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Seeking guard depth, 76ers reportedly workout Arron Afflalo, Brandon Rush, others

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Markelle Fultz is officially off getting treatment for thoracic outlet syndrome and will be out for weeks or months (nobody is exactly sure). Which isn’t really bothering the Sixers — other than the fact players, coaches, and everyone else is weary of the barrage of Fultz questions — they are playing well without him, and Fultz is not in the long-term plans for the Sixers anyway.

However, it leaves Philadelphia lacking depth at the guard spot. Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick start and get the key minutes, with T.J. McConnell and rookie Landry Shamet behind them, but this is no longer a deep spot on the team.

So Philadelphia is considering bringing in some help, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

It’s not clear what, if anything, will come out of that workout, but it means the Sixers are weighing options. It’s unlikely that anyone they will look at in this capacity will break into the regular rotation, this is more about adding depth and security, just in case it’s needed.

Arron Afflalo is an 11-year NBA veteran who last season in Orlando, his efficiency and game slowing down, but he still shot 38.6 percent from three and is good in the locker room. Brandon Rush was not on an NBA roster most of last season, he did sign a 10-day contract with Portland in February but never saw the court for them.

Jimmy Butler on Markelle Fultz: “We want him to be great”

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When Philadelphia traded for Jimmy Butler, it was the effective end of the Markelle Fultz experiment for this season.

The 76ers moved into a win now mode, which did not fit with letting Markelle Fultz start so he could gain confidence over time (that starting five with Fultz did not have enough shooting and often dug the team a nightly hole to climb out of). J.J. Redick was quickly starting again, and guys like T.J. McConnell and Landry Shamet were getting more run.

Through it all, the Sixers players have stood by Fultz — they like him, they want to see him succeed. That includes Butler.

“I just want Markelle to know he got everybody in his corner here. We want him to be great… when he’s ready to get back in here and work, we’re all for it. We need the guy.”

Fultz is currently in New York seeing specialists about his shoulder injury, one the Sixers organization was not aware of (dissect that how you wish).

Young players, such as Fultz, often struggle to block out the “outside noise” and focus on what they want to do. Butler, Redick, veterans are very good at it. Whatever is going on, it feels like finding Fultz a new home is what’s best for everyone. Of course, that’s not easy and could drag out a while, but it may be time for Philadelphia sports fans to just move on, to focus on the good — Butler draining game winners — and bad (a bottom five defense since the trade), not Fultz.

With Markelle Fultz out, T.J. McConnell is getting more run, reportedly off trade block

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Early this season, Philadelphia was giving Markelle Fultz every chance. He was starting, he was getting the ball in his hands with the second unit, and he was getting more minutes than his play warranted because the Sixers were trying to make it work. The guy who lost out with that was fan favorite T.J. McConnell. The hustling backup point guard saw his run decrease, missing six games and playing fewer than 10 minutes in seven others.

The Jimmy Butler trade changed the Sixers focus — they are about winning now. Markelle Fultz is not with the team, he’s seeing a specialist in New York. The beneficiary of all that? McConnell, who has found himself back in the middle of the rotation the past few games.

That means he’s off the trade market, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

In recent weeks, the Sixers stopped listening to trade overtures for McConnell, sources said, a reflection of the fact that the organization knows it will be leaning more heavily on him now. McConnell can be a free agent this summer.

McConnell, and even more so rookie guard Landry Shamet, provide some of the outside shooting the Sixers need with this rotation. Philly needs floor spacing and Fultz simply does not give the team that. Which is why, despite everyone saying otherwise publicly, he is on his way out as a Sixer. It’s best for everyone.

And especially good for McConnell, who wants to get on the court and earn that next contract.

Report: Markelle Fultz wants 76ers to trade him

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Markelle Fultz lost his starting spot to Jimmy Butler. In the 76ers’ last game, Fultz fell out of the second-half rotation entirely.

The dam broke earlier this week when Fultz’s agent informed the team his client wouldn’t play or practice until seeing a specialist Monday.

