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NBA AM: Signing Embiid Was a Necessary Evil For The Philadelphia 76ers

Despite his injury-riddled past, signing Joel Embiid was a move the Sixers had to make.

Dennis Chambers

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The Philadelphia 76ers are now, more than ever, trusting their own process.

On Monday night, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Sixers had inked their oft-injured, yet potential-laden center Joel Embiid to a five-year, $148 million rookie scale max contract extension.

One hundred and forty-eight million dollars for a man that has played just 31 games in three seasons. With this deal, Philadelphia is putting a whole new meaning into the word trust.

But they had to do it.

What is well-noted about Embiid is the lack of games he’s participated in since the Sixers made him the third overall pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. That number is the biggest argument against Embiid and his new contract. And rightfully so.

Big men of Embiid’s stature (7-foot-2 and 285 pounds) aren’t prime candidates for a healthy future when their past includes a series of foot, knee and back problems. On the surface, that doesn’t look promising for the team or the player. However, signing Embiid to a max contract extension is as much about the hope that he stays healthy as it is continuing to brew the culture that their franchise center has helped cultivate, despite not actually being on the court.

That the Sixers deal with Embiid contains a vast amount of protections also limits their liability—further making the option to lock him in sensible.

What’s also worth noting is as was discussed in this space on Tuesday—by signing Embiid now, the Sixers nullified the risk of having to match an offer sheet for Embiid that could have exposed the Sixers to more liability than they would have been comfortable accepting.

When Philadelphia drafted Embiid, they were in their first full season of tanking. Grabbing the product out of Kansas who looked to be the best prospect available was the first step in the direction of building a contender. Despite missing his first season due to his stress fracture and his second because of a re-injury, Embiid never lost the support of the public. When he finally burst onto the scene last season, the game had changed for the Sixers, and for Embiid.

The city of Philadelphia embraces Embiid for more than what he brings to the court. They embrace his carefree attitude on Twitter, where any tweet of Embiid’s resembles that of a normal 23-year-old and goes viral in seconds. They embrace his competitiveness—despite not being able to be on the court very often, Embiid has displayed a fire in his belly going up against the league’s best. They also embrace the sheer difference he represents for the Sixers when he does finally step on the court, catapulting them from a team with promise to a legitimate contender.

Just last week, Embiid was going for a midnight jog through Philadelphia and a Lyft driver caught the scene on camera. The driver trailed Embiid and shouted, “Trust the process!,” to which Embiid raised his fist in agreement. Philadelphia loves Embiid, and he loves them right back.

“I love the city of Philadelphia, they’re the best fans,” Embiid said at Sixers media day. “I went to the (Eagles) game and it was probably the most love I’ve gotten in the city yet. Because I was in the VIP section and then I had to go through basically the whole city to get back to Wells Fargo to go see somebody, and the love I got just walking around, people were screaming my name and ‘Trust the process,’ it was crazy.”

Now, it would be ridiculous to suggest that paying an injury-prone big man so much money is justified purely based off of what his meaning to the city is. That’s not entirely the reason the Sixers needed to pay Embiid.

In the 31 games Embiid was able to play last season, he seemed unparalleled. While being forced to sit out of back-to-back games and being held to a minutes restriction, Embiid was able to average 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Oh, and he shot 36.7 percent from three-point range. Again, he’s 7-foot-2.

Stretched across a per-36 minute scale to help illustrate what Embiid may be capable of without a leash, he demonstrated some truly eye-popping numbers: 28.7 points, 11.1 rebounds, 3.5 blocks, and 1.2 steals. Though those numbers might not hold up once his restriction is lifted, at this point, it’s okay to deem them to be within the realm of possibility.

Continuing down the road of hypotheticals, the impact of Embiid on the court for the Sixers last season was a difference of nearly 30 calculated wins. According to the FATS calculator on nbamath.com, the Sixers were a 49.7-win team when Embiid was playing. When he wasn’t? They operated as a 19.7-win team.

That difference alone may be worth the gamble of $148 million.

His performance last year garnered the respect of even harshest critics.

