So… what exactly are the Sixers?

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From SBNation’s excellent Sixers’ blog Liberty Ballers (pardon the extensive blockquote, but I need it for context):

Denver, Atlanta, Miami. That was the “tough stretch” Jordan wrote about early last week. Finally, after 13 games where the opponents winning percentage was a lowly .371, they’d play some actual competition. Now, we’d find out if this team really had some marbles or if they were pulling the wool over our eyes with deceiving teaminess. 79% of you voted that they would win at least two of those three games.

Well, you know what happened. A crushing overtime loss to Denver at the spiteful hands of Andre Miller kicked it off. Next, the the Hawks came to town and it looked like they were going to upend the Sixers as well before a second half hurricane came through and blew Atlanta out of the water. And then last night, in what was the toughest game scheduled, a road game in Miami on the second night of a back-to-back, the defense couldn’t stop LeBron James and Chris Bosh, allowing them to pull away late in the third due to coaching miscues and frontcourt abandonment.

So where do we stand now? At 11-5, they have a commanding lead over the Atlantic, that much is certain. And with the 2nd place Knicks dealing with injuries and chemistry issues, a 5-game lead this early lets them breathe a little bit. But in terms of their place in the East come playoff time, have you gotten any indication that they could beat any of the better teams? Or does the record speak for itself and they’re still legit? I’m just interested in what you think, considering that the only two teams over .500 the Sixers have beaten are the Al Horford-less Hawks and the Danny Granger-less Pacers. The next best team they defeated is the 6-9 Suns. Just something to think on…

via Re-Assessing the Sixers After The Three Game Test – Liberty Ballers.

When you follow the league to the extent many of us do, that is, to a borderline-obsessive, even-beat-writers-think-we-should-get-a-life extent, you tend to get irritated with this idea that the end results tend to validate the preconceived notions.

To wit, the Philadelphia 76ers were considered a mediocre team before the start of the season, losses to top teams proved that they are such despite their record, and an inevitable first or second-round elimination will cement that as their identity. Except the Sixers aren’t a mediocre team. They’re a very good team that lost to the hottest team in the West outside of OKC (the Nuggets just went 4-0 in a four-games-in-five-night road trip with injuries,which is insane), and arguably the best team in the league. Furthermore, you watch enough 20-point losses, you learn which feel like 20-point losses and which don’t. The Sixers hung with the Heat. They made some plays. The Heat simply overpowered them because when the Heat are engaged, and not doing… whatever they were doing on that three-game road trip… they are nigh on unstoppable.

The Sixers are extremely well coached this season. And while it’s a virtual lock that Philadelphia’s bench unit will not continue their insane pace, they still have exceptional depth. Andre Iguodala took six shots against the Heat. For comparison, Joel Anthony took nine Saturday night. This isn’t to say the Sixers are as good as the Heat. They aren’t. They’re going to lose in the second round to either Chicago or Miami in all likelihood. But the Sixers’ lack of consistent competition creates a significantly small sample size, and we shouldn’t toss out their superb play against weak teams, because some of the best teams struggle with poor teams. Consistency is the mark of real value in this league, and the Sixers have been strikingly consistent. Their effort level doesn’t fluctuate game-to-game, half-to-half, quarter to quarter. They’re committed to one another, have balance, speed, depth and youth.

You can write the obituary for the Sixers now, barring one of the most miraculous runs in NBA history, but that doesn’t mean that the shotgun, first-glance perceptions we had in preseason reveal the identity of this team.

You have to watch Philadelphia to understand Philadelphia.

 

Report: Rockets becoming “increasingly serious threat” to sign Chris Paul

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The Houston Rockets are one of only a handful of teams in the NBA with a legitimate ability to add a couple of key pieces and try to make a run at the Golden State Warriors.

Chris Paul would be that kind of piece, and the Rockets are ramping up efforts to land him.

From Marc Stein of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets have emerged as an increasingly serious threat in the chase for soon-to-be free agent Chris Paul, according to league sources.

The Rockets still have work to do in terms of clearing sufficient salary-cap space to make a representative offer for Paul, but sources told ESPN that Houston star James Harden has been advocating hard in favor of the Paul pursuit and has made his interest in teaming with the Los Angeles Clippers’ point guard known directly to Paul.

Sources say Houston also remains at the heart of the trade hunt to acquire Paul George from the Indiana Pacers, despite the fact George is only under contract through next season and is known to be angling to sign with his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in July 2018.

The challenge in all of this is the Rockets have just about $10 million in cap space this summer, which is about a third of what it will take to land Chris Paul. That means they need to trade Ryan Anderson and his $19.6 million owed next season and take no salary back, and while there are a few teams in a position to be able to take on that salary — Philadephia, Brooklyn, Sacramento and others — they are going to want a young player or first-round pick as a sweetener. The Rockets also are considering moving Lou Williams and his $7 million salary, or Patrick Beverley and his $5.5 million. However, even moving both of the later two is not getting near the salary Paul will demand.

