Ben Simmons

Sixers Optimistic Butler Will Stay Put

Sixers managing partner and owner Josh Harris is both determined and optimistic that Jimmy Butler will remain with the team beyond this season, as he told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt and The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The Butler trade was made to give the franchise a third star alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid and become a serious championship contender. It wouldn’t have happened unless the Sixers were convinced they could keep Butler, who can opt out of his contract this summer, in the long run.

“We’ve been saying since the summer we’ve been looking for another star and we felt we needed another shooter, a three-and-D wing, someone like Jimmy,” Harris told Zillgitt. “They’re hard to find at this elite level. We know who we have to get through to win the East. It’s obvious who it is. We think this is a piece we needed.”

While Butler became a major distraction around the Timberwolves, he’s been a model citizen since joining the Sixers. And Philadelphia anticipates that its gamble will pay off in the long run in the form of a multi-year contract.

“Our goal is to have elite talent under contract for a long time,” Harris told Charania. “That’s what we’re interested in.”

Both reporters offered insights into the trade discussions involving Butler. The Sixers eventually agreed to deal Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless and a future second-rounder for Butler and throw-in Justin Patton.

  • The Timberwolves initially asked for another starter in addition to the trio the Sixers dealt, according to Zillgitt.
  • Minnesota narrowed its offers to three teams, with the Pelicans and Rockets being the other finalists, according to Charania.  New Orleans dangled forward Nikola Mirotic and a first-round pick, while Houston was willing to part with guard Eric Gordon and two first-rounders.
  • The Sixers initially offered draft picks and other large contracts, Harris told Charania. Markelle Fultz was discussed in the Butler talks.
  • Other suitors, such as the Lakers, wanted to wait until the December 15th date when signed free agents could be included in a deal for Butler, Charania added.

Sixers Pick Up Options On Simmons, Fultz, Saric

The Sixers have exercised their 2019/20 team options on Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and Dario Saric, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link). Those decisions, which were due on October 31, don’t come as any surprise.

Simmons’ fourth-year option will lock in his $8,113,930 cap hit for 2019/20, though it’s Fultz’s third-year option, worth $9,745,200, that is the priciest of the bunch. Saric’s fourth-year option is more modest, with a value of $3,481,986. In total, the three options will tack on about $21.34MM in guaranteed money to Philadelphia’s cap for next season.

Simmons and Saric are now on track to become eligible for rookie scale extensions during the 2019 offseason. The 76ers will have to make one more option decision on Fultz, with that decision on his 2020/21 option due a year from now.

Philadelphia must make one more rookie scale option decision by Wednesday, with Furkan Korkmaz‘s $2,033,160 third-year option for 2019/20 also outstanding. A recent report suggested that option was a good bet to be exercised, but if the team announces its decisions on the other three options without mentioning Korkmaz, that won’t bode well for him. The cap hit on his option wouldn’t be much higher than the minimum salary, but declining it would help the Sixers maximize their cap space.

We’re tracking all of the 2019/20 rookie scale option decisions right here.

Sixers Notes: Saric, Draft History, Korkmaz, Injuries

Dario Saric‘s slow start may be related to the time he spent this summer with the Croatian national team, but he doesn’t plan to stop representing his home country, relays Mike Sielski of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Saric shot just 26.5% from 3-point range and 37% overall in the Sixers’ first five games, which coach Brett Brown believes is related to a year-round work schedule.

“I don’t think it’s anything to do with the league scouting him differently,” Brown said. “I think it maybe does have to do with a little bit of burnt energy. It’s the toil of a summer. … This notion, that you play 12 months and you’re really in a good flow, is a myth. It is a myth. People need rest.”

However, Brown doesn’t expect Saric to change his priorities. As a former Olympics coach with Australia, Brown understands the passion of international competition. The NBA has long embraced the idea of players representing their native lands and it means too much to Saric to consider changing.

“Absolutely, I think I would be a better player if I didn’t play five, six years on the national team,” he said. “I think I would be a better player. But at the end of the day, everything is winning. You want to win with the national team.”

There’s more today from Philadelphia:

  • Costly draft mistakes have forced the Sixers to rely on trades or free agency to add a third star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The organization used high lottery picks on Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, who were both traded away for little return, and chose Michael Carter-Williams ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2013. They couldn’t sign free agents LeBron James or Paul George this summer, while Kawhi Leonard was traded to the Raptors. Pompey states that the pressure for a huge move will be intense heading into the last summer for a while that significant cap space will be available.
  • The Sixers are expected to pick up the third-year option on Furkan Korkmaz, even though he doesn’t see much playing time, Pompey adds in the same story. Korkmaz would only make $2.03MM next season, which shouldn’t be enough to affect the team’s free agency plans. Philadelphia has until Wednesday to decide on the option for Korkmaz, along with Simmons, Saric and Markelle Fultz.
  • Injuries are at least partially to blame for the Sixers’ slow start, notes A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston. Philadelphia hasn’t gotten much production outside of Simmons, Embiid and J.J. Redick, but two offseason pickups who were expected to be important parts of the reserve unit, Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala, have both been sidelined by injuries.

