Posts Tagged ‘Sixers’

Knicks deal Outlaw to keep rookie Wear

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

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

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

Mark Stein of ESPN.com has the details:

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

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

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

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

Hang Time Road Trip: First stop, Cleveland

HANGTIME_PASSENGER

By Sekou Smith

CLEVELAND – At least Mother Nature has a sense of humor.

On the eve of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio’s favorite son’s first official game back in town, she greeted everyone with extremely chilly temperatures (somewhere just north of 40 degrees according to a digital reading on a bank clock downtown) this morning.

Welcome home, LeBron James … you’re not in South Beach anymore.

James traded Miami’s sizzle for the comforts of home and will take the court with the new-look Cleveland Cavaliers against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the exhibition opener at Quicken Loans Arena tonight (6 p.m. ET, NBA TV).

And the Hang Time Podcast crew will be there to witness the return.

It’s the first leg of the Hang Time Road Trip, a six-day, seven-city NBA training camp odyssey road trip that will take us from the heart of what could be the toughest division in all of basketball this season (Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana at the top of the Central Division) to Philadelphia and New York, where rebuilding projects are in full swing, and down the East Coast and parts unknown (we’ll surprise you) before the bus heads back to our Atlanta headquarters next weekend.

We’ll sprinkle in some of the usual fun and craziness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast, but our mission is hoops. And there is no better place to kick things off than here in Cleveland, where hope has been restored after one of the greatest summer franchise flips in NBA history.

We’re going to dig in and find out exactly what it’s going to take for LeBron, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to turn things around immediately in this city that has missed its homegrown “King” terribly the past four years.

On Monday we’re going to investigate the situation in Chicago and see if Derrick Rose really is ready to resume his MVP ways, if Pau Gasol fits as well on the court as he does in theory and if all that we saw from Joakim Noah and the rest of that stout Bulls outfit did without Rose and Gasol is still there.

Tuesday we’ll visit the Pacers — yes, they still have our attention, despite a rough summer that saw them lose both Paul George (injury) and Lance Stephenson (free agency) from the team that won the Central Division with the best record in the Eastern Conference last season. Pacers boss Larry Bird doesn’t do panic. Neither does his coach, Frank Vogel, who has been unabashed in his belief that David West and Roy Hibbert will keep this team among the division and conference elite.

We will head East from there for Philadelphia, where Nerlens Noel‘s first season on the court signals the promise of what could be for a Sixers’ franchise in need of something to believe beyond just the promise of the future.

In New York, we’ll shine a light on the Knicks and see if Carmelo Anthony‘s right in his assessment of his revamped team — ‘Melo swears these Knicks are playoff bound … we’d love to hear what Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher have to say about it.

With so much real estate between New York and Atlanta, we’re bound to stumble upon an interesting situation or two on the ride home. But we’ll save something for the imagination. We’re keeping our options open and will make sure we deliver the hoops, hijinks and hilariousness you are used to on the Hang Time Podcast.

In the meantime, we’ll focus our attention on the LeBron, Love and Kyrie and these Cavaliers.

First impressions, even in an exhibition setting, are everything.

***

Keep up with us around the clock on Twitter or Instagram (using the hashtag #HANGTIME):

Check the Hang Time Blog for our daily (video) podcast recapping our adventures and also Lang’s All-Ball Blog for our daily updates.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith is ready to go in Cleveland

Caldwell Jones, 64, stood tall, quiet

In an oil painting, he’d have been part of the background scenery. As part of a comedy team, he’d have been the straight man who set up the other guy for the jokes and applause.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones looks on during a 76ers game played in 1977.

Caldwell Jones spent most of his 17 seasons in the ABA and NBA out of the spotlight reserved for the superstars, but always in the middle of the dirty work that needed to be done.

The 64-year-old center, one of four Jones brothers — along with Wil, Major and Charles — to play in the NBA, has died of a heart attack.

He was tall (6-foot-11) and spindly and often looked like he’d been constructed out of pipe cleaners twisted together. He’d occasionally take the court wearing a rubber cushion to protect a sore elbow, two big knee pads and one high-top and one low-cut shoe to deal with foot injuries and then just go about his business against the bigger, bulkier big men in the game.

It took him 1,227 games in both leagues to cross the 10,000-point plateau, never averaging double figures. But scoring and getting headlines weren’t as important to Jones as doing what was necessary.

