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Shake Milton Philadelphia
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Philadelphia’s Shake Milton: “I don’t really think we should be playing”

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There are a lot of players with doubts about the NBA’s restart bubble. They’re going, in part because they understand the financial implications of not going, but there is far from universal enthusiasm for the NBA’s plan.

Put Philadelphia’s Shake Milton in that concerned group.

The Sixers’ two guard, expected to play a significant role in his team’s chances at the restart, expressed real concerns about the bubble in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. Courtesy NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I don’t really think we should be playing,” Milton said in a video conference call with reporters Tuesday, “but I think the NBA is doing all that they can to make the environment as safe as possible. My teammates want to play so we’re going to go down there and try to win…

“I think [the spread of the virus], and then also I feel like there’s a lot of other stuff going on,” Milton said. “There are issues going on right now in the world that are way bigger than a sport, way bigger than the game of basketball. I feel like we’re on the cusp of finally having people tune in and really try to listen and try to understand more about the things that are happening in our country. I feel like the moment is too big right now and I don’t want the game of basketball to overshadow it.”

Milton said he wanted to know more about how the league plans to highlight social justice and take concrete steps toward making a change.

Milton isn’t the only Sixers player saying he doesn’t like the restart plan, here is what Joel Embiid said on his call with reporters:

“Unfortunately, I’m not a big fan of the idea. But then again, I’m going to do my job. I’m not going to let the city down. I’m going to represent my city — that’s what I’ve always done — my family, my teammates. The mindset doesn’t change. It doesn’t matter the fact that I don’t like that idea and I still don’t believe in it. I don’t think it’s going to be safe enough.”

Even with all those concerns, Milton and Embiid are headed to Orlando with teammates.

Milton is going to be asked to play a big role — possibly starting in place of Al Horford — and bring much-needed shooting and floor spacing to the roster. Philadelphia starts the seeding games July 30 as the six seed but is looking to move up in a tight middle of the East. They are a dark horse threat at the restart — with Embiid, a healthy Ben Simmons, and an elite defense — but they need to find a steady offense while defending well, a combo that eluded them earlier this season.

Philadelphia’s Zhaire Smith suffers bone bruise in knee, out for restart

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The 76ers have high hopes for Zhaire Smith being a part of the future in Philadelphia — but he’s not going to be a part of the league’s restart in Orlando.

The second-year guard out suffered a bone bruise in his knee and is now not headed to Orlando, something reported by Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Smith was experiencing pain before reporting to the Sixers’ facility, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia. Smith has struggled to stay healthy since being drafted, missing most of his rookie season with a Jones fracture in his foot.

Smith is expected to make a full recovery and be ready next season.

This does not impact the Sixers rotations heading into the restart, Smith only played in seven games with the 76ers this season (he did play in 28 for the Sixers’ G League team, the Delaware Blue Coats).

Philadelphia heads to Orlando as the sixth seed in the East but tied with Orlando as the five seed. Philly will have a healthy Ben Simmons, and coach Brett Brown is reportedly leaning toward starting Shake Milton — bringing Al Horford off the bench — to give the team more shooting.

Tobias Harris admits 76ers ‘haven’t had the best chemistry’ this season

76ers chemistry
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Watch the 76ers this season (before the shut down) and it was clear the puzzle pieces just were not fitting together. The chemistry was off. The puzzle pieces just did not fit on offense (19th in the league), and when it finally did after the All-Star break the defense fell apart.

Don’t take my word for the chemistry being off, listen to Tobias Harris.

He was on ESPN’s “First Take” and talked about Philadelphia’s fit heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, via Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“I’ll just say, and I’ll keep it real, we haven’t had the best chemistry throughout the whole year. It took us a while to kind of get everyone together, we battled injuries from the start to the end. And right now, if we’re the sleeper, then we’re the sleeper. Truth be told, how we’re viewed, that’s someone else’s opinion, but I know when I look my guys in the eye and we have conversations, we have one goal in mind, and that’s to go out there and play and win a championship.

“That’s the only view that matters to me. What people have to say about our team, I get it, because we haven’t met our expectations so far this year. But we have a new opportunity in Orlando to go out and just play ball, and really scratch a new surface of what we can accomplish.”

The 76ers will go into Orlando with a healthy Ben Simmons and reportedly trying a starting lineup that has played zero minutes together all season, moving Al Horford to the bench and starting Shake Milton for shooting and spacing. Maybe that and everyone healthy makes the 76ers a threat in Orlando. On paper, this team still looks like a force.

But will the 76ers chemistry be there?

Coach Brett Brown has taken the blame for the chemistry issues Philadelphia, and at this point the 76ers may need a new voice in the locker room. However, it’s fair to ask if the problem is Simmons and Joel Embiid just do not mesh in a way that forms a superstar team. Put in simple terms, both stars are most dangerous operating near the basket, and that allows opposing defenses to pack the paint and dare Philly to beat them with jumpers. Teams can take away the easy buckets from the Sixers stars. That’s not a coaching issue. Reality is, however, that it’s much harder to come by Simmons/Embiid level talent than it is a good coach, so Philly will try a coaching change before making hard decisions about moving an elite player.

