76ers

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

Robert Covington, Dario Saric show what Sixers lost off the court

You have to give something to get something.

In the Sixers’ case, they had to part with two players that made up two-fifths of the best starting lineup in the NBA last season. Two players that helped them win 52 games and a playoff series. Two human beings that were adored and respected by their teammates.

Robert Covington and Dario Saric returned to Philadelphia Tuesday night as members of the Minnesota Timberwolves after being part of a package to acquire four-time All-Star Jimmy Butler.

Though it wasn’t on full display with Covington out of the lineup and the Sixers crushing the Timberwolves, you could see what the Sixers are missing without the pair. Both players forged a relationship with the city and left an indelible mark on the organization.

“It’s more for me a respect thing, a friendship thing, an appreciation thing that they truly had a significant thumbprint on helping us grow this,” Brett Brown said. “Both of those two guys I’m very fond of. I’m grateful for their efforts here in helping us build our new program.”

Brown reminisced about taking the trip to Spain with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams to see Saric play with Croatia. He also took pride in seeing Covington in the D-League — now G-League — playing like a “street baller jacking up threes,” but becoming a true two-way wing.

Saric was beloved by the fans, but Covington’s relationship was a little more complicated. What’s not in question was the impact RoCo made on everyone in the building. He hugged former teammates, coaches, Wells Fargo Center staff and even media members.

Though he was ultimately traded, there’s nothing the player that went from undrafted to NBA player to NBA starter to an All-Defensive team pick would change.

“Everyone knows it’s been up and down,” Covington said of his relationship with Sixers fans. “They’re one of the craziest fan bases here, but die-hard fans. They love their sports teams. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. I’ve enjoyed the fans, good and bad. Embrace it all. But overall, this is my true first home. I always love here. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

Covington and Saric represented two large pieces of “The Process.” They were two of the biggest fruits of former GM Sam Hinkie’s labor. Covington was able to develop into a legitimate player while playing for a tanking team. Saric was acquired by a result of shrewd dealings by Hinkie.

One player still on the Sixers’ roster that also best represents “The Process” era is T.J. McConnell. Like Covington, McConnell was undrafted and has just continued to capitalize on every opportunity. It’s a group of players that’s truly bonded over the experience.

There was a fun on-court exchange between Saric and McConnell. Saric was guarding his good friend McConnell on a switch. McConnell proceeded to cross up Saric and hit a mid-range jumper. After the shot went down, McConnell gave Saric a pat on the behind.

#TrustTheFriendship

“I think that's a friend-to-friend [thing],” Saric said. “He didn’t want to disrespect me or something like that. We’re two good friends and we try to respect each other and that’s it.”

Butler is a phenomenal player, but it was a bold move by current GM Elton Brand to make the trade for the star wing.

Tuesday night was a reminder of the price the team paid off the court, not on it.

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

Whether he knows it or not, Shake Milton is now the Sixers' starting point guard

Whether he knows it or not, Shake Milton is now the Sixers' starting point guard

If you listen to Brett Brown, Shake Milton is the Sixers’ starting point guard.

If you listen to Shake Milton, the situation isn’t so definitive.

“No, not really,” Milton said Thursday night after the Sixers’ 115-106 win over the Knicks when asked if Brown had told him he could expect to start moving forward. “When somebody goes down, especially somebody who is kind of in your position, you kind of might have an idea that your number might be called, so it's just about staying ready and being prepared to play.”

Minutes earlier, Brown had raved about Milton, the second-year guard who’s gone from second-round pick to G-League standout to fringe rotation player to, well, starting point guard with Ben Simmons sidelined by nerve impingement in his lower back. He scored 19 points (6 of 7 shooting) and had four assists and two blocks vs. the Knicks. With 9 made threes in his last 11 attempts, he’s surged to a team-best 43 percent from long range. 

What a fantastic story late,” Brown said. “It’s getting to the stage where the sort of unique performances that catch your eye have become more and more frequent. … He’s just becoming consistently reliable on a bunch of things. The statistics we’re all going to see, but defensively, watch him sit in a stance and watch him follow a game plan. He’s deceptively long and I think he’s improved tremendously defensively. … 

“At this stage you’d have to say, if everybody’s looking for a tournament, he’s winning it. He’s the starting point guard. The rest of it falls into place with some other ball handlers that are more than capable and at times really good, but Shake has been a needed surprise late.

While Milton is performing above Brown's expectations, his recent success shouldn’t be shocking. At SMU, he was an excellent three-point shooter (42.7 percent from three) and a competent facilitator. In the G League, he gained experience at both guard positions and the confidence that comes with being a star in that setting. He “keeps it cool,” emphasizes being ready for anything with a steady tone in his increasingly frequent sessions with reporters, and steps in when asked. 

His jumper is a smooth and simple tool that he seems to shoot on his own terms, rarely rushed, with all the pieces aligned. An old acronym comes to mind when you watch it — Balance, eyes, elbow, follow through. 

Milton’s defense has improved recently, too, as he sharpens his feel for how and when to best use his 7-foot wingspan and takes smarter paths working around and through screens.

“I’m still learning a lot,” he said. “Every game I feel like I'm able to take away something new and learn from it, and kind of put that on my board to get better at. Tomorrow we'll go back and watch film and see the mistakes that I made and how I'm able to change those, and put out an even better effort next time.”

Tobias Harris, who led the Sixers with 34 points, said Milton’s disposition is what impressed him the most. 

“Just his fearlessness on the floor,” he said. “Shake is a really good player, but he has the confidence in himself, in his game to go out night after night and just to play. … He puts in a lot of work, works really hard. So, I'm happy for him and every time he gets an opportunity, he takes advantage of it. Tonight, he was huge for us.”

In a Sixers’ season that has, through 60 games, failed to meet expectations, a young player excelling in an expanded role is an obvious, rare feel-good story. 

To what extent Milton can sustain this level of play remains to be seen. He’ll probably be featured on more scouting reports, and it’s very possible his shooting will slump. We can say with confidence that, though he’s a far superior outside shooter, he won’t be anywhere near Simmons’ overall level any time soon. 

Milton is indeed the Sixers’ starting point guard for now, though, whether he knows it or not. 

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

Sixers Talk podcast: Joel Embiid is out, but at least we have Shake Milton

nbcsp-usa-shake-milton.jpg
NBCSP/USa Today Images

Sixers Talk podcast: Joel Embiid is out, but at least we have Shake Milton

On this edition of Sixers Talk, Paul Hudrick and Tyrone Johnson discuss the latest on Joel Embiid's injury, Tobias Harris and Shake Milton picking up the slack without Embiid and Ben Simmons, and much more.

• Reacting to the latest on Joel Embiid's shoulder injury (1:03)

• Tobias Harris and Al Horford playing better (3:24)

• Shake Milton giving the Sixers a much-needed boost (10:37)

• Glenn Robinson III claiming to not understand his role (16:14)

• Locker room issues? (23:33)

• The brutal upcoming road trip (29:01)

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