76ers

What do Justin Anderson, Tiago Splitter bring to Sixers?

What do Justin Anderson, Tiago Splitter bring to Sixers?

Justin Anderson and Tiago Splitter arrived in Philadelphia on Friday for their first game with the team. Anderson, in fact, got there just a few hours before tipoff Friday after missing the bag check-in window on his first flight and experiencing a delay on his second one.

The Sixers project them to have very different roles -- one as a veteran voice and the other as a versatile contributor. 

Justin Anderson
Anderson was just getting over the departure of his veteran teammate, Deron Williams, when he was informed he, too, was leaving the Mavs. Anderson had met with the Sixers during the pre-draft process and left a memorable mark on Brett Brown.

"When I interviewed him a few years ago, he was polished, he was articulate, he was Virginia, he was tough," Brown said.

Anderson was impressed by Brown's mentioning parts of their meeting when the coach called him after the trade.  

"When I found it was here, I was very excited because it's a young organization that wants to get out and play hard, play fast and try to make change and try to turn things around," Anderson said. "I want to blend right in like a chameleon."

The 6-foot-6 Anderson played point guard through power forward on the Mavericks. Brown envisions him sliding into a backup four spot behind Dario Saric at times. Brown said Anderson will need to work on his shot, but considers him to be "developable."

"Just tough, hard play," Anderson said of his game. "Offensively, being able to shoot the ball, space the floor. Being able to use my athleticism, get to the rim, get fouled. Defensively, just being able to rotate, block shots, guard best player, take on challenges and do whatever I can."

Tiago Splitter
Splitter has been sidelined all season after undergoing hip surgery one year ago Saturday. He still is dealing with what he describes as "muscle imbalance" including his calves. Splitter had been participating in full practices with the Hawks prior to the trade and would like to return this season.

In the meantime, Splitter can share his title-winning experience with the younger Sixers. He captured a title with the Spurs while Brown was on the coaching staff.

"I know what a team needs to be championship caliber," Splitter said. "I'm not saying I'm going to come here and change anything now; I'm just going to see what I see and help the young guys to develop into great players. There are a lot of great players here already. You guys have seen how the team is playing some nights here, it’s unbelievable. They just have to do that every night on a consistent basis. I hope I can help them, they can help me also get back on the court."

Splitter could share some of his fundamentals with the bigs.

"He's just a blue-collar workhorse that is an elite screener, an elite roller," Brown said. "I know in my Spurs days with him, he was as good as we had coached on the assist from the roll."

Splitter’s time with the Sixers most likely will be brief. His contract expires this and the Sixers will try to help him get healthy to approach the free agent market.

"As far as long term, him fitting in and being part of something, I don’t see that at this date," president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said. "But once again, it's certainly something that we'll look at if he happens to fit. I think his anticipation, though, is just landing somewhere, getting the chance to finish out the season, showing that he's healthy and then setting himself up for an opportunity to play somewhere next year."

What about Bogut?
Andrew Bogut was included in the trade from the Mavericks with Anderson. The veteran center will not be with the Sixers for at least a week, according to Colangelo, and may not come to Philadelphia at all.

"He's got some personal things that he's dealing with at home, family-related," Colangelo said. "There's a possibility that he'll want to go play somewhere in the playoffs. In order to accomplish that, that would take some sort of a buyout."

Decision of free agent Tobias Harris toughest Elton Brand will face but may define offseason

Decision of free agent Tobias Harris toughest Elton Brand will face but may define offseason

Everyone was in shock when Elton Brand was able to acquire Tobias Harris before the trade deadline.

Harris was having an All-Star-caliber season, flirting with the elite 50/40/90 shooting line and on his way to a big payday this offseason. 

When the move was made, and after Harris’ red-hot start with the Sixers, bringing him back seemed like a no-brainer. But Harris stumbled to the finish line and had an up-and-down playoff run. 

Should the Sixers bring back Harris and see what this loaded team can do with a full season or let him walk and secure the team’s depth? The answer isn’t black and white.

Harris’ first eight games as a Sixer were remarkably good. He averaged 21.9 points and shot 55/42/83, looking every bit like the player they traded for. His clutch 32-point performance in the team’s first win against the Thunder in forever was a virtuoso performance. He was outstanding and played closer.

Over the last 19 games, Harris averaged 16.7 points and his line went down to 43/27/85. That is a precipitous drop off. His playoff numbers were OK and reflective of his uneven performances. What will stick out most to fans is his 7-of-23 performance in a pivotal Game 4 against Toronto. That series loss is still raw and that game very well may have swung the series, so it’s fair.

But who outside of Jimmy Butler was consistently good in the second round? Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons both struggled mightily in just their second postseason. Even Butler himself had a rough Game 7.

It’s important to keep in mind the context of Harris’ career. This was his eighth NBA season, but he’s just 26 years old. He’s also improved markedly over the course of his career. He was pretty much a non-threat from three for the first six years of his career, shooting just 33 percent on less than three attempts per game. Over the last two seasons, he was over 40 percent on over five attempts while being traded twice.

