76ers

Sixers' 1st-round trade all about flexibility to chase star players

Sixers' 1st-round trade all about flexibility to chase star players

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers had plans for options “1A” and “1B” with the No. 10 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. Then, they had plans for their future.

For the first time in years, this draft wasn’t about the Sixers finding the next big star in the making. It provided an opportunity for the them to potentially acquire a player who’s already made his mark in the NBA. 

“We are star hunting,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. “Or we are star developing. That’s how you win a championship.” 

The Sixers began their night by drafting Villanova forward Mikal Bridges 10th overall. Beyond his collegiate ties, he grew up locally and his mother works for the organization. It was an easy fit, both on and off the court, with his skills to contribute this coming season. The Sixers ranked Bridges option “1A” among all prospects. 

The draft, though, was far from over. As the first round continued, so did discussions with other teams. The Suns came to the Sixers with an offer they couldn’t turn down — Texas guard Zhaire Smith, also known as the Sixers’ “1B,” and the Heat’s 2021 unprotected first-round pick. That’s right, unprotected. 

The Sixers had to put the personal connections aside. They said yes to the deal.

“There is a human side to this that is kind of really hard to explain,” Brown, who approved the final decision, said. “We all, I am assuming, go from this level of excitement and coincidence, like you can’t make this up, to something as a group, we sit there and we field offers. Again, one we knocked back that was a great opportunity, really a great opportunity. 

“And then there it is. There’s this thing that involves our 1B. It wasn’t like it involved another player. It was our 1B who we had targeted and brought back twice and studied the things that we felt he could improve on to really be quite different in the NBA because of his incredible character and athleticism and toughness. 

“And then there’s a 2021 pick, and we all understand that that could be the year that high school people are allowed into the NBA and that is far out. And it also could be the thing … that could be the thing that flips it with us having more assets to enhance a realistic trade for a star.” 

There are times with trades like this that the pick becomes an afterthought, a throw-in to complete the deal. Not in this case. 

The Sixers are looking to elevate the roster with “high-level talent.” While they have the salary cap flexibility to land a mega free agent like LeBron James or Paul George, there are no guarantees. If they were to try to acquire a star through a heavily-packaged trade, the inclusion of a first-round pick could be the difference maker in making it happen. Kawhi Leonard headlines the NBA’s the top trade prospects.  

“We talked about it all the time and it always comes back to what you hear us say all the time, ‘How do you get a star?’” Brown said. “You’re going to need assets, we understand that. If you’re going to really want to go out into a trade, they’re going to look at what do you have. The more good things we have obviously the better off we can attract the stars that we all know are out there … 

“It happened organically. It wasn’t something that we sought. They chased us. They chased us and they chased us hard. Obviously, the rewards, the assets that they gave up were something that was hard for us to backpedal from.”

What the Sixers do with the 2021 pick remains to be seen. What is certain in the now is the team sees potential for Smith. The 19-year old averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks and 1.1 steals last season as a freshman. He isn’t projected to be the immediate contributor that Bridges was, but the Sixers have time to develop rookies with their successful young core already intact. 

“The fact that he has a foundation that is incredibly unique in his relation to his athleticism [made him 1B],” Brown said. “The foundation that he has in his character, the foundation that he has in his defense, the incredible growth that we are seeing in his shot, his ability to create his own shot. There is no mystery of how we want to play here in Philadelphia, nor is there no mystery on the direction our sport is growing … We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.”

The Sixers’ draft night trade could be just the beginning of a summer of major moves. 

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Sixers take out frustrations on Cavaliers in blowout win

Sixers take out frustrations on Cavaliers in blowout win

BOX SCORE

If ever a team needed a laugher, it was the Sixers.

After dropping five straight road games, they took their frustrations out on the Cavaliers in a 114-95 win at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Sunday.

It’s the Sixers’ first victory away from home since their thrilling win in Portland on Nov. 2. They improve to 8-5 on the young season. They’re back at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday to take on the Knicks (7 p.m./NBCSP)

Here are observations from the win.

That’s how you get right

The first few possessions were not great for the Sixers defensively. It looked like another game that could be doomed by poor pick-and-roll defense and turnovers — a familiar theme throughout the young season. 

Boy, did that change in a hurry. 

The Sixers got a nice defensive boost from James Ennis, ending the first quarter on a 17-4 run and assisting on 12 of their first 15 makes. They played smothering defense and turned that into easy offense.

It was by far the Sixers’ best half of the season as they shot 68.3 percent from the field, committed just five turnovers and outscored the Cavs, 68-44. 

The most encouraging thing is that they didn’t let up. They kept their foot on the gas and never let Cleveland back in the game.

