Brett Brown

Sixers select Villanova's Mikal Bridges, trade him to Suns for Zhaire Smith

Sixers select Villanova's Mikal Bridges, trade him to Suns for Zhaire Smith

Updated: Friday, 12:30 a.m.

Mikal Briges was in heaven.

The Malvern, Pennsylvania, native and Villanova product had just been selected by the hometown Sixers. He was all smiles as he made the media rounds discussing what it would be like to play for the franchise.

And then he received an early lesson on just how swift and cutthroat business can be in the NBA.

Bridges was traded to the Phoenix Suns for No. 16 overall pick Zhaire Smith and an unprotected 2021 first-round pick via Miami.

“I live in this city with you all. I watch Villanova,” Sixers head coach and interim general manager, Brett Brown, told reporters at the team’s training complex. “I love his mom, I love his college coach. There’s a human side to this that is kind of really hard to explain. And we all, I’m assuming, go from this level of excitement and coincidence, you can’t make this up, to something as a group. We sit there and we feel off this and again one we knocked back, it was a great opportunity, really a great opportunity and then there it is.”

And there Bridges went. 

After praising how he was going to get to stay at home, he swiftly learned he was headed to the desert to join No. 1 overall selection Deandre Ayton.

Bridges starred at ‘Nova, where he won two national championships under head coach Jay Wright. The 6-7, 210-pound wing took his game to a new level last season when he averaged 17.7 points on 51.4 percent field goal shooting and 43.5 percent three-point shooting. He added 5.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.1 blocks in 32.1 minutes a game for the Wildcats.

“It means the world to me,” Bridges said of being taken by the Sixers after walking across the draft stage. “Not the fact that I’m home, [but] that I’m just put in a great organization, great coaches I know who are going to develop me. They take a lot of pride in me. They took a chance on me and I’m just happy. It’s a blessing.”

Bridges might not have even been the happiest person at his draft table when his name was called. His mother Tyneeha Rivers, who just so happens to be the vice president of human resources at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, which includes the Sixers, let out a hearty cheer.

“It’s amazing. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and I’m so excited he’s coming home to be part of our Sixers family,” Rivers said. “It’s amazing. Go Sixers!”

His mother may still be saying go Sixers, but it surely isn’t nearly as loud as when she thought her son was going to be suiting up for the home team.

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Haughton's 2018 Sixers mock draft 2.0: Kevin Knox now at No. 10

Haughton's 2018 Sixers mock draft 2.0: Kevin Knox now at No. 10

Now that NBA draft night is officially upon us, we take one final crack at what the Sixers might do with their selections. Here is Matt Haughton’s final Sixers mock draft.

First round (10th overall): Kevin Knox, SF/PF, 6-9/215, Kentucky
Brett Brown is new to this whole front office thing, so forgive him if the typical draft smoke screen scenario isn’t yet his forte. 

That means while reports keep circulating about the Sixers looking to move up for a top-five prospect, their actions have shown they’ve zeroed in on Knox. After all, Knox worked out in a group setting for the Sixers last Friday and was already back at their training facility for an individual session on Tuesday.

Knox made his mark during his lone season at Kentucky by averaging 15.6 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 32.4 minutes per game. The versatile forward proved he could contribute while at the same time just scratching the surface of his ability.

It’s that potential that I believe will make the Sixers pull the trigger on Knox. While there could certainly be more established commodities on the board at No. 10 such as Mikal Bridges or Miles Bridges, the fact that Knox is still just 18 years old and possesses a sky-high upside will be too much for the development-minded Brown to pass up.

First round (26th overall): Gary Trent Jr., SG, 6-6/209, Duke
With 11 players currently under contract and plans to chase big-name players in free agency, this pick could certainly be on its way out of town or devoted to a draft-and-stash prospect. 

If they do hang onto it, the Sixers obviously have eyes for Texas Tech high-flyer Zhaire Smith, who also worked out twice for the team. But he’s unlikely to make it to No. 26.

Instead, the Sixers opt for a Duke guard here, but perhaps not the one you were thinking (Grayson Allen). Trent has arguably the best shooting stroke in the entire 2018 class and has been trending up draft boards.

Trent, who averaged 14.5 points per game for the Blue Devils as a freshman, hit 40.2 percent of his shots from long range on a healthy 6.5 attempts per game.

With another former Duke guard potentially walking in free agency in JJ Redick, the Sixers could slip Trent in to help take on some of those dead-eye shooting duties.

Second round (38th overall): Elie Okobo, PG/SG, 6-2/180, France
The Sixers already started dealing off their stockpile of second-round picks on Wednesday when they reportedly shipped No. 39 to the Los Angeles Lakers for a 2019 second-rounder and cash.