With Fultz’s shots – particularly his free throws – continuing to produce cringes, the situation is getting even uglier.

Jared Weiss, Derek Bodner and Sam Amick of The Athletic:

Sources with knowledge of Fultz’s thinking have also told The Athletic that the player would prefer a fresh start with a new team.

The report also includes several more details:

  • Fultz underwent knee surgery between his lone college season at Washington and his rookie year.
  • Fultz wants to see the specialist not just about his known shoulder injury, but also a wrist injury.
  • Fultz has issues even just gripping the ball.

There’s much more in the report about Fultz’s woes, and I suggest reading it in full – if you can avoid looking away. It is horrifying.

Despite his insistence his problems are due to injury, Fultz is clearly suffering from a mental block. Maybe it’s related to injuries, but to treat only physical issues will not fix Fultz.

Maybe leaving Philadelphia would help, but I suspect his problems run deeper. And the 76ers probably don’t want to just dump the former No. 1 pick they’ve invested so much in.

But they also have plenty of backcourt depth – Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, J.J. Redick, Landry Shamet and T.J. McConnell. Clearing Fultz’s $9,745,200 salary for next season could go a long way in free agency next summer.

Everyone might be better off moving on.

But Fultz has fallen so far, mere “better” might not be enough to save his career. Hopefully, he rediscovers his shooting stroke – in Philadelphia or elsewhere. But he has even further to go than it previously appeared, and the situation already seemed dire.

This is just sad.

Winners and losers from Jimmy Butler trade to Philadelphia

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Don’t call this trade a “win-win,” but it’s not a “lose-lose” either.

Like all the best trades (and most deals that get done in today’s NBA), the trade of Jimmy Butler to Philadelphia makes some sense for both sides, and what you think of it depends on what you think of the risks for both sides. In the deal (to be finalized Monday when the league office reopens), Philadelphia gets Butler and injured center Justin Patton; Minnesota lands Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Jerryd Bayless (who could be waived) and a 2022 second-round pick.

Philly wants to compete right now with Boston and Toronto — and don’t leave out Milwaukee — at the top of the East, this trade gives them a chance to do it. That is, if Butler, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons — all players who prefer to operate with the ball in their hands — can meld their games. They all have different strengths, it can work — if everyone is willing to sacrifice. For Minnesota, this was a solid trade considering the shotgun nature of it and the pressure Butler put them under by trying to blow up their franchise.

Who won and who lost in this deal? Here is a breakdown.

Winner: Jimmy Butler

He wanted out in the worst way and disrupted a promising young franchise to make it happen. Toronto Vince Carter would be proud. But Butler didn’t just want out of Minnesota, he wanted to go to a team that could both pay him big next summer, and contend for ring with him. He got all that. Philadelphia struck out big game hunting in free agency last summer and rather than wait until next summer they went with this fit. It may work, at least for the next couple of years (keep reading). Also, the reports are already out there that the Sixers plan to re-sign Butler. No doubt he wants to hit free agency and get that five-year, $190 million payday, but considering his age (he turns 30 next summer) and the Tom Thibodeau miles on his body, Philly may try to find a shorter option.

Winners: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons — the Sixers went all in.

Philadelphia has plateaued to start this new season. The team hasn’t been terrible (8-5 record), but they have the point differential of a .500 team, and their offense has been bottom 10 in the league. Watch a Sixers game, then look at Boston or Toronto or Milwaukee, and the gap with the elite was obvious. Now, the Sixers could be back in the mix. If the ball-dominant games of Butler/Simmons/Embiid can mesh (Butler can play well off the ball, it’s just not his preference), and if the Sixers can find enough shooting and depth they should be a threat to everyone in the East, and where they want to be.

Loser: Markelle Fultz.

If you thought he was having confidence issues before, imagine how he feels after that glare he gets from Butler following his next couple of clanked threes. Butler’s intensity and high standards withered the confidence of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, what is it going to do to Fultz? Philly has its big three now, and Fultz is not in that picture. It makes sense, once Wilson Chandler gets healthy, for the Sixers to move Fultz to the bench and have him as a sixth man. However, whether or not he can fill that role, and if the Sixers will look to trade him now, are both open questions.

Winner: Karl-Anthony Towns (and his state of mind).

The Towns/Butler feud was about as quiet as the Pete Davidson/Ariana Grande breakup, but Butler is the louder, more dominant personality and that seemed to have Towns stepping back. In the games Butler has sat this season (for “general soreness” or any reason) Towns has scored 9.6 more points per game and has looked more aggressive and focused. With Butler, Towns looked lethargic and disinterested. Minnesota became Towns’ team the day he signed that max rookie contract extension last summer, the feud with Butler divided the team and stopped from happening. Now, Butler is gone, Towns needs to own this, take charge and make the Timberwolves his own.

You can say the same things about Andrew Wiggins if you want, but I have moved on from him as a cornerstone kind of player.

Loser: Miami Heat and Houston Rockets.

Both of these teams can argue they put better offers on the table than the one Thibodeau and Minnesota took from Philadelphia. I think Miami’s argument there is legit — with the offer they made before the season started with Josh Richardson and a 2019 first-round pick (plus Dion Waiters to make the money work). However, with Richardson playing well to start the season (20.5 points a game, knocking down threes, looking like an All-Star) and on a great contract (four years, $42 million), ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported he was pulled off the table. That killed any deal — and it destined the Heat to mediocrity this season.

That Rockets’ “four first-round picks” offer made for an eye-catching headline but wasn’t really that great. The 2019 and 2021 picks will be deep in the 20s because the Rockets are good, we don’t know the protections on the 2023 and 2025 picks, plus Minnesota would have had to take on the bad Brandon Knight contract. Things maybe could have been worked with Eric Gordon, but that mean fewer picks. It was never going to work, but for a capped out Rockets team off to a slow start of its own, it could have used the jolt Butler gave them.

Loser: Sixers floor spacing.

This season Philadelphia is taking 38.7 percent of its shots from three, but they are hitting 33.6 percent, 21st in the league. Meaning a pedestrian 29.8 percent of their points were coming from three — teams know this and are packing the paint, especially when Fultz and Simmons are on the court together. Now it’s about to get worse. Covington has been the Sixers best three-point shooter this season, hitting 39 percent on 5.9 attempts per game. Dario Saric has had a rough start from three this season (30 percent) but he shot 39.3 percent last season and he will improve this season. While Butler is shooting 37.8 percent from three, he does not make up for the lost shooting in this trade.

Expect the Sixers to make another move to add shooting to this roster.

Winner: Tom Thibodeau’s dream of Minnesota making the playoffs in the West.

Tom Thibodeau knows he’s coaching for his job and he wants desperately to make the playoffs this season, which is why picks-heavy trade offers never got far with Minnesota. Covington and Saric give the Timberwolves quality players who fit needs and can be plugged right into the rotation. Just with the Butler distraction gone, the Timberwolves should improve. I wouldn’t bet on the Timberwolves making the postseason, they have to be able to climb out of the hole they dug themselves, currently three games out of the playoffs and needing to jump five teams. Even though it’s early, in a deep West that’s not going to be easy.

Loser: Sixers depth

Philadelphia’s top four — Embiid, Butler, Simmons, J.J. Redick — can stand toe-to-toe with any top four in the league… except for that team in the Bay Area. But anyone else. The problem has been depth, after those four the drop off has been steep — and that’s about to get worse. Covington and Saric averaged 64 minutes a night between them, as impressive as Butler is he can’t make up all those minutes. Wilson Chandler needs to get healthy, rookie Landry Shamet has shown promise (and can shoot), but the Sixers need the bench to step up now. Maybe play Butler can practice and play with the third string, that usually goes well

Winner: NBA Twitter

Not only did NBA Twitter already go off already on the trade, but now two of the biggest trash talkers in the NBA are on the same team. Bring. It. On.