CAMDEN, N.J. — When Corey Brewer signed his first 10-day contract with the Sixers, he probably didn’t envision a scenario in which he’d start three consecutive games.
Yet, given the team’s injury woes, there's a very real possibility Brewer could again take Jimmy Butler's spot in the starting lineup as the Sixers embark on a four-game West Coast road trip, starting in Denver Saturday night.
Butler is doubtful for Saturday's game with the sprained right wrist that's sidelined him since Monday.
While Brewer, who inked a second 10-day deal Friday, has sparked the Sixers with his tenacious, jubilant, irritating defensive performances on James Harden and DeMar DeRozan the past two games, the fact that the Sixers are in a position where they need to start someone who hadn’t taken part in an NBA game this season until Jan. 15 highlights the team’s depth, or lack thereof.
“Where you end up feeling it the most,” head coach Brett Brown said Friday, “is, ‘what’s your depth?’ What’s the depth of your team? [General manager] Elton Brand is doing aggressive work behind the scenes trying to figure out the design of our team as the trade deadline comes up, and I’m following his lead.”
Before the Feb. 7 deadline, Brewer should have ample opportunity to prove he’s the “perimeter defensive player” Brown previously said he wanted the Sixers to add (see story). And, with Joel Embiid set to rest Saturday, you’d expect Jonah Bolden will start and have another chance to solidify his spot as the Sixers’ backup center.
According to Brown, Embiid wasn’t thrilled about sitting in Denver, though Brown emphasized that “it really just is a planned rest.”
“He’s never, ‘Oh, this is a great idea,’” he said. “It’s never that. It’s more swayed to where I understand, this has been determined with him. You should hear that quite loudly and it needs to be written plainly. This is not sort of marching orders, this is a collaborative discussion that has been ongoing for a while. This news isn’t surprising him or any of us. He understands. He understands.”
The rookie Bolden has impressed since assuming the backup five role on Jan. 15 vs. Minnesota. Over his last five games, Bolden has averaged 6.0 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks in just 12.8 minutes. He’s knocked down 8 of his last 14 three-point shots.
Meanwhile, lurking in the background of the discussion about the Sixers’ depth is Markelle Fultz. The second-year guard hasn’t played since Nov. 19 and based on Brown’s comments about Fultz, there’s no reason to think he’ll be back in a game anytime soon. Fultz rejoined the team last Saturday after undergoing physical therapy for thoracic outlet syndrome with Dr. Judy Seto in Los Angeles. He’ll travel with the Sixers during their road trip, Brown said.
He will [continue physical therapy on the road trip.] I will be instructed — I have not been instructed [yet] what that will actually look like on a court. It will continue with just the physical therapy work, which is all that has been shared with me. If we can have him running around, moving around, shooting around, we will, but I’m not expecting it. I’m not right now. I hope to be surprised. I think I will learn more once I get out there.
Other background figures who could become more prominent down the road include rookie Zhaire Smith and big man Justin Patton, both of whom were assigned to the Blue Coats on Thursday and will begin practicing in Delaware (see story).
The tricky thing for the Sixers is that impending Feb. 7 deadline. Fultz, Smith and Patton could ultimately bolster the team’s depth and give Brown less to worry about when injuries do hit, but there aren’t any guarantees.
For now, Brewer remains in the spotlight.
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