The 76ers and Portland Trail Blazers are navigating similar situations following the trade deadline. Both teams added players through the trade or buyout markets and are hoping to work out all the kinks by the time the postseason rolls around.
The Blazers added Rodney Hood and Skal Labissiere through trades and then signed Enes Kanter after he agreed to a buyout with the Knicks. Though Labissiere is unlikely to find playing time in the Blazers’ rotation, adding Hood and Kanter has meant that coach Terry Stotts is working through some of the same rotation experimenting as Brett Brown.
“He’s going through the same adjustments of adding new players,” Stotts said of Brown on Friday after the Blazers practiced at Temple. “They’re trying to get their new guys up to speed as well.”
While the Sixers starting unit is clearly defined with Tobias Harris being the newest addition, it’s the bench where Brown is still trying to find the perfect balance with his already established players and the players that are new to the roster. It’s exactly that predicament to which Stotts can relate.
“That’s kind of where I am,” Stotts said. “Our starters are our starters," Stotts said, "and then rotating guys in. We’ve got 12 guys on the roster that have played significant minutes, have contributed to winning games in the fourth quarter, so I think we all have a lot of trust in those guys. It’s just figuring out night to night what’s the best way to utilize them.”
The Blazers and Sixers are also similar in their records and positioning — Blazers fourth in the Western Conference, Sixers fourth in the East — so with the playoffs on the horizon, getting the new players up to speed and figuring out rotations are the highest priorities.
Stotts has found that he has had to move a few steps back from the work he put in through the first four months of the season in order to incorporate new players. Brown has shared that sentiment, saying that the Sixers have to go back to the basics and review things that were talked about in training camp.
Despite the slowed-down approach, the Blazers are confident that they’ll have enough time between now and the postseason to make everything work. Kanter played his first game with the Blazers on Wednesday night in Brooklyn and scored 18 points to go with nine rebounds off the bench.
“You see with Enes, he fit in so he was able to be comfortable and have a big game right away,” Damian Lillard said.
Lillard added that some teams who move for the most talented player on the market at the trade deadline instead of the player that would be the best fit might have a tougher time of preparing for the postseason. But he feels like Hood and Kanter won’t have a problem because they fit into the Blazers’ system perfectly.
Kanter, who hasn’t played postseason basketball since the 2016-17 season when he was with the Thunder and was most recently with a struggling Knicks team, has been desperate to be in a winning situation and is overjoyed at the prospect of returning to the playoffs.
“I’m definitely excited about it,” Kanter said. “That should be everybody’s goal ... I think we have a really good chance to go far in the playoffs.”
A deep run in the playoffs is, of course, the Sixers’ goal as well. Both teams are taking a calm approach between now and the end of the regular season, trusting that the systems they have already established will work in their favor as they usher their new players forward.