76ers

Sixers' week ahead: Joel Embiid's possible return, Brett Brown's rotation

Sixers' week ahead: Joel Embiid's possible return, Brett Brown's rotation

The Sixers are entering an interesting and potentially exciting week.

After a two-game road swing in New Orleans and Oklahoma City, they’ll return home Saturday to host the defending world champion Warriors.

Let’s take a look at the storylines heading into the week.

The return of Embiid?

Joel Embiid has missed the Sixers’ last two games with left knee soreness that Brett Brown described as “tendinitis.” After the Sixers beat the Heat on Thursday, his absence was clearly felt in a drubbing by the Blazers. The Sixers are 2-4 without their big man this season.

When the injury was announced, the team said that the All-Star center would be reevaluated in approximately a week. That means Embiid will miss Monday’s matchup against a resurrected Jahlil Okafor, Anthony Davis (maybe?) and the Pelicans, but could return to play his nemesis Russell Westbrook and the Thunder.

Davis didn’t play Saturday in a win over the Lakers as his saga in New Orleans continues. Embiid has owned the matchup against Davis, but without Embiid, Davis will be a near-impossible matchup for Boban Marjanovic. It’ll be interesting to see how Brown handles Davis — if he plays.

The Sixers have not beaten Oklahoma City in forever. Since the Seattle SuperSonics became the Thunder, the Sixers have lost 19 of 20 to them. That win came on Nov. 15, 2008 — a game in which GM Elton Brand logged 27 minutes. 

You could tell it bothered Embiid that it’s been so long after the loss at the Wells Fargo Center back on Jan. 19. Add that to his rivalry with Westbrook and it looks like a matchup he’ll want to be a part of. And he surely wants to be out there against the Warriors on national TV Saturday.

With all that said, nothing is more important than making sure Embiid is ready to roll for the playoffs.

What's up with the rotation?

This seems to be the fan base’s biggest point of contention with Brown. Some of it is fair, but a lot of the criticism is unwarranted.

His decision to put Amir Johnson in the second half of the loss against Portland was mind-boggling. With Marjanovic struggling to defend the pick-and-roll, it made sense to get the hulking big man out of the game. It would’ve made more sense to go with rookie Jonah Bolden.

Sure, Bolden can be undisciplined — a big reason why we didn’t see more of Richaun Holmes when he was here — but Marjanovic and Johnson had no chance on Sunday. Bolden did get overly aggressive on a couple pick-and-rolls, but still seemed like he gave the Sixers the best chance Sunday.

With all that said, there’s not much else Brown can do about his rotation. It’s understandable that the way he staggers his starters' minutes frustrates some fans, but he’s making sure his top guys are playoff ready.

Jimmy Butler is a prime example. As much as Butler loved him, Tom Thibodeau ran Butler into the ground. Butler averaged 37.6 minutes a game in five full seasons under Thibs. He’s averaging just 32.7 as a Sixer. If you don’t think the 29-year-old will feel that difference come postseason, I don’t know what to tell you.

Brown’s rotation is 10-deep right now. He’s said he’d like to cut it to nine for the playoffs. There could be certain nights when the number goes down to eight, depending on the game and the matchup.

It’ll be fair to question Brown’s rotation once there’s more at stake. For now, it’s just a way to kill time over the next 22 games.

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

2019 NBA free agent targets: Looking for insurance if Sixers lose Tobias Harris and/or Mike Scott

usa-marcus-morris-paul-millsap-markieff-morris.jpg
USA Today Images

2019 NBA free agent targets: Looking for insurance if Sixers lose Tobias Harris and/or Mike Scott

The Sixers ultimately hope that they can bring back Tobias Harris and Mike Scott to solidify the power forward position. If they lose one or both, there are a few interesting names on the market.

We’ve already looked at point guards and wings the team could target.

Here are five power forwards the Sixers could look at in free agency.

Paul Millsap

Millsap is a decent player who was signed to a non-team friendly contract. He’s 34, but still a very useful NBA power forward. He is an average shooter from three, a good rebounder, a decent passer for his position and a strong, intelligent defender. If Tobias Harris walks, Millsap could make sense as a guy that will be comfortable in a secondary role. It’s not a super sexy signing, but he could be a decent starter while likely being a fifth option offensively and solidifying things on the other end. He also offers versatility as a small ball five or a big wing in the right matchup.

