76ers

Well, it looks like a Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons workout can happen now

Well, it looks like a Magic Johnson-Ben Simmons workout can happen now

While the Sixers were getting shellacked in Dwyane Wade’s swan song in Miami, something bizarre was happening on the West Coast.

Magic Johnson stepped down as Lakers president in an impromptu press conference before the team took on the Portland Trail Blazers. Even more peculiar: He didn’t tell his boss.

Yikes (pretty crazy to see the very level-headed Woj going in on someone like that, by the way).

So why did Johnson step down? One of the things mentioned was how he’d like to freely interact with players around the NBA. The Lakers have been smacked with fines for tampering on a couple occasions during Johnson’s tenure.

If you’ll recall, Johnson made waves in Philadelphia earlier this season. Already entrenched in a weird situation involving Pelicans star big man Anthony Davis’ trade request, Johnson spoke to reporters at the Wells Fargo Center before the Lakers played the Sixers back on Feb. 10.

When asked a generic question about Ben Simmons, who some have speculated would be keen on joining the Lakers at some point in his career, Johnson had this response:

[Simmons] reached out to me, not to me directly, to the Lakers, to find out if we can get together this summer. I said, you got to clear it with the league ... but if he wants to know how to play the position as a big guard, it's fine, I will do that. But if everybody doesn't sign off we can't get together.

It was odd that Johnson put himself in that situation. During a radio interview with 97.5 The Fanatic, Sixers GM Elton Brand was asked about the situation, saying he told the Lakers “no.” Brand later acknowledged that he had a good relationship with all parties involved and didn't want to make waves. The league reviewed the situation and determined there was no evidence of tampering, but it was still a strange thing for Johnson to share. 

What’s funny is how much Johnson was credited for getting LeBron James to come to the Lakers in free agency. Was it Johnson’s pull or James’ desire to be closer to his family and thinking about his life after basketball that lured the greatest player on the planet to L.A.? It seems to be more the latter. 

Him leaving his current post does make it seem like the comments involving Simmons were innocent and not some sort of recruiting pitch. Johnson is probably the closest parallel in NBA history to Simmons as a near seven-foot point guard.

Now that Johnson no longer works for the Lakers, he’s free to share as many “big guard” secrets with Simmons as he’d like.

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

How will all the pieces fit? More ‘fair questions’ face Brett Brown, Sixers’ offense

How will all the pieces fit? More ‘fair questions’ face Brett Brown, Sixers’ offense

There are a good number of “Brett Brown-isms” — phrases distinct to the Sixers’ head coach or terms he’ll turn to often in talking with the media. Out of them all, “It’s a fair question” might best encapsulate the second half of the 2018-19 season.

Brown faced a lot of fair questions about Jimmy Butler’s role in the offense, his efforts to add more pick-and-roll and isolation, where Tobias Harris fit and much more.

Some games, it all made sense. Butler ran the show at the point with a heavy emphasis on ball screens, Ben Simmons did damage in transition and Joel Embiid was a weapon in the post. But often, the pieces didn’t quite work together. The half-court offense was nightmarish in the final few minutes of that devastating Game 7 in Toronto, when the shot clock seemed to always be ticking down the last couple of seconds.

Not as well as they should’ve,” Harris said Friday when asked whether all the pieces ever connected. “We had good little spurts of it, but they weren’t really consistent for us. I felt like we got out of it as much as we could’ve in that timeframe with the different types of games, different types of personalities or whatnot. We needed more time. We needed more time, we needed more cohesiveness. That’s something that we have now, so we have to really maximize that fully.

The Sixers do indeed have time now, with their new starting five all under contract through at least the next two seasons, and they have some different questions to answer.

“I look forward to training camp, figure all that out,” Elton Brand said Friday. “Defensively, of course that’s where we’re going to hang our hat. We should be one of the top defensive teams in the league, in my opinion. But we’ll figure out the spacing. We have a lot of versatility. Al Horford can space, Joel Embiid can space, Ben’s working on his game, Josh is a high-level scorer and Tobias is a high-level shooter and scorer also, so we’re looking forward to making that work in training camp. But it’s going to take some time. It should take some time.”

Brand is probably right that a lot of “figuring it out” will happen in training camp, when his new team will be together for the first time. Still, you’d think Brown and his staff have already started to think about offensive schemes and fit.

Simmons and Harris will likely spend more time with the ball in their hands as a byproduct of Butler’s departure. Harris had occasional opportunities to run late-game, middle pick-and-rolls, but those were mostly a Butler staple. Harris only averaged 3.7 fourth-quarter points per game in the regular season with the Sixers, 2.5 in the playoffs. And, in the rare moments when he was in the spotlight, his pick-and-roll partner was often Boban Marjanovic. Out of all the things that will likely “take some time,” Harris’ pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid is among the most important. 

For Harris, it will also be key to prove his subpar three-point shooting numbers with the Sixers last season (32.6 percent in the regular season, 34.9 percent in the playoffs) were just a blip. Richardson shot a tick over league average from three at a high volume last year, while Horford should have no problem sliding into a stretch-four role. Embiid’s soft touch and good free throw shooting (80.4 percent in 2018-19) have not translated to efficiency from the outside. Simmons has yet to show — in a game setting — that he should be part of the conversation about the team’s three-point shooting. 

Some of the strategy for Brown won't be too difficult to figure out. His team is huge and has multiple post-up threats, so we should see the Sixers play more “inside-out,” with the offense revolving around Simmons, Embiid or Horford down low. Brown already has post offense principles and spacing in place that aim to play to Embiid and Simmons’ respective strengths (see film review). 

Many elements of the Sixers’ offense will be “organic,” another favorite Brown term. The Sixers should force more than the 12.7 turnovers per game they did last season — 27th in the NBA — and their transition offense should prosper as a result. Zhaire Smith and Matisse Thybulle are two young players who could make a unique impact in that area. 

Other questions for Brown and the Sixers will remain open well into the season. This time around, there’s much greater freedom to explore what does and doesn’t work, and much less pressure to hit on answers immediately.

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

Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

1400x1400_promo_sixers_talk_fullscreen.jpg
NBC Sports Philadelphia

Sixers Talk: Ben Simmons not playing in the World Cup; Mike Scott living his best life

Ben Simmons will not be playing for Team Australia in the World Cup while Mike Scott is living his best life on his 31st birthday. Danny Pommells and Paul Hudrick talk that and sneaky teams in the East on this edition of Sixers Talk.

Simmons is choosing to work on his game for the upcoming NBA season instead of playing in the FIBA World Cup. What are the pros and cons?

Scott and the hive are having a great time on Twitter. Plus, we found out that the Sixers' forward didn't do so hot in French class at UVA.

The Sixers and Bucks appear to be the two top teams in the East. Which team could sneak up on them?

That and more below on this edition of Sixers Talk.