76ers

As Sixers camp nears, Joel Embiid still not ready for 5-on-5

As Sixers camp nears, Joel Embiid still not ready for 5-on-5

The foremost question on everybody’s minds when Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and coach Brett Brown met with reporters over lunch Wednesday afternoon was simple: When is Joel Embiid going to be able to play 5-on-5?

“Right now,” Brown said, “we can’t give you a direct answer.”

The 23-year-old Embiid, who as a rookie in 2016-17 displayed uncommon skills and equally uncommon charisma, underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee in March, ending his season after 31 games.

The 7-2, 280-pound center is the obvious key to a young, promising team, but he is not yet ready to go full-tilt. 

“If you walk in the gym, it looks like he could play 5-on-5 basketball,” Colangelo said. “But we’re going to take our cues from the people who know best.”

And right now the Sixers’ medical staff, headed by the newly hired vice president of athlete care, Dr. Daniel Medina, favors what Colangelo called “a hyper-conservative progression.”

“Will he be ramping that up throughout the preseason?” Colangelo said “Yes. How many games, we’re not certain. Is it every game? We don’t know. That will be based on what we’re told.”

The Sixers open training camp next Tuesday in their Camden, New Jersey-based facility. The preseason begins Oct. 4 against Memphis at the Wells Fargo Center, while the regular season opens Oct. 18 in Washington.

“It’s not about being ready for the first practice or the first game,” Colangelo said. “And he will be out there for the first practice and the first game. The question is how much, how little, if at all. Those things will be determined by certain criteria along the way.”

Colangelo said, in fact, that he has a document that spells out the criteria that must be met before Embiid can play.

“There is a plan in place,” Colangelo said, “and it’s a progression-based plan. It’s criteria-based, and as he’s checking off boxes, and continues to jump over each and every successive item, then we’ll put him out there on the floor. There’s no timetable. There’s no scheduled number of minutes. There is no decision on back-to-backs. All of that is yet to be determined.”

Embiid, the third overall pick in the 2014 draft, missed his first two seasons while recovering from a broken foot. He averaged 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks last season, despite a minutes restriction; he averaged just 25.4 a game.

When Brown was asked whether Embiid will be on such a restriction this season, he said, “We all hope not, obviously.”

The other question about Embiid concerns whether he and the team can reach an accord on a contract extension. Colangelo said he is “cautiously optimistic” that that can happen before Oct. 16, the NBA’s deadline for extending players on their rookie deals.

But the primary question remains about Embiid’s health.

“This really is about creating an opportunity for him to have long-term, sustainable health,” Colangelo said, “not to get ready for the first preseason game per se, or the second preseason game. Again, that progression is going to lead to hopefully a full season of competitive basketball, without restriction. That’s the goal.”

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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