Posts Tagged ‘Michael Carter-Williams’

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 26


VIDEO: NBA TV analysts discuss the kind of season Kobe Bryant is likely to have

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Warriors, Thompson yet to make a deal | Can Kobe be an All-Star? | Oladipo out a month | Outlaw out in New York?

No. 1: Warriors, Thompson yet to make a deal — All summer, the Golden State Warriors seemed to be in the mix for Minnesota’s on-the-block power forward Kevin Love, at times even appearing to be the front-runner. Of course, Love ended up going to Cleveland, at least in some part because the Warriors refused to give up shooting guard Klay Thompson, who they firmly believe is a big part of their future going forward. But now, with less than a week remaining in the time period where Golden State can agree to a contract extension to Thompson, Yahoo’s Marc Spears reports a disagreement over Thompson’s worth has led to some frustrations in Thompson’s camp…

Klay Thompson’s camp is frustrated that the Golden State Warriors haven’t offered a maximum contract in their ongoing extension talks with Friday’s deadline nearing, sources told Yahoo Sports.

Thompson is seeking a maximum deal paying upward of $15 million per season, a source said. The Warriors have improved their offer to get in the vicinity but have not offered a full maximum contract, sources said.

If Thompson and the Warriors do not come to terms on an extension by the Halloween deadline, he will be a restricted free agent next summer.

Warriors owner Joe Lacob has yet to become comfortable offering a maximum extension, sources said. A source close to Thompson said any offer shy of a max would be “absurd” considering his improvement and the influx of money to come to NBA teams from the next television contract.

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No. 2: Can Kobe be an All-Star? — At 36 years old, and after struggling with injuries the last two seasons, nobody is quite sure what type of production the Lakers can expect to receive this season from Kobe Bryant. Yes, he’s older and has been through a lot of injuries, but this is Kobe Bryant, a player who regularly overcomes odds and produces amazing results. According to Lakersnation , Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak appeared on television and professed confidence about what the Lakers should see out of Bryant this season…

On Friday, following the game between the Lakers and Sacramento Kings, GM Mitch Kupchak appeared on an episode of “Connected With…” on TWCSportsNet. Kupchak talked about all things Lakers along with touching on what he believes Kobe will accomplish this season:

“I think he can make the All-Star team… I think he’ll have the ability to score when he wants to score. I think he’ll be a great leader. His voice will be heard… He won’t be like he was fifteen years ago… that wirey, springy, try to dunk the ball every time… but you won’t notice it.”

Kupchak is confident Kobe will be an All-Star for the 17th time in his career and a great leader for this team filled with young players. Although the Lakers have suffered some ugly defeats in the preseason thus far, the team has bounced back recently with impressive performances against the Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers.

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No. 3: Oladipo out a month — Orlando’s Victor Oladipo finished last season as runner-up for the Rookie of the Year award, and he is expected to team this season with rookies Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton to lead Orlando’s rebuilding efforts. But after taking an accidental elbow to the face in practice, Oladipo had surgery late this week, and now, according to Adrian Wojnarowski, Oladipo will miss the first few weeks of the season

Oladipo, the 2014 runner-up for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, sustained an elbow to his head in practice on Thursday. He had the surgical procedure on Saturday.

For the Magic, Oladipo’s loss is a significant blow and adds to the burden on promising rookie Elfrid Payton Jr., who will take on a more significant role in Oladipo’s absence. The Magic have confidence that Oladipo – who averaged 13.8 points, four assists and four rebounds a season ago – and Payton will form the franchise’s backcourt for years to come.

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No. 4: , Outlaw out in New York? — Just a few months ago, the Knicks struck a deal with the Sacramento Kings to bring in Quincy Acy and Travis Outlaw. But after training camp and the exhibition season, according to a report from ESPN.com the Knicks are apparently considering waiving Outlaw and his $3 million in guaranteed money so they can keep Travis Wear, a former UCLA player with a non-guaranteed deal…

Outlaw is owed $3 million this season. If the Knicks released him, they would still owe him his full salary. They also could dump him on another team via a trade.

Getting rid of Outlaw via release would open up a roster spot for another player. There is a possibility that spot would be filled by Travis Wear.

Wear, whom the Knicks signed to a non-guaranteed deal, impressed the team in training camp and the preseason.

It was widely expected Wear would end up in Westchester, too. If the Knicks get rid of Outlaw — eating $3 million in the process if he’s released — to keep Wear, it’s a sign the organization is committed under Phil Jackson to developing young talent, regardless of the financial cost.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Rudy Gay took an elbow to the face but did not break his jaw and should be available for the season opener … The champion Spurs have completed a “poor” preseasonMichael Carter-Williams has been cleared to return to practice six months after shoulder surgery … Dwyane Wade videobombs himself

Morning shootaround — Oct. 10


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Oct. 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh, Chalmers offer Cavs some warnings about playing alongside LeBron | Carter-Williams could miss start of season | Rivers using visualization techniques with Clips | Beasley headed to China

No. 1: Heat’s Bosh, Chalmers reflect on playing alongside LeBron — The Miami Heat are in Rio De Janiero, Brazil, preparing for their preseason game against the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow. That will mark the first time the Heat will face their since-departed (to Cleveland) superstar, LeBron James. Cavs point guard Kyrie Irving is expected to miss the game with an ankle injury and in the lead-up to the game, Heat point guard Mario Chalmers and power forward Chris Bosh have piped up about what it was like playing with James. Chalmers had some cautionary words for Irving, writes Chris Hayes of The Plain-Dealer, and Bosh had similar ones for Cleveland’s power forward, Kevin Love, writes Ethan Skolnick of Bleacher Report.

