76ers

Apparently, DeMarcus Cousins threatened to fight Nik Stauskas on a plane

Apparently, DeMarcus Cousins threatened to fight Nik Stauskas on a plane

Apparently, DeMarcus Cousins wasn't a big fan of Nik Stauskas.

Discussing the Cousins trade on his podcast Monday, Zach Lowe recalled a story from two years ago when Cousins threatened Stauskas on Sacramento's team flight to China.

"DeMarcus Cousins ruined Nik Stauskas, or almost did," Lowe said. "The stories about DeMarcus Cousins berating Nik Stauskas, threatening to fight Nik Stauskas on the plane when they were going to China for the preseason. 

"He ruined Nik Stauskas, he ruined Sauce Castillo to the point where he just had to go somewhere else."

Lowe and guest Brian Windhorst went on to compare Stauskas to Buddy Hield, the centerpiece of the Kings' return for Cousins. Both felt the Kings did poorly in the Cousins trade, arguing the draft pick they received from the Pels was equivalent to the one they got from the Hornets (No. 22) for Marco Belinelli.

Windhorst told a story of a conversation he had recently with a personnel executive who said Hield will be a backup two-guard. 

"You know who [Hield] is very similar to in that regard?" Lowe asked. "Nik Stauskas."

"[Stauskas] had a nice stretch in the first third of the season for the Sixers (which showed) he's going to be a rotation player. I think he settles into that — his shooting has slumped a little bit. But that's an example of DeMarcus Cousins ruined Nik Stauskas, and now they're trading him for maybe an equivalent player."

The Kings are just a complete mess, which is hugely important for the Sixers, who own pick swap rights with Sacramento in the 2017 draft and also have the Kings' unprotected 2019 first-rounder (see story).

That trade continues to boost former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie's credibility and make Kings owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Vlade Divac look like they don't know what they're doing.

"If your owner has stability and knows what he's doing and knows how to hire the right people and get out of their way, that's a (good) situation. This was created by Vivek," Windhorst said.

"And that doesn't mean that Vlade didn't make the decisions within the trade that they made with Philadelphia, but putting Vlade in that position when he wasn't ready for it — and I think everybody, including Vlade would agree — led to this.

"I just can't believe how little they got (for Cousins). You know that they've been offered so much more for DeMarcus in the past. And so not only is the recent decision to basically sell the long-term for the now, to trade Nik Stauskas so that you can sign Kosta Koufos or whatever else they did with that money, going and signing Arron Afflalo."

At that point, Lowe interjected and poured on poor Vlade, recounting the players Divac signed with the money freed up in the Stauskas heist.

"Kosta Koufos, Rajon Rondo — who might be out of the freaking league next year — and Marco Belinelli. ... That's who they traded those picks and swap rights for — those three players, who aren't going to help you win and everybody knew they weren't going to help you win. And they could have acquired two of them via free agency if they used the stretch provision and had any idea what the stretch provision was."

The Kings made their bed. Their only real chance of avoiding a catastrophic next few years is if Hield — a.k.a. Stauskas 2.0 — can pull them out of it.

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Sixers pick up Zhaire Smith's third-year option, make clear call to bank on his further development

Zhaire Smith's role with the Sixers isn't yet clear for this season, but the 20-year-old guard has a future with the team.

General manager Elton Brand confirmed that Wednesday. The team announced it has exercised Smith's third-year option for the 2020-21 season, worth $3.2 million

The Sixers acquired Smith and the Miami Heat's 2021 first-round pick last year in a draft-night trade with the Phoenix Suns, who received Mikal Bridges. Smith played in six regular-season games his rookie year, averaging 6.7 points and and 2.2 rebounds per game, but that's far from the whole story. Smith broke his foot in August, then suffered a severe allergic reaction and subsequent complications that led to him losing over 35 pounds. Over time, Smith regained his standout athleticism and rebuilt his jump shot after changing his form to compensate for his loss of strength (see story).

Head coach Brett Brown described Smith during training camp as a "pogo stick" and has praised his talent for on-ball defense, comparing him on multiple occasions to Avery Bradley. However, Smith has not been part of the Sixers' rotation during the preseason. Brown has acknowledged that development is a great priority for the Sixers with Smith than immediate contribution, especially after everything he went through as a rookie. The emergence of rookie Matisse Thybulle and solid play of Shake Milton during the preseason are further reasons why Smith hasn't been playing with the Sixers' regulars. Smith played the entire fourth quarter Tuesday night of the Sixers' 106-86 win over the Pistons and had seven points and three rebounds.

"It's just a process, so I'm not worried about it," he said. "As long as we get the win, it doesn't matter."

Given the potential the Sixers saw in Smith — and continue to see — it never seemed plausible that they would decline his third-year option.

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Ben Simmons' self-awareness came through at practice Wednesday

Ben Simmons' self-awareness came through at practice Wednesday

There has just been a different vibe to Ben Simmons coming into the 2019-20 season.

No, I’m not talking about his quotes about falling back in love with the game. And no, I’m not talking about him launching and swishing a three in the Sixers’ first preseason game.

He’s always been confident in his game — at least he’s always expressed it. There’s just a different aura around him. There’s a maturity that the 23-year-old is exuding that we haven’t quite seen before.

When asked after practice about why doesn’t feel like he needs to improve as a shooter in order for the Sixers to reach their goals, he gave arguably the most articulate and thoughtful response of his professional career.

It's not that I don't need to do it, it's something that I'm working towards getting better as a player, as you would do as a writer — everybody works to get better. Or him behind the camera — he wasn't the best the first day he started. And that's just my game. I'm confident that I'm not a great shooter. I'm getting better, though. But it's a game. There's five people on the court. I lack something that I'm not as great at but other areas I'm very great at. I run the floor as well as anybody. I'm physical, I can rebound the ball. As a 6-10 point guard, I can guard one through five. So that's just one thing that's coming into my game which I'm excited about. I love getting better. I love spending time in the gym and building confidence.

It’s no secret that in years past Simmons hasn’t always been the most forthright or talkative player on the team. He generally gave short answers and appeared like he just wanted to get the media availability over with.

He has spoken to the media more than ever during training camp and coming into the preseason. He’s focused more on becoming a leader and wanting to make sure his bevy of new teammates are up to speed on the team’s terminology and concepts.

While Simmons' newfound clarity came before his team’s roster overhaul, bringing in players like Al Horford and Josh Richardson certainly hasn’t hurt.

“I think prior to everybody getting in, everybody signing, I already felt that,” Simmons said. “That's just based off me putting in that work and being in the gym every day. With the addition of the new guys, it helps. We got a great team with guys want to be here every day, guys enjoy being around each other and just want to play.”

The Sixers' goals are as lofty as they come. They want to win a championship. Nobody around the team has been shy about saying it. 

Certainly not this version of Ben Simmons.

“I feel like everybody is very motivated,” Simmons said. “Al leaving Boston and Josh coming from Miami, the rooks coming in, Matisse [Thybulle] has been killing it. Guys just have a chip on the shoulder and I feel like guys want to be better and win a championship. And that's the level we're at. I think we have a great team.”

After all the talk about his shot and his role being lessened in the playoffs, does he have a chip on his shoulder?

“Nah. Not at all.”

And yeah, he can still be a little snarky when he wants to be.

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