Posts Tagged ‘76ers’

Sixers have a plan — and a need for patience


VIDEO: Philadelphia is playing the long game in its building process

After the long wait, once the ominous clouds fade like pre-op anesthesia, when medical concerns layered on top of medical concerns turn into one of the early chapters of the great success story?

Sure, then the 76ers will have put a lid on the rim and spent weeks at a time laughing at opponents flailing to score inside on Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, then the 76ers will march up the Eastern Conference standings with Michael Carter-Williams, 2014-15 rookie Noel, the 2015 lottery pick and 2015-16 rookies Embiid and Dario Saric, and what could possibly go wrong with that plan? Then the 76ers will be vindicated.

The timing is what makes the logic so flawed, drafting Embiid third with the understanding he could miss all 2014-15 recovery from foot surgery and, via Orlando, Saric at No. 12 knowing he will play in Turkey, both after Philadelphia acquired Noel and waited through a 2013-14 of rehab without getting on the court after knee surgery. Three top prospects, two drafts in a row, a lot of circling the airport.

It’s the wait, again. If the 76ers are willing to spend another season delaying the future, though, and delaying it more than a year ago singularly with the Noel pick, if they are willing to ask their fans to pay up for another race to the bottom, their vision is clear.

Power forward — Noel, arguably the best talent in the 2013 draft before he dropped to No. 6 at least partly from concerns over the torn knee ligament five months earlier.

Small forward — Saric, an intriguing prospect as a 6-foot-10 potential point forward who can rebound and has a very good feel for the game, but a big-picture investment knowing he said he will probably be in Europe two more seasons.

Center — Embiid, the best prospect in the 2014 draft if healthy but too much of a risk for No. 1 Cleveland or No. 2 Milwaukee after a fractured back and months later needing pins inserted in his foot.

Shooting guard — TBA.

Point guard — Carter-Williams, the clear choice as Rookie of the Year last season, still searching for his shot, the big concern coming into the NBA, but filled with promise on several other fronts.

That’s the 2016-17 the Sixers have sketched out, with Noel expected to be in summer league in Orlando starting the end of the week, Embiid missing at least half 2014-15 and very possibly all of it to reduce the risk of setback and then the following campaign for the arrival of Saric. Putting it that way, there is every reason for encouragement.

Putting it another way, the whole plan is built on medical bulletins from two big men coming off serious injuries. If Embiid and Noel are healthy, great. If not, Philly management goes deaf with people screaming at them about Sam Bowie and Greg Oden and a lot of other front offices shake their head and wonder why the 76ers had to be that aggressive.

Oh, and again: 2016-17.

“We felt in many ways very fortunate to have the set of circumstances happen that allowed a player like Joel to be in our position,” general manager Sam Hinkie said the day after the draft, as quoted by Philly.com. “We were very aggressive and we will continue to be very aggressive to find the best players for our team.

“A lot of hard work around looking into Joel and looking into his particular injury. You end up trying to triangulate from lots of different areas, we had many late night conference calls. We’d gather the opinions of surgeons around the country and gather the options of the people who treated Joel in person. In the end, we felt good. He is a remarkable talent in our minds, and only in this scenario does he fall to three.”

References the Saric pick as well, Hinkie said: “All these are calculated risks…. (A) lot of what we do is sleuthing for information, sleuthing for who has been working who out…. (W)as our intel solid? Yes. Was it airtight? No chance.”

Hinkie put his public image on the line based on the word of doctors, because Embiid and Noel were easy calls in basketball terms but a great risk in health, then turned into a risk times two. The Sixers will, of course, be patient with Embiid’s recovery, can have Noel play some center in the meantime, and then fit the two together nicely. Embiid has that much potential on offense despite just a few years in the game, a high ceiling born from remarkable instincts for someone with limited experience and the great footwork from his younger days in soccer and volleyball.

There is also the benefit from the closest thing to a productive second round as possible given the usual return from late picks. K.J. McDaniels (pick 32), Jerami Grant (39) and Vasa Micic (52) got mentions as first-round possibilities and could all stick, and not just because it’s the 76ers. Jordan McRae has a chance. And Philly acquired Pierre Jackson from the Pelicans for the 42nd choice. Jackson was chosen by the 76ers a year ago, before being sent to New Orleans as part of the Noel trade.

