Sixers heading toward training camp without resolution on Jerryd Bayless

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Sixers heading toward training camp without resolution on Jerryd Bayless

With NBA training camps set to open in a few weeks, the Sixers appear headed for a familiar situation. 

For a third straight season, the team could open camp with a high-profile player that doesn’t exactly fit into their plans.

In 2016, it was Nerlens Noel. “I don’t see a way it can work. It’s just a logjam,” he said at the time about the Sixers’ situation at center (see story)

Of course, Noel was right. The big man was eventually traded to the Dallas Mavericks after 29 games and just 19.4 minutes a night during his final stand with the Sixers in 2016-17.

Last season, Jahlil Okafor was the odd man out. The former No. 3 overall pick reported to the Sixers in better shape and with an open mindset, but the organization had already moved on.

“He comes in and his head’s good and his spirit’s good,” Brett Brown said last October (see story). “And he and I talk all the time, but that is the bottom line. He is not in the rotation.”

The #FreeJah movement finally got its wish when Okafor was shipped to the Brooklyn Nets after a measly two appearances for the Sixers in the 2017-18 season.

Now the franchise is staring at yet another training camp conundrum: Jerryd Bayless.

While nowhere near as big a name as the other two players, Bayless’ contract says otherwise. The veteran guard is set to earn $8.5 million in the final year of a three-year, $27 million deal that hasn’t yielded close to the return expected when he signed. That would make him the fifth-highest paid Sixer for the 2018-19 campaign.

That’s a pretty penny for a guy limited to 39 games a season ago, mainly because of the coach’s decision not to play him. 

Bayless started out last season in Brown’s mix of reserve guards, but his lack of consistent shooting (41.6 percent from the field) and spotty defense eventually led to him being glued to the bench (see player evaluation). The 30-year-old played in just one game after Feb. 9 — a one-minute, 44-second run in garbage time of the Sixers’ Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics.

Things aren’t likely to change much regarding Bayless’ status for the upcoming slate, which means seeking outside options make the most sense. He had been connected to a trade for Cleveland Cavaliers sharpshooter Kyle Korver earlier this summer, but those rumblings have died down. 

That leaves the waive and stretch provision, which would allow the Sixers to part with Bayless and spread his $8,575,916 cap hit for next season over three years. It hasn’t come to that point yet since reaching an agreement on using the “stretch” can be a bit complex, but after seeing the Los Angeles Lakers recently figure out a way to get from under Luol Deng’s massive contract using the method, anything is possible.

“This whole year from an individual standpoint wasn’t the easiest,” Bayless said during exit interviews. “At the same time, when you’re around a group of guys that we had and the success that we had, it made it easier. I’m really grateful that I was able to be a part of this organization this year. We’ll see what happens moving forward.”

We’re all still waiting.

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Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid misses practice

Sixers Injury Update: Joel Embiid misses practice

CAMDEN, N.J. — Unfortunately, we didn’t hear more from Joel Embiid Sunday about his recent frustrations.

In fact, Embiid wasn’t even in the building. The All-Star center was at home nursing a migraine, according to the team.

Brett Brown said that he “thinks [Embiid] is going to be questionable” for Monday night’s game vs. the Pistons, though the team said that is not official and his status will be updated Monday.

Embiid has been fairly outspoken about his role in the Sixers’ offense and his comments this week went viral locally and nationally. Sunday would’ve been a good opportunity for Embiid to clarify his remarks.

While Embiid said that he feels good and didn’t want to rest, Brown said that Embiid admitted to being fatigued after the Sixers' loss to the Raptors.

“For me, [the rest] was more driven out of looking at him, but more importantly talking with him, “ Brown said. “He felt tired. There was no mystery on that. We’re doing as much listening as we can, too. This decision was born out of that reason.”

Rookie guard Landry Shamet is also listed as questionable for Monday after missing practice with lower back pain. That would be a big blow to an already thin bench.

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Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's frustration doesn't mean trouble is brewing

Sixers weekly observations: Joel Embiid's frustration doesn't mean trouble is brewing

The Sixers stand at 18-9 after beating the Grizzlies on Sunday, losing to the Raptors on Wednesday, and topping the Pistons on Friday. They’re alone in second place in the Eastern Conference, a half-game ahead of the Bucks and three games behind Toronto. Let’s get right into observations from this week:

2 crazy Jimmy Butler stats

Butler likely can’t keep up this type of production forever, but it’s fun to watch while it lasts. These two stats help put what Butler has been doing in context:

• Butler had 37 fourth-quarter points this week, most in the NBA, on 12 for 20 shooting from the floor, 12 of 13 from the foul line.

• Dating back to the 1983-1984 season, when full game logs became available, Jeff Hornacek is the only other Sixer besides Butler with 38 or more points, six or more assists, and zero turnovers in a game, per Basketball-Reference. Butler posted those numbers Friday night against the Pistons in a snarling, devilishly smiling performance that the Sixers desperately needed with Joel Embiid resting.

Hornacek had 39 points, nine assists and no turnovers in the Sixers’ 126-115 win over the Celtics on Nov. 13, 1992.

Embiid-Butler issues overblown

Speaking of Embiid, his recent comments about being frustrated with the way he’s used are, of course, not ideal from a Sixers perspective. They’re not, however, an indication of grave trouble bubbling within the team.

As we detailed Saturday, Embiid’s usage has actually been nearly identical before and after Butler’s arrival. The only stats that are significantly down are his field goal percentage and his free throw shooting, which are probably more an indication of his three-game slump than anything else.

It’s worth emphasizing the other, under-covered part of Embiid’s remarks, both after Wednesday’s game in Toronto and before Friday's game in Detroit to the Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

“I've got to do a better job,” Embiid told reporters Wednesday. “It’s on me. I haven’t been efficient and got to make sure I work on my game.”

“My body feels great, and it’s just I haven’t been playing well,” he told Pompey Friday.

You could argue Embiid should have made that his only public stance and omitted any concerns or frustrations with his offensive role. But, as Embiid has proved time and time again, he’s not a diplomatic personality, not the type to hold himself back from saying what he feels to be true at the moment. In most cases, it makes him a lovable figure to fans — he’s the rare player who’s not afraid to say of opposing big men that he “kicked both of their a--.”

One or two other times, it’s put the Sixers in a slightly awkward spot — his Instagram post after watching the Sixers’ loss to the Heat in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs about being “F---ing sick and tired of being babied” as he waited to return from a left eye orbital fracture comes to mind.

Ultimately, the narrative that Embiid's remarks signify some sort of discord with Butler is lazy, and there's no evidence to suggest it's true. 

What's next with Fultz?

There’s still a ton of uncertainty surrounding Markelle Fultz and his future with the Sixers, but a new diagnosis and a relatively clear path forward is a lot better than having no idea what’s going on. 

If Fultz’s rehab for his thoracic outlet syndrome is successful, reintegrating him into the team will no doubt be a challenge. Would he immediately rejoin the rotation? If so, whose minutes would he take? But that scenario would be far preferable to the rehab proving ineffective or a protracted, setback-heavy recovery.

Fultz’s “team” and the Sixers clearly haven’t been on the wavelength, but you’d think it would be in everyone’s best interest for him to eventually return to the court, healthy and with a fluid jump shot intact.

Best win of the year

Brett Brown called Friday’s victory in Detroit the Sixers’ "best win of the season."

He has a strong case, for a number of positive reasons — beating a playoff team on the road without Embiid; Butler and Simmons shining despite their minutes being staggered; Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler each choosing the same night to have their best game as a Sixer.

But there’s also a compelling case for Friday's win being the Sixers’ best victory because they just haven’t beaten many good teams. Seven of the Sixers’ nine losses are to teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today. With the exception of Brooklyn and Cleveland, they’ve beaten the teams they’ve been expected to beat, which is great.

As we wrap up the first third of the season, though, it’s apparent the Sixers aren’t quite at the elite, “Eastern Conference royalty” level they aspire to yet, even if the Butler trade has moved them closer to that status. Dec. 22 vs. Toronto and Christmas Day in Boston are their next two major tests. 

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