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.

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How will all the pieces fit? More ‘fair questions’ face Brett Brown, Sixers’ offense

How will all the pieces fit? More ‘fair questions’ face Brett Brown, Sixers’ offense

There are a good number of “Brett Brown-isms” — phrases distinct to the Sixers’ head coach or terms he’ll turn to often in talking with the media. Out of them all, “It’s a fair question” might best encapsulate the second half of the 2018-19 season.

Brown faced a lot of fair questions about Jimmy Butler’s role in the offense, his efforts to add more pick-and-roll and isolation, where Tobias Harris fit and much more.

Some games, it all made sense. Butler ran the show at the point with a heavy emphasis on ball screens, Ben Simmons did damage in transition and Joel Embiid was a weapon in the post. But often, the pieces didn’t quite work together. The half-court offense was nightmarish in the final few minutes of that devastating Game 7 in Toronto, when the shot clock seemed to always be ticking down the last couple of seconds.

Not as well as they should’ve,” Harris said Friday when asked whether all the pieces ever connected. “We had good little spurts of it, but they weren’t really consistent for us. I felt like we got out of it as much as we could’ve in that timeframe with the different types of games, different types of personalities or whatnot. We needed more time. We needed more time, we needed more cohesiveness. That’s something that we have now, so we have to really maximize that fully.

The Sixers do indeed have time now, with their new starting five all under contract through at least the next two seasons, and they have some different questions to answer.

“I look forward to training camp, figure all that out,” Elton Brand said Friday. “Defensively, of course that’s where we’re going to hang our hat. We should be one of the top defensive teams in the league, in my opinion. But we’ll figure out the spacing. We have a lot of versatility. Al Horford can space, Joel Embiid can space, Ben’s working on his game, Josh is a high-level scorer and Tobias is a high-level shooter and scorer also, so we’re looking forward to making that work in training camp. But it’s going to take some time. It should take some time.”

Brand is probably right that a lot of “figuring it out” will happen in training camp, when his new team will be together for the first time. Still, you’d think Brown and his staff have already started to think about offensive schemes and fit.

Simmons and Harris will likely spend more time with the ball in their hands as a byproduct of Butler’s departure. Harris had occasional opportunities to run late-game, middle pick-and-rolls, but those were mostly a Butler staple. Harris only averaged 3.7 fourth-quarter points per game in the regular season with the Sixers, 2.5 in the playoffs. And, in the rare moments when he was in the spotlight, his pick-and-roll partner was often Boban Marjanovic. Out of all the things that will likely “take some time,” Harris’ pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid is among the most important. 

For Harris, it will also be key to prove his subpar three-point shooting numbers with the Sixers last season (32.6 percent in the regular season, 34.9 percent in the playoffs) were just a blip. Richardson shot a tick over league average from three at a high volume last year, while Horford should have no problem sliding into a stretch-four role. Embiid’s soft touch and good free throw shooting (80.4 percent in 2018-19) have not translated to efficiency from the outside. Simmons has yet to show — in a game setting — that he should be part of the conversation about the team’s three-point shooting. 

Some of the strategy for Brown won't be too difficult to figure out. His team is huge and has multiple post-up threats, so we should see the Sixers play more “inside-out,” with the offense revolving around Simmons, Embiid or Horford down low. Brown already has post offense principles and spacing in place that aim to play to Embiid and Simmons’ respective strengths (see film review). 

Many elements of the Sixers’ offense will be “organic,” another favorite Brown term. The Sixers should force more than the 12.7 turnovers per game they did last season — 27th in the NBA — and their transition offense should prosper as a result. Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle are two young players who could make a unique impact in that area. 

Other questions for Brown and the Sixers will remain open well into the season. This time around, there’s much greater freedom to explore what does and doesn’t work, and much less pressure to hit on answers immediately.

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Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

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Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

Ben Simmons will not be playing for Team Australia in the World Cup while Mike Scott is living his best life on his 31st birthday. Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick talk that and sneaky teams in the East on this edition of Sixers Talk.

Simmons is choosing to work on his game for the upcoming NBA season instead of playing in the FIBA World Cup. What are the pros and cons?

Scott and the hive are having a great time on Twitter. Plus, we found out that the Sixers' forward didn't do so hot in French class at UVA.

The Sixers and Bucks appear to be the two top teams in the East. Which team could sneak up on them?

That and more below on this edition of Sixers Talk.