Hang time podcast (episode 166) featuring David Aldridge


VIDEO: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver with the classiest move of Draft night, honoring Isaiah Austin’s dream of being drafted

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Andrew Wiggins?

Jabari Parker?

Joel Embiid?.

Which one of these guys will be the biggest prize from the 2014 NBA Draft?

(We already know the biggest winner was Baylor big man Isaiah Austin, check the video above, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.)

And where are we headed in free agency with LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and the rest of the established superstars those youngster want to emulate?

Find your answers and more on Episode 166 of the Hang Time Podcast featuring TNT, NBA TV and NBA.com insider and workhorse David Aldridge, who breaks down the winners, losers and surprises from Draft night and what lies ahead during the crazy season that is free agency.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

Jack Ramsay: A game, a life, a vision

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Whether it was as an octogenarian fitness fanatic skipping rope in a hotel exercise room, those bushy eyebrows dancing above his piercing eyes as he discussed the game he loved or watching one of his teams pass and cut and blend in perfect harmony, the images of Jack Ramsay are all about movement.

The 89-year-old coaching legend who died of cancer Monday morning was relentless in his beliefs about physical training, mental preparation and the correct way to play basketball … and never stopped actively promoting them.

As a native Philadelphian just learning about the game, it was Ramsay’s overachieving St. Joseph’s Hawks teams that swooped up and down the court of the historic Palestra in the early 1960s that first captured my attention and admiration.

In my first year covering the NBA, it was Ramsay’s harmonious vision of the game — move without the ball, make the extra pass, play as one — that made his Trail Blazers of Bill Walton, Maurice Lucas, Bobby Gross, Johnny Davis, Lionel Hollins, Dave Twardzik and the rest NBA champions in 1977. They had such style and elegance and were in tune that you could almost close your eyes and hear music.

Those Finals were the perhaps the greatest contrast in styles ever, pitting Ramsay’s Blazers against the prodigious one-on-one talents of a 76ers roster that included Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and Lloyd Free.

During one practice at The Finals, the Sixers, coached by Gene Shue, spent most of an hour jacking up jump shots, exchanging dunks and killing time. McGinnis took time out to smoke a cigarette in the bleachers. A short time later, the Blazers entered the same gym and began running though layup lines and precise drills as if they were in a Marine boot camp. (more…)

Philly Comes Together To Honor Iverson

VIDEO: Allen Iverson’s jersey jersey retirement ceremony

PHILADELPHIA — The motto for the Philadelphia 76ers this season has been “Together We Build,” a not-so-subtle nod to the aggressive rebuilding campaign the Sixers embarked upon starting on Draft night. Unable to live in the present, at least for this season, the Philadelphia 76ers have largely lived with their eyes on the future. But at least for one night, they pivoted toward the past and spent an evening celebrating the legacy of Allen Iverson.

Before a sold-out crowd of 20,856, with new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on hand along with Sixers legends from Dr. J to Moses Malone to former team president Pat Croce, the 76ers retired Allen Iverson’s No. 3 jersey in an emotional halftime ceremony. (“I’m proud of myself for not losing it, the way I felt like I was,” Iverson said later.)

When the buzzer sounded signaling the end of the first half, no fans headed toward the exits. After a video tribute, Iverson strolled onto the court to thunderous cheers as well as chants of “MVP! MVP!” Dressed all in black, his braids peeking out the back of a black hat, AI made his way down a row of friends and family, stopping to give each person a hug.

After a taped video message from former coach Larry Brown and a presentation of a personalized boat from the current Sixers ownership, Iverson stepped to the microphone. While swaying back and forth, Iverson ran down a list of people he wanted to thank, from various members of his family, to former teammates, to even Michael Jordan, “for inspiring me and giving me a vision. I was one of those kids who wanted to be like Mike.”

He ended by thanking the Philly fans that had given him such love throughout his career. “Y’all gonna have to show me the fool who says dreams don’t come true. Because they do.”

“I love y’all,” Iverson said. “And now it’s time to party.”

Iverson, who ended his career playing 25 games for the Sixers at the end of the 2009-10 season, officially retired in October, and received a standing ovation from fans between quarters back then at the Sixers’ home opener. But Saturday night was the first chance Sixers fans have had to fully revel in the AI experience. Throughout the night, an endless Iverson highlight reel rolled on the scoreboard, as well as tributes from the NBA’s current stars, from Chris Paul to LeBron James. In true Philly fashion, James drew the most vociferous boos of the night. But the brotherly love for Iverson felt endless. The hashtag in use throughout the night, “#AI3Forever,” seemed as much a wish as a statement.

