Al Horford

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

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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.

Mock NBA expansion draft: Celtics, Nets, Knicks, 76ers, Raptors

Mock NBA expansion draft
(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division. Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Atlantic:

Boston Celtics

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 7

Ineligible – 0

Analysis: Boston’s decisions are fairly cut and dry. Jayson Tatum, Romeo Langford, Grant Williams and Robert Williams are all on their rookie-scale contracts. Jaylen Brown will be starting a four-year contract extension. Kemba Walker was just signed to a max contract. Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are good values and key rotation players.

The toughest decision was on Gordon Hayward. Carrying a salary over $34 million, the Celtics are betting he’ll go undrafted and will return to the team. Everyone else was a fairly easy decision to leave unprotected.

Brooklyn Nets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: The Nets are keeping their big four in Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert. Jarrett Allen is still on his rookie-scale contract, so that’s an easy decision. With over $101 million on the books for just Durant, Irving, Dinwiddie and LeVert, Nicolas Claxton and Rodions Kurucs help bring some low-cost upside to the back-end of the roster.

DeAndre Jordan will likely go unselected, given his age and $30 million-plus owed through 2022-23. If Jordan is selected, Brooklyn can bank some potential luxury tax savings down the line. Taurean Prince was on the fence, but given his disappointing play this season, and lack of fit in a lineup featuring Durant, the Nets will take their chances he’ll be selected.

New York Knicks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 6

Ineligible – 1

  • Maurice Harkless

Analysis: The Knicks are clearing the decks for a run at free agency this summer. The expansion draft could only help along that way. New York is protecting their young players with upside, as well as Julius Randle, last year’s big free agent addition. The Knicks are also protecting Damyean Dotson and Allonzo Trier. Not out of fear of losing them, but in hopes that either of the expansion teams will select a bigger salary and take it off the New York cap sheet.

Dennis Smith Jr. was the only questionable player to leave unprotected, but $5.7 million is simply too much for a player out of the rotation. The other five players aren’t part of the future in New York, so that decision was easy.

Philadelphia 76ers

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: Philadelphia’s decisions make themselves. The highly paid players are key rotation players. Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton are steals on minimum contracts. Matisse Thybulle is only entering year two of his rookie scale deal. Zhaire Smith was on the bubble, but he’s young enough, and under team control, that he’s worth protecting.

Al Horford is very unprotected. His signing simply hasn’t worked out for the Sixers. He’s a player Philadelphia is open to talking about a trade with either of the expansion teams. With an extra first-round pick, the 76ers hope to dangle it to entice a team to select Horford.

Toronto Raptors

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Raptors don’t have to expose any of their core rotation players in the expansion draft. Up front, Pascal Siakam just inked his contract extension, and OG Anunoby is still on his rookie scale deal. Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson are all free agents. In the backcourt, Toronto can protect Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell, along with undrafted find Terence Davis. And Fred VanVleet is a free agent.

The leaves just a handful of players who don’t have a role for the Raptors. Toronto could even entertain offering a second-round pick to entice either expansion team to select Stanley Johnson and take his $3.8 million off the cap/tax.

Giannis Antetokounmpo helped recruit Wesley Matthews, Kyle Korver to Bucks

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Players recruiting players is part of the free agency process now. LeBron James had dinner with Anthony Davis not long before AD’s trade demand. Draymond Green was texting Kevin Durant after the 2016 Finals. Spencer Dinwiddie was chatting up Kyrie Irving around a marketing class they took together.

That was not a game Giannis Antetokounmpo wanted to play, the reigning MVP told Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

“I don’t like doing that stuff,” Antetokounmpo said. “I don’t get an extra paycheck for doing Jon’s job or Coach Bud’s job or whoever’s job it is. … If you asked me one year ago, two years ago, I’d say, ‘Coach, just take care of it.’ ”

However, with Malcolm Brogdon heading to Indiana this summer (in a sign-and-trade), the Greek Freak knew he needed to get some help on the roster. So, he took to recruiting.

First up was Wesley Matthews, and the pitch was that he was a great player who deserved to win a ring, and that could happen in Milwaukee.

“It meant a lot,” Matthews said. “Not even just as an athlete, but just as anyone who is working, the admiration of your peers is what holds the most weight. Not writers, not blogs, not media and all that kind of stuff. It’s the guys you’re going to compete with and against to have the respect for you that means the world.”

Next up was Kyle Korver, but the sharpshooter required more coaxing. The two spoke on the phone but Antetokounmpo felt like he had not gotten through. Antetokounmpo went on with his training, where he was scheduled to go to the Peak Performance Project (P3), a legendary sports science company in Santa Barbara, Calif. It was there Antetokounmpo ran into Korver — Antetokounmpo says by accident, he didn’t know they would both be there — and it allowed him to recruit in person.

“And we start the workout and I’m like, ‘OK. Kyle, look, this is how I can get you open shots,’ ” Antetokounmpo said. ‘We can run this. We can do this. I know Al Horford is your best friend. I know you’d love playing with Al Horford in Philly, but look, I can (get you shots). I can find you easier.’ He loved it.”

Korver eventually signed with the Bucks.

During the regular season that has paid off — Matthews starts and plays an important defensive role — with the Bucks in charge of the East and on pace to win 70 games. Those things, however, are not the goal. Matthews and Korver need to make some plays on the bigger stages coming in May (and, they hope, June).

Whatever happens, expect Antetokounmpo to pick up the phone and make some calls in the future, too. This is how business gets done in today’s NBA.

Three Things to Know: James Dolan’s Knicks still don’t know how to pick their battles

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday during the NBA regular season we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) James Dolan’s Knicks still don’t know how to pick their battles. Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” is technically a military book, but in reality it is a 2,000-year-old treatise on how to win at conflict. Within its pages is a lot of wisdom on how to get the upper hand in conflicts by outsmarting an opponent, about how to win the war on the home front and not just on a battlefield. Ideally, it’s better to win without a costly battle rather than charging headlong into a fight. One of the book’s biggest lessons is simple:

Choose your battles wisely.

James Dolan and the Knicks never seem to do that. The Knicks owner and his organization charge headlong into the next unwise fight, time and time again.

The latest is the kerfuffle with Knicks superfan Spike Lee, who says he is done with the team for this season (not that he is missing much). We could get into the details of the back-and-forth between the sides from Tuesday, the potentially staged photograph and all the rest, but that misses the larger point.

Dolan, an unpopular owner, and his organization picked a fight with the public face of Knicks’ fandom — a battle Dolan and the Knicks cannot win on the PR front. Lee does not shy away from confrontation or publicity, did the Knicks even consider this as they put out a press release that they likely though ended the conversation but really just escalated it?

Dolan lost this battle before it started.

And over what? Which entrance to the arena Lee uses? That’s the hill the Knicks want to die on? Celebrity customers bend the rules in every walk of life (fair or not), and the reaction of business owners is usually “the customer is always right.” If a behavior needs to be addressed, it’s done out of the spotlight – and kept out of the spotlight, no matter what — to help everyone save face. It’s basic business. It’s putting the customer first.

Not at Madison Square Garden. On a night the Knicks got their best win of the season — knocking off the red-hot Rockets, with RJ Barrett putting up 27 points — nobody is talking about that because Dolan’s ego and the Knicks PR “machine” got involved. Dolan and the Knicks didn’t pick their battles. Again.

Hope you’re enjoying your first week on the job, Leon Rose.

2) Caris LeVert drops 51, leads Nets from 17 down in the fourth quarter to knock off Celtics in overtime. There are plenty of excuses lined up if Boston wants them: Jayson Tatum was out, Kemba Walker was on a minutes limit, then Gordon Hayward’s knee bruise and Jaylen Brown’s hamstring had them missing key minutes down the stretch.