Marcus or Markieff Morris

Marcus and Markieff are obviously their own people, but the twin brothers from Philly have a very similar skill set. The biggest difference is that Marcus is a much more consistent shooter from three for his career, but Markieff is at least a league average shooter. Both will supply you with toughness and experience. Marcus actually had a pretty substantial role for the Celtics last season while Markieff’s season was marred by injury. Either would be a nice addition either to start if Harris walks or in a bench role if Scott walks.

Rudy Gay

Gay could always score the basketball, but with the Spurs, he’s become a smarter and more willing defender. He shot over 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, both career highs. He’s also a decent passer and does have some ability to create his own shot. You could look at him as an older, but cheaper version of Harris. It’ll be interesting to see what Gay earns on the open market entering his age-33 season. If the Sixers are looking for a short-term commitment, Gay could be the option here.

Maxi Kleber

You may not have seen much of Kleber in Dallas. When you look at his stats, you won’t be overly impressed, but this guy can play. He’s an excellent on-the-ball defender in the post and finished 11th in the NBA in block percentage. Kleber is great at challenging without fouling. He also hit 35 percent of his threes. He’s the type of player that can play next to and also back up Joel Embiid. If you’re unable to bring back Harris, signing a combination of Kleber and Patrick Beverley would give the Sixers one of, if not the best, defensive starting lineups in the league.

Jeff Green

Green is what he is. He’s a long and skilled player that has never quite put it together consistently in the NBA. But he’s a switchable defender and has playoff experience. He shot 34.7 percent from three, his highest mark from distance since 2012-13. He’ll enter the season at 33 and he likely won’t command more than the veteran minimum. Again, not the sexiest signing, but it’s nice to have a veteran that at least knows what to do if you need him.

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

2019 NBA free agency rumors: Rockets reportedly plan to pursue sign-and-trade with Sixers for Jimmy Butler

usa_jimmy_butler.jpg
USA Today Images

2019 NBA free agency rumors: Rockets reportedly plan to pursue sign-and-trade with Sixers for Jimmy Butler

Well, at least one team is trying to throw a wrench in the Sixers’ attempt to #RunItBack.

The Rockets plan to pursue Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade with the Sixers when the NBA’s legal tampering period begins Sunday, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

There’s a lot to untangle here. Woj is not saying that the feeling is mutual or that the Sixers would be inclined to go through with the deal. He said “if” Butler wants to go to Houston and “if” he can talk the Sixers into it. That’s two pretty big “ifs.” Woj also said the Sixers plan to “be aggressive” in re-signing the four-time All-Star.

From the Sixers’ perspective, it makes little sense to do a sign-and-trade. In order to make the money work, you’d have to take back the contracts of Eric Gordon and Clint Capela. Gordon is not the same player he once was — which is why the Rockets would be willing to move him — and Capela would be a backup center making an average annual salary of $18 million. You could theoretically flip Capela, but that’s a dicey option. The Sixers would be in a better spot by just allowing Butler to walk and use the cap space to re-sign Tobias Harris and JJ Redick and perhaps another free agent.

For Butler, there is an appeal in wanting to play for the team he grew up watching and alongside two future HOFers. But the Sixers just seem like a better fit on the court and money wise. The situation on the Rockets seems combustible. Chris Paul has reportedly asked to be dealt and it’d be interesting to see how Butler would react to James Harden’s play on defense. The Sixers can also offer Butler a five-year, $190 max deal because they own his Bird rights. It’s unclear how much Houston can actually give Butler with their murky cap situation — though GM Daryl Morey has navigated such situations before.

Butler has said repeatedly that his decision in free agency won’t be based on money.

“You always want to be able to win, I think that’s key for sure,” Butler said during his exit interview. “You’re looking at coaches, you’re looking at the city. There’s a lot that goes into it. For me, as long as I got my people with me, they’re happy, they’re smiling and we’re waking up knowing were getting to work in an environment where we’re having fun … we get it, we understand.”

Does that sound more like Houston or Philadelphia? Buckle up, Sixers fans. This is just the beginning.

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