“I like that kid a lot,” DeMarcus Cousins said following a game last season where he and Embiid squared off. “I don’t give a lot of people props, but I like that kid a lot. I think he’s got a great chance at being the best big in the league … after I retire.”

What Embiid was able to display in such a small sample size, and after sitting out for over two years, is nothing short of impressive.

Sixers’ head coach Brett Brown said Monday to reporters in Boston that when Embiid has been able to practice with the team this preseason, he completely changes the gym. Brown even likened Embiid to a musician.

“He does things on a court that remind me of, you know, somebody that’s able to hear music and just play the song,” Brown said.

While Embiid’s talent is as undeniable as his injury history, getting his signature for a max contract extension couldn’t come without some level of precaution for the Sixers’ front office. 

This new deal appears to have many complex layers, and surely some will trickle out over time. But what is fully apparent, regardless of particular clauses, is that the Sixers were ready to invest in the future of Embiid, despite his past.

Brown has continuously referred to Embiid as a game-changer. Players throughout the league have echoed that same sentiment. The city that embraces Embiid, even with his flaws, feels the same way.

Yes, rolling the dice on a big man with an injury list that rivals his height is incredibly risky. But the potential that Embiid exudes on the court, and the idea that he represents off of it is worth shooting the shot for the Philadelphia 76ers.

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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NBA PM: Patrick Beverley Set the Tone for Clippers in Season Opener

Patrick Beverley set the tone for the L.A. Clippers with his aggressive defense in their season opener.

Jesse Blancarte

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“The LA Clippers are going to the Western Conference Finals. Guaranteed.”

That bold statement was made by Charles Barkley during TNT’s coverage of last night’s matchup between the Lakers and Clippers.

While Barkley may have had his hot take canon primed and in mid-season form, that should not overshadow the fact that the Los Angeles Clippers put together a strong showing in their first regular season game since the departure of Chris Paul.

Blake Griffin logged 29 points, 12 rebounds, three assists, two steals and knocked down three of his six three-point attempts. Griffin was aggressive and showed no hesitation on his jumper, which seemed to open up lanes for him to drive to the basket (where he is most effective). DeAndre Jordan was fantastic as well, contributing 14 points, 24 rebounds, one assist and one steal.

While the Clippers lost some significant contributors from last season, including J.J. Redick, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford, the team had some returning and new players show that they are capable of filling the void.

Milos Teodosic was just 2-9 from the field, but knocked down two three-pointers and looked comfortable and effective running the team’s offense. Danilo Gallinarni shot just 3-13 from the field but looked healthy and spry, displaying the kind of mobility that is necessary to play the small forward position. His ability to act as a secondary playmaker wasn’t on full display, but there were moments where it was apparent that he could be a big help in generating open looks for his teammates. Lou Williams also looked good in his Clippers debut, scoring in a variety of ways off the bench and contributing six assists as well. Wesley Johnson continues to look confident and aggressive, a continuation from his preseason performances, and is starting to knock down the open shots his teammates are creating for him (which has been a problem for him in the past).

While the Clippers looked solid in their opening act without Paul, it should be noted that the Lakers are a young team overall and their defense has been a major problem for the last few seasons. While the Lakers have added some promising young talent over the offseason, like most young teams, they are going to struggle to slow down veteran teams with potent offenses. It would be a mistake to think the Clippers can replicate this sort of offensive performance every night, especially against the better defensive teams in the league. However, perhaps the most promising part of the Clippers’ season debut was the fact that they seemed to feed off of and embrace the gritty demeanor and style of play that Patrick Beverley brings to the court each and every night.

Last night’s game was the NBA debut for rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who many predict will develop into a star player. Unfortunately for Ball, his opening night matchup came against Beverley, who earned a spot on the 2017 All-Defensive First Team. Beverley repeatedly guarded Ball past half court, pushed him around and did everything he could to throw him off of his game. He held Ball to three points, nine rebounds and four assists in 29 minutes of action.

Beverley, like every NBA player, has heard the hype and noise surrounding Ball and his future in the league (most of it from his outspoken father, LaVar).

“I just had to set the tone,” Beverley said. “I told him after the game that due to all the riffraff his dad brings, that he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. I let him know that after the game. What a better way to start than spending 94 feet guarding him tonight — welcome the young guy to the NBA.”

Beverley is one of the more aggressive defenders in the NBA and is known for trying to get under the skin of his opponents, so Lonzo may not face this level of intensity in every game. But based on Beverley’s comments, it’s clear that he expects other players around the league to defend Lonzo aggressively as well.

Snoop Dogg, the rapper and passionate Lakers fan, summed up the issue for Ball arguably better than anyone else has so far.

“His father put him in the lion’s den with pork chop drawers on,” said Snoop.

For his part, Lonzo complimented Beverley on his aggressive defense.

“[Beverley] plays hard. He knows his job. He does it very well,” said Ball. “He gets under people’s skin and plays defense and does what he can to help his team win.”

Beverley set the tone for the Clippers, who looked crisp and confident throughout the game. Griffin’s three-point shot looks like it could finally be a reliable part of his offensive arsenal. Jordan was very active on the glass, pulling down 24 rebounds (possibly inspired in part by his commitment to donate $100 per rebound this season to help the effort to rebuild his hometown of Houston after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Harvey). The rest of the supporting cast played with the sort of cohesion and confidence that takes at least a few weeks into the season to develop. Again, the Clippers’ performance could have stemmed primarily from the Lakers’ shaky defense, but it was encouraging to see the team play with such force and confidence in the absence of Paul.

The Western Conference is extremely talented and deep, so it’s unlikely that the Clippers will make it to the Western Conference Finals as Barkley predicted. However, challenging for a spot in the playoffs and perhaps even doing some damage once there seems to be in the realm of possibility. This is especially the case considering how much of an impact Beverley had Thursday night, both defensively and in setting the tone for the rest of his new teammates.

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Morris Bringing Leadership To Celtics

Marcus Morris chats with Basketball Insiders for a one-on-one exclusive.

Spencer Davies

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Returning just one starter from last year’s top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics underwent wholesale changes this past offseason.

Gordon Hayward signed a super max contract. Danny Ainge pried Kyrie Irving away from the Cleveland Cavaliers in a blockbuster deal. Jayson Tatum was selected with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft.

In early July, though, there was an under-the-radar trade executed that hasn’t been mentioned much. Surprisingly, Celtics guard Avery Bradley was sent to the Detroit Pistons in exchange for Marcus Morris, a heady wing with size and versatility to add to a revamped core of players.

Bradley was a mainstay with the franchise for seven years and played a vital role as a part of Brad Stevens’ system, but Boston decided to move in a different direction. As for the man they got in return, he’s thrilled to be there.

“It makes me feel good,” Morris told Basketball Insiders of Ainge dealing one of his best former players for him. “It makes you feel wanted.

“This is my first time since I’ve been in the NBA I’ve been on a team with a bunch of guys that [are] All-Stars. With the maturity of the team being this high and having them high expectations on us, I’m excited to get the season going and see how far we can take this.”

The Detroit Pistons likely wanted to keep him, but the organization clearly felt Bradley’s skill set was too good to pass up. For Morris, he insisted there was no indication that his old team would send him away, but he hasn’t been bashful about talking up his new home.

“Had no idea that I was gonna be a Boston Celtic, but I’m ready for the challenge, you know?” Morris said. “I’m excited. Boston, being a Celtic—it’s something that growing up you don’t really see happening, but when it happens it’s an amazing thing.

“It’s like playing for the Patriots, you know what I mean? One of the most heralded teams and most heralded franchises, and Boston is one of those.”

Entering the seventh season of his career, Morris has remained a steady part of the league. During his time in Detroit, he started nearly every game for the Pistons and found a comfort zone that he believes will carry over in Boston.

“Just continue to be consistent, continue to build on my last past couple of years,” Morris said of his personal goals. “I really felt like I carved my spot in the NBA the last two years—averaging 14 a year and helping my team get to the playoffs one of those years, so I really think I’ve carved a niche in this league.”

The success has come thanks to his versatility and the NBA’s current direction pointing towards that type of game. All of a sudden, not having a defined position makes a player more valuable, something Morris is thankful for as he continues to bring a little bit of everything to the table.