Here’s what Chalmers had to say about being a point guard playing next to James:

Cavaliers forward LeBron James was hard on Chalmers in their four years together in Miami. As the floor general, Chalmers made his share of boneheaded blunders and James, being the perfectionist that he is, would repetitively scold Chalmers publicly during games.

Sometimes Chalmers would argue back, trying to make his point. However, you’re not winning that battle against the best player in the world. It wasn’t aimed at being malicious. He just wanted Chalmers to succeed at his job.

James was hard on his former point guard because he’s a point guard at heart and understands how the position should be played.

Nevertheless, Chalmers seems relieved that it’s now Kyrie Irving‘s problem.

“LeBron is a dominant player so if he feels like something is not going his way, he’s going to say something about it,” Chalmers told Northeast Ohio Media Group. “For Kyrie, he’s going to have to adjust to that and LeBron is going to have to adjust to Kyrie. It’s going to be a different factor for Kyrie.”

Chalmers refused to elaborate on what it was like when a furious James was approaching and you knew he wasn’t coming to give a hug.

“Man, that process is over and done with it,” Chalmers said. “It’s a fresh start, fresh team, new year.”

He then took it a step further and claimed to have amnesia.

“I don’t even remember, bro,” he said. “Last year is in the past. This is a new year. New me. I’m not thinking about it.”

And here’s Bosh talking about being a power forward alongside LeBron:

Specifically, is it more difficult to go from a first option to a second or third choice—as Love must do now—or from a second or third option to a first?

On these topics, Bosh was uniquely qualified to answer, having gone from first option in Toronto to third choice for four years in Miami to, now, first option in Miami.

“Yeah, it’s a lot more difficult taking a step back, because you’re used to doing something a certain way and getting looks a certain way,” Bosh told Bleacher Report recently. “And then it’s like, well, no, for the benefit of the team, you have to get it here.

“So even if you do like the left block, the volume of the left block is going to be different. Now you have to make those moves count. So with me, it was like a chess game. I’m doing this move and thinking about the next move and trying to stay five moves ahead. You’re not getting it as much. If you got one or two a game, it’s a lot different.”

You don’t get your pick of the buffet.

“Exactly,” Bosh said. “You just get your entree and that’s it. It’s like, wait a minute, I need my appetizer and my dessert and my drink, what are you doing? And my bread basket. What is going on? I’m hungry! It’s a lot different. But if you can get through it, good things can happen. But it never gets easy. Even up until my last year of doing it, it never gets easier.”

Love, at age 25, averaged 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds his final season in Minnesota. Bosh, at age 25, averaged 24.0 points and 10.8 his final season in Toronto. His averages declined in the four years since, as he reached greater heights (four NBA Finals, two championships) playing with James.

“It’s going to be very difficult for him,” Bosh said of Love’s new task. “Even if I was in his corner and I was able to tell him what to expect and what to do, it still doesn’t make any difference. You still have to go through things, you still have to figure out things on your own. It’s extremely difficult and extremely frustrating. He’s going to have to deal with that.”

And, lastly, Bosh told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst that he has ‘no hard feelings’ about James’ departure:

Bosh surprised some when he said he hadn’t spoken with James since he left to sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July. But he doesn’t understand the surprise.

“There’s no hard feelings or anything,” Bosh said after the Miami Heat practiced Thursday in advance of their preseason game against the Cavs on Saturday. “If we’re both trying to win, he’s against us, and that’s a matter of fact.”

This isn’t personal, Bosh said, and he reinforced it by recalling a gift he and his wife, Adrienne, recently sent James.

“He had a baby shower, and we sent him a gift for his daughter,” Bosh said. “Then training camp started, and that was about it.”

Clarifying comments he made Tuesday, Bosh said he did speak with James briefly at Dwyane Wade‘s wedding Aug. 30.

“My time is backwards and everything, but we talked,” Bosh said. “I want people to understand I’m a competitor, and he’s on the other team. I think he’d understand that, and I understand that, and that’s how it is now.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh talks after the Heat’s practice Thursday in Brazil

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

New LeBron leads Cavs’ new era | Presti wants to ‘invest’ in Jackson | Budenholzer opens up on Ferry’s comments, Hawks’ roster | Carter-Williams not cleared for contact

No. 1: New era in Cleveland begins with a new James — Among all the teams that will host their team media days either today or Monday, perhaps no other squad’s will be more anticipated than the Cleveland Cavaliers’. Ex-MVP LeBron James is back in the fold, point guard Kyrie Irving has a new contract extension to live up to and All-Star Kevin Love came over from Minnesota this summer. All that combined means the Cavs will be the story all season long. As Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com notes, though, this LeBron return to Cleveland isn’t about warm fuzzies and jersey sales — it’s about him using his championship experience gained as a member of the Miami Heat to lift the Cavs to that level, too:

The version of James who is reporting for work this week isn’t just a touching coming home story and a ticket- and jersey-selling machine. This is an all-business man who is accustomed to an all-business attitude. He is not afraid to issue demands for those around him to follow suit.

The Miami Heat influence on James is undeniable. James may be gone from Miami, but he will no doubt carry the lessons of that franchise for the rest of his career and, probably, his life. Heat president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra are all business. From the way they practice to the way they play down to the way they eat, they conduct their franchise in such a manner.

James embraced many of the Heat’s principles. He called his time in Miami a college experience. In some ways, it was a military school experience. It is not an accident that James wanted Mike Miller and James Jones with him in Cleveland, and his recruitment of Ray Allen is part of the same idea. James knows he is going to need help in applying a makeover to the Cavs’ comfort zone.

The young Cavs players are about to learn who the last ones on the court will be after practice. This is how it is done in Miami, and this is how James will want it done in Cleveland.

This was evident in the way James handled himself over the summer. Within moments of making his free-agency announcement, James was on the phone with Love, Miller, Jones and, later, Shawn Marion. He helped close those deals shortly thereafter. Nearly 30, James is about execution these days, not just the show.