A few moments later, Iverson held a press conference in the Sixers’ press room. As he took one large step from the floor up onto the elevated stage, the 38-year-old Iverson muttered, “I’m too old for this.” Sitting alongside three of his children, Iverson seemed circumspect. He termed his feelings from the evening as “bittersweet,” noting the finality of the ceremony: “Some part of my heart hurts because I realize that it’s over.”

While Iverson said he loves spending time with his kids and watching NBA basketball, he admitted that he couldn’t watch Sixers games with the way they’re struggling now. “It’s hard to watch because I want to help,” he said. “But it will turn around. it will happen.”

Iverson said he would pass on becoming a commentator only because he does not want to be “that guy on camera criticizing other guys.” Would he go into coaching? “Maybe rec league, high school.”

Although Iverson never won a championship, his impact on the league was undeniable. No player of his generation left as large of a mark on the culture of basketball. Braids, tattoos, arm sleeves, the comically large shorts — the recent proliferation of all of those things can be traced directly to AI. While Iverson was frequently decried for being “just” a volume shooter/scorer, it speaks to the singularity of his talent that no player of similar stature has been able to replicate his production since.

More than anything, Iverson always felt genuine — to his fans, certainly, but more importantly, he seemed to be true to himself. That authenticity endeared him to fans around the world with a ferocity seldom seen. People weren’t just casual fans of AI, they LOVED Allen Iverson. Maybe it was his size, the way he was a literal giant-slayer on the floor. Perhaps it was his heart, the way no obstacle could slow him down. Or maybe it was his fearlessness, like when a rookie Iverson put Michael Jordan on skates with a crossover dribble. That was a moment of coronation, not so much a passing of the torch but an instance of the torch being yanked away from one generation by the group on deck. Whatever it was, it all came together into a package that was larger than life.

These days the only AI in Philadelphia is After Iverson. The Sixers’ 122-103 loss to the Wizards on Saturday hardly registered. Until the Sixers are able to build a foundation that allows them to contend, they will still be building, together. And on this evening, it was special to have Allen Iverson be part of that process. During his portion of the presentation, earlier in the evening, Commissioner Silver had said that Iverson “defined the city of Philadelphia, more than any other athlete.”

Iverson made clear that he understood this. And that the feeling was mutual. “I was their own,” he said of Philadelphia and the Philly fans. “I am Philly. It’s going to always be like that.”


VIDEO: Lang Whitaker discusses Allen Iverson’s impact

It’s Time For New Year’s Resolutions

VIDEO: The Starters review the year so far

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ring out the old. Ring in the new. As the calendar turns, it’s time for resolutions throughout the NBA:

Atlanta Hawks — Look Back to the Future: This was supposed to be the start of a brand new era for one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises, and things were actually looking good until Al Horford tore a pectoral muscle. With their undersized big man done for the season, the Hawks will only stay afloat because they’re in the horrid Eastern Conference. But they’re going in the right direction under GM Danny Ferry and coach Mike Budenholzer, and will get the lottery pick of the sinking Nets, so there’s reason for hope out of a draft class teeming with talent.

Boston Celtics — Move Fast on Rondo: According to the old saying, you’re either part of the solution or part of the problem. When Rajon Rondo is finally able to get back onto the court and prove that he’s close to his old self, rookie coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge have to find out right away if he’s mentally ready to anchor the rebuilding project. If not, the Celtics could reap a windfall in new pieces ahead of the trade deadline.

Brooklyn Nets — Fuhgetaboutit: OK, it was a nice little pipe dream to think that a couple of old codgers like Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could shuffle up and down the court in slippers and robes to tangle with the Heat and Pacers. Fortunately, team owner Mikhail Prokorov can afford their salaries with the kind of change he finds in his sofa cushions. Pay them off, send them away and get back to building around Brook Lopez and Deron Williams with players who aren’t signing up for Medicare.

Charlotte Bobcats — Keep Him: For the first time in who can remember how long, Michael Jordan won’t have to spend next summer looking for a coach. The merry-go-round can stop. Steve Clifford has given Charlotte a sense of purpose, respectability and a solid identity on the defensive end. Now they’ve got to work on boosting production out of that woeful offense. One thing at a time.

