While Klay Thompson gears up for Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Oakland, the city of Philadelphia is clamoring for his services.
After his current shooting struggles continued in the opening game of the Finals, Thompson looks increasingly like the player whose game is most affected by the addition of Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors. As a result, the speculation by Philadelphia media about Thompson’s fit on the Sixers kicked into an extra gear.
On the Philadelphia ESPN radio affiliate, 97.5 The Fantatic, afternoon radio host Mike Missanelli had Mychal Thompson — former No. 1 overall draft pick and Klay’s father — on the air Friday afternoon to discuss his son’s potential future. And dad gushed about the budding core in Philadelphia.
“Yes, Sam Hinkie was right,” Thompson told Missanelli. “The talent that he amassed there with Ben (Simmons) and Joel (Embiid), as long as those two guys stay healthy Philadelphia is the team of the future in the Eastern Conference. No doubt about that. They’re going to be better than Washington, better than Atlanta, better than Toronto. Love that roster that you have there in Philly right now.”
While the praising of the young Sixers cornerstone players was nice and hopeful, it’s what the elder Thompson said next that brings home the idea of adding a player like his son to the Philadelphia roster.
“Now all you guys need is one shooter,” Thompson said. “One guy that has the winning background as a shooter, and I got the guy for you, the guy you can have. And his name is J.J. Redick.”
Thompson’s father continued on by mentioning his son is currently in “basketball heaven” and would see no reason to leave. Realistically, he’s probably right. The Warriors are in their third straight Finals and look poised to win their second championship. But with the addition of Durant, something isn’t clicking for Thompson this postseason. Shooting just 36.6 percent from the field and 33.8 percent from beyond the arc, the sharpshooting two-guard certainly doesn’t look like himself.
Which is why regardless of the Finals outcome, Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo should hop on the phones and seriously see what it would take to bring Thompson to Philadelphia.
As the elder Thompson stated, the construction of Philadelphia’s roster seems to be an established shooter away from taking the next step out of the NBA’s basement. With a ball-dominant player that possesses an uncanny knack for finding the open man in Simmons, and a monster on the block that almost surely needs to be double-teamed or at the very least draws weak side help in Embiid, the Sixers’ offense is set up from the inside out to benefit someone who can step in and knock down shots at an elite level.
But what’s different about Thompson than someone like Redick, or signing Kyle Lowry, is that bringing him on board wouldn’t disrupt the timeline of The Process. At just 27 years old, Thompson is on the cusp of his prime. Redick and Lowry are 32 and 31, respectively. Along with their advanced age, they’re going to command longer deals than maybe their continued high level of play is worth. Under contract for the next two seasons at $17.8 and $18.9 million, Thompson’s cap situation isn’t nearly as complicated as some other guard options for the Sixers.
Looking past the money and age, Thompson is also the perfect defensive complement for Simmons, who is expected to play point guard on offense. One of the league’s premier wing defenders, Thompson already gets the assignment of the guarding opposing team’s most dangerous player. During Game 1 of the Finals, Cleveland Cavaliers guarded by Thompson made just one shot. Athleticism can deteriorate a basketball player’s effectiveness on the court, but traits like a pretty shooting stroke and defensive positioning don’t vanish rapidly with father time. That point alone makes Thompson the most attractive option to bring on board in Philadelphia, as he would truly be able to grow with their young core.
However, a player of Thompson’s caliber — three-time All-Star and career 42 percent three-point shooter — won’t be bought cheap, if he can even be bought at all.
A deal for Golden State’s third shooter would most certainly be centered around Philadelphia’s No. 3 pick in the upcoming draft. Along with that pick, another high-value draft asset — potentially the 2018 Los Angeles Lakers unprotected pick, or the 2019 Sacramento Kings unprotected pick — would have to enter the conversation. But to fully get the attention of the juggernaut Warriors, a play now player would most certainly be involved in negotiations — probably a player like Dario Saric given his ability to run their second unit and act as an understudy to the jack-of-all-trades king in Draymond Green.
There’s no guarantee, however, that Golden State even entertains this possibility. But there is a reason to believe the move is plausible.
The Warriors will soon be faced with the decision of handing max contracts to both Durant and Steph Curry, locking down their cap situation pretty tight. So, securing a player like Green, who is more versatile on the court as opposed to having another shooter like Thompson, would make sense from a logistics standpoint. On top of that, getting a player like Saric in return on a rookie deal for the next three seasons grants Golden State some cap flexibility. That same notion goes for whichever player they would wind up selecting with the third pick — Josh Jackson’s perimeter defense and run-and-gun style of play would seem to fit nicely.
