Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

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Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

It was bound to happen. It’s bound to continue. The rumors about potential trades. The speculation about which players might be involved. It is how things go in the NBA, particularly with a team that has assets it could be willing to unload.

The latest report by ESPN -- unconfirmed by CSNPhilly, it should be noted -- speculated that Philadelphia could be “a viable destination” for marginalized Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. The potential price? Thaddeus Young (see story).

The salaries match up. Asik’s cap hit for this season and next is approximately $8.37 million. Following next season, he would become a free agent. Young will make $8.85 million this season and $9.41 million next year. He has a player option for 2015-16 for $9.72 million.

One of the main benefits for the Sixers would be an extra year of possible cap flexibility, since Asik is under contract for just one more season after this while Young could potentially be on the books through the end of the ’15-16 campaign. That’s not nothing. The increased freedom, particularly for a team that’s rebuilding and will already have quite a bit of cap space for the 2014 offseason, is attractive. But is it enough?

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie, who previously worked in the Rockets’ front office, is obviously well-acquainted with Asik and his abilities. Asik is the sort of in-the-paint presence the Sixers currently lack. For his career, Asik averages 53.3 percent shooting from the field, 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He doesn’t get to the line that often (2.4 free throw attempts per game), and he doesn’t shoot very well when he does (53.4 free throw percentage).

Asik averages 0.9 blocks per game and 0.4 steals. He’s not a great passer for a big man, averaging 0.6 assists. And unlike Spencer Hawes, Asik doesn’t take shots from distance. Ever. He’s attempted exactly one three-pointer in his career.

Back when he played for the Bulls, Asik was regularly on the court late in games because of his defensive abilities. He’s big. Asik is listed at 7-foot, 255 pounds. If he got regular starter's minutes, particularly in Brett Brown’s system, you’d expect his rebounds, steals and blocks per game to spike significantly.

(The Sixers could certainly use someone in the middle. While they average the second-most points in the paint, they surrender the eighth most.)

But, again, is that enough to unload Young, who’s having a solid season? I’m not sure it is.

Young is averaging 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s also taking more three-pointers than he has in four years (see story), and he’s hitting them at a career-best percentage. He’s a good all-around player.

Young is listed at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he’s a willing and capable defender on the interior or perimeter. Between the versatility he’s shown this season, and his reasonable contract, he has to be worth something to a team that’s in playoff contention. Or at least he should be worth more than Asik.

It’s a plus that Asik’s deal would expire after next season. But if he did land in Philly, how would his presence affect Nerlens Noel’s development upon his return? Let’s say both are in a Sixers uniform next season. What kind of minutes would Asik require to be productive and happy? Houston has already learned that Asik can turn pouty if he doesn’t play enough. There were reports that he was scratched from several games this season because he was “so unhappy” with his reduced role that he was “in no state to play.”

Juxtapose that attitude against Young, who has proven to be a quality teammate and professional. Under Doug Collins, Young was asked not to shoot from long range, to treat the three-point line as a “barbed wire fence,” to put on weight, and to serve more as a power forward. He obliged on all fronts. This season, under Brown and his radically different system, he’s been asked to take shots from the outside when he’s open, to carry more of the offensive load, and to guard swingmen and power forwards depending on what’s needed on a given night. He’s obliged on all fronts.

None of that means the Sixers can’t or shouldn’t trade Young. As Young himself said before Monday’s game, “it’s a job” and “a business.” But that doesn’t mean the Sixers have to trade him right now for Asik.

“I see it. I see it pop up on my Twitter page and stuff like that,” Young said when asked if he was aware of the latest trade talk. “When you see that type of stuff, you can’t help but read the article. But, hey, it is what it is. If they see fit to trade me, I have to go. I have to move to the next city and take my family with me, pack my bags and be ready to play the next game the next day.”

He gets it. He understands that he could be here today and gone tomorrow. But if that’s the case, the Sixers should get something more than Asik and his contract that won’t expire until after next season. They can do better -- can’t they?

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

Without Joel Embiid, Brett Brown eager to see if Sixers can protect the rim

CAMDEN, N.J. — The Sixers have been challenged by playing without Joel Embiid in one of two games in a back-to-back series all season. Now they will have to do it in at least the next two straight games. 

“We’re going to be without him tomorrow (against the Clippers) and in Milwaukee and we’ll go from there,” Brett Brown said after practice Monday. 

Embiid, who was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week, suffered a left knee contusion in Friday’s win over the Trail Blazers. He did not travel with the team to Atlanta on Saturday for the back-to-back series. 

Brown called the decision “precautionary.” Embiid did not practice on Monday but took some light shots after. He was pre-scheduled to sit out on Wednesday against the Bucks in accordance with his limitations for consecutive games. Embiid is reportedly expected to return Friday against the Rockets.

The standout rookie leaves a glaring hole on the court when he misses games. The Sixers are 2-10 when he does not play. For all the ways Embiid dominates at the basket (22.4 points over the last 10 games), there is an obvious difference on the defensive end without him. 

“It’s still about our defense, it’s still about running, it’s still about sharing the ball,” Brown said. “I think you go with Jahlil (Okafor) and Nerlens (Noel) and challenge them in relation to rim protection and what Joel provides us. The group around them also has got to perform at a higher level when you don’t have Joel. I think that second group that we have been playing, led by Nerlens really can take on a far greater defensive identity than it has recently, and Nerlens will be the captain of that.”

This is a time when the Sixers’ logjam at the five-spot actually helps them. Brown still has three true centers to turn to, in addition to power forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, whom he could slide into the position if they go small. Brown sees a silver lining for his bigs in the uphill battle of playing without Embiid. 

“It definitely hurts the team, how can we spin it any other way?” Brown said. “But like anything, you’re going to now look at Nerlens and Jahlil. This is fantastic for those two. It could prove, based on some things, Richaun (Holmes) sees daylight a little bit. 

“There aren’t many teams, I would suspect, that have the ability to roll out three young guys when somebody like Joel goes down and look forward to watching them develop more, look forward to giving them the opportunity to play NBA minutes.”

Okafor has been receiving the start when Embiid is out. (He has been out of the rotation when Embiid does play.) Okafor, though, is dealing with right knee soreness he experienced on Saturday. The Sixers kept an eye on him Monday and held him out of 5-on-5 drills in practice. Okafor said the team was being cautious, and he wanted to rest his knee given the number of games coming up. He is listed as probable against the Clippers.

“It was bothering me a little bit in the warmup lines, I started to feel it. When I got going it started feeling really good, then when I sat out for an extended period it got kind of (got) sore on me again,” Okafor explained. “Today they were trying to make sure I could get back to being a hundred percent because they knew that my knee was bothering me. They haven’t really told me what the plan was for tomorrow. Today was really focused on getting me back to being healthy.”

The Clippers are shorthanded as well. Blake Griffin has been sidelined since Dec. 18 because of a right knee procedure and Chris Paul had surgery to repair a ligament tear in his left thumb. Griffin could make his return against the Sixers.

Embiid's honor
Embiid's Player of the Week honor is rare for a rookie. He's only the third Sixers rookie ever to win it, joining Allen Iverson and Michael Carter-Williams.

The last Sixer before Embiid to be named Eastern Conference Player of the Week was Thaddeus Young in January 2014. 

The Sixers won all three games Embiid played last week. He averaged 22.0 points, 10.3 rebounds and 3.7 blocks.

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Joel Embiid (left knee) to miss Sixers' next two games

Update: 4 p.m.

Joel Embiid did not practice on Monday and is listed as doubtful for the Sixers' game Tuesday against the Clippers.

Embiid hyperextended his left knee in the Sixers' 93-92 win over the Blazers Friday. He said after the game that the knee was fine, but the Sixers are clearly exercising caution with their young star center.

"I knew it was OK. I just landed the wrong way," Embiid said Friday. "I'm great. The knee's fine. They did an MRI and stuff, everything looked good."

The Sixers are calling it a left knee contusion. Embiid will also rest on Wednesday against the Bucks. He is expected to return Friday against the Rockets, according to The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Sixers are 13-17 when Embiid plays and 2-10 without him. Brett Brown is looking forward to seeing how the defense responds without its centerpiece Tuesday and Wednesday (see story).

Jahlil Okafor (right knee soreness) was limited at Monday's practice but is probable to play the Clippers.

Okafor had 12 points, four rebounds and three blocks in 30 minutes in Saturday's 110-93 loss at Atlanta.

CSN Philly's Jessica Camerato contributed to this report.