Chicago Bulls — Play Derrick and the Dominoes: Even Layla couldn’t have knocked the Bulls off their feet like the second straight significant injury to their All-Star, MVP guard Derrick Rose. It might be time to reshuffle the bones on a club that hasn’t even won a conference title and already has significant money locked up in Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson before re-signing Luol Deng to a big contract.

Cleveland Cavaliers — Stop Winning the Draft Lottery: Of course, that would require the Cavs to actually make the playoffs and not qualify for the lottery. This is a team that was supposed to be on the rise with enough young talent to make LeBron James think about returning, but instead has Kyrie Irving trying to do everything, Dion Waiters angry and Andrew Bynum maybe ready to give up the game. Time for an adult to take control here, coach Mike Brown.

Dallas Mavericks — Embrace Reality: It’s a bit ironic that a guy like Mark Cuban that has made a name for himself in the world of reality TV shows rarely faces up to it with the Mavs. He’s fun. He’s entertaining. He’ll say anything, such as there’s no telling whether Houston getting Dwight Howard or Dallas getting Monta Ellis was a better free agent signing last summer. Now go get yourself some defense, Mark, before Dirk Nowitzki winds up running on his tongue trying to outscore everybody.

Denver Nuggets — Respect Yourself: There shouldn’t be a decent team that breaks camp without a solid sense of its identity. A year ago with George Karl pulling the strings from the sidelines and Andre Iguodala setting the pace on the court, the Nuggets had that. Now they are often just a bunch that is stuck in the middle of the pack on offense (18th) and defense (16th) and too often can’t defend its home court.

Detroit Pistons — Say It Ain’t So, Joe: A few years ago, it was signing Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva as big-money free agents. This time GM Joe Dumars figured it would be a good idea to upgrade the Pistons by tossing the combustible Josh Smith onto the fire to light up the frontcourt. So, Smith is already calling out coach Mo Cheeks and the Pistons are backsliding from the .500 mark. Things are getting ugly early again in the Motor City. And, oh yeah, nobody is coming to watch the Pistons, who are last in the league in attendance.

Golden State Warriors — Do the American Hustle: Like the hit movie, was last year’s magical little run through the playoffs by Mark Jackson’s team just one glorious con job? Yes, they’ve played a tough schedule, but something is missing. Lack of last year’s bench? A failure to take care of the ball? You get the sense that the Warriors were just trying to pick up this season right where they left off without putting in all of the gritty groundwork.

Houston Rockets — Rebound, Then Run: Everybody loves watching the Rockets run like methamphetamine-fueled hamsters on a wheel. But for a team that has Dwight Howard in the middle, they are horrible at giving up second-chance points to opponents and it has often proved costly. It’s nice to run, but better not to turn your back and head down the court while the other guy is dropping another put-back into the net.

Indiana Pacers — Don’t Stop Believing: The Pacers came into the season convinced that they could live up to the old axiom of playing them one game at a time and that grind-it-out method would eventually deliver the best record in the league and home-court all the way through The Finals. With Paul George tossing his hat into the MVP ring and Roy Hibbert making opponents ears ring with his physical style, it’s working quite well for coach Frank Vogel’s team.

L.A. Clippers — Say Goodbye to Hollywood: The sooner the Clippers can get rid of all the extraneous things in their game — yes, you, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan — and get down to the serious business of playing some real defense around the basket, the sooner we’ll take them seriously as real contenders in the Western Conference. At this point, despite all the good work by Chris Paul, the Clips are still one of those acts that gets eliminated early on “American Idol.”

L.A. Lakers — Lock Up Kobe: Yes, we know he’s the Black Mamba. We know that he’d be the guy standing out in the rain with a fork and still believe he’d quench his thirst. But the Lakers aren’t going anywhere this season and it doesn’t help their cause for next year if Kobe Bryant returns and pushes himself to the limit again in a debilitating run that winds up far short of the playoffs. It’s time to think about the limited — and high-paying — future he has left. Oh yeah, and trade Pau Gasol.

(more…)

Can Leftovers Make A Free-Agent Dish?

HANG TIME, Texas – OK, let’s say it’s the middle of August, we just won the entire Powerball lottery and, in a grand farewell gesture, outgoing commissioner David Stern says he’ll let us buy a new NBA franchise.

We can play our home games on Maui or Mars. We can have our team wear those tight-fitting jerseys with sleeves, just like the Golden State Warriors or even sprint up and down the court wearing Capri pants, if we choose.

There’s just one catch. The only players available to fill out our roster are those still dangling on the list of unsigned free agents. Now that Dwight Howard, Chris Paul, Andre Iguodala, Andrei Kirilenko and even Greg Oden are long gone, is it too late to put together a respectable team? Or even one that could outperform the infamous 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers or the 7-59 mark of the 2011-12 Bobcats?

So for all those last-minute bargain hunters who don’t start their holiday shopping until Christmas Eve, here are the Leftovers:

Antawn Jamison, Forward – The 37-year-old veteran is coming out of the lost season with the Lakers where he played 21.5 minutes per game and showed that he can still shoot enough from the wings to score in double figures. After 15 years in the league, he’s still a reliable enough producer and ranks higher in efficiency rating than even two regular members of the starting lineup for the two-time champion Heat (Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier). The Leftovers will have to put points on the board somehow.

Lamar Odom, Forward – You’ve got to have faith that Odom hasn’t simply lost the spark and lost interest after his past two dismal years. Following the horrible flameout in Dallas, last season was supposed to be a shot at redemption as a key role player and solid influence in the locker room with the Clippers. Odom was particularly ineffective in the first-round playoff loss to Memphis. The birth certificate says he won’t turn 34 until the start of next season, but the odometer has racked up more miles than an old pickup truck. The Leftovers will keep believing that you don’t simply forget how to pass, rebound and do the little things and give Odom another chance.

Cole Aldrich, Center – After being taken with the 11th pick by New Orleans in 2010 and traded to OKC on draft night, Aldrich has never been able to establish himself as anything more than a space eater at the end of the bench for the Thunder, Rockets and most recently the Kings. Aldrich finally got onto the floor for 15 games in Sacramento at the end of last season and pulled down a respectable four rebounds in 11 minutes of playing time per night. He’s the epitome of the old adage: “You can’t teach height.” That’s why he’ll keep getting chances and the Leftovers are hoping that this is the one that will pay off.

Mikael Pietrus, Guard – We’re going to plug the swingman into our lineup in the backcourt and hope to ride that streaky outside shooting and penchant for playing in-your-face defense for production at both ends of the court. He played just 19 games last season with the Raptors before tendinitis in his knee forced him to the sidelines for good in the middle of March. But he’s too young (31), too athletic, too active, too disruptive on defense and potentially still too good not to have him on our side.

Sebastian Telfair, Guard – In a league where it has become increasingly critical to have an elite level point guard running the offense, you don’t simply find them in the discount bin. There’s a reason why the Clippers have gone from pretender to contender and his name is Chris Paul. From a free agent list that ranges from 35-year-old Jamaal Tinsley to 25-year-old Rodrigue Beaubois, we’ll split the difference and take the 28-year-old Telfair. He’s never lived up to the advance hype because though he’s quick and small, he can’t finish at the rim and has only recently become dependable as a mid-range shooter. His size hurts on defense, but he puts out the effort and when you’re a Leftover that’s good enough.

Brown And The Sixers A Good Fit

HANG TIME, Texas – So it looks like the 76ers will not go into the Oct. 30 season opener against the Heat without a head coach.

The job belongs to Brett Brown, assuming he accepts the offer, and the process of repairing one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises can continue.

It’s a move that should have happened a long time ago and, no, I’m not talking about the past three months since Sam Hinkie took over as general manager. I know all about the impatience of Philadelphians. I am one. Which is why I’m so perplexed about the furor over Hinkie taking his time in the dead of summer to finally get this right rather than an uproar over the past two decades as the Sixers have replaced one Band-Aid with another.

Let’s face it. Even the Allen Iverson Era was ephemeral, since any endeavor involving Larry Brown has the lifespan of a moth.

The hiring of the 52-year-old assistant from San Antonio would be the next step in the kind of sweep-it-all-clean maneuvering that should have taken place in the organization a long time ago instead of the Sixers peripatetic wanderings through the want-ads.

Hinkie has plainly said — though few seemed to listen — that his focus was on a future of two to five years, not beating LeBron and the Heat in less than three months. That’s why he was willing to trade away the team’s best player and All-Star Jrue Holiday and put his faith on Nerlens Noel eventually becoming the No. 1 draft pick talent that was once projected. That’s why the new GM is willing to suffer through a miserable 2013-14 season, and maybe even the next, in order to establish a solid foundation that will serve the team down the line. Hinkie is confident, decisive and forward thinking.

