76ers

Sixers' Elton Brand open to making an outside hire to replace Marc Eversley

Sixers' Elton Brand open to making an outside hire to replace Marc Eversley

The NBA is, to state the obvious, much different than it was on March 11, when the league suspended its season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The world at large is, too.

One change unique to the Sixers that’s worth examining is the loss of a key front office member. Marc Eversley, formerly the team’s senior vice president of player personnel, left the Sixers to take the Chicago Bulls’ general manager job.

Eversley’s departure is significant. He’d been with the organization since 2016 and handled various aspects of scouting, pre-draft preparation and player personnel. The Sixers like to emphasize that they have a “collaborative” front office, so how will roles and responsibilities now shift? And does the team plan to hire a replacement for Eversley?

GM Elton Brand addressed the situation Tuesday on a conference call. 

So, first of all, I'd just like to congratulate Marc Eversley,” he said. “He mentioned in his presser that it's his dream job, a dream come true for him. Talented exec. A great eye for basketball. He'll be missed. So we're always looking, I'm always looking for ways to improve our organization. If we can get better and make a hire, we will certainly do that. Haven't made that determination yet. 

“I’m really proud of what we have with [executive VP of basketball operations] Alex Rucker, over 10 years as an executive in the league. [Assistant GM] Ned Cohen, 12 years with the league office, four years with us. [VP of strategy] Sergi Oliva, four years with the Sixers, 10 years in Spain. And [VP of scouting] Vince Rozman leading our scouting efforts again, as he did last year, has [close to] 15 years in the league. So I'm always looking to get better. Always want to improve our organization any way we can. If there's talent out there, I will look at it, we will look at it, but no timeline.

There are a few interesting elements to Brand’s response. First, the team had responded to the exit of former GM Bryan Colangelo after a surreal scandal involving burner Twitter accounts by making internal promotions. Rucker and Cohen both interviewed for the GM position that ultimately went to Brand, who’d been serving as the general manager of the Delaware Blue Coats, before the two accepted new titles. Brand’s openness to an outside hire is worth noting.

Rozman is an important name in the short term, although, as Brand indicated, this won’t be the first time he’s been an integral part of the pre-draft process. Brand credited Rozman for doing a “great job” in last year’s draft, when the team traded up to take Matisse Thybulle, and said Rozman has done “a lot of deep dives, a lot of film work” in preparing for the 2020 draft. While the draft is scheduled to be held on June 25, both the draft combine and lottery, originally set for this month, have been indefinitely postponed.

Finally, though free agency of course won’t start until the 2019-20 season is either completed or canceled, the Sixers have high-stakes offseason decisions to consider. Last summer’s moves have not produced the intended results. The pairing of Joel Embiid and 33-year-old Al Horford, who the team signed to a four-year deal with $97 million guaranteed, has been the Sixers’ worst two-man pairing in terms of net rating for the bulk of the season. 

Brand told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters the team is “scenario planning for free agency.”

Perhaps the Sixers will find a new voice to replace Eversley’s and answer questions like whether it’s possible to extract decent value through a Horford trade and which affordable free agents would best complement Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. 

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2020 NBA playoffs: Looking at where Sixers sit in Eastern Conference picture

2020 NBA playoffs: Looking at where Sixers sit in Eastern Conference picture

Though they’re calling “seeding games,” the Sixers’ primary concern in the contests leading up to the playoffs is not seeding.

“How do you go into the playoffs … how can you go into that date feeling like we’re the best we can be?” Brett Brown said on July 12. “Worrying too much about moving up because you could play this team or avoid that team, I stay away from that.” 

Through three games at Disney World, Brown wishes the Sixers were playing at a higher level. The team has gone 2-1, but that record includes a fourth quarter in which the Sixers allowed the Pacers to score 46 points, a game-saving shot from Shake Milton vs. the Spurs and a win over the 24-44 Wizards that was tight until the end. Ben Simmons exited Wednesday’s game against Washington early with a left knee injury

It’s been slower coming than I would’ve thought,” Brown said Wednesday. “I liked our practices, I thought … the preseason games you saw at times a dominant defense. We’ve started these three games, I think, very inconsistently. I think we do some good things offensively, defensively, and then you see head-scratching stuff. It hasn’t gone as quickly as I had hoped. But I see where I think it can end. 

