Elton Brand

Atlantic Notes: Ujiri, Brand, Knicks, Thybulle

After being sued by Oracle Arena security guard Alan Strickland, who claimed he was assaulted at the end of Game 6 of the NBA Finals last June, Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri has claimed in his legal response that he only shoved Strickland in the chest after being shoved by the security guard multiple times while attempting to get to the court.

Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic has the full story and the details on Ujiri’s response to Strickland’s lawsuit, in which he claimed that the Raptors’ executive “attacked” him and “hit him in the face and chest with both fists.” As Kaplan details, Ujiri also disputed Strickland’s claim that he wasn’t showing the proper credentials when he attempted to reach the court to celebrate his team’s title.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Rumors that the Knicks have interest in Elton Brand are a win-win for the Sixers‘ general manager, according to Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. As Pompey writes, if New York’s interest is legit and Philadelphia pushes to retain its GM, the situation could even result in a raise and/or a contract extension for Brand.
  • In a Q&A with Sam Amick of The Athletic, Sixers wing Matisse Thybulle discussed his workout regimen during the hiatus, his newfound TikTok stardom, and how he has tried to keep things in perspective as his rookie season has been derailed by COVID-19. “I think we have people who are more essential than basketball players who aren’t able to work right now, and I think at the end of the day getting that stuff is more important than a basketball season,” Thybulle said. “At this point, this is real life. This is not about entertaining. This is not about what’s on TV. It’s about making sure you’re healthy and making sure your family is healthy, and I think that takes precedence over anything else.”
  • In case you missed it, we took a closer look at the Celtics‘ 2020/21 cap situation on Monday in the second installment of our Salary Cap Preview series. The Nets will be up next.

Knicks May Target Elton Brand As GM

7:33pm: The Sixers are happy with Brand’s performance as GM and have no plans to let him go, a team source tells Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Twitter link). The source points to Brand’s strong relationships with players, agents and other executives.

6:19pm: Sixers general manager Elton Brand may be a candidate for the same position with the Knicks, a league source tells Stefan Bondy of The New York Daily News.

New president of basketball operations Leon Rose is reportedly very interested in Brand, who remains under contract with Philadelphia. Rose wants to see if Brand would be fired if the Sixers have a disappointing performance in the playoffs, per Bondy.

Rose, who is from the Philadelphia area, formerly served as the agent for Joel Embiid and had a close working relationship with Brand in that capacity.

Scott Perry is the Knicks’ current GM, but his future with the organization is shaky. Perry and the team both have opt-outs for his contract after the season.

Sources tell Bondy that Rose also has interest in hiring Cavaliers capologist Brock Aller for a spot in the front office. Rose reportedly received permission from the Cavs to interview Aller before league went on hiatus.

Sixers Reverse Course On Reducing Employees’ Salaries

Sixers ownership has reversed course on a plan to reduce certain employees’ salaries, reports ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (via Twitter).

Full-time 76ers employees who earn at least $50K annually were informed on Monday that their salaries would be temporarily reduced by up to 20% as the NBA remains on hiatus, as Marc Stein of The New York Times details. Those employees were told that the new measures would apply to pay checks from April 15 through June 30, with health benefits and 401(k) plans unaffected, says Stein.

Sixers majority owner Josh Harris, whose Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment also owns the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, confirmed those plans in a statement today, but indicated they won’t be moving forward.

“Our commitment has been to do our best to keep all of our employees working through this very difficult situation. As part of an effort to do that we asked salaried employees to take a temporary 20% pay cut while preserving everyone’s full benefits — and keeping our 1,500 hourly workers paid throughout the regular season,” Harris said. “After listening to our staff and players, it’s clear that was the wrong decision. We have reversed it and will be paying these employees their full salaries.”

The measures, which have now been nixed, wouldn’t have affected any players. They also wouldn’t have applied to employees on contracts, including members of the coaching staff or certain front office executives, Stein notes. Only “at-will” employees would have been required to accept the salary reductions, Wojnarowski adds (via Twitter).

However, according to Stein, some additional members of the organization had been asked to participate in the rollbacks as well — Sixers GM Elton Brand was among those who had agreed to take a temporary pay cut. Wojnarowski tweets that coaches and executives whose salaries couldn’t be unilaterally cut were initially given until Thursday to agree to a salary reduction of 20%. Per Woj, many were reluctant to give back that money, particularly since their employment situations beyond this summer are uncertain.

As Wojnarowski tweets, other team owners were keeping an eye on the situation in Philadelphia. Those owners were weighing their own desire to save money against the potential PR backlash that such a move would generate. Presumably, based on the negative PR the 76ers faced and the quick reversal that followed, no other teams will immediately enact similar plans.

Sixers part-owner Michael Rubin actually contributed to that PR backlash that helped push the club to change its plans — Shams Charania of Stadium (video link) reports that Rubin wasn’t believed to be part of the decision to reduce employees’ salaries and was said to be “upset” and “outraged” by it.

Meanwhile, before the 76ers’ change of heart, star center Joel Embiid announced that he’s pledging $500K to COVID-19 medical relief efforts in the community and that he was committed to helping Sixers employees who would suffer financial hardship in light of the team’s salary reductions (Twitter link via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN). With the Sixers no longer planning to reduce employees’ salary, Embiid’s financial commitment beyond that $500K for coronavirus purposes no longer appears necessary.

Sixers Have Interest In Robert Covington, Other Players

The Sixers are parsing the trade market for reinforcements who can shoot the ball. According to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer, Philadelphia has expressed interest in several role players, including Malik Beasley, Glenn Robinson III, Davis Bertans, E’Twaun Moore, and Andre Iguodala. O’Connor adds that the team has also inquired on Robert Covington, whom the team dealt away in the Jimmy Butler deal last season.

Most of those names, including Covington, are truly available. The price for Minnesota’s wing is expected to be high and with Philadelphia void of shiny assets, GM Elton Brand will have to get creative if he is going to bring back Sam Hinkie’s former gem.

Zhaire Smith is the young prospect the team is most willing to part with. Rivals teams have more interest in Matisse Thybulle, though Philadelphia is reluctant to deal the No. 20 overall pick. The franchise owns all of its own draft picks starting in the 2021 draft, so the Sixers could attempt to sweeten any deal with a future asset.

Other names on that list could be more obtainable than RoCo. It’ll be tough to pry Bertans from Washington, as the team can envision him as a long-term piece, but Iguodala, Moore, and Robinson are in obvious selling situations. Denver won’t be a seller at the trade deadline, but with a deep rotation and Beasley’s impending restricted free agency, the franchise is smartly assessing the market for the shooting guard.

Here’s more on Philadelphia.

  • O’Connor contends that the Sixers should consider making a bigger move for Chris Paul, swapping either Tobias Harris or Al Horford and additional salary for the 34-year-old point guard. However, the scribe hears that Harris and Horford, each of whom signed long-term deals this offseason, aren’t any more tradeable than CP3.
  • Trading Simmons doesn’t appear likely, in part because it would mean “putting all your superstar eggs in the Embiid basket,” and the big man has had a shaky injury history. O’ Connor wonders if Simmons would be the one the team decides to build around if forced to choose between the two.
  • Big changes will likely come with an early exit in the playoffs, though many around the game believe it would be Brett Brown who takes the fall in that scenario. There were rumblings that former team president Bryan Colangelo was planning to fire Brown and replace him with Villanova coach Jay Wright, but that was before Twittergate. Still, O’Connor hears from multiple sources that Brown didn’t have the best relationship with the locker room last season.

Sixers Expect To Pay Luxury Tax In 2020/21

Sixers managing partner Josh Harris anticipates that the team will be a luxury tax payer for the 2020-21 season, as he told Rich Hofmann of The Athletic in a Q&A session that also included GM Elton Brand.

Harris said there “are definitely issues” that come with being a taxpayer, including some roster restrictions. But he has no qualms about that prospect.

“If that’s what it takes to win, we’re going to do it,” he said.

The luxury tax threshold is approximately $132.6MM and Philadelphia is currently a few million below that number. However, the Sixers already have nearly $144MM in contract guarantees for next season. That’s due in large part to Ben Simmons‘ max extension. He’ll jump from $8.11MM this season to $29MM in the first year of that extension. The combined salaries for Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid and Al Horford next season total up to more than $91MM.

Harris and Brand provided some other interesting insights in the Q&A:

  • Harris expects the team to get deeper in the playoffs and everyone is accountable:  “I think we all feel some pressure. Elton does. I do. Brett and the players all want to deliver for the city,” he said.
  • Harris had hoped Jimmy Butler would re-sign but was impressed by the way the front office shifted gears to re-sign Harris, acquire Josh Richardson in a sign-and-trade with Miami, and bring in high-profile free agent Horford. “He obviously had a lot of choices and we’re happy for him that he’s with a great organization,” Harris said of Butler. “But for us, the job that Elton and his team did to pick up Al Horford and Josh Richardson on the heels of that and to get Josh Richardson back in a sign-and-trade obviously, I watched it from the inside and it was incredible.”
  • Brand presents Harris with various scenarios in free agency and trades to spell out how each move would impact the bottom line: Brand told Hofmann how he breaks it down to his boss. “Hey, these are our options. If this happens, I don’t know, but this player could be available, this player could be available, this player could be available. This looks like a 50-win season, this looks like a 55, our penetration could be this in the second round to the Eastern Conference Finals, to the finals. If we lose this player and can’t do a sign-and-trade, we’re going to be here.”

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Dinwiddie, Brown, Tatum

Sixers center Joel Embiid dropped 20 pounds this summer in order to take the pressure off his balky knee, Brian Windhorst of ESPN reports.

“Obviously my knee was bothering me the whole second half of the season and the playoffs,” the Sixers’ star said. “But all I was thinking was what can I do make sure I don’t let my teammates down again or my team. Or the whole city basically. That was to take better of my body.”

Embiid missed 12 games after last season’s All-Star break, mainly due to knee tendinitis. The Sixers will have a load management plan for him, but he expects to play more than the 64 games, Keith Pompey of the Philly Inquirer tweets.

Embiid added that he has more trust in Sixers GM Elton Brand than predecessor Bryan Colangelo, Derek Bodner of The Athletic tweets“With the past GM it wasn’t all that,” Embiid said.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie will meet with league officials this week to discuss his plan to turn his contract into an investment tool, Shams Charania of The Athletic tweets. The NBA nixed the idea last week but Dinwiddle hopes he can convince the league to reverse its ruling. Dinwiddie wanted to enable investors to essentially buy shares of his three-year, $34.4MM contract.
  • Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown is eligible for a rookie scale extension until opening night but he’s not fretting over negotiations, Nick Goss of NBC Sports Boston writes. “To be honest, I’m not putting too much thought into it,” Brown said. “I’m not losing any sleep over it. I think stuff like that ends up working itself out in the end, or however so. I’m just focused on this season and playing basketball. I think that’s my No. 1 emphasis. Let the chips fall where they may.” He’ll be a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn’t sign an extension.
  • Celtics swingman Jayson Tatum, who played for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup, is hopeful of being on the Olympic roster next summer, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe tweets. “I ain’t got nothing else to do,” Tatum said.

Sixers Notes: Horford, Brogdon, Butler

It’s not a given that the Sixers bring back their five starters this offseason.

Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris will each have rival teams looking to offer them a max deal. J.J. Redick will likely see heavy interest on the market as well, with Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer hearing that shooting guard will yield offers in the range of $12MM annually.

“They have tough decisions to make and so do we,” GM Elton Brand said.

Bringing back those three players will put the Sixers over the salary cap and out of contention for a number of free agents. Should the team decide to make major changes, there’s a wide range of talent on the market.

“We definitely need hard-nose players, shooting,” Brand said. “We want to add shooting. If you watch the playoffs, these are playoff-tested players … I don’t want to say names … but [the Sixers want] veteran-tested players, playoff-tested players that can take us over the edge with our talent.”

Al Horford, Malcolm Brogdon, and Danny Green are players the team could have interest in Pompey adds.

Here’s more on Philadelphia and the team’s pending free agents:

  • Don’t be surprised if the Clippers make a play to sign Harris, Pompey notes. The combo forward, who came to the Sixers via a midseason trade with the club, will be taking meetings on June 30 and July 1.
  • The Sixers may have to offer a five-year deal in order to keep Jimmy Butler, Pompey writes. Butler and his camp are meeting this week to go over free agent objectives.
  • Marcus Morris, Ed Davis, Ish Smith, Cory Joseph, and Patrick Beverley are among the free agents whom the Sixers could pursue, Pompey adds in the same piece. The team has confidence in its ability to lure one or two impactful free agents should it lose one of its max free agents.
  • Derek Bodner of the Athletic details how the Sixers are devaluing second-round picks. The team will have three more second-rounders next year after wheeling and dealing picks last week, as I recently detailed.
  • Furkan Korkmaz may join Turkish team Fenerbahce next season, according to Sportando. The former No. 26 overall pick is all but certain not to be back in Philadelphia next year.

Examining The Sixers’ 2019 Draft

The Sixers traded up four spots for Matisse Thybulle but outside of the prospect, the team didn’t add much immediate help in this year’s draft.

To move up to No. 20, Philadelphia had to surrender No. 24 and No. 33, the latter of which became Carsen Edwards—a three-point maestro. Edwards will play for the Celtics next season and could have a role right away depending on what happens with Kyrie Irving and Terry Rozier.

The team sent the No. 42 pick to the Wizards in the Jonathon Simmons deal and dished the No. 34 pick to the Hawks for the No. 57 (later traded to the Pistons) and two future second-rounders. In total, the Sixers turned a late first-rounder and four second-rounders into Thybulle, Marial Shayok (No. 54 overall pick from Iowa State), a pair of future second-rounders and cash considerations.

Make no mistake, the draft wasn’t a trainwreck for Elton Brand, despite what Sixers’ Twitter may lead you to believe. Thybulle is a talented prospect. He’s a tremendous defender and he has the potential to be a premier wing in the league. While his ceiling is likely an ideal third-or-fourth best option, he’s the type of player that can elevate a team with established stars in place.

“When we saw him on the board, [and] a few other players in our box that we liked were gone, and he was our target,” Brand said (via Derek Bodner of The Athletic). “We had to move up to get him. Whatever it took. Dealing with whatever team. I had to get it done.”

Thybulle had long been rumored as a target for the Sixers. The wing didn’t work out for any teams leading up to the draft, signaling that he may have received a draft promise from a team.

“Philly showed interest early and we just trusted them, and decided that we were going to put our faith in them and kind of shut things down,” Thybulle said when asked about not having many workouts.

Many draft experts were able to connect the dots between the Washington prospect and the Sixers. The Celtics did the same thing, as Jonathan Givony of ESPN.com notes.

Just as former Sixers GM Sam Hinkie caught on to the Magic’s interest in Elfrid Payton back in 2014—Philly netted a first-round pick by simply implying they were also interested in the point guard and forcing Orlando to move up—the Celtics used wide-spread information against a rival team. Boston said they had interest in Thybulle and was able to bring in a second-rounder as a result.

Admittedly, Philadelphia’s use of second-round picks in this draft is puzzling. The No. 33 pick aside, there were seemingly players available who could have helped the team. Bruno Fernando (drafted at No. 34) stood out as someone whom the team could groom, with the franchise alternating minutes between the Maryland prospect and Jonah Bolden at the five on games where Joel Embiid sat out.

Philadelphia will have multiple second-round picks again next year with Atlanta’s 2020 selection coming in addition to a pick from either Brooklyn or New York (originally acquired from trading the 2015 No. 35 overall pick to the Knicks before the team made additional trades to complicate the projections) and one coming from Dallas (Nerlens Noel trade).

Pelicans Select Zion Williamson With Top Pick

Zion Williamson‘s ascension as the top prospect in the draft became official when the Pelicans selected him with the No. 1 pick on Thursday night.

Williamson has been regarded as the best player in the draft since early in his lone college season at Duke. He’s the most highly touted prospect to enter the league in several years and with good reason. Williamson often looking like a man against boys with the Blue Devils, averaging 22.6 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 2.1 APG, 2.1 SPG and 1.8 BPG in 30.0 MPG over 33 games.

He had a minor setback late in the season when his shoe infamously came apart against arch-rival North Carolina on February 20. He suffered a knee injury but returned to action in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament.

With the impending trade of franchise player Anthony Davis to the Lakers, Williamson will immediately become the face of the New Orleans franchise. He’ll join a mostly young core that includes Jrue Holiday and three players in the agreed-upon deal with the Lakers, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram.

Under the rookie scale wage, Williamson can earn a max of $9,744,840 in his first year, according to RealGM. The base salary for the top pick is $8.12MM but players can receive up to 120% of the scale salary.

Williamson is the first Blue Devil selected with the top pick since Kyrie Irving in 2011. Prior to that, a Duke player hadn’t been taken with the No. 1 pick since Elton Brand in 1999.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Brett Brown Will Remain Sixers’ Head Coach

Brett Brown will return as the Sixers’ head coach next season, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski tweets. Philadelphia’s managing partner Josh Harris informed Wojnarowski of the decision.

Harris, Brown and GM Elton Brand met on Monday to discuss offseason priorities, including the draft and free agency, Wojnarowski adds.

Brown, 58, has been the head coach in Philadelphia since the 2013/14 season. He guided the Sixers to 52 and 51 regular-season wins during the past two seasons, but the team has been eliminated in the conference semifinals both years. Philadephia took Toronto to the limit but fell in Game 7 Sunday on Kawhi Leonard‘s last-second field goal.

Prior to the series finale, a report indicated that Brown would likely lose his job unless the Sixers reached the NBA Finals.

If the Sixers had parted ways with Brown they would have paid him not to coach. He was handed a three-year extension last May by former president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo.

Several Philadelphia’s players, including J.J. RedickJimmy Butler and Joel Embiid, expressed support for Brown after the heart-wrenching loss on Sunday and that may have helped his cause.

However, the Sixers’ roster could look much different next season with three starters — Butler, Redick and Tobias Harris — becoming free agents.