Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers 'One Of Only Teams With Resources" For Star

After starting the season with a 7-24 record, the Sixers have reeled off eight wins in their past 11. The emergence of Joel Embiid has reinvigorated the franchise and the rookie big man has helped to anchor a rapidly improving defensive presence.

Now that the Sixers have shown an ability to win games, they’ve clawed their way out of the basement and up the standings. Such momentum has general manager Bryan Colangelo reconsidering the team’s willingness to make a short-term splash.

[Winning] does lead you to want to explore other opportunities that might accelerate where we are in this. It gives us some opportunity to explore some big deals,” Colangelo told Brian Seltzer of Sixers.com. “We may be one of the only teams in the league that’s prepared with the resources and the assets to acquire a star level player.”

The Sixers have long been in rebuilding mode, but the strides that the team has taken this season under the guidance of Brett Brown suggest that this team may be ready to compete sooner than initially expected.

Sixers Cautious With Joel Embiid’s Injury

The Sixers aren’t releasing much information about Friday’s injury to rookie center Joel Embiid, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Embiid suffered a bruise on his left knee in the third quarter of a game with the Trail Blazers. He returned for part of the fourth quarter before being pulled with 8:50 left to play.

Before tonight’s game in Atlanta, the Sixers said they weren’t sure when Embiid will play again. It could be when they return home Tuesday or he could be held out longer. Embiid wasn’t scheduled to make the trip to Atlanta because it was the second game of a back-to-back.

“I don’t know,” coach Brett Brown said when asked when Embiid might return to action. “Like I say, I think we will learn more when we get back to Philadelphia.”

Pompey states that it appeared Embiid may have hyperextended his knee, which could put him out for about a week. An X-ray on the knee was taken Friday.

Teammate Nerlens Noel said Embiid was moving well after Friday’s game and expressed confidence that he won’t be out long.

“He’s good,” Noel said. “I think it was more about precautionary to leave him out [for the final 8:50 Friday]. He told me even before the game ended that he felt all right. … They just got to take care of him.”

Embiid’s history makes any injury worrisome. He missed his first two NBA seasons while trying to recover from a twice-broken bone in his right foot.

Sixers Feel They Have Something To Prove

  • The Sixers‘ recent success comes from having a roster of players who are trying to prove they belong in the league, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer“We all have that similar story,” Nik Stauskas said. “We all have something to prove. We all have the same goal. That kind of makes coming together a little bit easier.”

Hoops Rumors Retro: Dikembe Mutombo to the Sixers

The mandate at Hoops Rumors is to consolidate news from throughout the professional basketball world, but nobody ever specified from which decade. Join us as Austin Kent, a grown man with a binder of 1996/97 NBA trading cards beside his desk, cannonballs down the rabbit hole of nostalgia to give significant trades of yesteryear the modern media treatment.

This isn’t the first time a sassy, seven-foot pillar of physical wonder from Africa has arrived in Philadelphia and immediately upgraded the status of the Sixers’ organization, but while Dikembe Mutombo may not publicly hound Rhianna with the same vigor that Joel Embiid does1, his brief tenure in Pennsylvania does deserve its own small subsection in the Philly basketball history books.

In February of 2001, Allen Iverson’s Sixers were barreling toward the Eastern Conference Championship at a 41-14 clip. Their biggest problem, however – a gigantic Shaquille O’Neal-shaped problem – remained unsolved.

Could the Larry Brown-led ensemble of ragtag supporting cast members in Philadelphia really give the league’s leading scorer and ultimate MVP enough help to actually compete with the Lakers in their bid for a second-straight title? Would it make a difference if you piled George Lynch, Aaron McKie and Tyrone Hill on top of one another, veiled them in a gigantic trench coat and threw them in the low post to defend 28-year-old O’Neal at the height of his prime?

The answer to both is ‘Probably not, but actually, well… I don’t know, maybe’.

Regardless, fate had other plans, and on that February 22, 2001 trade deadline, it commandeered the mind and body of Billy King and made the decision to go big or go home2.

Perhaps it was the untimely wrist injury to 27-year-old defensive anchor Theo Ratliff that compelled Philly to pull the trigger on the deal that would land them a 34-year-old, three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Perhaps it was just growing trepidation that what they had wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the Lakers. Maybe they just couldn’t find a trench coat long enough to cover three professional basketball players without anybody noticing.

