Mikal Bridges

Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

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Interesting new odds on LeBron James' free agency destination, next season's Rookie of the Year

Brett Brown is "star hunting." He's not naming names, but it's clear that LeBron James is at the top of his (and everybody's) list.

Until free agency officially starts on July 1, there's going to be plenty of speculation about whether the Sixers can actually land James. Bovada's latest odds on which team James will be playing for in Game 1 of the 2018-19 season don't give the Sixers a great shot.

The Lakers are now strong favorites, at 4/13. That's presumably because Spurs star Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants out of San Antonio and would like to return to his hometown of Los Angeles, specifically with the Lakers. Though the Spurs have said they want to keep Leonard if possible and reports are they don't want to trade him to a team in the Western Conference, the Lakers would definitely be a much more enticing option for James if they managed to get Leonard. 

The Sixers have the fourth-best odds, which are listed in full below.

What team will LeBron James play for Game 1 of the 2018-2019 Season?
Los Angeles Lakers                   4/13
Cleveland Cavaliers                   13/4
Houston Rockets                      15/2
Philadelphia 76ers                     10/1
Boston Celtics                          18/1
San Antonio Spurs                    20/1
Los Angeles Clippers                25/1                                           
New York Knicks                       30/1
Miami Heat                                40/1

2018-19 Rookie of the Year Odds

This season's Rookie of the Year hasn't even been announced yet. We'll know Monday night whether Ben Simmons brings home the award. But the odds for next season's Rookie of the Year are already out, and one of the newest Sixers, first-round pick Zhaire Smith, appears on Bovada's odds.

Unsurprisingly, Smith, who has a lot of room to grow (see story), is a long shot. The No. 16 selection has 45/1 odds to win. No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton has the best odds at 13/5, followed by the Mavs' Luka Doncic and the Kings' Marvin Bagley III. Mikal Bridges has 22/1 odds, while fellow Villanova product and new Milwaukee Buck Donte DiVincenzo makes an appearance at 40/1.

The complete odds are below.

2018-2019 NBA Rookie of the Year – Odds to Win
Deandre Ayton                          13/5
Luka Doncic                              3/1
Marvin Bagley                           9/2
Trae Young                               7/1
Jaren Jackson Jr                       9/1
Mohamed Bamba                      11/1
Kevin Knox                               15/1
Michael Porter Jr                       15/1
Mikal Bridges                            22/1
Collin Sexton                            22/1
Miles Bridges                            28/1
Wendell Carter Jr                       28/1
Donte DiVincenzo                     40/1
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander          40/1
Zhaire Smith                              45/1
Lonnie Walker                           50/1
Robert Williams                         50/1

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Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Brett Brown embracing a difficult job as Sixers' interim GM

Heading into the NBA draft, there was some uncertainty about how the Sixers would make decisions. Nobody seemed willing to say whether interim GM Brett Brown would have the final say, or whether it would be a truly collaborative process.

Thursday night, Brown confirmed he’s the man in charge.

“I was the one that approved the final decision,” Brown said after the Sixers’ first-round trade for Zhaire Smith and a 2021 unprotected first-round pick. “We have many people in that room that are aggressively speaking to people. We have information, we put it on a board and we discuss it. At the end of the day, (managing partner) Josh (Harris) looked at me and I did what I did. I approved the deal.”

Brown made sure to credit the people around him who made a difficult job easier. As Brown put it, “This has been a really different June” for him. There’s no way he could have expected he’d be pulling the trigger on draft night when the season ended, but he’s taken leadership of another team, this one in the front office.

“There is an incredible amount of teamwork that is required in that room,” Brown said. “You’re on the clock. I thought (vice president of basketball operations and chief of staff) Ned Cohen did a fantastic job helping organize this. The analytics side with Alex Rucker and Sergi Oliva, those guys were awesome. And then I think (vice president of basketball operations) Marc Eversley, delivering the group, you know, ‘These are the players with our scouts,’ it was a very collaborative process. It was a systematic process where you felt like you were a part of a team.”

Separating the head coaching part of his job from the GM duties he’s been thrown into hasn’t been painless for Brown. He acknowledged he felt the “human side” of trading away a high-character local kid whose mom works for the organization in Mikal Bridges (see story).

“The torment of trying to do my job in the very limited role I have for a moment as the general manager versus the role that I have as the head coach of this program, it’s a toggle,” Brown said. “And this is where we arrived.”

It’s obviously not a job Brown wants to do long term. At some point, he’ll be able to return his full focus to coaching. For now, though, he says he’s enjoying his new role. He’s always loved preaching about his program and cultivating a positive culture. Persistently optimistic, Brown looks at the aftermath of the Bryan Colangelo saga as an opportunity to fully embrace those passions.

“I said right when I accepted the responsibility that I have no intent of doing this,” Brown said. “I’m a basketball coach. When this came up, I felt a responsibility to do the best that I could under the circumstances to help move us forward. ... Down deep, I love it, because you just bleed for the program. You’ll do whatever you can to bring a championship to this city. That’s the bottom line. As we corral the analytics people, the scouts, my coaching staff and the people that work in the building and try to hold us together and move us forward and show daylight, that’s my job.”