Sixers Notes: Morey, Offseason Changes, Fultz

When a July report indicated that the Sixers tried and failed to lure Daryl Morey away from Houston, it appeared that those discussions didn’t go far — Philadelphia reportedly received permission from the Rockets to talk to Morey, but the veteran executive decided to remain in his current job.

According to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com, however, Morey didn’t turn down the Sixers’ advances out of hand. One source close to the process tells Arnovitz that discussions got “pretty far down the road” before Morey elected to stay in Houston.

As the 76ers’ search for a new head of basketball operations continued following their failed bid for Morey, a consensus begin to build that it was important to maintain continuity in the front office, per Arnovitz. That’s one reason why Elton Brand was the eventual choice for the general manager job.

“When you live with these guys over three months, from draft and free agency, you appreciate what we already had,” head coach Brett Brown said, per Arnovitz. “Elton was always going to be a general manager at some point, in some city. And it might as well be here, and it might as well be now.”

According to Arnovitz, multiple league insiders viewed the decision to promote Brand and give him the title of GM (rather than president of basketball operations) as a “statement of control” by Sixers ownership — if they get cold feet on Brand down the road, they could always bring in a veteran executive above him. For now though, he’s running the show in Philadelphia.

Here’s more on the Sixers:

  • Arnovitz’s feature on the Sixers, which is worth checking out in full, also includes details on how Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are shaping the franchise’s culture and identity, and the lessons Embiid was taught by Tim Duncan during his rookie year in 2014/15.
  • Replacing Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli on the second unit will be one of Brown’s biggest challenges this season, David Murphy of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. In 23 games after that duo was acquired in February, the second unit averaged 41.6 PPG and improved its three-point percentage from 32.2% to 35.2%. Mike Muscala and Wilson Chandler, acquired in trades this summer, are projected to replace them in the rotation but both are batting injuries, Murphy adds.
  • Late first-rounder Landry Shamet had a productive preseason and that opens up more options for the second unit, Sarah Todd of the Philadelphia Inquirer notes. Shamet, a 6’5” point guard, had a pair of double-digit games while mostly working alongside J.J. Redick. “I think it went about as well as it could have,” Shamet told Todd. “I didn’t surprise myself, that’s kind of the way I look at it.”
  • Markelle Fultz will start the season opener and Redick will come off the bench, Jon Johnson of KYW 1060 Philadelphia tweets. The 2017 top overall pick will be starting for the first time. Fultz only appeared in 14 regular season and three postseason games as a rookie. Redick, who averaged a career-best 17.1 PPG last season, hasn’t come off the bench in a regular season game since the 2013/14 season.

(Dana Gauruder contributed to this post.)

Rockets Making Strong Effort To Land Jimmy Butler

The Rockets are making a “strong effort” to acquire Jimmy Butler in a trade with the Timberwolves, sources tell Mark Berman of FOX 26 Houston (Twitter link). Berman’s report comes after ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski indicated on Wednesday that Houston was pursuing Butler.

Wojnarowski, who suggested that the Rockets were “trying to be creative” as they explored trade possibilities for Butler, wrote that it would be tricky for the club to pull off a deal for the All-NBA wing without involving a third team. Berman, meanwhile, doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics.

It’s hard to imagine Houston being able to trade for Butler without giving up Eric Gordon, whose $13MM+ salary would make for a good salary-matching piece and whose ability to make an immediate impact might appeal to Timberwolves head coach Tom Thibodeau. The Rockets also have full control over their future first-round picks, though the value of their 2019 selection would be limited, since it’s likely to fall in the late-20s.

Although the Rockets are apparently pushing to land Butler, they’re not the only team involved. Wojnarowski’s report on Thursday named the Clippers and Cavaliers as other clubs in the mix, with the Heat still considered the most aggressive suitors. The Wizards and Mavericks have also gauged the asking price on Butler, while the Nets have interest but haven’t engaged Minnesota recently, per Woj.

