Trade deadline, Raptors loss highlights Sixers’ roster concerns

Mar 30, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons (25) dribbles against the Atlanta Hawks in the first quarter at Philips Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

PHILADELPHIA – As Brett Brown sat in front of the assembled the media, following a 119-107 defeat to the Toronto Raptors, he delivered a simple summary of the Philadelphia 76ers’ performance on this night.

“It’s not who we are,” Brown said of his team’s outing. “It’s not how we play defence and it’s not anything we are about.”

The Sixers defence wasn’t the only thing that ailed them against Toronto but it was unquestionably the biggest on-court takeaway from their third loss to the Raptors this season. Toronto scored 72 points in the first half, on 52% shooting from the field and in the process put up a 146.9 offensive rating – a figure that is 31.3 points above the best offence in the NBA this season.

Toronto owns the second-best record in the NBA at 39-16, and have legitimised themselves as a Finals contender throughout the season. The Sixers succumbing to one of the best teams in basketball isn’t necessarily surprising, but there is no shying away from the disappointing nature in which they were outclassed. Their first half performance was listless and the Raptors, led by Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, were able to score freely with minimal deterrent, much to Brown’s chagrin.

“I give Toronto credit; they drove it down our throats and we didn’t respond,” Brown said postgame. “Individually, I thought we were poor just guarding our own man. You can see those young guys; it’s a lesson when you out some of those young guys on the floor. Even some of our veterans, and as a group, we needed to do better.”

Just five days ago, the Sixers were celebrating their best win of the season against Golden State. On that night, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid were newly minted All-Stars and the Sixers dynamic duo overawed the two time defending champions. The good feelings that followed Philadelphia in California have now vanished. With the trade deadline less than 40 hours away, further questions linger, as do legitimate concerns over the cohesion of a locker room that has been unable to find consistency in a post-Jimmy Butler reality.

Simmons and Butler both left the arena tonight without speaking to reporters, something they are typically obliged to do after every game. The Australian was dressed just moments after the game ended, walked past the press room at the Wells Fargo Center and left the building before Brown had even began his post match media availability. Butler wasn’t sighted post-game and was gone before the Sixers locker room opened up to the media.

Brown’s reference to the “young guys” during his postgame commentary is also telling, ahead of Thursday trade deadline and particularly relevant given his comments before the game.

“We all understand that we are here to make a deep run in the playoffs,” Brown said during his pre-game availability. “To do that, we all understand you need depth and by in large, depth in May sure helps when it is experienced depth.

“If that doesn’t play out with trades that could and we are left with the team that we have, you know what I say and I mean it. Off we go and I will coach to try and make it worth.

With J.J. Redick and Wilson Chandler both sidelined tonight, Brown was forced to start Landry Shamet and rely upon the trio of T.J. McConnell, Jonah Bolden and Furkan Korkmaz as the only bench players to receive minutes.

Wing depth has been a concern for the Sixers all season; with their starting shooting guard and power forward sidelined, the back end of the roster was exposed by a ruthless Raptors outfit. Bolden and Shamet have impressed beyond what those within the Sixers franchise expected during their rookie seasons, although with both now integral parts of Brown’s rotation, there are serious concerns internally over whether upgrades are needed for the current postseason push.

Shamet, who is shooting a florescent 40.6% from three on the season, is an undersized defender who opponents are starting to seek out and Bolden remains devoid of experience at the NBA level. Both are unquestioned success stories this season in Philadelphia. They are pieces to future Sixers teams, but their inexperience has many around the franchise, including Brown, questioning whether they can find their best basketball on the biggest stage.

“We all agree that [Jonah Bolden and Landry Shamet] are two great young pieces,” Brown said pre-game. “How does that translate in late April and May, we hope June one day. It’s early right now and I don’t know.”

Brown was quick to note that nothing is imminent on the trade front, but the Sixers are desperately scouring the trade market with hopes of finding wing depth. Their interest in Wesley Matthews is real, and the Sixers will aggressively pursue the 32-year-old if he is bought out by the New York Knicks. Corey Brewer, who yesterday completed his second 10-day contract with the team, is expected to be signed to a full season on Friday deal once the trade deadline passes.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski broke news on a trade between the 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers, that sent Shamet westbound, along with multiple picks and Wilson Chandler and Mike Muscala. The Clippers in return, dealt Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to Philadelphia.

Beyond Matthews and Brewer, expect the Sixers to be sniffing around on any perimeter player who could bolster their bench. With memories of catching lightning in a bottle on the buyout market last season with Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova, there is hope that a similar feat can be emulated this time around. When Philadelphia hosts the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, there will likely be new faces around and some familiar ones gone. Whether that makes a difference in the post-season, is the question.

“Hopefully I don’t get traded,” Embiid said postgame. The two-time All-Star definitely isn’t going anywhere this week, but that is a fate reserved for very few on the Sixers roster.

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