What is a guarantee though, is that Colangelo will have no clue what Golden State’s level of interest is if he never picks up the phone, and Thompson’s potential fit in Philadelphia is worth much more than a phone call.
PODCAST: Lonzo’s Shot, How To Cut Luol Deng and More
Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler and Senior NBA writer and salary cap guru Eric Pincus talk about Lonzo Ball and the unreasonable expectations some have had about his rookie campaign, what the Lakers could do with Luol Deng, teams that have cap exceptions and could likely use them, which teams are for real and more.
Johnson Is Leading By Example In Philadelphia
Amir Johnson may not be a star player, but his impact on the locker room is a constant in Philadelphia.
After every home win, the Philadelphia 76ers have a miniature liberty bell in their locker room that gets rung by a selected player, usually the who had the biggest impact on the game.
On Monday night, Amir Johnson got to the ring the bell after the Sixers beat the Utah Jazz 107-86 to secure their ninth win of the season. Johnson turned in his best performance since joining Philadelphia this offseason, with eight points, 13 rebounds and four blocks in 21 minutes of playing time as Joel Embiid’s substitute.
Up until about 45 minutes before the 7 p.m. tipoff, Embiid’s status was unclear due to knee soreness. Johnson would’ve been tasked with the starting role had his teammate been unable to perform. Instead, he fulfilled his backup role to perfection, which has been the status quo for Johnson so far this season.
When the Sixers signed Johnson to a one-year $11 million deal in July, it was for the purpose of shaping a young roster with some veteran leadership. Management wanted to ensure there would be a professional in the locker room to help navigate the likes of Embiid and Ben Simmons through a full NBA season, with hopes of making it to the playoffs.
“When we looked to build our roster and sort of identify people we started talking about Amir Johnson,” Brett Brown said. “And Bryan was way more familiar with Amir — this is to Bryan’s credit — than I was, because of his Toronto background. And I started digging in and calling his teammates. I’ve been in the league for a long time, so you follow him, and you speak to people like Evan Turner. You know, tell me about Amir when you were in Boston and so on.”
While Brown was doing his research on Johnson, he came across an impressive level of continuity when it came to how others viewed the center.
“It’s amazing to a man how consistent the reviews were,” Brown said of Johnson. “People skills, work his butt off, could handle swinging a towel or coming in and making a difference. He’s a good person and he’s a pro. To be able to bring him in the game and now worry about is he happy, is he fresh, is he in shape, does he need 10 shots? It isn’t ever on my mind with Amir.”
The Sixers’ head coach seems honest in his assessment, and Johnson’s fluctuating level of productivity and use reflects that. Prior to his big night against Utah, Johnson logged a combined 21 minutes over the team’s previous four games — including two DNP’s, both coming against the Golden State Warriors.
Still, just barely over a month into this new season, the Sixers are trying to iron out the kinks in their lineup. With injuries to Richaun Holmes, Markelle Fultz, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson over the course of the season so far, finding a set group of guys and defining their roles has been a tricky situation to maneuver.
Last season, Johnson started 77 games for the Boston Celtics during their campaign that ran all the way to the Eastern Conference finals. His one start in 14 games this season, with a cut in minutes per game, is a far cry from the level of use Johnson experienced just one year ago. But coming into this season, that was known. Johnson’s role would be to help guide his junior counterparts and chip in where he could.
So far, the deal is paying dividends on both ends.
“It’s huge for us,” Simmons said. “Having a guy come off the bench and play a role like that. As a vet, he’s one of the leaders. He comes in, plays hard, doesn’t ask for more minutes or anything like that. He’s a great player.”
In a game that featured the absence of Jazz star center Rudy Gobert, Johnson was able to make his presence more prevalent during his reserve minutes. Along with his four blocks, Johnson had a game-high 15 contested two-point shots. As a team, Utah shot just 35.3 percent from the field.
Backing up a superstar in the making in Embiid, Johnson has limited time to let it be known that he’s still around. That situation is magnified on nights that Holmes is seeing extended run as well. But in his 13th season in the league, Johnson knows a thing or two about finding ways to be effective and efficient.
