Another crack at projecting the Sixers' starting 5 this season

Another crack at projecting the Sixers' starting 5 this season

The Sixers are going to look different this upcoming season compared to last and it begins with the starting lineup. With a new rookie and veteran free-agent additions, what you saw in the past will not be what you see when the team takes the court this fall. 

Last season, the Sixers rolled out 30 — yes, 30 — different starting fives. They wrapped their final game with T.J. McConnell, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Justin Anderson, Alex Poythress and Richaun Holmes. Not exactly what you would have expected back in training camp. 

Who the Sixers will start for the 2017-18 season has been a hot topic this summer, especially when it comes to the roles of Ben Simmons, Dario Saric and Robert Covington. Let's look at the questions surrounding the projected starting five. 

Point guard/power forward
How the Sixers address these roles will be an ongoing storyline. The two positions are linked because of Simmons. 

Simmons said he is a starting point guard. From president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s point of view, Simmons doesn’t necessarily have to start at the one-spot to be the main ball handler.

The Sixers drafted point guard Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall because of his ability to complement Simmons’ playing off the ball. That doesn’t mean Fultz has to start at the two. 

It remains to be seen how the Sixers make their defensive assignments: 6-foot-4 Fultz or 6-foot-10 Simmons on opposing point guards? It seems likely Fultz will take that matchup. If Simmons did, there would be mismatches at power forward. Several NBA point guards I spoke to last season said they did not expect Simmons would defend the one. 

The Sixers' lineups are going to be positionless in many instances and this is one of them. It really doesn’t matter who is labeled the point guard when it comes to Fultz and Simmons. They have the backcourt skill sets to play off each other, but defensively, Fultz is the better matchup to guard the one. 

Shooting guard
The Sixers got a shooter, a veteran leader and a starting-caliber player when they signed JJ Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. Redick was a starter for the last four seasons on the Clippers. He has not come off the bench since April 2014 when he was returning from a lengthy injury. 

Redick will give the Sixers another go-to scorer in the starting lineup in addition to Joel Embiid. Redick averaged 15.0 points last season and will spread the floor in this system. 

There are some who believe Redick should come off the bench in a scenario in which Simmons and Fultz start at the one and the two. One of the biggest impacts Redick will make, however, will be the way he makes his younger teammates better when he is sharing the court with them — leading by example, in-game huddles, those short conversations shared during free throws. The development of Fultz, Simmons and Embiid will be enhanced from playing alongside this proven veteran. 

Small forward
Covington vs. Saric: This has been one of the bigger debates on social media. A starting five needs more than just offense. Brett Brown is a huge fan of Covington’s defense, especially for the criteria on the Sixers’ “effort charts.” Take away those recurring three-point struggles that Covington gets criticized for, that’s not why he’s on the court. 

Last season, Covington averaged 12.9 points and 6.5 rebounds. He led the NBA with 4.2 deflections per game, ahead of John Wall and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green (both averaged 3.9). 

Speaking of that award, Covington finished fourth in the voting. Green, Rudy Gobert and Kawhi Leonard ran away with the ballots. Covington received a second- and third-place vote to finish one point better than LeBron James. Covington also garnered two All-Defensive first team votes. 

So where does Saric come into play in the small forward discussion? Let’s say Covington retains his starting role from last season and Simmons starts at power forward. That would mean Saric would come off the bench. Saric really thrived in the second half of last season in the starting lineup. He was doing it at power forward, though, and also as the main offensive go-to because of injuries. Saric, at this point, is better suited to defend fours. 

People will compare Covington and Saric because in many hypothetical lineups this would be the position up for grabs, but why force him to play small forward just to keep him in the starting five? There is potential for Saric to succeed in a sixth-man role where he most likely would receive more touches. If the Sixers are going to make a push for the playoffs, they will need depth in their second unit and Saric can anchor that. 

Given Embiid's restrictions last season, there is the possibility Simmons will have them as well in his first season back from a foot injury. The Sixers can turn to Saric in those situations. 

The question about the center position is not who will be the main starter, but rather who will be the backup.

The starting role belongs to Embiid when he is available. It remains to be seen just how many games he will play after only 31 last season and if he will be under restrictions (he previously could not play in back-to-backs). 

And so here we are again: Jahlil Okafor or Holmes? There was no clear-cut answer to that question last season, and each player had varying roles. 

Will the Sixers start Okafor when Embiid is out and bench him when Embiid is starting? Will Holmes only be Embiid’s backup or did he do enough to earn a starting spot when Embiid is out? It is hard to overlook Holmes’ 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.2 blocks after the All-Star break. 

