Joel Embiid

Atlantic Notes: Embiid, Musa, Kerr, Knicks

Joel Embiid‘s numbers are down in the major categories and the Sixers center feels that must change in order for the team to get rolling, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes. Embiid, who has missed four games during the Sixers’ 8-5 start, is averaging 22.9 PPG, 11.4 RPG and 1.4 BPG. He averaged 27.5 PPG, 13.6 RPG and 1.9 BPG last season.“I need to do more,” Embiid said. “I felt like I haven’t done enough. So that’s what I think I need to do.”

We have more from around the Atlantic Division:

  • The role of Nets second-year shooting guard Dzanan Musa has expanded with Caris LeVert sidelined by a thumb injury, Brian Lewis of the New York Post relays. Musa has averaged 9.0 PPG in 21.0 MPG over the last four games. “We need his scoring on that second unit now, with no Caris,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “You can’t just have Spencer (Dinwiddie) out there taking every possession.” We’re going to need Musa to play well.”
  • Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes the FIBA World Cup helped the Celtics get off to a fast start, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe writes. Marcus Smart, Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all played for Team USA. “You could tell [Team USA] was a head start for them,” Kerr said. “You could tell over the summer that those guys would click, and they absolutely have.”
  • Small, quick guards have lit up the Knicks lately, Howie Kussoy of the New York Post notes. Charlotte’s Devonte’ Graham, Chicago’s Coby White and Cleveland’s Collin Sexton have all enjoyed big games against them, forcing head coach David Fizdale to consider going smaller in his backcourt. “The battle that we are fighting is the speed guard who can shoot, those little guards that can get anywhere on the floor that can shoot the ball from the moon,” Fizdale said. “Those guys have been giving us headaches.”

Atlantic Notes: Claxton, Porzingis, Ennis, Sixers

Spencer Dinwiddie, speaking after the debut of Nets rookie center Nicolas Claxton on Friday night in a 119-115 victory against Portland, called the 20 year-old the team’s second-most talented player. Claxton, drafted 31st by Brooklyn this summer, scored eight points on three-of-five shooting from the field and pulled down six boards in just 12 minutes of action.

“So, I still believe [starting center Jarrett Allen] is going to be an All-Star, but Nic is the second-most talented player on this team,” Dinwiddie said, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “[First] is [Kevin Durant], either the first or second most talented scorer of all-time. But Nic’s got game. He’s got a chance [to be great].”

Those comments reflect just how high Dinwiddie is on the rookie, considering he apparently has him ahead of Kyrie Irving on his informal list of Brooklyn’s most talented players. Irving, the Nets’ only healthy current All-Star, is averaging 31.9 points, 7.5 assists, and 5.8 rebounds per game for the 4-4 squad.

Meanwhile, Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson lauded Claxton’s defensive awareness: “Just understanding the coverages,” Atkinson noted. “I think one time in the first half we were switching everything and he handled that fantastically. That was part of the reason we drafted him, that he was versatile and could guard five positions, so he proved that.”

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • As Kristaps Porzingis prepared to suit up last week against the team that drafted him in 2015, The Athletic’s Frank Isola explored the Knicks front office’s alienation of the team’s former franchise player. Trouble began to brew when Porzingis blew off an April 2017 season exit interview with then-team president Phil Jackson and then-GM (now team president) Steve Mills. When pressed about the messy breakup Thursday, Porzingis said, “I’ll probably get in more trouble if I start talking about that stuff.” Isola observes that the Knicks’ returns in the deal have yet to bear much fruit: center DeAndre Jordan joined Brooklyn over the summer, point guard Dennis Smith Jr. was booed in the team’s first home game, and the Knicks have yet to use their two Dallas future first-rounders acquired in the deal.
  • It’s been a season of streaks for the Sixers. After starting out 5-0, the 76ers have lost three straight games on a Western Conference road trip, falling to the fifth seed in the East. Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer posits that the Sixers’ current troubles can be credited to their summer roster overhaul, and that they have too many new faces for continuity at present. New power forward Al Horford and long-term starting center Joel Embiid are still developing their on-court chemistry. When questioned about the team’s recent struggles, Horford observed, “What’s going to help us is the more games we continue to play, the more we get used to playing with one another, everything is going to come together.”
  • Veteran point guard Tyler Ennis made his triumphant return to a basketball game for the Raptors‘ G League affiliate, Raptors 905, 13 months after suffering a gruesome leg injury for Turkish team Fenerbahce. Doug Smith of The Toronto Star has the story and the details on Ennis, who feels that the time off had some unexpected developmental benefits. “I had six, seven, eight months of nothing, so I was able to think, ‘When I get back this is what I want to work on,’ ” Ennis said. “I want to be able to shoot better off the dribble and that’s how we kind of did it, in stages.” Though Smith observes that the parent Raptors could use a third point guard and liked Ennis as far back as the 2014 draft, Ennis is nursing a zen calm about the prospect of a callup: “I kind of just want to let it manifest.”  

