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Sixers remain quiet as contenders make their case for Eastern Conference supremacy

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Sixers remain quiet as contenders make their case for Eastern Conference supremacy

These are truly the dog days of summer when it comes to the NBA.

Players are likely either putting in work with daily workouts or enjoying some vacation time before things get cranked back up in the fall.

However, those aren’t the only activities that are presented with that extra free time. There is also more opportunity for guys to do some boasting about what is to come. After all, they’re probably feeling good about the progress made during the offseason and the recent 2018-19 schedule release has put a jolt in their system.

Unless you’re a Sixer. They’ve remained relatively silent as members of one team after another have stated their case for the Eastern Conference crown now that LeBron James took his talents to Hollywood.

Boston swingman Jaylen Brown openly laid claim to the East during an appearance last week on Portland guard C.J. McCollum’s Pull Up podcast.

“Oh, we're getting to the Finals. No question about it,” Brown said.

And Brown made it clear that he didn’t feel that way about his Celtics just because James signed with the Los Angeles Lakers. In fact, he said the C’s were going win next season regardless of whether James stayed in the Eastern Conference or not.

“I hate how everybody is like, ‘Oh, LeBron's gone in the East,’” Brown said. “I know he did have a strong hold on the East for the last seven years, but he barely got us out of there this year. And our mindset was like, ‘Man, he’s not beating us again.’”

That’s pretty bold, but the Celtics have a right to feel good about themselves. They were on the cusp of reaching the NBA Finals a year ago and are getting All-Star reinforcements back in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

New Milwaukee Bucks center Brook Lopez was a bit more diplomatic with his expectations for next season. Still, he presented the case for his squad to become the new big dogs in the East.

“We definitely think the East is wide open,” Lopez said to Hoopshype a week ago. “It’s going to be such a fun, exciting time in the East and it’s going to be super competitive. There are a lot of teams that can do [big] things, from Toronto to Boston to Philly — you just go down the list and it’s clear that the East is as exciting as it’s been in a long time. I think we’re very confident that we can, no question, win the East.”

Even Washington Wizards guard John Wall explained why his group could be the one to rise to the top of the conference.

“I feel like we’re all equal,” Wall told Yahoo! Sports. “None of them won a championship. This is no knock on no other team. Don’t get me wrong. Boston is a hell of a team. Philly has great young talent with those guys (Joel) Embiid, (Ben) Simmons. And Toronto, losing DeMar (DeRozan), they still get Kawhi (Leonard). Y’all might have been to the Eastern Conference finals, where we haven’t been to, but none of y’all were going to the Finals. It was one guy going to the Finals. Ain’t nobody separated from nothing. I know one guy that separated himself from the Eastern Conference every year and that was LeBron James and the Cavs. Other than that … if you lose in the second round or the conference finals, you still didn’t get to your ultimate goal.”

Throughout all of the chest-puffing discussions, the Sixers haven’t made a peep. Not even the 7-foot-2 All-Star known for trash-talking anyone in sight. Embiid barely gave a response to No. 1 overall pick DeAndre Ayton when the rookie recently decided to draw himself dunking on the Sixers’ center.

It’s a stark departure from Embiid’s normal back-and-forth nature, but it’s safe to assume that the big man and his team will wait until they step on the court to let their game do the talking.

With a healthy offseason under his belt for the first time as a professional, you can bet that Embiid — and in turn the Sixers — will have plenty to say at that time.

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Movement of 2014 picks highlights how well Sixers did in that draft

Movement of 2014 picks highlights how well Sixers did in that draft

Despite it taking place over four years ago, the 2014 NBA draft continues to look better by the day for the Sixers.

Of course, that’s the draft in which the Sixers selected Joel Embiid at No. 3 and dealt the No. 10 choice (Elfrid Payton) to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Dario Saric at No. 12 along with a pair of draft picks.

Even recapping that first-round haul for the Sixers should bring a grin across your face.

That’s mainly because of what is transpiring with the careers of the other players from that draft class.

The latest move was the No. 2 overall pick that night, Jabari Parker, being allowed by the Milwaukee Bucks to sign an offer sheet to join his hometown Chicago Bulls earlier this week.

Now think back to 2014. Remember when people were hoping and praying the Sixers would be able to move up a spot or two to snag Parker or eventual top pick Andrew Wiggins? Recall how some didn’t want to touch Embiid, who was coming off a back injury at Kansas and suffered a broken bone in his foot during the pre-draft process? Add on those that weren't supportive of grabbing the then-mysterious Saric (you know he's never coming over, right?).

