76ers

Sixers stock watch: Elton Brand making moves, Jimmy Butler quietly excellent, Jonah Bolden out of rotation

Sixers stock watch: Elton Brand making moves, Jimmy Butler quietly excellent, Jonah Bolden out of rotation

What a week it was for the Sixers.

After getting beat pretty handily by the Raptors Tuesday night, the mood postgame was somber.

All that changed when the Sixers pulled off a late-night trade for forward Tobias Harris.

Let’s get right into this week’s stock watch.

Stock up

Elton Brand

Duh, right? Less than five months into the job and less than three years removed from actually playing for the Sixers, Brand has pulled off the two boldest moves of the NBA season. Landing a player the caliber of Harris signifies to the rest of the league that the Sixers mean business. 

For anyone that’s concerned that this trade is a “rental,” you need to realize the situation Harris is in. This is already his fifth NBA team, it’s the best one he’s ever been on and the Sixers can offer him more money than anybody. From the Sixers’ perspective, you have a 26-year-old borderline All-Star that has improved consistently over his NBA career. Hell of a move by Brand.

Aside from Harris, Brand did a solid job upgrading the team’s bench with players like Mike Scott, Boban Marjanovic, James Ennis and Jonathon Simmons. All four guys are experienced, battle-tested and can play average to above-average defense.

Bonus points for telling Magic Johnson and the Lakers to kick rocks.

Jimmy Butler

The slam dunk here would be Harris, but he’s only been here for two games so there’s no baseline for his performance as a Sixer. 

Butler, on the other hand, has had a weird tenure with the Sixers. There have been questions about his fit and reports that he “aggressively challenged” Brett Brown. The questions came back up with Harris’ arrival, but Butler has quietly been excellent over the last two games.

Against Denver, Butler was aggressive and lived at the line, making 14 of 14. He was efficient vs. the Lakers, hitting 6 of 10 for 15 points in just 30 minutes.

Brown is enjoying what he’s seen out of Butler:

With this team, he respects the game, he plays the right way. So you start putting him in a system and on a team that has more firepower, you feel even a greater level of respect. I see that with him. I really do see that with him. He and Tobias I think are incredibly unique in that regard. Normally you get shot hunters and they’re not doing that. They take what the game gives them and I think to the points that we all talked about, there is a good ecosystem, there is a good vibe. They are sharing the ball.

It’s an interesting point Brown brings up here. Butler is an All-Star caliber player, but he’s never been a volume shooter. The highest amount of shots per game he averaged in a season was 16.5 in 2016-17. That mark was good for 23rd in the league.

It’s entirely possible that Harris’ presence will actually allow Butler to thrive, creating more space for Butler to drive and get to the basket.

Stock down

Jonah Bolden

This one is tough because it’s really just a matter of circumstance. Bolden had solidified his role as the team’s backup five, but with an experienced big like Marjanovic in the mix, Bolden finds himself on the outside looking in with the rotation.

It will be interesting to see what Brown does if a team chooses to go small at the five with Marjanovic — it didn’t work out well when the Lakers did it with former Sixer Mike Muscala. Bolden has done well as a rookie and could still get playoff minutes if there’s an appropriate matchup against a smaller and more athletic five.

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Julius Erving, Billy Cunningham and members of 1982-83 Sixers share lessons from path to championship

Julius Erving, Billy Cunningham and members of 1982-83 Sixers share lessons from path to championship

Outside of immense talent, there are nuances of championship teams which might be challenging for an outsider to grasp.

Staying awake and alert for film sessions is not one of them.

In recalling how the Sixers’ NBA Finals defeats in 1977, 1980 and 1982 helped the 1983 team overcome the Lakers, Julius Erving had this to say in a recent interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Zumoff: 

Well, you couldn’t take anything for granted. I remember in ’77, we had a two-game lead over Portland. … After some of the video sessions, I look around and see some guys yawning and rubbing their eyes and whatever. I say, ‘Oh no. This is not good. This is not good.’ I think the group that we had (in 1982-83) and me being the leader, just encouraged guys to stay with it all the way — 3-0 doesn’t mean anything, 2-0 doesn’t mean anything, 1-0 doesn’t mean anything — four. Four wins. And Moses (Malone) said it best, ‘Fo’, Fo’, Fo.’

Clint Richardson, a key reserve guard on the 1982-83 champions who Erving called his “little brother,” wasn’t one of those dozing off, since he was playing at Seattle University when the Sixers were squandering their 2-0 series edge to Bill Walton and the Trail Blazers. He’d experienced disappointment twice in the Finals before the Sixers’ sweep of the Lakers, though, and came away believing there’s nothing wrong with being loose — to a certain point, of course.