James will do all this from the position of knowing that he will be in top physical shape, he will put in the work at practice and in the film room, and he will know not just where he is supposed to be all the time but where everyone else is supposed to be. He is a two-time champ, a two-time Finals MVP, a four-time MVP and a man starting to feel his basketball mortality who has put his reputation on the line — again — to make it finally work in his hometown.

He is going to live up to his end of the bargain. If anyone with the Cavs doesn’t live up to theirs, and that starts with owner Dan Gilbert and goes right down to the ball boys, James is not going to let them get away with it.

The Cavs organization will remember the James who liked to joke around and plan pregame routines and then run away when ownership and the front office came to him when they needed real help. It wasn’t that James failed as a recruiter for free agents and coaches his first time in Cleveland, it was that he wasn’t even interested in taking part.

Those days are over. James will have his fun and involve teammates; that’s why he has become so well-liked in the league. But you better execute your job because James will execute his.


VIDEO: New Cavs coach David Blatt talks about getting ready for training camp, LeBron and more

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Morning Shootaround — September 6



NEWS OF THE MORNING

Monroe signs qualifying offer | Irving ‘100 percent’ for Mexico | World Cup knockout round starts now | Charlotte rebrand is buzzing | Celtics: Rondo didn’t ask for trade

No. 1: Monroe will be unrestricted free agent next season — Unable to reach a long-term deal with the Detroit Pistons and skittish about the team’s future considering all the past upheaval, Greg Monroe signed the one-year, $5.5 million qualifying offer. If he produces this season, he’ll no doubt have plenty of big-spending suitors knocking on his door next season. Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News has the story:

Monroe, a restricted free agent, will be paid $5.5 million this season after not being able to agree to terms with the Pistons on a long-term contract. He’ll become an unrestricted free agent next July, free to sign with any team.

Pistons president and coach Stan Van Gundy has said Monroe was his first priority since taking over basketball operations this spring, and all indications were the Pistons were prepared to match any prospective offer sheet a suitor would’ve signed Monroe to, even a max contract.

But according to a source, Monroe’s first preference was to facilitate a sign-and-trade for a fresh start, after four years of missing the playoffs and constant upheaval on the sideline. The Pistons’ crowded frontcourt didn’t produce positive results last season, and Monroe had doubts about agreeing to sign up for more years of uncertainty.

The News reported weeks ago Monroe would “definitely” sign the qualifying offer, and although he had until Oct. 1 to do so, he formally did it Friday. Many believed he wouldn’t turn down the Pistons’ offer, which was in the neighborhood of four years and well over $50 million, but he turned it down, preferring to bet on himself and the idea of unrestricted free agency next summer.

Because he signed the qualifying offer, Monroe can’t be traded without his consent, and if he does it’ll likely be to a team he wants to be with for the foreseeable future, making him a hot commodity for other teams, fodder for trade rumors until February and possibly a tricky situation when the season does begin.

If Monroe is traded, he’d lose his Larry Bird rights, which enables a team to go over the salary cap to re-sign its own players.

The Pistons and Monroe could still form a long-term partnership, presumably if things go better than expected this coming season. But the odds are Monroe is likely playing his last season in Detroit, the franchise that drafted him in 2010.

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No. 2: Irving ready to roll — Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski declares point guard Kyrie Irving “100 percent” healthy as Team USA begins the Round of 16 this morning against Mexico. NBA.com’s own Sekou Smith has that story and more:

That spill he took late in the U.S. National Team’s final group play win over the Ukraine didn’t keep him out of practice here Friday and won’t keep him out of the starting lineup for Saturday’s Round of 16 showdown with Mexico.

“I’m fine,” Irving said. “I’m a little more sore than I thought I’d be, but I’m good.”

National Team coach Mike Krzyzewski said Irving is “100 percent” and he also indicated that Derrick Rose is fine, too. There have been requests for daily health updates on Rose, for good reason given all of the time he’s missed the past two seasons with the Chicago Bulls.

Coach K, however, would appreciate it if we could all move on to a different line of questioning where Rose is concerned.

“He’s great,” Coach K said of Rose. ” I think at some time people should stop asking about him physically and just say, ‘how’s your game? Do you think we’re gonna win? How did you like that pass?’ It sometimes, although it’s nice when people say how do you feel, when that’s the only thing they say, you say, ‘come on man’ let’s have a more in-depth conversation, and I think he’s ready for that.”

Rose knows the questions are coming and has done his best to smile while explaining over and over again that he is fine and ready to go for the remainder of this competition, however long it lasts.

“It’s gonna be the whole year, probably until I retire, so I can’t get sick and tired of it,” Rose said of answering questions about how he feels. “I just got to be immune to it and just know that the question is always going to be in the air. Don’t worry about it.”

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No. 3: Four big knockout games — The U.S. begins its quest for gold against Mexico and co-favorite Spain stars with Senegal later today. NBA.com’s own John Schuhmann sets the scene:

It’s fine to assume that the United States and Spain will face off in the gold medal game of the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup on Sept. 14. But it wouldn’t be wise to wait until then to pay attention to the action in Barcelona and Madrid, because there’s plenty of good basketball to be played between the 16 remaining teams.

The knockout rounds get started with eight games on Saturday and Sunday, and there will be at least four good teams packing their bags before the weekend is done. It’s win-or-go-home time, there are still 47 active NBA players in the tournament, and the games are only 40 minutes long. Anything can happen, including an upset of one of the two favorites.

Don’t be looking for that this weekend, though. Appropriately, USA and Spain play two of the worst teams remaining. But there are four games – three in Madrid and one in Barcelona – that could go either way. And for NBA fans, there are more reasons than that to watch.