It’s unlikely you’ll hear those individuals speak up now. Not with Embiid as the Sixers’ All-Star anchor in the middle and Saric serving as a rock-solid forward next to him.

And they’ll be even quieter once you factor in the statuses of those other 2014 selections.

Look at Wiggins. Yes, he’s found a home in Minnesota and even signed a $146 million extension prior to last season. However, his inconsistency has been maddening at times and even forced Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to recently say he’s not ready to give up on the 23-year-old swingman.

When it comes to Parker, the Bucks let him walk for a reason. The combo forward suffered two torn ACLs in his four-year stint in Milwaukee. And while he was a solid contributor when on the floor, it was clear the Bucks now run through budding star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Even after that trio at the top, things aren’t exactly booming career-wise for the players that followed in the draft. 

Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 overall pick, inked an $80 million deal this summer to remain in Orlando for the next four seasons. However, the team has a 114-214 record since Gordon was drafted.

The Jazz committed $33 million over three years to guard Dante Exum earlier this offseason. But realistically, the team had so much confidence in the oft-injured fifth pick in ’14 that it drafted Donovan Mitchell and acquired Ricky Rubio from the Timberwolves just a year ago.

There are plenty of solid players after the top five from the 2014 draft, but none of them are the caliber of Embiid and few measure up to Saric.

Things really get hairy when you take a look at the middle of the lottery. Former Sixer Nik Stauskas, who was taken eighth, is now on his fourth NBA team. Noah Vonleh was picked ninth and is now playing for his third franchise. Payton was the Sixers’ pick at No. 10 before being shipped to Orlando. He signed to join the New Orleans Pelicans in free agency earlier this month, which marks his third team in four years. And the 11th name called that night, Doug McDermott, will suit up for his fifth NBA team when next season rolls around.

In all, only 10 of the 30 players taken in the first round in 2014 are with the original team they suited up for on opening night (that includes Marcus Smart and Clint Capela, who remain on the market as restricted free agents).

Two of them are Embiid and Saric, who are still helping the Sixers climb from the cellar just a few years ago to the top of the NBA food chain.

Not a bad draft haul at all and it looks even better now.

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Furkan Korkmaz the hero in Sixers' win over Bucks in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League

Furkan Korkmaz the hero in Sixers' win over Bucks in MGM Resorts NBA Summer League

With a quarterfinal berth nearly in their grasp, the Sixers fell apart in the fourth quarter Saturday night but Furkan Korkmaz was there to save the day again.

Thanks to a furious late run and an and-1 from Korkmaz with 3.6 seconds left, the Sixers pulled out a miraculous 91-89 win over the Milwaukee Bucks to advance to the quarterfinals of the MGM Resorts NBA Summer League. They'll play the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday at 10 p.m. 

The Sixers led, 71-61, early in the fourth quarter, but some sloppy play and stagnant offense allowed the Bucks to go on a 15-0 run. But the Sixers made a strong late push. Trailing 88-80, Korkmaz and the Sixers went on a run of their own. Two free throws from Korkmaz with 36.1 seconds left cut the deficit to 89-87. Then, with the clock ticking down, he drove from the left wing and converted his decisive leaner, the shot rolling around the rim before dropping in. Korkmaz calmly made the free throw to give the Sixers the lead.

Jonah Bolden broke up an inside pass intended for Milwaukee’s Christian Wood on the ensuing inbounds play. He made one of two free throws with 1.2 seconds left, and the Bucks couldn’t get off a desperation heave.

Let’s get into five observations from Saturday’s incredible win:

1. Even before his late-game heroics, Korkmaz’s assertiveness was noticeable Saturday night. With the Sixers’ offense floundering, Korkmaz confidently pushed the pace and looked to score. He wasn’t always in control, but to see him create his own offense instead of camping out in the corner and waiting for the game to come to him was encouraging. 

"Of course I feel proud of [my performance] because I just got here," Korkmaz told ESPN's Cassidy Hubbarth after the game. Korkmaz arrived in Las Vegas after competing in FIBA World Cup European Qualifiers for Turkey. 

"The guys are really positive guys. We stay as a team and we play together. If I need to talk about myself, I feel good on the court. I just try to play more aggressive and that's the point for me."

There was absolutely no hesitation on this coast-to-coast drive and Euro step finish from Korkmaz in the second quarter.

