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Sixers Mailbag: Are there any potential problems with Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz duo?

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Plus Okafor, ego issues, conference realignment, and more.

NBA: Indiana Pacers at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I hope you all had a wonderful Fourth of July week. There has been a lot going on around the NBA, including the debut of our wonderful son of the Process, Markelle Fultz. The Knicks are giving out insane contracts, Vegas Summer League is about to go down, and a whole lot of Boston Celtics are on the trade market.

Here are some of the questions you had for the mailbag this week.

As far as potential problems go, this would be one of the only concerns I have with “fit” as it pertains to the Sixers’ core. And to be clear, I have heard nothing that would suggest either of these guys is less than thrilled about playing together, which should be said before we go any further.

That said, there are very few historical analogues for the situation the Sixers have on their hands. They have three players who were widely considered the best prospects in their class—yes, Joel Embiid too, whose status at the top of the board was only derailed by red health flags—all on the same team, going through their growing pains at the same time.

Traditionally, when you see three stars or near-stars on the same roster, they have taken their lumps on their own before joining up, or there was a discrepancy in their statuses/roles from the start. In this case, Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz are all alpha dogs, the crown jewels from their former college programs, and rightfully expected to become stars.

The evolution of the team is going to necessitate sacrifices from all parties. The biggest might end up having to come from Embiid; he’s the most offensively-gifted player relative to his position, but he also has the biggest burden to carry on defense. Given the health concerns, it wouldn’t be completely crazy to consider putting him in a lower-stress role on offense.

At the same time, can you ask a big man like Embiid to dominate defensively—with a team of questionable defenders around him—and then not give him a corresponding amount of touches on the other end? I think that’s a losing proposition too.

The good thing is I think all of these guys are wired to do what it takes to win. Even in a Summer League game where he was clearly the best player on the team, Fultz did not force his offense on Wednesday, picking his spots and playing within the flow of the offense for most of the evening. Simmons is obviously a playmaker first-and-foremost, and Embiid’s primary concern is winning, no matter the cost.

If you want a much shorter answer, I don’t think there will be an issue as long as they’re winning, and Brett Brown has proven great at juggling egos. In any case, these are problems in the distant future.

I think there’s almost no chance Fultz starts the season on the bench. The team is ultra-high on him—you don’t move up to No. 1 if you’re not—and their priority first-and-foremost is to get him up to speed attacking NBA defenses. The only way to do that is to allow him to try and fail/succeed against the best competition opposing teams have to offer.

Besides, he’ll get plenty of minutes against bench units, too. The beauty of having two high-level creators in Simmons and Fultz is that you can stagger their minutes to always have one of them on the court, so long as Brett Brown doesn’t bungle the rotations.

To address the attached rotation question, I don’t think we’re anywhere close to knowing how that will play out yet. Fultz played most of his minutes against Boston with more of a true point guard, and then almost none of his minutes with one against Utah. They can play him in a bunch of different lineup contexts, but until we get into training camp and preseason, I think it’s a little premature to guess how they’ll dole out minutes.

As much as NBA fans love this concept, I just can’t see it happening. The NBA is a more experimental and open-minded league than some of the other major American sports leagues, but this would be a pretty radical step, even if it does make sense. Feel free to make fun of me if I’m wrong.

This was a very popular question, and since the Celtics are still trying to figure out how to fit Gordon Hayward’s salary on the books, it’s one worth addressing. I absolutely think Avery Bradley could be had, but the price point would not be worth it for the Sixers at this juncture, in my opinion.

As I mentioned with the rotation question above, things are a lot more uncertain on-the-court than tends to be acknowledged. Bringing in someone like Redick is one thing, because all they had to do is pay him a bunch of money this year to play a role they know they’ll get value from.

Bradley is a different proposition. Given Danny Ainge’s notorious reputation for asking for a fortune for any of his players or assets, he’s going to come calling for first-round picks, young talent, etc. If you move that sort of package to obtain him, you’re committing to keeping him through 2018 and beyond, and likely paying him a lot of money (over at least several years) as a free agent next summer.

I don’t think the Sixers’ roles are clear enough or their players are far along enough yet to pot commit yourself to Bradley, if he would even decide to stay after year one in Philadelphia. I’d like to see Fultz, Simmons, and Embiid get a full season of action together to judge how they fit together, and then make the decisions that will have far-reaching consequences for your asset pile and cap sheet. But that’s just me.

(Editor’s Note: This was all written before Woj dropped a bomb four minutes before this was scheduled to pub, and I can’t believe the Celtics only got Marcus Morris back in this deal. Forget everything I said.)

I think Simmons will be the clear leader here. He’s going to get dunks as the ball-handler in the half-court, as the roll man, and in multiple contexts in transition, too. He just simply has more avenues that will reliably produce dunks, even if a higher percentage of Richaun Holmes’ offense will come from dunking the basketball.

Embiid should get a lot of these too, but Simmons has to live in the paint, whereas Embiid is already showing off in the gym with his shooting touch.

(I’m afraid to answer this, so let’s use a more suitable question)

The Sixers tried, have been trying, and continue to look for ways to trade Jahlil Okafor. When that will happen or to who is hard to say; he was all but gone at the trade deadline, only for the deal to collapse and Nerlens Noel to end up walking out the door first.

Nothing indicates the Sixers are particularly interested in keeping him around. Embiid is going to get the majority of minutes in the middle, Holmes proved he was a capable backup (and straight up fits the team better), and signing Amir Johnson for $11 million would seem to indicate he’s going to factor into the front court rotation.

There really aren’t enough minutes for Okafor in Philly. If the idea is that you want him to rehab his trade value, he’d have to get significant development time in order to try to improve his very real flaws. To be frank, that really shouldn’t be high up on the Sixers’ priority list, because the development of their assumed core trio is all that really matters right now.

There are places where Okafor can get the right amount of development time and be a successful NBA player. From talking to people in the organization, looking at the moves they’ve made this summer, and taking a sober view of the situation, moving on is the most likely and beneficial route for all parties.