There’s still no official timeline from the Sixers on when Brown’s tenure as interim GM will end. But free agency starts on July 1, and Brown is ready to recruit. He also sounded prepared to go all-out in pursuit of possible trades for stars (see story), including a hypothetical example that seemed to very closely resemble Kawhi Leonard, who wants out of San Antonio and has expressed his desire to return to his hometown of Los Angeles.

“When you talk about what are you going to do to show the program the way we want it to be seen, sometimes it’s in-house, sometimes you have to travel,” Brown said. “Whether we have to go mobile and, as an example, go to Los Angeles and deal with a family, an agent, the player. Whether we can attract him to come here to the city of Philadelphia.

“The whole strategy of how we do that, the presentation of information, we’ve been talking about that for a while. I feel completely that we will not miss a beat now that the draft is done, that we can focus in when free agency kicks in on July 1.”

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Why Brett Brown believes in high-flying Zhaire Smith

Why Brett Brown believes in high-flying Zhaire Smith

CAMDEN, N.J. — It’s a name that’s on everybody’s mind these days. Kawhi Leonard.

Leonard is one of the stars that interim GM Brett Brown would love to land (see story). He also sees a little bit of Leonard in Zhaire Smith, whom the Sixers acquired along with an unprotected 2021 first-round pick in exchange for Mikal Bridges in a bold draft-night move (see story).

“When you look at just where I believe Zhaire can be, there are some common denominators to what Kawhi had when we first brought him to San Antonio,” Brown said. “In general, I think he’s going to be a work in progress. There’s lots to do, with a base that’s really special and very unique. Some of those qualities that Kawhi had when we first brought him to San Antonio, I do see parts of that in Zhaire.”

The other main component of the Leonard comparison is Brown’s desire to shift the 6-4 Smith from playing mostly at power forward in college, as Leonard did at San Diego State, to being a perimeter player in the NBA.

“At times it is [a hard transition,]” Brown said. “But I don’t even judge college basketball anymore to be positions really. … It was more of an interior-related skill package that we’ve seen progressively grow out to a perimeter-type package that we think can keep growing in that direction.”

You can see why the Sixers think Smith has the tools to be special. He’s a ridiculously explosive athlete who can defend and rebound at a high level. Smith said he takes a lot of pride in doing “the little things” well, and it shows with his ferocious approach to offensive rebounding, and the highlight-reel putback dunks that often result.

“I was a natural rebounder and my college coach [Chris Beard] told me to crash the boards every time,” Smith said. “If I didn’t, I’d probably have to do something, probably running. And he kept a chart, so I believe I crashed 70 percent of the time. That’s what I’m good at, so if the team needs me to crash the boards, I will do that.”

Smith’s potential is enticing. But the reality is, in the short term, Bridges probably would have made the Sixers a better team. Brown acknowledged that while explaining why the Sixers think so highly of the player Smith can eventually become.

“The fact that he has a foundation that is incredibly unique in relation to his athleticism,” Brown said. “The foundation that he has in his character, the foundation that he has in his defense, the incredible growth that we are seeing in his shot. His ability to create his own shot. There is no mystery of how we want to play here in Philadelphia, nor is there no mystery on the direction our sport is growing.

“When you weigh it all out, and I anointed him ‘1B,’ it’s really an incredible situation that we had to navigate through once we got that offer. So as we judged Zhaire, we saw a person, we saw a player, we saw a place that we need to develop him, to grow him and take him. We believe entirely in time he has the ability to be incredibly unique, maybe even great.”

Because Smith didn’t take many jumpers at Texas Tech, his two pre-draft workouts were an important part of the Sixers’ assessment of his shot. Brown said the Sixers extensively studied Smith’s shot at the workouts, including looking at “trajectories and arcs and variance of misses.” Of the 258 recorded shots Smith took last season, 168 were at the rim. He only took 40 three-pointers, making 18.

Brown doesn’t seem to expect the 19-year-old Smith be a major contributor as a rookie, but he’s not ruling it out.

“He may prove us all wrong,” Brown said. “I’d be curious as he hears his coach speak, if he’s like, ‘Hey, I’ve got more to give maybe quicker than you think.’ Maybe that’s true.”

And he thinks Sixers fans will love the quiet, understated Smith’s tenacious, high-flying game.

“We believe we are going to take Zhaire and put him into our development system and polish up all of those things, and we are excited,” Brown said. “The city of Philadelphia is going to love him because of his complete competitiveness, his athleticism and his toughness. He is bred for the city of Philadelphia.”

It sounds like Smith sees himself finishing off a few fast breaks in emphatic style next season.

“They run in transition. I feel I can be a part of that,” he said. “Ben Simmons, he can bring it up and make good passes. I’m a good cutter, so he’ll make me look good.”

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