James Ennis

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Lonzo Ball on brother LaMelo: ‘Whoever has the No. 1 pick, that’s who’s gonna get him’

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Lonzo Ball has his younger brothers’ back.

Lonzo has been playing better of late — seeming to find a comfort level with his revamped shooting form and within the Pelicans offense (while waiting for Zion Williamson to return so he can start throwing lobs) — having a string of 20+ point scoring games and looking better running the offense.

However, the elder Ball brother gets asked as many questions about his younger brother LaMelo — a likely top-five, maybe top-three pick in the coming June draft — as he does about New Orleans. Lonzo has LaMelo’s back and thinks he should go No. 1, as he told Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“Wherever he lands, he’s gonna help out a lot. Anybody could use him,” Lonzo Ball told The Post…

“Whoever has the No. 1 pick, I feel like that’s who’s gonna get him,” Lonzo said. “He’s been in the spotlight since he was 15, plus I went through everything he’s gonna go through. So he always has me to fall back on.

“But what he did overseas, what he did in high school, I think it’s a fair choice [as the No. 1-overall pick], honestly. He’s been killing grown men in Australia, which is a very good league. So I expect the same thing here. It’s different for everybody Hopefully, it happens from the first game. That’s what I’d love to see.”

LaMelo may go No. 1 because there is no Zion-style standout at the top of this draft board, according to sources speaking to NBC Sports. There’s are a number of players with potential — Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, Cole Anthony — but teams are generally down on the top of this draft. It ultimately will depend on how the lottery balls bounce and which team lands the top slot, because right now different teams have different players on top of the draft boards.

Scouts like the potential of LaMelo, a 6’7″ point guard with impressive handles, good size for the position, and is a gifted passer who averaged 17 points a game going against men in Australia (a league that helped produce a handful of other NBA players from Andrew Bogut through James Ennis). LaMelo makes some highlight-reel plays nearly every game.

However, LaMelo also shot just 25 percent from three and 37.5 percent overall in Australia, suffered an injury that raises questions about his durability (just like his brother Lonzo), hasn’t been a focused defender at any level, and there remain questions about his work ethic (although those reports have improved over the past couple of seasons). Plus, not every team wants to deal with the potential distractions of his father, LaVar Ball.

Lonzo might be Nostradamus and his brother goes No. 1, although the smart money is LaMelo goes a few picks later. Whatever happens, Lonzo will have his younger brother’s back.

Ben Simmons hits another three, scores 34 points to lead 76ers past Cavaliers

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PHILADELPHIA — Ben Simmons hit another 3-pointer, and his coach wants him to keep on firing.

Simmons hit his second career 3 and scored a career-high 34 points, and the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t need Joel Embiid‘s help to rout the Cleveland Cavaliers 141-94 Saturday night.

Simmons made 12 of 14 field goals, including his only 3-point attempt, and hit 9 of 12 free throws in 26 minutes to help Philadelphia improve to 11-0 at home.

“I was locked in,” Simmons said.

Simmons’ jump shot – or lack thereof – has been a hot topic in Philadelphia. He entered the season 0 for 17 from long range.

Coach Brett Brown has repeatedly said shooting is a part of Simmons’ game that will develop with time. After Saturday’s performance, Brown publicly upped the ante and called for more from his All-Star point guard.

“This is what I want,” Brown said. “I want a 3-point shot per game, minimum. … He will be liberated. His world will open up and, in many ways, so will ours.”

Embiid sat out with a left hip contusion.

Darius Garland had 17 points for the Cavaliers, who have lost six in a row and 12 of 13.

“They were going downhill on us all day long,” Cavaliers coach John Beilein said.

Philadelphia has been projected to be an NBA title contender, but the 76ers haven’t been able to consistently field its starting five of Simmons, Embiid, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. They have only started nine games together due to injuries and Embiid’s two-game suspension for fighting Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.

The 76ers needed little more than Simmons in a dominant first half that ended with them ahead 77-36.

Simmons attacked the basket often and showed off a rarely seen mid-range game when he drained an 11-foot jumper with 6:04 left in the second quarter. That had 76ers fans cheering, but it was just an appetizer for Simmons.

With 3:41 left in the half, Simmons took a cross-court pass from Trey Burke and knocked down a 3 from the left wing. That send the sold-out crowd into a frenzy, and the roars continued when Simmons finished an alley-oop dunk from Burke on Philadelphia’s ensuing possession.

Simmons received a standing ovation at the next stoppage.

“I’m getting more comfortable learning my spots and just adjusting,” Simmons said. “I’m trying not to force it, trying to play the game I know how to play. Hard work pays off. Stay in the gym and keep working.”

Simmons finished the tremendous four-possession sequence with assists on Philadelphia’s next two trips, first to Horford for a 3-pointer and then to James Ennis III for a jumper.

Finally, Simmons ended the first half scoring with a 9-foot jumper for a 41-point lead entering the break.

