Posts Tagged ‘Sixers’

It’s Never Too Early To Make A Move


VIDEO: Jameer Nelson talks about sharing the backcourt with Victor Oladipo

The season isn’t even a month old, but there are some places where things are clearly not working and it’s already time for a change. Here are a handful of names that could or should be on the move:

Omer Asik, Rockets — At this point, he should have a moving van at the front door and his luggage packed. It’s only a matter of time before last year’s flavor of the season gets his wish and a ticket out of Houston. Despite his workmanlike double-double consistency in 2012-13, there’s no faulting the Rockets for leaping at the chance to upgrade to Dwight Howard. The twin towers experiment didn’t work. Asik is unlikely to be happy playing just the spare minutes available as a backup and it only makes sense to get the kind of piece missing — rugged, bruising big man or stretch 4 — that can be a more comfortable fit at both ends of the floor. It also wouldn’t hurt to unload that $15 million due next season to Asik. There are any number of places that Asik could help right away. New York and New Orleans immediately come to mind. GM Daryl Morey is in no rush and will pull the trigger when he’s ready on the right deal.

Jameer Nelson, Magic — The handwriting has been on the wall since the Magic made Victor Oladipo the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft and promptly announced going into summer league play that he would get a run at point guard. That message might as well have been spray-painted in Day-Glo orange on Saturday night when coach Jacque Vaughn removed the veteran Nelson from a winnable game against Dallas and let the rookie run the offense all the way to the end of a 108-100 loss. Oladipo, as uncomfortable as he may often look at the point, is the future of the franchise along with all of the other young parts. In a season when the Magic don’t really expect to win many games, it only makes sense to move Nelson and make the full-time commitment to the rookie. The fact that the $8 million on Nelson’s contract next season is a team option will only make him easier to move for another future asset.

Danny Granger, Pacers — The fact that Granger has not yet come back from a calf injury more than three weeks into the season hasn’t stopped the Pacers from running out to their league-best 10-1 record, which matches the Spurs. In fact, it could mean that coach Frank Vogel will have to disrupt the humming of a well-oiled machine when he eventually has to find the minutes and shots that Granger will surely want when he’s back in the lineup. Can he really afford to give up a single possession by MVP candidate Paul George? Lance Stephenson has fit quite well into the starting lineup. The Pacers pushed the Heat to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals without Granger last spring. By moving his desirable expiring contract they could add another valuable piece to the bench.

Thaddeus Young, 76ers — The long, versatile forward does not shoot well from behind the 3-point line, but does so many other things that make him desirable and valuable on the court. Considering the fact that the Sixers are still several years away under GM Sam Hinkie’s total reconstruction program, it doesn’t make sense to keep Young around for another $19 million over the next two seasons. Hinkie would probably like to get rid of Evan Turner first, but Young is the player that other clubs are most interested in and could bring in return the kind of asset that Philly wants and needs for the future.

Anybody But DeMarcus Cousins, Ben McLemore, Kings — It might be time to set up the folding tables and the hand drawn price tags in the parking lot at Sleep Train Arena and hold a flea market to clean out the locker room. As Scott Howard-Cooper pointed out, the Kings have already benched Marcus Thornton, John Salmons and Patrick Patterson and are ready to make a full-time commitment to the future by sweeping the locker room clean. Cousins may have his own baggage, but he is putting up solid numbers of 21.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. Despite all of the optimism that the “saved in Sacramento” Kings brought into this season under new coach Michael Malone, losing seven of their first nine games delivered a heavy dose of reality.


VIDEO:
Danny Granger speaks on Nov. 13 about progress with injury

Money Can’t Buy Happiness (Or Wins)


VIDEO: A. Sherrod Blakely discusses Boston’s solid start to the season

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Fast starts by teams expected to struggle combined with awkwardly slow starts by teams expected to excel have turned the NBA standings upside-down.

Several of the league’s gold-plated outfits like the Nets, Knicks and Lakers are looking up at .500, while intentionally low-budget operations like the Suns and Sixers sit at or darn near the top of their respective divisions, at least here in the opening two weeks.

It’s all the more interesting when looking at this stage of the collective bargaining agreement. Ratified in December 2011, the CBA ushered in a new era of increased luxury tax penalties and the so-called repeater tax, deterrents designed to curb overspending and promote a level financial playing field across market sizes.

This is the third season under the new rules, but the first with the harsher luxury tax penalties in play — graduated tax hikes as opposed to the old dollar-for-dollar rate. We’ve seen numerous teams adjust how they spend to construct rosters that fall below the league’s luxury tax threshold ($71.7 million this season), to, one, avoid paying a tax and, two, to prevent the clock from starting on (or adding to) the repeater tax, which hammers a franchise with a hefty fine for crossing the luxury tax threshold in any four out of five seasons.

