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Sixers are reportedly interested in Dewayne Dedmon, but backup center should be low on list of trade deadline needs

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Sixers are reportedly interested in Dewayne Dedmon, but backup center should be low on list of trade deadline needs

The idea of a championship contender relying on a rookie for significant minutes in the playoffs is instinctively objectionable, especially one who still makes “rookie mistakes” like falling for pump fakes and randomly tossing the ball into no man’s land.

But, given the Sixers’ current situation and the impressive talent they have in the rangy, athletic Jonah Bolden, having a rookie back up Joel Embiid in the postseason might ultimately be the Sixers’ smartest option.

The team reportedly is exploring outside options at backup center. On Wednesday, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported the Atlanta Hawks' Dewayne Dedmon “has drawn the Sixers’ interest.”

In a vacuum, Dedmon would be a nice addition for the Sixers. He’s proven himself as a valuable NBA player since an 11-game stint on the 2013-14 Sixers in Brett Brown’s first season on the job. Like Bolden, Dedmon is a good athlete who can stretch the floor (36.1 percent on 2.6 three-point attempts per game over the last two seasons). He’s posting 10.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and one block per game this season for the Hawks.

Trades, however, obviously don’t occur in a vacuum. Bontemps notes that, to land Dedmon, “the 76ers would likely have to do something they have so far been resistant to, per sources: trading 2017 No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz.”

Fultz’s trade value is, to put it mildly, not as high as it once was. He hasn’t played a basketball game since Nov. 19 and, though Fultz and his agent Raymond Brothers expect him to play again this season, we’ve yet to hear the Sixers say anything definitive. On the day the Sixers embarked on their current West Coast road trip, Brett Brown was honest in saying he didn’t know when the second-year guard would progress to on-court, basketball workouts in his rehab for thoracic outlet syndrome.

Even if the Hawks were willing to take a chance on Fultz’s potential and trade him straight-up for Dedmon, it’s not a move that makes a lot of sense for the Sixers.

The first reason is the presence of Bolden. 

The 6-foot-10 Australian has thrived as Embiid’s backup since Jan. 15, when he took over that role on a full-time basis. Over his past seven games, Bolden has played 12.7 minutes per night and averaged 5.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He’s even shooting an unsustainably high 55.6 percent (10 for 18) from three-point range since Jan. 15 — although that’s just balancing out his 3 for 17 start from long range. 

When Bolden is on the floor, the Sixers have a 102.7 defense rating. That rises to 107.4 when he’s on the bench. With his length, excellent shot-blocking instincts, and ability to hang with perimeter players on switches, the old “eye test” supports the stats about Bolden’s defense. 

The second reason is — even if we momentarily remove ourselves from the constant discussion about Fultz’s unusual situation and whether the Sixers should be willing to trade him in a win-now move — a backup center like Dedmon shouldn’t be the Sixers’ highest trade deadline priority.

You might recall Brown said on Dec. 21 that he wanted a “perimeter defensive player” to fill the Sixers’ open roster spot. General manager Elton Brand acquired such a player in the pesky, speedy Corey Brewer, but the Sixers are still clearly short on capable perimeter players. Paul Hudrick covered a few names who fit that description a couple days ago. 

The playoffs might sound like a daunting proposition for a rookie who’s spent time in the G-League this season. But realistically, all the Sixers would need from Bolden in the postseason is 10 minutes per game of good defense behind Embiid and, as a bonus, the occasional three-point shot. Taking into account the Sixers’ more pressing need on the perimeter, Bolden is worth trusting in such a role.

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Zhaire Smith practices with Sixers 6 months after surgery for Jones fracture

Zhaire Smith practices with Sixers 6 months after surgery for Jones fracture

There were a couple odd sights at Sixers’ practice Wednesday.

First, there was Jimmy Butler sporting Zhaire Smith’s practice jersey. Then there was Smith himself, present and accounted for, at the Sixers’ practice facility in Camden.

“Oh, s---. I forgot I had this mother f----- on,” Butler said when asked why he was wearing Smith’s jersey. “I just wanted to be the better Zhaire today. I felt like I gave him the business today in practice.”

Smith surely would’ve given anything to have an NBA All-Star give him "the business" a few months ago.

It’s been a weird journey in his first pro season. Though this organization’s definition of weird — especially with injuries to first-round picks — differs greatly from other teams, Smith went through a lot.

