Sixers agree to deal with Trey Burke, who figures to be in the mix at backup PG

Sixers agree to deal with Trey Burke, who figures to be in the mix at backup PG

The Sixers have their 15-man roster.

The team has agreed to terms on a one-year, veteran minimum deal with point guard Trey Burke, a team source confirmed Thursday night to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium first reported the agreement. 

With the signing of Burke, the Sixers have the maximum of 15 players under contract for next regular season, along with Christ Koumadje on an Exhibit 10 deal and Marial Shayok and Norvel Pelle on two-way deals. Teams can have up to 20 players on the roster during training camp, so the team could add still add two more players at this stage as long as it cuts down to 15 by the start of the regular season. In all likelihood, this current group of 15 players will be the roster that starts the 2019-20 season for the Sixers. 

The 6-foot-1 Burke averaged 10.9 points and 2.7 assists in 58 games last season between the New York Knicks and Dallas Mavericks. This will be the 26-year-old’s fifth NBA team.

He projects to be part of the competition for the Sixers at backup point guard. The Sixers also signed Raul Neto to a one-year, veteran minimum deal this summer, but Neto’s injury history — he hasn’t played more than 41 games in a season over the past three years — makes the decision to add another point guard very understandable. Shake Milton is another player who could be part of the backup point guard picture, though you’d figure Neto and Burke would currently have the edge over the 22-year-old Milton given their status as proven NBA players. 

Burke isn’t an elite three-point shooter (35.6 percent from three last season), but his strength is shot creation, a tool the Sixers could use off the bench. 

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Sixers may be counting on youth in a big way at Disney World

Sixers may be counting on youth in a big way at Disney World

Normally once the playoffs start, coaches will look to players with experience. They want battle-tested veterans that have been through the rigors of an NBA postseason.

For the Sixers, there is a chance that they’ll be counting on three players 23 years old or younger. Two of them have never played a single playoff game while the other has played less than 40 career postseason minutes.

Yet Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton have all played significant roles for the Sixers at one time or another this season. Will they be ready if their numbers are called in the playoffs?

The Sixers will have to hope their young contributors don’t think too much about the situation they’re in and just play basketball.

You don’t know — no team knows what they look like as a team,” Thybulle said. “I know what I’ve been doing individually in my workouts, I know that I feel good, my shot looks good, I feel like I’m in shape, but in terms of what that means for the 76ers or for any other team in the league, I think it’s fairly unknown. I think for us, for me, it’s all about the challenge of hitting the ground running.

Throughout the course of his rookie year, Thybulle has done well to take things as they come. Whether it was being asked to guard Kemba Walker on opening night or start for a stretch when Joel Embiid was out, Thybulle has been thrown into the fire more than once this season.

Though he’s had his ups and downs and his playing time has fluctuated, Thybulle proved to be a strong and disruptive defender. He’s one of only eight players in the league to have at least 80 steals and 40 blocks. If a guard or wing is giving the Sixers an exceptionally hard time in the playoffs, Brett Brown could look to Thybulle to help mitigate the damage.

If the Sixers are in need of shooting, Brown would likely turn to Korkmaz. The Turkish wing has had somewhat of an improbable season. After the Sixers struck out on signing veteran sharpshooter Kyle Korver this summer, GM Elton Brand circled back to Korkmaz, who was reportedly on the verge of heading back overseas to play. 

Korkmaz has rewarded the organization by providing some ridiculously hot shooting that has bailed the Sixers’ sometimes clunky offense out of jams. He leads the team in threes made and is shooting 39.7 percent from three, the second-best mark on the team.

We were having this conversation every time with Coach Brown,” Korkmaz said. “Every time he just keeps telling me I just need to keep doing what I did all season and keep doing it for the playoffs in Orlando. Nothing changed. Also, we know playoffs in Orlando is going to be more physical than the regular season. We all expect that and we’re all ready for that and we’re all working for that. And Brett said to me just keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to be an important piece, and I’m trying to get ready for it.

Brown had a similar message for Milton, who may have the upper hand on Thybulle and Korkmaz because of his diverse skillset. If Brown is truly interested in unleashing Ben Simmons as a screener and roller, Milton could be key in tapping into that look as the primary ball handler.

Unlike Thybulle and Korkmaz, Milton’s true opportunity didn’t come until later in the season. After a few solid performances before the All-Star break, Milton was told by Brown that he wasn’t going to be in the rotation with everyone healthy and the additions of Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III.

Milton simply waited for his next chance to play and got it when Ben Simmons went down with a nerve impingement in his lower back. The second-year player took over as the team’s starting point guard and crushed the opportunity, averaging 17.8 points and shooting a blistering 60.4 percent from three over his last nine games.

I definitely feel more confident,” Milton said. “I’d say it’s probably stemming from the fact that playing those last nine games or whatever with all those guys out, it gave me the opportunity to kind of go out there and test things and see what could work, and really explore my game. I feel like for any player, when they’re given an opportunity to do something like that, to see what works and have freedoms, I feel like you’re going to see growth anywhere. I definitely feel good, I feel confident, and I’m excited.

None of these players have a rotational spot locked up. Burks, Robinson and Mike Scott have the advantage of experience. Newcomer Ryan Broekhoff may even force his way into the mix. Brown has said he'd like to have his playoff rotation down to nine, which should create healthy competition and perhaps another "quiet tournament" during the eight seeding games.