Chris Paul met with the Clippers front office on Tuesday to talk about the future, but he’s expected to meet with a number of teams in free agency, with the Rockets and Spurs being key suitors. The question is, will any of these teams bring him closer to toppling the Golden State Warriors, and is it worth it to take less money for that chance? Especially after he got the CBA changed so that as of July 1 the “over 36” rule becomes the “over 38 rule” so the Clippers can give him one more five-year max contract.

How much will Dion Waiters earn as a free agent?

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Dion Waiters had the best season of his career last year at age 25 in Miami. The Heat pushed Waiters to get in the best shape of his life (just check out his Instagram), and combine that with the fact that Justise Winslow went down Waiters got the ball in his hands more with a chance to create for himself, and you had a little rush of scoring. He’s still not the most efficient player ever (to be kind), but he’s close to average.

Waiters opted out of his $3.2 million he is owed next season, and he is now a free agent. How much is he will he get now on the open market? Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald wrote this:

One scout said he would be surprised if the bidding for Waiters soars much above $10 million, if that, because of his small sample size of high-level play this past season. One prominent agent who does not represent Waiters predicted he would get $8 million to $10 million annually.

That number seems about right, if it’s a two-year deal (or a team option on the third year). The league average salary will be around $8.5 million, and that’s where Waiters should fall next year.

Whether Miami has that money to spend comes down to whether they land a big free agent such as Gordon Hayward or Blake Griffin (both max guys). If so, the Heat will not have the money, and what they do have would be more focused on keeping James Johnson. However, if the Heat strike out then Waiters could be back in Miami.

One way or another Waiters is going to get a raise. That doesn’t mean teams are not still leery.

Report: Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose

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Were they watching the games last year?

Derrick Rose put up decent numbers last year — 18 points per game, PER of 17, true shooting percentage of 53 — but was a mess defensively and does not fit in the triangle offense. He’s a decent point guard now, a replacement level player who can help in the right system.

Since the Knicks point guard rotation right now consists of rookie Frank Ntilikina plus whoever the team signs this summer, turns out Rose is not out of the picture, reports Ian Begley of ESPN.

The New York Knicks have “legitimate” interest in re-signing Derrick Rose, league sources familiar with the matter said….

The Knicks’ interest in the point guard is dependent on several factors, including his health and his asking price. When asked last week about New York potentially re-signing Rose, team president Phil Jackson said “we’re listening.”

Money will be the key — it’s not going to be anywhere near the $21.3 million Rose made last season. No team is going to offer that.

Can the Knicks get him for less than $10 million? Will another team come in and offer $12 million or more for him? The market for point guards this summer is going to be interesting because after the big name on the free-agent market — Chris Paul (we’re not counting Stephen Curry, he’s not leaving) — there are some quality players out there that can help teams such as Kyle Lowry, Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Patty Mills, Jeff Teague and Shaun Livingston. There aren’t that many teams with money to really spend on free agent point guards, so while a couple (Holiday, maybe Lowry) re-sign with their old teams there are a number of guys who may find the market softer than they expected. Rose is among them.

And that’s where the Knicks come in. Rose is far from a perfect fit, but if the soft market drives his price down closer to the midlevel ($8.4 million) or just above, that may be worth it for the Knicks for a year while they try to develop the rookie.

Report: Russell Westbrook may sign “designated player” extension with Thunder on July 1

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Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP, coming off a historic season where he averaged a triple-double.

Westbrook also could see a massive pay raise this summer. Yes, you remember correctly that Westbrook signed one last summer after Kevin Durant left, but the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that kicks in July 1 grandfathered him (and James Harden, who also signed an extension last summer) in to get the “designated veteran” max contract. That would start at about $34.7 million (if the cap is at $99 million as expected) and go up from there.

Thunder management’s first call at midnight July 1 will be to Westbrook to offer the deal, and he may well take it reports Royce Young of ESPN.

Those close to Westbrook fully expect him to take the Thunder’s offer, quite possibly at 12:01 a.m., and stabilize the franchise and present a clear road map. Westbrook signed an extension last summer and invoked the word “loyalty” for a reason. He wanted to make a statement — a public declaration — and take on the burden of leading the franchise forward.

He likes the existing roster and has a close relationship and confidence in Presti and Weaver. He has built a strong bond with head coach Billy Donovan. He knew what he signed for and, with the Thunder coming off a successful first post-Durant season and with pieces in place to improve the team, there are a lot of reasons to commit again.

If Westbrook signs this, the Thunder can get on with the business of improving this roster — which will be next to impossible. The Thunder are capped out and have to re-sign restricted free agent Andre Roberson. Sam Presti is a smart man, but his hands are mostly tied due to some of the big contracts on the roster (ones that would have been no issue if Kevin Durant had stayed). The Thunder will make moves around the edges, but it’s going to take time to do anything substantial.

If Westbrook doesn’t sign this, more than just red flags will go up in OKC — this will be sirens and flashing red lights. The Thunder will be forced to think about trading Westbrook, or finding a way to keep him happy and in house. They will basically be right back to where they were last summer.

If Westbrook signs it — and he likely will, that’s a lot of money to leave on the table — it at least gives the Thunder a clear direction. Which is about all they can hope for this summer.