This is what it was supposed to look like

The Sixers had lost five of their last seven, which exacerbated the issues of the starting five. On Sunday, they looked like a well-oiled machine. We saw the “bully ball” offense out in full force. With their size, the Sixers are going to have mismatches pretty much every night. It was a clear emphasis against the Cavs. 

You saw Ben Simmons find Josh Richardson for a wide open three out of the post. Tobias Harris got doubled in the post and found Joel Embiid for an easy bucket. Al Horford ran the pick-and-pop with Simmons for a short jumper. 

No, Cleveland is not a defensive juggernaut, but this was the most encouraging offensive showing by the starters this season. At times, their ball movement was unreal. Now it’s about taking this performance into their next game.

It’s worth noting that Harris appears to be off the schneid as he stuffed the stat sheet with a game-high 27 points (12 of 14), five rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks.

When Jo and Ben are at their best …

For those screaming that Embiid needs to be in the post, this had to be refreshing. There’s no secret to it. Brett Brown didn’t make any crazy adjustments. It boils down to Embiid running rim to rim instead of three-point line to three-point line. He got down the floor and got early position for easy post ups. He screened and rolled hard to the rim as well, which makes a huge difference. He was his dominant self Sunday, but more importantly, he played just a little over 22 minutes.

Though as mentioned it was against the Cavs, it’s always encouraging to see both Embiid and Simmons get going in the same game. Cedi Osman was no match for Simmons. Simmons took him off the dribble and punished him in the post. Simmons also continues to be strong defensively. He looks more engaged this season and well on his way to earning some type of All-Defensive Team honors. 

He finished with 10 points, 11 assists, four rebounds, two blocks and a steal in just under 26 minutes.

Boost from the bench

The Sixers got just 11 points from their bench Friday in Oklahoma City. The reserves had 20 at the half Sunday.

Ennis was a huge part of that. He hit a trio of corner threes and was active defensively and on the glass throughout. Ennis has given the Sixers solid run his last three games. He had a season-high 14 points.

It’s clear that Furkan Korkmaz has cooled from his torrid pace, but it was good to see the Turkish wing put the ball on the floor and make a couple plays for 13 points. Rookie Matisse Thybulle was good in his first-half run, hitting a three and finishing on a rare drive. Trey Burke got the backup point guard minutes over Raul Neto.

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Sixers at Cavaliers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers at Cavaliers: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (7-5) will look to get back into the win column in Cleveland when they take on the Cavaliers (4-7) this afternoon.

Here are the essentials for today’s game:

When: 3 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m.
Where: Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+ 
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch:

Time to get right

There’s no such thing as a good loss, but man, the Sixers’ losses have been particularly brutal. On Friday night, they held a nine-point lead with 7:20 to go but gave up a 12-2 run and eventually lost in overtime to the Thunder.

The Sixers have glaring issues — especially in their starting five — but Brett Brown feels like he knows what they are.

“If you're sick and you don't know why, that's a problem,” Brown said. “We are in a tough spot right now, but it's a long year. I think that it doesn't take much for me to understand where we have to get better. And it's really that simple. If you're scratching your head, sort of confused, then I think we got some problems and that's not what I'm doing. I think the guys understand the areas that matter most that can best impact changing the way things are going and get back on the winning side.”

We'll see.

Taking care of business

This Cavs team isn’t as bad as perhaps we all thought coming into this season. They start two extremely young guards in Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, but they’re still flanked by veteran bigs Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson.

Cleveland also gave the Sixers all they could handle earlier this week — especially veteran guard Jordan Clarkson (20 points). The Sixers were able to sneak out of the Wells Fargo Center with a 98-97 win. Then again, when is the last time this team played a game that wasn’t close?

While the Cavs are maybe better than anticipated, this is a team the Sixers should be able to get well against. On Tuesday, they held Cleveland scoreless for over three minutes to close out the game. They need to bring that for 48 minutes and get right with a win over a team they’re clearly more talented than. 

Sorting out the bench

Furkan Korkmaz was scorching hot for a six-game stretch. He shot 50.9 percent from three and averaged 13.8 points in mostly bench minutes. In his last three games, he’s just 4 of 16 from distance. The issue with Korkmaz is if he’s not hitting shots, he doesn’t bring much else to the table. You saw Oklahoma City pick on him in overtime after Tobias Harris fouled out.

Korkmaz has been getting the most minutes off Brown’s bench recently. Should he be? Rookie Matisse Thybulle got off to a roaring start, but has looked overmatched offensively. With that said, he’s just so special defensively, Brown should deal with the growing pains on the other end. In games Thybulle has played at least 12 minutes, the Sixers are 6-1.

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