76ers

For Ben Simmons, Sixers' label of point guard may not really mean point guard

For Ben Simmons, Sixers' label of point guard may not really mean point guard

The Sixers are expected to draft Markelle Fultz, a point guard, on Thursday. So how will this work with the "Ben Simmons at the point" experiment?

That plan may not be as literal as it seemed this past season.

"I know Coach (Brett Brown) and I have, probably Coach more so than I, have used the terminology point guard for Ben as it relates to Ben Simmons," Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Monday. "The way I like to characterize it, and I always fall back to this, is primary ball-handler." One of the criteria for the Sixers' selection at No. 1 has been fit. Not just the fit with the team, but also the fit with Simmons.

Simmons' responsibilities, however, may have more to do with his role than his specific position.

"Ben Simmons has incredible skill," Colangelo said. "He's got size, power and he's got great vision and feel. He's a facilitator. He's a playmaker. I have always said I don't care what we call him, point guard, point forward. We can call him point center.

"I don't care. To me, he's going to be on the floor using his versatility to make another player on the court better."

The Sixers signed Jerryd Bayless to a three-year deal last summer for his veteran leadership and ability to play off the ball alongside Simmons. They didn't share the court because of injuries, but the same concept remained heading into this offseason.

The question that came up during the draft process to players like Fultz and Kentucky's De'Aaron Fox was, "How can you play with Simmons?"

"I play with great players all the time, so whatever he needs me to do," Fultz said after his workout with the Sixers on Saturday. "If I'm running the floor or I'm setting the screen for him or giving it back, it doesn't matter. I'll be a great teammate."

Finding players with the ability to take on multiple roles is a priority for the Sixers. And that isn't limited to the backcourt, either.

"Dario Saric, to some degree, has facilitator skills. He's a playmaker," Colangelo said. "Joel Embiid is a playmaker at the five spot. We want players that are versatile, that have diverse skill sets, that can play multiple positions. I think sometimes we can get carried away with positional names — one, two, three, four, five. I've always said guards, wings and bigs."

On Thursday, the Sixers will have the opportunity to select the player that will best fit with Simmons, no matter how they decide to label him.

"I think it's safe to say we are in the position to draft someone that's going to complement Ben's skill set, whether he's a point guard or point forward," Colangelo said.

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option but could very well still return to Sixers

James Ennis will decline his player option and become a free agent, his agent, Scott Nichols from Rize Management, confirmed Monday morning.

The news was first reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. Ennis’ player option was for $1.85 million.

According to Nichols, Ennis is seeking a more lucrative, multi-year deal. Nichols said Ennis, after being acquired by the Sixers in February in a trade with the Houston Rockets, enjoyed his stint in Philadelphia, and it’s possible he could return to the Sixers. 

“He’s built good relationships within his short time there with his teammates like Ben [Simmons] and Joel [Embiid] and has found a quiet leadership role there, too,” Nichols told NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Ennis talked at his exit interview last Monday about the close friendship he’s developed with Simmons, mentioning that Simmons talked him into getting a Cane Corso dog, the same type of dog Simmons has. 

Ennis boosted his stock during the postseason as a key member of the Sixers’ bench, averaging 7.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 11 playoff games. During the regular season, Ennis won the “tournament” for wing minutes off the bench in a landslide, beating out Jonathon Simmons and Furkan Kokrmaz.

“It was tough at first because it was unsure if I was going to play,” Ennis said. “Me and Jonathon were play one game, sit one game, so it was kind of rocky at first. But I got more games under my belt, got more comfortable, and it just took off like that. I appreciate the staff believing in me, Elton Brand bringing me here and Coach [Brett] Brown allowing me to play.”

At 28 years old, Ennis has already played for six teams. The Sixers, if they’re willing to offer a deal that Ennis and Nichols like, may offer the stability that’s been lacking during his career.

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The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA Draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

The spotlight is on Elton Brand for his first NBA Draft, free agency as Sixers general manager

Last year, the Sixers’ pre-draft process was, for some time, a mystery. As the team investigated then-president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo’s alleged use of burner Twitter accounts, the typical pre-draft routine was interrupted. Then, with the search underway to replace Colangelo, the Sixers took on the NBA Draft with Brett Brown as the interim general manager at the head of a collaborative leadership structure.

Elton Brand was a part of that group that helped shepherd the organization through the draft — and came away with a commendable haul of Zhaire Smith, Landry Shamet and Shake Milton. 

Now, Brand is the man in charge. He attended the team’s first pre-draft workout on May 6 in Camden, New Jersey — the team will hold their second group workout Monday — and was at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago this past week. The draft is a month away and then, soon enough, the Sixers will shift into free agency mode.

Brand said at his end-of-season press conference Tuesday that he’s looking forward to it all. 

I’m excited. We have a great group. Dynamic core. I look forward to being the GM for the first time going into free agency, going into the draft. We were in [Game 7] until the last shot to go into overtime and win and get to the Eastern Conference Finals. Disappointed we didn’t get there, but highly optimistic and I’m proud of what we've done. I look forward to this offseason. I know we’re going to grow and get better.

Things change rapidly in professional sports, but let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that, even by the warped standards of the Sixers, it’s been quite a year.

Brown famously proclaimed on draft night that the team was “star hunting, or star developing.” The “star hunting” part ended up falling on Brand, since the Sixers’ two biggest summer acquisitions under Brown were Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler. Brand later traded away both players in the early-morning, pre-deadline deal for Tobias Harris, Mike Scott and Boban Marjanovic that confirmed, if there was any lingering doubt, his willingness to be bold.

Though Brand didn’t hold much back in his first attempt at lifting the Sixers to title contention, he gave himself ample flexibility this offseason. The Sixers have more free agents than players under contract for next year, and they have five draft picks, tied with Atlanta for the most of any team. There’s no undoing the moves he made in his first season, but Brand has the choice to fundamentally reshape the Sixers again if he’d like.

Another path Brand could take is paying what’s necessary to bring back Harris and Butler and figuring out the rest at the margins. (Regardless, upgrading at backup center will be a priority.) It’s also very possible Brand tries to find a middle road.

Owner Josh Harris said Tuesday he’s comfortable going into the luxury tax, though Brand added, “We’re going to be fiscally responsible. We’re not just going to be jumping into the luxury tax with the moves we make.”

Brand will, of course, have a team to support him with all the minutiae of the salary cap — trade exceptions, the mid-level exception, you name it — in his first offseason. After experiencing a bizarre last summer in a peripheral role, Brand is in the limelight. 

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