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NBA league office, Elton Brand respond to Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons situation

NBA league office, Elton Brand respond to Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons situation

Updated: 5:51 p.m.

The mini-drama regarding Ben Simmons wanting to work with Magic Johnson this summer to learn "big guard" secrets might not be over.

The NBA is looking into whether any contact took place between the Lakers and Simmons that violated league rules.

Tampering, we would presume, might be one of the league rules in question. 

Sixers general manager Elton Brand also responded to the situation, speaking with ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Lakers released an official response Monday night, indicating that they received an email from the Sixers in November asking if Simmons would be able to speak with Johnson.

https://twitter.com/mcten/status/1095090569943097345

Earlier Monday, Brand said on 97.5 The Fanatic that he declined to give Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka permission to talk with Simmons

Johnson's decision Sunday before the Sixers' 143-120 win over the Lakers to mention the possibility of working with Simmons this summer was unusual, and it's certainly grabbed a few headlines.

The notion that Simmons would want to learn from Johnson isn't so odd. Simmons is obviously not at a Hall of Fame level yet, but his game has justifiably drawn comparisons to Johnson's. His 12 regular-season triple-doubles last season passed Johnson for second-most ever by a rookie, behind only Oscar Robertson.

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Sixers' week ahead: A possible playoff preview, Tobias Harris' slump, Jimmy Butler's return to Minnesota

Sixers' week ahead: A possible playoff preview, Tobias Harris' slump, Jimmy Butler's return to Minnesota

While the sting of a disappointing loss in Atlanta is still fresh, the Sixers have a chance to redeem themselves Monday night in Orlando.

They’ll also host Brooklyn in a possible playoff preview and catch up with an old friend in Minnesota Saturday.

Here’s a look at the Sixers’ week ahead.

Hoping to find the Magic

Whether it was a letdown coming off a couple big wins or them taking a hungry young Hawks team too lightly, the Sixers simply didn’t show up Saturday night.

Their defense in the first half was horrendous as they allowed 74 points, the most they’ve surrendered to an opponent in a half this season. They struggled with a familiar issue, failing to stifle rookie Trae Young in the pick-and-roll.

But as Brett Brown alluded to postgame, it wasn’t strategy. It was execution.

“We had probably three or four different [adjustments] from blitzing to switching to hedging to dropping,” Brown said. “If you really dug in and looked at that, you would have seen that. I can’t say that any of them were incredibly effective, but they did force us to try and make different adjustments in the pick-and-roll.”

Expect a better effort Monday against a Magic team that’s fighting for its playoff life.

Tobi will come around

Tobias Harris was a monster in his first eight games as a Sixer, averaging 21.9 points while shooting 55 percent from the field and 42 percent from three. In his last 11, he’s down to 17.3 points on 45 percent from the field and 31 percent from three.

Harris is having an All-Star-caliber season, but every player — especially shooters — has their ups and downs. JJ Redick is a perfect example. He wasn’t hitting anything after the All-Star break and then followed it up with a torrid five-game stretch in which he shot 55 percent from three.

Whether it’s fatigue — he’s played in all 74 games for his teams this season — or just a rough patch, Harris deserves the benefit of the doubt given his recent track record. Also, it’s better that he gets this kind of slump out of the way now instead of mid-April. 

Playoff preview?

The Nets have given the Sixers fits this season. Guards D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie have scorched them, averaging a combined 51 points while both shooting over 55 percent in three matchups this season.

The only Sixers’ win was because of a furious comeback capped off by a ridiculous Jimmy Butler game-winner. In fairness, the teams haven’t squared off since Dec. 12 and Butler was out of the lineup — Furkan Korkmaz started in his place — in a three-point Sixers’ loss. This isn't even the same Sixers team.

If the playoffs started today, this would be the first-round matchup. It would behoove the Sixers to show up Thursday in front of their home crowd.

The return of Jimmy

Butler will return to Minnesota for the first time since the drama of his trade request ultimately landed him on the Sixers. 

While Butler was relatively quiet in the Sixers’ blowout win back on Jan. 15, he’s been a force recently. Over his last five games, Butler is averaging 23.8 points a game. 

The two most encouraging signs are his free throws and threes in that span. Butler has been aggressive getting to the rim, averaging 8.8 free throw attempts a game. Him attempting 3.2 threes and hitting 38 percent from there is a huge boon for his fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.

The Sixers will also see Dario Saric for the second time as an opponent. Saric was such a key part of the Sixers’ playoff run last season, but has struggled to carve out a consistent role with the Timberwolves. Robert Covington, the key asset in that deal, is sidelined for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Covington hasn’t played in 2019.

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Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's Hall of Fame prospects and Brett Brown's 'perfecting vanilla' philosophy

Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's Hall of Fame prospects and Brett Brown's 'perfecting vanilla' philosophy

The Sixers took down the team with the best record in the NBA, pushed aside questions about the Celtics having their number and beat the Hornets behind JJ Redick’s first career double-double. Though the week ended on a low, with a loss Saturday to the 26-48 Hawks, the Sixers hold a three-game lead over the Pacers for the third seed in the Eastern Conference (see standings). 

Here are a couple of observations from the week:

• Joel Embiid averaged 34.7 points, 16.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game this week. His stats sometimes creep up on you, but it feels like his numbers don’t even properly capture his contributions, especially against Milwaukee and Boston.

After Friday’s practice, Embiid said he not only wants to be the best Sixer ever, but “the best to ever do it" (see story). He mentioned wanting to eventually shoot 90 percent from the foul line and later added he’s “sure he’s going to get to a point” where he’s a 40 percent three-point shooter. To have a realistic chance of being the best player ever, Embiid may very well have to reach those absurd marks. Dirk Nowitzki, the best big man shooter ever, only hit marks of 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three-point range and 90 percent from the free throw line once, in the 2006-07 season.

Embiid’s ambition of being the greatest of all time might be a stretch (though there’s certainly nothing wrong with his drive to be great). The thought that he could one day be a Hall of Famer, though, is not anywhere close to delusional. If he can stay healthy — which, for the sake of the sport of basketball, let’s hope he does — the Hall of Fame looks downright probable. His consistent dominance and special skills suggest as much, and so do the stats. 

Our Reuben Frank found an incredible stat on Embiid. Only nine players in NBA history have had 3,500 points and 1,500 rebounds through their first 150 career games, per Basketball Reference. One of them is Embiid, and the other eight are Hall of Famers. 

• Brett Brown likes to talk about “perfecting vanilla” — sharpening the basics and avoiding overcomplication. The wins over the Bucks and Celtics are good arguments for his approach, illustrations of how the Sixers have the talent to beat elite teams without doing anything too exotic.

But perfecting vanilla doesn’t necessarily exclude incorporating subtle wrinkles. Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia last week the Sixers are interested in more “slashing” around Embiid in the post, more off-ball movement against “blind” defensive players (see story). We’re also starting to see more pick-and-rolls between Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. For the most part, though, the offense has a few fundamental actions that work.

You can’t say the same about the defense. 

The strategy of putting Embiid on Giannis Antetokounmpo and living with the other Bucks taking threes was ultimately effective, though Milwaukee still put up 43 points in the fourth quarter Sunday. The defensive effort in the first half against Charlotte was mediocre, and the Sixers were fortunate the Hornets missed a number of open threes late. Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier had their way Wednesday for the first two quarters. And in Atlanta, the team’s pick-and-roll defense was not pretty — miscommunications, players getting caught on top of screens without much resistance, inconsistent help defense.

Though the Sixers’ offense appears to have the freedom to expand a little beyond the basics if they’d like, the defense doesn’t have that same luxury. 

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