76ers

Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

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Popovich feels bad, but not sorry, for Brett Brown

SAN ANTONIO -- There was a friendly face waiting to greet Brett Brown everywhere he turned at the AT&T Center.

After spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with San Antonio, Brown returned to the AT&T Center on Monday for the first time as Sixers head coach.

“You get flooded with so many memories of championships and good people and just elite competitors under a roof of an organization that is so prideful in doing the right thing,” Brown said. “[They are] led by I think the best coach in the game and a general manager that complements the head coach so well. You come back here, you revisit with all those types of memories and friends you haven’t seen in a while.”

The trip down memory lane ended in familiar fashion for the Spurs -- with a lopsided victory -- if an unfamiliar outcome for Brown in San Antonio.

The Spurs rolled to a 113-91 victory on Monday night, extending their winning streak to 14 while handing the Sixers their 25th straight loss (see story).

The victory proved bittersweet because it came against “one of my best friends,” San Antonio head coach Gregg Popovich said.

“No, it’s never any fun doing that,” Popovich said. “Win or lose, it’s never fun either way. The wins aren’t as much fun and the losses are bad because they are losses, losses speak for themselves. You want to enjoy your wins, but it’s just harder when it’s with somebody like that.”

Making it even harder is the dubious path it kept the Sixers on.

The Sixers next play Thursday in Houston, where they can match the NBA record for consecutive losses of 26 straight set by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010-11.

“I feel terribly for him, but I don’t feel sorry for him,” Popovich said. “I feel badly for him because he has to go through it, but I don’t need to feel sorry for him because he would be angry if he knew I felt sorry for him because he doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him.

“He doesn’t feel bad for himself, I can tell you. He looks forward to going to work every day and he’s going to work those guys to death and he’s going to love them to death, both at the same time, that’s who he is.”

One of the most important lessons Brown learned under Popovich is focusing on the bigger picture. Winning and losing streaks are never as telling as what they eventually lead to is a mantra the Spurs' coaches and players preach.

“Obviously, it's a rough season for them; it's a rebuilding season for them,” Spurs veteran Tim Duncan said. “[Brown] knows that. They know that. They have a lot of young guys. He's just trying to get the system in place that has them playing the way he wants them playing. It's a process. He knows that.”

Brown knows Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was San Antonio -- even if it seems that way.

Under Popovich, the Spurs have captured four NBA titles, won 50 games for a league-record 15 consecutive seasons and are vying for the league’s best record while earning their 17th straight postseason berth.

Yet before all that success, Popovich struggled with injuries and a fluid roster after taking over as coach 18 games into the 1996-97 season. San Antonio finished 20-62 that season, but the dismal record yielded the top pick, which the Spurs used to draft Duncan and begin one of the greatest runs in sports history.

The Sixers could be on a similar path, owning two first-round picks that are expected to fall in the Top 10 of one of the deepest drafts in a decade.

They will also have 6-foot-11 Nerlens Noel, who has sat out his entire rookie year following left knee surgery, after being selected with the sixth pick in last year’s draft.

Adding all that talent to rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams and Thaddeus Young could make the Sixers an instant contender.

But Brown knows it takes more than talent to be successful.

The Spurs have battled injuries all season, but their crisp ball movement, defensive intensity and unselfish play have allowed them to sit atop the league at 54-16.

San Antonio had 31 assists on its 44 baskets Monday night against the Sixers.

“In my opinion, that’s how you play the game,” Brown said. “So what you see is a system born out of many, many years of corporate knowledge where the winks and the blinks and the wrinkles and subtle nuances [allow them to] understand each other’s tendencies, and the offense shines. It’s not just a byproduct of good players or a great coach. It’s a decade worth of corporate knowledge. That’s what you aspire to get to.”

It can only come with structure and experience.

San Antonio's Big Three of Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker have played for 39 seasons, which is seven years more experience than the entire Sixers' roster combined. The Sixers have six rookies on this year's roster.

“We run the completely same offense,” Young said. “But they do all the ins and outs and we don't. That's the biggest thing. They ran a play that we knew, but they ran it a completely different way than we ran it. And that's because they knew we were going to pick apart the first side and second side, so they came from a whole different angle and ran the play. We were all mind-boggled about how they all knew ins and outs.”

Despite the early troubles, Popovich said the Sixers made the right choice in hiring Brown.

“I think he is as tough minded as the environment that exists there in Philly,” Popovich said. “He’s a very focused individual with great competitiveness and unbelievable fiber. He keeps an eye on what’s important. He will always be participatory and creative, but at the same time very consistent in his demands and knowing what wins and loses. He can stick with a program and is loyal as the day is long. He’s a winner in life in a whole lot of ways.”

NBA trade rumors tracker: Breaking down Sixers' trade targets and assets

NBA trade rumors tracker: Breaking down Sixers' trade targets and assets

One way or another, the next couple of weeks are going to be interesting for the Sixers.

Ahead of the Feb. 6 trade deadline, we look at players the Sixers have been linked to and what assets they have to make a move. 

Targets and fit

Derrick Rose, PG, Pistons

The Sixers, Lakers and “multiple teams with championship aspirations” have interest in Rose, per Yahoo! Sports' Chris Haynes. The former MVP is having one of his best and healthiest seasons in years. He leads Detroit in scoring at 18.4 points a game and is shooting just under 50 percent from the field.

It’s not hard to see how Rose could help the Sixers. He can create off the dribble, hit shots in the midrange and finish at the rim. He’s almost unstoppable in the pick-and-roll. He’d represent a significant upgrade over Trey Burke and Raul Neto and would be the Sixers’ best reserve offensively.

The Pistons likely won’t be in a hurry to deal the 31-year-old. He has a very manageable contract. He’s in the first season of a two-year, $15-million deal. A concern on the court could be that Rose is shooting just 31.3 from three this season. 

In 2016, Rose and two friends were found not guilty of sexual battery, battery and trespassing in a civil trial that stemmed from a 2013 incident.

Robert Covington, SF, Timberwolves

According to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, the Sixers have “inquired” about reacquiring Covington. A First-Team All-Defensive pick while here, Covington is still a deflection machine, averaging 1.7 steals and just under a block a game.

There’s a lot to like about a Covington reunion. The biggest attraction is on the defensive end, where the team could become a switchable monster at times. Whether Covington gets a spot in the starting lineup or becomes the team’s sixth man — imagine being able to send out Covington and Matisse Thybulle as your first two subs — he’d be in line for a substantial role.

Much like with Rose, Covington is on a team-friendly deal and there’s no reason for the Timberwolves to rush a trade. Though his shooting is a little down this season (34.8 percent from three), plenty of teams will be looking for a 3-and-D player of RoCo’s caliber.

Malik Beasley, G/F, Nuggets

O’Connor also linked Beasley to the Sixers in his piece. A first-round pick in 2016, Beasley is shooting 38.8 percent from three this season. The only reason he hasn’t seen more time in Denver is the team’s surplus of guards.

On the Sixers, he’d likely sneak right into a top-eight spot. Beasley is an exceptional athlete and a willing defender. While his shooting is his most attractive skill, he does possess some slashing ability and would make a strong transition partner for Ben Simmons.

Beasley has a low cap number and is still just 22 years old. The Nuggets are likely not in a hurry to trade Beasley, though he did reportedly turn down an extension offer over the summer. He's on the fourth year of his rookie deal and would become a restricted free agent this offseason. Denver has shown a willingness to take on projects in the past. Perhaps Zhaire Smith could appeal to the Nuggets.

Alec Burks, G/F, Warriors

While the Sixers haven’t been directly linked to Burks, “several teams in recent weeks have expressed interest,” per NBC Sports Bay Area’s Monte Poole. The Warriors could hold on to Burks, who is having a career resurgence at 28, but Golden State trading him at the deadline “still seems most likely.” In his ninth NBA season, Burks is averaging 16.2 points a game.

He’s just an average three-point shooter (35.6 percent), but he has an impressive offensive skillset. He’s a three-level scorer that also is adept at getting to the free throw line — a skill this team could use. He’s not the greatest defender but uses his length to make up for some of his deficiencies.

Financially, this trade shouldn’t be tough for the Sixers to make. What will the Warriors expect to get in return for the veteran wing? Tough to say. He’d be an easy fit in the Sixers’ rotation though.

Davis Bertans, F, Washington Wizards 

NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes reported on Jan. 6 that the Sixers have “emerged as suitors" for Bertans, in addition to the Hawks, Celtics, Lakers and Nuggets.

Bertans has the best three-point percentage in the NBA among players who have taken at least seven threes per game, hitting 42.8 percent on 8.6 attempts.

He has a $7 million salary this year and looks poised to earn substantially more than that when he hits free agency after the season.

Bertans would boost the Sixers’ three-point volume and efficiency, neither of which are good. The team is currently 24th in threes attempted per game (30.3) and 18th in three-point percentage. He has an elite skill that would be helpful for the Sixers. The obvious question is whether they could offer a package to the Wizards — presumably containing multiple bench players — that both teams would find fair

Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard, G, Detroit Pistons 

The Sixers have interest in Pistons teammates Kennard and Galloway, according to The Inquirer’s Keith Pompey.

The 6-foot-1 Galloway is the No. 2 scorer in Saint Joseph’s history, behind only Jameer Nelson. He’s having a career-best year from three-point range, shooting 39.1 percent on five attempts per game. The 28-year-old has a $7.3 million salary this season, his final year under contract with Detroit. 

Kennard is younger, cheaper and not on an expiring deal. He’s due to make $3.8 million this season, and the Pistons picked up his fourth-year option for 2020-21. Kennard, who’s averaged 15.8 points and made 39.9 percent of his threes, hasn’t played since Dec. 21 because of bilateral knee tendinitis. 

