Posts Tagged ‘76ers’

Morning Shootaround — Dec. 28


VIDEO: Fast Break from Dec. 27

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Suns in disarray | James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm | The decline of Dwight Howard | A warm reception for Kobe in Boston?

No. 1: Suns in disarray — One loss to the lowly and previously one-win Philadelphia 76ers destabilized things in the Valley of the Sun. And the hits just keep on coming. The news that point guard Eric Bledsoe would need surgery to repair a torn meniscus and would be out indefinitely was followed by the reported firing of two assistant coaches (Mike Longabardi and Jerry Sicthting) in an effort to shake up Jeff Hornacek‘s staff. And Hornacek, who took a towel to the face from Markeiff Morris last week, is also reportedly on the hot seat. Just two years ago Hornacek had the Suns were on the edge of the playoff picture in the Western Conference and now it all appears to be on the verge of coming apart, as Marc Stein of ESPN.com reports:

Sources told ESPN.com on Sunday night that the Suns are promoting longtime NBA guard Earl Watson and former NBA D-League head coach Nate Bjorkgren to the bench to work closer to Hornacek and will dismiss veteran assistants Mike Longabardi, who was heading up Phoenix’s defense, and Jerry Sichting.

Earlier Sunday, ESPN.com first reported that the Suns’ 5-15 nosedive, including a home loss Saturday night to the 2-30 Philadelphia 76ers, had put Hornacek’s job security under immediate threat.

It is believed that the Suns are taking this measure instead to give Hornacek, who is held in high esteem by owner Robert Sarver, another chance to turn the club around.

But that figures to be difficult after the harsh news Sunday that star guard Eric Bledsoe is out indefinitely and will require knee surgery Tuesday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.

Sources told ESPN.com that the Suns, despite the organization’s well-known fondness for Hornacek, have been forced to contemplate a coaching change far sooner than they hoped because of a slide that has dropped them to 12-20 and 11th in the Western Conference. There is also a growing fear within the organization that the team is no longer responding to its head coach.

Phoenix began the season with playoff aspirations after posting records of 48-34 and 39-43 in Hornacek’s first two seasons and the offseason signing of center Tyson Chandler.

But the Suns have dropped 15 of 20 games since opening 7-5, seemingly bottoming out in Saturday night’s home loss to the Sixers as Bledsoe also exited with his knee injury in the second quarter.

Adding to the sting of the Philadelphia loss: It was the first game on the Sixers’ bench for former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni, who was hired recently by new Philadelphia chairman of basketball operations and former Suns owner Jerry Colangelo to serve as associate head coach to Sixers coach Brett Brown.

“Obviously, it’s probably a low point for us,” Hornacek told reporters after the game. “Now the confidence is lacking.”

***

No. 2: James grumbling about Cavaliers’ lack of rhythm — Back-to-back losses has a way of raising the dander of LeBron James in the way little else can. As the leader of the superstar band in Cleveland, James never shies away from delivering critical analysis about his own crew. And after losing to the Golden State Warriors on Christmas and the Portland Trail Blazers a day later, LeBron vented his frustrations about his team’s lack of rhythm. Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com has more:

The Cavs still lead the East at 19-9, but they’ve had a bad week, with problems deeper than perhaps their 2-2 record would indicate.

You could chalk it up to the knuckleball effect, which is, after trying to hit a pitcher who throws knuckleballs, it can take a big leaguer days to catch up to 95 mph fastballs again.

The Cavs hosted the 76ers – who won their second game this season – last Sunday. They haven’t played well since, needing to hold on for dear life at home against a Knicks team sans Carmelo Anthony and then suffering through consecutive porous shooting performances in these two losses.

Cleveland followed up its 89-83 loss to the defending-champion Warriors – in which the Cavs shot 31.6 percent – with a 28-of-77 clunker against the Blazers.

James is shooting 14-of-39 in his last two, with the 4-of-13 effort for 12 points he turned in Saturday night.

“Offensively we’re just in a funk right now,” James said. “We just got to find our rhythm.”

There’s that word again, rhythm.

James used it after the Cavs lost to the Warriors, when he said “it’s going to take some time to get back into rhythm, and all of us, not just the players, but everyone, to get back in rhythm.”

wrote in Oakland Christmas night to monitor this – James calling for Blatt to bring clarity to the Cavs’ rotations.

Last Sunday (when the Cavs faced the knuckleballer 76ers) was Kyrie Irving’s first game back. Iman Shumpert returned, too, after missing a game with a groin injury. The next game, against the Knicks, was Mo Williams’ first after two absences because of a thumb injury.

With all these players at Blatt’s disposal, the Cavs look discombobulated. No one disputes it and both James and Blatt said it’s to be expected, to a certain extent. And Irving didn’t even play against the Blazers, per the team’s decision to protect his surgically repaired knee from the rigors of games on consecutive nights this early in his comeback.

But Blatt said he spoke with his coaches after the loss Saturday about the impact the changing lineups was having on the team, and James had already taken it a couple steps further after the Warriors game, mentioning the lack of rhythm and continuity because of the uncertainty in Cleveland’s rotations.

Now, consider what James said about this very same topic on Saturday:

“For the first eight weeks we had built chemistry, we knew who was playing, we knew who wasn’t playing,” James said. “We had rotations, coach had rotations down, so we got to get back to that. We have no rhythm. Guys are, we have some guys who don’t know if they’re going to play, or if they are going to play, and it’s hurting our rhythm a little bit.”