“We’re still figuring out some things with how we’re playing the team and Shake (Milton) coming in and so on. But I think, for the most part, we’re trending in the right direction, just not as quickly as I wished.

Here's where the Sixers sit in the Eastern Conference: 

3. Boston Celtics 45-23 GB: 9 
4. Miami Heat 43-25 GB: 11
5. Indiana Pacers 42-26 GB: 12
6. Sixers 41-27 GB: 13 

Boston technically still has a chance to surpass the Raptors for the No. 2 seed and the Sixers aren’t eliminated from contention for the No. 3 seed, but both outcomes are very improbable. Kemba Walker sat out the latter half of a back-to-back Wednesday, a 149-115 Celtics win over the Nets, as the All-Star guard works through a left knee issue. After playing Toronto on Friday night, the Celtics will face Orlando, Memphis and Washington.

The current No. 4 and No. 5 seeds play each other twice in the remaining seeding games, which should be interesting. The Heat’s other opponents are the Bucks, Suns and Thunder, while the Pacers’ are the Suns, Lakers and Rockets. Before the NBA’s hiatus, Miami was 2-0 against Indiana. In case you were curious, T.J. Warren hasn’t dropped off much after his 53-point performance vs. the Sixers. He leads all scorers at Disney World with 39.7 points per game. 

Despite having the sixth-easiest strength of schedule, the Sixers don’t have great odds of rising. Basketball Reference’s Playoff Probabilities Report gives them a 72.8 percent chance at the No. 6 seed, 23.0 percent at No. 5 and just 4.1 percent at No. 4. Those probabilities are intuitive when you consider the Sixers have lost their season series vs. the Heat and Pacers. 

The Celtics are the Sixers’ most likely first-round opponent at the moment by a good margin, which would potentially leave the Sixers a path of Boston-Toronto-Milwaukee. One could make the argument that such a road is best for the Sixers, since the team won its season series over Boston, 3-1, and wouldn’t have to face the top-seeded Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals, but nothing’s going to be easy for a No. 6 seed. 

We analyzed the Celtics, Heat and Pacers as possible first-round opponents for the Sixers here

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

When Ben Simmons flexed his left leg after lobbing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor Wednesday during the Sixers’ win over the Wizards, it was logical to be concerned. But, according to a report, Simmons’ knee injury is not as severe as one might have feared watching him walk toward the locker room. 

An MRI on Simmons’ knee was clean and he’s expected to be day-to-day, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. It's worth noting this is not an official update from the Sixers, who Brett Brown said postgame he expected to issue an announcement soon about Simmons' status. 

The 24-year-old recovered from a nerve impingement in his lower back over the NBA’s hiatus, and he felt strong and explosive heading into the league’s restart. He’s now serving as the Sixers’ starting point forward, an adjustment Brown thinks he’s approached well.

“I do feel like Ben has been amazing,” Brown said before Wednesday’s game, “in regards to just being mature on ‘Put me wherever you think I can best help the team.’ At times maybe he hasn’t gotten a touch the way he needs to get a touch, sometimes — which was easier when he was always the primary ball carrier. And so I applaud him tremendously on being a great teammate, trying to accept a new type of ecosystem that we’re trying to use him in.”

Simmons looked for his shot often in Wednesday’s game, though with little success. He missed an open corner three-pointer in the first quarter, his first legitimate regular-season try from long distance since Dec. 7, and made 2 of 10 field goals overall in 23 minutes. 

If Simmons misses any games, Brown will have a few options for reshuffling his starting lineup. There’s a case to be made for just about every member of the current rotation, which Brown cut down to nine players on Wednesday. Al Horford could slide into the frontcourt if Brown wants to work on the Horford-Joel Embiid pairing, which has a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World after being the Sixers’ worst regular duo pre-hiatus.

Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III have all started games this year, though Robinson is dealing with an injury himself, having missed the team's first three seeding games with a left hip pointer. Perhaps Brown could go with Alec Burks if he’s looking for an extra ball handler and more time to evaluate his potential backup point guard in the playoffs.

The main takeaway here, however, is not the potential ripple effects on the Sixers' seeding game rotation. Rather, it's that a player the team will surely need to have available in order to make a deep playoff run reportedly has avoided a serious injury.

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