Korkmaz’s trust in himself as a ball-handler and shot creator could be an important element of his game. That said, showing the same conviction against physical NBA wings is, of course, a much bigger challenge than doing it in summer league.

After the game, Korkmaz reiterated his aggressive mindset.

“I feel more confidence in this summer league … When I feel good on the court, I start to play more aggressive," Korkmaz told reporters. "I just need to keep it up in all [my] minutes.” 

Sixers summer league coach Kevin Young felt he could trust Korkmaz with the ball in his hands late.

“He’s been hot or cold all tournament long, but the thing I love about Furk is he’s a gamer," Young said. "He’s played in a lot of big games, happy to get the ball in his hands, and [I] let him kind of make a play.”

Korkmaz had 19 points on 6 for 13 shooting Saturday night. 

2. Throughout the Sixers’ five summer league games, Zhaire Smith’s instincts have stood out. Offensively, he cuts well, darting backdoor at the perfect moments. His teammates often have missed him, but that shouldn’t be the case in the regular season. Defensively, he tends to make the right read, knowing when to help off his man and when to stay home. And his hands are active, like on this steal against the Bucks’ Sterling Brown and finish in transition.

It’s clear that Smith has a lot of areas to grow as he transitions to being an NBA wing. That was evident again Saturday, as he shot just 3 for 11 from the field. But those high basketball IQ instincts combined with his elite athleticism should help him improve and adjust at the next level quicker than many people may expect.

3.  If Jonah Bolden can put it all together, it’s easy to see how he could be a productive piece for the Sixers. He just seems to struggle to show all his skills on the same night. 

Saturday, Bolden again showed glimpses of his ability, like when he squared up his defender and knocked down a three-pointer on the right wing in the second quarter, or when he smoothly pulled down offensive rebounds. There weren’t any sustained stretches of consistently solid play, but his performance against Milwaukee was his best of summer league. Bolden had 13 points on 5 for 10 shooting and eight rebounds against the Bucks.

“To be completely honest with you, up until this point, I think I might’ve played better last summer," Bolden said. "Not to say I’ve played terribly, it’s just not up to my personal standards. And I feel I’ve gotten better and better each game. Still not up to where I’d want to be, not up to the same standard, just the consistency from Game One last summer to the end, whereas this summer has kind of been starting lower and getting up there game by game.”

At a minimum, the Sixers want to see consistent effort and defense from Bolden. Through the first four games, Young was happy with what he’d seen in that regard. 

“Offensively, he’s struggled,” Young told reporters Friday. “He’s not in a great rhythm; he kind of came in late. I think that probably hurt him a little bit just in terms of individual rhythm. But defensively, he’s been good. He’s a high-energy guy. he can guard a lot of positions, which for him I think is something that is really valuable for his NBA life. He’s versatile defensively in terms of being able to guard inside against big guys, guard smaller guys. So that’s really where he’s at his best for us.”

We saw last season how Brett Brown valued Amir Johnson’s defensive presence over Richaun Holmes’ offensive spark. If Bolden is going to earn a spot on the Sixers this season, his defense may be the key. 

4. Cameron Oliver has a serious affinity for attacking the rim. The Blue Coats forward, who entered Saturday’s game averaging 10.3 points and 6.0 rebounds in 19.3 minutes per game in summer league, has had far more than his fair share of emphatic dunks. He added another to his collection against Milwaukee.

Oliver’s game is still raw and at 6-foot-8 he’s on the shorter side for an NBA power forward, but his explosiveness and fearless approach is impressive. He’s a developing player worth keeping an eye on this season in Delaware. 

5. Christian Wood looks like an NBA player. He’s already been one, in fact, albeit for only 17 games on the 2015-16 Sixers and 13 games on the 2016-17 Hornets. With his length, athleticism and activity, Wood seems like someone who should be able to secure a spot on an NBA bench. Saturday, he posted 27 points and 12 rebounds. The Sixers organization knows Wood well; along with that brief NBA stint a couple years back, he starred last season at the G-League level in Delaware, averaging 23.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. 

Speaking of Delaware, Newark’s own Donte DiVincenzo suited up for his second summer league game Saturday night.  After missing Milwaukee’s first three games with a right groin strain and playing just 10 minutes Thursday against the Spurs, the Villanova product looked rusty. He air-balled his first jumper and never got into a rhythm, finishing with one point on 0 for 5 shooting. 

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