The starting five will change throughout the season, whether through experimentation, injuries, trades or finding unexpected combinations that click. At this time in the offseason, Fultz, Redick, Covington, Simmons and Embiid seems likely.

LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes tanking jab at Sixers

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LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes tanking jab at Sixers

The Sixers have been minding their own business this summer.

We touched on that earlier this week as players from one Eastern Conference contender after another opened up about how their respective teams were going to reach the NBA Finals (see story).

That’s fine. You would expect those squads to feel confident in their ability, especially now that the conference’s boogie man, LeBron James, has moved on to Hollywood.

But then the Sixers had a grenade lobbed their way from an unlikely source.

Speaking at an event dubbed “The Playbook,” essentially a pep rally for LA Clippers fans to speak with members of the front office, owner Steve Ballmer assured supporters in the crowd that the franchise wasn’t going to adopt a tanking method to get back in contention like the Sixers.

“That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” Ballmer said, per the Los Angeles Times. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

Wow, OK.

Let’s look at the fact that the Sixers’ history, which includes three championships and a laundry list of some of the game's all-time greats, provided the organization with the leeway to undertake such a massive overhaul in a promise to reclaim the glory days. 

The Clippers, on the other hand, have just 13 playoff appearances in their 48-year history and zero titles. 

But this isn’t to beat up on the Clippers. They had to dig themselves out of the mess former owner Donald Sterling created and it can’t be easy always operating in the “Showtime” shadow cast by the Lakers.

This is more about what exactly Ballmer has accomplished — or hasn’t accomplished — in his brief time running a franchise to take a shot at the Sixers from across the country.

Since paying $2 billion for the Clippers prior to the start of the 2014-15 season (one year after the Sixers started “The Process”), the team has actually taken a wrong turn. In that ’14-15 campaign, they won 56 games and reached the Western Conference semifinals. The 2015-16 season produced 53 wins and a first-round exit. In 2016-17, LA registered 51 victories before bowing out in the first round again. Last season, the Clippers had a 42-40 record (two of those losses came to the Sixers) and missed the postseason.

Plus, in just the past calendar year under Ballmer’s watch, the Clips have lost their big three of Chris Paul (trade), Blake Griffin (trade) and DeAndre Jordan (free agent).

That doesn’t exactly scream team on the rise.

Ballmer may indeed have a plan to make sure the Clippers get back in the hunt. After all, he does have respected basketball minds Jerry West and Lawrence Frank handling front-office business and Doc Rivers still orchestrating things on the sidelines. And L.A., while now missing its star trio, does have some intriguing players on the roster that could surprise a few people.

Still, that collection was projected by ESPN to finish with a 35-47 record in 2018-19 and miss the playoffs again in the stacked Western Conference.

With the Clippers staring a decline right in the face and the Sixers boasting two franchise cornerstones in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons along with other solid pieces from Sam Hinkie’s process, it appears a bit misguided for Ballmer to take such a swipe.

Ballmer might not want the Clippers to tank under his leadership. The thing is, the organization might be forced into that method regardless.

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as 2nd female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as 2nd female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

The Sixers have made a historic hire in their scouting department.

The team has hired former WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout starting next season. 

"I think when you have this goal in mind, your gender shouldn't even matter," Harding told ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne. "It should be about if you can do it, if you're good, you're experienced, if you know what you're doing and what you're talking about."

Harding, a Duke product and the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 WNBA draft, is just the second woman to be hired by an NBA team as a scout after a career in the WNBA. Jenny Boucek, who is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, was the first former WNBA player to be hired as a scout back in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics. Becky Hammon, one of Harding's former opponents who urged Harding to pursue this path, was hired as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Hammon has since been interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' GM job and been promoted to Gregg Popovich's top assistant.

Harding completed the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season after retiring in 2017. The 34-year-old guard spent nine seasons in the WNBA and represented Belarus in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"Lindsey has quickly become one of the game's bright young minds in basketball operations," Sixers head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said to Shelbourne. "Having graduated from the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season, Lindsey is applying the same grit and basketball IQ she used as a player in her move to the front office. We look forward to the work Lindsey will do to help grow our program and further solidify a culture of winning.

"It's no secret how much I value the culture we've built in Philadelphia and how much a family-like atmosphere means to our program. Lindsey is a leader, and she is a welcomed addition to the 76ers family. I look forward to working with her."

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