Philadelphia will be one of the most interesting teams at the NBA’s restart. If things come together for them, this team is a threat, but play well and they likely move up to at least the five seed in the East — meaning they face the Bucks in the second round. The Sixers are a matchup challenge for the Bucks because Philly can match their length, and Embiid is a problem in the paint, still, that is a big ask for the Sixers.

Whatever happens, it will be the chemistry on that roster that gets the credit or blame.

Sixers head into playoffs with healthy Ben Simmons but new, untested starting five

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Philadelphia heads into the NBA’s restart — in whatever format it takes — as a team that, on the surface, benefits some from the break.

Ben Simmons was expected to return from his back issues in time for the playoffs, but it was going to be close, and he wouldn’t be fully rested and ready. Now, the All-Star is healthy and not the only player trying to shake off the rust from a long break. That’s 16.7 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 8.2 assists a game, and some strong defense back in the lineup.

But that lineup has never really fit together this season in Philadelphia, which is why heading into the restart playoffs the Sixers will have a new one.

Philly is expected to roll out a starting five of Simmons, Shake Milton, Joel Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Tobias Harris, reports The Athletic’s Derek Bodner. That lineup has played zero minutes together this season (Milton hit his groove with the team late and by that point Embiid and Simmons were battling injuries). Learning chemistry on the fly in what will be, at best, a shortened and condensed regular season before the playoffs start, is a tough way to go.

It’s also the right move, Milton brings the shooting and floor spacing this roster needs. Philly had envisioned Al Horford as a floor-spacing four (who could spell Embiid at the five), but it hasn’t worked out. When Simmons, Embiid and Horford have been on the court this season, the team has scored less than a point per possession (defensively, they also gave up less than a point per possession, the Sixers basically played their opponents even in those minutes). It hasn’t meshed.

When Milton, Simmons, and Embiid have played together this season — in limited minutes and different situations than the one proposed — the offense has been only slightly better and the defense has been a mess. That’s likely not the case with Richardson and Harris on the court, but nobody knows exactly how this will work. It looks good on paper, but we’ve thought that all season about the 76ers.

Which makes Philadephia one of the most interesting teams to watch when games restart. All season long this team has not lived up to expectations (for which coach Brett Brown’s seat is very hot, even if blame for the roster issues should go higher up the ladder). Now comes a real test. If the 76ers suddenly get it together they become a real threat to the Bucks in the East (if the league keeps an East/West format). Or, this could be the latest Sixers lineup to fall short.

Either way, they become must-watch television.

Report: Knicks interested in hiring 76ers’ Elton Brand as GM

76ers general manager Elton Brand
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The 76ers’ eventful offseason has fallen flat so far.

Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) has generally underwhelmed and especially struggled to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid. At 33, Horford faces even more issues as he ages.

Though Tobias Harris has been fine, it’s hard to feel good about his five-year, $180 million deal. That contract makes it difficult to build a quality bench, even if ownership is willing to pay the luxury tax. Every team has spending limits, and Philadelphia has tied significant capital to a merely solid forward.

Josh Richardson isn’t shooting as well as he did while looking like a burgeoning star with the Heat. It’s also hard not to notice Jimmy Butler thriving in Miami.

The cumulative results are also concerning. Creating enough spacing around Embiid and Simmons was always challenging. This group isn’t coming close to answering that call. That has produced some strain throughout the season.

Will 76ers general manager Elton Brand take the fall for Philadelphia’s problems?

If so, he could have a fallback job under new Knicks president Leon Rose.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

According to a league source, Elton Brand has been targeted by Rose as a candidate for Knicks GM. Brand, 41, is currently the Sixers GM and is under contract next season, complicating any designs of bringing him to New York. The source said Rose wanted to see if Brand was dismissed after the playoffs.

It’s nearly impossible to see Brand going to New York unless the 76ers fire him. Though the titles in each franchise would be the same, they’re very different roles. He holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. With the Knicks, Brand would work under Rose.

Would the 76ers fire Brand? Maybe. It could depend how they do in the playoffs, and this team still has a championship upside this season.

Even with an early-round loss, Philadelphia seems more likely to fire coach Brett Brown than make a larger change. But it’s not as if Brand – who held minimal front-office experience when hired in 2018 – has done much to instill confidence. There’s not a great affirmative case for keeping him.

The Knicks have Scott Perry as general manager, but he’s a holdover from the Steve Mills regime. After all the handwringing about Steve Stoute saying the Knicks will hire a new coach while they still had Mike Miller as interim coach, this more reflects reality. Professional sports are a cutthroat business. It’s perfectly fine for the Knicks to seek a new general manager while still having someone in that position running out the clock.

Could that be Brand? He’s smart and connects well with people. His long playing career provides invaluable experience. He’d fit well as No. 2 in an NBA front office.

But, right now, he has an even better job.