***

No. 3: The decline of Dwight Howard The slow, physical erosion of the body and skills of one of the league’s best big men is real. Dwight Howard, the man formerly known as “Superman” to an entire generation of NBA fans, is no more. So says TNT and NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who lived through a similar fade during his star-studded career after he crossed over from young physical freak to mere mortal. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

The decline of Dwight Howard is one of the NBA’s most compelling developments. The onetime self-proclaimed “Superman” was for years a physical freak, the model of how a center was built and how a center defended.

Now 30, Howard is slowing down, bothered by years of back and knee issues. He doesn’t have the offensive effectiveness of past years and his durability has waned. So, what happens when physically gifted players lose a step, are no longer able to soar as they once did or defend above the rim?

Former NBA star and current NBA TV analyst Chris Webber, who was a superb athlete coming out of Michigan two decades ago and played until he was 34, offered his thoughts on Howard.

“I wouldn’t just say this for Dwight, I’d say this for all players, me personally, I learned it from Karl Malone. You cannot stay in this game without skill,” Webber said. “Because after five years in this league you will no longer be the most athletic at your position. It’s impossible. That’s including injuries. You have to have more skill, you have to create value for those times you’re on the court.”

Webber said there are ways to compensate for a decline in athleticism by using intelligence.

“You have to maybe help defensively a little bit earlier since you can’t go up and get the blocked shot,” he said. “Some guys start taking charges or some guys just get out [farther] on the floor since they can’t move laterally anymore, maybe develop an 8-foot jump shot. You can learn how to make a move without dribbling because now you can’t just dribble by everybody anymore.

“You have to think the game through and just be that much more efficient. You won’t get the number of looks you have anymore. Mentally, you have to change and hopefully your skill set will allow that. If not, the game will pass you by.”

Perhaps the biggest adjustment for any NBA player is the deterioration of physical skills. For some it’s sudden, for others it’s gradual. The result is never easy to digest.

“It’s especially tough, for me going to Philly, a place that had a different [playing] style, that means you have to learn all over again,” Webber said. “If you’re Tim[Duncan], he’s one of the greatest players to have ever played this game, but because he’s allowed to age in a system.

“Let’s say with a Dwight Howard, his numbers are still incredible but you need a system around him that allows him to do that and those not just be wasted numbers. That can be wasted numbers on a team that doesn’t suit his system.”

The Rockets are one of the league’s more confounding teams, with a record hovering near .500 after reaching the West finals last season.

“Houston is the most disappointing team that we have in the league, more disappointing than the Philadelphia 76ers, and I don’t know if anybody can thrive in that system,” Webber said. “I definitely know it’s tough to age when the system does not include your age in the system.

“If I’m [Howard], I’m trying to offensive rebound a little bit more. If I’m him, I’m running right down the middle of the lane on a secondary break, posting up in the middle, and turning for a jump hook because you’re going to foul me. I’m going to put myself in positions where you have to get me the ball, and when I get the ball I’d be stupid to pass it back out. There’s ways, and he’s one of the best big men in the game still. He should be the second-most-targeted player on that team.”

***

No. 4: A warm reception for Kobe in Boston? The farewell tour for Kobe Bryant has had some interesting stops, to say the least. And nowhere is a fading Los Angeles Lakers’ legend loathed more than in Boston, where Kobe will visit for a final time (as a player) this week. But instead of a vicious chorus of boos, might Kobe be in for a much warmer reception from the Celtics loyalists? Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times sets the stage:

It’s only Monday but already worth asking in a horribly mundane Lakers season: How will Kobe Bryant be received by fans Wednesday in his last game in Boston?

With Philadelphia out of the way, it could be the most attractive road game left on his farewell tour.

The setup started a few days ago, when Bryant revealed he listened daily to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” for two years because he wanted to remember the depth of the Lakers’ embarrassment in the 2008 NBA Finals.

Fans couldn’t stop singing it after the Celtics‘ 39-point Game 6 victory, so Bryant couldn’t stop listening to it.

He found his revenge two years later in the NBA Finals. Will Celtics fans be salty?

Lakers Coach Byron Scott, who battled Boston in three memorable NBA Finals in the 1980s, predicted a warm reaction.

“As much as the Celtics hate us and we hate them, I think the Celtics fans are some of the most knowledgeable fans in the world. I think they’ll give him the same type of respect that he deserves and that he’s been given everywhere else,” Scott said.

Perhaps a precedent was set when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played his last game in Boston in 1988. Abdul-Jabbar, 41 at the time, was given a framed slab of the Garden’s parquet floor by Celtics legend Red Auerbach.

Abdul-Jabbar also received a one-minute, 35-second standing ovation from Celtics fans that night. Scott was there as Abdul-Jabbar’s teammate.

“It wasn’t a standing ovation for [his] 20 years, but it was a standing ovation when he decided to retire,” Scott said, developing a one-liner. “Maybe that’s because he was whooping them so much.”

Fans cheered Bryant loudly in Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit and Toronto. They weren’t so kind in San Antonio, but he has another game there before bowing out.

He had not announced his retirement when the Lakers played in New York last month. Other notable road games for him include Sacramento on Jan. 7 and San Antonio on Feb. 6.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Los Angeles Clippers needed Paul Pierce to turn back the clock with Blake Griffin out for two weeks … Globetrotters legend Meadowlark Lemon, 83, diesBradley Beal is expected to resume basketball activities this week for the Washington Wizards … The Golden State Warriors will get a first-hand look at the new and improved Sacramento Kings tonight … The future remains bright for Glenn Robinson III in Indiana …

Report: 76ers in talks with Mike D’Antoni

The 76ers are talking to Mike D’Antoni about becoming the associate head coach on Brett Brown‘s staff, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

There was no indication in the Friday report whether a deal was imminent. But the timing is obviously connected to Philadelphia hiring Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations four days earlier, with Colangelo and D’Antoni having worked together with the Suns and USA Basketball.

