Coach Brett Brown denies report Sixers unhappy with Joel Embiid

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This is about as surprising as the ending of the movie “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown came out Friday and denied a Sports Illustrated report that the Sixers organization was frustrated with Joel Embiid‘s dedication to rehab. CSNPhilly.com’s John Finger has his quotes.

“In general, what everybody has written has been factual, previously. There were portions that were factual that had been well documented early on,” Brown said before Friday night’s preseason game against the Washington Wizards at the Wells Fargo Center. “When you read about portions that have been reported, there are portions that are wildly inaccurate.”

Specifically, Brown had issue with the idea that he and GM Sam Hinkie had direct orders from owner Joshua Harris to keep Embiid from going to Las Vegas to watch Summer League this summer.

“I don’t know what that means or why it was said and it’s one of those things that we move on from,” Brown said. “We’re treating it as noise and we’re going to move on from it.”

Noise is NBA coach speak for anything they see as a distraction. Such as this story.

“It’s just wildly unfair some of the accusations as it relates to now. This story is old. The media in front of me did a helluva job of reporting accurately what has been going on,” Brown said. “So to wake up and have these things be revisited, I think it’s unfortunate and sad particularly because of the timing.”

Three thoughts.

First, what did you expect Brown to say? Regardless of the level of reality in the story, this was going to be the reaction of the Sixers staff — even a guy seen as a straight shooter such as Brown — because he has to protect his star. That’s the reality of today’s NBA.

Second, while I know and fully trust the reporter who published this story, anybody who speaks off the record in these kinds of situations is trying to spin things. No doubt there are people frustrated with Embiid and his recovery effort, but that doesn’t mean everyone — or even the people in decision-making positions — with the Sixers are.

Finally, if those people are not somewhat frustrated with Embiid, they should be. Questions about his dedication to the rehab process and conditioning are far from new, and if he is not wearing his boot or is pushing back on the Sixers medical staff, those are not good long-term signs.

Also, you should believe that there are people around and in the Sixers growing frustrated with the slow rebuild process. Not the decision makers. Yet. But the rumblings are out there.

As with all things NBA, if Embiid someday gets back on the court and performs like the franchise cornerstone player he was projected to be, this will all be forgotten. If not, well, this story and others like it will have legs.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”