What we do know is that the Sixers didn’t want – and possibly couldn’t afford – to take any chances. Not with Ratliff sidelined and question marks surrounding his long-term health. Not with Iverson somehow single-handedly dragging fellow starters Lynch, McKie, and point guard Eric Snow to relevance for the first and only times in their respective careers3.

Alas, with pressure to keep their arguably unsustainable momentum rolling, the Sixers dealt Ratliff, along with Toni Kukoc, Nazr Mohammed and Pepe Sanchez, to Atlanta in exchange for Mutombo and Roshown McLeod.

In Mutombo, the Sixers gained a generational defensive stalwart, somebody with the gravitas to convince Iverson that they were committed to building a winner around him. The best part is that it worked. Sort of. The acquisition helped Philadelphia stave off the best that the Eastern Conference could throw at them, something that even the staunchest critics of the deal would have to agree wasn’t guaranteed.

“My sense is we might not have been able to hold on without Theo,” head coach Brown would tell the Associated Press several weeks after the team completed the trade. “I didn’t expect him to be back and contributing until the playoffs.”

Mutombo averaged 11.7 points and 12.4 rebounds per game for the Sixers over the course of the subsequent 26 regular season contests – and while his 2.5 blocks paled in comparison to the 3.7 bar Ratliff had set in the season’s first 50 games – there was finally an established star on the roster to help shoulder some of the pressure otherwise carried by Iverson alone.

In 23 playoff games that year, Mutombo ramped up his averages to 13.9 points, 13.7 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game, but not even that would be enough. Though Mutombo would respectably claim his fourth Defensive Player of the Year award during that postseason run, the team still couldn’t find a way to slow the 300-plus-pound O’Neal when they eventually encountered him.

En route to his second consecutive Finals MVP, O’Neal overpowered anything Philadelphia decided to throw his way, averaging 33.0 points and 15.8 rebounds per game in the eventual five-game series. Seeing as both O’Neal and Mutombo have since been enshrined in the Hall of Fame, that’s more of a compliment to the former than it is a knock on he latter, but it is kind of both.

Simply put, the peek of the Iverson Era Sixers happend to overlap with O’Neal’s physical prime. That’s not Mutombo’s fault, it’s not Iverson’s fault – it’s not even King’s fault. Just because doubling down on the present didn’t work, doesn’t mean it wasn’t still the best course of action.4

Sure, one need not look far to find Sixers fans griping about King’s decision making while an executive with the organization, but while I won’t defend the fact that Ratliff and Mutombo were literally the only players to be named to an All-Star Game alongside AI during his entire Philadelphia tenure, the deal that yielded Mutombo can’t be judged too harshly.

Hindsight reveals that the blockbuster deal didn’t deliver the result that Sixers fans wanted at the time – and, granted, it may have hamstringed them down the road – but hindsight also tells us that Ratliff was never quite the same player after the deal as he was before. In fact, when you consider that Mutombo was promptly unloaded to the Nets when the Sixers started trending downward the following season5, all hindsight really tells us is that Shaquille O’Neal was a destroyer of worlds who feasted on the souls of any who dared to oppose him, striking fear in the hearts of Eastern Conference executives whose only conceivable response was to desperately acquire Dikembe Mutombo and hope for the best.

This is nothing that we couldn’t have guessed at the time.

In that spring of 2001, the Hawks were in no position to contend in the Eastern Conference and Mutombo was a pending free agent, anyway. For Atlanta, the move was a no-brainer. In reality, the decision to move their cornerstone effectively served as a symbolic end to the era in which he and Steve Smith combined to position the team as fringe contenders year-in and year-out6.

As a result, the Hawks team that Ratliff would join was a dismal one led by a 23-year-old Jason Terry and, although it would eventually feature an impressive-sounding frontcourt of Ratliff, Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Glenn Robinson two seasons later, nothing would ever come of it. The Hawks franchise wouldn’t win more than 35 games until Joe Johnson and Josh Smith led them to the postseason in 20087.

