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Ben Simmons calls Sixers “soft” after ugly home loss to Hawks

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Joel Embiid was out (sore ankle) and the Atlanta Hawks feasted in the paint Friday night.

The Hawks scored 62 points in the paint, 10 more than their season average, outrebounded the 76ers 44-30, and when Atlanta needed a game winner they could post up John Collins without fear and he knocked down the shot. Philadelphia could have sent the game to overtime, they had two tries at a tip-in off a missed free throw as time expired, but both bounced off the rim.

After the game, Ben Simmons called his team out, via Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I think we were just too soft,” Simmons said. “I think defensively, we are not taking it personal enough when guys score on us. It should be a pride thing. When someone scores on you, you should be frustrated every time. I think that comes with age. We have a lot of young guys, but at the same time, we have to expect more from each other to get that and to get to the next level so then once playoff time comes, it’s another level.”

Jimmy Butler wouldn’t go so far as to use the word soft — he whistled when told what Simmons said — and he said that this team had time to fix its fit issues before the playoffs start.

“Ain’t nobody pointing fingers at anybody,” Butler said. “We got plenty of games left, we just got to fix it. I think we’re going to be fine. All I know is, everybody’s in there. We’re in it together, we’re not going separate ways. Stay as a whole, win and lose as a team.”

Philadelphia made a bold — and smart — move to trade for Butler, but having three stars alone is not enough. The Sixers need to have the right role players and some depth around that core, and right now the team is lacking in that. For example, they need a backup big who can get boards and do the dirty work when Embiid is out. They also need shooting on the wings. Sources around the league say Philly general manager Elton Brand is active on the trade market trying to add depth before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.

The other thing the Sixers need is for some sacrifice among their stars to make this all fit. Jimmy Butler wants to be the ball handler in more pick-and-rolls, Joel Embiid doesn’t like being on the perimeter as much as he is now, but who is willing to make the sacrifices. Look at recent champions and you see sacrifice — Chris Bosh in Miami, Kevin Love in Cleveland, San Antonio is all about sacrifice, and in Golden State everyone gives, Klay Thompson most of all. Who is going to give in Philly?

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.