 

76ers expect to pay luxury tax next season

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The Process always afforded an opportunity. The 76ers loaded up on young, relatively cheap players. That allowed Philadelphia room to sign more expensive veterans. The 76ers could then keep those expensive veterans and leverage Bird Rights to keep the young players due for raises.

The catch: That plan would shoot Philadelphia’s payroll into the stratosphere.

The 76ers executed it anyway. Just before Ben Simmons‘ max contract will kick in next season, they signed Tobias Harris and Al Horford to big contracts and acquired Josh Richardson and his above-average salary.

Will Philadelphia pay the luxury tax next season?

76ers owner managing partner Josh Harris, via Rich Hofmann of The Athletic:

Yeah, there are definitely issues that come with that but I think if that’s what it takes to win, we’re going to do it.

Just different restrictions that come. It all depends on how you configure your team. But my guess is that’s where we’ll end up.

The luxury-tax line projected to be about $141 million next season. Philadelphia $146,019,658 committed to 10 players for next season:

Filling the rest of the roster with minimum-salary free agents would put the 76ers about $14 million over the tax line and trigger about $25 million of tax payments.

Philadelphia could push its payroll even higher by using the mid-level exception. Of course, that’d trigger exponentially higher luxury-tax payments, too.

We’ll see just how much the 76ers are willing to pay. Maybe they’ll dump depth to keep costs more modest. It’s too early to determine the exact cost-befit of such moves.

Lost revenue from China could lower the luxury-tax line. Though that’d also reduce Simmons’ max salary, everyone else’s salary is locked in. Philadelphia would be on the hook for far more in tax payments.

But, if he follows through, credit Harris for spending. It gives his team a better chance of winning.

Report: James Ennis returning to 76ers on two-year, $4.1 million contract

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Philadelphia traded for James Ennis in the middle of last season (because Houston was looking to save money and get under the tax line), and he played solidly for them the rest of the season. He still struggles with his shot, but he could defend and give the Sixers respectable minutes.

The Sixers liked what they saw in the former Long Beach State player enough that they are bringing him back.

Ennis agreed to a two-year contract to return to the Sixers, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Ennis will back up Josh Richardson at the two and Tobias Harris at the three.

For the money, this is a good pickup for the Sixers, who get some solid bench play (at least for the regular season). And it sounds like Ennis wanted to be there. So it’s win-win.

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta: ‘Our time is going to come’

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This past summer (and during the season), Rockets’ owner Tilman Fertitta’s front office made some money-saving moves that kept the team from paying the luxury tax. The most prominent of those was not bringing back Trevor Ariza and replacing him with James Ennis (who didn’t fit for Houston but has blossomed these playoffs in Philly), plus taking a flier on Carmelo Anthony. Fertitta himself said the team needed to be careful with the league’s luxury tax, which he called a horrible hindrance. The moves worked, the Rockets shed payroll and will not be taxpayers this year.

The impact of those moves on the court was felt in the six games it took the Warriors to eliminate the Rockets from the playoffs this season.

After Houston’s punch-to-the-gut loss to Golden State Friday night, Fertitta sounded fired up and said the Rockets will be back.

“I’m upset right now. They kicked our ass on our home court. They beat us by 10 points in the fourth quarter. It’s unacceptable, OK? We just have to be better. I know that we’re going to rise to the occasion and our time is going to come. You know James [Harden] is 30 years old [Note: He will be in August]. Michael [Jordan] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [Note: Actually, 28]. Hakeem [Olajuwon] didn’t win his first championship until 30 [actually 31]. I can promise you, we’re going to win some championships with James Harden, because we are not going to sit here. We will go to battle every year. We’re going to have a strong offseason, and we’re going to do whatever we need to do to be a better team. We are not going to sit on our hands, I can promise you that.”

Fertitta added this, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“I’m a fighter,” said Fertitta, who has owned the franchise for two seasons. “That’s my culture, and I think the longer that I own this team, they’re going to pick up more of my culture. We had [the Warriors]. We should have stepped on their throat the other night and cut their throat. It’s not, ‘Let’s make a few shots and win.’ It’s step on their throat and let’s take it back to Houston and end it in six. We’ll pick up a few Tilman-isms along the way in the next few years.”

That sounds good, it’s what Rockets fans wanted to hear, but actions will speak louder than words.

The Rockets don’t have much cap space to work with this summer, basically just the mid-level exception. The reason is Harden and Chris Paul are maxed out, while Clint Capela will make $16.4 million and Eric Gordon will make $14 million. Rockets GM Daryl Morey will need to get creative, and he is one of the best in the league at that. But can he spend into the tax?

There have been some Rockets fans calling for the team to move Chris Paul, who at age 34 seemed half a step slower this season. The problem is CP3 is owed about $124 million over the next three seasons (the last season a player option at $44 million you can bet now he will pick up), and not many teams would be willing to take on that salary. The Rockets might have to throw in a sweetener.