With little incentive to rush back, Ratliff didn’t return from his wrist injury during that 2000-01 campaign, suggesting that Brown’s concern over Ratliff’s health was eerily well-placed. The next season, his first full one in Atlanta, a hip injury sidelined the big man for all but three games and he would never go on to average more than 8.7 points again for the remaining 10 years of his career8.

More impactful during his stint with the Hawks was Toni Kukoc. Despite that or perhaps because he joined a team whose only real offensive weapon was a diminutive second-year guard named Jet, Kukoc came alive in Atlanta, showcasing his versatility and the potential to lead an offense that he had occasionally shown flashes of with the historic Bulls several years prior.

In 17 games with his new team, an admittedly bitter Kukoc averaged 19.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game – not bad for a 32-year-old after two underwhelming half seasons in Philadelphia. He didn’t quite match those numbers the following year as the Hawks wisely set about rebuilding and brought in Georgia native Abdur-Rahim to be their focal point, but it was an entertaining taste of what the international star could have been producing all along had he originally landed in a different situation than with Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and the Bulls.

Of course history won’t remember Kukoc’s brief dalliance with greatness during his 14 starts as a Hawk back in 2001 or Ratliff’s admirable attempts to re-establish himself as a defensive anchor in the early aughts. It won’t even remember that King and the Sixers quickly cut their losses and got at least something out of Mutombo before the sun finally set on Iverson’s time with the franchise in 2006.

No, all history will remember about this trade is the beloved, larger than life, physical powerhouse that arrived in Philadelphia one day, a highly acclaimed fan favorite charged with the unenviable task of leading the Sixers to the next level.

Sound familiar?

At least this time around Shaquille O’Neal isn’t here to ruin this outcome.


Footnotes:

  1. But just imagine if he did…
  2. I have no such logical explanation for other Billy King decisions.
  3. Don’t think I’ve forgotten about your ’95 All-Star nod, T-Hill.
  4. For all we know King could have stood pat at the deadline only to watch the Sixers slide out of pole position in the East, ultimately get dumped in the first-round by a healthier team, exacerbating the rift between Iverson and the team brass, eventually catalyzing their star’s exit from Philadelphia. Way to go, Hypothetical Billy King.
  5. New Jersey’s hasty reaction to their own merciless beat-down at the hands of the Lakers in 2002.
  6. Underrated Fun Fact #567: Pearl Jam briefly operated under the band name Mookie Blaylock.
  7. The 2007 Hawks have a standing reservation on my Maybe Not Necessarily Dominate, But Definitely Awesome Top Ten List.
  8. Although in 2003-04, he would go on to play in 85 games. A product of another mid-season deal, this time to the Trail Blazers.

Hoops Rumors Retro is a weekly feature. Be sure to follow and get at Austin Kent (@AustinKent) with suggestions for future pieces.

Jan. 14, 2017 – Penny Hardaway to the Suns.
Jan. 7, 2017 – Gary Payton to the Bucks.

NBA D-League Assignments/Recalls: 1/21/17

Here are the D-League transactions for the day:

  • The Suns have recalled Derrick Jones Jr. from their D-League affiliate, the team announced via Twitter. Jones Jr. has averaged 14.6 points and 5.7 rebounds per game in 18 games in the D-League.
  • The Thunder have recalled Josh Huestis and Semaj Christon from their affiliate in the D-League, according to a press release issued by the team. The pair have averaged 18.7 points and 14.2 points respectively during their stints in the D-League.
  • The Sixers have recalled big man Richaun Holmes, tweets Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer. Holmes hasn’t played in an NBA game since suffering a concussion on December 14.

'Trust The Process' Chants Grow Louder; Brown Deserves Praise

  • Despite the Sixers‘ recent success, coach Brett Brown has shied away from the spotlight, Bob Cooney of Philly.com writes: “Brown, much like former general manager Sam Hinkie, the architect of ‘The Process,’ isn’t short-sighted. Seven wins in nine games is remarkable for this team at this time. Key words – at this time.”
  • Joel Embiid, on the other hand, has embraced attention from Sixers fans, encouraging fans at the Wells Fargo Arena to chant “Trust The Process” even louder. Embiid is a big reason the Sixers are turning heads in a league dominated by guards, Sam Donnellon of Philly.com writes.