“For guys like me, it’s great,” Morris said. “Coming into the league, I had this ‘tweener’ thing on my back and now it’s like [freaking] great to be a ‘tweener’ at this time. I’m actually happy that it’s switching to my position and guys that can do multiple things are being utilized more in this league.”

Putting the ball in the basket has come fairly easy for Morris, who averaged 14.1 points per game on 42.6 percent from the field over 159 games with Detroit. He’s able to stretch the floor and provide solid spacing offensively, and he envisions doing more than that for this Celtics group.

“And leadership,” Morris said. “I’m not too much of a vocal guy, but I’m a passionate guy on the court. I think that’ll rub off on guys. I love scoring. I love shooting the ball. But that’s not the only thing I do.

“I’ve been a tough defender around this league for the last past years and I’m really looking forward to hanging my hat on that again and just doing whatever it takes for my team to get to that next level.”

Stevens is aware of the impact Morris can bring in the locker room and on the floor. When he returns from a sore knee to make his debut for Boston, that’ll show through his play.

“He’s a guy that can stretch the floor at the four,” Stevens said. “He’s a guy that can guard two through four. He’s tough. He’s smart. He works the right way. We’ll be better with Marcus Morris for sure. The versatility is a very important part of what we want to be.

“Whether he is starting in a couple of weeks or whether he’s coming off the bench, at the end of the day he’s gonna be a critical, critical part of our team.”

While he’s waited to come back, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have stepped up in his absence. With Hayward likely sidelined for the rest of the season, that success will have to be sustained. Morris is a big believer in this promising duo and sees how grounded they are to make that happen.

“They’re mature guys for their age,” Morris said. “Jaylen, I think he’s 20. He’s definitely a lot more mature than I thought. Jayson, too. He’s way more mature than your average 19-year-old.

“At the end of the day, it’s just basketball. I think those guys, they’re ready for the challenge. They love the game. They always in the gym, so I think it’ll be easy for ‘em.”

Part of Morris’ role is guiding those two and the other younger pieces that Boston has as they try and establish themselves as professionals. He’s kind of a coach per se, which is somewhat fitting considering what he did this summer.

Most basketball fans are aware of “The Basketball Tournament” that takes nationwide. For those that aren’t, it’s a single-elimination competition between 64 teams in which the champion receives a $2 million prize. Morris was the head coach of Team FOE—standing for Family Over Everything.

Along with his fellow Kansas alums, including his brother Markieff and Thomas Robinson, Morris coached his team to the final game. Team FOE was in front most of the game but ultimately fell to Boeheim’s Army, a squad filled with former Syracuse Orangemen.

“I was on my way man,” Morris said of coming close. “I actually liked it. I’m a smart guy. Me and basketball stuff, I can put it together real well. I was kinda upset we lost in the fashion that we lost, but we’ll be back next year.

“I’m a smart player,” he said regarding a potential future on the sidelines. “I know the game really well. Coaching comes easy for some guys and I’m just one of those guys.”

You could hear “Coach Morris” down the line, but for now and for years to come, Marcus is focused on his first year with Boston. It’s a team that surely has the talent to be the top team in the East it’s pegged to be. Stevens is a basketball savant with great leadership.

Even without an All-Star like Hayward and a 0-2 start, the Celtics should still be a force to be reckoned with. There’s an even greater demand for them to achieve their potential, especially knowing eyes will be on them, but Morris welcomes the challenge.

“Man, it’s pressure on every team,” Morris said. “It ain’t like it’s just all on the Boston Celtics. It’s pressure on every team. What’s a game without pressure anyway?

“Pressure makes it the best thing. That’s what we need to do anyway. I enjoy the pressure. Me personally.”

Shouldering the load won’t be easy, but if it comes down to it, Morris will be swimming instead of sinking. When all is said and done, he shares the same aspirations as most players do—raising the Larry O’Brien trophy in the summer.

“I want to the win the championship,” Morris said. “You put this type of team together to get to those positions. I’m looking to be playing in June and trying to get to a championship.”

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