News about D’Antoni possibly joining the 76ers came hours after Brown’s two-year extension became public, indicating D’Antoni was not being brought in to replace Brown as Philly goes through another painful season as part of a rebuilding plan showing little to no sign of real progress.

 

Sixers suspend Okafor after 2nd video

VIDEO: NBA TV update on Jahlil Okafor.

It’s one thing for the 76ers to accept the barbs and criticisms for the execution of “the process.”

But in order for the extreme makeover plan of rebuilding the franchise to work, it has to be constructed on a solid foundation and that’s where the recent escapades of 19-year-old rookie Jahlil Okafor put everything on shaky ground.

With the release by TMZ of another video showing Okafor in a second fight early on Thanksgiving morning in Boston and also reports of earlier incidents in Philadelphia, the team decided it was time for more than a scolding. The Sixers suspended Okafor for two games, according to a statement released by the club:

We have made the determination to suspend Jahlil Okafor for two games, effective immediately.

Jahlil is a very important part of our organization and our future.  While we are disappointed with his recent actions, we have faith in him as a valued member of the Sixers. We will provide the necessary resources to support him on his journey and will do our part to help him succeed both on and off the court.

Okafor appeared and sounded properly contrite and remorseful after the first video turned up last week. He said it was a case of bad judgment and it would not happen again.

However, from all the reports that have surfaced since the initial apology, it would seem that it was the continuation of horrible judgment and just plain poor behavior by Okafor for several months.

The Sixers had previously said they were assigning a security guard to accompany Okafor at all times, but had held back on a punishment. Now though the club is likely looking at a bigger picture, one has become a huge public relations black eye. As the team continues to move ahead with a roster filled with very young players — and plans to add more — the image of a loss of control by their top rookie and systemic collapse from within the locker room made it time for the suspension.

Report: Okafor involved in previous incident in Philly

Just as the losses keep piling up for the 76ers, so do the off-court incidents involving rookie Jahlil Okafor.

The 19-year-old Okafor, who apologized for his role in a street fight on Wednesday night in Boston, also had a gun pointed at him during a confrontation with two unidentified men in early October in Philadelphia, according to John Gonzalez of CSNPhilly.com:

The 19-year-old Sixers’ rookie was outside an Old City nightclub after 2 a.m. on October 4 when he and another person began arguing with two men sitting in a parked car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, according to a witness. The verbal disagreement escalated and a witness said he saw Okafor try to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window. During the altercation, the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor and his associate, per the witness.

U.S. Park Rangers — who patrol nearby Independence Hall — arrived on the scene during the altercation, according to separate reports filed by the U.S. Park Rangers and the Philadelphia Police Department and obtained by CSNPhilly.com. The man who exited the passenger side of the car fled on foot and appeared to toss his gun, per multiple witnesses. According to the police report, the driver got into a black Camaro with red stripes and sped off. The car was not stopped.

According to the police report, a U.S. Park Ranger chased the unidentified passenger on foot but lost him when the man ducked into the garage at the nearby Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel at One Dock Street. The report also indicated that police and K-9 units “swept the parking garage and first floor of the hotel with negative results.” Hotel surveillance video revealed the man never entered the hotel from the garage.

A law enforcement source told CSNPhilly.com that a gun magazine was recovered near the scene and submitted for fingerprint analysis. The law enforcement source said the investigation is ongoing.

It is unclear what happened to Okafor or his associate after the incident or if they were interviewed by U.S. Park Rangers or PPD.

“We are aware that there is an ongoing investigation regarding the alleged incident and are unable to comment further,” a Sixers’ spokesman said.

Reports: Sixers rookie Okafor in street fight

The 76ers battled the Celtics down to the wire Wednesday before dropping to 0-16 on the season and running their overall losing streak to a record-tying 26 in a row.

Now TMZ has posted a video they say is of Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor punching a man outside of a bar in Boston who had shouted “76ers suck:”

Okafor says he was being heckled from the moment he left the club and felt threatened because people swarmed him on the street.

He says he was with a teammate — who he wouldn’t name — and says someone got physical with the teammate … so Jahlil did what he felt he needed to do to protect himself and his friend.

ESPN’s Jeff Goodman confirmed the story.

The Sixers released a statement on the incident.

“We are aware of the report and we are currently working to gather additional information. Until that time, we will have no further comment.”

 

Morning Shootaround — Sept. 7


VIDEO: Day Six Wrap: 2015 FIBA Americas Championship

NEWS OF THE MORNING

The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real | Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie | White ready to take his place in Hall of Fame | Is Bradley Beal worth the max?

No. 1: The reinvention of Anthony Bennett is real — Anthony Bennett‘s summer has been one positive step after another, as the former No. 1 overall pick works to reinvent himself and prove that he’s not the “bust” some have labeled him. His work with Team Canada has only bolstered his cause. He’s been a bit of a revelation during the FIBA Americas tournament, playing a vital role on his national team, as Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun writes:

Anthony Bennett didn’t have the loudest stat-line, but Canada’s resurgent star continues to be a key contributor for the squad.

