Sixers' batting around combo of Dario Saric, Robert Covington in trade for Kawhi Leonard

Sixers' batting around combo of Dario Saric, Robert Covington in trade for Kawhi Leonard

The reports and rumors keep coming in as July 1 approaches.

LeBron James. Paul George. Kawhi Leonard. The three biggest names out there this offseason have all been linked to the Sixers. The latest report is surrounding Leonard and what the Sixers are considering offering the Spurs for his services — this after a report surfaced earlier that the Spurs are "ready" to move on from Leonard (see story).

The team has discussed several packages with ownership, including a deal that includes Dario Saric, Robert Covington and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick acquired in the draft-night trade from the Suns, according to Sports Illustrated's Jake Fischer. While the Sixers have discussed a trade internally, they have not made a formal offer to San Antonio, per Fischer.

The interesting omissions here are 2017 No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and the Sixers’ first-round pick this year, Zhaire Smith. The most likely reason is the Spurs’ current backcourt situation, which features Washington product Dejounte Murray and Australia native Patty Mills. Murray is just 21 and Mills just re-signed with the team last offseason.

It’s been reported from the outset of Leonard-related rumors that his preferred destination is L.A. This new report does say that he’d be willing to sign in a bigger market. The Sixers would appear to be an attractive option for Leonard, who was coached by Brown in San Antonio and has been treated by Sixers chief medical officer Dr. Jonathan Glashow. 

Of course Leonard comes with plenty of risk having only played in nine games this past season because of a quad injury. The murkiness of his relationship with the Spurs will lead to questions. And of course, his contract situation may cause some teams to be wary of deal for the soon-to-be 27-year-old.

The Sixers are star hunting and apparently Leonard is a prime target.

More on the Sixers

Sixers vs. Bulls: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Bulls: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (26-16) look to continue their home dominance when they take on the Bulls (15-27) Friday night.

The Sixers are still without Joel Embiid who continues to progress after having surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left ring finger. 

The Bulls are banged up, with Otto Porter Jr. (left foot fracture), Wendell Carter Jr. (right ankle sprain) and Daniel Gafford (dislocated right thumb) all out. Chandler Hutchinson (right shoulder soreness) is questionable while Ryan Arcidiacono, Lauri Markkanen, Tomas Satoransky and Luke Kornet are listed as probable. 

Here are the essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

The half-court offense

There’s been plenty made about Ben Simmons’ unwillingness to shoot and how that’s affected the Sixers’ half-court offense (see film review)

Brett Brown has done well to put Simmons in positions to maximize his strengths, using him as a screener and roller with Josh Richardson. Simmons himself has done better in the last few games eating up the space opponents are giving and making plays at the rim. With the Bulls missing their top two shot blockers, this could be a big night for Simmons.

The pick-and-roll in general has become a bigger part of the Sixers’ offense recently. That’s largely due to Brown using the skills of Richardson and Tobias Harris in that action. We saw Harris seal the win over the Nets with an 11-point fourth quarter. A couple nights earlier in Indiana, we saw Richardson almost will the Sixers to a road win with 17 points in the fourth.

There’s still plenty to sort out and Embiid’s inevitable return will also complicate things, but the offense is showing encouraging signs.

Need more from the bench

While Matisse Thybulle has shown big-time flashes and Furkan Korkmaz’s shooting has made a huge difference in a couple wins, the Sixers are lacking consistency from their reserves.

Brown didn’t shy away from that fact after practice Thursday.

We're trying to establish a little bit more consistency from that area. And at times that you can't, you better have answers. And although we have the answers, not really anybody has just stamped their foot and said, 'This is mine.' And you hope over time, that happens. In the event that it doesn't, we're going to play this thing out and try to be wiser and smarter in the final third of the year as the run to the playoffs gets closer.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for veterans James Ennis and Mike Scott, who have had their struggles as of late.

Brown does seem keen on Thybulle being a rotational mainstay. The rookie got the start in the win over the Nets and did well, recording four blocks and two steals, but also played strong 1-on-1 defense. As he proved in the win over Brooklyn, he’s not just a “one-trick pony,” with the ability to guard different types of perimeter players.

Slowing down LaVine

The Bulls are off to a disappointing start this season. They’ve won two of their last three, but that’s coming off the heels of a six-game losing streak. Still, Chicago finds itself with a fighting chance for the East’s eighth seed halfway through the season. The play of Zach LaVine is a huge reason why.

