76ers

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

Sixers will find plenty of challengers in attempt to take over Eastern Conference

“Run it back.”

After striking out on the big fish in free agency, the Sixers essentially appear to be going this route for next season.

They have reportedly agreed to a one-year deal to bring back JJ Redick and a trade for Denver Nuggets swingman Wilson Chandler to help offset the departures of bench standouts Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. A little juggling to add a reserve center, and you will be looking at your 2018-19 Philadelphia 76ers (barring a blockbuster deal for Kawhi Leonard, in which case all bets are off).

And there’s no reason to believe that won’t be enough to take another leap next season. Think about it, from a personal standpoint the Sixers had Joel Embiid be named a starter in the All-Star Game and finish as the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year. Despite all of the noise, Ben Simmons snagged Rookie of the Year in a landslide. Plus, the team had Robert Covington (first) and Embiid (second) each be named to All-NBA defensive teams.

All of those individual accolades helped propel the team to a 52-win campaign (24 more than the previous season), a playoff berth for the first time in six seasons and a first-round series victory.

With that level of production under their belt, there is no reason to believe the Sixers won’t continue climbing up the Eastern Conference ranks.

Just don’t think it will be easy.

Even with LeBron James’ exodus to the West, the Sixers’ path to the NBA Finals won’t all of the sudden become a cakewalk. Some other squads will have a say about that, starting at the top.

Toronto may have ditched its head coach, but the Raptors appear to be sticking with the core that won a franchise-record 59 games last season. That group beat the Sixers in three of the four regular-season meetings by an average of 18.3 points.

Of course, the Boston Celtics had the Sixers’ number all season long. Between the preseason, regular season and playoffs, the C’s won nine of the 11 matchups by an average of 9.2 points. Plus, you’ve likely heard they’ll be getting a couple All-Stars back in the lineup come next season in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Even the teams a step below have reason for hope. The Indiana Pacers have faith in their own young core led by Most Improved Player Victor Oladipo. The Milwaukee Bucks have one of the game’s best players in Giannis Antetokounmpo and boosted their bench by swiping Ilyasova from the Sixers and drafting Villanova standout Donte DiVincenzo. The Washington Wizards (John Wall, Bradley Beal) and Detroit Pistons (Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond) have prolific tandems that could cause trouble for anyone.

It’s all wide open in the East now that the King’s throne has shifted to Hollywood. And the Sixers have to feel as good as any team about being able to secure the crown, but it definitely won’t be an easy task.

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2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

2 NBA players tested positive for COVID-19 in Orlando; Richaun Holmes breaches 'bubble'

Former Sixer Richaun Holmes breached the NBA’s health and safety regulations by picking up a food delivery, he said Monday afternoon. 

Holmes will now have to quarantine for eight additional days. 

Earlier Monday, ESPN reported that the Rockets’ Bruno Caboclo unintentionally broke quarantine. 

Shortly after Holmes released his statement, the NBA and NBPA announced that two players of the 322 tested in Orlando since July 7 were positive for the coronavirus. Those players never cleared quarantine, according to the joint statement. 

All-Star Rockets guard Russell Westbrook announced Monday that he tested positive for COVID-19 before Houston’s departure and is quarantined. New Sixer Ryan Broekhoff said Sunday he didn’t travel with the Sixers to Orlando so that he could focus on his family after his wife tested positive.

Joel Embiid was skeptical last week that all players would follow the league’s protocols.

“Some guys like to go out and some guys like to do stuff, (there are) some guys that like adventure,” he said. “So that’s the way I’m thinking. I know myself. I know I’m not going to put everybody else at risk, but the question is, is everybody else going to do the same? And just being around this business, I surely don’t think so.”

A second-round pick of the Sixers in 2015, Holmes played the first three seasons of his career in Philadelphia as an athletic, high-energy backup big man. He’s had the best season of his career with the Kings, posting 12.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game this year. 