Here’s more on Butler:

  • The Heat are open to the idea of taking on Gorgui Dieng‘s contract from the Timberwolves “under the right circumstances,” according to Wojnarowski.
  • Wojnarowski indicates that potential trade partners are skeptical of Thibodeau’s willingness to move Butler, since he’s making counter-offers he knows would never be accepted. In an appearance on the Bill Simmons Podcast, Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer provided an example, reporting that the Timberwolves asked for Ben Simmons when they made a counter-offer to the Sixers (hat tip to Dane Delgado of NBC Sports). We passed along a report earlier today suggesting that Philadelphia has since pulled out of the Butler sweepstakes.
  • The Nuggets were mentioned several days ago as a potential dark horse for Butler, but T.J. McBride of Mile High Sports hears that Denver views Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Gary Harris as “untouchable” (hat tip to Kurt Helin of NBC Sports). A trade for an All-Star like Butler is probably a long shot without any of those players involved.
  • Earlier today, we relayed an update on the Kings‘ potential involvement in the Butler talks — Sacramento is still interested in getting involved as a facilitator, but will be cautious about adding too much multiyear money to its cap.

Sixers Notes: Brand, Harris, Z. Smith, Simmons

Elton Brand‘s rise to GM will make the Sixers a more attractive destination for free agents, former agent David Falk tells David Murphy of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Falk, who represented Brand during his playing career, said the new GM is in a perfect spot to transform the franchise.

“I think he’s in a window where he is young enough where people know him as a player and he’s old enough to understand the business side,” Falk said. “I think that [the Sixers] have a great core, two very special young players in [Joel] Embiid and [Ben] Simmons. It’s one of the top 10 media markets in the country. There’s a great history to the franchise. And I think that today’s generation of players has demonstrated a desire to team up … they have two-thirds of the equation here. They need a third or possibly a fourth. I think it’s going to be very attractive to a lot of players.”

Falk said Brand showed he can handle the job through the amount of effort he put into running the organization’s G League team in Delaware last season.

There’s more today from Philadelphia:

  • Brand and coach Brett Brown will run the team as partners, owner Josh Harris explained to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Sixers won’t fill Bryan Colangelo’s former post of president of basketball operations, Harris added. Brand and Brown are expected to collaborate on decisions and will report to Harris and the ownership group. “Ultimately, Brett is the on-the-court voice,” Harris said. “Elton is the off-the-court voice. Elton will have kind of the loudest voice off the court, and final decision-making authority subject to ownership.”
  • First-round pick Zhaire Smith underwent a follow-up appointment this week after having surgery in August to repair a Jones fracture in his left foot, the Sixers announced in an email. Doctors are pleased with his progress and he has been cleared to put full weight on the foot. Smith will be evaluated again in four weeks. The team also offered updates on Shake Milton, who has been cleared for limited contract after suffering a stress fracture in his back, and Landry Shamet, who has been fully cleared after spraining his right ankle.
  • Among the topics Simmons addressed at this year’s media day was an upcoming television show based on his life, relays Australian website news.com.au. “Brotherly Love” has received a script commitment from NBC, with LeBron James of SpringHill Entertainment listed as an executive producer.

Spurs Asked For Embiid Or Simmons For Leonard

Before the Spurs agreed on a Kawhi Leonard trade package focused around DeMar DeRozan, they were asking for much bigger names from the Sixers, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe. (Hat tip to Dale Delgado of NBC Sports).

In his latest Lowe Post podcast, Lowe says Philadelphia turned down San Antonio offers that would have included Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons. The Sixers were reluctant to part with stars in exchange for a player who isn’t guaranteed to stay beyond this season, and Embiid and Simmons are probably untouchable in any circumstances.

Another name that popped up in rumors was Markelle Fultz, whose rookie season was cut short by a combination of injuries and problems with his shooting form. However, Lowe says the Spurs were never interested in the top pick in the 2017 draft.

“There is no evidence that the Spurs wanted Fultz,” Lowe said. “I’ve been told the Spurs never asked for Fultz, and actively didn’t want Fultz, and in fact wanted one of the two big guys.”

Sixers guard J.J. Redick, who was a guest on Lowe’s podcast, defended Fultz and claimed he was poorly treated by the media last season.

And-Ones: Kelly, O’Bryant, Leonard, Booker, Curry

Former Lakers and Hawks forward Ryan Kelly has signed a contract to play for SunRockeres Shibuya of Japan next season, according to a Sportando report. Kelly spent last season with Real Betis in Spain and averaged 13.3 PPG and 4.5 RPG.

Kelly, 27, last appeared in the NBA during the 2016/17 season with Atlanta, when he saw action in 16 games. He spent his first three seasons with the Lakers. The 6’11” power forward has averaged 6.0 PPG and 3.1 RPG in 19.2 MPG in his 163-game NBA career.

