Posts Tagged ‘76ers’

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.

Summer Dreaming: Rookie of the Year


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel put on a shotblocking show throughout Summer League

Late summer in North America is the start of hurricane season, a time when the weather forecasters keep their eyes peeled for potential tropical disturbances.

But with the season openers less than three months away, we’ll start looking farther out over the horizon for an early peek at the 2014-15 NBA official award winners and a few extra categories, just for fun.

Our second annual Summer Dreaming Series starts today with a look at my top five picks for Rookie of the Year. Send me yours.

Nerlens Noel, 76ers — While all eyes have been on the big-name talent arriving in the 2014 Draft class, the guy who had originally been projected as the No. 1 pick in 2013 just might take a page out of Blake Griffin‘s delayed gratification book to steal the thunder and the trophy. After being sidelined by an ACL injury, there were times late last season when he was clearly chomping at the bit and openly talking about his desire to get on the court. Yet, the Sixers held firm in resting him all season. When Noel finally got to play in Summer League, he showed his athleticism, his explosiveness and defensive skills. He’s an active big man and with the Sixers’ goal of playing at a fast pace, he’ll get plenty of chances to run the floor and put up numbers. With Philly’s top pick this year, Joel Embiid, likely sidelined for the season, Noel will also get his share of minutes and more. The Sixers waited decades to get their first Rookie of the Year winner last season in Michael Carter-Williams. Now they could make it two in a row.

Jabari Parker, Bucks – There will be questions to answer. Is his long-term future in the league as a small forward? Or does he slide over and use his shooting ability as a stretch four? The general consensus is there could be others in this year’s rookie class with greater potential, but Parker is the one most ready to step into the NBA and thrive, perhaps even star, from Day One. The Bucks franchise certainly needs a fresh face as a headliner as they move to a new era with new ownership and a new coach (Jason Kidd). He wasn’t as flashy as the neon signs in Las Vegas during Summer League, averaging 15 points and eight rebounds. However, Parker has everything in his offensive arsenal — from step-back jumpers to finishing inside — that enable him to be the main gun in the Bucks arsenal. He’s the chalk pick to win ROY.

Marcus Smart, Celtics — Big man Julius Randle is playing for the other rebuilding traditional powerhouse out West and could have his minutes blocked by free-agent signees Carlos Boozer and Ed Davis. Smart, however, will have no such problems getting (and staying) on the floor in Boston. He either learns playing alongside Rajon Rondo or takes his spot if the Celtics do pull the trigger and trade the veteran. Smart’s offense is streaky and he’ll have to learn discipline with his shots. But he’s a defensive bulldog who loves the challenge and is also a willing pupil that will quickly become the pet project of coach Brad Stevens. Smart should be a mainstay in Boston as it moves ahead in its reconstruction process.

Andrew Wiggins, Cavaliers – His chances of latching onto the rookie hardware will improve the minute he gets his wish and the trade from Cleveland to Minnesota goes through. While there may have been less pressure to be a role player alongside LeBron James on the Cavs’ roster, Wiggins will certainly get more chance to shine as the new face of the Timberwolves. There is a lot to learn and improve on. He’s got a questionable handle and really needs to improve his shot, but those are fixable areas. What you can’t teach is a leaping ability that goes through the roof. Plus, there’s his willingness to defend that is not far behind his offense. A big question, though: will the burden of carrying a remade Minnesota team built around him wear him down and make his stats suffer? There is smart money that says Wiggins could one day be the best of the the bunch, but chances are his raw talent alone won’t carry him to the ROY.

Elfrid Payton, Magic – He’s got a jump shot that needs plenty of work, but everything else about his game will make him an instant hit in Orlando. In fact, he could be a dark horse in the rookie race all season long. Payton’s place will be starting at the point, ending the experiment at converting Victor Oladipo. Doing so will allow both young guards to thrive. He had a lot of turnovers in his summer league debut, but also put up plenty of good numbers scoring, passing and rebounding. The rangy playmaker showed a real knack for delivering open teammates the ball, too. Payton has elite-level athleticism, plus a nose — and long arms — for racking up steals. He’ll take his lumps in the learning process. However, a young Magic team will give him all the minutes and opportunity he needs to show that he’s a star in the making.

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.