76ers

Sixers might not have to look far for perfect NBA draft prospect

ap-mikal-bridges-villanova.jpg
AP Images

Sixers might not have to look far for perfect NBA draft prospect

Mikal Bridges will be starting the next chapter of his basketball career shortly. After helping lead Villanova to a second national championship in three years, Bridges will almost certainly announce soon he's declaring for the 2018 NBA draft. 

Bridges has another year of eligibility remaining, but he's projected to be a lottery pick. The smart thing for Bridges to do is getting his professional career started. Last month, Jay Wright joked he'd "kick out" Bridges if he wanted to come back to school.

There's not much else for Bridges to accomplish at Villanova. He averaged just under 18 points and over five rebounds as a junior, earning the third team All-American honors. He was a first-team All-Big East selection and the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Tournament. Above all else, Bridges is a winner. He went 103-13 the last three years at Villanova and won two Big East regular season championships, two Big East Tournaments and of course, two national championships.

The question now, what's next? He's spent his entire life in the Philadelphia area. He was born in the city and starred at nearby Great Valley High School before going to Villanova. There's a realistic chance he could stay in Philly to begin his NBA career. In addition to the Sixers' own first-round pick, which will be somewhere in the 20's, they also have the Lakers' first rounder provided it doesn't fall between the second or fifth pick. At the moment, L.A. has the best odds to receive the 10th pick, which would convey to the Sixers.

Bridges is projected to be in the mid-to-late lottery range, around 10th. The Sixers could do a lot worse than selecting Bridges with the Lakers' pick. He's NBA-ready. He'd have no trouble stepping in to the Sixers' rotation and playing a complementary role to Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. Bridges is an outstanding perimeter defender and has demonstrated the ability to knock down the three-point shot consistently, traits valued tremendously in today's NBA.  

No less an authority on the NBA game than Kevin Durant has already called Bridges his favorite prospect in this year's draft. He's capable of making an impact on Day 1 and will be a great cultural addition to whatever NBA locker room he joins. As an added bonus, there would already be a familiar face in the Sixers' organization. Bridges' mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is the global vice president for human resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that oversees Sixers' personnel.

It would be a great story and a great fit. A player who won at a historical level in college joining an NBA team on the cusp of winning big and Bridges wouldn't have to leave his hometown to do it.

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers

 

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

Last year, the Sixers’ pre-draft process was, for some time, a mystery. As the team investigated then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s alleged use of burner Twitter accounts, the typical pre-draft routine was interrupted. Then, with the search underway to replace Colangelo, the Sixers took on the NBA draft with Brett Brown as the interim general manager at the head of a collaborative leadership structure.

Elton Brand was a part of that group that helped shepherd the organization through the draft — and came away with a commendable haul of Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Shake Milton. 

Now, Brand is the man in charge. He attended the team’s first pre-draft workout on May 6 in Camden, New Jersey — the team will hold its second group workout Monday — and was at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this past week. The draft is a month away and then, soon enough, the Sixers will shift into free agency mode.

Brand said at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday that he’s looking forward to it all. 

I’m excited. We have a great group. Dynamic core. I look forward to being the GM for the first time going into free agency, going into the draft. We were in [Game 7] until the last shot to go into overtime and win and get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Disappointed we didn’t get there, but highly optimistic and I’m proud of what we've done. I look forward to this offseason. I know we’re going to grow and get better.

Things change rapidly in professional sports, but let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, even by the warped standards of the Sixers, it’s been quite a year.

Brown famously proclaimed on draft night that the team was “star hunting, or star developing.” The “star hunting” part ended up falling on Brand, since the Sixers’ two biggest summer acquisitions under Brown were Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. Brand later traded away both players in the early-morning, pre-deadline deal for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic that confirmed, if there was any lingering doubt, his willingness to be bold.

Though Brand didn’t hold much back in his first attempt at lifting the Sixers to title contention, he gave himself ample flexibility this offseason. The Sixers have more free agents than players under contract for next year, and they have five draft picks, tied with Atlanta for the most of any team. There’s no undoing the moves he made in his first season, but Brand has the choice to fundamentally reshape the Sixers again if he’d like.

Another path Brand could take is paying what’s necessary to bring back Harris and Butler and figuring out the rest at the margins. (Regardless, upgrading at backup center will be a priority.) It’s also very possible Brand tries to find a middle road.

Owner Josh Harris said Tuesday he’s comfortable going into the luxury tax, though Brand added, “We’re going to be fiscally responsible. We’re not just going to be jumping into the luxury tax with the moves we make.”

Brand will, of course, have a team to support him with all the minutiae of the salary cap — trade exceptions, the mid-level exception, you name it — in his first offseason. After experiencing a bizarre last summer in a peripheral role, Brand is in the limelight. 

Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Sixers