I first met him when he was probably the least-known member of the flamboyant 76ers team with Julius Erving, Doug Collins, Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free, Joe “Jellybean” Bryant in the late 1970s and early 1980s and Jones was content to be a defensive tentpole that quietly held things up in the middle.

“Everybody likes to look at the glory part of the game, the scoring points,” he once said. “But there is a lot more to the game. I look at myself like an offensive lineman. Someone has to open the holes for the 1,000-yard rushers.”

He loved to watch old Westerns (Lash LaRue, Cisco Kid) and cartoons (Woody Woodpecker, the Flintstones) and had a laugh that was as genuine and down-to-earth as the hardscrabble roots in McGehee, Ark., that produced the Jones clan.

He ate chili dogs for breakfast, chugged beers in the locker room after a hard night’s work and when Oregonian reporter Dwight Jaynes once asked him to name his favorite seafood, replied: “Salt water taffy.”

Jones was always self-deprecating about his own talents.

“You know how you stop Kareem Abdul-Jabbar?” he once told me. “You push him and you push him and you push and you push him. And then you hope he just steps out of bounds.”

In the prime of his career, Jones was a mentor to the likes of young Sixers guards Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney, teaching them what it took to be a professional. In his final NBA season, he was still showing those ropes to a rookie named David Robinson in San Antonio.

After six seasons in Philadelphia, battling alongside Dr. J for Eastern Conference supremacy, but never winning a championship, Jones was traded to Houston for Moses Malone in 1982 and the Sixers won it all the next season while the Rockets finished 14-68.

I had moved to Houston myself about six months before the trade and Rockets equipment manager David Nordstrom asked me what he could do to make Jones feel welcome. I told him that a bucket filled with ice and a six-pack in front of his locker after every game would go a long way.

On the night Jones played his first game in Houston, I walked through the door just as C.J. was twisting the top off a bottle. He pointed it at me.

“They don’t guarantee what uniform you’re always gonna wear in this league” he said. “But they pay me very well to come to work and do a job.”

MCW feeling good about self, Sixers


VIDEO: Michael Carter-Williams talks with the NBA TV crew during Summer League

ORLANDO — It seems there are always questions about Sixers point guard Michael Carter-Williams in the offseason.

A year ago they were mostly about his struggling play and shaky start at the Orlando Pro Summer League. This year they revolve around his recent shoulder surgery.

“I’m good and I’m still ahead of progress,” Carter-Williams said when he dropped in at in the Amway Center to watch Philly’s youngsters. “I’ve been shooting the ball and I have full range of motion in my shot back, so I’ve just kept working out and do what the doctor has told me to do to get back to 100 percent.

“I really don’t have too many limitations. I really can’t do any heavy lifting right now, so I’ve been doing the simple things like swimming and shooting the ball and dribbling, things that don’t require a lot of weight or me to reach backwards. I’m going to start doing a lot of heavy lifting just to bulk up, once the shoulder gets there.”

Of course, last summer’s question marks turned into a debut NBA season that was an exclamation point as Carter-Williams became only the second Sixer to be named Rookie of the Year. He finished the season as the top rookie in scoring, rebounding and assist average.

He sat on the bench Wednesday watching last year’s fellow first-round Draft pick, Nerlens Noel, continue his comeback from a torn left ACL. All along, Carter-Williams was wishing he could be out on the court, too.

“It’s been tough (just watching),” Carter-Williams said. “I wish I could be out there playing and doing what I love, but I know it’s a process and it’s best for me to chill out a little bit and get healthy.”

His rehab schedule has him working three days a week and even though he will travel with the team the Las Vegas Summer League, Carter-Williams will only take part in practices and not compete in games. The normal recovery time from surgery for a torn labrum is two to four months, which means he should be at full strength and ready to go when training camp begins in late September.

Carter-Williams says he’s ignored rumors that have put his name into trades and didn’t panic when the Sixers chose point guard Elfrid Payton with the No. 10 pick in the Draft before trading him to Orlando a short time later, stressing that he’s kept in constant touch with general manager Sam Hinkie and coach Brett Brown.

“I’ve been with Sam and Coach this whole time,” he said. “Regardless of the rumors or who said what, we stayed in communication and we’re always on the same page. “I’m happy with what the team did. Sam and Coach still have a plan to be put in and I’m real excited.”