After being drafted 16th overall by the Suns out of Texas Tech, Smith was part of a swap that sent Philly native and Villanova product Mikal Bridges — whose mom works for the Sixers — to Phoenix and brought Smith to Philadelphia. After a fairly uneventful but productive summer league stint, Smith went to work preparing for Sixers training camp.

Unfortunately, Smith then suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot on Aug. 6 during a development camp in Las Vegas and had successful surgery on Aug. 10 in New York City.

Smith then underwent a successful thoracoscopy on Sept. 27 to address an issue from an allergic reaction to a food product. Because of all this, Smith’s physical condition deteriorated. He lost weight and needed to regain his strength and conditioning.

But give Smith credit. He’s been working out with the Sixers’ G-League affiliate in Delaware, trying to get back on the court. Make no mistake, Wednesday’s practice was a big step.

“He’s handling it well,” Butler said. “Every time I see him he’s in here working on his game as much as he can, in the weight room trying to get stronger or doing the rehab he’s supposed to be doing.”

Lost in all of the craziness is that Smith seems like a legitimate prospect that could’ve helped the Sixers this season. His athleticism and ability to play tough defense on the ball would’ve been welcomed additions to the Sixers’ bench — especially prior to the trade deadline.

Alas, Smith didn’t get the opportunity to shine, and with just 24 games left in the regular season, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to play in an NBA game this season.

But still, he’s just 19 years old and could become a player for the Sixers yet. 

“It was great to see him,” Brett Brown said. “You’re reminded how of how athletic he is. He had a bounce today. It was just good to have him included with his teammates.”

Enough bounce to play a game this season?

“I don’t know," Brown said. "It wasn’t my expectation and still really isn’t, but I think to see him move around with his teammates, from a human standpoint, was pretty cool.”

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Joel Embiid's injury a blow, but lofty goals remain when he returns

Joel Embiid's injury a blow, but lofty goals remain when he returns

The news of a Joel Embiid injury is not what Sixers fans wanted coming out of the All-Star break.

While the All-Star center’s left knee soreness may seem alarming, his head coach downplayed it at the team’s practice facility Wednesday, referring to it as tendinitis (see story).

Brett Brown mentioned that Embiid had been dealing with a knee issue “for a few weeks” and that his playing in the All-Star game did not affect the injury.

“It’s a natural dot connector and it shouldn’t be to think that had anything to do with it,” Brown said at the team’s practice facility. “The bottom line is nobody needs to read into anything here. This is an NBA athlete that has some soreness in a knee, he’s had an MRI and we all should move on. 

“We’ll miss him obviously, playing wise, but it’s not anything that isn’t completely pointed toward keeping him ready and especially ready when it matters most at the end of the year.”

But with Embiid being out for at least a week, Brown and company have to move on without him.

What that initially means is more minutes for fan favorite Boban Marjanovic. Marjanovic certainly brings something to the table with his massive frame, efficient play around the basket and his abilities to screen and roll. Defense will be the issue when he’s asked to cover more fleet-footed fives.

That’s where rookie Jonah Bolden could come in. Bolden lost the backup center role through no fault of his own. He’d been playing well, providing rim protection with quick feet on defense and also hitting the occasional three. 

“You’d think Jonah’s got a chance to reclaim some of his court time that he had prior to the trade,” Brown said. “That is in my mindset, I had him on my second team today. It’ll be good to see him again.”

Other than missing a MVP-caliber player, the biggest disappointment is that the Sixers won’t get to further develop the chemistry of their new starting five. With the playoffs looming, getting that unit to play at its peak is more important than wins and losses.

There are loftier goals that lie ahead of the next last 24 regular season games.

“I’ve been on different teams where the goal is to get into the playoffs,” Tobias Harris said. “Here the goal is to win in the playoffs and to win big. I think we’d be doing ourselves a disservice if we just said, 'Let’s get out of the first round.' We’re trying to go for a championship here.”

It’ll be up to Harris and the other starters to carry more of that scoring load in Embiid’s absence. The player that may bear more of that burden is Jimmy Butler.

Butler can score on all three levels and create his own shot better than any player on the Sixers with Embiid out. Butler put up back-to-back 38-point performances back in early December. One of those games was with Embiid struggling mightily in Toronto and the other was with Embiid sidelined in Detroit.

While he won’t alter his approach with Embiid out, he knows what’s at stake in general.

“I’m going about it the same way,” Butler said. “It’s time to pick it up a little bit. This is the final stretch. I’m ready, man. My mind, my body. I’m relaxed, calm and collected, ready to win some games.”

Once Embiid's body is ready, the Sixers will look to take another step toward their championship goals.

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