So this season we’re at something of a CBA crossroads. There are a handful of teams that have stripped their rosters to bare-bones salary levels (Sixers, Suns, Jazz) to clear out cap space for summer free-agent spending (and OK, maybe even better their chances for a high 2014 Draft pick). There are a few teams that are well into the luxury tax and are essentially locked there until large contracts expire (Lakers, Bulls, sort of the Knicks). And then there is the Brooklyn Nets, the one team that continues to pile on the payroll. Everybody else has pretty well adjusted and falls between the salary cap ($58.7 million) and the luxury tax threshold.

The Nets’ payroll is a stunning $102.2 million. It will ring up a tax bill around $85 million, a league record and larger than the total payroll of all but likely two teams — its own and its Big Apple neighbor, the Knicks ($87.9 million). The Suns’ payroll ranks 29th in the 30-team league at about $53 million, and the Sixers are last at about $40 million, actually well below the league’s minimum cap figure that was instituted in the CBA.

But as is often the case, it’s not always the highest rollers who finish first.

With that, let’s look at how the NBA conference standings (through Wednesday’s games) stack up — payroll vs. actual winning percentage (all team salaries are courtesy of ShamSports.com):

Rank East team payroll rank East team win pct. (through Nov. 13) West team payroll rank West team win pct. (through Nov. 13)
No. 1 Brooklyn Indiana L.A. Lakers San Antonio
No. 2 New York Miami L.A. Clippers Portland
No. 3 Miami Philadelphia Oklahoma City Oklahoma City
No. 4 Boston Atlanta Memphis L.A. Clippers
No. 5 Washington Charlotte Golden State Minnesota
No. 6 Toronto Chicago Denver Phoenix
No. 7 Toronto Toronto Dallas Golden State
No. 8 Indiana Boston Minnesota Dallas
No. 9 Detroit Orlando New Orleans Houston
No. 10 Cleveland New York Houston Denver
No. 11 Charlotte Cleveland Portland L.A. Lakers
No. 12 Orlando Detroit San Antonio Memphis
No. 13 Milwaukee Milwaukee Sacramento New Orleans
No. 14 Atlanta Brooklyn Utah Sacramento
No. 15 Philadelphia Washington Phoenix Utah

Never Too Soon For Snap Judgments


VIDEO: Sixers begin season with strong start

 

So what if we’ll have to skip the clocks ahead again before we even finish the long grind of the regular season? Does it really matter that it will take more than seven months for somebody to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy? It’s never too soon to leap to conclusions about what we know — or think we know — one week into the 2013-14 regular season.

Heat – Nobody this side of Miley Cyrus gets more scrutiny, criticism and hyperventilating overreaction than the two-time defending champs. LeBron James and Dwayne Wade already have to talk over the alarm bells, trying to put out the fires of two losses in their first three games. They still have the best player in the game, still have a more than capable No. 2 man if he stays healthy and still will be the team to beat when the playoffs begin in April. That won’t stop the sky from falling on nearly a weekly basis. But you still want to pick them for next June.

Clippers – So much for the closing down of Lob City by the new mayor Doc Rivers. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are still running free and easy with the top-rated offense in the league (119.5), but we’re going to have to see more out of DeAndre Jordan and that unicorn defense before we consider the Clips to be true playoff contenders in the West.

Derrick Rose — The Bulls’ star will be right behind the Heat with the Chicken Little crowd that will fret and worry and complain with every missed shot and turnover. He’ll have the most scrutinized repaired leg in the league until Kobe Bryant returns. The good news is that Rose hasn’t shown any ill effects from the knee surgery and it’s only a matter of time until he regains the stroke and the confidence that make him an MVP candidate and Chicago a threat to push Miami and Indiana in the playoffs.

Advantage Howard – The 2-2 Lakers might be saying they’re having fun without the 6-foot-11 distraction, but Dwight Howard is healthy and living up to all expectations in Houston as both an inside force (15 rebounds per game) and solid veteran presence in the Rockets locker room. No longer suffering from back and shoulder problems, Howard is playing joyfully and stress-free for the first time in three seasons. He’s been accepting of instruction from coach Kevin McHale, willing to move out to guard power forwards as part of the twin towers tandem experiment with Omer Asik, and has the Rockets on track to their stated goal of getting home-court advantage in the West playoffs, at the very least.

Lakers – If they were in a swimming pool, the Lakers would be wearing an orange life jacket and just trying to bob their heads above the water line. It’s a two-part season that’s B.K. and A.K. — Before Kobe and After Kobe – and things just don’t look good for the long haul with Steve Nash struggling badly and a bench that provides as much real support as a, well, bench.

Sixers – Other than LeBron and Wade declaring that they were taking the season off to visit an ashram to find inner peace, could there have been a more shocking start to the season than a 3-0 start in always sunny Philadelphia? Michael Carter-Williams, Eastern Conference Player of the Week, is the real deal. But the Warriors proved Monday that the Sixers will eventually settle down to their real level in the Andrew Wiggins Derby, especially after GM Sam Hinkie possibly parlays the quick starts by Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and maybe Thaddeus Young into deals for more draft picks.

Thunder – OK, everybody kicks five bucks into the pot and the winner is the person who picks the exact time — day, hour, minute and seconds — when some knucklehead rips Russell Westbrook for being the kind of bad/selfish teammate that will never help Kevin Durant win a championship. The truth is, since GM Sam Presti’s benevolent giveaway of James Harden to Houston, Westbrook is Durant’s only chance of getting back to The Finals. No more Memphis getting past half a Thunder team. No more avoiding the toughest challenge in the West, Spurs. Yes, Durant is OKC’s best player. But Westbrook, healthy and with a chip on his shoulder, is the hard edge on the court.

Wizards – How many times can we wait on the revamped Wizards to have that bust-out season that propels them back into the playoff picture in the East? John Wall is fine, Trevor Ariza is averaging a double-double, they have a healthy center in Marcin Gortat and yet Washington is still 0-3 with a defense that is simply dreadful. Coach Randy Wittman still leads the race for first coach fired.

Warriors – They’re like the magician that has your eyes glued to his pretty assistant in the skimpy outfit that is their high octane, high scoring offense, while coach Mark Jackson’s team really wants to pull rabbits out of their hats with a defense that will get in your face and get after it. Andre Iguodala couldn’t have been a better fit if he’d been sewn into the lineup by a British tailor.

Love Is All You Need – Well, it would certainly help to have Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic and the rest of the star-crossed Timberwolves remain ambulatory through the 82-game schedule. But if there were a Comeback Player of the Year Award for the first week of the season, it would have to go to Kevin Love, who’s been nothing short of a beast scoring and rebounding. This is why it was never rash to envision the Timberwolves Western Conference playoffs the past two seasons. If Love stays healthy, they make it even in a crowded race.

Nets – While losing two of their first three was seen as a sign of the apocalypse in Miami, that trendy, high-priced collection of talent in Brooklyn might be the real candidate for being oversold as championship contenders, a win over the Heat notwithstanding. It still remains to be seen if Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce can continue to produce like their old selves as they become older selves. In the end, it will all come down to whether Deron Williams can get himself back among the elite level of point guards. So far, the shot just isn’t falling.

Knicks – Like the buzz over Gangnam Style and Zero Dark Thirty, Carmelo Anthony and his friends are just so last year. In fact, since their blazing start out of the gate in 2012-13, the Knicks have been positively mediocre and there is no indication that things will change soon. They were laughably “all-in” for a championship run last season, came up way short and now the brightest news is Melo saying he’d like to retire as a Knick. Perfect. Looks like a lot of them already have.

Anthony Davis – The No. 1 pick from the 2012 draft has positively exploded with his growth in the league, almost doubling his scoring from 13.5 to 23.7 ppg, bumping rebounds up from 8.2 to 12.3 and blocks from 1.8 to 4.0. This the Davis who had everyone drooling over his potential at Kentucky and makes the Pelicans a fun stop when flipping channels on League Pass. Now, if only coach Monty Williams could find a way to put some zip into an offense that is only mediocre because they play at such a horridly slow pace in an up-tempo league.

Pacers — Let the Nets spend all the money, the Knicks suck up all the oxygen with talk of Melo’s free agent destination and the Bulls ride the frenzy around every peak and valley in Rose’s return. Meanwhile in the heartland, Paul George keeps getting better, Lance Stephenson keeps learning about consistency, coach Frank Vogel keeps cranking up the intensity on the league’s best defense and the Pacers happily keep playing in the shadows as the real top threat to Miami in the East.

 


VIDEO: The Beat crew talks about Westbrook’s swift return

Only Time Will Get Rose To Full Bloom

VIDEO: Derrick Rose talks about his long road back to the Bulls

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Can we finally get all those people who climbed on Derrick Rose’s back to play last spring to admit they were wrong, wrong, wrong?

This was the guy who was supposed to risk his MVP career on a surgically repaired left knee to go out and lift the Bulls up, up, up and over the Heat?

