Sixers' willingness to pass will be key during playoffs

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Sixers' willingness to pass will be key during playoffs

One of the biggest storylines surrounding the Sixers this season has been whether LeBron James will join the promising team as a free agent in the summer.

But what if we told you the Sixers already had their own king. Well, at least according to head coach Brett Brown.

“We’ve said from Day 1, the pass is king,” Brown said after Monday’s win over the Nuggets.

If that’s the case, the Sixers are already among royalty.

The Sixers entered Tuesday tied for second in the entire NBA with 26.4 assists per game, behind only the champion Golden State Warriors. They’ve bumped that number up to an impressive 31.2 dimes a night over the course of their current seven-game win streak, including 35 in that victory over the Nuggets.

“Everybody loves to play with people that pass the ball,” Brown said. “One of the large differences this year is the receivers can finish either through threes or in the paint.”

True, it only becomes an assist if the person on the receiving end finishes the play. However, it’s the mentality of passing that helps spark everything.

Perhaps more than any other principle he brought from San Antonio, Brown has instilled in his young team that being unselfish with the ball is paramount. The Sixers genuinely want to share the rock and see their teammates get easy baskets.

Nowhere is that fundamental value more visible than the play of Ben Simmons. The point guard is averaging 8.0 assists and passed Allen Iverson for the most dimes by a rookie in franchise history with his 12 against Denver.

Even Markelle Fultz, back Monday after a 68-game absence, got in on the action with eight assists.

“How good is that? To look down and see 35 assists,” Brown said. “And, to your point, to add up those two point guards. Then look at the turnovers, you know they pass.

“… That’s a big number from those two and it’s a massive number again from our team. Thirty-five assists is something we’re proud of.”

What would make the squad even more proud is continuing to share the wealth when the postseason rolls around. When opponents’ offenses start to slow down in the playoffs and they look to their stars to carry them, the Sixers can focus on keeping the ball hopping around to everyone.

After all, what good is it being royalty if everyone in the kingdom doesn’t eat?

Sixers mailbag: Realistic backup centers, shift in draft philosophy and more

Sixers mailbag: Realistic backup centers, shift in draft philosophy and more

Hopefully you’re winding down this Memorial Day Weekend, but we still have another round of Sixers mailbag questions to get to while you sit back and relax.

The second part of our mailbag is about the backup center position, the team’s priorities in the draft and the strategy if Tobias Harris walks.

Let’s get right into your questions.

It was clear the backup center position was a glaring need this postseason. The Sixers had options, but none of them were good enough. If Brett Brown had better ones, perhaps the Sixers would be the team that’s a game away from the NBA Finals.

I imagine Elton Brand will give Brown more ammo at the five next season. The free-agent market isn’t littered with guys, but there are certainly players that would seem like an upgrade. Former Process Sixer Dewayne Dedmon will likely get paid to be a starter somewhere, but he’d be a nice fit here. Maybe DeAndre Jordan or Robin Lopez if their demand goes down. JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler are out there, but they seem like West Coast guys. Nerlens Noel … not sure we’re there yet.

More likely you’re looking at someone like Kyle O’Quinn. O’Quinn is tough, smart and moves better than any of the veteran bigs the Sixers had this season. It’s not a sexy signing, but it could be a practical one. I’d also expect Brand to target the position in the draft. Arkansas' Daniel Gafford, Georgia's Nic Claxton, Maryland's Bruno Fernando and Florida State's Mfiondu Kabengele are guys to watch at No. 24 and beyond.

These questions are similar enough so we’ll tackle them both with one response.

Brand said during his end-of-season press conference that the team could be looking for older players and that it would prioritize defense and shooting. There will be guys who fit that description at No. 24 and Edwards might be one of them. He can score in a variety of ways as he showed in the NCAA Tournament. So, too, could North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson. Tennessee's Admiral Schofield and Washington's Matisse Thybulle could also fit that bill along with any of the bigs mentioned above.

But that’s not to say the Sixers will pass on a player simply because of age. If a player like Kentucky’s Tyler Herro is around at 24, Brand would be wise to take a look. Herro can really shoot it and isn’t a stiff on defense.

I’m answering this question as if you’re thinking Jimmy Butler will be back — not a foregone conclusion — and the Sixers will be pushed into the luxury tax by signing Harris. There really is no one player you’d be looking for to replace Harris. With the money you’d have, it’d be difficult to target a star-caliber player. More likely you’re looking to improve your depth. Really, the same can be said if you lose Butler and retain Harris.

If you’re looking for a starting four, Rudy Gay would make some sense. Gay shot a career-high 40 percent from three and played defense for maybe the first time in his entire career. It could also allow you to sign a backup point guard like Corey Joseph or a veteran wing like Terrence Ross.

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NBA free agency rumors: Jimmy Butler a better fit for Sixers than LeBron James, Lakers

NBA free agency rumors: Jimmy Butler a better fit for Sixers than LeBron James, Lakers

Kawhi Leonard’s Game 7 jumper barely took its fourth bounce off the rim and already the offseason rumors are swirling.

On Thursday, we had two different rumors suggest that the Los Angeles Lakers are a strong candidate to land Jimmy Butler. One report included a recruiting pitch by LeBron James and another saying Butler would "join the Lakers in a second if they offered him a max deal." That also aligns with a report from during the season.

But given what the Sixers can offer Butler and James’ contract situation, the Sixers are the better fit.

There are certainly dots that connect Butler with L.A. The fact that the Lakers have the best player in the world in LeBron is obviously appealing. Though the franchise has fallen on rough times, there is a rich history there. Butler reportedly “once imagined” playing for the Lakers and is often seen rocking a Dodgers cap. Butler has also talked about wanting to open his own winery when he retires. L.A. is six hours from Napa Valley, but it’s a lot closer than Philly.

With all that said, the Sixers are still in an advantageous spot. Because they acquired Butler in a trade, they own his Bird Rights. That means they’re the only team that can offer Butler a fifth year on his next contract. Butler has openly stated that he’d like to retire after his age-35 season. With his 30th birthday upcoming, a deal with the Sixers could give him security up until that retirement — and pay him pretty damn handsomely. 

The opportunity to play with James is attractive, but James will be 34 next season and only has two years left on his deal with a player option for a third. With the Sixers, he has two young stars that haven’t even reached their prime and should be in Philadelphia for a long time. While a Butler and James pairing immediately makes the Lakers better, the Sixers were a couple bounces — and perhaps a healthy Joel Embiid — away from being in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“Talking about this roster, we just had a slight hiccup,” Butler said. “But what hurts most about this loss is we had a great group of guys that would ride for one another. It was special. We enjoyed playing with each other. You couldn’t mess with anybody on the team because somebody was always going to be there, in your face. But to think that this roster might not be the exact same next year, that’s what really hurts.”

Beyond money and the opportunity to win, Butler truly emerged as a leader for the Sixers. Given his personality, that seems like something he relishes. Would he have that same leadership opportunity playing with James?

We also can’t underestimate the relationship Butler developed with Brown. Player and coach grew to understand each other. Given Butler’s abrasive personality, that can’t be understated. Will Frank Vogel be able to develop that kind of connection?

While the Sixers look like the better fit, there’s no telling what’s in Butler’s mind and heart. He mentioned during his exit interview how important keeping the people in his inner circle happy is. It’s fair to note that Butler also did forge a bond with player development specialist Remy Ndiaye and player development coach Lindsey Harding, both of whom can be spotted in videos on Butler’s YouTube channel — which is super entertaining, on a side note.

Buckle up, Sixers fans. This is just the beginning of the silly season. Things are going to get weird.

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