NBA Super-Max Candidates To Watch In 2019/20

The Designated Veteran Extension, as we explain our glossary entry on the subject, is a relatively new addition to the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. It allows players with 7-9 years of experience, who would normally qualify for a maximum starting salary of 30% of the cap, to qualify for a “super-max” contract that starts at 35% of the cap, a level normally reserved players with 10+ years of experience.

A player who has seven or eight years of NBA service with one or two years left on his contract becomes eligible for a Designated Veteran Extension if he meets the required performance criteria and hasn’t been traded since his first four years in the league. A Designated Veteran contract can also be signed by a player who is technically a free agent if he has eight or nine years of service and meets the required criteria.

The performance criteria is as follows (only one of the following must be true):

  • The player was named to an All-NBA team and/or was named the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in the most recent season, or in two of the last three seasons.
  • The player was named the NBA MVP in any of the three most recent seasons.

With those criteria in mind, it’s worth keeping an eye on the players who could qualify for a super-max veteran contract with their play this season. Let’s dive in and examine a few of those guys…

Players who already qualify for a super-max contract:

Antetokounmpo met the performance criteria for the super-max when he won last season’s MVP award. Gobert did so by winning the Defensive Player of the Year award in 2018 and then being named to the All-NBA team in 2019 — his second consecutive DPOY award in ’19 merely put an emphatic stamp on his eligibility.

However, neither Antetokounmpo nor Gobert can actually sign a Designated Veteran Extension yet, since they must have seven years of NBA experience under their belts.

Each player is in his seventh season now, but years of experience aren’t officially added until the very end of the league year. In other words, the Bucks and Jazz stars will have to wait until next July to officially sign super-max extensions.

We know the Bucks will put that offer on the table for Giannis, but we’re not sure yet whether he’ll sign it. It also remains to be seen if the Jazz will make the same offer to Gobert. Based on the NBA’s latest cap projection for 2021/22 ($125MM), each player would be eligible for $253.75MM over five years.

Players who could qualify for a super-max contract by meeting the criteria in 2019/20:

Technically, any player who earns an All-NBA spot in 2019/20 and meets the contract criteria can qualify for a super-max, but the two players listed above are probably the only legitimately viable candidates. Thunder center Steven Adams, for instance, would become eligible for a super-max extension by earning an All-NBA spot, but that’s probably not happening.

Even Drummond might be a long shot, but if he can maintain the numbers he has posted in his first nine games (21.9 PPG, 18.6 RPG, 2.2 BPG), he’ll be in the conversation. So far, he’s outplaying last year’s All-NBA First Team center Nikola Jokic, who is off to a slow start.

Embiid, last season’s All-NBA Second Team center, looks like a safer All-NBA bet as long he stays healthy. He earned his spot in 2018/19 despite playing just 64 games, so if he can match or exceed that number this season with similar production, look for him to become super-max eligible.

Drummond is in his eighth NBA season, while Embiid is only in his sixth. So if Drummond were to earn All-NBA honors this season, he’d become eligible to immediately sign a super-max contract. Declining his player option and signing a five-year Designated Veteran contract would put Drummond in line for a deal worth $235.48MM based on the league’s latest cap projection for 2020/21 ($116MM). Though of course, there’s no guarantee the Pistons would be willing to go quite that high.

As for Embiid, if he makes an All-NBA team this season, he’ll be in a similar situation to the one Giannis and Gobert are in now — super-max eligible based on his performance criteria, but not yet on his contract criteria. He’d have to wait until the 2021 offseason to sign that extension. I expect the Sixers will be ready to do a super-max deal if he keeps playing at this level and doesn’t suffer any more major injuries.

It’s also worth mentioning Jokic and Karl-Anthony Towns in this group. They’ll only have five years of NBA experience apiece after this season, so they wouldn’t be able to sign super-max extensions until the 2022 offseason. Technically though, one of them could meet the required performance criteria as early as this spring by winning the MVP award.

Players who can no longer qualify for a super-max contract:

There are many other players who could be added to this list, but these are the three who would otherwise be strong candidates to qualify the super-max if they hadn’t already become ineligible based on one of the required criteria.

In Beal’s case, he opted to sign a standard veteran extension this fall rather than wait to see if he’d make an All-NBA team this season and become eligible for the super-max. By the time he’ll be able to opt out of his new deal in the summer of 2022, he’ll have 10 years of experience under his belt, meaning he’ll automatically qualify for the 35% max.