Brown fits into the model with a resume that includes more than a decade of working inside the most consistently successful franchise of the past 14 years and working under Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the league.

After starting out in the operations department in San Antonio, Brown became the director of player development in 2002 and worked extensively with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as they made the successful transition from the international game into NBA All-Stars. Hinkie, too, has an eye on international talent and would have a coach who is simpatico. The presence of Noel and young point guard Michael Carter-Williams could also take advantage of the teaching abilities of Brown, who also has long experience as the head coach of the Australian national team.

While there might be those who are urging Brown to turn down the Sixers because Philly has been a coaching graveyard and a merry-go-round of old friends and tired names with local ties, there is a better chance that it’s exactly the kind of opportunity that a first-time coach would crave, an opportunity to build from the ground up.

With Mike Budenholzer gone to the Hawks, there is a school of thought that Brown could remain in San Antonio and wait for Popovich to retire, then take over. After all, Popovich has said often through the years that he’ll walk out the door with Tim Duncan, who has two years left on his contract. However, the fact that Brown was willing to previously interview for the Nuggets job might indicate that Pop plans to stay on and usher in the next era with the Spurs. And at that point, are the Spurs any different from the Sixers right now, searching for new blood and new direction?

More than that, you simply don’t tick off years on the calendar waiting for things that might happen. You find a job that is a right fit at the right time and you go for it.

It might have taken a few months longer than some would have liked for Hinkie and Brown to come together. Or it could be the exactly the right kind of marriage that’s been years overdue in Philly.

These Draft Moves Made The Most Impact

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BROOKLYN, N.Y. – These five Draft decisions that will have the greatest impact:

1. Jrue Holiday and a 2013 second-round pick to the Pelicans, Nerlens Noel and a 2014 first-rounder to the 76ers

It’s No. 1 by a wide margin, too, swaying the fortunes not only of two teams, but two conferences. Philadelphia is out of the playoff business for a while after finishing all of four games out in 2012-13 despite Andrew Bynum on the sidelines and coach Doug Collins heading for the exit. Instead of an All-Star at point guard and the chance to use the No. 11 pick Thursday night for a big to either replace the unrestricted free-agent Bynum or help at power forward — perhaps by drafting Steven Adams, Kelly Olynyk or Lucas Nogueira — the Sixers have Noel as a rookie, who does not expect to play until around Christmas because of a knee injury. The Sixers also have point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who was selected with the 11th pick.

The first-rounder next year, in a draft that projects as much more stacked than the 2013 class without a star presence, is a nice get for the 76ers, though. It is protected, depending on the report, either through three or through five.

The Pelicans, meanwhile, take a significant step forward with the addition of the point guard they had been lacking. Austin Rivers, the 2012 lottery pick, is better suited as a combo guard anyway and now is part of the Holiday-Eric Gordon pairing that will headline one of the best backcourts in the league if Gordon stays healthy. Anthony Davis remains a potential star of the future at power forward.

2. Wizards select Otto Porter at No. 3

It was the predictable call since 15 seconds after the lottery, and it was the right call. It was the call, more specifically, that vaults Washington into playoff mode.

The Wizards were already one of the best teams in the East the second half of last season, once John Wall got healthy and even with an early end to the rookie season of Bradley Beal because of injury. Now, with the position of need addressed Thursday, they have Wall at point guard, Beal at shooting guard, Porter at small forward and Nene and Emeka Okafor at power forward and center. That works.

Porter isn’t the difference maker, but he is the ideal fit in the same way he would have been a reasonable choice for Cleveland at No. 1: he is capable of stepping into the NBA now, he helps the spot the Wizards needed and he’s an ideal complementary player who will make valuable contributions to Wall and Beal’s continued rise. Porter will defend, pass, rebound and shoot with range. The things that get a team to the playoffs.

3. Bucks select Giannis Antetokounmpo at No. 15

It’s not that Milwaukee went small forward four days before three guards — Monta Ellis and J.J. Redick (unrestricted) and Brandon Jennings (restricted) — hit free agency. Other teams steered away from Dennis Schroeder, Shane Larkin, Tony Snell and others. And it’s not that Milwaukee saw into the future with a unique opportunity for a 6-foot-9 potential point forward with a good feel for the game despite little experience in Greece and even less against anything close to the equivalent of Division I competition in U.S. colleges.