It’s clear why both players would be appealing to the Sixers

E’twaun Moore, G, New Orleans Pelicans 

O’Connor includes Moore in a “long list of wings” the Sixers have expressed interest in. 

Moore is in the last of a four-year deal with the Pelicans and is making $8.7 million in 2019-20.

He’s proven he can score off the bench and has shot 42 percent from three over the past two-plus seasons — you’re probably sensing a theme here.

Sixers who could be traded 

Smith is, according to Pompey and O’Connor, the player the Sixers are most likely to include in a trade.

The 20-year-old Smith has spent this season in the G League after a rookie year in which he broke his foot and had severe medical complications stemming from an allergic reaction. He’s known for his athleticism, though Smith has also shot the ball well lately and says he’s now “hunting threes.” Out of all the Sixers not currently in the regular rotation, Smith sure seems like the one who would be most attractive to other teams.

Another young player worth mentioning is Jonah Bolden, who flashed a versatile game as a rookie but had, up until Monday in Brooklyn, yet to see meaningful NBA minutes this season. The third and fourth years of Bolden's contract are non-guaranteed.

Mike Scott could be a significant piece for salary-matching purposes, especially for a player like Covington, Rose, Bertans or Galloway in the $7-10 million range. Scott is owed $4.8 million this year and a little over $5 million in 2020-21. 

Sixers making the veteran’s minimum like Neto and Burke could be included in a deal for the same reason, especially if the Sixers were acquiring someone who plays the same position.

One player making the veteran’s minimum who cannot be traded unless he approves is James Ennis. The 29-year-old wing must consent to any trade.

Additional assets

An important thing to note is that the Sixers will likely not own a first-round pick in 2020. Their own pick was sent to the Los Angeles Clippers in the trade that brought in Tobias Harris. It is now the property of the Brooklyn Nets and is top-14 protected. If the pick doesn’t convey for the 2020 draft, obviously this season has gone terribly wrong.

While they did acquire a first-round pick from the Orlando Magic in the Markelle Fultz deal, that pick conveying is contingent upon the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s top-20 protected and if it doesn’t convey will turn into two second-round picks. The surprising Thunder are only a few games out of a top-nine spot. It doesn’t seem likely, but certainly more possible than it did before the season started.

Per the Stepien Rule, no team is allowed to trade first-round picks in consecutive seasons. In this case, since the Sixers traded their 2020 pick, the Sixers can’t use their 2021 first-rounder in a deal. The earliest first-round pick they can trade is 2022. That should still be a somewhat attractive trade chip.

The Sixers also have a bevy of second-round picks to work with:

2020 — Own; Hawks, protected 31-55; More favorable of Brooklyn and New York; Dallas

2021 — Own or Houston (via swap from James Ennis deal); Denver; New York

2022 — More favorable of Sixers and Denver to Minnesota then other to Miami; Oklahoma City if Thunder does not convey first-round pick in 2020; Toronto

2023 — (Likely) own; Most favorable of Atlanta, Charlotte and Brooklyn; Oklahoma City if Thunder does not convey first-round pick in 2020.

2024 — (Likely) own; Miami 56-60

All draft pick information courtesy of RealGM.com.

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Tobias Harris keeps the Sixers entertained on their bus ride to Toronto

Tobias Harris keeps the Sixers entertained on their bus ride to Toronto

Around 10:30 p.m. Monday night, we were blessed with a Ben Simmons Instagram Live video of "DJ Tobi," Tobias Harris, on the Sixers’ bus from the airport to the hotel.

“There’s a soul plane and there’s a soul bus. You’re on the soul bus, ya dig?”

DJ Tobi then proceeded to interview all the players, coaches and team personnel who entered the bus, as you can see in the videos below, which do contain profanity. 

“State your name, where are you from and where are you going,” head coach Brett Brown said Tuesday morning, laughing about last night’s bus ride. “And when there is a lull, he's got Spotify hooked up, and he's got some hip hop going on.”

“DJ Tobi,” Matisse Thybulle laughed, struggling to find the words for Harris’ performance. “He was putting on a show for everyone. … It was funny because you were seeing people out of their comfort zone.”

With the rigors of an NBA season, and through all the travel, bus rides and plane rides, the value of that type of team bonding can go underestimated.

“It's team bonding,” Simmons told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “We're a pretty close group. We like to have fun and there are a lot of different characters and personalities on the team. … It's awesome. But that's just who we are as a team, everyone just likes to have fun, everyone has good personalities and means well."

Of course, it’s easier when you’re winning, and the Sixers delivered one of their most impressive defensive performances of the year in their win over Brooklyn, led by Simmons and Thybulle.

“We could carry that good energy over,” Thybulle said of the win over the Nets. “But it definitely help to keeps things light because the travel gets tedious and boring.”

For the Brown, it’s yet another characteristic he’s seen blossom out of Harris.

“Leadership comes in all different forms … and he does it naturally,” Brown said.

“It’s what makes team sport, for me, as enjoyable as it gets, when you can win with people that you respect and trust that care. And this group does.”

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