76ers

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

Sixers Notes: Embiid’s hand OK, Okafor’s DNPs, Simmons’ shot

HOUSTON – Joel Embiid is determined to play through a right-hand contusion and face the Rockets.

He participated in the Sixers’ light practice Sunday, the day after suffering the injury against the Mavericks. Embiid thinks it occurred either late in the first quarter or early in the second when he tried to go baseline out of a double team. He stayed in the game and x-rays taken Saturday night came back negative.

“I’m feeling good,” Embiid said. “I think I should be ready. I should be playing tomorrow. It’s hurting a little bit but I think I’ll be fine. I’ll push through it.”

Embiid experienced swelling Sunday. The Sixers will have shootaround ahead of Monday’s matchup, where they will get another look at the situation. Embiid is ready to make an early diagnosis of himself.

“I’m fine,” he said. “I’m playing. I don’t care what they say. I’m playing.”

Embiid posted 21 points, six rebounds and three assists in the Sixers’ buzzer-beater loss Wednesday to the Rockets. He was not involved in the offense down the stretch and, considering how competitive he is, he’s likely looking to avenge that defeat on the Rockets’ home court.

Okafor reacts to DNPs
Jahlil Okafor understands his place on the Sixers, albeit on the bench and out of the rotation. The third-year center has been in communication with Brett Brown, who has opted to play Amir Johnson as the backup center behind Embiid.

“The last time we spoke, he told me that Amir was the backup to Jo,” Okafor said Sunday. “I’m ready to play. We talk often. That’s what it is at the moment. He told me I’m not in the rotation.”

Okafor entered training camp with expectations of a turnaround camp. He had shed significant weight and was no longer dealing with right knee soreness.

The competition for the backup role heated up, though, as the Sixers signed the veteran Johnson to a one-year, $11 million deal this summer and Richaun Holmes had made a strong case for more playing time last season. Holmes has been injured (fractured wrist) but Brown designated the other reserve minutes to Dario Saric. Okafor has appeared in one game. Still, he prepares as if his name could be called.

“I’m just healthy,” Okafor said. “I feel great. I’m ready to play. The coaches know that. My teammates know that as well. I’m just coming in here, working day by day, we’ll see what happens.”

And so Okafor’s future with the Sixers remains unclear, as it was the prior two seasons as well.

“Anything can change,” he said. “It could change in the blink of an eye. But right now, I’m not in the rotation and that’s what it is.”

Okafor re-joined the Sixers on Sunday after staying back at the team hotel Saturday in Dallas because of an upper respiratory infection.

Simmons expanding shot … but how far?
For everyone who wants to see Ben Simmons knock down long-range jumpers, that’s going to have to wait. Yes, the rookie is looking to expand his offensive game, but the Sixers aren’t focusing on that far from the basket.

“[I want to work on] the way I score at certain spots on the floor,” Simmons said Saturday. “Multiple spots — elbows, low block, through the lane, finishing.”

Simmons believes he needs to improve his overall scoring. That coming from the rookie who is averaging 17.5 points and recorded a triple-double in his fourth NBA game. Still, Simmons has been doing his most offensive damage in the paint.

Of his 84 field goal attempts, 47 have been taken from less than five feet from the basket, according to NBA.com. Simmons is shooting 65.9 percent in the restricted area (29 for 44) and 40.0 percent in the non-restricted area of the paint (12 for 30). He has been highly efficient attacking the basket with his speed and physicality.

Getting further out, though, Simmons is just 2 for 7 from mid-range and has not attempted a three. So when Simmons and the Sixers eye areas of improvement, they’re not talking about transforming into a younger version of JJ Redick — not yet, at least.

The team has specific objectives for his rookie season. They start in two areas, the basket and the line, where Simmons is shooting 59.4 percent.

“Maybe next year or at the end of this year, we’re going to start seeing, I think, some catch-shot threes and really expanding it. But that will not define him,” Brown said. “My mind for him completely in his first season is finishing at the rim and trying to get to that 70-percent mark as a free throw shooter.”

Scenes from the road
Redick, Jerryd Bayless and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot were the last three on the court following Sunday's light practice at the Toyota Center. It is a good example for a younger player like Luwawu-Cabarrot see veterans putting in extra work. (Redick's status for Monday has not been announced. He missed Saturday's game with lower back tightness.)

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.

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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. 

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