Davis and Oladipo, meanwhile, were traded while playing out their rookie scale contract extensions, making them ineligible for a super-max. Davis would have been able to sign such a deal this past offseason if he had remained with the Pelicans.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Northwest Notes: Ingles, Towns, Nuggets, Jones, Conley

Jazz forward Joe Ingles has sought advice from San Antonio’s Patty Miles and New Orleans’ J.J. Redick as he adjusts to a sixth-man role, Aaron Falk of the team’s website reports. “It’s been a few years since I’ve come off the bench,” Ingles said. “I’m just figuring out different ways, what they do, their routines. If there’s anything I can steal or use to help our team win games, I’m going to do it.” Ingles is off to a slow start in his new role, averaging 7.6 PPG and 3.4 APG with a .400 FG%.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns has no regrets about his scrap with Joel Embiid that resulted in a two-game suspension, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic tweets“Listen I’m going to defend myself. I ain’t going to take nothing,” he said. “That’s a very … talented player. I just had to defend myself in that situation.”
  • The Nuggets are getting an average of 36.7 points from their bench, putting them in the middle of the pack in the league, but forward Will Barton says they’re way better than that, Kyle Fredrickson of the Denver Post relays. “We’ve got the best bench in the league when we’re clicking on all cylinders,” Barton said.
  • Tyus Jones was grateful he had the chance to play for his hometown team, Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune relays. Jones grew up in Minnesota and played four seasons for the Timberwolves. He signed a three-year offer sheet with the Grizzlies this offseason and Minnesota declined to match it. “Last year it was like, ‘Man, I might not get this chance again to play for my hometown team.’ … It was just a cool experience, something I’m grateful for because not everyone gets to do something like that. It’s pretty unique and pretty cool,” the point guard said.
  • Mike Conley is going through a bigger adjustment than anticipated, as the Jazz guard told Sam Amick of The Athletic. “It’s kind of a little bit out of my routine because I’ve had to watch more film on us than I can on the other teams because I’m still learning. … I’ve got a big guy now (in Rudy Gobert) who can go get it. I can throw pocket passes, but it’s a little different. We’ve got lob threats and shooters around. You’re just trying to figure out where guys like to come off screens, and which hand, and then just remembering the terminology,” he said. Conley, who was traded by the Grizzlies over the summer, is making a combined $67MM this season and next season.

Jimmy Butler: “Nobody Really Knows What Went On In Philly”

Jimmy Butler‘s departure from the Sixers wasn’t simply a desire to play in Miami. He had some issues in Philadelphia which convinced him not to sign long-term with the organization, as he told Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Butler made it known in the days leading up to free agency that he would leave Philadelphia, Haynes continues.

“Nobody knows what really went on in Philly and we’re going to leave it that way,” Butler said. “But it was a great opportunity for me.”

Butler chose the Heat on the first day of free agency and secured a four-year, $141MM contract when the Sixers agreed to a sign-and-trade that involved multiple teams.

Butler said his problems with the Sixers organization had nothing to doing with center Joel Embiid. Butler refused to elaborate what exactly led to his decision.

“All of that will come out whenever it’s time,” he said. “Right now is not the time. I’m locked in with this. I’m happy, man. … I’m not saying Philly wasn’t great, man. We had some really good players. I talk to Joel (daily). It’s a brotherhood, man. I love that guy. I’m going to always have his back and I know he’ll always have mine.”

Butler noted that he wanted to be traded to Miami when he had a falling out with the Timberwolves. He also expressed disdain for critics who believe that he’s not an franchise player.

“(They) act like I’m not a good basketball player,” Butler said. “Like for real. Just think about that. Like I can’t come in and make a huge difference. I’m not going to say ‘carry a team’ because nobody can do it by themselves and I mean that. I’m not putting it all on myself, but I know what I’m capable of.”

In his first three games with the Heat, Butler has averaged 14.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 7.3 APG and 4.3 SPG. His debut was delayed due to the birth of his daughter.

And-Ones: Timberwolves, Durant, Buycks, Draft

The Timberwolves are fuming over how the NBA handled the discipline for Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns, which stems from a mid-game scuffle between the two superstars last week, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Minnesota has expressed disapproval of the league’s decision to suspend both Embiid and Towns two games for multiple reasons, as noted by Krawczynski.

Firstly, team officials believe Embiid was the instigator of the scuffle, leading to Towns’ involvement. The franchise also touched on Embiid’s decision to leave the game with a bang upon his ejection, shadow-boxing and firing up the Philadelphia crowd while Towns exited the floor quietly.

And the last issue, one discussed heavily by fans across the league, relates to the league’s decision not to penalize Ben Simmons for his involvement in the altercation. Simmons was seen with his arms wrapped around the neck of Towns, causing many to believe he was attempting a rear-naked choke. The league ultimately viewed Simmons as a peacemaker.