First Noel finally arrives in summer


VIDEO: Nerlens Noel scores 19 in his Summer League debut

ORLANDO, Fla. – You’d probably figure that after all the work, all the wait, all the anticipation of finally getting back out onto the court to play a game, the first thing Nerlens Noel would want to do is simply pick up the ball and jam it through the hoop.

So it he did.

It was just 20 seconds into his first summer league game, on his first offensive possession when Noel turned and made his first basket for the 76ers a resounding slam dunk.

“Oh yes, definitely,” Noel said. “It helped the jitters. It set the tone for the game. I was confident.”

He was also ready, active and rather effective playing his first real game in almost 1 1/2 years, following surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee. Noel shot 6-for-11 from the field, scored 19 points and made four steals in just over 26 minutes of an 83-77 loss to the Magic.

“It’s very validating,” Noel said. “It’s been 18 months since I was able to play and it felt great today. I didn’t do as much as I wanted to as far as rebounding and being active defensively. That will come through as I build more stamina, able to be more active and it felt good.

“No mental blocks. It’s been 18 months out. I haven’t been thinking about the knee for a long time. I’m definitely going to continue to work to get it stronger, strong as possible.”

Noel moved smoothly around the court, showed off some slick moves around the basket and was not at all reluctant to get down onto the floor for loose balls.

The 6-foot-11 center was the consensus choice for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft until suffering the knee injury on Feb. 12 of his only season playing college ball at Kentucky. His stock dropped on draft night until Noel was chosen No. 6 by New Orleans and promptly traded to Philly for Jrue Holiday.

“I’m a Philadelphia 76er,” Noel said. “I’m not focused on what happened on draft night. I’m just going forward and gonna continue to grow as a player, person and leader for this team. It motivates me for rehab, but I’m here, I’m a 76er and that’s all I’m focused on.”

Sixers assistant Lloyd Pierce, who heads up the summer league team, was impressed with the long-awaited debut by Noel.

“One of the scary things with him is he had a couple of steals in the pick and roll coverage,” Pierce said. “That was one of the things I stressed early in the week: How would Nerlens do in the pick and roll coverage?

“He’s got great hands…We want him to be athletic. But we want him to stay disciplined in the scheme. He’s got great timing as a defender and you saw some of that tonight.”

After waiting so long to finally get a glimpse of a player the Sixers believe will be a foundation for the future, the NBA world also saw an impressive array of offensive moves. He was especially impressive on back-to-back possessions in the second quarter. First, he caught the eye of forward Hollis Thompson in transition, took a pass just over mid court and drove through traffic for a nice layup, was fouled and converted the three-point play.

“I’m a little quicker than most big men,” Noel said. “I definitely saw the big man lagging back, so with my first step I was able to get by to my left and and at the end he wasn’t able to wrap me up and I was able to finish the play,” Noel said.

The next time down the floor, Noel scored on a feathery teardrop shot from about eight feet.

“I’ve got a lot of reps on those as well,” he said. “I think that’s gonna be big part of my game as well. I’m just expanding my game.”

That expansion included a perfect 7-for-7 night on free throws, the product of a totally reconstructed shooting stroke. He shot just 52.9 percent from the line at Kentucky and team president Sam Hinkie joked last year that 60 percent would a good goal.

“Yeah, I’m real happy,” Noel said. “But I can’t get too happy. It’s a long road ahead of me and I’ve got to stay focused and keep working to get better and better. It’s no time to celebrate now.”

Morning shootaround — June 28




VIDEO: GameTime examines the 76ers’ selection of Joel Embiid

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Embiid could miss year | Knicks want Pau | No rush on Rondo | Suns keep rising | McDermott first step
No. 1: Sixers will take the cautious route with Embiid — Remember all those photos of last year’s No. 1 pick Nerlens Noel in street clothes in Philly. Remember how Nerlens Noel never got onto the court while recovering from his knee surgery. Sixers G.M. Sam Hinkie loudly hinted that this year’s top pick Joel Embiid might be nothing more than a spectator as well, according to Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer:

General manager Sam Hinkie hinted Friday that Joel Embiid, who was drafted third overall, probably won’t play in the 2014-15 season. That’s because the 7-foot center out of Kansas will miss more time than reported while recovering from a stress fracture in his right foot.
“I’ve seen reported some four to six months,” Hinkie said. “That’s not the number I heard. The number I heard from the surgeon himself was five to eight months.
“Guess what our approach will be? We will focus on the long-term health of the player. We had that discussion before. I don’t want that to sound glib, because it’s not. It is all that matters, honestly.”

***

No. 2: Knicks want to team up Gasol with ‘Melo — While new team president Phil Jackson has been delivering some tough love to free agent Carmelo Anthony lately with talk of taking a pay cut, it seems he’s looking to add some sugar with the addition of Pau Gasol. ESPN’s Mark Stein and Ramona Shelburne say that Jackson plans to reach out to his former Lakers center when the free agency period opens at midnight ET on Tuesday:

Furthermore, one source close to the process told ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne that Jackson is planning to make a determined attempt to try to recruit his former Los Angeles Lakers center Pau Gasol to replace the freshly traded Tyson Chandler alongside Anthony on the Knicks’ front line, despite the fact New York is limited to offering Gasol less than $4 million for next season.
Time will tell if the Knicks’ internal confidence in retaining Anthony proves justified, given that he opted out of the final year of his contract at $23.3 million — with Jackson urging him to opt in — and will soon be courted face-to-face by a handful of top teams in big cities.
The 30-year-old officially becomes an unrestricted free agent on Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. and, as ESPN.com reported earlier this week, is planning to go on visits or hold meetings with the Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks and Lakers all before the Fourth of July. It also must be noted as July 1 draws near that the Bulls and Rockets have likewise been radiating no shortage of positivity about their chances of stealing Anthony away from the Knicks.

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No. 3: Celtics are in no hurry to ship out Rondo — The name of Marcus Smart had barely crossed the lips of NBA commissioner Adam Silver on draft night when the speculation began about the end of Rajon Rondo’s time in Boston. But Steve Bulpett of the the Boston Herald believes there is no reason to start packing the veteran point guard’s bags. First the Celtics will see if they can make a big name addition — i.e. Kevin Love – over the summer to pair with Rondo before entertaining offers:

The Celtics’ first choice in all this is to keep Rondo and find better players to put around him, but if they are unable to do that, they will have to confront the issue of his impending free agency. The club went into its rebuild with last summer’s trade of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett knowing it had to show a clear path to again being a contender before Rondo could depart on his own in 2015.
What we know for sure is that Ainge will be entertaining some offers for Rondo this summer, but, according to sources, that may still not assure a trade. The opinion here is that the Celts will have a difficult time getting a return for Rondo commensurate with what he means to this team. But they aren’t afraid to wait it out.
Assuming again they are unable to bring in a major player to pair with Rondo, one source confirmed the Celtics would sooner let him walk away than accept a deal that bogs down their salary sheet just to “get something for him.” If they decide trading Rondo is the best course of action, they will dig in and either get what they need to enhance their rebuilding, or they will let him go and take the cap space benefit.

***

No. 4: Suns’ future continues to shine with draft moves — Every team with air in its basketballs come away claiming draft night was a success. However, our own Sekou Smith says that second-year Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough is just selling more sand in the desert after his addition of young talent. After extending qualifying offers on Friday to free agents Eric Bledsoe and P.J. Tucker, the Suns and are in a position to improve on last season’s surprising 48 wins and make more noise in the Western Conference:

With no glaring holes on a roster that didn’t include a superstar anchor, they entered Thursday night without the pressure of filling any significant gaps or the need to wheel and deal to fix their team.
That allowed McDonough and his staff to zero in on talents that fit the Suns’ system and style to perfection. They snagged prolific-scoring ACC Player of the Year T.J. Warren of N.C. State with the 14th pick, Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis with the 18th pick, Serbian shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic with the 27th pick and topped it off in the second round with 7-footer Alec Brown of Wisconsin Green Bay with the 50th pick overall.
“We think it was a great night for us,” McDonough told Suns.com after the Draft. “I feel like in the draft, with our four picks, we got a blend of a little bit of everything.”
“Sometimes you have to move or give up a lot, give up future picks, give up players to get exactly what you want. We didn’t have to do any of that. We just kind of stayed where we were and the guys fell to us.”
The Suns are in the rare position after a lottery season of controlling their own destiny moving forward. They extended qualifying offers Friday to both point guard Eric Bledsoe and small forward P.J. Tucker, giving them the right to match any offers to two players that played key roles in their resurgent season.
Sometimes teams have to reach and stretch to find security at certain positions, to add the needed depth and to fortify the roster. The Suns didn’t have to reach or stretch for anything. They played the board perfectly, riding the wave of the Draft with the bigger picture in mind and the security of knowing they could compete during an injury-filled season without resorting to any desperate moves.