This guy who, six months later, has made 15 of his 52 shots (28.8 percent), turned the ball over 17 times, dealt just 13 assists and grabbed only 11 rebounds in three games? This guy who couldn’t keep up with rookie Michael Carter-Williams’ drives to the hoop?

The Bulls are now 1-2 after falling to the indomitable Sixers and, as noted by Nick Friedell of ESPNChicago, the All-Star is taking responsibility:

“If it was up to me, I would blame tonight on me,” Rose said after shooting 4-for-14 with eight turnovers in Philly. “Turnovers, missed shots, missed communication on defense — I just can’t wait to get in my groove. But I can’t hang my head; I know I’ve worked too hard for that, so it’s going to come.”

That’s just the point. The old Rose is going to come, eventually. Now some of those who were so foolishly prodding him to get back on the floor late last season when he did not yet have full confidence in his knee are complaining that Rose could have gotten the “rust knocked off” six months ago, and now would be in full bloom again.

It simply doesn’t work that way. Those who sit at home and watch on TV or even those who plunk down big money for the expensive seats have little understanding what it takes to overcome a major injury/surgery. Then, an Adrian Peterson pulls off a virtually unprecedented feat in the NFL last season and the bar is suddenly raised for everyone.

“Amnesia,” Rose said of his mindset, noting that the season is just three games old. “I have games like this. [I'm] coming off a big surgery or whatever, but all I can do is get the most out of every practice, every shootaround, every shooting session, and go out there and play, but it’s going to come to me.”

It is certainly admirable, and perhaps expected from what we know of his personality, that 35-year-old Kobe Bryant vows to push the limits of credulity and his body in getting back into the Lakers lineup sooner than most anyone thought possible. However, Kobe is Kobe and only time will tell if can live up to his own always high expectations.

Rose’s struggles now only prove that he made the right decision back then.

Vucevic Wears Scars Of Progress

Coaches are always looking for those signs of production that go deeper than stats in a box score. Scratches on the back. Black and blue marks on the shoulders. Welts on the chest or even the side of a face.

Nikola Vucevic probably couldn’t have looked more beat up if he were a crash test dummy, and that had Magic coach Jacque Vaughn grinning from ear to ear.

Vucevic blocks Howard

Vucevic blocks Howard (Bill Baptist/NBAE)

“I love it,” Vaughn said. “He has a bruise on his arm and under his eye a little bit, so that means he came to play. You should go home every night with some sort of scar, scab or Band-Aid to prove that you came to play. So he got a couple of bruises and I loved seeing it.

“He just has to understand that [physical play] is part of the game. Everyone understands that when you are a big there is more contact down low than there is up top, so accept that that’s the way it is and embrace it. Just do what you have to do to survive in this league and he’s learning to do that.”

As the Magic continue to shape and establish a roster that is full of solid, athletic, potentially explosive prospects at forward and guard, it is the development of Vucevic in the middle that will likely determine how fast Orlando returns to the playoff race.

The 22-year-old center has already shown in his first two NBA seasons that he has offensive moves around the basket and was a surprise last season as the league’s second-leading rebounder (11.9 per game). But there remained questions about his ability to defend the rim and not get outmuscled in the paint.

So it was nothing less than a revelation Wednesday to see Vucevic go toe to toe with the big man he’s replacing in Orlando, more than holding his own against Dwight Howard. He opened the night by blocking Howard’s shot in the low post on the Rockets’ first possession and then played aggressively by fronting and denying passes.

“You’ve got to do your job early against a guy like Dwight because he’s very physical,’’ Vucevic said. “If you let him catch it deep there’s not a lot that you can do. So I was trying to be as physical as I can be. I tried to make him catch it as far away as I could and my teammates did a great job of helping me on the backside when I was fronting him. I tried to limit him as much as I could and still help on the guards when they drove.’’

It was more than just limiting Howard to a 2-for-6 shooting night. It was the way that Vucevic never backed down from the rippling muscles of the would-be Superman.

“I am going to have to play physical against a player like Dwight, against all of the best big men in the league,” Vucevic said. “It is not trying to feel comfortable playing a physical style. It is just what I must do.”

The Magic, of course, have already received credit, though a year late, for getting the most out of the complex deal that sent Howard out of town. They are the only team that has any of the principals left from the trade — Howard gone from the Lakers, Andrew Bynum from the Sixers and Andre Iguodala from the Nuggets.

It figured that Orlando was getting a potential scoring piece on one wing in forward Maurice Harkless, but Vucevic was more of a question as someone who might give up on defense anything that he added offensively. In his first two seasons in the league, he had a tendency to avoid contact.