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No. 4: Buzz City is alive — When Charlotte received the go-ahead to dump the Bobcats nickname and reclaim Hornets, the franchise set forth on a total rebrand that included new logos, uniforms and perhaps the most unique court in the league. It’s also stirred great interest among the fan base and corporate sponsors. NBA.com’s Jeff Caplan has the story:

Out of the burial of the doomed Bobcats and the resurrection of the beloved Hornets, one of the most unique and exhaustive rebranding efforts in all of sports has been born. At the heart of the campaign is a revitalization of the old team’s sleepy, half-empty Time Warner Cable Arena. The showstopper is a dazzling new court featuring a one-of-a-kind “cell pattern” design that will help Charlotte be recognized as Buzz City.

Buzz is the word, all right. The Charlotte community is reveling in the return of its long-lost Hornets. New season-ticket sales, the team reports, are soaring (north of 3,000 and renewals are around 90 percent), second only to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Merchandise sales are breaking team records (and replica jerseys, they note, went on sale only this week). Blue-chip corporations disinterested in partnering with the Bobcats suddenly want in. McDonald’s and Mercedes-Benz are first-time sponsors.

“It’s crazy down here,” Hornets chief marketing officer Pete Guelli said. “We went from being an afterthought to all of a sudden being relevant in little under a year. I’m not complaining. It’s almost hard to put the success that we’ve had into words. Every metric that we measure our business by has exploded.”

I’m happy the Bobcats chapter is closed and the Hornets chapter is beginning.”

It helps that the team is actually becoming respectable. Al Jefferson chose to join the beleaguered franchise last season. Lance Stephenson is on board this season, and expectations are heightened after second-year coach Steve Clifford managed something of a miracle last season, taking a 21-win team the previous year (and just seven wins in 2011-12) to the playoffs for only the second time in the franchise’s 10 seasons as the Bobcats.

The buzz really started early in 2013. New Orleans, where the Hornets moved in 2002 after former owner George Shinn‘s failure in Charlotte, announced it was dropping its inherited nickname in favor of Pelicans, a name more representative of the city and state of Louisiana. The Bobcats jumped at the opportunity to re-capture their past.

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No. 5: Celtics president says Rondo didn’t ask out — The Rajon Rondo trade rumors might never stop. But as for this latest round, Celtics president Rich Gotham says the point guard did not ask to be traded. Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the story:

Celtics president Rich Gotham told the Globe during a community appearance in Jamaica Plain on Friday that the club has not received any trade demand from four-time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo.

ESPN reported that Rondo “wanted out” of Boston and had requested a trade. Publicly requesting a trade would draw a fine from the NBA, but Gotham said the club has no idea about any demand or Rondo’s reported unhappiness.

“You know if he has made that demand, it hasn’t been directly to the Celtics,” Gotham said.

“I have not heard that. Rajon’s been working out all summer [in Boston]. He’s been here. This is his home. He’s been working hard. Everybody’s happy with his progress and everything he’s told us is he’s excited to be here, taking on a leadership role with the team.”

Rondo is entering the final year of his five-year, $55 million contract, and has been the center of trade rumors the past few years. He and Danny Ainge helped co-owner Steve Pagliuca participate in the ALS Challenge two weeks ago; Rondo did not look like a player demanding to leave the Celtics.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Austin Rivers says this is going to his breakout yearLeBron James encourages the Suns to sit down with still-unsigned point guard Eric Bledsoe on Instragram … Meanwhile, Bledsoe’s agent is holding firm to a max contract or no deal … Scout says Utah’s No. 5 pick Dante Exum isn’t ready for the NBA, but his future is bright … Lou Williams is happy to be wanted in TorontoMichael Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid fly to Spain to watch future teammate Dario Saric in World Cup.

When triple-doubles are not enough

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren't enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Triple-doubles by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook weren’t enough for Thunder wins last season. (Photo by Richard Rowe/NBAE via Getty Images)

Usually a triple-double is a cause for celebration, a sign of an all-around great performance by a player that leads his team to victory.

Then again, there are times when even the best efforts of one man just aren’t enough. Here’s a look back at the heartache of 10 triple-doubles from the 2013-14 season that just couldn’t push their teams over the hump:

10. Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics

April 4, 2014 vs. Philadelphia 76ers — 11 points, 11 rebounds, 16 assists

It had been nearly 15 months since Rondo last rolled out a triple-double onto the parquet floor of the TD Garden and that one, back on Jan. 25, 2013, was mostly memorable as the game he suffered a torn right ACL and was lost for the season. This one didn’t produce nearly that kind of disaster, but Rondo’s line was wasted as the Celtics watched — who’s that? — Henry Sims go off for a career-high 24 points to lead the Sixers to a 111-102 decision and snap a 13-game road losing streak for Philly. It was Boston’s seventh consecutive loss.

9. Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans

December 18, 2013 vs. Los Angeles Clippers — 11 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

After missing the preceding two games with a sprained ankle, Evans was champing at the bit to get back onto the court. He came off the bench to put up his good-looking numbers, but most of them came after the Pelicans had already given up any real chance of competing in a 108-95 loss. Despite Evans’ second career triple-double, the headline performer was Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan, who posted 15 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots for his 12th double-double of a young season.

8. John Wall, Washington Wizards

April 9, 2014 vs. Charlotte Bobcats — 14 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists

On the surface, it was a solid line for Wall. But toss in his 12 missed shots (6-for-18 in the game) and you could say that he had a quadruple-double. We’ll barely even mention his five turnovers. While it goes down in the books as the third triple-double of Wall’s rising career, it was also a night when the All-Star point guard couldn’t get the job done in front of the home crowd. The Wizards were 0-for-8 in overtime of the 94-88 loss to Charlotte.

7. Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers

January 30, 2014 vs. Phoenix Suns — 14 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Stephenson would go on to lead the league in triple-doubles with five and this performance was already his fourth of the season. But it wasn’t enough to hold off the Suns, who simply seemed to have the number of the Pacers. After opponents reached 100 points just six times in the first 40 games against Indiana, the Suns did it twice in a little more than a week to sweep the season series, this time by the score of 102-94. Stephenson’s fourth triple-double tied the franchise record set by Detlef Schrempf back in 1992-93 and he would eventually break that mark as the Pacers’ season was breaking down.

6. Michael Carter-Williams, Philadelphia 76ers

March 10, 2014 at New York Knicks — 23 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists

These were the dog days of the season for the Sixers, when even a solid triple-double from their Rookie of the Year point guard Carter-Williams couldn’t save them from a 17th consecutive loss, 123-110. That streak would eventually grow to 26 as the Sixers tied the all-time record for uninterrupted fruitlessness. The Knicks played without their injured center Tyson Chandler, but rookie Tim Hardaway Jr. came off the bench to pop in 28 to lead the way.

5. Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers

April 3, 2014 vs. Dallas Mavericks — 25 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists

It was another strong start by Griffin as he scored 10 points in the first quarter for the 18th time on the season. He finished with his only triple-double of the season as the Pacific Division leaders ran out of gas down the stretch and went down for the first time at home in six weeks with a 113-107 loss to the Mavericks. The most troubling event was Griffin, who’d been suffering from back spasms a few days earlier, rolled his ankle late in the game. The fear was that he was wearing out as the playoffs approached.

4. Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

December 3, 2013 at Philadelphia 76ers — 26 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists

Imagine that. A rookie just six months into his first NBA season runs up the first triple-double of his career and he doesn’t even get top billing or to celebrate a win. Oladipo’s Magic fell 126-125 in double overtime to the Sixers and the 27-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist game from rookie Carter-Williams. Oladipo, the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft, was the choice of many to win Rookie of the Year honors, but No. 11 pick Carter-Williams beat him out there, too.

3. Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

March 9, 2014 at Los Angeles Lakers — 27 points, 10 rebounds, 12 assists

There’s usually not much that’s going to steal the thunder from the league’s leading scorer when he rolls to 27 points and a triple-double. Then again, Jodie Meeks doesn’t usually shock the world with a career-high 42 points, while dropping in a half-dozen bombs from behind the arc. It was Durant’s third triple-double of the season and sixth of his career, but just not enough in a 114-110 shocker against the Lakers. The trouble was a miserable shooting day by OKC as they connected on just 42 of 100 shots and only 12 of 35 from 3-point range.

2. John Wall, Washington Wizards

January 22, 2014 vs. Boston Celtics — 28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists

With all-time greats Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge — 1978 teammates the last time the Washington franchise won a championship — looking on from courtside, All-Star Wall put up impressive numbers, but couldn’t hit enough shots in a 113-111 overtime loss to the Celtics. With backcourt mate Bradley Beal medically-restricted to just 30 minutes, Wall made 9 of 29 shots from the field and ran out of the gas in the extra period. It was the first triple-double for Wall since Nov. 10, 2010, six games into his rookie season.

1. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

April 29, 2014 vs. Memphis Grizzlies — 30 points, 10 rebounds, 13 assists

If you spot Westbrook 30 points and Durant 26, that usually equals a Thunder victory. But in Game 5 of what was quickly becoming an all-time playoff classic, it was Mike Miller‘s five 3-pointers and a Serge Ibaka putback that was about a half-tick too late that made the difference as Memphis squeaked out a 100-99 win. It was the fourth consecutive game of the series to go to overtime, an NBA playoff record. Westbrook secured the ninth triple-double of his career, but made just 10 of 31 shots to get there. Durant missed the back end of a critical pair of free throws with 27 seconds left after referee Joey Crawford suddenly ran in and took the ball out of his hands. The Thunder went on the win the series in a Game 7 rout, which was also powered by a Westbrook triple-double.

Bracket set as group play wraps up


VIDEO: John Schuhmann talks to GameTime about the World Cup

GRANADA, SPAIN – The final day of group play at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup not only determined who made it to the round of 16, but who they would play … and who they could play after that.

Let’s make it clear. There are two great teams in this tournament. They are Spain and the United States, and you will have a hard time finding anyone who doesn’t think they will meet in the gold medal game in Madrid on Sept. 14.

After that, however, there are at least nine teams that could think they have a shot at a bronze medal. But you can only get to the bronze medal game if you first make the semifinals. And it will be extremely difficult to make the semis if you face Spain or the U.S. before then.

So, for those nine teams, with Spain clinching spot A1 (for finishing first in Group A) and the Americans clinching spot C1 (first in Group C) on Wednesday, there are two desired quarters of the bracket to be in. In Madrid, there’s the A4-B1-A2-B3 quarter, which avoids Spain until the semifinals. And in Barcelona, there’s the C4-D1-C2-D3, which avoids the U.S. until the semis.

Brazil clinched its spot as A2 with its win over Serbia on Wednesday. Everything else was up for grabs on Thursday.

Group A

Final placement:

  1. Spain (5-0)
  2. Brazil (4-1)
  3. France (3-2)
  4. Serbia (2-3)

Thursday notes:

  • In the first game that didn’t matter, Brazil hammered Egypt, 128-65. After its big breakout on Wednesday, the Brazil offense continued to roll, with Leandro Barbosa scoring 22 points (on 8-for-9 shooting) and dishing out five assists in just 23 minutes.
  • Ultimately, the second game was the only game that counted for anything. After Wednesday’s win over Egypt, Iran had a shot at fourth place if it could pull off an upset. And it showed a lot of heart, cutting a 17-point deficit down to five with a late rally. But it fell short, and France prevailed 81-76.
  • France could have put itself in the more favorable A4 spot with a strategic loss. And it did try to get its best players some rest; Nicolas Batum sat for most of the second half. But when Iran made it close at the end, Batum and Boris Diaw were back on the floor and France played to win.
  • France coach Vincent Collet: “You can see we wanted to win this game, no question. We know, being third, we could cross with Spain in the quarterfinals. That’s basketball.”
  • The third game could have meant something, but was rendered meaningless by the Iran-France result, because even if Serbia tied France with a 3-2 record, the head-to-head tiebreaker went to France. Still, Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic get tossed and Marc and Pau Gasol each played 28 minutes in Spain’s 89-73 win.

Group B

Final placement:

  1. Greece (5-0)
  2. Croatia (3-2)
  3. Argentina (3-2)
  4. Senegal (2-3)

Thursday notes:

    • We got another thriller from the Philippines, and this time, they won! The overtime result locked Senegal into the fourth spot in the group and a matchup with Spain on Saturday.
    • Croatia clinched its spot in the round of 16 with a 103-82 win over Puerto Rico. Nets incoming rookie Bojan Bogdanovic had another big game with 23 points on just eight shots, getting to the line 17 times.
    • Sixers youngsters Michael Carter-Williams, Joel Embiid and Nerlens Noel, along with GM Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown, were in Sevilla to support future Sixer Dario Saric, who shot a perfect 5-for-5 from the field and showed off his open-court skills one more time.
    • The final game was for first place in the group and avoiding Spain until the semis. Greece built an early lead and held off Argentina for a 79-71 victory, which left them as one of just three undefeated teams in group play.

    Group C

    Final placement:

    1. USA (5-0)
    2. Turkey (3-2)
    3. Dominican Republic (2-3)
    4. New Zealand (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • At the start of the day, all six teams were still alive.
    • New Zealand’s 67-65 victory over Finland sent the Haka to Barcelona and sent Finland and meant that Ukraine would have had to beat the U.S. to advance.
    • That didn’t happen.
    • So, after USA’s win over Mike Fratello‘s crew, we knew what Group C teams were in. And Turkey’s win over the Dominican Republic in the nightcap put them opposite the U.S. in the Barcelona side of the bracket.
    • Ultimately, what knocked out Ukraine was one point. Dominican Republic, New Zealand and Ukraine all went 2-3 and all went 1-1 against each other. In those three games, Dominican Republic had a point differential of plus-3, New Zealand had a point differential of minus-1, and Ukraine had a point differential of minus-2.

    Group D

    Final placement:

    1. Lithuania (4-1)
    2. Slovenia (4-1)
    3. Australia (3-2)
    4. Mexico (2-3)

    Thursday notes:

    • Here’s where we saw some shadiness. Australia appeared to tank itself into the D3 spot by losing to Angola in the first game of the day.
    • Neither Aron Baynes nor Joe Ingles played. Matthew Dellavedova and David Andersen each played just four minutes. And with a 13-point halftime lead, Australia seemingly escorted Angola to the rim in the second half, allowing what was a below-average offense through four games to score 62 points in 20 minutes.
    • Slovenia’s Goran Dragic didn’t like what he saw…
    • Mexico booked its ticket to Barcelona for a Sunday matchup with the U.S. by knocking off Korea. That result also eliminated Angola.
    • The final game in Gran Canaria was for first place in the group and placement on the non-USA quarter in Barcelona. Lithuania came back from 12 down and held the tournament’s No. 1 offense (through Wednesday) to just two points in the fourth quarter to pull out a 67-64 win over Slovenia.

Morning shootaround — Aug. 28


VIDEO: Relive the top 5 plays from the USA-Slovenia exhibition game

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Harden emerging as leader on U.S. team | Hinkie unsure if Embiid will play next season | Clips keep Rivers in the fold

No. 1: Harden emerging as Team USA leader — If you missed it yesterday, our John Schuhmann had an excellent stats analysis of Team USA and its rampage through exhibition play as it readies for the upcoming FIBA World Cup. One of the key points he noted is how well the squad has fared when James Harden and the rest of the starters set the tone in games. Aside from how his play is helping the U.S. team on the scoreboard, guard James Harden has also shown himself to be a leader in other ways for Team USA. Michael Lee of the Washington Post has more on that topic:

Harden’s responsibilities increased once more when Kevin Durant, his close friend and former Oklahoma City Thunder teammate, backed out of his commitment, citing fatigue and not the injury to George as the reason. That left the lefty Harden as the only first-team all-NBA player remaining on the squad. The earlier withdrawals of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook also meant that Harden and Anthony Davis were the only holdovers from the 2012 London Olympics team.

“Right now, I think I would look to Harden as that leader,” USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo said as his team continues to prepare for the tournament in which the winner earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. “Harden is kind of a natural leader and he seems to be willing to accept that role. And you can just kind of feel it and sense. He’s the one.”

Harden’s career changed dramatically after that summer as Oklahoma City traded the then-sixth man of the year to the Rockets. He became an all-star in his first season, playing so well that Dwight Howard forfeited a bigger pay day from the Los Angeles Lakers to join forces with him in Houston a year later. The constant adjustments have been so common for Harden that the steadily-evolving situation with Team USA over the past few weeks feels almost normal for him.

“It’s so many things these last couple of years that’s been thrown at me, from me being traded, to people talking, just everything,” Harden said. “I try to focus on myself and how can I be a better basketball player. It’s still basketball at the end of the day. I try to do it to the best of my ability and continue to work hard.”

Harden declared himself as the best player alive two weeks ago, expressing a sentiment that was neither delusional nor particularly serious. But it represented a mindset that is required for elite-level basketball players – especially one with obvious deficiencies on the defensive end who also happened to be a viable candidate for league most valuable player last season. When pressed about that opinion, Harden didn’t backtrack.

“I think everybody feels that way. Every NBA player. Even growing up, growing up youngins have dreams that they want to be the best basketball players in the world,” Harden said. “As a basketball player, or any athlete, you got to have confidence, you’ve got to have confidence the whole time. You just go out there and do your job and have confidence that your abilities are good enough. Whatever is thrown at me, I just try to take it for what it is and just have fun.”


VIDEO: Take a slow-motion look at Team USA’s victory against Slovenia (more…)

Morning shootaround — Aug. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Calipari wouldn’t have left UK, even for LeBron | Carter-Williams on the mend | How will Marion help Cavs?

No. 1: Calipari wouldn’t have left Kentucky … even for LeBron — While LeBron James and the Heat were squaring off against the San Antonio Spurs in The 2014 Finals, a storyline outside of that series was the Cleveland Cavaliers’ supposed interest in University of Kentucky coach John Calipari. According to one report in June, the Cavs were willing to offer Calipari $80 million to take the gig, but nothing ever came to pass between he and the team officially. Now that James is in the fold in Cleveland, would that have shaped Calipari’s choice? Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal talked to Calipari about that and more: 

Even if John Calipari had known LeBron James would eventually return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the University of Kentucky coach told The Courier-Journal he likely still would have signed his seven-year extension to stay with the Wildcats in June. He just couldn’t leave more than a half-dozen players who themselves passed on the NBA draft to return to UK for another season.

“They came back because it was good for them and their careers and they knew they needed more developing and coaching. That was by me. That’s what they wanted,” Calipari told the paper in an interview Sunday morning in the Bahamas. “So that made it a tough deal to say, ‘I’m just going to leave these guys here.’ With who? It may be somebody I don’t know that wouldn’t do the things for them that they needed to do.

“Now, obviously coaching at Kentucky is special. It is unique and special. But this, for me, becomes about these kids. I have no desire, nor am I out looking for (jobs). I got the job. I got the job. What would move me to stay was these kids need me here. That’s what I’m doing. At the end of the day, that was what (kept him at UK). It wasn’t money.”

Despite reports that he was in serious talks with Cleveland – and ultimately turned down the Cavs earlier this summer – Calipari was “not as (close) as everybody thought” to leaving for the NBA. But James, who Calipari has said he’d love to coach, had not made his decision at that point.

Would that have made a difference?

“No. No. I don’t think so. Because he and I have a great relationship, but it’s not based on me coaching him,” Calipari said. “We’ve got a relationship. I’ve known him for years and years. We’ve always been friends. But it was never based on that. I’ve said that. I’ve had a chance to coach Derrick Rose, John Wall and DeMarcus (Cousins), Anthony Davis and Michael (Kidd-Gilchrist). And I’m leaving names off, but I’ve coached some of the best players in basketball, and it is a thrill. There’s nothing better than that. Especially when those guys are all good guys.

“Well, LeBron is also that kind of player and that kind of person. But again, leaving guys who made decisions based on what’s right for their career was something I couldn’t have gotten by anyway.”

***

No. 2: Carter-Williams plans to be ready for camp — Shortly after the Sixers’ season ended, Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams had surgery to repair a tear in his right shoulder. He’s been on the mend ever since and although he hasn’t been cleared to scrimmage yet, he’s improving quickly. Tom Moore of The Intelligencer has more on Carter-Williams and how he’s been faring of late:

Michael Carter-Williams isn’t 100 percent, but expects to be ready for the late September start of 76ers training camp.

During a five-minute interview Sunday at the Michael Carter-Williams Basketball ProCamp, he said he hasn’t scrimmaged, though he’s shooting and working out, and his right shoulder “still gets a little tight here and there” from the May 13 surgery to repair his labrum. He estimated the shoulder is “probably 80, 85 percent.”

“It’s going great,” said MCW, noting he won’t play fullcourt ball under he’s medically cleared.

He admitted that draft night in June was “a little confusing at the very beginning” when general manager Sam Hinkie took Louisiana-Lafayette point guard Elfrid Payton at No. 10. He certainly seemed bewildered during a live interview on NBA-TV immediately after Hinkie selected Payton.

But Hinkie soon dealt Payton to the Magic for No. 12 (Croatian forward Dario Saric, who is committed to playing at least two seasons in Turkey), as well as a first- and a second-round choice from Orlando.

“As I thought about it, I’m a basketball player,” Carter-Williams said. “I’m going to be able to play with whoever. It was a move that the team made for reasons we know now. I wasn’t too shaken up by it.”

Carter-Williams claimed he never thought he’d be traded in the wake of the Payton pick because, “I think I would’ve got a little bit of a heads-up if that would’ve happened and I didn’t get anything. Me, coach (Brett Brown) and Sam are always on the same page.”

While he realizes expectations around the league are low for a young Sixers team coming off of a 19-63 campaign, Carter-Williams is eager for the upcoming season.

“I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things,” he said. “Last year was a long year. I’m really looking forward to this year and improving as a team.”

***

No. 3: What will Marion add to Cavs? — Yesterday, free-agent forward Shawn Marion reportedly agreed to a deal with the Cavaliers, becoming the latest household name to join forces with LeBron James as he seeks to lead Cleveland to its first championship. While Marion is far removed from his All-Star days with the Phoenix Suns, he’s still a valued contributor on the court and our John Schuhmann details how Marion might help the Cavs in 2014-15:

Marion can back up both James and Kevin Love, who the Cavs are expected to get on or after Aug. 23, when rookie Andrew Wiggins is eligible to be traded. Marion could also play alongside the James-Love combo in a small-ball lineup.

In a summer when Ben Gordon got $4.5 million, signing Marion for the minimum is a great deal. He’s versatile, plays both ends of the floor, has championship experience, and has been pretty durable over the years.

But Marion is also 36 years old. Among 177 players who attempted at least 500 shots last season, only teammate Jose Calderon had a lower free-throw rate. Marion attempted just nine free throws per 100 field goal attempts.

And here’s a note that’s a little alarming: The Mavericks were better both offensively and defensively with Marion off the floor each of the last four seasons (2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14). When it came to on- vs. off-court numbers, Marion was in a tough spot as Dirk Nowitzki‘s backup. But the lack of impact on defensive numbers, in particular, should provide caution for anyone expecting him to be the stopper that he was earlier in his career.

Marion will be the Cavs’ Shane Battier. He can guard power forwards and allow James to play on the perimeter defensively in those small-ball, more athletic lineups. But he doesn’t quite space the floor as well as Battier did for the Heat. His 3-point shooting is shaky. Though it improved quite a bit last season (to 35.8 percent), it hasn’t been better than the league average in over 10 years.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Cavs remain optimistic about their hopes of signing Ray Allen … A great, lengthy feature on LeBron James‘ agent and friend, Rich Paul … Pistons big man Andre Drummond may not be on the U.S. Team much longer … Seven months after having surgery on a torn ACL, Nate Robinson is feeling good enough to dunk … The Morris twins talk about their bond and hopes of staying together as teammates their whole NBA career.

 

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.

Countdown is on for optimistic Noel


VIDEO: Noel discusses his play during Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Nerlens Noel gets an “A” for perseverance and patience and for somehow maintaining optimism throughout the most physically and psychologically challenging 17-month stretch of his young life. NBA schedules have yet to be released, but there’s roughly 100 days until the Philadelphia 76ers open the 2014-15 season and Noel is counting down every last one them.

The 76ers’ 6-foot-11 center (more like 7-foot-3, seriously, with his trademark flat top now elevating ever higher) sat out all of last season to rehabilitate the left knee he damaged late in his one-and-done campaign at Kentucky. The injury dropped him from the consensus No. 1 pick into Philadelphia’s lap at No. 6. He finally made it back on the floor earlier this month, playing three games at the Orlando Summer League, and he wrapped up an encouraging July tour playing two of five games at the Las Vegas Summer League where paint penetrators were quickly put on notice.

Though still months away, visions of how Opening Night will go down dance in his mind on almost a daily basis.

“It’s going to be something special,” Noel, 20, told NBA.com Friday after watching the Sixers’ final game in Vegas. “I know how passionate those fans are so I really can’t wait to step on the floor.”

Game 1 will be a milestone for sure, but the unanswerable question is how Noel will fare through 82 of them. His conditioning will take time and he acknowledged it “wasn’t great” early in Orlando, but built up as the games came and went. Before the start of Summer League, Noel had not played in an actual game since the night of the injury in February 2013.

“It’s been a process the whole time,” Noel said. “I’ve had to really have patience, not being able to play this past year, and finally being able to play and show what I’ve been working on. I didn’t get to show everything, but I’m going to continue working on my body and be able to come back in the regular season and be better.”

The Boston native will split the rest of the offseason between his hometown and Philly, where he’s stayed since the regular season ended in mid-April to continue working with the team’s coaches and training staff. Noel remains a thin, 228-pound pogo stick, still not strong enough to command the low block offensively, though in four of five games he scored in double figures and overall shot 49 percent (24-for-49).

That side of his game remains raw, even as it pokes through with parts of a multi-dimensional attack — including lefty hooks in the lane, a perimeter jumper that he spent countless pregame workouts with coach Brett Brown reconstructing his release, plus a quick first-step dribble-drive from the elbow. Still his offensive capabilities remain miles behind the type of force he delivers on the defensive end.

In his five summer games, Noel swatted 13 shots and altered dozens more. His quickness to elevate in the paint and meet shots at the rim can be astonishing. He’s so long and nimble that he glides almost effortlessly as a help-side defender. The 76ers, who surrendered more baskets from within five feet last season than only the Los Angeles Lakers, should see a major boost in that category next season.

He also showed he’s going to be difficult to deal with on the boards. In four games, he grabbed at least a half-dozen rebounds. Through it all, Noel said his rebuilt and cautiously monitored knee has passed every test with flying colors.

“I have no problems with it all,” said Noel, who has claimed he can actually jump higher now than before the surgery to repair the torn ACL.

It still likely won’t help the Sixers contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It will be months into the season before Noel will team with No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid, who has his own rehabilitation to endure following foot surgery. It’s a frontline pairing in which optimists crow about the possibilities and pessimists fret about durability.

“I talked to him a few times briefly over texts, he’s a great kid, great personality,” Noel said. “I’m really looking forward to getting on the court with him and really starting that relationship we’re going to need if we are going to be one of the best tandems in the future.”

Rookie of the Year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, a former AAU teammate of Noel’s, returns with veteran and consummate pro Thaddeus Young. From there, the roster remains perilously thin in Year 2 of general manager Sam Hinkie‘s ground-up reconstruction. It’s a plan that again came under scrutiny on Draft night when Hinkie selected the injured Embiid and then Dario Saric at No. 12. While Embiid hopes to play at some point next season, the 6-foot-10 Croatian will play in Turkey.

Philadelphia won just 19 game last season and Noel watched helplessly through a 26-game losing skid. But again, the optimism of youth sees past these facts that could be depressing and believes the program is in good hands and pointed in a positive direction.

“We have a great vision,” Noel said. “Me and Mike [Carter-Williams] are very close, we’ve known each other for years now, from high school playing with each other on the AAU circuit. “I think with me, Joel and Mike, that would be a great three-person core, and then it’s adding pieces that we need. I think Sam is going to make it all happen for us. We have a lot of faith in him and I think we’ll be fine.”

At least now the countdown is really on.