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No. 5: McDermott tasty, but Bulls hungry for more — The Bulls did some wheeling and dealing, and actually increased their payroll on draft night, to get a player they believe will be a perfect fit in Doug McDermott. But according to our Steve Aschburner, this is still a summer they will only be deemed a rousing success if Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James or Kevin Love winds up in Chicago:

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.
It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer’s $16.8 million.
Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony — or theoretically James, a real long shot — as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward — shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.
Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson’s proven jewelry box?
Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.
But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.
It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.tory here as you normally would do …

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George clears the air on Lance StephensonJose Calderon believes he could really help Carmelo Anthony…Rockets rookie Capela doesn’t want to wait.
ICYMI(s) of The Night: A sequence like this illustrates why Paul George is among the best two-way players in the game today …:

VIDEO: Paul George gets the steal and then caps the break with a fancy jam

Five teams already looking ahead

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

The start of the playoffs is just over the horizon and there will be plenty of unexpected bounces before the 2014 NBA champ is crowned in June.

But you can’t blame a handful of teams from already taking an early peek at what will surely be better times ahead next season:

 


VIDEO: Joakim Noah joins Arena Link after a recent Bulls win

Chicago Bulls – There’ s still plenty of havoc to be made by Joakim Noah and his “no tanking here” gang. Sitting in the No. 4 spot in the East, the Bulls are already shuffling their hooves at what could be another rip-snorting first-round series against the Nets and possibly a chance to put a few bruises on the Pacers or two-time champions from Miami down the line. But while it’s unrealistic to think Chicago can go all the way this season, the title hopes are back in view next October. Starting, of course, with a healthy return by Derrick Rose, the Bulls get their former MVP and most talented player back onto the court to supplement a lineup that has Noah, Taj Gibson and Jimmy Butler.

While the dealing away of Luol Deng didn’t sink the Bulls in the standings, it brought a first round draft choice that the Cavs had picked up from Sacramento. They saved $20 million on Deng’s contract next year, can amnesty the vastly overpaid Carlos Boozer and be at the front of the line to make a recruiting pitch to head of the class free agent Carmelo Anthony. The lure of Phil Jackson‘s zen magic will probably make it tougher to get him out of N.Y., but if he really wants to make a run at a title instead of just being hero-worshipped, Melo would jump at the chance to join the Bulls where a recuperated Rose gives them the 1-2 punch that is almost necessary these days to be elite. As much fun as they’re having now, the real excitement could return next season.

 


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado discuss the progress and potential of Nerlens Noel

Philadelphia 76ers — It can’t get worse than losing a record-tying 26 games in a row, can it? It will still be only Year Two in general manager Sam Hinkie‘s long-term building project for the future. But at least next season the Sixers will be able to put a team out on the floor that has more than just Michael Carter-Williams, Thad Young and Tony Wroten as real NBA talent that could be part of something positive down the road. Hinkie has cleared out the payroll, but it’s far too early for the Sixers to even give a thought to luring free agents to Philly. They’ll have two lottery picks — their own and the Pelicans’ spot from the Jrue Holiday trade — and go digging for bargains with another pair of picks in the second round.

Of course, there’s the big bonus of finally getting big man Nerlens Noel into the lineup, after he sat out all of this season with a torn ACL. Noel has been champing at the bit to play now, but the team will hold him back till summer league and then turn him loose. Hinkie is positively giddy about what a bulked-up, more physically fit Noel will be able to do. The Sixers are not even dreaming of playoffs, just putting the building blocks in place.

 


VIDEO: Andrew Nicholson talks about staying positive in Orlando

Orlando Magic — Two years ago, Rob Hennigan dealt away Dwight Howard and the instant reaction from many corners was that the rookie GM had been fleeced. Of course, the way things turned out in L.A., Philly and Denver, it seems that Hennigan was the one doing the fleecing, picking up Nic Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Arron Afflalo, who are now main parts of a young roster on the rise. Mix in last year’s top draft pick Victor Oladipo with Tobias Harris, Kyle O’Quinn and Andrew Nicholson and while the Magic are again near the bottom of the standings with the third-fewest wins in the league, there has been a method to Hennigan. The jury is still out on making Oladipo a point guard, but he’s clearly a talent.