If that can change, so can the character of the young Magic. That’s why standing in and standing up to Howard was so important.

“It tells me I can go against the best players in this league,” Vucevic said “I think I held my own pretty well. I think I limited him pretty well. Obviously, it wasn’t easy. It took a lot of energy to do it, but it showed me that I can do it. I’ve got to keep building myself, keep going and keep working. When I go against the best guys, it’s only going to make me better.”

Those scars and bruises are signs of progress.

T-Mac Provided Sizzle, Little Substance

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HANG TIME, Texas —
When word spread that Tracy McGrady had announced his retirement, how many folks went straight to YouTube?

There were those 13 sizzling points in 35 sensational seconds that defined a career. Memorable and yet fleeting.

For 16 tantalizing NBA seasons, he was never the main event in the center ring under the big top when championships were to be decided, but always in a booth just outside on the carny midway — T-Mac next to the bearded lady.

Oh, there was never any doubting his ability to put the ball into the basket from any angle and from anyplace on the court. He was a deft and willing passer, could be a strong rebounder for a guard and could get after it defensively out on the wings.

Yet after all those years we’re left with a legacy that is lighter than cotton candy and with just as much substance.

While making the announcement on ESPN and looking back on his career, McGrady made the Hall of Fame case for himself that at one point in their careers there was debate about whether he or Kobe Bryant was the better player. And that is exactly the point, there came a fork in the road and their resumes went in distinctly different directions.

The price of admission to the Hall of Fame should not merely be the gaudy jewelry of a championship ring. But it should matter that a perennial All-Star performer, a franchise’s foundational player lifts his team up in the playoffs and, despite a scoring average that often increased in the playoffs, McGrady could not do that. Not in Orlando, not in Houston, where he had his chances.

Until he was a decorative ribbon on the Spurs’ machine as they marched to The Finals last spring, McGrady was the only NBA scoring champion (two times) to never advance past the first round of the playoffs.

For all of the improbable 3-point shots he made, high-rising slam dunks he threw down, thread-the-needle passes that he delivered right on the money, what McGrady could never do was close the deal. He was the front man of teams that blew 3-1 leads in Orlando and Houston and another pair of 2-0 leads with the Rockets.

“It’s all on me,” McGrady said prior to the 2007 series against the Jazz.

“It was never on me,” he said when the Rockets lost.

McGrady never understood how or what it meant to lead, even though he pretended to embrace the role.

It is not enough to say that, because another prolific scorer from another era — Walt Bellamy – was eventually voted into the Hall of Fame, McGrady should be, too. It would be wiser to see Bellamy’s inclusion as a mistake and move on.

Indeed, there were injuries to his back and knees. But there was an ugly end to McGrady’s tenure in Orlando when he sat out the end of a 21-61 season and the microfracture surgery that signaled the end of his relevance as a star or even as a starter in Houston came again with much recrimination and little remorse.

How very fitting then, for comparison’s sake, that McGrady’s retirement comes within days of Allen Iverson calling an end to his career. They entered the NBA a year apart and for nearly a decade they were the yin and the yang of the league for nearly a decade. Passion and passivity. Fire and ice.

Iverson was the rail-thin waif that seemed to be held together by pipe cleaners who threw himself into every game he ever played and constantly went crashing to the floor like grandma’s finest china, only to always pick up the pieces and come back even stronger. Iverson was voted MVP of the league in 2001 when he carried the Sixers to The Finals with an indomitable will. McGrady was cooler than an ice cube, but just as prone to melt.

The Hall of Fame should be a place for enduring greatness, a career masterpiece like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

We looked up at T-Mac like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Oooh, isn’t that pretty?

Good thing we’ll have those 13 points in 35 seconds on YouTube to remember him.

Iverson: The Uncomfortable Answer

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HANG TIME, Texas – He stood there at mid-court cradling the Most Valuable Player trophy and the transformation was complete.

Not quite a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, because Allen Iverson never would be described as something so light and delicate. But just as dramatic and, maybe, just as natural.

It was as jarring a sight that night at the 2001 NBA All-Star Game in Washington, D.C., perhaps, as seeing Mike Tyson in a set of tights with the Bolshoi Ballet or having the chiseled visage of Richard Nixon join the great ones high up on Mt. Rushmore.

Yet this was the way it had to be if his game, his league, his sport was to have continued hope to grow and flourish. For 14 seasons, people said Iverson was the changing face of the league — and that was not always meant in a good way.

But tattoos are only skin deep. Hairstyles change and grow, just like people.

