Brett Brown

Atlantic Notes: Brown, Embiid, Kurucs, Ntilikina

Higher expectations may put Sixers coach Brett Brown’s job in jeopardy if the team suffers an early playoff exit, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. Brown has amassed a 168-308 record in his six years on Philadelphia’s bench, but much of that came as the franchise was trying to rebuild through the draft. With a pair of stars in place in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and two more acquired in trade in Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris, the pressure to win right away has become intense.

Brown refused to comment on the situation after Friday’s loss, which was the Sixers’ third in their last four games. However, the mini-slump is understandable, given the 76ers’ tough schedule and the absence of their top two centers, Embiid, who has tendinitis in his left knee, and Boban Marjanovic, who’s dealing with a right knee bone bruise and a mild sprain.

Still, Brown has to be feeling the heat, especially in light of a recent quote from co-managing partner Josh Harris, who indicated a first-round loss wouldn’t be acceptable. “We’re going to work hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Harris told ESPN. “We have enough talent on our roster that if we play the way we’re capable of playing, we can beat any team in the East.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • After missing eight games, Embiid is expected to return for this afternoon’s showdown with the Pacers, according to an ESPN report. Embiid, who hasn’t played since the All-Star break, approached the team about taking a few games off to make sure he’s rested and healthy for the playoffs.
  • Rodions Kurucs may have solved the Nets‘ search for a stretch four, suggests Brian Lewis of The New York Post. The rookie has started the past three games, helping Brooklyn to wins in all of them. He posted 16 points and six rebounds in Saturday’s victory at Atlanta. “I don’t know what neighborhood he grew up in in Latvia, but that’s a tough neighborhood. That’s a tough dude,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He might not look the part, looks like a good-looking choirboy; but him and [John] Collins were going at it the whole game, and he doesn’t back down from anybody. That’s Rodi from Day 1: No fear.”
  • Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina was re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff yesterday, but it still isn’t clear when he might return from a groin injury, relays Peter Botte of The New York Post. Ntilikina, who has missed 18 straight games, said he hopes to receive clearance “to do more” this week.

Atlantic Notes: Durant, Hayward, Harris, Leonard

The Celtics have been slumping but Kevin Durant believes they’ll be dangerous when the playoffs arrive, as the Warriors star told a group of reporters, including ESPN’s Nick Friedell. Durant, whose team faces Boston on Tuesday, believes the Celtics are “still getting used to each other” but they’ll be a tough out in the postseason. “They’re right up there at the top,” Durant said. “They’ve been losing a couple games, but they’ve got the top talent, some of the top talent on that team, so they’ll be fine once the playoffs start.”

We have more from around the Atlantic Division:

  • Gordon Hayward‘s agent promises that his client will return to All-Star form next season. Mark Bartelstein made the comments in a WEEI interview that were relayed by NBC Sports Boston’s Nick Goss. “My guess is he doesn’t get his game all the way back where we’re accustomed to seeing it until next year,” Bartelstein said of the Celtics forward. “He’s going to need a summer to get back in the gym and get back in the laboratory and the weight room and build on everything he did last year. But there’s not a doubt in my mind. He’ll be an All-Star in this league many, many times over.”
  • Sixers coach Brett Brown is a big Tobias Harris fan and hopes the team re-signs him, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. Brown praises Harris not only for his play on the court but his off-court persona. “I hope he’s a Philadelphia 76er for a long time,” Brown said. Harris, who will enter unrestricted free agency this summer, has enjoyed the ride with his new team since being dealt by the Clippers. “I like it here,” he said. “It’s been a good start that we’ve been able to have, a good group of guys, and the team has a lot of potential.”
  • The Raptors’ load management strategy with star Kawhi Leonard shows disrespect to the team’s fans, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star argues. Leonard has sat out 18 games this season, including an overtime loss in Detroit on Sunday in which many Raptors fans crossed the border to see the game. While the ultimate goal is to have a healthy Leonard for the playoffs, he’s making a huge salary and fans buy full-price tickets to watch him play. To simply shrug off his participation in regular-season basketball is a snub to fans, Cox contends.

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Raptors, Ntilikina

The Sixers may look to put the ball in Jimmy Butler‘s hands more often after his recent return from injury, Brian Seltzer of the team’s official site writes. Previously, head coach Brett Brown had used the All-Star swingman off the ball.

I liked what I saw,” said Brown following the Sixers’ Tuesday night victory, a game in which Butler had a plus-26 rating. “We didn’t really run complicated offense. It was quite simple and spaced, and I thought he did a really good job with that.

The Sixers, of course, have done just fine with Butler in his traditional swingman role – they’re 33-18 after all – but with the playoffs approaching and this roster intent on making a deep run, Brown believes that exploring additional offensive options will serve them well.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division tonight:

  • Through the first 51 games of the 2018/19 season, the Raptors have used 14 different starting lineups, Michael Grange of Sportsnet writes. After all that tinkering, head coach Nick Nurse is eager to carve out a rotation that he can stick with. “It would be really nice to figure out exactly who is going to be in there. How we’re going to do it. Who is going to play where, minutes, all that kind of stuff,” Nurse said.
  • The Celtics, whom Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald believes have the best to offer in an Anthony Davis trade, should come out ahead regardless of what happens in New Orleans this week. He argues that Boston will either be first in line to trade for him in the summer or be able to watch another team decimate its core to acquire him ahead of the trade deadline. The C’s, it’s worth noting, are unable to deal for Davis this season as the CBA’s Rose Rule forbids it.
  • A groin strain will sideline Frank Ntilikina at a time when the Knicks could have finally gotten a chance to take a good, long look at him, Marc Berman of the New York Post writes. Incumbent starter Emmanuel Mudiay also happens to be out two to three weeks with his own injury.

Atlantic Notes: Butler, Russell, Raptors, Wanamaker

Sixers coach Brett Brown is defending Jimmy Butler, saying he wasn’t disrespectful when he questioned the way he’s being used in the offense, according to an Associated Press story. ESPN reported Friday that Butler has “aggressively challenged” Brown since being acquired from the Timberwolves in November and has “tenuous” chemistry with fellow stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Meeting with reporters before tonight’s game, Brown tried to calm the situation.

“I didn’t feel like any of that crossed the line,” he said of Butler’s comments. “He’s vocal. He’s all in and he has opinions, but it’s instigated by me. None of this should surprise anybody. He’s got opinions. He wants to be heard. And he should be heard.”

Butler missed the game with a respiratory infection and wasn’t available for comment. He reportedly wants to be utilized more often in pick-and-roll situations, which aren’t a standard part of Brown’s offense.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Nets guard D’Angelo Russell has improved significantly during his second season in Brooklyn, writes Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Russell, who is averaging career highs with 18.2 points and 6.4 assists per game, is headed for restricted free agency this summer but indicated a desire to stay with the Nets. “We’re winning,” he said. “I haven’t won a lot in this league, so for me to get that type of success, I’m going to stick with it.”
  • As Kyle Lowry missed his sixth straight game tonight with back trouble, the Raptors are looking for another playmaker before next month’s trade deadline, according to Sean Deveney of The Sporting News. He states the best target would be the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague, who isn’t being shopped but has become more expendable with productive seasons from Derrick Rose and Tyus Jones. Other possibilities include the Mavericks’ J.J. Barea or Devin Harris and the Hawks’ Jeremy Lin.
  • Brad Wanamaker was as surprised as anyone when Celtics coach Brad Stevens told him to check in during the first quarter last night, relays Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. It was the 15th game of the season for the 29-year-old rookie, but most of his time has come late in games that were already decided. He responded with a pair of 3-pointers to help Boston build a lead. “The key word is challenging,” Wanamaker said. “I’m just trying to stay mentally prepared. I’m getting a lot of feedback from my family, friends, just saying, ‘Stay ready.’”

Jimmy Butler Challenges Brett Brown Over Role

Just a few months after his trade request endlessly dominated headlines in Minnesota, Jimmy Butler has “aggressively challenged” Sixers head coach Brett Brown on his role in Philadelphia’s offense, league sources tell Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. The situation has complicated an “already tenuous” chemistry among Butler and star teammates Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, according to Shelburne and Wojnarowski.

Since joining the Sixers, Butler has averaged 18.0 PPG in 31.7 minutes per contest (21 games). Both of those marks would be his lowest averages since 2013/14. His usage rate (23.1%) is also down from recent years.

Butler would prefer to play more traditional pick-and-roll and isolation sets, rather than trying to find his place in the Sixers’ free-flowing offense, Shelburne and Wojnarowski write. As he works through those concerns, Butler has met privately with Brown and his assistants, as well as GM Elton Brand, per ESPN’s report.

Sources tell the ESPN duo that Butler has been “vocal” in questioning Brown and his system, including a recent film session in Portland that some witnesses viewed as “disrespectful.” However, Brown has told people within the 76ers’ organization that he had no issues with that exchange and considered it within the confines of the relationship he has developed with his new All-NBA swingman. As for Butler, a source close to the 29-year-old points out to ESPN.com that his direct style of communication can come off as combative when he expresses an opinion.

Despite posting a 17-8 record since acquiring Butler, the Sixers have been slow to assimilate the former Timberwolf into their system and have yet to find the perfect on-court role for him alongside Embiid and Simmons, which has caused some concern about his “long-term viability and fit” with the franchise, league sources tell Shelburne and Wojnarowski. According to the ESPN duo, Brown had already dedicated significant time working on the relationship between Embiid and Simmons, and incorporating Butler as well has compounded those challenges.

Still, the Sixers remain focused on making things work in this season and beyond. Ownership and management is also still very fond of Brown, so there’s an urgency around the organization for the head coach and his staff to stabilize the situation and get everyone on the same page, according Shelburne and Woj.

Since Butler will be a free agent this summer, he’d have an opportunity to join a new team if things don’t work out in Philadelphia. According to ESPN, his preference has been to sign a lucrative, long-term deal with the Sixers, who can offer more years and money than any other suitor, but it sounds like the club will need to get more comfortable with the fit before it’s ready to put that kind of offer on the table. Sources tell Shelburne and Woj that rival teams believe Butler will ultimately decide to meet with other teams in July, in addition to the 76ers.

Atlantic Notes: Nets, VanVleet, Sixers, Hayward

As a result of the Nets owning their own first-round pick for the first time in four years and the struggles the team has dealt with after losing Caris LeVert, many fans have brought up the idea of tanking this season to land another top prospect. However, as Greg Logan writes for Newsday, the Nets and head coach Kenny Atkinson won’t be actively trying to lose games any time soon.

The Nets have suffered several tough losses in recent weeks, having built up leads against the 76ers, Grizzlies and Thunder, only to fall short of victories on all three occasions. However, the team had a strong weekend, securing back-to-back victories over the Raptors and Knicks.

As it stands, the Nets sit at 10-18 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. The conference has a plethora of struggling teams, which would make it more difficult for the Nets to fall down the standings. It looks like this Nets team will continue fighting and scraping for every victory it can get.

There’s more from the Atlantic division:

Atlantic Notes: Trier, Mudiay, Butler

With the Knicks focused on player development and youth in this rebuilding season without Kristaps Porzingis, one bright spot in the first quarter of the team’s season has been the play of Allonzo Trier. As Tommy Beer writes for Forbes, Trier has showcased his elite scoring abilities and has proven that he belongs in the league, despite going undrafted last summer.

Trier has played nearly 500 minutes so far this season and has provided a consistent scoring threat off the bench, averaging 11.5 points per game while knocking down 47.2% of his 3-pointers.

While a lot of attention has been on Kevin Knox and the surprising play of second-round pick Mitchell Robinson, Beer points out that fans shouldn’t overlook Trier and his place in the team’s young core, especially given the consistency he has provided this season.

As Porzingis works on recovering from his torn ACL and the Knicks have plans to spend in free agency, it will be interesting to see what the team’s young core looks like moving froward.

There’s more from the Atlantic division:

The Latest On Markelle Fultz

It’s unclear how long it will be until Markelle Fultz suits up in a game for the Sixers. Earlier today, it was reported that Fultz would see a specialist for his shoulder and the former No. 1 pick would not play until that happens.

Philadelphia didn’t have a formal practice on Tuesday, but Fultz participated in some light shooting, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer tweets. The participation came after Fultz’ agent and attorney, Raymond Brothers, delivered the news of the outside appointment to GM Elton Brand earlier in the day. Brand seemed a bit surprised by Fultz’s need to seek an additional medical opinion.

Prior to Fultz working out, Brand told reporters, including Pompey (video link), that the team isn’t pushing Fultz hard as the second-year guard looks to recover. He did add that there was nothing the Sixers “saw medically that didn’t allow him to play.”

Fultz’s appointment with the specialist will come on Monday, according to Brand (video link via Pompey). Brand was told by Brothers that Monday was the earliest they could get an appointment. It’s not typical that a player’s agent would establish the parameters for a player’s absence.

Fultz has the right, under the CBA, to seek an opinion on an injury from a non-team doctor, and Sports Illustrated’s law expert Michael McCann wonders if the Fitness-to-Play Panel portion of the CBA might eventually come into play here. That article, which is the same that Chris Bosh invoked as he fought with the Heat about his blood clotting issues, instructs independent physicians to address disputes over players’ health conditions.

McCann admits that it’s too early in the process to suggest this kind of a panel is forthcoming. He also notes that NBA.com’s David Aldridge specifically used the wording “at the direction of his attorney” when he reported the news that Fultz would miss time, something which could ostensibly signal that Fultz’s camp is preparing for the day where the law enters this unique situation.

Tiptoe down the branches on  the tree of speculation and you can find scenarios in which legalities could come into play. Perhaps Fultz’s camp has reason to believe the Sixers will view his upcoming absence as unauthorized or maybe Fultz could also have concerns about how the team will depict his situation in the media while he’s away.

It’s unclear whether Fultz sought medical treatment from team doctors for his latest concerns but if he did, perhaps he was unhappy with the treatment. McCann notes that if Fultz found the medical care to be substandard, he may have grounds for legal action.

There have been unconfirmed reports that Fultz suffered the shoulder injury while in a motorcycle accident sometime in 2017. If the speculation is true and it happened after the former No. 1 pick officially inked his deal, the Sixers would have a path to suspend him or void his contract, McCann writes. NBA players are not allowed to drive or ride motorcycles or mopeds of any kind without consent from the team (s/o Monta Ellis).

Fultz is still on his rookie contract, a deal that pays him a guaranteed salary of roughly $8.3MM this season and $9.7MM next year. The Sixers hold a team option for the 2020/21 campaign worth approximately $12.3MM. The deal isn’t near an albatross by NBA standards and the Sixers are void of mid-level salaries for trade purposes, so I’d speculate that the situation never gets to the point where Philadelphia’s front office looks to legally get out from Fultz’s deal.

Coach Brett Brown touched on Fultz’s situation, calling the latest update “real red-flag type news,” Pompey relays in a separate tweet. Brown also said he believes Fultz is having a “good year,” adding that the team supports the point guard as he looks to get healthy.

Fultz was moved to the bench once Jimmy Butler made his debut. During the first three games of Butler’s tenure, Fultz played slightly over 18 minutes per game off the pine. Yet, on Monday against the Suns, Fultz saw just seven minutes of action after Brown decided to give T.J. McConnell those backup minutes instead.

Sixers Notes: Brown, McConnell, Redick, Fultz

Philadelphia was projected to be among the best teams in the East, but that status appears far away after Sunday’s 25-point loss in Brooklyn, writes Marcus Hayes of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Sixers dropped to 0-5 on the road and 6-5 overall, causing coach Brett Brown to call the performance “unacceptable” and say, “We’re not among the Eastern Conference royalty.”

He also suggested that the team’s problems stem from a roster that leans heavily on youth. For all their talent, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are young players whose NBA experience has been limited because of injuries. Markelle Fultz, the first choice in the 2017 draft, has gone through a similar experience.

“If you were to go back and just study Jason Kidd, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, John Wall — if you took, like, 10 great players, looked at the first few years, and did some division — and say, ‘It looks like it plays out to about this,'” Brown said. “You’re going to see: It’s not soon. … It’s the reality of the ages of the people that we have.”

There’s more this morning out of Philadelphia:

  • Brown is calling reserve guard T.J. McConnell a “tremendous teammate” for the way he is handling a reduction in playing time, relays Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. McConnell got on the court for about five minutes at the end of last night’s game, following a pair of DNPs. He has dropped behind Fultz in the rotation and is averaging just 13.7 minutes per game, down from 22.4 a year ago. “As a competitor, I know it’s hard,” McConnell said. “But I have to continue being a good teammate and work hard in practice and get better and stay in shape. I’m not going to pout about it. I’m just going to be ready when my name’s called.” McConnell is in his fourth season with the team, but still doesn’t have a guarantee on his $1.6MM contract.
  • Rich Hofmann of The Athletic examines the Sixers’ problems on offense and finds that the team doesn’t have enough players who can create their own shot and no reliable 3-point shooters outside of J.J. Redick. He notes that Philadelphia hasn’t found replacements for Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli, who were both lost in free agency.
  • The Sixers and Celtics are both experiencing the pains of trying to work key players into their rotations, writes Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer. In Philadelphia’s case, it’s Fultz, who still hasn’t solved his shooting woes.

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.)