“Finding my way on the floor, knowing the amount of time I have, just finding ways I can help my teammates,” Johnson said. “I watch a lot of film. Just for me to find open spots, set screens, and the biggest part that I can help this team out, is just play defense and grabbing rebounds.”
On the nights where Johnson doesn’t get his number called — a la games against the Warriors and other small-ball teams — the veteran just continues to do what he was brought in to do in the first place, lead by example.
“Just sticking to my routine,” Johnson said. “Being mentally prepared, getting my teammates ready, just being a professional, doing all kind of things to prepare for a game.”
After being around the come up in Boston, Johnson knows there are bigger things at stake for the Sixers than a few minutes here and there on the court. To him, winning is the only thing that matters.
“When you don’t play and you win, man it’s like and that’s all that matters,” Johnson said. “We’re here to try and do one goal, and that’s win games and make the playoffs, and go from there on.”
Whether he’s on the bench waving a towel, or on the court making a play, Johnson will continue to lead a young group of talented players by example, hopefully culminating in a trip to the playoffs.
“He is a legitimate pro, on and off the court,” Brown said. “He’s a wonderful teammate.”
NBA PM: Marcus Morris’ Return Bolsters The Celtics
With the Boston Celtics riding high with a league-best 16-game win streak, the return of forward Marcus Morris has provided a lift.
Boston Celtics GM Danny Ainge made a huge personnel gamble this summer that changed four starters from a roster that reached the Eastern Conference Finals. One of the less-heralded among the new starters — forward Marcus Morris, who arrived from the Pistons in a surprise trade for starting shooting guard Avery Bradley — has proven to be a key component in Boston’s early success.
After missing the first eight games of the season due to lingering knee soreness, Morris has scored in double figures in six of nine appearances. Following Saturday’s win over the Hawks in Atlanta — the 15th of the current 16-game win streak — Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Morris’ contributions have been vital, even as Stevens continues to monitor his minutes.
“We need Marcus quite a bit,” said Stevens. “We’re still managing his minutes appropriately as he comes back. Hopefully, that continues to be more and more and more.”
Morris was plus-18 against the Hawks, 10 points better than any other starter, despite being the only starter with single-digit shot attempts. Stevens added that Morris’ offense has been a boost despite few plays being run for him.
“He brings us scoring, he brings us defense [and] he brings us toughness,” said Stevens. “I think we really need his scoring, like his ability to shoot the ball both off broken plays and off movement.”
Morris’ emergence as an offensive threat was noted in the offseason by an Eastern Conference forward in an anonymously-sourced piece on underrated players by HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy.
“I think Marcus Morris is really underrated,” the forward told Kennedy. “He can play multiple positions and he went from being a role player to someone who scores the ball really well. When other players have made that leap, they got more attention. Take Chandler Parsons, for example. When Chandler made big strides, he got a ton of attention and a huge contract. Marcus hasn’t gotten the recognition or the payday that he deserves.”
While some questioned the wisdom of trading Bradley, a starter for a team that had a lot of success and remained on the rise, Celtics center Al Horford — the sole remaining starter from last season — said he was looking forward to playing with Morris once the trade was announced.
“He’s one of the guys that really excited me once we got him this offseason, just because of everything he’s going to be able to bring,” said Horford. “I don’t think he’s at his best yet. He’s doing okay. But he’s just going to keep getting better. So that’s a good thing for us.”
With the knee injury that lingered after the start of the season, Horford said the team is still getting accustomed to the diverse set of tools Morris brings to the court.
“Marcus is great,” said Horford. “Defensively, his presence is felt. On offense I think he’s finally starting to get into a rhythm. He’s getting more comfortable [and] we’re getting more comfortable with him. It’s a matter of time.”
While Stevens and Horford both feel that we haven’t seen Morris at his best, his return to action was timely as it bolstered the lineup during the current win streak. Horford, who was part of a 19-game win streak for the Hawks during the 2014-15 season, was asked how Boston is approaching its current prosperity. Horford said that, like his former Hawks team, the Celtics are avoiding the subject in the locker room.
“We’re not honestly really talking about it much,” said Horford. “That winning streak here was pretty special. We were playing at a high level. We didn’t talk about it here either and we’re taking that type of approach. We’re just playing and enjoying the game out there.”
With Boston carrying the current streak into a Wednesday visit to Miami, Ainge’s surprising trade for Marcus Morris is looking more and more prescient. If his best is yet to come, as his coach and teammates maintain, the recognition that has elluded Morris could be just around the corner.