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Why now is the right time for Ben Simmons to change positions

Why now is the right time for Ben Simmons to change positions

When the Sixers drafted Ben Simmons first overall in 2016, Brett Brown told the assembled media that night that asking the Australian to play point guard with no previous experience was “borderline cruel.”

Brown didn’t rule it out but wasn’t 100 percent sure where Simmons would play. We ultimately know what happened. Simmons has been a two-time All-Star as a point guard but has limitations in the half court.

As the team continues its training camp at Disney World, the ultimate solution for Brown and the Sixers may be to take the ball out of Simmons’ hands.

The last few days I played him exclusively as a four man,” Brown said in a video conference with reporters Monday. “He’s so dynamic. … Let’s just talk about running: There’s nobody faster in the NBA. And so to always have Ben have to have the ball and dribble it up against five guys … I think dilutes some of his potent weapons.

The decision for Brown is multi-faceted. The “clunky” fit of Al Horford and the emergence of second-year guard Shake Milton — who Joel Embiid revealed has been running the point with the starters — were factors. 

But the main purpose is to make the most out of Simmons’ skill set. His unwillingness to shoot is well documented, but there is little Simmons can’t do outside of that. We’ve seen Brown deploy Simmons as a screen and roller plenty this season. Though the results have been mixed from an analytics standpoint, Simmons’ physical traits lend themselves to that role.

Brown at one point compared Simmons to Blake Griffin, one of the more dangerous rollers in the league in his prime. It’s not hard to imagine Simmons playing that role in the half court while still being elite in transition with the ball in his hands.

So, why did it take Brown so long into Simmons’ career to make the change? The answer is simple: Necessity. Brown made Simmons the Sixers’ point guard initially because he was best suited for the role at the time.

With a player like Milton emerging and Simmons’ limitations continuing to be exposed, now is the right time to make this move.

We were young and really not that good so it was my decision, ‘You take the ball. We’re going to make you the point guard,’” Brown said. “It’s not like he came in and there was an established point guard that you had to bump out. And so there are zero regrets on doing that.

“But it’s important to understand the segue into where he was and where he is. And so now you fast forward it and it’s not like you’re looking over your shoulder and there’s Damian Lillard or Chris Paul. That isn’t true, that’s not where I’m going, but you realize the value that he has in many other areas.

The other way Simmons can be utilized in the half court is by putting him in a “snug” pick-and-roll in the post with Joel Embiid. While the action hasn’t always produced great results, Brown has continued to use it. The best example Brown has pointed to is the home win against the Clippers before the All-Star break.

It’s an action that both players have needed time to get a feel for, but if they can execute it, the duo’s combination of size and skill could be difficult to defend.

I feel like this role is actually going to be even better than being the starting point guard,” Embiid said, “because he’s so great defensively, and offensively, when he has a chance, he’s probably one of the fastest guys in the league, so just getting the rebound and pushing it in transition and find the shooters. And then in half-court play, we can use him in a lot of ways. He can roll or he and me, we can play out of that pick-and-roll out of the post. So I think we’re going to be great.

While it might be the end of Simmons as a point guard, you won’t hear the soon-to-be 24-year-old sulk about it. Simmons said last week that he’s comfortable in any role and that he “love(s)” playing in the pick-and-roll.

After all, this move isn’t just right for the Sixers and their chances to go on a deep playoff run. It’s also about the evolution of Simmons and the best way to use his dynamic skill set going forward.

Watching him fly up the floor, watching Joel and him play off each other has been a really good look. I think they’ve been fantastic together,” Brown said. “And most importantly, how has he responded to [not being the point guard]? Like a star. Just a mature, whatever it’s going to take to get this team to be the best that it can be with the pieces that we have that can be designed into a smooth thing, something that’s not clunky. That is one of the pieces he has to offer, and I think he’s been great at accepting that and really killing it in practice in the environment that I just said.

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