Bennett quickly earned the confidence of head coach Jay Triano at training camp, was perhaps the best performer at the Pan Am Games in Toronto and was solid in Puerto Rico, before faring well here as well.

“I think Anthony Bennett’s summer has been absolutely fantastic for us,” Triano said after Canada defeated Panama on Sunday.

“He’s engaged in everything that we do on the floor, off the floor, rebounding. We’ve asked him to rebound, and he’s done it on a continuous basis. He runs the floor on a continuous basis. He provides help on the defensive end. He understands our defensive system.”

Confidence is important to Bennett and with Triano letting him just go out and play, he seems relaxed and is having fun. He looked relaxed before the game, throwing down a self-alley-oop reverse dunk in the layup line, and kept going from there.

“Coach was saying, ‘just line ’em up and knock ’em down,’ ” Bennett said.

“This is definitely a fun tournament to play in. A lot of competition, different teams, different styles so you’ve just got to adjust.”

Triano is pleased for the former No. 1 overall draft pick, who has had a tough first couple of NBA seasons.

“We told him earlier this summer if you do those things people are going to understand he’s got a lot of other offensive skills,” Triano said.

“His ability to pass the basketball, his ability to get teammates open. I’m really happy for him as an individual and we need him to continue to play that way.”

***

No. 2: Minute reductions for LeBron, Kyrie — The workload LeBron James and Kyrie Irving put in during their first season together in Cleveland won’t look the same this time around, and that’s not just because Kyrie might not be available until January due to injury. It’s time for a reduction in minutes for both of the Cavaliers’ stars, according to Terry Pluto of the Plain Dealer:

There was a report about Kyrie Irving not being ready to play until January.

No one knows for sure, as Irving is recovering from surgery to repair a fractured knee cap. But the Cavs do expect him to play well before January. Of course, that can change once they see him in training camp.

Even if Irving’s knee is in excellent shape, they plan to cut his minutes early in the season. He ranked No. 3 in average minutes per game last season. LeBron James was No. 5. I recently wrote about this.

That’s too much for both players during the regular season.

The Cavs signed veteran Mo Williams, who has started 511 games in the NBA. That includes 33 at point guard last season. He averaged 14 points and can take some of the scoring load off Irving in the backcourt.

The Cavs also have Matthew Dellavedova coming back. So they have Williams and Dellavedova to help out at point guard, allowing Irving to miss some games. He also can play fewer minutes.

The re-signing of J.R. Smith should help the Cavs cut the minutes for James during the regular season. The 6-foot-6 Smith can play both shooting guard and small forward.

***

No. 3: White ready to take his place in the Hall of Fame — Jo Jo White has had Hall of Fame credentials for years, but only now is the former Boston Celtics great taking his rightful place alongside other Celtics greats in Springfield. Even though the honor seems long overdue, White is appreciative that his time has finally come. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe explains:

In playing in seven All-Star Games, being named MVP of the 1976 NBA Finals, and with a franchise-record 488 consecutive games played for the Celtics, White possessed Hall of Fame credentials. But it appears the Naismith committee has been slow to embrace some players from the 1970s who were perhaps overshadowed by the likes of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Although White’s accomplishments in the game have always been greatly appreciated in Boston, it has taken years for others to recognize his career as more than just above average.

“I’m just excited and I loved playing sports,” White said. “To touch the athletes you’ve played with, coaches that you had to deal with, and you find you’re getting very, very close to the team that you’re working with. What I’ve went through as a player, I’m just excited.

“I’m still rejoicing from where I’ve gone to where I am to what I had to go through to get where I am. I’ve gone through it.”

***

No. 4: Is Bradley Beal worth the max? — The Washington Wizards will have to figure out an answer to that question soon enough. A maxed out backcourt tandem of All-Star point guard John Wall and the sweet-shooting Beal could be on the horizon for a team with grand designs of climbing the ladder in the Eastern Conference in the coming seasons. Moke Hamilton of Basketball Insiders ponders the question a full summer ahead of time:

In all likelihood, Beal, whom the Wizards can make a restricted free agent next summer, will command a maximum offer sheet from some team at that time. Quite a few teams will have truckloads of cap space and can have a Brinks truck arrive at the residence of Beal at 12:01 a.m. on July 1, 2016. Until that time, though, since the Wizards will have the right of first refusal, it makes sense for them to wait—just like the Warriors did with Green, just like the Chicago Bulls did with Jimmy Butler and just like the San Antonio Spurs did with Kawhi Leonard.

Make no mistake about it, though, Beal is a maximum player in today’s NBA. That is true despite the fact that he has never played as many as 75 games in any one of his three seasons. It is also true despite the defensive ineptitude that he has shown on a fairly consistent basis over the course of his young career. And yes, it is true despite the fact that he has not consistently shown that he can impact the game on multiple fronts. Above all, he is regarded as a strong offensive player and a deadly three-point shooter (his career three-point conversation rate is about 42 percent). His ability to create his own shot has improved tremendously, and, still at just 22 years old, he is nowhere near his physical prime. As he ages and matures, he will only get better.

Indeed, in today’s NBA, contract impasses are nothing extraordinary. But as it relates to Beal, with his upside, his production thus far and the influx of money that the NBA will see over the next few years, even a blind man can see that this movie ends the same way as the ones we have just witnessed.

In Washington, D.C. or elsewhere, Beal is a maximum player. Drawing that conclusion is the easy part. The difficult part, for the Wizards, is determining whether or not he will fulfill the lofty expectations that such a contract would yield and whether they want to be the team to roll the dice on him.

But best believe, in today’s NBA, someone will.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jahlil Okafor is ready to tote the load for the Philadelphia 76ers … The players had a huge hand in the look and design of the Hawks’ new uniformsKyle Lowry chats about his summer slim downDwyane Wade was in attendance for one of the craziest games on college football’s kickoff weekend

ICYMI: The Sixers have good reason to be excited about Nerlens Noel:


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel’s Top 10 Plays from his All-Rookie first team season

Morning shootaround — July 25


VIDEO: Harrison Barnes hangs out with FC Barcelona


NEWS OF THE MORNING
Barnes wants long-term stay with Warriors | Hibbert looking to shape up in LA | Len thinks Chandler will help, not hurt, his career | Okafor excited to get started with Sixers

No. 1: Harrison Barnes wants long-term stay with Warriors The Warriors had a rather uneventful offseason from the standpoint of change. They didn’t add a big free agent or draft in the lottery, and their status quo was secured once Draymond Green inked an extension, which was expected. There’s a reason the Warriors didn’t look to change much: They did win the title and their core is mainly young with upside. If Harrison Barnes has his choice, he’d like to remain part of that nucleus when his deal comes up next summer. Barnes has played a useful role with the Warriors and while he’s not a star, at least not yet, he’d be in demand if he ever reached free agency. Here’s Barnes speaking to Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group

“I mean, we just won a championship,” Barnes said. “Of course I’d love to keep this group together for many years to come, you know what I’m saying? So that’s obvious.”

Barnes, 23, and the Warriors face an Oct. 31 deadline for getting an extension signed. If the sides cannot reach agreement by then, he is expected to become a restricted free agent at the end of next season.

Warriors co-owner Joe Lacob has most recently re-signed homegrown talent, giving Klay Thompson a four-year, $70 million extension and Draymond Green a five-year, $82 million contract. Barnes acknowledged that seeing his teammates get deals done gives him confidence.

“It’s a good fit,” Barnes said of the Warriors, who value the 6-foot-8 player’s versatility. “Obviously, you want to continue to get better. One thing Coach (Steve) Kerr and I talked about at the end of the season was just how can I get better in the spots I was used last year — post game, ballhandling more, bringing the ball up in transition and pushing, getting it to shooters, that type of thing. There’s a lot of obvious areas for growth and improvement, and this is a conducive system for that.”

Barnes said he would probably work with Warriors executive board member Jerry West again in Los Angeles after doing so last year on the heels of struggling in his second season in the league.

“The biggest thing for me is just to work on my game,” Barnes said. “Obviously you won a championship, and the goal is to do it again.

“This is obviously a big year for everyone. We have a young team. I think we still have a lot of room to grow, and we have to capitalize on that.”

***

No. 2: Roy Hibbert looking to shape up with the Lakers Last season wasn’t the best for Roy Hibbert. Matter of fact, it was rather costly from the standpoint of keeping him in Indiana. Pacers president Larry Bird made it clear that the team wanted to move on, and Hibbert soon made his way to the rebuilding Lakers. Crazy: Just a few summers ago, Hibbert had a tremendous playoff run and was a top-10 center in the NBA. Now? He must repair his reputation and maybe his career, and it starts in L.A., where he’s anxious to get started. As Bill Orem writes in the Orange County Register, Hibbert is looking for a fresh start and a better situation …

Roy Hibbert was a lost cause. A lumbering center with little offensive game and a disinterested temperament, they were happy pawning him off for nothing more than a future second-round draft pick.

The Lakers, however, view Hibbert as a player who can not only regain his standing as an All-Star big man, but anchor their anemic defense, which last year ranked second-worst in the NBA.

“I expect to play at an All-Star defensive level, and everything else will come,” Hibbert said.

“In this business,” Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, “if you can have somebody who’s that size, who’s 28 years old, that clearly wants to rebirth his career, I think that’s a good risk.”

Hibbert averaged 10.6 points and 7.1 rebounds for the Pacers last season. He is just a year removed from his second All-Star campaign, and helping Indiana to the Eastern Conference finals.

He remains a reputable defender. The Pacers last season allowed 101.1 points per 100 possessions when he was on the floor. The Lakers, by contrast, allowed 108.

Hibbert has averaged 1.9 blocked shots per game in his seven NBA seasons, but Kupchak said that won’t solve the Lakers’ defensive problems alone.

“It all can’t fall to his plate,” Kupchak said. “If you’re on the perimeter, you can’t just let your guy get past you and say, ‘Oh, Roy is back there.’ It doesn’t work that way. Everybody is going to have to buy in defensively and make a commitment defensively.

Hibbert hopes to join a storied tradition of big men to find success with the Lakers. He said he grew up studying Shaquille O’Neal and has worked out extensively with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

“He gives me the little tidbits,” Hibbert said. “I worked with him a lot last year in the summer and he keeps up with me. He always gives me some advice, some things to work on. I always ask him questions.”

***

No. 3: Alex Len happy to have Tyson Chandler around It was a pretty weird situation, watching the Suns give four years to the well-seasoned Tyson Chandler while they were trying to develop Alex Len, their lottery pick two years ago. And to hear Len, it was surprising to him, too. But after he gave it more thought, Len figures Chandler will actually be beneficial to a young center trying to learn the nuances of the game and become a useful rotation player. At least that’s what he told Michael Lee of the Washington Post

Instead of an immediate opportunity lost, Len focused on the possible long-term benefits.

“He’s one of the best defensive bigs in the league. The way he blocks shots, the way he communicates. I think I can learn just from watching, just from being around him, add it to my game. I think it’s going to be great,” Len said. “He’s a great leader. We needed a veteran last year. Somebody in the locker room, on the court, somebody we can look up to. So, I think it’s great for the team.”

Though he was selected fifth overall out of Maryland in 2013, Len wasn’t expected to quickly come in and resurrect the franchise – especially since he ditched his crutches from left ankle surgery just to walk across the stage to meet then-commissioner David Stern on the night of the draft. Len’s rookie season was lost because of nagging ankle troubles — “I just throw that out,” he said of his forgettable first season — but he started to look the part of a serviceable big man in his second season, showing a soft touch for a 7-footer and the necessary aggressiveness required to make countless screens on a pick-and-roll heavy team.

The Suns have been happy with Len’s progress but want to improve at a much faster pace than the time required for him to become a well-rounded player. In an effort to land the all-star talent needed to truly compete in the stacked Western Conference, Phoenix targeted the best free agent in the open market — LaMarcus Aldridge — and knew that he wanted to play power forward and to be paired with an experienced NBA center. Chandler agreed to a four-year, $52 million agreement in time to sit at the table to recruit Aldridge, who strongly considered leaving Portland for Phoenix before deciding to join the San Antonio Spurs.

***

No. 4: Jahlil Okafor too excited to get started in Philly  — While there are plenty of reasons for pessimism in Philly concerning the Sixers this upcoming season, given the injury status of Joel Embiid and a roster that still isn’t teeming with top-shelf talent, their No. 1 pick wants to make it clear: He’s happy. Jahlil Okafor wasn’t taken by the Lakers, which was the pre-Draft scuttlebutt, and instead landed with the Sixers. He’s not going to Philly kicking and screaming; rather, he’s looking forward to the experience and has big plans. He told Michael Lee of the Washington Post all about it …

The 76ers are certainly hopeful that Okafor will develop into a cornerstone for a rebuilding effort that is slow to take shape. Using a be-bad-and-pray-for-some-luck strategy, Philadelphia General Manager Sam Hinkie has inspired plenty of doubt around the league and nearly imposed lottery reform.

Over the past two years, the 76ers have traded serviceable NBA players for draft picks and used lottery picks on injured players while stashing another in Europe. As a result, they have won 39 games the past two seasons. Okafor won 35 games in his lone season at Duke but isn’t intimidated by the challenge ahead in the NBA, with an organization still seeking an identity.

Milwaukee Bucks forward Jabari Parker, a Chicago native, Duke alumnus and one of Okafor’s best friends, has been advising the talented big man with the throwback low-post moves on what to expect in the NBA. Like Okafor, Parker has dealt with the immense scrutiny of being a prodigy, played for Coach Mike Krzyzewski, and was taken with a top-three pick to join an organization that won fewer than 20 games the previous year.

“It will help the adjustment period,” Parker said of Okafor’s experience of being in the spotlight, “but it’s on a different scale. He has a lot to learn, because he’s been given a pedestal and a lot of responsibility but it’s nothing he can’t handle. He’s going to be in the NBA a long time. So he has to. He doesn’t have a choice.”

“My role is to dominate,” Okafor said. “I’m one of the centerpieces of the team, so my role is the same.”

Embiid’s injury, combined with the Los Angeles Lakers selecting point guard D’Angelo Russell ahead of Okafor, forced Hinkie to take the best player on the board, regardless of position. After initially wondering if he was drafted to be traded, Okafor was assured the 76ers want to build around him.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Utah Jazz are thinking about changing their primary logo ASAP … Although he missed the latter half of last season with knee issues, Carmelo Anthony will attend (but probably not play in) the Team USA workouts … The Pelicans still have some roster decisions to make, starting with Norris Cole.

Morning shootaround — March 29




VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors are No. 1 | Knicks hit bottom | Kanter rips Jazz | Sixers look ahead

No. 1: Warriors clinch top seed in playoffs — Ho-hum. Another night, another landmark in a season full of them. Just 24 hours after flexing their muscles in a heavyweight win at Memphis, the Warriors rolled into Milwaukee and rolled the Bucks. It was Golden State’s ninth straight victory, gave the franchise 60 wins for the first time ever and, more important, locked up home-court advantage all the way through the NBA Finals. But the Warriors weren’t celebrating, because they’ve got their sights set on bigger goals, according to Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

“It’s good to break records and do all that, but I think we have that kind of feel that we haven’t done anything in the playoffs,” center Andrew Bogut said. “So we’re kind of doing all the right things leading into the playoffs, and hopefully it carries in.”

The Warriors, after winning their ninth straight, once again cited their focus.

“Guys have been fantastic all season long just with their commitment to each other, to their work and joy, and it’s been so much fun,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s great to rack up these milestones as we go.

“We have a good work ethic every day. We have a ton of fun. Our guys play hard. They play for each other. They laugh. That’s the whole goal, I think, as a goal, is improvement and enjoyment, and they often go hand in hand, and I think that’s what I’m most proud of this year.”

One of the longest-tenured Warriors players, David Lee, credited the first-year coaching staff.

“The hardest part sometimes when you’re playing the way we’re playing is to stay focused every single game, and I think in years past we’ve had problems losing to teams that we’re ‘better than,'”‚” said Lee, who started the game and has been in and out of the rotation this season. “Or losing games that we shouldn’t’ lose. Or losing games at home that you should never lose.

“That always goes back to the coaching staff keeping us on our toes and telling us we need to get better.”