In other basketball news domestically and overseas:

  • Maccabi Tel Aviv is close to signing power forward Johnny O’Bryant, according to another Sportando report. O’Bryant, 25, played 36 games last season with the Hornets, averaging 4.6 PPG and 2.8 RPG in 10.5 MPG. O’Bryant, 25, was traded to the Knicks in February and then waived. The 6’9” O’Bryant has also played for the Nuggets and Bucks, who selected him 36th overall in the 2014 draft.
  • Kawhi Leonard, Devin Booker, Victor Oladipo and Ben Simmons are among the dark-horse candidates to win the Most Valuable Player award, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. A healthy Leonard would quickly become a prime MVP candidate, O’Connor opines, while Booker could have a breakout campaign after showing steady progress in his first three seasons.
  • DeMarcus Cousins (Warriors) and Isaiah Thomas (Nuggets) are obvious choices as the best bargains in free agency but as Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated notes, there are several other players who could fall into that category. Ed Davis (Nets), Seth Curry (Trail Blazers) and Brook Lopez (Bucks) should all provide production that far outweigh the deals that they signed, in Mahoney’s view.

Spurs Notes: Leonard, Trade Details, Green

In his breakdown of this week’s mega-deal that sent Kawhi Leonard to Toronto and DeMar DeRozan to San Antonio, ESPN’s Zach Lowe relays several intriguing Spurs-related tidbits on the situation. According to Lowe, San Antonio “never showed interest” in Leonard offers that were heavy on draft picks and unproven young players. Even in talks with the Sixers, it’s not clear if Markelle Fultz would have piqued the Spurs’ interest — San Antonio wanted one of Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid in any deal with Philadelphia, says Lowe.

Lowe also notes (via Twitter) that the league memo announcing the Leonard trade between the Raptors and Spurs includes one more interesting item: San Antonio is sending $5MM in cash to Toronto as part of the swap. As Lowe observes, that money is likely meant to help make up for the fact that Leonard’s trade kicker will increase the Raps’ projected tax bill for 2018/19, as we detailed on Wednesday.

Here’s more from Lowe, along with a few more Spurs notes:

  • The Spurs had dangled Danny Green in previous trade discussions over the past year, and weren’t seeking a big return for him, sources tell Lowe.
  • According to Lowe, San Antonio lowered its asking price for Leonard in the days leading up to the club’s agreement with Toronto. However, it was still difficult for other teams to put together an appealing package, since the Spurs’ top priority was acquiring an established veteran scorer who was under contract for multiple seasons.
  • Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich spoke to reporters on Wednesday about the Leonard trade, explaining the team’s thinking and making an effort to turn the page on the Kawhi drama. Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.com has the story, along with the quotes from Popovich, who had nothing but good things to say about Leonard. “Kawhi was a great teammate the whole way through,” Popovich said. “He did his work, and he was no problem for anybody. Talking heads out there have to have a story. If I was a talking head, maybe I am, I would have stories, too. All the stories that denigrated him in that regard, that was unfortunate and inaccurate.”
  • In an interesting piece for ESPN.com, Bobby Marks takes an in-depth look at why the Raptors matched up best with what the Spurs were looking for and won the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes over teams like the Celtics, Sixers, and Lakers, who approached Leonard trade talks more conservatively.

Lowe’s Latest: Kawhi, Sixers, Celtics, Scott, More

The Sixers have not made Markelle Fultz available in Kawhi Leonard trade talks with the Spurs, and the Celtics haven’t been willing to include Jaylen Brown in their discussions with San Antonio, ESPN’s Zach Lowe confirms in his latest article.

We’ve heard variations on Lowe’s report for the last week or two, with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (video link) recently suggesting that the Sixers don’t want to discuss Fultz, Joel Embiid, or Ben Simmons in Leonard talks, and adding that the Celtics’ top five players have been “off-limits” in negotiations with the Spurs — presumably, Woj was referring to Brown, Jayson Tatum, Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford.

Lowe’s full piece on the Leonard situation features several more tidbits of note, including some items only tangentially related to a possible Leonard trade. Let’s round up the highlights…

  • LeBron James isn’t pressuring the Lakers to add a second star for now, according to Lowe, who says that James “has faith in the combined powers of his supernova talent and the Lakers brand.” LeBron also recognizes that Brandon Ingram has considerable upside and is aware that many star free agents could be on the market in 2019, Lowe notes.
  • Lowe classifies rumors that Jimmy Butler and Kyrie Irving want to play together as “credible chatter.” However, the Celtics remain confident that they’ll be able to re-sign Irving next year, per Lowe.
  • Details of Mike Scott‘s contract agreement with the Clippers have yet to surface, but Lowe indicates the deal will use part of the team’s mid-level exception rather than being a minimum-salary signing.
  • Lowe’s piece is worth checking out in full, particularly for a section in which he brainstorms hypothetical wild-card suitors for Leonard, exploring whether the Raptors, Trail Blazers, Wizards, Timberwolves, Thunder, Heat, Rockets, Bucks, Nuggets, Warriors, Pistons, or Kings might be fits — many are quick “no”s, but some generate some intriguing hypothetical deals.