Sixers Claim, Waive Mo Williams

5:13pm: The Sixers have waived Williams, according to Tom Moore of the Courier Times (Twitter link). This maneuver allows the team to add Randle to the roster without needing to clear an additional spot.

4:29pm: Mo Williams has been claimed off waivers by the Sixers, according to ESPN’s Marc Stein (Twitter link). The 76ers will have to clear a roster spot to accommodate Williams, as the team reportedly just re-signed Chasson Randle to a second 10-day contract as well. Adding both players would bring the roster count to 16, one over the 15-man limit.

The Sixers’ reasons for picking up Williams are financially motivated. The point guard’s $2.2MM cap hit will bring Philadelphia that much closer to the salary floor, but the team will only be on the hook for about half of that salary, since he has already been paid more than $1MM of it. Williams, who indicated in the fall that he would retire, has yet to appear in an NBA game this season.

This will be the third transaction Williams has been involved in since January 6th, when the well-traveled point guard was shipped to Atlanta in the Kyle Korver trade. Williams was then dealt to the Nuggets in exchange for the rights to 2005 draft pick Cenk Akyol. It remains to be seen whether Williams, who has suited up for seven different teams during his 13-year career, will return to the court with Philadelphia. Williams hasn’t filed his retirement papers, and underwent a surgical procedure on his left knee in October.

The Nuggets now have a vacant roster spot, which they may use to re-sign Alonzo Gee to a second 10-day contract. Gee, whose 10-day contract expired on Wednesday, has appeared in 10 games this season with Denver, scoring 11 points with 14 rebounds in that span. A 29-year-old veteran of six NBA teams, Gee averaged 22.4 MPG in 73 games with the Pelicans last season.

Sixers Re-Sign Chasson Randle To Second 10-Day

JANUARY 20: The Sixers have re-signed Randle to a second 10-day contract, tweets Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com. The club has reportedly also claimed Mo Williams off waivers, so a corresponding move will be necessary to make it all official.

JANUARY 19: The Sixers will likely re-sign Chasson Randle to a second 10-day contract after his current one is set to expire, Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports (on Twitter). The Sixers first inked Randle to a 10-day pact on January 10th.

Randle has appeared in only two games for the Sixers. He played 16 minutes and scored 10 points with two rebounds in a win against the Bucks on January 16th. With Ben Simmons still out and the point guard position still in flux, the move to ink Randle to another deal makes sense. Randle’s shooting ability may earn him some additional playing time, too.

Randle, who went undrafted in 2015, appeared headed toward a roster spot with the Knicks in October, but was waived after suffering an orbital bone fracture. He joined the Westchester Knicks in the D-League as an affiliate player and has averaged 20.7 PPG through 19 contests. Randle was then one of a handful of point guards to audition for Philadelphia before earning a contract. At the time of the initial deal, the Sixers had an open spot on their 15-man roster after cutting Hollis Thompson.

Ben Simmons May Be Ready After All-Star Game

Sixers rookie Ben Simmons could be ready for his first NBA game right after the All-Star break, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.com.

A source tells Haynes that the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft has a chance to be on the court by late February if there are no more setbacks in his rehab from foot surgery. Simmons fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot in training camp, and the Sixers are being careful about rushing his recovery. Sources say Simmons’ foot has completely healed, but there is still a chance he could be held out for the rest of the season as a precaution.

At this stage of rehab, Simmons is working on his conditioning and stamina. He participated in five-on-five drills for the first time last week, and the Sixers are handling his eventual return in a “cautionary, delicate fashion,” according to Haynes.

Ben Simmons Won't Play January 27th

Sixers coach Brett Brown quashed speculation that rookie Ben Simmons might play his first game January 27th, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Philadelphia’s contest against the Rockets on that date was recently added to ESPN’s national television schedule. A picture of Simmons appeared on Instagram not long after, leading many to believe it was more than a coincidence. But Brown said today that Simmons, who hasn’t played since suffering a fractured bone in his right foot in October, definitely won’t be ready by then. “I am a social hermit,” Brown said when a reporter asked about the possibility. “I have no idea what you are talking about. But I do know there is no chance that he will play then.”

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