Brett Brown

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.)

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.

Latest On Sixers’ GM Search, Front Office

11:40am: The Sixers have issued a press release officially announcing the promotions noted below.

11:17am: While the Sixers are identifying new general manager candidates to meet and interview, the team hasn’t ruled out the possibility of leaving its interim front office structure in place to start the 2018/19 season, managing partner Josh Harris tells ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

“We prefer to find an elite talent who can lead us, but we aren’t going to compromise,” Harris said.

Sixers head coach Brett Brown has served as the team’s interim head of basketball operations since Bryan Colangelo‘s ouster in June, but several members of Philadelphia’s front office besides Brown have been very involved in personnel decisions during the offseason.

Those key voices include Ned Cohen, Marc Eversley, and Elton Brand, all of whom are receiving promotions, Wojnarowski reports. Cohen will become an assistant general manager, Eversley will be the senior VP of player personnel, and Brand will be named the VP of basketball operations. Alex Rucker will also receive a promotion, according to Wojnarowski, who says Rucker will become the 76ers’ senior VP of analytics and strategy.

According to Wojnarowski, after initially targeting top general managers around the NBA – such as Daryl Morey of the Rockets – the Sixers have been gathering information on up-and-coming candidates in recent weeks. In other words, the new pool of contenders figures to include execs who would be more readily willing to make the move to Philadelphia.

Reports have indicated that the Sixers aren’t necessarily looking for a new general manager who will make all the final decisions on his own, but rather a candidate who is willing to collaborate with those existing voices in the front office on personnel moves. While Harris would love to find that executive as soon as possible and doesn’t want Brown to hang onto the head of basketball operations title for the long term, he tells Wojnarowski that the club is very comfortable with the current management group.

“I think we have one of the best, if not the best, situation in the NBA – particularly for the leader of a front office,” Harris said. “We have great young players, lots of cap space and stable ownership willing to invest and spend in the team. We’re going to be patient and try to find the right person. The next year is going to be incredibly important for us, and we have a real desire to find the right person now – but if not, we are incredibly comfortable with the existing staff and we’ll move forward from there.”

Atlantic Notes: Irving, Stevens, Leonard, Brown, Ujiri

There has been speculation that Kyrie Irving‘s days in Boston may be numbered as he can hit the free agent market after next season. We already noted that Irving will not consider an extension this summer as his focus is coming back healthy from knee surgery and helping the Celtics capture a championship.

A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston examines all the reasons why it makes sense for Irving to stay in Boston beyond next season. As Blakely notes, the Celtics’ ability to field a winning team and to offer him the most money, along with the chance of leading a team to a championship, are all reasons for Irving to remain in Celtics green. Blakely also notes the stability of the Celtics’ front office and coaching staff as strong points since Irving’s stint with the Cavaliers included four head coaches and three general managers.

A healthy Irving will strengthen a team that was on the brink of an NBA Finals appearance. In addition to Irving, Gordon Hayward is expected back healthy next season. A strong year — along with Boston’s resources — could lead to Irving signing long-term in Beantown.

Check out more Atlantic Division notes below:

  • Brad Stevens is regarded as one of the NBA’s premier coaches. He has led the Celtics to the playoffs in four of his five NBA seasons and to the conference finals the past two years. As he gears up for the 2018/19 season with a healthy roster, Lang Greene of Basketball Insiders explains why next season may be the most important of Stevens’ career.
  • NBC Sports Boston discussed whether or not it makes sense to deal one of the Celtics’ top young players in a trade for Spurs superstar Kawhi Leonard. We relayed yesterday that Boston made an offer for Leonard before the trade deadline this past season.
  • After Bryan Colangelo’s departure from the Sixers due to his alleged use of burner accounts, head coach Brett Brown was given the role on an interim basis until a replacement general manager is hired. Derek Bodner of The Athletic (subscription required) writes about the challenge Brown faces and how it may be too much responsibility.
  • President of basketball operations Masai Ujiri said the Raptors are “open for business” as the team tries to construct a more sustainable roster, tweets Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun.