Posts Tagged ‘Brett Brown’

Pop led Spurs out of Finals doldrums

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Gregg Popovich accepts his third Coach of the Year award

SAN ANTONIO – Last summer was unlike any of the previous 17 in Gregg Popovich‘s career as coach of the San Antonio Spurs. The long days passed, but the doldrums from the Spurs’ heartbreaking Finals defeat to Miami bogged down like a stagnant lake in the Texas heat.

The 2013 championship was right there, 28 seconds from glory for a proud San Antonio franchise, the model of the NBA if not professional sports as a whole. But everybody knows what happened next. Popovich lived with it every day thereafter until he finally could not any longer, when the players returned to begin, somehow, a brand new season.

“The way we lost in the Finals wasn’t an ordinary loss; it was pretty devastating,” Popovich said Tuesday afternoon at the Spurs’ practice facility as he received the Red Auerbach Coach of the Year trophy. “And we decided that we would just face that right off the bat at the beginning of the season and get it out of the way; don’t blame it on the basketball gods or bad fortune or anything like that. The Miami Heat beat us and won the championship and that’s that, and you move on. In all of our lives there are many things more important than winning and losing basketball games and that’s the perspective we had to take. And our team showed great maturity and resilience in being able to do that, so I’m very proud of them for that.”

Their resiliency also came during a period of transition on the bench. Popovich’s longtime aids, Brett Brown and Mike Budenholzer, became head coaches.

But nothing seems to phase this group. With Manu Ginobili turning 36 over the summer and Tim Duncan celebrating his 38th birthday on Friday, neither had to return, or return in better shape than they finished the previous season. When this season could finally have been the one that signaled the inevitable descent it seems has been predicted for the past half-dozen seasons, the Spurs won 62 games, the second-most of Popovich’s 18-year career and earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with the league’s top record.

With the Spurs, everything is a collective effort. They win together, lose together and plan how to win again together.

“We’re fortunate,” Popovich said. “These guys don’t care about stats, they only care about winning basketball games. You might get a championship, you might not, but you give it your best effort. But these guys could all have better stats. I play them for 29 or 30 minutes a game in their careers and their stats suffer because of it, but that sacrifice helps our entire team. and this year, whatever adversity we had — every team has adversity — but our bench really helped us through that. We would not have had the same success without what our bench did. I think that and the leadership that our older players showed helped us get through the hard times.”

In accepting his third Coach of the Year trophy, joining only Pat Riley and Don Nelson as three-time winners, Popovich spoke sincerely. He praised owner Peter Holt for granting he and general manager R.C. Buford, who sat next to his friend of more than two decades at the table during the news conference, the freedom to do their jobs, and said he was humbled to be singled out among the many worthy candidates this season that included first-year coaches Jeff Hornacek at Phoenix and Steve Clifford at Charlotte, plus Chicago’s Tom Thibodeau, Portland’s Terry Stotts and others.

None faced quite the unpredictable psychological hurdle that Popovich did with his heartbroken team.

“I think his steadfast attention to detail and facing the realities of last season’s end and immediately getting it behind us was really important,” Spurs general manager Buford said. “And his approach with his staff was different because it was a different staff, but the energy and the leadership we’ve seen has been consistent throughout his time as a coach.”

But of course it wouldn’t be a Popovich press conference without a measure of snark, and Pop didn’t disappoint.

When asked about losing his two longtime assistants, he interrupted the questioner:  “Thank God.”

Asked where he displays his Coach of the Year trophies, Popovich said: “They’re on the hood of my car. … I’ve got three of those right on the hood.”

As a younger man, Popovich dreamed of a playing career in the NBA before turning to coaching, getting his start as an assistant at the Air Force Academy. Asked if he knew he wanted to coach in the NBA once he didn’t make it as a player, Pop responded: “Larry Brown screwed me as a player. He had the unmitigated gall to pick David Thompson over me back when he was the Nuggets coach.”

Brown, of course, is one of Popovich’s mentors and who helped him get to the NBA, a place Popovich said was never truly a goal. He said he would have been happy to live out his days where he spent his early coaching days at Division III Pomona-Pitzer College in California.

“For me, the NBA was watching on TV back when they had the long nets and watching the ball go through the long nets; I really enjoyed that,” Popovich said. “I was fat, dumb and happy as a Division III coach. I could do it the rest of my life, it was fantastic, I loved it. But all of us take a different road here and there. The NBA was never a dream or thought of, ‘I’m going to go to the NBA and be a coach and do this.’ I had no clue.

“We run a lot of the same drills to be honest with you, pivoting drills and sitting on chairs, silly things like that, but all fundamental basketball stuff. After that, let the players play. They know how to get it done.”

So, too, does Pop.

Morning Shootaround — April 10


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played April 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Vogel’s gamble pays off | Casey unhappy with Raptors’ defense | Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in Draft | Cavs look ahead to next season

No. 1: Vogel’s gamble plays off for Pacers — The NBA world was abuzz yesterday afternoon after word came that Pacers coach Frank Vogel was benching his entire starting five of Paul George, Lance Stephenson, George Hill, David West and Roy Hibbert to give them some rest against the Bucks. Milwaukee gave Indiana quite a fight, but thanks to a late shot from little-used reserve Chris Copeland, the Pacers took home the win. That, coupled with Miami’s loss in Memphis last night, gave Indiana the No. 1 spot in the East again and may have proven Vogel’s move to be worthwhile. Our Steve Aschburner was on the scene in Indiana and has more on the game:

This was a risky move, risky on the verge of panic, for coach Frank Vogel to sit down – to rest, en masse – the five guys who have defined the Pacers’ largely successful season. But there they sat: Paul George, David West, Roy Hibbert, Lance Stephenson and George Hill, from beginning to end, mere spectators and cheerleaders Wednesday night at BMO Harris Bradley Center.After multiple consultations between Vogel and the players, among Vogel and President Larry Bird and the coaches — and a heads-up courtesy call to NBA headquarters in hopes of avoiding any fines — the Indiana coach shortened his bench by whacking his starters. He did, from the rationale he gave, what he should have done in February or March, if only the alleged wear, tear and fatigue from season’s first five months had shown itself before the sixth.

“We accomplished the purpose,” said George, who spent the game in warm-ups after getting in some conditioning and shooting. “We felt very comfortable with the group we had, that they were going to go out there and get us a win. It wasn’t like we were sacrificing the game. We game-planned. Coach really drilled and worked hard with the unit he put out there.”

Copeland missed just one of his eight shots, scored 18 and was good for four of the Pacers’ 11 3-pointers. Backup point guard C.J. Watson returned after missing 13 games, and his impact shouldn’t be understated; Indiana is 47-14 when he plays, 7-11 when he doesn’t. The Pacers outshot the Bucks and had 26 assists to 11 turnovers.

“Served the purpose,” said Vogel. “We got the starters the rest that hopefully will help them find their rhythm, and we let our bench guys get extended minutes so they could get comfortable. Evan Turner hasn’t been that comfortable in a Pacers uniform.”

How badly have the starters needed a breather? The math says very: the five Pacers have averaged 2,521 minutes, which might not seem excessive (32.8 per game). But compared to the deftly managed San Antonio Spurs, the difference is considerable. The five Spurs who have played the most have averaged 1,934 minutes. That gap of 587, doled out 30 minutes at a time, is nearly 20 extra games’ worth.

“It was a weird feeling, sitting out a game,” Hibbert said. “But I was really happy for those guys. They’ve been working extremely hard the whole season. To see them go out and play, and not have to worry about making mistakes and having the starters come back in, I was really happy for ‘em.”

Hibbert said getting the game off was both a physical and mental health day, and none of them seemed to need it more. The big fella hit some sort of wall Sunday against Atlanta, playing just nine minutes, going scoreless with no rebounds, then languishing on the bench through the second half in some sort of bad body-language funk. He was way more engaged in this one, encouraging the reserves, snarling toward the crowd a few times.

When Indiana visits the Heat on Friday, its starters will have gone five days – more than 120 hours – between games.

“We probably haven’t had that since the season started,” Stephenson said. “Any rest can help us right now.”


VIDEO: Pacers score a close win in Milwaukee

***

No. 2: Casey fretting over Raptors’ defense — No team has been more of a surprise in the Eastern Conference this season than the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. The team is just one win away from both clinching the franchise’s second-ever division crown and also tying the record for wins in a season. Despite all the good feelings of the season, though, coach Dwane Casey is a bit concerned about Toronto’s defense as it barrels toward the playoffs. Doug Smith of the Toronto Star has more:

They are a game away from matching two historic moments in franchise history; a win away from a division title, a victory away from equalling the win total of the best Raptors team ever — and the anticipation is building all around them.

But having watched his team scuffle through another bad defensive night against a vastly inferior opponent, coach Dwane Casey is more worried than celebratory.

“My whole goal now is to get better defensively going into the next couple of weeks because if we don’t, it’s going to be a short ride,” Casey said after the Raptors beat the Philadelphia 76ers 125-114 at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, Toronto’s second straight stinky defensive performance.

“Collectively, our defence has to step up. We can’t expect to outscore people 125-114 and have a game like that,” he said.

“It’s a mindset. You can’t look at their records, whoever we play. New York (Toronto’s next opponent) will be a little different but the other teams (minnows Detroit and Milwaukee also remain on the Raptors schedule) that are not in the playoffs, we can’t look at that. We have to play our game and look to improve.”


VIDEO: Raptors coach Dwane Casey discusses the team’s win over the Sixers

***

No. 3: Brown: Sixers need a ‘star’ in the Draft — As a former longtime assistant coach of the San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers first-year coach Brett Brown knows how drafting a go-to superstar can shape a franchise. He saw what Tim Duncan has done for the Spurs over the years and now that he’s leading his own crew, Brown knows that Philly needs a star in the 2014 Draft if it hopes to keep its rebuild project moving along quickly and smoothly. He talked with Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier-Times about that, Michael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and more:

“I think it’s important,” Brown said during a 10-minute interview after Tuesday’s practice. “I think it’s really important.

“Stars want to play with stars. And it’s too early to say anything about Michael (Carter-Williams) or what you can project Nerlens (Noel) out to be. Just because somebody’s chosen high in the draft doesn’t mean they’re going to be a star, either.”

The Sixers, who are likely to finish with the second-worst record, would have a 19.9 percent shot at the No. 1 overall pick and a 55.8 percent chance to choose in the top three. They also own five second-round selections.

One potential top-three pick, talented Duke freshman forward Jabari Parker, who said he might come back to school after an early NCAA tournament exit, has arranged housing for his sophomore year, according to a Duke source. While that doesn’t mean he’ll stay, it shows he’s seriously considering remaining a Blue Devil for another season.

Brown is eager to see rookie center Noel, who sat out the year as he recovered from a torn ACL, play one of the Sixers’ two summer leagues. Noel and Carter-Williams won an AAU national title as members of the Boston Amateur Basketball Club (BABC).

The Sixers acquired Noel with the No. 6 pick in last June’s draft from the Holiday deal and Carter-Williams went No. 11.

“They have had such a great history together in their Boston AAU days,” said Brown, a Maine native. “I can see how they have a bond, a connection, a relationship. Those things are priceless.

“I think it’s ‘hoop karma.’ To get two young players that are used to playing with each other at such a young age as our first-round draft picks last year and my own experiences in Boston — maybe something’s aligned where we can pull off something special together.”

Brown is adamant that Carter-Williams, who leads all first-year players in scoring (16.7 points), assists (6.3), rebounds (6.1) and steals (1.9), should become the Sixers’ first NBA Rookie of the Year since Allen Iverson in 1996-97.

“Absolutely zero (doubt in my mind),” Brown said. “And forget my opinion — look at his game and look at the stats. You can easily say — some people will — it’s because he played on a poor team or he played with the fastest (offensive) pace in the league or he got 34 minutes a night to do his thing. Those are true facts.

“But when you go a layer deeper and you say look at his game. Look at what he actually does. Project him out.”

***

No. 4: Cavs try to look forward to next season — The Cleveland Cavaliers tried to make a big splash in the offseason, signing center Andrew Bynum, guard Jarrett Jack and swingman Earl Clark months after drafting Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 overall pick. The thinking was adding those pieces to a core that included All-Star Kyrie Irving and budding frontcourt player Tristan Thompson would equal a playoff berth. The exact opposite happened as Cleveland sputtered out of the gate, dealt with Bynum drama mid-season, fired its GM and, in short, failed to live up to every expectation. The Cavs’ playoff hopes officially ended last night and as Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal writes, being home for the playoffs stings a little more this time for the Cavs:

It seemed almost poetic in this season of uncertainty that one of the Cavs’ finest performances would be tarnished by their ultimate demise.The offensive efficiency was brilliant Wednesday, the ball movement was electric and the outcome was emphatic. Only none of it matters anymore, since the Cavs’ 122-100 victory against the Detroit Pistons was washed away 36 minutes later by the Atlanta Hawks’ victory over the Boston Celtics, thereby officially eliminating the Cavs from postseason contention with exactly one week left in the season.

“It’s an empty feeling you have now that your chances are done,” Kyrie Irving said. “You think about the things you could’ve done, should’ve done — it’s inevitable.”

“That type of basketball, the stuff we saw out there tonight, that’s the way we want to play most of the time,” Mike Brown said. “We’ve played that way quite a bit. We’ve taken our lumps at times, but our guys have gotten better and it shows.”

Only it all came too late to save their postseason lives.

The Cavs will be haunted this summer by their 4-12 November that included losses to the woeful Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. They lost twice to the Boston Celtics and were embarrassed at home by the injury-ravaged Los Angeles Lakers.

Those are the types of losses that ultimately will deny the Cavs their first trip to the postseason in four years.

“One of the things that eats at me is the first couple of months, the transition we went through just not being able to win a few more games,” Brown said. “It’s tough and you have to play almost perfect basketball. It puts a lot of pressure on you as the year goes on. You wish you had some of those games back so we could experience playing past April.”

The Cavs were mathematically eliminated from the postseason before March concluded last season, and while a huge assist for their extension this season is the woeful Eastern Conference, the fact remains the Cavs played meaningful games in April and remained in the hunt until exactly one week remained.

That is progress from a team that won only 24 games last season …

“I feel good about the direction we’re going,” Brown said. “We have to keep understanding that every time we step out we have to grow and get better. … There will be times we’re going to take some steps backwards, but hopefully we don’t take too many steps backward these last few weeks of the season.”


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving talks about the win and missing out on the playoffs

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Bulls are reportedly close to signing former reserves Mike James and Lou Amundson to deals … Pau Gasol confirms it is unlikely he’ll play again for the Lakers this season … NBA commissioner Adam Silver sees ads on jerseys as both a “viable” source of revenue and an “inevitable” thing … The Bobcats’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist talks about his ex-high school teammate Derrick Gordon, the UMass basketball player who recently came out as gay … Timberwolves coach Rick Adelman knew that Bulls center Joakim Noah was primed for a big game last night … Aaron Brooks has enjoyed his time in Denver and wouldn’t mind re-signing with the team

ICYMI of the Night: The Bulls’ Taj Gibson is one of the better finishers around the rim in the NBA, but Ronny Turiaf of the Wolves was having none of that last night … 


VIDEO: Ronny Turiaf gets up to deny Taj Gibson’s dunk … and his follow-up attempts

 

 

Sixers’ streak goes on and so does plan

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Sixers suffer record-tying 26th straight loss

HOUSTON — Sam Hinkie ducked into the media dining room to grab a small plate of fajitas and headed quickly toward the door.

A friend asked him if he was hiding out.

“People want to see me either gnashing my teeth or beating my chest,” he said. “I’m not gnashing my teeth.”

Not even after 26 losses in a row.

The Sixers’ march toward both ignominious history and hopeful resurrection continued as the Rockets punched their ticket 120-98 on Thursday night.

As general manager, president of basketball operations, Hinkie is the Dr. Frankenstein who reverse-engineered this monster that is now tied with the 2010-11 Cavaliers for the longest single season losing streak in NBA history. For that, some of the town folk would like to storm his door with torches and pitchforks, because, well, they weren’t paying attention. Not to Hinkie’s clearly-drawn blueprint from the moment he was hired last May and not to the long history of the league.

It was fitting that the debate about the NBA Draft lottery should land in Houston for record-tying loss No. 26. For it was here in the land of high humidity and semi-low skullduggery that the lottery was mid-wifed after the Rockets — by virtue of the worst record in the Western Conference — won back-to-back coin flips in 1983 and ’84 to secure the rights to Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon.

In 1986, the Rockets were playing the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

So there is really no reason for the overreactive 21st century social media world or the taking-us-all-to-the-bottom talking heads of TV to lose their already loose grip on reality. And there is no need for commissioner Adam Silver to convene a blue ribbon committee to find a new way to slice bread or disperse incoming talent.

Hinkie and the Sixers are only working within a system that has been in place for decades and, as far as anyone can tell, hasn’t jeopardized civilization or caused the ruination of the league.

The Heat have been to three straight Finals and won back-to-back championships because team president Pat Riley chose in the 2009-10 season to put a roster of expiring contracts onto the court that could finish no better than third in its division and was promptly and expectedly wiped out of the playoffs in the first round.

And by the way, as bad as the Sixers have been, streak and all, they’re still a game up on Milwaukee in the standings.

It just makes no sense to be hopelessly stuck in the middle of the pack, maybe nibbling at the No. 7 or 8 playoff spots with no real hope of ever planning a championship parade down Main St.

Which is why first-year head coach Brett Brown said he doesn’t have the inclination to feel bad for his players who haven’t won a game since Jan. 29 at Boston and could be all alone in the history books if the streak hits 27 at home on Saturday against the Pistons.

“I won’t,” Brown said. “It’s part of everybody trying to execute a way where we can rebuild our program and this is one of the unfortunate byproducts that has come our way. I think that if we had sprinkled our 15 wins in perhaps a little bit differently, where it wouldn’t have received as much attention as it seems to being receiving, well, fair enough. Everybody’s doing their job. We haven’t changed our tune or changed our message because of that.

“It goes back to what we said from Day One. We’re trying to find keepers that can move the program forward and I think we’re doing that.

“I knew what I signed up for. This is no shock. I had the opportunity to research this position for several months and I like the risk-reward. I think that if we can ever get it right in such a fantastic city, the city will come out and support us.

“I respect that the people, the fans, follow us and we want to do the right thing by our city. We want to come out and play hard and have people be proud of our efforts. This year is not about that side of the judgment. We’re judged by different measurements this year. It isn’t winning or losing. I feel like my guys come in and they bring their ‘A’ efforts.”

The trouble is those efforts are simply not good enough for the youngest team in the history of the league. The Sixers can play fast and play hard to a point. They trailed the Rockets by just four in the second quarter. But a few minutes later, Dwight Howard slipped behind the unheeding Philly defense to catch an inbound pass thrown from the opposite free-throw line by Chandler Parsons for a dunk. A few minutes later, Terrence Jones also went deep and would have had another cheap dunk, but the pass from James Harden was too long and went out of bounds.

Those are the kind of plays, the kind of lapses that build a 26-game losing streak.

“It’s pretty self-explanatory,” said rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams. “It is what it is. I don’t really have too many thoughts about it. I’m not thinking about it. I’m just going out there and I’m trying to win a ball game. Of course, I want to win every time I step on the floor. But right now it’s about us developing and getting better each and every day.”

It was Carter-Williams not wanting this bunch falling into a pit of self-pity and despair that prompted him to address the team after the game.

“I just think during the game a couple of guys had long faces, including myself,” he said. “I found myself a little bit down. I just don’t want anyone in this locker room feeling bad for themselves.

“We’re out on the court and we’re playing. I just told them that each and every game from here on out, we’ve got to go out swinging. We can’t give up and-1s. We’ve got to put people on the floor a little bit. We’ve gotta just fight every single day, whether we’re in practice or one of the games. I think that it’s really important we don’t get down on ourselves and give up just because we have a certain amount of losses. I just felt like I needed to speak my piece and make sure our guys are upbeat at the end of the day.

“I think it was received great. I think the guys responded well. We don’t have too many long faces in this locker room right now. We all want to win a ball game. We’re itching to have that feeling of being a winner. I think the coaches appreciated it and I think it needed to be said.”

What needs to be said is that there is absolutely nothing wrong with Hinkie’s plan that has been fully endorsed by team owner Josh Harris. The challenge will be to use their draft picks wisely, sign the right free agents and make the whole experience more than just a painful limbo dance.

A short time before tip-off, Rockets coach Kevin McHale was asked if he’d ever lost so many times at anything.

“I don’t know if the sun comes up when you lose 25 in a row,” he said.

It can eventually, if you look beyond today’s bruises to the plan for tomorrow and, like Hinkie, don’t waste time gnashing your teeth.

After trial by fire, Nuggets coach Shaw eyes next season

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Go inside the huddle with Brian Shaw

DALLAS – Thirteen first-time NBA coaches will head into summer with experiences each will never forget, from Brett Brown coping with a bare-bones 76ers squad to Jason Kidd unlocking a star-laden Nets team whose luxury tax payment alone will nearly double the Sixers’ payroll.

Then there’s Brian Shaw. The Denver Nuggets coach, a disciple of Phil Jackson, took over a 57-win team coached by a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, an 1,100-game-winner and one of the league’s all-time great innovators. George Karl might have led the Nuggets out of the first round just once in nine seasons, but he won a lot with a fun, energetic style.

Shaw inherited a team that lost its two premiere wing runners, Andre Iguodala, also a defensive stopper, and Corey Brewer. It wasn’t long into the season before Shaw lost veteran backup point guard Andre Miller to a power struggle and banished him from the team.

Then there were the injuries: Dino Gallinari never returned from last season’s ACL tear, JaVale McGee lasted five games, then Nate Robinson, J.J. Hickson and trade newcomer Jan Vesely. Point guard, leading scorer and top assist man Ty Lawson has missed 14 games; 12 each for second-leading scorer Wilson Chandler and reserve forward Darrell Arthur.

“A lot of people talk about the first-year head coach stuff and he [Shaw] hasn’t shown any of that at all,” Nuggets top assistant Lester Conner said. “He’s set the foundation. It’s been an injury-riddled season for us and the way he’s handled it, it’s like one of the best coaches in the league, and he is. He doesn’t have the tenure like some of them have, but if you look at our game and how we play and look at how we compete, if you were blindfolded, you wouldn’t think that there was a fisrt-year head coach. He’s been in a lot of wars as far as championships with Phil, so he knows what it’s like. He’s handled the media well, he’s handled the Andre Miller situation well. He’s done a great job.”

However so, the Nuggets are on pace to not make the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Yet it seems things could be a whole lot worse than Denver’s 32-39 record attained through stretches of feast or famine and seemingly always banged-up bodies.

“One of the things one of my mentor’s, Phil Jackson, always preached to me was believing in your system and what you’re doing out there,” said Shaw, who communicates with Jackson once every week or two throughout the season. “I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in great situations with great teams that have had the ultimate success at the end of the season, and so I believe that I know what it looks like, I know what it takes, what kind of work ethic goes into it and what kind of habits need to be developed by our players.”

Lawson, the fifth-year point guard seemingly on the precipice of making an All-Star team, and under contract through 2017, said he stands behind Shaw “100 percent,” and went so far as to make a bold prediction for a healthy — knock-on-wood — 2014-15 campaign: “I think we will definitely be good, maybe top four in the West next year.

“I look at [our] record and think about all the injuries we went through, especially [Chandler], me, Nate, everybody went down,” Lawson continued. “We had a lot of different parts.”

Shaw, 48, spent 10 years with the Lakers and then Pacers working toward this opportunity. He came in with no misgivings of the challenge and made no promises. He did have a vision, and a plan to transform Karl’s freewheeling Nuggets into a team that could execute in the halfcourt through inside play without fully stifling the run-and-gun style.

But Shaw his concept initially led to confusion. Frontcourt players interpreted it to mean they’d receive an entry pass every time down the floor and would be allowed to go to work. That frustrated Lawson, whose game is predicated on his speed and ability to drive to the rim.

“Ty was frustrated early on until we really were able to clarify what that meant, that inside play could be a small guy posting up, or if it was just penetration and getting into the paint,” Shaw said. “So now I think what you see is Ty flourishing (18.1 ppg, 8.9 apg), Kenneth [Faried] (12.6 ppg, 8.0 rpg) is really starting to come into his own; they’ve had their best numbers since they’ve been in the league. [Timofey] Mozgoz has had a chance to play and is developing, so I think they can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Ten players are under contract for next season. Gallinari is expected to return and McGee will make another run at ditching his “Shaqtin’ A Fool” persona and becoming a legitimate NBA starting center.

As his first campaign draws to a close, Shaw is coaching the players still standing with an eye toward next season.

“Everybody now has an understanding of exactly what I expect of them, how we want to play and what we want to do going forward,” Shaw said. “Obviously there are some guys that are on the roster right now that are going to be here next year and some that aren’t, but for me, I’ve said that this is going to be a year of discovery to really understand what it is that we have to work with.”

Sixers feeling the pain of rebuilding

Michael Carter-Williams, left, gets a pointer from coach Brett Brown (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Michael Carter-Williams, left, gets a pointer from coach Brett Brown (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

PHILADELPHIA – Over their last 21 games, the Philadelphia 76ers have held a fourth-quarter lead just once.

It was a three-point lead at the start of the fourth in Orlando on March 2. On the Magic’s first possession of the final period, Maurice Harkless found himself wide open beyond the arc and that was that. The lead was gone in 20 seconds.

It’s been 49 days since the Sixers last won a game and, in those last 21 tries, they haven’t really come close. They were tied in Utah with two minutes left on Feb. 12 but never attempted a shot that would have given them the lead. They were tied again with the Jazz with less than three minutes to go on March 8, but missed their final eight shots and lost by 12.

Sixteen of the 21 losses have come by double-digits. Six have come by more than 25 points. The Sixers aren’t just losing. They’re getting their butts kicked.

And this is all a part of a plan.

General manager Sam Hinkie came to Philadelphia to tear things down, acquire assets, and give the Sixers a higher long-term ceiling. Once this season is over, optimism can again take hold.

But for now, Hinkie’s team is going through a brutal stretch.

Even before the trade deadline, things had turned pretty sour. Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes lost their last nine games as Sixers, who were outscored by *15.5 points per 100 possessions in the 22 games before they traded those two guys.

*This number matches that of the 2011-12 Bobcats, who had the second worst NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of the last 36 years. The worst belonged to the 1992-93 Mavs, who had a NetRtg of -16.3.

Since the trades, the Sixers have been outscored by 17.2 points per 100 possessions. Their offense has been almost six points per 100 possessions worse than the 29th-ranked offense in that time.

They take the right kinds of shots. Only the Rockets have taken a greater percentage of their shots from the restricted area or 3-point range (the most efficient spots on the floor). But they don’t make them often enough. They just don’t have enough talent.

Thaddeus Young (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

Thaddeus Young (Rocky Widner/NBAE)

For the last month, the Sixers’ (active) roster essentially has been Thaddeus Young, Michael Carter-Williams and a bunch of guys who wouldn’t be in the league if it weren’t for the situation this team is in. The Sixers have had 26 different players on their roster this season, and you probably hadn’t heard of a lot of them prior to this season.

Hinkie is still cycling new players into his locker room, which doesn’t make it any easier to win. Continuity is a key to success and Philly has had little. Guys have been thrown into the fire with little or no practice time.

Less than a week after arriving in the Hawes trade, Henry Sims became the starting center. Dewayne Dedmon played 14 minutes (in a tight game) the day after he was signed to a 10-day contract. When Darius Johnson-Odom was signed to a 10-day last week, the main message from head coach Brett Brown was to be ready.

“It’s difficult of you don’t simplify it,” Brown said last week of integrating all these new guys. “You’re reminded all that time that you have to just shrink it into something very black and white. We’re looking for ‘x’ on offense. We’re looking for ‘x’ on defense. And we need to coexist in a locker room.

“That’s still number one. We have to play together. We can’t play in a crowd is number two. And just coexisting and making sure we don’t get beaten down by however many losses we’ve had or the margin on the scoreboard. We’re here, we want to play the right way, and that’s the message I try to keep all our guys on point with.”

On the outside, it’s hard not to be fascinated by the possibility of the Sixers losing their final 36 games of the season, running right through the record for consecutive losses (26, held by the 2010-11 Cavs) along the way. And obviously, some of the noise is going to permeate the locker room. But Brown wants his team to focus on the process of getting better.

“We don’t live in that world,” he said after loss No. 20 on Saturday. “And it’s my job to make sure they don’t live in that world. And I feel like I do try to help them understand what our purpose is.

“Their morale is fine. It gets, at times, really challenging in my seat to make sure that we remind them of the world that we live in. But we got a heck of a leader in Thaddeus Young and we got a rookie point guard that is going through a difficult year with the losses that we have. This is just another side of learning.”

It can’t be easy on Young, who was a few minutes from the conference finals less than two years ago and who doesn’t need to go through this stage of learning again. But he knows what his role is as the veteran of the group.

“Keep fighting, not show any signs of weakness, and try my best to not let it frustrate me,” Young said. “It’s hard, but at the end of the day, we’re trying to get these guys in this locker room better. It’s my job to help them along the way.”

The Sixers’ locker room after one recent loss wasn’t all that sour of an environment. But they obviously don’t want to make history. Their schedule seems to offer only two or three more opportunities to win a game, but they were in it until the closing moments on Monday in Indiana.

They don’t have much talent. But they haven’t let go of the rope.

“We win together and we lose together,” Brown said. “Our coaching staff bleeds with them when they lose. And that’s how we’re going down. That’s how we’re doing this.”

Morning Shootaround — March 5


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe: ‘Revenge is sweet and quick’ | Clips unsure when Redick will return | Brown won’t focus on Sixers’ slump | Chandler mulling N.Y. future | Popovich talks offense

No. 1: Kobe has a message for Lakers’ doubters — Point guard Steve Nash, who hasn’t played since Feb. 11, may or may not return to the Lakers’ lineup next season. Star shooting guard Kobe Bryant has appeared in just six games this season and hasn’t played since Dec. 17. Power forward Pau Gasol has been in and out of the lineup with injuries all season. That’s all lead to the Los Angeles Lakers bringing up the rear in both the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. But, the uber-confident Bryant has a message for the Laker doubters out there, according to ESPN.com and Lakersnation.com:

Kobe Bryant plans to use the Los Angeles Lakers’ dismal 2013-14 as motivation for next season.

And he’s hoping his teammates will do the same.

Bryant, speaking this weekend during an appearance to promote his new Nike Kobe 9 Elite shoe at Westfield Culver City mall, told Power 106 radio in Los Angeles that he’s looking forward to getting revenge on all those doubters next season.

“This year, we all know it’s been a real tough year for us, right?” Bryant told Power 106, according to Lakersnation.com. “So what I’d like everybody to do is to really just sit back and just absorb this year. Take it all in. Sit back and watch and listen and hear all the hate that’s being thrown at us and remember every person that’s kicking you when you’re down, because next year it ain’t gonna be this way.

“Appreciate it now. Let it sit in now, because revenge is sweet and it’s quick.”

Bryant told Power 106 that proving those who had a lack of faith in the Lakers and his recovery wrong is what fuels the five-time NBA champion now.

“You’ve got to appreciate that and enjoy that and use that as fuel as motivation to basically just shut everybody the hell up,” Bryant told the radio station, according to Lakersnation.com. “It’s that challenge, that challenge that drives us all, I think, and definitely keeps me going.”

***

No. 2: No timetable yet for Redicks’s return to Clips — Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick has not played for the last 11 games as a bulging disk in his back has reared its ugly head. While L.A. has tried to offset Redick’s absence with the recent signing of Danny Granger as another player to use on the wings, the team is growing increasingly concerned about when Redick will actually play again. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times has more:

It is still uncertain when starting shooting guard J.J. Redick will return to the court for the Clippers.

Redick is sidelined by a bulging disk in his lower back. He has missed the last 11 games, including Tuesday’s game at Phoenix. When the Clippers disclosed the nature of the injury on Feb. 18, Redick had already missed four games with what the team had been calling a hip injury.

There still is no timetable for his return, and Clippers Coach Doc Rivers was asked Tuesday night if he feared that Redick could be out for the rest of the season.

“I don’t know,” Rivers said before the game against the Suns. “I haven’t had that fear yet. I don’t want that fear, maybe would be a better way of putting it. But I don’t know. I just keep getting updates.

“I’m sure there is some thought of that. He’s been out for so long. But we’re just hoping for the best.”

On Monday in Los Angeles, Redick did some shooting before the rest of the team practiced.

But there are only 20 regular-season games left, and the Clippers are unsure how Redick will respond to treatment.

“He’s doing a lot better,” Rivers said. “He’s shooting a little bit. I don’t know what that means, but at least he’s moving around shooting. But there’s been no update. I don’t think he’s improved to the point we thought he would, so far. We had anticipated him being back almost [by now].”


VIDEO: Clippers coach Doc Rivers talks about L.A.’s victory in Phoenix

***

No. 3: Sixers’ Brown won’t harp on Philly’s skid to playersWith last night’s 125-92 defeat on the road to the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, the Philadelphia 76ers have a 15-game losing streak. While Philly is clearly in a rebuilding mode and has struggled to find any kind of stable footing all season long, coach Brett Brown has preached that 2013-14 is about learning the game and developing good habits, not so much wins and losses. That continues to be his point of emphasis as the Sixers’ losing streak goes on and on, writes Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

Coach Brett Brown’s personality is one that makes him approach things head-on. There is little wiggle room in what he says. It comes from the heart, it is the truth and it is without filter.

So bringing up the current losing streak, which reached 15 games with last night’s 125-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, is expected by the first-year coach of the 76ers. He talks openly and honestly about it. And he charges at it just as he would a 15-game winning streak. He just doesn’t bring it up to his team.

“I don’t even think I’ve mentioned it, this streak,” Brown said. “We talk candidly about having to make sure we share the ball, don’t play in a crowd, get back in transition. Everybody talks about us not winning for the rest of the year, or whatever they say. And that’s all true. We have to focus on sharing the ball, playing together and not playing in a crowd because we drive the paint all the time and we don’t have great perimeter shooters right now, and we better get back in transition.

“The beat-down thing doesn’t really rear its head because it’s [losing] 12 games or 14 games or the month of February. We don’t quantify it like that. I really try to sell it and I think these guys have bought in. Keep getting better, keep getting better. Winning is not our report card this year. I hope that that is good enough. I hope they believe the truth. That is how we’re approaching that and that is all we’ve got as this season plays out.”

“I really like being on the court with the players,” Brown said. “I like coaching the guys and trying to find ways to inspire them or help them get better. We’ve said from Day 1 [that] I feel the one thing that will help me connect all the dots is if they genuinely know that we care about their development. [Even though] somebody is going to trade them or somebody isn’t going to play them as much as they hoped, that they know they have a coaching staff that comes to the gym and really pays attention and cares.

“We want them to play well. Oftentimes I feel so naked where you’re playing in the NBA and teams are getting better, yet not only are we young and have been losing, we’re getting new faces in. We want to practice and we want to do those types of things where we can continue to develop. That’s what keeps me motivated.”


VIDEO:Sixers coach Brett Brown talks after Philly’s loss in OKC

***

No. 4: Chandler unsure of role with Knicks — Just two seasons ago, Tyson Chandler was on his way to winning his first Defensive Player of the Year award for the playoff-bound New York Knicks and a season ago, he was the defensive anchor for an Atlantic Division-winning Knicks team, too. Even as New York has fallen into the pits of the Eastern Conference this season, Chandler has remained a stalwart defender — perhaps the only one on the Knicks that can claim that. But as Marc Berman of the New York Post reports, Chandler is tiring of all of New York’s losing and whether or not he wants to be a part of the team long term:

Knicks center Tyson Chandler is so disillusioned, he isn’t sure he wants to be part of the team’s long-term future.

With the Knicks in chaos, owner James Dolan is going to look to rebuild or reload at season’s end. Whether Chandler, who is starting to show signs of age, is part of the blueprints is unclear. And Chandler may not want to stick around either.

“That’s something I have to visit during the offseason,” Chandler said. “We’re all going to have a lot of decisions to make.”

“For me, it’s important regardless [to finish out strong],” Chandler said. “I got a lot more pride than this, coming in night in, night out losing, and not putting forth the type of effort it takes to win. At this stage of my career and what I’ve established, I refuse to let it put a blemish on it.”


VIDEO: Tyson Chandler talks after the Knicks’ loss in Detroit

***

No. 5: Popovich talks secrets to offensive success — A cursory glance at the stats reveals that San Antonio is second in the league in field goal percentage (48.8 pct), first in 3-point percentage (39.1 pct), ninth in points (104.4 ppg), seventh in offensive rating (107.4) and second in both effective field goal percentage (53.7) and true shooting percentage (57.2). In short, the Spurs — despite injuries this season to standouts Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker — remain a solid offensive group. In a brief Q&A with Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News, coach Gregg Popovich shares a couple of insights into his offense’s success:

Q. Can you explain the concept of “good-to-great?”

Popovich: “There are a lot of good shots, but if you can turn that into a great shot, percentages go through the roof. Contested shots are really bad shots. People’s percentage goes down almost by 20, almost without exception. All those things in an offense are things a coach is always trying to develop. It takes time to get everybody to the point where they all buy in and understand how it’s good for the group to do things.

“You want to penetrate not just for you, but for a teammate. Penetrating because I want to make things happen. It could be for me. It could be for a teammate. It could be for the pass after the pass I make. As people start to realize that, then you get a flow and people start playing basketball rather than just running the play that’s called or making up their minds ahead of time.”

Q. How do you get players to take ownership of the offense? Is it a confidence thing?

Popovich: “That’s a good question. A lot depends on the competitiveness and the character of the player. Often times, I’ll appeal to that. Like, I can’t make every decision for you. I don’t have 14 timeouts. You guys got to get together and talk. You guys might see a mismatch that I don’t see. You guys need to communicate constantly — talk, talk, talk to each other about what’s going on on the court.

“I think that communication thing really helps them. It engenders a feeling that they can actually be in charge. I think competitive character people don’t want to be manipulated constantly to do what one individual wants them to do. It’s a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people …

“Sometimes in timeouts I’ll say, ‘I’ve got nothing for you. What do you want me to do? We just turned it over six times. Everybody’s holding the ball. What else do you want me to do here? Figure it out.’ And I’ll get up and walk away. Because it’s true. There’s nothing else I can do for them. I can give them some bulls—, and act like I’m a coach or something, but it’s on them.

“If they’re holding the ball, they’re holding the ball. I certainly didn’t tell them to hold the ball. Just like, if they make five in a row, I didn’t do that. If they get a great rebound, I didn’t do that. It’s a players’ game and they’ve got to perform. The better you can get that across, the more they take over and the more smoothly it runs.

“Then you interject here or there. You call a play during the game at some point or make a substitution, that kind of thing that helps the team win. But they basically have to take charge or you never get to the top of the mountain.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hall of Famer Dominique Wilkins took to Twitter to say he wasn’t impressed with LeBron James‘ 61-point game … Good feature from the Indianapolis Star that takes a look back at Jermaine O’Neal‘s glory days with the Indiana Pacers … Suns rookie Alex Len got his first start of the season last night … Pelicans coach Monty Williams shuffled the lineup as New Orleans topped the L.A. Lakers

ICYMI of the Night: Pacers guard George Hill hits an amazing over-the-head, no-look, and-one shot against the Warriors last night that you’ve just got to see …


VIDEO: George Hill sinks an amazing over-the-head layup against the Warriors

KD Keeps Streaking As Russ Blasts Off


VIDEO: Durant pours in 42 points in Thunder’s rout of Sixers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –LeBron James scored a career-high 61 points on Monday night. How would Kevin Durant answer a night later in what’s becoming a must-see, game-by-game, blow-by-blow MVP race?

Durant totaled 42 points on 14-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists in a mere 32 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 125-92 dismantling of the moribund Philadelphia 76ers. It was an individual performance that stacked up more to a Sixer of another era, The Answer, as in Allen Iverson, than to LeBron.

For the 26th consecutive game, Durant scored at least 25 points, the third-longest such streak in the last 25 years. The two players who’ve gone longer? Durant did it for 29 consecutive games during the 2009-10 season. And Mr. Iverson, the man who watched his No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers jersey raised to the rafters Monday, got it done in 27 consecutive games during the 2000-01 season. That’s it. Those two. No LeBron to be found.

In fact, after Tuesday’s 106-103 loss at Houston, James has sandwiched his 61 — his second game of the season of 40 points or more — with games of 20 and now 22. Durant, meanwhile, notched his 10th game of 40 points or more and his fourth in the last nine games. He made his first seven shots and was 8-for-11 with 21 points by halftime. Then came 21 in the third quarter on 6-for-9 shooting and his night was done.

Had he not unnaturally struggled at the free throw line, going 12-for-18, Durant probably would have hit 50 for a second time this season.

“It’s his fault,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks kidded. “I would’ve ran one more play for him to get 50 if he would’ve made his six free throws.”

But get this: Kevin wasn’t the story of the night. Because Russ ended up being Russ.

Russell Westbrook, in his sixth game back from a third right knee surgery since last April, ripped the 76ers for a triple-double — 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — in a land speed record of 20 minutes, 17 seconds. At least it’s the fastest anyone’s accumulated a triple-double in nearly 60 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s just physically so gifted and he is so competitive,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You know, there is a — and I say this respectfully — there is an angry competitor that wills his way into doing stuff, and I say that with the utmost respect, and so you saw those physical abilities along with just such a strong mind. It’s a powerful combination.”

Westbrook racked up eight assists in his first stint of six minutes, 34 seconds.

“Fourteen assists in 20 minutes,” Brooks marveled. “I mean, potentially if he had played more minutes, he probably could have had 20 assists tonight.”

That’s now 40 assists for Westbrook in his last five games, and perhaps the best sign that his knee is feeling fine is the 10 rebounds. He had 12 in the previous four games. The triple-double was his second of the season. The first came on Christmas Day at New York, his unsuspecting final game before being summoned back to the operating table.

“It is crazy,” Westbrook said of his rapid-fire filling of the box score. “I’m just trying to get my groove back. It is crazy to be able to do that in such a short amount of time, but it was fun.”

“I’m super proud of him,” Durant said of his buddy during a TV interview after the game.

It’s a great sign for the Thunder (46-15), who have now won three in a row since losing their first three games of Westbrook’s return out of the All-Star break. They are without injured starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but they did welcome newcomer Caron Butler into the rotation for the first time.

Bought out by the Bucks last week and signed by the opportunistic Thunder, the veteran small forward logged 26 minutes off the bench and contributed two points, an assist and five rebounds. He received a warm welcome from the home sellout crowd.

“I was just excited to be in that environment,” Butler said. “It felt like being at UConn again.”


VIDEO: Westbrook tallies triple-double in just over 20 minutes

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 7


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 6

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul expected to return Sunday | Lillard looking forward to busy All-Star weekend | Pistons’ Cheeks, Bynum not talking to each other | Sixers’ Noel continues to progress

No. 1: Paul expected to return to lineup Sunday – The L.A. Clippers have held up pretty well since All-Star point guard Chris Paul went down with a shoulder injury on Jan. 3, going 11-6 during that stretch. They’ll likely be happy come Sunday, though, as Paul is expected to be back in the starting lineup, writes Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

Point guard Chris Paul, who has been sidelined since Jan. 3 with a separated right shoulder, likely will return to the starting lineup Sunday when the Los Angeles Clippers play the Philadelphia 76ers.

Paul has been participating in contact drills and shootarounds, but the Clippers have not had a full practice in almost two weeks, preventing him from practicing with the team.

The Clippers canceled practice Thursday and are expected to sit Paul for Friday’s game against the Toronto Raptors. If Paul practices Saturday without any problems, he will play Sunday.

“He did some one-on-ones today at shootaround and looked pretty good, so I think he’s very close,” coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday. “I don’t think he’ll play Friday but he could play after that. He took contact today in one-on-ones, but it’s still not a 5-on-5.”


VIDEO:Doc Rivers talks about how Chris Paul is healing up and more

***

No. 2: Lillard embracing his busy All-Star weekend As of a week ago, Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard locked up his first All-Star berth when he was named as a Western Conference reserve. Apparently, just playing in the NBA’s showcase event wasn’t enough for him as Lillard yesterday was announced as a participant in All-Star Saturday’s BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest and the Foot Locker 3-Point Shootout. In short, Lillard is going to be a busy guy in a week or so, but tells USA Today‘s Sam Amick he’s more than looking forward to a jam-packed couple of days in New Orleans.

“A lot of people don’t get the opportunity,” Lillard told USA TODAY Sports by phone.”So I just felt like it was something that had never been done, and I’m capable of doing all the things that need to be done in all the competitions, so I figured why not go out and be the first one to do everything and get that experience?”

As Lillard knows, though, there will be some who question his decision to take on so many tasks during this time that serves as a much-needed breather for most of his colleagues. And as is typically the case when it comes to Lillard, he’s not concerned with the critics.

“The skills competition takes two minutes on the court, the dunk contest maybe will be three or four minutes on the court, and three-point shooting is about two minutes,” said Lillard, whose Blazers (35-14) are the surprise team in the NBA this season. “And it’s not like the rookie-sophomore game is a real regular season game, so I mean I’m looking at maybe an hour total of actual activity with all five things. People think there’s more energy being exerted than there actually is. It’s really not that much when you think about the time that you actually spend doing it.”

Lillard said he’s looking forward to the three-point contest more than the rest.

“That’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.

As for the dunk contest, he’s in the beginning stages of coming up with a creative way to compete with the likes of defending champion Terrence Ross (Toronto), Paul George (Indiana), John Wall (Washington), Ben McLemore (Sacramento) and Harrison Barnes (Golden State).

His personal favorites from years past were Dwight Howard’s 13-foot dunk in 2007 and James “Flight” White‘s flight crew jam from the most recent All-Star weekend.

“I like stuff like that,” Lillard said. “When there’s a story attached to it, I like all that…The dunk (contest) will be fun. I think there will be a lot of surprises. People don’t really know that I can dunk.”


VIDEO: Damian Lillard has had plenty of memorable dunks this season

***

No. 3: Tension rising between Pistons’ Cheeks, Bynum A near-complete overhaul of the on-court product in Detroit hasn’t gone how the Pistons’ brass has hoped it would this season. New coach Maurice Cheeks has had his struggles with frontcourt stars Josh Smith and Andre Drummond this season and now, he and veteran Detroit guard Will Bynum aren’t getting along. In Detroit’s blowout loss to Orlando on Wednesday, Bynum was pulled from an ugly loss to the Magic about midway through the second quarter. Bynum got into a heated argument with Cheeks and had to be pulled away from him by Chauncey Billups and Smith. Brendan Savage of MLive.com has more on the spat between player and coach:

After practice Thursday, Cheeks said he hadn’t spoken with Bynum about the incident – Cheeks also became testy when pressed about it – while Bynum said he wouldn’t initiate a conversation with Cheeks and didn’t think they’d speak.

“It was in the heat of the moment,” said Bynum, who was the last player off the practice floor. “I care. It’s hard for me to sit back and act like I don’t care because I do. All I’m really concerned with is winning. If I see something that’s not right, sometimes in the heat of the moment you kind of say something.

“I don’t regret it. I regret the fact that maybe I was a bit too passionate about it. But other than that, I don’t.”

Will Bynum approach Cheeks?

“Nope.”

Does he think they’ll speak?

“Nah.”

“We’re going to have disagreements,” Cheeks said. “You’re not always going to agree. That’s part of it. At times you’re going to have disagreements. That’s OK. They don’t agree with everything I say and I don’t agree with everything they say.

“That’s part of it.”

Bynum, in his sixth year with the Pistons, has come off the bench in 28 of the 31 games he’s played this season. Bynum started the first three games of the season when Brandon Jennings was sidelined with a fractured jaw and impacted wisdom tooth.

Cheeks admitted that – like many coaches – he’ll give his starters a little more leeway when they make mistakes.

“That’s been around a long time, been around for years,” Cheeks said. “Starters sometimes get a little bit more leeway than guys come off the bench. That’s the way it is.  I’m probably a little bit harder on guards and point guards than normal because I think they have a huge impact on the game.”

When the line of questioning went back to the incident with Bynum, Cheeks appeared a bit irritated and asked a reporter if he was defending Bynum.

“If I’m going to have a conversation with Will, if I have a problem with Will, he and I will probably have a conversation at some point,” Cheeks said. “I will say this again: Through my years – coaching, playing – starters usually have a bit more stretch. They do.

“That’s probably not going to change. That’s it. I don’t know any other way to say it.”

***

No. 4: Noel looks solid in drills for Sixers — The last we heard about Philadelphia 76ers rookie Nerlens Noel in mid-January, he was cleared by the team for some on-court work and could play in an actual NBA game in a few weeks from now. That timeline appears to be in tact as Noel was seen working out yesterday with Philadelphia’s assistant coaches and put on an impressive display of low-post moves, writes Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

For nearly 30 minutes after the team’s practice yesterday, Nerlens Noel put on an impressive display of moves close to the basket under the guidance of assistant coaches Greg Foster and Billy Lange. The workout mostly consisted of baby hooks from each hand after quick moves across the lane. Noel also caught passes on the wing and made quick, one-dribble moves to the basket, mostly finishing with dunks where his head was close to the rim. His surgically repaired left knee seemed very sound for the workout and his excitement couldn’t be denied.

“You can see, even though it’s just sort of shadow boxing, you can’t help to see how quick he jumps, his athleticism, his length,” said coach Brett Brown. “It is exciting to just look out there and see what you project to be. He doesn’t appear to favor [the knee] at all. Things are going well. All those things that we have to get through in order to at some point get him on a court, are going well.”

Brown said that the next steps are to get Noel to play with others and, of course, against others. That’s when he will have to make unscripted cuts that will be the true test of how strong his knee is.


VIDEO: Sixers coach Brett Brown talks after the team’s Thursday practice

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carlos Boozer sat out the Bulls’ game against the Warriors because he hurt his calf muscle while warming up in the locker roomKemba Walker thinks the Bobcats deserve (and need) to be in the playoffs more than they need to be in the Draft lottery again … Former Knicks, Nets and Timberwolves star Stephon Marbury was ejected from his first game back in the Chinese Basketball Association for throwing a punch

ICYMI of the Night: Two blowout-ish games last night but that doesn’t mean we’ll deny Draymond Green his props for this nice dunk on Joakim Noah


VIDEO: Draymond Green finishes strong over the Bulls’ Joakim Noah

Morning Shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bulls GM won’t overhaul roster | Kupchack: No extension talks yet with Pau | Shaw gets creative to help Nuggets at FT line | Fitness focus paying off for Sixers

No. 1: Bulls GM won’t overhaul roster, vows no ‘rash decisions’– As the Chicago Bulls and their fans are still getting over losing star Derrick Rose for the season, General Manager Gar Forman is tasked with looking to what comes next and answering questions about the future of the team. In interviews with both ESPNChicago.com’s Melissa Isaacson and Bulls.com’s Sam Smith, Forman reveals that the Bulls won’t be making any hasty moves with the roster and further discusses Rose’s recovery process.

First, here is Forman talking with Issacson on his plans to keep the roster as-is:

 

Calling Derrick Rose’s torn medial meniscus in his right knee “a freak injury,” Chicago Bulls general manager Gar Forman said Tuesday the team is “positioned well” and has no immediate plans to make dramatic changes to the roster.

“With this type of injury, he should come back 100 percent,” Forman said by phone with ESPNChicago.com, a day after Rose had surgery that will sideline him the rest of the season. “With the previous [ACL] injury, that leg is strong and we saw the explosiveness and reactivity and speed, and then it was just [a matter of] getting into rhythm.

“Though this is a severe injury, it’s not as severe as the other. He’ll get over it and be able to get his career back to the highest level.”

Saying Rose is “really out” for the season, despite the Bulls’ potential postseason activity, Forman said it is premature to talk about potential trades or, as much as the team’s fan base and media have suggested, re-building.

“This just happened. It’s too early to start to go down that road,” Forman said. “From an organizational standpoint, our front office, not just this year but every year, we always evaluate our team, where we’re at, how we can get better. …

“We’re not going to make rash decisions. We feel we have a bright future ahead and we’re positioned well. We have good players in their 20s, Derrick is going to come back, we’re positioned well with draft picks into the future and we have some level of flexibility which we haven’t had under this new CBA.”

In an interview with Smith, Forman opens up more about the look of the roster, Rose’s recovery and other topics:

Question: How was Derrick’s surgery and why did he choose this option which will keep him out the entire 2013-14 NBA season?

Forman: This was the best procedure for Derrick’s long-term health. That is our primary concern. Whatever is best for Derrick in the long term as a 25-year-old athlete was our first thought. And what’s best for Derrick is best for the franchise. He’s still young, has a very long career ahead of him and there’s no reason after talking to the surgeons Derrick will not return 100 percent. This particular option gave him the best chance for long-term success.

Question: Couldn’t they have gone with the short-term option to bring him back sooner?

Forman: We are never going to be shortsighted when it comes to a player and his health. The decision had been made to repair it if possible. Once the surgeons saw how good the tissue looked, they stayed with that option. To do otherwise could have made the knee less stable and increase the risks down the road as we’ve seen with other NBA players. Given the circumstances, the procedure and outcome was as good as could be expected.

Question: Last year you never said when Derrick would return and there were updates that suggested it would be before the end of the season. And that was a more serious injury. Why now is he out for the entire season?

Forman: Last year we really didn’t know and Derrick didn’t, either. Remember, Jerry Reinsdorf always said last year we were going to be conservative and that Derrick would not be coming back until he was 100 percent ready. This time it’s clear that he won’t be able to return.

Question: What about this team? Where do you go from here knowing you probably can no longer win a championship this season without Derrick.

Forman: Look, I think Tom [Thibodeau] said it well Sunday. The core of this team has been through this before. And they’ve had a level of success pulling together. That’s what they’ve shown they’re about. It’s obviously tough for them, but that’s why we have so much faith in this team, because of the way these players have responded to adversity and always played at a high level. So we feel they’re the kind of people and players who will pull together again.

Question: But do they have enough to still be competitive?

Forman: There’s still a lot of talent on this team. There’s two guys who were All-Stars a year ago in Joakim Noah and Luol Deng, Carlos Boozer, is a high level player who was among the leaders in double-doubles in the league last season, Jimmy Butler when he comes back and we saw last season what he can do, Taj [Gibson], who has had a very good start. There’s Kirk [Hinrich], whose proven to be one of the top defensive guards in the league, Mike Dunleavy, one of the best three-point shooters in basketball. And this will give Marquis Teague and Tony Snell an opportunity grow.

Question: But given you probably cannot win a title this season, why not make changes for the future?

Forman: It’s obviously too soon to go down that road. Derrick had surgery this morning. Look, we are always evaluating our team, just like everyone else does. We felt good about this season, but we were hardly perfect. So we always are looking to get better. Everything we do is geared toward winning a championship and we will continue to evaluate any moves that will help us in attaining that goal.

Question: Why didn’t you at least keep Marco Belinelli and Nate Robinson?

Forman: In the summer of 2012, we were putting together a team to play without Derrick Rose. Though there was a possibility he could return, we approached that off season as though he may not. So we added players who would fill in for Derrick as no one can replace a Derrick Rose. But this season we expected to have Derrick. And we had Kirk Hinrich moving to a backup guard position and you’ve been able to see how well that was working with Kirk behind Derrick. Then we added Mike Dunleavy because his stretch the floor shooting fit the best with Derrick, and you can see what we saw in Mike and how well he shoots the ball from three-point range.

Question: OK, now you know Derrick is gone for this season. Why not trade some of your players for future possibilities, young players or draft picks and begin rebuilding?

Forman: It’s still too early in the process and we’re not going to make any rash decisions. We feel there is a bright future ahead and we believe we are positioned well. Look, we fully expect Derrick to come back 100 percent for next season. This basically was a freak injury. This was not due to the ACL or some fatigue of other factor. We have a young nucleus of veterans basically in their 20’s; we have multiple draft picks, including a pick from Charlotte in one of the next three drafts; we have the rights to Nikola Mirotic, who has been the best young payer in Europe the last two years. I know people get tired of hearing it sometimes, but we also have the possibility of flexibility in free agency this summer or next. So we feel we are in a good position, and we will be getting Derrick back.

Question: But can you trust Rose now after these injuries?

Forman: We see no reason not to. That’s what the best doctors in the world tell us. His left knee is strong, as everyone has seen, and his right knee will be strong as any doctor will tell you after this surgery. We’ve seen with many current All-Stars go through the same procedure.

***

No. 2: Kupchack: No extension talks yet with Gasol — On Monday, the Lakers showed they were committed to making star guard Kobe Bryant a Laker for life by agreeing to terms with him on a two-year, reported $48.5 million extension. The man who helped Bryant to his two post-Shaquille O’Neal titles, Pau Gasol, is a free agent this summer. So is Gasol in line for an extension as well? According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin, both Gasol and GM Mitch Kupchack say they have yet to have discussions about that topic:

“We have not had any discussions with Pau,” Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said Tuesday on a conference call with a small group of reporters. “I’m sure I will and where that leads I’m not sure right now. A lot has to do with different variables. I’m not saying that something won’t be considered and I’m not saying that something will be. I’m just saying that it’s not something that came up and it wouldn’t have come up before (Monday) anyway. There was no reason for anything to take place until we signed Kobe. So, we’ll kind of roll with that and see where it leads.”

Gasol, 33, is averaging 14.3 points, 10.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season, but shooting just 42.1 percent from the field. His play has been on an uptick of late, as he put up consecutive 20-point, 10-rebound games after dealing with foot discomfort and a respiratory issue for much of the early portion of the season.

The 13-year veteran said that he did not know if Bryant’s deal means that the Lakers will also want to negotiate with him before the season ends.

“I try not to make that assumption,” Gasol said after shootaround Tuesday in advance of the Lakers game against the Washington Wizards. “If I am, I will. If I’m not . . . I’m just focusing on trying to play as well as I can and finish the season as good as I can so I’m in the best position as possible for next year. That’s just my mindset about it.”

Gasol said that he had not spoken to Bryant about the extension yet, noting that the Lakers’ star guard was sitting behind him on the team plane when they took their cross-country flight Monday.

“I think he was soundly asleep,” Gasol said. “I think he was peaceful . . . I’m sure he was happy.”

Is Gasol happy about Bryant taking up $23.5 million of the expected $62.9 million salary cap for next season on his own? Will that leave anything for him to sign for?

“I don’t really think about that,” Gasol said. “I thought it was a good extension for him. He’s the face of the Lakers, pretty much. So, I just think it caught a lot of people off guard unexpectedly without him being back playing and showing how well has he recovered from that injury. Other than that, it was a great extension for him.

“As far as me, or the team which is I’m most concerned about, how can you add other pieces around him and valuable pieces so we can win a title. But that’s the only concern. I’m not good with the mathematics and the numbers of the equation here, but that’s the only concern.”

***

No. 3: Shaw tries unique method to help Nuggets at line – Our own Jeff Caplan has a great story on Ty Lawson and how the lightning-quick point guard has thrived in new coach Brian Shaw‘s offense that is worth a read if you missed it. While Denver is finding its footing again as a solid team in the West, it continues to struggle with free throw shooting as the Nuggets shoot 69.9 percent from the stripe, third-worst in the NBA. According to Caplan, though, Shaw has tried to create an incentive for players to try and make more foul shots:

Frustrated by more bricks than he can stand from his team at the free throw line, an idea popped into the head of Nuggets coach Brian Shaw at the end of the team’s Monday morning shootaround in Dallas.

“What I did was I joked with the guys that the safest place in the building to stand when we’re at the free throw line is right underneath the net,” Shaw said. “So I gave everybody on the team basically a chance to shoot a free throw with myself standing under the net with my hands down, where if they made it the ball would hit me on top of the head.”

As a team the Nuggets are shooting an abysmal 69.9 percent from the stripe, 28th in the NBA. Four of the team’s starters shoot below 70 percent with J.J. Hickson below 60 percent.

Denver was coming off a 102-100 win against Dallas on Saturday in which they were 21-for-30 from the free throw line. A better showing at the line and the game might not have been such a nail-biter down the stretch.

“At this point I’m trying by any means necessary to get us shooting free throws better,” Shaw said. “The guys who hit me the most — well, Kenneth Faried actually got two hits on me — but the guys that haven’t really had an opportunity to play as much were the ones that were really, really aiming for me.”

***

No. 4: Sixers credit Brown for creating fitness focus – As of this morning, the Sixers are second in the Atlantic Division and are just a half-game behind Washington for the East’s No. 8 seed. We’re still a long way from clinching playoff berths in the NBA, but worth noting is that Philly is exceeding expectations and much of that is a credit to new coach Brett Brown and the team’s fastbreaking ways. The Sixers lead the NBA in both fast-break points per game (18.3) and pace (102.4 points per 100 possessions), a credit to the emphasis Brown placed on fitness in the offseason, writes Dei Lynam of CSNPhilly.com:

The ongoing theme with the Sixers when asked about their Maine-born coach with the thickest of New England accents is that Brett Brown speaks nonstop about “career-best fitness.”

While that phrase might have been annoying at first to Brown’s players, that is no longer the case. The Sixers are clearly reaping the benefits of the head coach’s hard stance on being in shape.

“First we had to do a conditioning test and then we had to drop weight,” said Evan Turner, who is down nine pounds and 2½ percent body fat. “He told us what weight he wanted us to be at. He was kind of nice about it, but he wasn’t if you didn’t hit that weight number. That was key.”

For a guy like Tony Wroten, who is in just his second NBA season, Brown’s approach is what the guard grew accustomed to in college at Washington.

“In college, you run around and do a lot of conditioning,” Wroten said. “When I first got here, not only did the coach e-mail me about it but also the strength and conditioning coaches, what summer was going to be like and this is what we are going to do.

“I knew they were serious. At the time, I was like what is this? This is like college, but Coach always says it is going to pay off in the long run and it has. We can run at the end of games. We are still pacing, so working on it in the summer helped a lot.”

Wroten isn’t just drawing on his own experiences out on the court. He has also witnessed the impact of the Sixers’ focus on fitness in his teammates.

“In film the other day, in the fourth quarter you see Mike [Carter-Williams] picking up full court,” said Wroten, who missed Saturday’s game with back spasms. “In the NBA, no one plays full court at all, but for him to be able to do that in the fourth when we only had seven, eight people and he had played a lot of minutes [was key]. It showed the little things.

“Sometimes teams will say to us, ‘Are you guys ever going to stop running?’ And they are serious, but at the end of the day we are going to keep running, keep running and keep running.”

Brown stresses that what the Sixers are doing with fitness is not groundbreaking. He says the NBA’s 29 other teams implement the same mentality but maybe not as strongly.

“It is all about recovery,” Brown said. “Playing 82 games, back-to-back games, how do you back it up? What do you do on a plane if you are flying? It is the people who take care of their bodies and are prideful with their diet, nutrition and hydration and massages and ice down.

“All the programs do it, so it isn’t like we found something tricky. We just want to be responsible with it and proactive with it.”

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Warriors forward Andre Iguodala will miss at least the team’s next three games … Nets coach Jason Kidd gets a fresh vote of confidence from GM Billy KingJermaine O’Neal apparently gave quite the inspiring speech during Golden State’s win last night

ICYMI Of The Night: Magic rookie Victor Oladipo lets loose with a vicious jam over a couple of Atlanta Hawks defenders …


VIDEO: Victor Oladipo gets up to dunk over both Al Horford and Paul Millsap

Tough Circumstances, But 76ers Push On


VIDEO: The GameTime crew discusses Evan Turner and the Sixers

DALLAS – This might be the worst season to be a Philadelphia 76er. One day, it might be looked upon by these players as the most meaningful of their careers.

Before it even started, they were blown off as losers, expected to pile up losses at potentially an historic rate. It is a roster in the early stages of long-term construction, patched together with veterans Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young, exciting No. 11 pick Michael Carter-Williams (and injured No. 6 pick Nerlens Noel) and undrafted rookies and grunts added from the end of other teams’ benches.

First-year coach Brett Brown‘s starting lineup in Monday’s 97-94 loss at Dallas, a hard-fought game lost during a faulty stretch late in the third quarter and into the fourth, did not include Carter-Williams (foot) for a fourth consecutive game. It did include Grizzlies’ castoff Tony Wroten going for 19 points with five steals, and James Anderson, the former Oklahoma State swingman who has swung in and out of San Antonio, Houston and the D-League, scoring 14 points with seven rebounds in 42 minutes.

Hollis Thompson, Lavoy Allen, Darius Morris and Brandon Davies combined to play 58 minutes off the bench. Ultimately the kind of mistakes — an unforced turnover, a rushed possession, a lost rebound — that doom young teams sabotaged their hard work and the Sixers lost a third consecutive game and fell to 5-7. But the fight was there.

“I kind of think it starts from the top and [Brown's] attitude is pretty infectious in that regard,” Hawes said. “Coach has done a great job since Day 1 of being realistic and really letting us play and letting us all continue to improve. We all still have a lot to learn from what he’s bringing to the table and a lot to improve on, and I think when you look at it through that lens it keeps you motivated.”

Brown, his unmistakable New England accent ever-apparent despite more than a decade working in San Antonio under Gregg Popovich, pedals passion, genuine hard work, accountability and camaraderie.

“At the end of the day, we’re a hard-working team,” Young said. “So that should tell you a lot right there.”

Ask the Heat, Bulls and Rockets. Philly’s beaten all three. Ask the underachieving Nets and Knicks. Both are looking up at the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers.

Young, who once called Elton Brand, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Jrue Holiday teammates, said this team’s daily goal is straightforward.

“To get better as a team, to help the growth of the young guys and to go out there and build something that in the future we can go out there and be ready to win basketball games or playoff series,” Young said. “That’s the biggest thing right now is the growth and development of what we’re trying to do here.”

Which, of course, begs the question: Why? On most nights the squad is severely undermanned. The veterans — Young, Evans and Hawes — could eventually be traded and each could be resentful of the franchise’s direction.

“All of us in this room, we plan to win games and we plan to keep on trying to win basketball games,” Young said. “I’m here, I’m ready to work, so are the rest of the guys. That’s the main focus. We’re just thinking about winning basketball games.”

The day after the Sixers’ worst loss of the season, a 37-point whipping Saturday at New Orleans, Brown, as is his custom, led a brutally candid film session, then transferred the discussion from the screen to the practice floor.

“I feel that by keeping it candid and by putting it all in perspective that we can inch along and continue to improve as a team, and keep our guys improving, either as a group or individually,” Brown said. “I hope that that’s the formula to keep all of us together over a long year [that] at times is going to be one where we experience some losses. We just have to go head-down and stay focused on continuing to try to get better.”

After returning to the hotel a worn-out unit, Brown called a team dinner.

“I like seeing our guys interact together, and the group is good. The group stays together,” Brown said. “The veterans have been doing what veterans should do in relation to keeping the young guys on track; the young guys are pliable, they listen, they want to get better. I’m proud of the camaraderie and the chemistry we’ve shown to date, albeit an early period of time, even when we’ve taken hits.”

The next night against Dallas, unbeaten at home, the Sixers jumped out to an 8-0 lead, played tough defense, but couldn’t contain Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Shawn Marion long enough to get to the finish line. Still, in a season where wins won’t always go in the win column, and hard truths will be gashed wide open, Brown could honestly say he got the positive response he hoped for in the aftermath of the New Orleans blowout.

“The truth — in relation to ‘this is your rotation’ or ‘this is a problem that we have as a team’ — has to be our compass,” Brown said. “Anything short of that, I’m doing them a disservice. This group wants to be coached, it has to be coached. When it starts getting to the stage where people feel uncomfortable accepting that type of educating process — it’s not a personal thing — then we may have some problems or maybe this isn’t the program for them.

“And that’s the mission we’re all on, to keep this thing real, to keep it tight, to keep it candid, to be positive, to be down when people need to be told the truth, and life moves on.

“And that’s the only way I know how to do it, and I hope it’s the right way.”