Hennigan is following in the footsteps of his mentor Sam Presti in OKC, constructing a roster that is flexible in terms of both talent and salary. The Magic are not beholden at this point to a single individual and are willing to be in the trade market for any upgrade that makes sense at any position. Then toss in the potential of adding an Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to the lineup and the Magic are suddenly a team back in the spotlight with a new franchise star and a future that could lead back to chasing the playoffs maybe even as soon as next year in the Eastern Conference.

 


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo is adjusting to life in the NBA and U.S.

Milwaukee Bucks – As bad and depressing as things got for the Sixers during their 26-game losing streak, the fact is they were never able to drop below the Bucks in the standings. This is the worst team in the league, but it doesn’t have to be this way in 2014-15. For one thing, it’s about timing in the draft. The Bucks have been fortunate enough to win the lottery twice in the past, getting Glenn Robinson with the No. 1 pick in 1994 and Andrew Bogut in 2005. “Big Dog” had had his moments and Bogut is playing nicely these days for the Warriors, but neither was ever the kind of game-changer than can take a franchise to the top.

Now with the deepest lottery in a while, it seems that Milwaukee is in a can’t-miss position. GM John Hammond is said to be setting his sights on center Joel Embiid, who could anchor the middle of a lineup with exciting rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo and Larry Sanders, who hopefully can get his head back into the game and save a career that could go off the rails. Hammond unloaded the contracts of Luke Ridnour and Gary Neal at the trade deadline and would probably like to jettison O.J. Mayo. Brandon Knight has been up and down, but shows that he can score. Rookie Nate Wolters has probably exceeded expectations and creates optimism for the future.

It’s Antetokounmpo who creates the most excitement with his raw talent and potential. Whether they go with Embild with their first pick or Wiggins, Parker, Julius Randle or Dante Exum, this time the Bucks could get the game changer they need at a time when owner Herb Kohl is trying to sell the franchise. This could be a lineup worth buying and watching next season.

 


VIDEO: Dwight Howard explains why he likes it in Houston

Houston Rockets — Yes, yes, yes. The Rockets are already a top four seed in the rugged Western Conference and have flexed their speed and muscles and shooting prowess against some of the best teams in the league this season. The pairing of Dwight Howard with James Harden has given Houston the 1-2 All-Star punch that was expected. Yet even with some folks tabbing the Rockets as a dark horse threat when the playoffs begin, the truth is their best days are still ahead. Wheeler and dealer GM Daryl Morey knows that his job is not yet done and that’s why he’s played the payroll and salary cap like a Stradivarius and will again have the Rockets in position to make a run at at the biggest names on the free agent market this summer. If he deals Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik ($15 million each next season), the Rockets could offer close to the max.

Howard and Harden are still getting to know each other and this team might need to experience the pain of a playoff loss to get recommitted and take things to the next level. The Rockets could also use another scorer/defender on the wing to go toe-to-toe nightly with the elite contenders. LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony? Let us saddle you up as part of the posse, pardner. Of course, it’s unlikely that James is going anywhere. But Anthony would have to have give long and serious thought to Houston if he decides that the magic of Jackson isn’t going to turn the Knicks around in the next year or two. Put Melo in a lineup with Howard and Harden and the 145 points the Rockets rung up the other night against the Lakers could become a nightly occurrence. If not Anthony, Bosh could return home to Texas. The Rockets made a free agent pitch for him several years ago and his adaptable skills could fit in nicely on the front line.

The Rockets will be different next season. They always are. And with Howard and Harden as anchors, now different means better. The start of next season can’t come soon enough in Houston.

Amid all the losses, Young’s been winner

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thaddeus Young gets up high to deny the Bobcats’ Cody Zeller

It’s the time of the season when the ballots come out and the debates begin.

MVP: LeBron James or Kevin Durant?

Coach of the Year: Gregg Popovich, Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Hornacek, Doc Rivers, Dwane Casey, Kevin McHale?

Rookie, Sixth Man, Most Improved, Defensive Player. The hardware will be handed out at intervals over the next couple months.

Thaddeus Young won’t get a trophy, but he should be given a lifetime achievement award for having lived through several of them with the 76ers this season.

Doggedly, determined, decisive.

It was the night when his 76ers had tied the NBA single season record with their 26th consecutive loss and the 6-foot-8 forward sat at his locker in Houston’s Toyota Center and answered every question the same way he has answered every challenge in the most difficult season of his basketball career. Head on.