The recent news that Iverson planned to announce his official retirement brought back a sudden rush of so many memories of the will-o’-the-wisp guard who broke ankles, broke protocol and broke the mold of what a little man could do.

He was Rookie of the Year (1997), MVP (2001), a four-time scoring champion, three-time steals leader, three-time All-NBA First Team member and twice was given the top prize at the All-Star Game. The first time, the award came for his performance in the nation’s capital when Iverson showed that behind the hip-hop persona of a modern player was an old-fashioned pro who simply lived and loved to compete.

The player whose reputation would a year later become eternally stamped by a rant about “Practice!?” was the ultimate gamer who brought the Eastern Conference from 21 points down in the fourth quarter of an exhibition game because, well, if you’re gonna play, you might as well try to win.

Iverson’s style was always far less an artistic display and much more a competitive exercise, as if there was something to prove. And there was. The guy who had been called “Me-Myself-and-Iverson” spent much of his career, as he’s spent most of his troubled life, listening to people doubt not only his motives, but what’s inside his heart.

He came into the league wearing tattoos and cornrows and bandanas and traveling with his posse. He put himself into the center of a storm with his caught-on-national-TV microphones slur about sexual preference to a heckling fan in Indiana.

Iverson was as far removed image-wise as one could get and still live on the same planet as two of the three players who preceded him in winning his first All-Star MVP trophy — the quietly purposeful Tim Duncan and the regal Michael Jordan.

He was the foam on the front of the new wave.

“I’m one of them,” Iverson said, “but I’m also me.”

For just over a decade that’s who the demanding, discriminating Philadelphia fans got to see: the fearless competitor, the tough nut that wouldn’t crack, the lump of coal that used the intense pressure to transform himself into a diamond.

A few months later, Iverson would willfully, sometimes it seemed singlehandedly, drag the Sixers to the NBA Finals and earn his due respect from the public at large. However, it was that game amid other All-Stars when he demonstrated to the masses what, behind the perception, was his reality.

In those flashing, brilliant final minutes when Iverson was everywhere on the floor, making steals, setting up fast breaks, scoring on twisting, jack-knifing drives, he could have been a player from any era, no different from Bob Cousy, Bob Pettit, Julius Erving, Willis Reed, Walt Frazier and the other greats who had been introduced to the crowd at halftime.

He looked and acted different, this new kid, like new kids always have. They make us uncomfortable, force us to look at things from a different perspective. But what it was about that day was showing that many things never change on the inside, no matter how they’re packaged. Competitors compete.

Sometimes the torch is passed and sometimes it is a wild spark that burns down the forest to make room for new growth.

He was never going to be Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain or Bill Russell. You were asking too much to replace that. They laid the foundation, established the game in the consciousness of a worldwide audience. They made it possible for the next generation to follow in their footsteps even if it meant never wearing their shoes.

The question, of course, is always: What comes next?

Allen Iverson was always The Answer, even when we didn’t know it yet.

Summer Dreaming: Comeback Player

HANG TIME, Texas – Officially, the NBA has not recognized a Comeback Player of the Year since the 1984-85 season.

But these are the dog days of August, this is just an exercise in summer daydreaming and that means, well, we can pretty much do whatever we want.

Besides, it’s so rare that we have so many big name players on the mend, several with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove.

So grab a seat in the shade and let’s run my top candidates for a make-believer honor — the 2013-14 Comeback Player of the Year:

Kobe Bryant, Lakers – Yes, it’s still all speculation at this point, and even Bryant has said that he’s not sure he’ll be ready yet for opening night. But if, at 35, he somehow gets back onto the court less than a year after tearing his Achilles’ tendon and manages to come close to being the beast of his former self, Kobe will have eclipsed Adrian Peterson as a modern medical marvel and raised his already considerable legacy way past Michael Jordan‘s “flu game.”

Dwight Howard, Rockets – Can a guy who averaged 17.1 points and led the league in rebounding (12.4 rpg) last season really be considered a comeback candidate? He can if he’s this guy, who could only have taken more abuse if he’d played every game with a “Kick Me” sign taped to the back of his jersey. A return from back surgery and an in-season shoulder injury contributed to Howard’s lost season in L.A. A healthy and happy season in Houston could produce fireworks.

Derrick Rose, Bulls – He hasn’t played in an NBA game since April 28, 2012 and he may not return immediately to his old MVP form on opening night. But there are reasons to expect that Rose will want to use this season to make a loud statement about himself as a competitor and warrior. First of all, he is both of those things. Second, he heard all the sideline critics complain that he was soft or afraid or something less than a team player by not returning at the end of last season. If anyone has a point to prove about who he is, it’s Rose.