It’s that the Bucks don’t have what Antetokounmpo needs more than anything: time. He has to get stronger, adjust to the physical nature and speed of the game here and develop a jumper. One scout who saw him, asked how long before Antetokounmpo makes an impact in the NBA, said, “Three, four years. Maybe five.” Others think it’s a lot shorter than that, but that still means two years.

If he contributes in 2013-14, the vast majority of front offices will be surprised. Meanwhile, the Bucks need to stay in the playoff picture, not build something for the future. They are about now and he isn’t.

4. Trail Blazers select C.J. McCollum at 10, Allen Crabbe at 31 and Jeff Withey at 39

This is a consolation prize? Portland missed on the dream Draft-night outcome of trading for a veteran center, yet it still addressed a major needs. With three picks capable of contributing — yes, even the second-rounders — the Blazers made a significant step toward toward erasing their depth issues last season.

McCollum, who has spent the pre-Draft process comparing himself to Damian Lillard as a mid-major product trying to prove he can be a point guard and not just a scorer, now works behind Lillard. And maybe with him — both can play off the ball. Crabbe is a shooting specialist who was getting looks from teams in the teens. Withey is a value find at 39, an experienced shot-blocking center who should be able to play right away and very realistically could have a career as a backup despite being a second-rounder.

5. Mavericks trade down twice

It’s not about what they got. It’s about what they didn’t get. A larger payroll.

Shane Larkin, whom Dallas got in a swap with Atlanta, is as the possible point guard of the future. Possible because there is no such thing as roster certainty heading into this critical free-agent summer.

By starting with the 13th pick and trading with the Celtics to No. 16 and then trading with the Hawks to end up at 18 and taking Larkin, the Mavericks saved $1.09 million in rookie-scale salary. That creates more cap space. Dwight Howard likes cap space.

McHale To Parsons And A Big Bounce

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HOUSTON – This is why Chandler Parsons plays basketball. It’s really why they all play the game.

To have fun.

And there are few things more fun on the court than playing without pressure, without a care, without fear of missing a shot or making a play and with a sense that it’s just your time.

“We’re fully confident that we’re gonna win tomorrow and that we’re gonna take the series,” Parsons said matter-of-factly on Thursday as he stood outside the locker room at the Toyota Center, his eyes dancing, almost bright enough to light the entire hallway.

It wasn’t a boast. It wasn’t intended to demean anyone in an Oklahoma City uniform.

It’s just the feeling that occurs when it seems that everything has suddenly turned your way. Maybe based on the last two games, it has.

History books and the oddsmakers will still tell you that Kevin Durant and the Thunder are the logical favorites to advance.

But sometimes logic doesn’t have any place in these crazy games.

It was a different team, a different time, a different Kevin McHale.


The Celtics had made one slice into what seemed like the 76ers’ insurmountable lead in the 1981 Eastern Conference finals and were going into Game 6 with a chance to tie the series.

“They better win this one, because they know damn well they’re not going to win Game 7,” said the brash 23-year-old rookie power forward.

Boston won Game 6 by two points and then finished off Philly in Game 7 by one.

So now it is 32 years later, coincidentally the uniform number that he wore on his jersey through a Hall of Fame career, and the coach McHale is approaching another Game 6 crossroad with his Rockets against the Thunder Friday night.

But in a different role.

“I was playing and had a lot more confidence back then,” McHale said. “Hey, if it was 1981 and I was still playing this series, I would say the same thing.”

Because you can’t win if you don’t believe and after the Rockets stuck a sock in the mouth of Loud City in Game 5, there is no shortage of faith.

It’s the dynamic of how a series can sometimes work. You can feel the shift, the surge of energy on one side, the planting of doubt on the other.

There were the No. 1 seed Thunder so helpless, so unable to do anything to slow down the No. 8 seed Rockets on Wednesday night that coach Scott Brooks reached into his first aid kit to find a tourniquet and the best he could do was to hack Rockets center Omer Asik and try to stop the flow.

But as happens sometimes on these occasions, the flow was like a wave that might be growing into a tsunami. Asik, a 56 percent free throw shooter, stepped up to the line to stick 8-for-11 free throws in the final six minutes and now here is OKC perhaps feeling the air getting a little thinner and the collars a bit tighter.

The last thing in the world the Thunder need is an all-or-nothing Game 7 on Sunday and all the Rockets want is a chance to walk about onto that court in OKC.