“While we are disappointed in the league’s decision, we understand the magnitude of this unfortunate incident,” Wolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said, according to Krawczynski. “The NBA is highly competitive and last night was a reflection of that. We support Karl and will move forward together as a group.”

Here are some other odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • The shaky starts from both the Nets and Warriors show Kevin Durant‘s tremendous on-court value even more, as detailed by Frank Isola of The Athletic. Golden State lost Durant in free agency this summer, with the 10-time All-Star choosing to take his talents to Brooklyn on a multi-year deal. Durant is expected to miss the rest of the 2019/20 season as he rehabs from a torn Achilles’ tendon, with the Nets currently struggling at 2-4.
  • Free agent guard Dwight Buycks has agreed to a new deal with the Shenzhen Leopards in China, according to Emiliano Carchia of Sportando. Buycks averaged 20.5 points with the team last season.
  • Jonathon Givony and Mike Schmitz of ESPN.com discuss the early contenders for the 2020 NBA Draft, including which prospects have the best chances of being selected in the lottery. ESPN revealed its early mock draft for the event last week, with 7-foot-1 center James Wiseman currently projected as the No. 1 overall pick.

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.”

NBA Suspends Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns Two Games Each

The punishment for the scuffle between Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid has been handed down by the league. Each player will miss the next two games, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).

The two big men wrestled one another to the ground on Wednesday and were each ejected from the contest. The jabs didn’t stop there, as the star big men exchanged insults via social media later that night. Charania adds that the duo’s suspension was for their on-court altercation and “their continued escalation following the incident.”

Ben Simmons, who held Towns down on the ground as other players pulled Embiid away, will not be suspended for the incident, despite the Wolves pushing back against the notion that he acted as a peacemaker.

Embiid will lose roughly $379K as a result of the conflict while Towns will lose roughly $376K, according to ESPN’s Bobby Marks (Twitter link). The 76ers will play Portland and Phoenix over their next two games while Minnesota faces Washington and Milwaukee.

Wolves Dispute Simmons As ‘Peacemaker’ In Brawl

While Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns were the instigators of Wednesday’s brawl between the Sixers and Timberwolves, they weren’t the only players who jumped in the fray. Ben Simmons was among the players who ended up on the ground with Towns during the fracas, with referees ruling that Simmons was acting as a “peacemaker.” According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Wolves are pushing back on that ruling.

As Wojnarowski details, the Timberwolves are arguing that Simmons had Towns in a “dangerous choke hold” as he pinned him to the floor. Minnesota’s front office was in touch with NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe, sources tell Wojnarowski, and presumably the Wolves would like to see Simmons receive some sort of discipline as a result of the altercation.

According to Michael Lee of The Athletic (Twitter link), people on the Wolves’ side may have been even more upset with Simmons’ actions than Embiid’s, and questioned why he was allowed to stay in the game.

For their part, the Sixers were “adamant” in supporting the referees’ conclusion that Simmons was a peacemaker, per Woj. The 76ers have also been in contact with VanDeWeghe and the league office, telling the NBA that they believe Towns was the aggressor in the fight.

The NBA will review the tape and interview participants and witnesses beginning today as it determines the appropriate punishment for those involved in the brawl, says Wojnarowski. Neither team plays until Saturday, so the league has some time to mull its decisions.

As we detailed in our earlier story on the incident, Embiid and Towns brought the fight to social media after the game, though it’s not clear whether the league will take those tweets and Instagram posts into account when considering discipline.

Joel Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns Involved In Brawl

OCTOBER 31, 7:56am: Embiid and Towns took to social media overnight to essentially pick up where they left off, trading increasingly nasty barbs on Instagram and Twitter.

As we wait to see how the NBA will respond to Wednesday’s fight, Marks notes (via Twitter) that a suspension will cost Embiid nearly $190K per game and Towns about $188K per game.

OCTOBER 30, 9:57pm: All-Star big men Joel Embiid and Karl-Anthony Towns were involved in an on-court brawl during the third quarter of the Sixers‘ win over the Timberwolves‘ on Wednesday night, resulting in both players being ejected for fighting.

It’s possible that one or both combatants threw a punch, and photographs make it appear as if Embiid attempted to gouge/poke Towns’ left eye with his right thumb, although his hand may have landed on Towns’ face accidentally.

This is not the first time bad blood has surfaced between Embiid and Towns. After a game in December 2017, Embiid went to Instagram to post a photograph of himself scoring on Towns. Towns criticized the caption and picture quality, to which Embiid responded, “Better quality than your defense.”

Bobby Marks of ESPN notes that the severity of the brawl will likely warrant multi-game suspensions for both players. Marks adds that both teams don’t play again until Saturday, so the league will have plenty of time to assess whether any players left the bench area, which could lead to additional suspensions (Twitter link). Stay tuned.