Look for them to find a way to keep their final roster options open by selecting Okobo, who has even been getting some first-round consideration as of late. The Sixers hosted him for a workout a season ago before he removed his name from draft consideration and again during this pre-draft process.

The French combo guard increased his production virtually across for France Pro A squad Elan Bearnais Pau-Lacq-Orthez this past season as he recorded 12.9 points on 47.6 percent field goal shooting and 39.4 three-point shooting to go along with 4.7 assists and 2.7 boards a game.

Second round (56th overall): Arnoldas Kulboka, SF, 6-10/220, Lithuania​
In another decision to keep roster slots fluid, the Sixers go the international route again with Kulboka.

The wing has tremendous size for the position and is just beginning to see his potential. Kulboka made his first foray into Italy’s second division league, Serie A2 Basket, this past season. He played for Orlandina Basket and posted 9.0 points on 39.0 percent field goal shooting and 37.4 percent from distance. He added 4.0 rebounds in 26.7 minutes a contest.

Kulboka definitely needs to bulk up and add some more seasoning against a higher level of competition, but if he develops, he could be a steal at this point in the draft.

Second round (60th overall): Trade
There are always teams that jump up with a trade offer at the last minute in an attempt to get a coveted player in those final few slots. Expect that to happen here and the Sixers to oblige.

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Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Despite Brett Brown connection, Sixers should steer clear of Kawhi Leonard trade

Brett Brown knows only one way to go about his business in the basketball world: attack.

That is evident from his pace-and-space style of play the Sixers have displayed since he took over as head coach. Now he has vowed to do the same thing as the team’s interim general manager.

“We are completely exploring aggressively all options, and I think we just know we need a little bit more,” Brown said Friday.

It’s evident the Sixers need help to become a championship-level team, but we’re not so sure it should come in the form of a man wearing black and silver hitchhiking his way out of San Antonio.

Kawhi Leonard sent shockwaves around the NBA when he reportedly made it clear he wants a split from the Spurs. Per the reports, Leonard has Los Angeles — specifically the Lakers — as his top destination for a trade.

And while there’s no guarantee the Spurs send the former Finals MVP and two-time All-Star to Hollywood, the Sixers would be better served to stay out of the hunt. That’s because if the quiet superstar has proven anything over the past year, it’s that he can do a lot of damage to an organization without saying a word. 

Leonard missed the first 27 games of 2017-18 with a right quad injury. He returned on a heavy-restriction plan only to play seven contests before suffering a tear in his left shoulder. The swingman played one more game before being shut down indefinitely because of the nagging quad. 

After more rehab and eventually being cleared by the Spurs’ medical staff, Leonard opted to leave the team for a second opinion in New York. He stayed away from San Antonio while getting treatment, which allegedly caused friction within the organization that eventually blew up in a players-only meeting.

That didn’t deter Leonard from his plan. He didn’t suit up again nor did he show support for the squad in its first-round series against the champion Golden State Warriors. (Oh, by the way, Leonard has missed time in three straight seasons because of his right quad and reportedly still isn’t 100 percent).

Now if that’s enough to shake up the locker room of arguably the most stable franchise in all of sports, what impact do you think Leonard’s methods would have on the Sixers’ impressionable roster?

Could it be that Leonard just reached his tolerance level with the legendary head coach Gregg Popovich and the Spurs and simply needs a change of scenery? Of course.

But that’s not a risk the Sixers should be willing to take. Not for virtually the only player in recent memory to ever clash with the highly-respected Spurs. Not for a guy that’s willing to potentially walk away from a $219 million supermax extension for a $188 million maximum just to escape to his hometown of L.A.

Certainly not when it could mean parting with key pieces of your core (Dario Saric, Robert Covington and/or Markelle Fultz) in addition to the No. 10 overall pick in the draft. All for what could be a one-year rental player, as Leonard is able to opt out of his current deal after next season.

Surely the Sixers would want a guarantee Leonard plans to stay before pulling the trigger on a trade, but that’s not a handshake agreement they should be willing to trust. Even if old buddy Brown is the one shaking hands with “The Claw.”

“He’s a great guy,” Brown said. “I’ve spent years with him, as you know, in San Antonio. I’m reminded of the recruiting process we went through to identify him and the sort of pain we went through to give up George Hill to move up and target him. He’s good people, he’s obviously an elite talent and I enjoyed my time with Kawhi in San Antonio.”

Things could be even more painful for Brown this time around if he’s not careful.

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