Given that improvement, it’s also fair to project Harris’ playoff play will improve. Before playing in 12 postseason contests with the Sixers, Harris’ only other playoff experience was when the Pistons were swept in the first round in 2016. Like Embiid and Simmons, this taste of failure could fuel him. It’s also fair to believe that improved performances by the Sixers’ young All-Stars could open more things up for Harris.

When you start talking money, it gets exceedingly more complicated. Signing Harris and Butler to near-max deals and giving Simmons his first max extension would push the Sixers over the luxury tax. It’s something that Josh Harris has repeatedly said would not be a problem. At that point, you’d be looking at a bench full of young, cheap players  and veteran ring chasers. 

If you let Harris walk, you could look on the free agent market and perhaps sign a trio of Terrence Ross, Corey Joseph and Dewayne Dedmon, as an example. There’s also a greater chance you could bring back JJ Redick and/or James Ennis and/or Mike Scott. That could ultimately be the more attractive option if you’re able to sign Jimmy Butler. 

If Butler leaves, you almost have to keep Harris. While the loss of Butler would sting, you’d be in solid shape building around the trio of Embiid, Simmons and Harris, all 26 or younger. If you don't strike early enough with Harris, he's going to have other suitors. He may have a little patience, but he's not going to wait forever.

Brand’s intention at the time of the Harris deal was to keep all four star-caliber players. While Brand said he was happy with what he saw out of Harris and Butler, was it enough to bring both back? 

It’s as difficult a decision as Brand will face this offseason.

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He's not perfect, but Jimmy Butler is worth the risk for Sixers in free agency

He's not perfect, but Jimmy Butler is worth the risk for Sixers in free agency

Jimmy Butler is flawed. Even he would tell you that. He’s grated teammates in the past with his uncompromising personality, looks nothing like a star in certain offensive schemes and has an extensive injury history.

Flaws and all, Butler is a player the Sixers should be willing to commit a lot of money to (up to the maximum of $190 million), and for a lot of years (up to five, which only they can offer), if their competition demands it. Retaining Butler for a bargain would obviously be preferable to giving him five years and $190 million, though, given the way he boosted his stock in the postseason, they very well may need to pay him the max. 

The concerns about Butler’s locker-room presence are fair in the context of his acrimonious exits from Chicago and Minnesota. All indications, however, are that he’s formed strong relationships with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Brett Brown (see story). Simmons and Embiid have both glowed about how Butler has facilitated their growth as leaders.

Butler also appears to have genuine respect for his teammates. He had a lot of fun in Philadelphia as well, another element that was evidently missing with the Timberwolves. 

“What hurts most about this loss is we had a great group of guys that would ride for one another,” Butler said at his exit interview Monday. “It was special. We enjoyed playing with each other. You couldn’t mess with anybody on the team because somebody was always going to be there, in your face. But to think that this roster might not be the exact same next year, that’s what really hurts.”

The worries about the heavy minutes Butler has logged and the injuries he’s suffered are valid, too. However, there wouldn’t be a burden on Butler to play 40 minutes every night alongside Simmons, Embiid and, potentially, Tobias Harris. Butler averaged 33.2 minutes in his 55 regular-season games with the Sixers, his lowest since the 2012-13 season. The Sixers have the freedom to manage his load in the regular season and be cautious with injuries to ensure they get the best version of “Playoff Jimmy.”

It is very possible that Butler’s play would decline in the fourth and fifth year of a long-term contract. With the Sixers shooting for a title now, that’s a sensible risk. If Butler can help lead the Sixers to a championship at 31 years old, the trade-off of him being expensive and diminished at 34 years old would be worth it.

As we expected when he first arrived, the on-court fit with Butler wasn’t perfect. He prefers pick-and-rolls and isolations and thrives in those settings, while Brown had built his offensive system around ball and player movement. Butler often faded into the background for the first three quarters of a game, relegated to a passive role, before taking command in the fourth quarter.

But Brown, Butler and the Sixers eventually identified and began to hone a few things that work. The potential of the Butler-Embiid pick-and-roll is immense, and it’s been clear since their early days together how dangerous Simmons and Butler can be in tandem when the Sixers push the ball.

Butler cleans up familiar weaknesses for the Sixers with perimeter defense and turnovers. His 6.9 turnover percentage was the lowest of any Sixers regular. And, as “the adult in the room,” he’s one player you can depend on for tenacious effort. If the Sixers want to avoid the exasperating inconsistency we saw this season, the stability of retaining Butler and the impact of having a competitor like him can’t hurt.

No, he doesn’t have a spotless past, and there are legitimate questions about his future, but Butler’s imperfections shouldn’t obscure his value. Elton Brand took a big risk in acquiring him, and he’d be smart to take another to keep him.

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