8 because of an AC joint sprain in his right shoulder, Raul Neto started and Trey Burke played 17:34 as the Sixers’ backup point guard.

Burke was waived in February and is now a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Brett Brown, however, often uses Burke’s surname when he’s talking about Alec Burks, whose addition prompted the release of Burke.

The prior sentence was likely confusing, but let's be clear: Brown knows the player who scored 22 points Friday night and closed out the Sixers’ 108-101 win over the Magic (see observations). He’s colorfully discussed Burks’ “streetball-type game” and “lightning in a bottle” potential, and he had more praise to dish out Friday. 

You just felt confident that something as simple as a spaced pick-and-roll — put Al (Horford) or (Joel Embiid) in, roll Joel, let Alec dance … it was a clean, simple environment that I thought he really was excellent in. He can get into the paint at times and just play bully ball. And he has the ability to create his own shot — he sometimes doesn’t even need a pick-and-roll. And so all of those things were part of the reason that I extended his minutes, and maybe none more importantly, I think, than his defense.

“I think he’s really taken pride in knowing the scouting report. I think he’s sitting in a stance and taking pride in not getting beat on the first or second dribble with live-dribble guys. And so the package just enabled me to play him more than I normally have been, and I think he was a major contributor to the win. He was our bell ringer tonight, and we need him doing those types of things going forward.

With Simmons sidelined by a left patella subluxation, Burks’ abilities to run a pick-and-roll and conjure offense from nothing become more valuable. In truth, though, his strengths are skills the Sixers lacked back in October. It’s why Burke — the 6-foot Allen Iverson admirer, not the 6-foot-6 University of Colorado product — held appeal as a backup point guard possibility. Many of the themes we’ve heard from Brown about instant offense and shot creation echo. 

“I think my skill set adjusts well — playing great in the pick-and-roll and I can read the defense, find open people,” Burks said. “I’m just trying to thrive in that and help the team any way I can.”

The Sixers need these traits because zero members of their original starting lineup have them. Josh Richardson, the player who comes closest to resembling that mould, shot 2 for 12 vs. the Magic and has struggled to find his spots in an offense where he’s far from the first option. The fact that Shake Milton can handle the ball, conduct a pick-and-roll and hit open shots boosted his case to start, as basic as it sounds. 

Though Burks and Milton’s minutes were staggered with the exception of an early-fourth quarter stretch, there were encouraging signs from both players individually. Milton had six points, a career-high eight assists and only one turnover in 25 minutes. Since turning it over three times in the Sixers’ seeding game opener, he has two turnovers in 78 minutes. 

“With Shake, he’s going to continue to figure it out,” Horford said. “Obviously we all haven’t played together, and that makes a difference. He continues to feel it out, he continues to understand how he needs to play. And he was good tonight. He was solid, making the right plays … not turning the ball over. 

“And then Alec, he just has the ability to score in bunches, and we need that. We just need to continue to keep him involved and put him in positions where he can help us.”

Horford started Friday alongside Milton, as he’d done on March 11 in the Sixers’ final game before the NBA’s hiatus. He played well, posting 21 points and nine rebounds, and adding a physicality that Brown appreciated. 

Despite the aforementioned positives, the Sixers trailed the 32-38 Magic by two points after three quarters. Competent ball handling and shotmaking in Simmons’ absence is necessary, but it's fair to be skeptical about whether that would be enough in the playoffs against a team like the Celtics or Bucks. After all, none of the Sixers’ three wins at Disney World have been comfortable or against top-tier opposition. 

“It’s hard to replace Ben,” Horford said. “He does a lot for our group. The way that we’re looking at it is we all just have to step up a little more. It’s going to give opportunities to guys from the bench and other guys to come in to have an impact. We really don’t know. We don’t know, we just hope that he’s able to get healthy and get healthy quickly.”



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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

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Sixers Talk podcast: Alec Burks is earning more minutes

On this edition of the Sixers Talk podcast, Danny Pommells, Paul Hudrick and Ben Berry discuss:

(1:11) — The Sixers' play in the bubble doesn't leave us with any confidence.
(5:45) — Embiid, Simmons and Horford do not fit together.
(11:45) — Should Alec Burks be higher in the rotation?
(20:55) — Josh Richardson looks out of sorts.
(24:04) — Draymond Green critical of Joel Embiid's play.
(33:40) — The reasons to be optimistic are shrinking.

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Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers