Elton Brand

Atlantic Notes: Leonard, Smart, Embiid

Kawhi Leonard played in only 60 games this season due to a team maintaince plan designed to preserve his health. He’s happy with how the Raptors have managed him in what could be his only season in Toronto.

“We did a great job just attacking the [injury] problem in the beginning during training camp,” Leonard said, as Ryan Wolstat of Toronto Sun tweets.“Laying out the schedule. I feel good. I wasn’t as healthy as I wanted to be this year, but, I couldn’t say I would have this type of season in the beginning of the year the way things started, the way I felt.

“I’m happy. We’re second place. We’ve got an opportunity to get where we want to get to.”

Here’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • Marcus Smart has suffered a torn left oblique and could miss the first two rounds of the playoffs, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com reports. The Celtics host the Pacers in the Eastern Conference’s 4-5 matchup.
  • Sixers GM Elton Brand said he’s “optimistic” that Joel Embiid will be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs, as NBC Sports’ Serena Winters relays (Twitter link). Including Philadelphia’s finale vs. the Bulls, Embiid has missed five of the team’s last seven games as a result of knee soreness and the staff’s management plan and it’s possible that the big man could sit in the
  • Jonathan Gibson‘s deal with the Celtics is only for the remainder of the season, per Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link). Gibson signed with Boston on Tuesday and didn’t see action in the team’s final game of the year.

Atlantic Notes: Kawhi, Harris, Dolan, Stevens

Many of the players on the current Raptors roster weren’t a part of the team during its repeated playoff failures in recent years and won’t have that weight on their shoulders this spring. Plus, the fact that LeBron James is no longer in the Eastern Conference bodes well for a deeper postseason run for Toronto in 2019.

Still, as Sporting News’ Sean Deveney outlines, the Raptors will face a different sort of pressure this year, since their success in the playoffs figures to go a long way toward determining whether Kawhi Leonard sticks with the franchise beyond this season.

“I think the Lakers are out, but the Clippers are the ones who think they have a shot at him if they decide to go that route,” one front office executive told Deveney when asked to handicap Kawhi’s future. “You hear a lot, he still wants to be on the West Coast. But give that group in Toronto all the credit in the world. They’re making it a tough decision for him. It might come down to just, ‘All right, how did the playoffs go, and how far are we from a championship?'”

In an effort to make Leonard more comfortable in Toronto this season, the Raptors have carefully managed his workload, holding him out of the lineup once every week or two to make sure he’ll be at 100% by the time the postseason rolls around. So far, it’s working — the Raptors hold the No. 2 seed in the East, Leonard is fully healthy after missing all but nine games a year ago, and the star forward sounds pleased with how the plan has played out.

“We’ve been doing a great job of making sure that nothing flares up or gets out of control,” Leonard said this week, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca (Twitter link). “It’s just been great. I’m just happy that I’m able to play… It’s amazing. I feel good and we have something to look forward to.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Within his look at several contenders for the 2019 NBA championship, Sam Amick of The Athletic writes that a source close to Tobias Harris has “raved” about Sixers general manager Elton Brand. While that doesn’t guarantee that Harris will re-sign with Philadelphia in free agency, it’s certainly a positive sign, Amick notes.
  • During a Tuesday radio appearance, Knicks owner James Dolan strongly hinted that the club has heard from certain players and/or agents, and suggested that he believes the Knicks will have a “very successful offseason when it comes to free agents.” While those comments raised some eyebrows, a lawyer familiar with the NBA’s tampering policy tells Marc Berman of The New York Post that Dolan worded them carefully enough to avoid running afoul of the league’s policy. “If an agent walks up to [president] Steve Mills and says, ‘Clear cap space, player X wants to come,’ and Steve doesn’t engage, then it’s not tampering,” the lawyer said. “It appeared Dolan was pretty careful to make it seem like that was the deal.”
  • Count former Celtics head coach Doc Rivers among those who isn’t ready to place the blame on Brad Stevens for Boston’s struggles this season. In fact, Rivers still has full confidence in the C’s despite their up-and-down year. “They’re going to be fine,” the Clippers’ coach said, per Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald. “They are as good as anybody in the East and as talented as anybody in the NBA. And when the playoffs start, I think everybody will see that.”

Lakers Notes: Simmons, Hart, Ball, Zubac

The Lakers released a statement stating that the Sixers had sought their permission for floor leader Ben Simmons to speak with team president Magic Johnson, Dave McMenamin of ESPN tweets. Philadelphia emailed the Lakers in November, according to the statement, asking if Simmons could speak with Johnson about his Hall of Fame career. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka subsequently told Sixers GM Elton Brand that Johnson could only do that with Philadelphia’s written pre-approval. That was the end of the matter, the release adds. The league has launched an investigation to determine if any communication between the parties violated league rules.

We have more on the Lakers:

  • Guard Josh Hart received a PRP injection to treat tendinitis in his right knee, according to a team press release. Hart will be re-evaluated after the All-Star break, the release adds. Hart didn’t play in blowout losses against Indiana and Philadelphia and only lasted eight scoreless minutes against Boston.
  • Lonzo Ball isn’t considered a defensive specialist but the Lakers have missed him at that end of the court, Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times notes. The Lakers’ defensive rating is the third-worst in the league in the nine games since Ball was sidelined by a severe ankle sprain. “He allows us to switch a lot,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “If they want to run any pick and roll minus the center, the 1-5 pick and roll, we can just switch it. And we feel confident Lonzo can guard most of the other players there. We have Lonzo picking up full-court the other team’s points guard. He’s great at instincts, getting deflections.”
  • Trading young center Ivica Zubac to the Clippers to ‘rent’ power forward Mike Muscala doesn’t make much sense, Eric Pincus of Bleacher Report argues. Zubac could have been an inexpensive, long-term contributor for the Lakers, Pincus continues. He would have been a restricted free agent with a modest cap hold of $1.9 million. Muscala’s cap hold is $9.5MM and he might not be any more productive than Zubac would have been the rest of this season.
  • LeBron James claims the reason he drafted Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and Anthony Davis for his All-Star team had nothing to do with recruiting, according to another Ganguli story. “That’s all part of the speculation that continues to drive our sport,” he said. “It’s all good and well and dandy, but for me I picked according to my draft board and I picked according to who was the best available.”

Atlantic Notes: B. Simmons, Lakers, Gasol, Knicks

Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson told reporters over the weekend that Ben Simmons had reached out to the team asking if he could get together with Johnson during the offseason to talk to him about playing in the NBA as a point guard with size. While Johnson suggested he’d be on board if the Sixers, the Lakers, and the NBA all signed off, it sounds like it won’t happen.

Appearing on 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia (Twitter link), Sixers GM Elton Brand said today that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka contacted him to ask for authorization and Brand said no “over a month ago.” Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times (Twitter link) hears a different account, citing a source who says that the 76ers initiated the discussion about Simmons wanting to meet with Johnson, with Pelinka calling Brand back to say the Lakers weren’t comfortable with it.

While it’s not clear which team shot down the idea first, neither side appears to be on board, so presumably Simmons and Johnson won’t meet this summer. The fact that the young 76er is represented by Rich Paul is sure to generate some speculation, but Ganguli tweets that Simmons’ desire to talk to Johnson was simply due to their on-court similarities, and he intends to be a Sixer for a long time.

Ganguli’s report won’t necessarily satisfy the NBA though. According to league spokesperson Mike Bass, the NBA is looking into whether there was any communication between Simmons and the Lakers that violated league rules (Twitter link via Ganguli).

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Marc Gasol waived the 15% trade kicker on his contract to help finalize the trade sending him to Toronto last week, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks on The Lowe Post podcast. While the trade bonus would only have been worth about $1.29MM, Gasol’s decision could save the Raptors about $3.2MM in projected tax penalties, as Blake Murphy of The Athletic notes (via Twitter).
  • Speaking of Gasol, the Raptors are still experimenting with a fluid frontcourt rotation as they figure out how to best use Gasol, Serge Ibaka, and Pascal Siakam, head coach Nick Nurse said today (Twitter link via Josh Lewenberg of TSN.ca).
  • Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic takes a wide-ranging look at what the summer could bring for the Knicks and their two maximum-salary contract slots, from the “utopia” outcome to the “doomsday” scenario.

Atlantic Notes: Brand, Nets, Atkinson, Irving

After years and years of asset collection and patience being the primary focus of the Sixers‘ plans, Elton Brand has dramatically changed the team’s course of action in a few months. First it was trading for Jimmy Butler. Then this past week, Brand took it to another level by trading several future assets for Tobias Harris, effectively creating a “big four” in Philadelphia.

These moves were made because Brand’s mindset is that the Sixers are in a position to contend for a championship right now. As Brian Seltzer writes for the 76ers’ team website, Brand is acting with a sense of urgency and focus on building a true championship team this season.

Should the 76ers re-sign both Harris and Butler, the team would instantly become one of the more expensive in the league, but Brand should be satisfied with the group of talent he has assembled for the foreseeable future.

There’s more from the Atlantic division:

Sixers Notes: Harris, Brand, Fultz

The Sixers added another star at the trade deadline in Tobias Harris and the 26-year-old is thrilled to be in Philadelphia.

“It was awesome,” Harris said of playing alongside new teammates (via ESPN’s Tim Bontempts).“In all seriousness, you couldn’t ask for anything more. Me personally, I’m just sitting here like, ‘Wow.’ … It was fun.”

The Sixers sacrificed depth over the past few months in order to put together a lineup of Harris, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, and Joel Embiid. The lineup showed its potential in Friday night’s win over the Nuggets where it went on a 14-7 over the last four minutes to close out the game.

“It was funny … after the game, somebody texted me and sent me a video of me smiling after a play,” Harris said. “They wrote, ‘This is literally the first time I’ve ever seen you actually smile in a game.’ And I was like, ‘You ain’t lying.”

“It was cool to see that and just have fun out there. I really had a lot of fun tonight.”

Here’s more from Philadelphia:

  • GM Elton Brand said he’s received “all assurances” from the Sixers’ ownership that the team can re-sign both Harris and Butler, Bontemps tweets.“We’re all on board to keep this core together long-term,” Brand said.
  • By trading for Butler and Harris, the Sixers were no longer in position to be patient with Markelle Fultz, Bontemps explains in a separate piece. The team is built to win now and that, coupled with Fultz’s salary, which will come in at nearly $9.75MM next season, made it time to move on.
  • Brand reiterated that the Sixers are focused on the present, Bontemps passes along in another piece. The GM said the team had been targeting Harris “if he became available” and the team had “coveted” him for a while. “We know he fits great into our system and he’ll do well,” Brand said of Harris. “[Simmons and Embiid] rapidly improved over the last season, so the window is now. The opportunity is now. So, once I saw that, we discussed taking a shot at it now, because who knows how long that window is going to be open?”
  • Prior to Friday’s night win, Harris said he’s hopeful his time with Sixers can be a “long-term partnership,” per an Associated Press report (via NBC Sports). Boban Marjanovic, who was also acquired in the Harris deal, explained how the 76ers’ gumption inspired him and Harris.“We understand the team invested a lot in us,” the center said. “It was a big move. It was a win-now move. That means a lot. This is already a winning culture and we look to bring our games to it and help as best we can.”

Atlantic Notes: Celtics, D. Green, Raptors, Brand

The Celtics have had more ups and downs this season than their primary Eastern Conference competitors, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge reiterated over the weekend that he’s not feeling any pressure to shake up his roster by making trades in the next three weeks, as Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe relays.

“It just depends,” Ainge said on Saturday. “I don’t feel a need to have to do something. I like every guy on our team. I like our roster. There will be [trade] conversations, obviously. Every year it happens with every team. But we’ll only do something that makes sense.”

A more pressing issue in Boston may be making sure that all the Celtics’ current players are on the same page, after a series of incidents that included a Jaylen Brown/Marcus Morris on-court confrontation, Kyrie Irving expressing frustration with an end-of-game play call and with his young teammates, and Brown publicly firing back at Irving. However, making his weekly appearance on Toucher & Rich today, Ainge said he doesn’t view any of those incidents as worrisome.

“To me, these aren’t stories,” Ainge said, per Darren Hartwell of NBC Sports Boston. “They’re not a big deal. I mean, yes, Kyrie could have done better. Yes, Jaylen could have done better. But these are people. These are kids. These are guys playing with emotion in a glass house. They’re real people with real emotions; they’re not perfect and I don’t ever expect them to be.

“We live in a real sensitive society now,” Ainge added. “And all these things that we’re talking about: ‘Oh, you mean a veteran player called out the young guys? Oh wait, a young guy stood up for himself?’ I mean, where is the drama? I don’t understand it. Quit being sensitive. That’s the story. That’s my story.”

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • Danny Green‘s free agency decision won’t alter the direction of the Raptors in the same way that Kawhi Leonard‘s will, but Green has been a crucial piece in Toronto this season and is also on an expiring contract. As James Herbert of CBSSports.com writes, Green is enjoying his time with the Raptors and wouldn’t mind staying with the club beyond this season — alongside Leonard. “I hope he sticks around as long as I’m here,” Green said of Kawhi. “And I hope to stick around.”
  • Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri is doing some in-person scouting in Lithuania, according to Donatas Urbonas, who tweets that Ujiri watched top prospect Deividas Sirvydis this week (hat tip to Sportando). ESPN’s Jonathan Givony had the Lithuanian forward ranked at No. 31 in his most recent mock draft.
  • In an in-depth profile on new Sixers general manager Elton Brand, Michael Lee of The Athletic looks at Brand’s path from No. 1 pick to an NBA front office, and his first big swing after landing the job — the acquisition of Jimmy Butler.

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: 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.)

Atlantic Notes: Leonard, Smith, Williams, Brand

Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard showed flashes of brilliance in his debut with the team on Saturday, finishing with 12 points, three assists and one steal in 19 minutes of action.

“I think everybody saw Kawhi, he was shaking off some rust, right?” coach Nick Nurse asked postgame, according to Doug Smith of The Toronto Star. “But you can obviously see the level that he has and I think he looks like we’re all running around really fast and he gets it and everything goes into slow motion. It’s kind of a gift for guys that are as good as him and it’s neat to watch, too.”

Leonard was traded to the Raptors in July after a tumultuous end to his stint with the Spurs. He missed most of last season due to injury, with Saturday’s preseason game marking his first contest since January.

“I think it’s just going to take on-court minutes, getting the experience together, going out there and playing and getting a feel for the overall team, the overall game that he likes to play,” Kyle Lowry said of Leonard. “And the pace. We played at a really good pace tonight. It was a fun game, just good to get out there and compete against another team.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division: