76ers

Practice? All Sixers' Matisse Thybulle has to work with is a mini hoop

Practice? All Sixers' Matisse Thybulle has to work with is a mini hoop

Matisse Thybulle’s life had been fixated on basketball. He’d studied film and scouting reports, attended shootarounds and practices, traveled on planes across the country with his teammates and played in 57 games as an NBA rookie. 

That’s no longer the case. With the NBA season suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Thybulle explained Monday in a remote interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Serena Winters that basketball is now a much smaller part of his life.

It’s really limited,” he said of his basketball activity. “I’ve felt guilty because I haven’t really been doing much of basketball at all, just because I don’t have access to a gym and I care about my neighbors enough not to pound a basketball through my apartment building. I’ve been looking at other NBA players, seeing what they’re doing, what they’re saying. It seems to be a trend, that a lot of guys, they don’t have access. And if they do, they’re too worried to be around people or be exposed to too much. It’s going to be interesting to see what we’re all looking like once we come out of this.

This season, Thybulle’s rookie campaign, has perhaps been the most bizarre one in league history. On Opening Night, he guarded the Celtics' Kemba Walker and admitted it was “intimidating,” remarking that he’d played before as Walker in NBA2K. In late March, Thybulle was back playing virtual basketball, falling to the Suns’ Mikal Bridges in a 2K matchup both teams streamed on Twitch.   

“It’s not my area of experience,” he said with a smile. “You want to get a Rubik’s Cube-solving contest? I’m pretty sure I’ll win. I’ll take any NBA player, I’m pretty sure I can win that. But in terms of video games, I’ll do it socially to talk with my friends and hang out with my friends, but I’m not good.” 

While he hasn’t been entirely separate from his teammates during this time — the players have stayed in touch through a group chat and a couple of team Zoom calls, he said — Thybulle has mostly been isolated in an apartment with his cousin. The 23-year-old had plenty of time to meditate, do yoga, read, workout and consider life outside of basketball (see story). 

When he’s had a chance to play a miniature version of basketball, though, it hasn’t gone very well. 

 “I ordered a little mini hoop that I put on my door,” he said. “If you saw my TikTok, you’ll see that I’m not too good at shooting on it. I think I went 9 for 100. … Not my best day.”

In the time he’s not bricking mini hoop jumpers, Thybulle said he has thought some about how the NBA might change moving forward. As a rookie, it’s an especially odd position to be in — considering how all the rhythms and habits you’d finally become comfortable with could change.

“I think about it, but I’d just gotten used to the NBA,” he said. “I was just starting to figure it out and be good, and then everything gets changed and uprooted. I don’t know what could work. But I think it’s an interesting opportunity for the NBA to make some changes that maybe they’d wanted to make or been meaning to make and hadn’t had an opportunity. 

“There could be some changes that could stick for a while, or there could be some changes that we don’t like, and then we just go back to the regular thing. But I think it’s an interesting opportunity to just try out some different things, because we’ll have to, honestly.” 

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The 5 worst Sixers free-agent signings

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The 5 worst Sixers free-agent signings

NBA GMs sometimes feel the temptation to pay average or good players as if they are great.

That description applies to a few of the players listed below in our ranking of the five worst Sixers free-agent signings. For the purposes of this list, we’re reserving judgement on well-paid current Sixers. 

5. Scott Williams 
Then-Sixers GM and head coach John Lucas liked that Williams knew “how to win.” The big man had immediately won three championships after entering the NBA, but the fact that he was on Michael Jordan’s Bulls probably had something to do with that early success. 

Signed to a seven-year contract, Williams only managed to play 212 games with the Sixers, none of which were in the postseason. He posted 5.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game before being traded to the Bucks and eventually facing the Sixers in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals. In that series, he was suspended for Game 7 because of a hard hit to Allen Iverson’s throat in Game 6. 

4. Brian Skinner 
Skinner’s first stint as a Sixers was solid. Though he wasn’t used much during the 2003 playoffs, he chipped in 17.9 minutes per game during the regular season. After spending a year with the Bucks, Skinner then decided to return to the Sixers, who offered a five-year, $25 million contract.

Besides starting regularly for the first time in his career the season prior, it’s unclear what Skinner had done to merit such a lucrative deal. With Marc Jackson, Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson all preferred in the frontcourt by head coach Jim O’Brien, Skinner had a minimal impact, averaging 2.0 points and 2.6 rebounds in 24 games. The Sixers ultimately used his contract in February to help facilitate their ill-fated trade for Chris Webber. 

3. Kenny Thomas 
Seven years and approximately $50 million was far too large a commitment for Thomas, who the Sixers acquired in a 2002 trade with the Rockets and then signed as a restricted free agent.

Thomas wasn’t a bad player — he even averaged a double-double in the 2003-04 season — and he would’ve been viewed in a much kinder light if GM Billy King had given him a shorter and/or less expensive contract. He joined Skinner and Williamson in that deal for Webber, wrapping up his NBA career in Sacramento. 

2. Elton Brand 
Brand was far from a bust as a player with the Sixers after signing his “Philly max” contract. He wasn’t a 20 points, 10 rebounds per game guy anymore, but he was decent when healthy enough to play and praised frequently for his leadership and professionalism. 

Unfortunately, he suffered a season-ending torn labrum in his first year with the team. While he was a regular presence in the three years after that, he was diminished physically compared to his prime in Los Angeles. The Sixers released him with one season left on his five-year, $82 million deal under the league’s amnesty clause. 

1. Matt Geiger 
First, it’s important to note that Geiger’s refusal to waive his trade kicker prevented Iverson from being traded to the Pistons ahead of the 2000-01 season. It’s very unlikely the Sixers would’ve won the Eastern Conference without him.

"I looked at Detroit and didn't think Allen and I would've been better off there,” he told reporters in 2001. "So the decision was easy."

Geiger’s contract, however, was excessive — six years and approximately $48 million. He had some bright moments in Philadelphia, including a career-best 13.5 points per game in the 1998-99 season and a 5-for-7 shooting performance in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals (although he fouled out in under 14 minutes), but none of that was enough to make the contract worth it. He retired after four games in the 2001-02 season because of persistent, painful knee problems. 

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2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

2020 NBA return format: NBPA approves return to play format

A day after the NBA’s Board of Governor’s approved a 22-team return to play format, the NBPA did so Friday evening, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium.

All 28 player reps approved the plan, which would see 22 teams head to Walt Disney World in Florida to finish out the 2019-20 season beginning July 31. The league will play eight regular-season games with the possibility of a play-in tournament for the eighth seed. The playoffs will follow the traditional format.

One of the new pieces of information presented Friday is that there will also be two or three preseason games before the season resumes.

On TNT Thursday night, commissioner Adam Silver said the league is in the “first inning” in its quest to return to play. The NBA suspended the season on March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. 

According to Charania, players will undergo testing every day and there will be a minimum seven-day quarantine for any player that tests positive. If a player does contract the virus, play would continue.

“Of course we’ve always been looking for whether or not there is an appropriate and safe way that we can resume basketball,” Silver said, “and knowing that we’re going to be living with this virus for a while. … We’ve been exploring with the players whether there can be a new normal here.”

Another sticking point was a tentative date of Nov. 10 to start training camps for the 2020-21 season. Oct. 12 would be the last possible date for Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals under this return-to-play plan. The NBPA told the players it’s “unlikely” the 2020-21 season would start on Dec. 1 and that it’s still being negotiated, per Charania.

With no fans in the stands, the two sides have also discussed pumping fan noise in courtesy of NBA2K.

The league and NBPA are still continuing to work out the health and safety details in the weeks leading up to a return.

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