LaVine is putting up All-Star caliber numbers, averaging 24.6 points a game. He’s shooting 40 percent on over eight attempts from a three a game — both would be career-high marks. He was also a nightmare for the Sixers last season. He averaged 34.5 points in the two games he played against them.

Thybulle has experience against LaVine. Both played high school basketball in Washington state. At that time, LaVine was a senior and one of the top high school players in the state. Thybulle was just a freshman.

His efforts that day could be the reason Thybulle ended up at the University of Washington.

“I ended up going to University of Washington like everyone knows, but that was the first time Coach Romar, who was the coach at the time, ever saw me,” Thybulle said. “I must have done something good because he kept his eye on me.”

LaVine, a serious All-Star candidate, and Thybulle, an impressive rookie, could square off again Friday.

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 players show support for new WNBA CBA

AP Images

Sixers players show support for new WNBA CBA

The WNBA and players union made huge strides on Tuesday when they came to terms on a new collective bargaining agreement that increases pay, improves travel accommodations, and provides better support for motherhood, amongst additional improvements.

It also brought awareness to those, including myself, that didn’t fully realize the extent for the limited support WNBA players receive.

For many, what might’ve seemed standard, are huge wins for the WNBA.

A brief overview:

• Seats now upgraded to economy plus or comfort plus (players will still travel commercial).

• Individual hotel rooms on the road (prior, this was reserved only for veterans).

• Full salary while on maternity leave (in the old CBA, a player could earn as little as half of her base salary if she missed the season due to pregnancy or childbirth).

• Significant salary bump for league’s highest-paid players (from an annual base salary of $117,500 to $215,000).

• Minimum salary for players with two years (or less) experience increased to $57,000 (from $41,965), and for three years (or more) to $68,000 (from $56,375).

• Potential to earn 50-50 revenue split with the league (currently estimated around 20 percent. In the NBA, it is near 50-50).

Sixers guard Josh Richardson voiced his support to NBC Sports Philadelphia on Wednesday.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Richardson said of the new CBA. “The last CBA was not super player friendly and I’m glad to see they get a bigger percentage and hopefully it can just keep increasing.”

“As a basketball player, I have sisters who play and who have put just as many hours as myself to play the game,” Tobias Harris said. “I think it’s good that now they can have an upgrade in pay to entice them for what they do, and I think it’s great they came to an agreement on that, and it’s well overdue.”

“I think it’s a huge step and I hope it continues because there are some other things that we want them to continue to get and showcase,” Al Horford said. “I was very happy when I saw the news that they would be getting some of those just basic things that they absolutely deserve.”

One of the biggest issues surrounding the WNBA is the fact that so many women have to go play overseas in their “offseason,” to be able to make a decent living.

This means that many professional women’s basketball players are playing year-round, something that Horford said he realized after training with Diana Taurasi early in his NBA career.

“No. 1, I think about the travel, and No. 2, having to play a sport year-round, and the fact that now the salaries have increased, I think that will help, maybe them not wanting to go overseas and playing so much.”

Under the new CBA, the average salaries are expected to increase to $130,000.

“It’s a grind,” Horford said. “I couldn’t imagine playing a full NBA season, and then having to go play overseas in the summer. I think it’s a huge step and we hope that things continue to fall in line because of that.”

Mention that full maternity leave was not part of the old CBA and players' eyes widen.

“That was ridiculous,” Harris said.

“It’s messed up,” Richardson said. “I just don’t think it’s how it should be working …”

“That was crazy,” Shake Milton said. “I don’t understand, they have to put everything on hold and have a child and don’t get paid? That’s wild to me.”

“I didn’t know all of that, but now I do know,” said Raul Neto. “It’s crazy.”

There’s one area where we can all agree.

“Changes that were long overdue,” Milton said.

“That deal should have been in place a long time ago,” Harris said.

“I just think a lot of people need to wake up and see that if you genuinely like basketball, you would have to like the WNBA. I think with this deal, more and more people should have appreciation for what they’re doing.”

And the future looks a little brighter for young girls wanting to be professional basketball players.

“I think it’s a big step for young girls that want to be basketball players, because if you want to be a basketball player and you see all the struggles, it’s something that kind of makes you step out of sports,” Neto said.

“It will be so good for the game of basketball in general, and for younger girls growing up, that can look at it as an outlet,” Milton said. “Before, a lot of people might not have stuck to it or chose that path just because of that. They deserve it, so it’s huge.”

“Those girls can play, they can really play,” Horford said. “Honestly, I’m just very happy that they are going to get more fair opportunities.”

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