Francisco Garcia, Patrick Beverley and Parsons took turns grinning and talking about having fun. That’s not likely a word that’s been tossed around in OKC much over the past few days.

“We’re growing up every game,” Parsons said. “Every day we’re going through this process together and it can only get better from here.

“We got something really special going on right now and I think the world is starting to see it, because we didn’t get as much attention as we think we deserved during the regular season. But now the lights are on and we’re playing well and we’re really shocking people.”

The Rockets aren’t jolting anybody more than the Thunder, who figured to have a much tougher road to the NBA Finals without Russell Westbrook, but not a slog just to escape the first round of the playoffs.

Now suddenly the heavily favored Thunder are walking around as if there’s a boulder on the their backs, while the Rockets are skipping around the schoolyard.

They are a reflecting of their head coach, a personality and ethic forged on the Iron Range of Minnesota, where you work hard and never take anything too seriously. That’s why a skinny kid from Hibbing could lay down the gantlet to Dr. J, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney and the mighty Sixers back in 1981. That’s why a 55-year-old coach can keep pushing and molding and instilling a sense of anything’s possible even in a season when he’s suffered the unspeakable anguish of losing a daughter.

“He’s been awesome,” Parsons said. “He’ll tell you all about his experiences when he was playing. Having a coach that’s been through it, that’s been in the same situation we’re in right now really helps us and gives us that comforting feeling that he knows what he’s talking about.

“I know it’s a serious time and we’re all focused, but he makes you feel comfortable and it’s fun to be around a guy like that instead of being uptight and yelling. He does that, too, but he’s such a nice dude.”

Thirty-two years later, McHale limps around the sidelines like an arthritic crab and is a bit more circumspect with his words.

“I could talk that way,” he said laughing, “when I was young and bouncy.”

That’s a big bounce in Chandler Parsons’ step, which is why the game has never been more fun for the Rockets and why the Thunder should be worried.

Series hub: Thunder vs. Rockets

Pop The Rock Rolls Up On Win No. 900

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HANG TIME, Texas – It’s no wonder most NBA coaches are constantly moving on the sidelines. Theirs is a peripatetic lifestyle, usually with one hand gripping a suitcase and one foot out the door.

Among many other things about his worldly background and his puckish personality, it is his stability that makes Gregg Popovich unique.

With a win tonight at home against the Jazz (8:30 ET, League Pass), Popovich will become the 12th coach in NBA history to win 900 career games, but will be the first to claim each and every victory with a single team.

Over the past 17 seasons, the Spurs have been Pop as much as much as they have been David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and the other 130 players who have worn the silver and black uniform.

In a league that is teeming with exceptional coaches — Denver’s George Karl, Boston’s Doc Rivers, Minnesota’s Rick Adelman, Memphis’ Lionel Hollins, Dallas’ Rick Carlisle, Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Miami’s Erik Spoelstra – Popovich stands a step apart and above.

He is always the first and usually the last to tell you that it’s all about the players, but to a man, they will tell you he is the one whom they are all about in the way the prepare, work and attack every game and play.

When he sat at a makeshift table for a news conference last spring when he was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career, Popovich’s face turned different shades of red. But it wasn’t for the usual reasons of screaming at a referee or boiling at another question from a reporter. He was, in short, embarrassed with the attention.

Pop’s Way. That’s what they call it around the executive offices and on the practice floor and in the locker room.

“It’s about us, not me,” he said, sheepish from the attention.

But year after year, season after season, it has been about him getting the most out of his team by being willing to change the pace of play — from slogging, powerful inside ball to Duncan to a microwave fastbreak that is sparked by Parker — but never his principles or his own personal style.

He just wears suits, doesn’t model them.

“They’re not Italian,” he told an inquiring mind years ago.

He doesn’t do TV commercials or endorsements.

“I refuse,” he said another time. “I’d rather spend time in other ways.”

Pat Riley, the Hall of Fame coach and stylist, once said the Spurs are “the most emotionally stable team in the league.”

That’s because it is a team in Popovich’s image. He picks the players, he builds the team, he molds them and has constructed a franchise that has always eschewed endearing to be enduring. It’s all added up to the best record in the Western Conference again, an NBA record 14 consecutive 50-win seasons, 16th straight trips to the playoffs and puts him on the doorstep of history, all in one place.

After 900 wins, Pop won’t be going anywhere but straight ahead. (more…)