In an unprecedented situation at Disney World, the Sixers hope this trio of young players doesn’t concern themselves with going into uncharted territory and focuses more on doing the things that got them here. 

At the end of the day, it’s still basketball.

“We’re finding ourselves in a situation where [the playoffs will be different than usual],” Thybulle said, “so I think it’s going to be new for everyone, even vets who have been part of the playoffs, trying to get a feel for what this is going to be like. But I’m open to the challenge and I’m excited for what’s in store.”

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Why it’s logical to be wary of NBA restart or feel it shouldn’t be happening

Why it’s logical to be wary of NBA restart or feel it shouldn’t be happening

Even among those who have built their careers and lives around basketball, the attitude toward the NBA’s planned restart in Orlando has not been unconditional enthusiasm. 

The Sixers travel to Disney World on Thursday and are scheduled to resume play on Aug. 1, and yet shouting, “Basketball is back!” would feel incongruous in so many ways. There are valid reasons to be excited, sure — watching Joel Embiid dunk and shimmy again sounds fun — but also to be wary and troubled. 

An obvious one is the location of the NBA’s campus. Florida reported 9,989 new coronavirus cases Wednesday and hospitals across the state are running out of available ICU beds, including in Orange County. 

Outside of financial motivations, it is unclear why playing a sport during a pandemic would be necessary or prudent, especially in a location that’s seen such a rise in cases and toll on the healthcare system. The vision of sports being a unifier, symbol of hope and welcome distraction does not outweigh other strong, tangible concerns. 

Embiid, who said Tuesday he “hated the idea” of playing at Disney World and does not believe it is sufficiently safe, laid out the situation well. 

If you told me that the current trend is that people are getting sick and a lot of people are dying,” he said, “obviously you don’t know what's going to happen and you don’t want to be in a situation where you put your life at risk ... and all that stuff, just for what? The money and all that stuff. At the end of the day, basketball is not all that matters. I've got family, I've got myself to look out for. That's all I care about.

Is there a legitimate argument against his perspective? One might claim Embiid should be quiet and do his job, as many who are paid much less have. There are several rebuttals to this contention, though.  

Firstly, the fact that people across the country have gone back to work does not automatically mean the regulations which cleared their return were advisable. For instance, the spike in Florida’s cases sure seems to suggest that many aspects of life were allowed to reopen too soon there. Second, the money Embiid has earned should not prohibit him from highlighting that the NBA’s venture contains substantial risk. And third, Embiid’s concerns are not wholly self-motivated.

We wear masks, use hand sanitizer and physically distance to minimize the risk of exposing others to the coronavirus. Embiid said he’ll follow all of the league’s health and safety protocols but is not confident everyone else will do the same. With 22 groups of up to 35 people expected to be in the league’s “bubble,” that is a fair worry, even with the NBA's meticulous plans to maintain as much separation as possible. 

Even if Embiid were only concerned with himself, it's worth noting the long-term, non-fatal effects of the coronavirus are not yet known. It appears there may be serious future impacts for some, such as lung scarring. Even for athletes who are young and otherwise healthy, the virus can have a severe effect. Phillies second baseman Scott Kingery recounted a harrowing, hellish experience with COVID-19 that included chills, extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and loss of smell and taste in an interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury

Brett Brown talked last week about hoping to see “appropriate fear” of the coronavirus. At a minimum, it’s apparent the level of fear here should not be zero. 

There is no monolithic view from the Sixers on the restart plan.

Raul Neto is concerned about being away from loved ones but thinks “there’s not any way to be safer than what we’re going to be going through in the bubble.” Though Furkan Korkmaz knows there are “going to be some risks,” he believes in the NBA. While respecting the personal decisions of those who sit out, Ben Simmons trusts the league and veterans like LeBron James and Chris Paul. Alec Burks considered opting out when he learned his wife was pregnant — she’s due in December — but chose to go along with his teammates. Shake Milton “doesn’t really think we should be playing.” 

It is a nuanced and high-stakes matter. For Milton and other players, the thought of detracting from issues such as racial inequality and police brutality doesn’t sit well. 

“There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball,” Milton said Tuesday. “I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”

Mike Scott described the NBA’s idea of allowing players to choose from a pre-approved list of words and phrases to put on the back of their jerseys as “terrible” and a “bad list.” 

The NBA has said the aim of the restart is to “take collective action to combat systemic racism and promote social justice.” It will certainly be interesting to see what the league and its players do on that front.

“I think there’s definitely going to be something that we’re going to be doing,” Josh Richardson said Monday, “so just keep your eyes peeled.” 

The aforementioned financial incentives loom over just about every choice the league makes. If the season were to be canceled, the CBA could be terminated under the force majeure clause. 

Commissioner Adam Silver hasn’t ruled out cancellation if the NBA’s plan proves ineffective.

“If we had any sort of significant spread within our campus, we would be shut down again,” Silver said Tuesday in an interview with Fortune Brainstorm Health, per ESPN

We don’t have an exact number from Silver regarding what would constitute a “significant spread.” If we never find out what it is, that’s a very positive development.

But, as the NBA attempts to pull off a multi-month indoor sporting endeavor during a pandemic, it’s only logical to have some degree of trepidation.

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