“You just try to win the next game,” Young said.

Roughly 48 hours later, the crowd at Philly’s Wells Fargo Center would celebrate loudly when the Sixers beat the Pistons for their first victory since Jan. 29.

But there have been too few of those happy nights in a 17-win season when the organizational goals and the instincts of a competitor have churned in opposite directions.

The Sixers’ front office and coaching staff have been up front that it’s only the future that matters. Yet here is Young, 25, seeing the precious present of what should be the prime of his career tick away and refusing to simply mark time.

While the losses have piled up, Young’s energy and commitment to his job and team haven’t wavered. If athletes are not necessarily supposed to be role models to the general public, it is a responsibility within the locker room. So maybe one day, when the likes of Michael Carter-Williams, Tony Wroten and Nerlens Noel are reaping the benefits of this painful experience, they’ll know who showed them how to act like a pro.

“It’s hard,” Young said. “But all you can do is try to keep your head up and things will change. You keep telling yourself change is coming. In the meantime, you got to go out there and play, regardless of what happens.”

The Sixers became a national headline as skid grew and were fodder for late-night comedians — as if there might not actually be individuals who never stopped busting a gut to get a win.

“You know it’s been talked about,” Young said. “You know what’s being said. But you just go out and try to figure how to win a basketball game. Me personally, the only thing I really care about is winning.

“It’s definitely hard. Every day you want to continue to go out there and be a professional, continue to go out there and do your job. This is what we’re paid to do — go out there and play.”

It was bad enough through the middle of February when the Sixers were simply young and inept. But then trade deadline came and general manager Sam Hinkie traded away Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen and the Sixers became younger and almost incapable.

“I think it can take its toll,” said Sixers coach Brett Brown. “We talk about having the youngest team in the history of the game and then we say on trade deadline night that we went to a whole other level, which reconfirmed the direction that we’re taking. He lost three friends. You’re look around and you’re looking at an even younger team.

“I admire the way Thad has handled himself, losing games, losing friends, and still I haven’t seen him let up the slightest bit in the way he works and prepares and handles himself.”

He has played in all but three games, leading the Sixers in scoring at 18 ppg while still hustling and simply trying to do the right thing.

“I continue to play hard regardless,” Young said. “So I’ve definitely accepted the way things are. But like I’ve said many times before, the situation is what it is and we have to … remain focused on the task at hand.”

In a strange way, it’s the ultimate compliment to Young that the Sixers wanted to keep him around as their stabilizing, grounding force.

“They have a lot of respect for my words in the locker room, my words on the court and what I’ve done in the past seven years for the organization,” he said. They see me as a guy that can keep these guys calm and cool throughout the situation and maintain the locker room and keep guys together.”

The questions now? Do the Sixers see Young as part a reconstruction project that will likely span several more rough seasons? Does Young want to stay in his role as wet nurse rather than chase championships with a contender? His contract calls for $19 million over the next two years with a player option in 2015-16.

“I haven’t thought about it at all,” Young said. “When that time comes, I’ll talk about it with Sam, with my agent, with coach, whoever else I have to talk about it with. Right now my focus is just finishing out this season and dealing with the summer when it comes. Then we’ll talk about the future and all the other stuff.

“I’m just dealing with the situation I’m in right now. Playing basketball, trying to continue to have fun. With the games we have left, I’ve still got a job to go out there and help some of these guys grow in this locker room, to just go out there and try to be a leader to this team.”

Thad Young won’t get a trophy for his play this season, but he’s well earned our respect in the longest of seasons.

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.

Award races head into stretch run

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

Four weeks from today the regular season is over. All eyes will be on the playoffs. And that means the final push is on for the 2013-14 awards.

The duel for MVP honors has been a match race all season between Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Michael Carter-Williams jumped out of the pack early as the one to beat for Rookie of the Year. But the other races have been wide open.

Here’s one man’s view as we head into the home stretch:

Most Improved Player

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — This is why the Pelicans were so happy to make him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 Draft. This is what coach Monty Williams says Davis probably could have shown last season if the coach hadn’t kept a tight rein on his prized rookie, limiting his minutes and his exposure to getting overpowered while he built up his slender body. When Davis erupted for 40 points, 21 rebounds, three assists and three steals against the Celtics, it was the culmination of a spectacular sophomore year. He’s been steady and breathtaking at both ends of the court all season, enough to beat out the likes of worthy candidates Goran Dragic and Lance Stephenson in a crowded field of contenders. Also getting votes: DeAndre Jordan, Trevor Ariza.