It doesn’t matter. If Boston is really the second-best team in the East, it has to find a way to win a game against a banged-up sub-.500 team the Celtics led by 17 to start the fourth quarter.

Enter Caris LeVert. Brooklyn’s athletic wing scored 26 points in the fourth quarter, all 11 of his team’s points in overtime, and sparked the Nets comeback from 21 down in the second half to beat the Celtics 129-120 in overtime.

It’s one of the best wins of the season for the Nets, who will make the playoffs as the seven or eight seed in the East. Brooklyn put up a franchise-record 51 points in the fourth to complete the comeback.

It was the worst loss of the season for the Celtics. Marcus Smart wanted to blame the officials — his foul on LeVert with 0.2 in regulation allowed overtime to happen — and had to be held back and taken off the court after the game so he didn’t go after them.

Smart can be pissed at the officiating, but this loss is on the guys in the Boston locker room, not the refs. The Celtics surrendered a 51-point quarter, Brad Stevens didn’t make many adjustments as the walls crumbled, and a team that has been “next man up” all season long wasn’t in this game, the bench struggled.

The priority for Boston has to be getting Hayward, Tatum (illness) and everyone healthy — the Celtics don’t want these things to linger through the final six weeks of the season. That said, the Celtics are currently the three seed in the East and are now one game back in the loss column from the Raptors for the two seed. Boston has lost two in a row and heads to Cleveland, where the Celtics need to right the ship.

3) Anthony Davis scores 37, the Lakers keep on winning and the 76ers keep on stumbling. The Lakers were not caught looking ahead. They have big tests coming up — the Bucks on Friday night, the Clippers on Sunday — but first Anthony Davis and LeBron James made sure they took care of business against Philly.

Davis led the way with 37 points (he had a red-hot second quarter), while LeBron had 22 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds during a 120-107 win against a 76ers team still without Joel Embiid or Ben Simmons due to injury (plus Josh Richardson missed the game due to a concussion).

Philly fell to 9-23 on the road and they sit as the six seed in the East currently. Tobias Harris was aggressive early, and finished with 18 points in the game, but foul trouble limited him. Al Horford looked a step slow next to Anthony Davis (or, really, anyone). Glen Robinson III did have 25 to lead the Sixers.

This was another quality win for the Lakers, the kind they have consistently gotten all season to stay on top of the West. They look every bit the title contenders, but the real tests on that front come this weekend.

Anthony Davis scores 37, leads Lakers past stumbling Sixers 120-107

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LOS ANGELES — Anthony Davis scored 18 of his 37 points during a phenomenal second-quarter surge, and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the injury-depleted Philadelphia 76ers 120-107 on Tuesday night.

LeBron James had 22 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers, who moved to 47-13 with their ninth win in 10 games. Davis hit four 3-pointers while going 13 of 19 from the field and grabbing 13 rebounds.

The Lakers needed every bit of their All-Stars’ brilliance to hold off a solid effort by the undermanned Sixers, who played without injured starters Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Josh Richardson.

Glenn Robinson III matched his career high with 25 points and Tobias Harris had 18 for the Sixers, who have lost nine consecutive road games since Jan. 20.

Philadelphia lost twice at Staples Center to start its four-game California road trip despite this persistent effort against the powerhouse Lakers.

Philly’s role players and backups got off to an impressive start, taking an early 13-point lead. That’s when Davis took control as part of a 42-10 run by the Lakers in 10 minutes spanning halftime.

With Davis hitting three 3-pointers, making all seven of his second-quarter shots, and even throwing a crossover dribble at Al Horford along the way, the Lakers made 17 of their 19 shots during the impressive streak.

Dwight Howard had 11 points without missing a shot at the line or in the field for the Lakers.

The teams split their season series. The 76ers beat the Lakers 108-91 on Jan. 25 while James passed Kobe Bryant for third place on the NBA’s career scoring list. Bryant died in a helicopter crash the next morning, several hours after congratulating James on the accomplishment.