“They just need to relax,” he told Zumoff of what the current Sixers can learn from the champions 37 years ago. “I think they need to trust each other a little bit more and have more confidence in each other. But that happens … I think sometimes there’s a tendency to panic and second-guess. I think they just need to relax and play and enjoy what they’re doing. And enjoy Philadelphia. Because the people of Philadelphia, they’re patient enough to wait. They waited for us and we finally came through for them. They just need to embrace that.”

It would be a stretch to draw direct parallels between the last Sixers team to win a title and the current roster. Erving played alongside future Hall of Famers Maurice Cheeks, Bobby Jones and Malone. Andrew Toney may have been on a Hall of Fame trajectory if not for injuries. One tempting comparison, however, is between the late Malone, a three-time MVP, and Joel Embiid. 

Billy Cunningham, the winningest head coach in Sixers history, thinks there’s one trait Malone had that Embiid should emulate. 

The ingredient I would love to see (Embiid) have … Moses’ philosophy,” he said. “He just believed he’d wear people down. And when he got to the fourth quarter, he was relentless on the offensive boards. I’m sure if you go to statistics, nobody had more offensive rebounds. And Moses couldn’t jump over a piece of paper. It wasn’t like he was someone that’s going to be touching the top of the square or anything like that. 

“If Embiid took that little quality of just being relentless, he is gifted, there’s nothing in the game that he cannot do. He should dominate at the defensive end of the court. No one should even think of going to the lane. When I say that, it’s just admiration for his skill level. I don’t know if there’s many players playing that position that have ever had more skill than he has. And now he needs to say, ‘OK, I’m taking control of this. This is my team, and I’m going to dominate, No. 1, on the defensive end of the court.’ 

One of Malone’s backups, Earl Cureton, admired his diligent, no-nonsense approach. Unlike Embiid, Malone was not an active trash talker. 

“His work ethic, the way he approached the game,” Cureton said. “Moses didn’t do a whole lot of talking; he showed with his actions out on the basketball court. Moses didn’t have to say much. He went out and approached it, every single game, every single practice was relentless. It was incredible the way he played, the consistency. … And also being able to sacrifice, putting everything else aside to be a great teammate. 

“You talk about him being an MVP and a superstar, but Moses was just one of the guys. You would see Moses hanging out with anybody on the team ... treated everyone the same way. A lot of times, things that you do off the court mean as much as what you do on the court, in terms of team.”

After missing his first two seasons because of injury, Embiid has played 202 games in the regular season and 19 in the playoffs. Malone had 544 NBA regular-season games and 45 playoff games under his belt before the Sixers tore through the Knicks, Bucks and Lakers in 1983. He’s one of many examples in NBA history of great players needing to be surrounded by the right complementary pieces to win. And, though it might be a dreary reality to acknowledge, sometimes other teams are simply better.

All those factors contribute to Richardson’s stance that the Sixers should try to savor the journey, whatever form it takes. 

“I think they have a lot of potential,” he said. “I think they may have a little too much added pressure on them, just because it’s been long and because there are some unrealistic expectations. I think they just need to relax and be comfortable, and let everything fall into place the way it’s supposed to fall into place.

"Sometimes I see some things being forced … I think when the whole organization relaxes and enjoys what they’ve got, I think that’s when things will happen.”

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Sixers' Tobias Harris joins protest in Philadelphia after death of George Floyd

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@tobiasharris on Instagram

Sixers' Tobias Harris joins protest in Philadelphia after death of George Floyd

Sixers forward Tobias Harris was among those protesting in Philadelphia on Saturday after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota earlier this week.

Floyd, a 46-year old black man, was killed Monday while in police custody. Video showed Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, kneeling on Floyd’s neck, for more than 8 minutes. His death has sparked protests against racial injustice and police brutality around the country. Chauvin was fired and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. The other officers on the scene, Tou Thao, J Alexander Kueng and Thomas Lane, were fired but have not been charged.

Harris showed himself on social media with the crowd protesting around City Hall and the Museum of Art. Teammate Mike Scott was “there in spirit.”

Scott on Friday had voiced his disagreement with an Associated Press tweet on Chauvin’s arrest that didn’t directly characterize Chauvin’s actions as murder. 

Other prominent figures within the Sixers and NBA have also spoken out in recent days. In a series of tweets Friday night, Ben Simmons advocated for “calling out the uncomfortable subject of blatant racism that exists heavily within our society.” 

Josh Richardson on Friday had responded to tweets by President Donald Trump in which Trump referred to protestors as “thugs,” raised the possibility of bringing the National Guard into Minnesota to “get the job done right” and threatened “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

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