Kevin Love, Timberwolves – Flip the calendar back 12 months and there was so much for Love to anticipate in the year ahead, especially coming off his success at the World Championship. Not the broken right hand in training camp. Not breaking it again in January. Not the surgery on his left knee that ended any chance of a late return. Love averaged 18.3 points and 14 rebounds in the 18 games he played. Teammates Ricky Rubio, Nikola Pekovic, Andrei Kirilenko, Brandon Roy and Chase Budinger all suffered injuries in a lost season for the Wolves. Now it’s Love who’s champing at the bit to lead the comeback that could get Minnesota into the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Rajon Rondo, Celtics – When he gets back out onto the court, should we start calling him “Domino?” After all, think of all the dominoes that fell after he tore his ACL and had to be shut down for the season in January? That’s the way former teammate Paul Pierce views it. Rondo’s injury ended the Celtics’ real hopes of being playoff contenders or at least spoilers. Rondo’s injury likely led to the trading of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets. Rondo’s injury led to coach Doc Rivers wanting out of a rebuilding project. Rondo’s injury brought rookie coach Brad Stevens to Boston. Now Rondo gets to be the big dog who runs his own show and there’s no doubt he’ll bark loud.

Danny Granger, Pacers – On a team that already pushed the Heat to a seventh game in the Eastern Conference finals and is feeling more confident from the experience, how much of a boost could they get if the former All-Star forward can return to form? Granger played only five games last season after having surgery for patellar tendinosis. He said he expects to be back in the starting lineup. But even if he winds up coming off the bench, a Pacers team that sometimes had trouble putting points on the board will welcome the help.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder – Sure, it happened in the playoffs. Sure, he had never missed a single game in his NBA career until that night when he had the run-in with the Rockets’ Patrick Beverley. That doesn’t make it any less significant. The loss of Westbrook ended any real hope of the Thunder getting back to The Finals and maybe it quieted some of the carping complainers who love nothing more than to pick at the flaws in his game. Will the torn meniscus slow down any of his freakishly physical play or seemingly superhuman sorties to the rim? Doubt it.

Anderson Varejao, Cavaliers — With all the attention focused on free agent Andrew Bynum and No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennett, the return of Varejao to the Cleveland lineup could be just as critical at making a run at the playoffs. The 30-year-old was averaging career highs of 14.1 points and 14.4 rebounds in 25 games last season before tearing a quadriceps muscle in January and then requiring further surgery when a blood clot developed in his lung. Coach Mike Brown says the perpetual motion machine might start at power forward and that could get him back to making a run at his first All-Star berth.

Andrew Bynum, Cavaliers – If any player ever needed a comeback, it’s the big man who was a key part in the four-team trade between the Lakers, Magic, Nuggets and Sixers in the summer of 2012. Those chronic knee problems that had always made his future a big question mark in L.A. kept him on the sidelines but not out of the limelight all last season in Philly. He showed off flashy hairstyles. He went bowling. He just didn’t play. Now that Jan. 7 cutoff date to be on the Cavs roster that guarantees the other half of this season’s $12.25 million contract should be some real motivation.

PREVIOUSLY: MVP | Coach of the Year | Sixth Man of the Year | Defensive Player of Year | Most Improved Player | Rookie Of Year

Brown And The Sixers A Good Fit

HANG TIME, Texas – So it looks like the 76ers will not go into the Oct. 30 season opener against the Heat without a head coach.

The job belongs to Brett Brown, assuming he accepts the offer, and the process of repairing one of the NBA’s most moribund franchises can continue.

It’s a move that should have happened a long time ago and, no, I’m not talking about the past three months since Sam Hinkie took over as general manager. I know all about the impatience of Philadelphians. I am one. Which is why I’m so perplexed about the furor over Hinkie taking his time in the dead of summer to finally get this right rather than an uproar over the past two decades as the Sixers have replaced one Band-Aid with another.

Let’s face it. Even the Allen Iverson Era was ephemeral, since any endeavor involving Larry Brown has the lifespan of a moth.

The hiring of the 52-year-old assistant from San Antonio would be the next step in the kind of sweep-it-all-clean maneuvering that should have taken place in the organization a long time ago instead of the Sixers peripatetic wanderings through the want-ads.

Hinkie has plainly said — though few seemed to listen — that his focus was on a future of two to five years, not beating LeBron and the Heat in less than three months. That’s why he was willing to trade away the team’s best player and All-Star Jrue Holiday and put his faith on Nerlens Noel eventually becoming the No. 1 draft pick talent that was once projected. That’s why the new GM is willing to suffer through a miserable 2013-14 season, and maybe even the next, in order to establish a solid foundation that will serve the team down the line. Hinkie is confident, decisive and forward thinking.

Brown fits into the model with a resume that includes more than a decade of working inside the most consistently successful franchise of the past 14 years and working under Gregg Popovich, the best coach in the league.

After starting out in the operations department in San Antonio, Brown became the director of player development in 2002 and worked extensively with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker as they made the successful transition from the international game into NBA All-Stars. Hinkie, too, has an eye on international talent and would have a coach who is simpatico. The presence of Noel and young point guard Michael Carter-Williams could also take advantage of the teaching abilities of Brown, who also has long experience as the head coach of the Australian national team.

While there might be those who are urging Brown to turn down the Sixers because Philly has been a coaching graveyard and a merry-go-round of old friends and tired names with local ties, there is a better chance that it’s exactly the kind of opportunity that a first-time coach would crave, an opportunity to build from the ground up.

With Mike Budenholzer gone to the Hawks, there is a school of thought that Brown could remain in San Antonio and wait for Popovich to retire, then take over. After all, Popovich has said often through the years that he’ll walk out the door with Tim Duncan, who has two years left on his contract. However, the fact that Brown was willing to previously interview for the Nuggets job might indicate that Pop plans to stay on and usher in the next era with the Spurs. And at that point, are the Spurs any different from the Sixers right now, searching for new blood and new direction?

More than that, you simply don’t tick off years on the calendar waiting for things that might happen. You find a job that is a right fit at the right time and you go for it.

It might have taken a few months longer than some would have liked for Hinkie and Brown to come together. Or it could be the exactly the right kind of marriage that’s been years overdue in Philly.

Can Lakers Go California Dream Teaming?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Imagine it’s June 2014 and the Heat have managed to duck enough times to survive another championship parade with all of their heads still attached.

There’s a posh meeting room inside a swank Beverly Hills hotel and the heavily muscled security guard keeps stepping aside and opening the door for the guests who arrive one at a time.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

When they’ve settled into luxurious leather chairs and opened bottles of overpriced imported sparkling water, an NBA general manager arrives and points to a blank yellow legal pad in the middle of the conference table and five pencils.

“You guys divide it up anyway you want,” says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

The Lakers are back. Instant Dream Team.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that easy. Or maybe it is. After all, to paraphrase Chevy Chase from a long time ago, they’re the Lakers and you’re not. And always will be.

Having salary cap space in Milwaukee, Charlotte, Salt Lake City or maybe a dozen other places in the NBA is just that — space. In L.A. it’s a magnet.

Walk the sidelines and the hallways of the Amway Center as the rookies and long shots of the Orlando Pro Summer League pour their perspiration all over the practice court, and the consensus is that even in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure, the return to prominence of the league’s most glamorous franchise is no sweat.

“Don’t even think about them going into a long period of losing or mediocrity,” said one NBA general manager.

“For other teams losing Dwight would be a crippling blow,” said another. “They’d have to retrench, rethink their position and go into a long-term rebuilding plan.”

That’s the Celtics, where boss Danny Ainge decided to move on from the era of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and brought in 36-year-old Brad Stevens as coach/midwife for a new incarnation.

The Sixers new GM Sam Hinkie is stripping his roster down to the bone by trading All-Star Jrue Holiday and letting Andrew Bynum walk. It will be at least a couple of years before the plan bears fruit.

The Jazz and GM Dennis Lindsey have made no secret that the payoff is over the horizon as they enter a season where youth will be served from the menu no matter how difficult it might be to swallow at times.

“You don’t do that if you’re the Lakers,” said yet another GM, “because you don’t have to. OK, everybody has to take a deep breath for next season, but then they’re right back in it in a year. And if you don’t think they can think big, big and bigger, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

Who thought Miami was going to be able to reel in all of James, Wade and Bosh in 2010?

Why would LeBron even give a thought to teaming up with Kobe? Because it would actually add to his legacy to resurrect the Lakers and to be clearly defined as the lead horse pulling the wagon.

Why would Kobe consider it? One word: rings. Especially after spending a difficult season literally getting his legs back under him following the torn Achilles’ tendon and having the Clippers’ glare becoming blinding and annoying.

Wade? Anthony? Bosh? Didn’t those gold medals glitter just as bright from the Olympic experiences?

All five of them could even wear their old Team USA jerseys.

Let everyone else plot and scheme and draw up their recruiting pitches for the free agent lollapalooza of next summer.

All Kupchak and the Lakers need is an empty room and a legal pad.

“You guys divide it up anyway you want.”