Said Kerr with a laugh: “Fortunately when I got the job that the team was a lot more talented than they’ve been most of their history.”

The Warriors, who have set a franchise record for road wins and have only lost twice at home, are also in good position to earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They took a five-game lead over Atlanta for the NBA’s best record with nine games left.

***

No. 2: 60th loss sets Knicks record — At the other end of the spectrum from the beautiful game played by the Warriors in their march into the record books, is the misery at Madison Square Garden as the Knicks make a different kind of history. Loss No. 60 came Saturday night in a 31-point thumping at Chicago and Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News reminds that Knicks fans and executives who couldn’t wait to run Mike Woodson out of town can now look back at those good old days:

It is always worth remembering that since the start of the 2001-02 season, all Knicks coaches who weren’t Woodson are more than 200 games under .500. He was 30 games over .500 in his two-plus years coaching the Knicks, and gave the team its only victory in a playoff series since Jeff Van Gundy was still here, back in the spring of 2000.

But then you were supposed to believe that the Knicks coached themselves when Woodson was here. “Fire Woodson!” they chanted at the Garden. Jackson did that the first chance he got, because he needed a disciple, even though Jackson’s coaching tree actually looks like a tree that misses its leaves in wintertime. He thought Steve Kerr would jump at the chance to come here, and the money Jackson was prepared to throw at him. Kerr wised up and went to Golden State and may win a championship there, and do it this year. So he threw $25 million at Derek Fisher instead.

Now a full season into the Phil Jackson era, and despite all the praise Jackson has heaped on Fisher, we still don’t know if Fisher has the chops to coach an NBA team anymore than we know if Jackson has the chops and energy and vision to build one.

Woodson, who now sits next to Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, was in town the other night as the Clippers did everything except throw the current edition of the Knicks off that Chase Bridge and said, “Hopefully (the Knicks) can rebound this summer and put some pieces together and get back to winning basketball games.”

***

No. 3: Kanter goes off on Jazz — It wasn’t exactly a happy homecoming for Enes Kanter in Salt Lake City. Not unless you like your homecoming guests to come bearing a sledgehammer and start immediately to break up the furniture. After languishing on the bench in Utah for 3 1/2 seasons, Kanter feels like he’s been reborn in Oklahoma city and held nothing back in his criticism of his old team and city. Royce Young of ESPN.com has the details:

“I love it,” Kanter said before the game of his change of scenery. “It’s a team I’ve never experienced before and I actually like playing basketball there. I’m just so comfortable and everything is in the right place. I’m just really happy to be there.”
And it showed, as he continued his hot streak with 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 94-89 loss to the Jazz.

Kanter was booed during introductions and every time he touched the ball. He even egged on the crowd at the start.

“I didn’t really care. I like pressure, the boos didn’t mean nothing to me,” Kanter said. “It was just a regular game. I never felt like I was a part of this thing, so it was just a regular game. We came and we leave and that is it.

“I am not taking nothing back.”

Kanter has been an offensive revelation for the Thunder, putting up a double-double in eight consecutive games — the longest streak for the Thunder/Sonics franchise since Shawn Kemp had 10 straight in 1996, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I think the difference is, I like playing basketball there,” Kanter said. “I think that’s the most important thing. I never liked playing basketball before in my NBA career, and this is the first time I felt like playing basketball there, for my team, for the fans, for my teammates for my coaches, for everybody. So, that’s the first time.”

***

No. 4: Embiid, Noel could team up in summer — After suffering through two long seasons of piling up losses, the Sixers might give fans their first glimpse of brighter future this summer. A decision hasn’t yet been made, but coach Brett Brown told our own Scott Howard-Cooper that Philly’s last two No. 1 draft picks — Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid — might take the court together at the NBA Pro Summer League in July:

Embiid playing at all will be an important update after sitting out all 2014-15, barring a shocking change of plans by the Sixers in the final couple weeks, because of a stress fracture in his right foot that led to surgery, just as Noel was sidelined all last season by a torn ligament in his left knee. The chance to see Embiid, the No. 3 pick, with Noel, though, would provide extra value as an early look at 2015-16 as Philadelphia works to figure out how the two centers fit.

“It’s hard for me to go on record and say for sure,” coach Brett Brown said when asked about Embiid playing in July, “but everything is pointing toward that and I’d be very disappointed if he wasn’t on the court with us in summer league.”

As for Noel playing as well, Brown said he has not broached the topic with Noel yet, but said, “Personally, I’m open to it. If it’s something that he really wants to do, we’ll talk about it. If you put a gun to my head right now, I don’t know if I’m going to make him play in summer league.

“We’re going to talk it through, he and I, and figure it out. It would make a little bit of sense — well let’s have a look with him and Joel together. I understand that reason. But I don’t feel strong one way the another yet. I might after the season. At the moment I don’t. And whatever we do, I’m going to do it with him.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is still hopeful of getting back onto the court with the Pacers this season….Dario Saric is leaning toward staying in Turkey next season….Joe Dumars could be heading back to his native Louisiana for a spot with the Pelicans…After winning another Super Bowl, Tom Brady is playing pickup basketball in the Bahamas with Michael Jordan…Alma mater St. John’s might want Chris Mullin as next head coach.

Knicks deal Outlaw to keep rookie Wear

From the moment he signed on to do that heavy lifting that will be required in the reconstruction project that is the Knicks, it’s been said that Phil Jackson would have to get creative.

So here is the team president swinging a cutdown-day deal to ship much traveled veteran Travis Outlaw to the Sixers in order to keep undrafted rookie Travis Wear on the 15-man roster for the regular season.

It’s a small move, but makes perfect sense. If you’re not going to be a playoff contender — and trust us, the Knicks are not — then you might as well take a flyer on young talent with potential.

Mark Stein of ESPN.com has the details:

In addition, the Knicks sent a 2019 second-round pick to the Sixers and have agreed to swap rights on another future second-rounder with Philadelphia for the ability to shed Outlaw’s contract in the trade.

Wear played his way onto the Knicks’ roster with a strong training camp after going undrafted this past summer out of UCLA.

“I’m very excited to be part of the team,” Wear said. “I’m just going to remain humble. I came in here and working and not expecting anything, playing defense, taking what comes to me and not force anything.”

“Travis Wear is another impressive rookie,” Knicks president Phil Jackson said recently. “He’s 6-10 with a terrific handle, outstanding athleticism and a nice touch from beyond the arc. He was overshadowed at UCLA but has the skill set to play every position from 1 to 4. We’ll eventually place him in the D-League, where his possible NBA future solely depends on his ability to learn how to defend.”

Summer Dreaming: Executive of Year

David Griffin, with the help of LeBron, had a very eventful summer (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

David Griffin, with the help of LeBron, had an eventful summer (Photo by David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

Everybody has their roles. Players play. Coaches coach. But before anybody can get out onto the floor to make shots, grab rebounds and chase down loose balls, somebody has to put the team together and, hopefully, keep things moving forward with a solid, consistent organizational goal.

It’s summertime when the lion’s share of the work is done. However, there was plenty of heaving lift this off-season that has left us with our top five Summer Dreaming picks for NBA Executive of the Year in 2014-15.

Send us your picks.

David Griffin, Cavaliers — Sure, it helps to have the very best player on the planet decide that he’s had enough time by the pool in Coconut Grove and wants to return home. Who’s a better recruiter than LeBron James? Just ask Kevin Love. Or Mike Miller. Or Shawn Marion. But before James made “The Return” official, Miller re-signed point guard Kyrie Irving and made the bold move to hire long-time European coach Dave Blatt as coach. Then Griffin ultimately signed off on sending No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota. If the Cavs are raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June, we could look back on this as the most head-turning summer since Bridget Bardot first wore a bikini. Not bad for seven months on the job.

Donnie Nelson, Mavericks — It took three years, but the Mavs finally corrected their biggest front office mistake in bringing back center Tyson Chandler to anchor the middle of the lineup. They simply have not been the same without him since the championship season of 2011. While it would be fair to say Dallas overpaid for free agent small forward Chandler Parsons at $46 million for three years, there’s no question that three more years of Dirk Nowitzki at $8 million per is a bargain and makes the combo a shrewd winner. Nelson gave up Jose Calderon to get Chandler, but veteran Jameer Nelson with enough in his tank is a more than capable replacement. Reserves Shawn Marion and Vince Carter could be missed, but all in all the Mavs have taken a big step forward to get back into the thick of the Western Conference playoff race.

Gar Forman, Bulls — There was definitely time and energy put into the effort to land A-list free agent Carmelo Anthony and it really might have been the best landing spot if Melo’s main interest had been trying to win championships rather than see how high he can stack his salary. In the aftermath, the Bulls hit the jackpot on Plan B by getting Pau Gasol to shed his scapegoat role with the Lakers and move in as a perfect complement to Joakim Noah’s no-holds-barred game on the front line. Forman’s acquisition of Gasol allows the Bulls to keep Taj Gibson in his most effective place coming off the bench and lets rookie Nikola Mirotic to make a slower transition from Europe to the NBA. Rookie Doug McDermott could be just the ticket as the shooter Chicago needs. Oh yes, and Derrick Rose comes back. If LeBron’s homecoming Cavaliers are not representing the East in The Finals next June, it’s probably because the Bulls edged them out.

Rich Cho, Hornets — First, start out by giving Cho delayed credit for bringing the sometimes unappreciated Al Jefferson into Charlotte last season. That move gave first-year coach Steve Clifford a dependable anchor on which to hook his game plan every night and enabled the erstwhile Bobcats to scratch and claw their way to the playoffs. Now with a new/old team name, the Hornets became the surprise landing spot of free agent Lance Stephenson, who’ll give them a slasher, creator, scorer, ball-handler to take some of the pressure off Kemba Walker in the backcourt. Taking P.J. Hairston late in the first round of the draft could pay big dividends as another shooter. Getting free agent Marvin Williams gives them depth at the four behind Cody Zeller and allows No. 9 overall pick Noah Vonleh to recover from surgery and learn slowly. Clifford got well-deserved credit a year in for instilling a sense of purpose and direction on the court. But Cho has given him the tools to compete in East.

Sam Hinkie, 76ers — No, his Sixers are not going to shock the world by making the playoffs or even get a glimpse of them without a pair of binoculars. And no, he’s likely not going to even get a single official vote for this award when his peers cast their ballots next spring. But if they were boldly honest, they’d admit that Hinkie is following perfectly in Year Two the plan that he laid out when he took over the job. He landed Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams with the No. 11 pick in 2013 and now has Nerlens Noel making his NBA debut with a good chance of winning that award back-to-back seasons for the Sixers. Joel Embiid is a No. 1 overall talent that Hinkie got at No. 3 and now will probably sit out the year to mend. Toss in top prospect Dario Saric, who’ll cool his heels for another year in Europe and the Sixers are lined up with a shot at two more first round picks in 2015. Sometimes it’s about the long view.