VIDEO: Anthony Davis was nominated for Kia Player of the Month for March

Sixth Man of the Year

Manu Ginobili, Spurs – Following an injury-plagued 2012-13 season that saw him enter the playoffs last spring looking bedraggled, the player who puts the jolt into the Spurs attack is back playing like a live wire in his 12th season. His field-goal percentage is up and his he’s back to doing all the things at both ends of the floor that make him a disruptive force and a difference maker. Jamal Crawford is the closest contender and has done many of the same things for the Clippers. The deciding factor has to be overall team performance. L.A. is in the top half of the Western Conference standings, but that’s once again the Spurs at the top. The return of Manu to his old form is a prime reason. Also getting votes: Reggie Jackson, Markieff Morris.


VIDEO: Manu Ginobili talks about the Spurs’ season and his play

Rookie of the Year

Michael Carter-Williams, Sixers — He was the sixth guard selected (11th overall) in 2013 and wasted no time showing he never should have lasted that long. He’s put up big numbers even as the Sixers have suffered through what is a historically inept season. If all of general manager Sam Hinkie’s decisions turn out so well, the pain will be worth the price. The fun could just be starting when MCW gets to team up with a healthy Nerlens Noel next season. It’s a long way back to the No. 2 man in the voting for this category, but we’re jumping the more likely pick and going with Tim Hardaway Jr. His hard-charging style has been one of the few reasons to watch the Knicks all year. Also getting votes: Victor Oladipo, Trey Burke. Kia Rookie Ladder


VIDEO: At the All-Star break, Michael Carter-Williams talks about his season

Defensive Player of the Year

Joakim Noah, Bulls — The Pacers spent the early part of the year polishing their reputation as the league’s top defensive team, with center Roy Hibbert starting to clear room on his mantle as the pre-eminent rim protector in the game. But it is no coincidence that the Pacers’ struggles fit with a slippage in Hibbert’s game. The truth is, when you get him just a little bit away from the basket, he’s not so dominant. Meanwhile the Bulls have shrugged off the loss of Derrick Rose and Luol Deng because Noah simply won’t let them stop working and scrapping and competing. He’s the heart and soul of the team, especially that ferocious defense as Chicago charges late and the Pacers try to regain their equilibrium. Also getting votes: Serge Ibaka, Dwight Howard.


VIDEO: Rachel Nichols talks with Joakim Noah about his surge in play of late

Coach of the Year

Gregg Popovich, Spurs — The first instinct is to say that Jeff Hornacek has taken a Suns team that everyone assumed was diving for the lottery — and the Las Vegas wise guys had pegged for 21.5 wins — and turned them into an uplifting story and playoff contender, and that’s worthy of consideration. The next instinct is to say that Tom Thibodeau is like the Black Knight in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, virtually getting limbs chopped off and yet ignoring the wounds and keeping right on with the fight. But when you get right down to the meat of things, it’s all about winning games and some how, some way, Popovich keeps doing that better than anybody else. Never mind that Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are practically senior citizens. Never mind that an assortment of injuries has forced the Spurs to use two dozen different lineups. Never mind all of those lingering mental scars from The Finals last June. Popovich expects the best and his team keeps producing it. Excellence should be recognized and rewarded. Also getting votes: Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, Steve Clifford.


VIDEO: GameTime delves into how deeply Gregg Popovich’s influence is felt around the NBA

Most Valuable Player

Kevin Durant, Thunder — It’s been a two-horse race between Durant and LeBron James almost from the opening tip. You can almost never go wrong picking James, who still reigns as the league’s best player with his ability. It looked like James might be making a late charge for an MVP three-peat with his 61 point game a couple of weeks ago. But an ensuing slump by both LeBron and the Heat took the steam out of that charge. Durant responded and has raised his game even higher over the past 1 1/2 weeks. We also have to go back to Durant’s body of work without Russell Westbrook for 30 games — and counting — as he keeps the Thunder in the hunt for best overall record and heads toward what should be the first of multiple MVP wins. Also getting votes: Joakim Noah, Blake Griffin. Kia Race to the MVP Ladder


VIDEO: Chris Webber and Greg Anthony debate and discuss the MVP race