NBA Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

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Today begins PBT’s team-by-team season preview, going through all 30 squads. We are starting in the deep Atlantic Division that could well send four teams to the playoffs, and we will move West from there. First up, your Philadelphia 76ers.

Last season: They were a slightly better than .500 team (35-31) that played great defense but struggled to score consistently. Their record got them the 8 seed in the east and they were doomed to another early first round exit until Derrick Rose blew out his ACL. With that gift they got past Chicago and pushed Boston to 7 games in the second round.

Key Departures: After years of rumors, the Sixers finally did trade Andre Iguodala, finding their way into the four-team Dwight Howard trade. As part of that trade, they did nave to give up Nikola Vucevic, who the franchise liked. They also amnestied Elton Brand, who played pretty well for them but was not worth the cost. Jodie Meeks took his outside shooting to L.A.

Key Additions: They added the second best center in the NBA in Andrew Bynum as part of the Howard/Iguodala trade, radically reshaping the roster and setting up some fun Bynum/Roy Hibbert battles in the coming seasons. They also added Jason Richardson and Nick Young to provide scoring at the two spot. They also added Dorrell Wright and No. 27 overall pick Arnett Moultrie.

Plus, this year the Sixers fans get to become the group that tries to convince themselves Kwame Brown can really help them if they just use him in the right situations. It’s a study in cognitive dissonance.

Three keys to Sixers season:

1) Andrew Bynum grows to handle the pressure of being the franchise guy. There is no doubt Bynum is talented and has been blessed with a body few in the NBA can deal with on the block (even if it is a bit fragile at times). In Los Angeles, he wanted a bigger role and was vocal about it while still being a good teammate most of the time. He is bright, he is thoughtful. But now he does not have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol drawing the attention of defenders on the court and the media off it. This is his team, his spotlight. It is what he wanted.

Bynum is going to have to be the anchor on defense — he is going to have to be more active on the high pick-and-roll, his rotations will need to be consistently sharp not spotty. On offense, he’s going to have to recognize and pick apart teams when the double-team comes, and do it quickly. There is more, but the fact is Bynum can do all those things, he just hasn’t had to in the past for his team to have a shot at winning every given night. Now he does. There can’t be the lapses of effort when he doesn’t get involved early, there can’t be the moments of immaturity. It’s on him to step up. He can, but he has to prove it now. It’s that simple.

2) Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner need to take the next step. Together. The Philadelphia 76ers have potentially two of the best young perimeter players in the NBA. Holiday has been a good point guard — able to run the offense, set guys up — but needs his shot to finish better in the lane (he shot just 53.6 percent inside the restricted area and 37 from 3-9 feet) and maybe not take as many long two pointers (although he shot 40 percent on those). This is a contract year for Holiday, he needs to make a leap forward to really get paid.

Evan Turner’s showed flashes of looking like the No. 2 overall pick as the season wore on — he had solid rebound numbers and he moved the ball well. But he got outclassed in the playoffs, he’s got to hit threes at better than a 22.4 percent clip, he’s got to be consistent.

Turner had Iguodala and Meeks out taking shots and making plays on the wing, now they are gone and it is his job. He will start at the three and play some backup point, coach Doug Collins has said. The table has been set for him to make the leap, it is up to him.

3) Their defense cannot slip much. Last season the Sixers had the third best defense in the NBA, allowing just 96.6 points per 100 possessions (only Chicago and Boston were better). That is why they made the playoffs at all. With Andrew Bynum as a focal point in the post and growth from Turner and Holiday (plus Nick Young in the Lou Williams gunner off the bench role) we are expecting more from them on offense. But if the Sixers want to really take a step forward they need to still be a top 5 defensive team. Which is not going to be easy with the loss of Iguodala, one of the best perimeter defenders in the game today.

Andrew Bynum will help being a big presence in the paint (again, see point No. 1 about consistency) but guys on the perimeter have to step up and the team defense has to be there. If the offense gets better but the defense sags there will not be much improvement.

What one thing should scare Sixers fans? Andrew Bynum not re-signing with the team after this season. But, it shouldn’t scare them that much, I think he will. (He is not going to sign an extension, under the new CBA it makes far more financial sense for him to become a free agent then re-sign with a team, as Deron Williams did in Brooklyn.)

Bynum wanted to be the focal point of a major franchise, he is now. His ego will get fed and he’s closer to home (he grew up in New Jersey). Bynum is also a financially motivated guy and the Sixers max deal offered next summer will be one year longer and have larger raises than anyone else. But it is possible for this year to go sour, for the fans and tabloids to turn on Bynum and for him to decide he wants out as a free agent. If that happens, the Sixers essentially will have gotten nothing for Iguodala. It’s a concern, but not a huge one.

How it likely works out: After the Miami Heat in the East things are pretty fluid and a number of teams think they can be the two seed — Indiana, Boston, New York, Brooklyn. And you can put Philadelphia in that mix.

The question is, how much better are they now than the slightly above .500 team of last season? Is Bynum in the middle that much better than Iguodala on the wing (and Lou Williams off the bench). Can their defense hold while all their players take the steps forward expected of them?

I’m not convinced the Sixers are dramatically better short term, but I like what Philly did. Standing pat they might have improved to a six seed (probably 7-8) and would get bounced in the first round. Now there is a real chance for a Holiday/Evans/Bynum core to be very good and grow together over a few years.

I like the idea of going big with Bynum at the five and Spencer Hawes starting at the four in a conference where powers Boston and Miami are going small. Last year the Sixers were far, far to much of a jump shooting team that never got to the free throw line. Bynum will change that, he will score in the paint and draw fouls.

But I’m not convinced the success is instant or as strong as some in Philly expect. Bynum must adjust to his role and move the ball — the Sixers got off to a fast start last season in part because Spencer Hawes did a great job as a fulcrum moving the ball from the strong to weak side quickly. When Hawes got injured, they started to struggle. Now it’s on Bynum to do that job and it’s an adjustment.

Teams that expect a lot of guys to step up in the same year tend to have more fits and starts than a smooth, fast ride to the top.

I like what Philadelphia is doing, they are certainly a playoff team in the East and one that should have a goal of having their first-round series start at home. But I have a feeling their best years are two or three down the line, not this season.

Prediction: 47-35, which could be a four to six seed in the east. They are a team to watch, a team that might well be much better in April and May than November as they grow together. Last year they got out of the first round of the playoffs because of a fluke, if they get to the second round next season it’s because they are that good. And getting better.

Can Stephen Curry shoot the ball into the sun roof of a car? Did you even need to ask?

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Stephen Curry has been getting up buckets the past week, working on his game. Sort of. It’s been a bit unconventional.

First, he finished off an alley-oop pass from Tony Romo on the American Century golf course in Lake Tahoe.

Then on Thursday he was filming an Infinity car commercial and had to shoot one into the sun roof from what looks to be 15-20 feet away. He drains it.

Of course he made that, he’s basically the Meadowlark Lemon of a new generation, but without the hook shot.

Celtics sign 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele

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When you think of the best-run organizations in the NBA — think Spurs or Warriors right now — they not only have elite players helping them win now, but also have a couple of roster spots for younger players they are trying to develop.

The Boston Celtics are trying to be that kind of franchise, and the signing Thursday of Guerschon Yabusele fits that trend.

Boston took Yabusele with the No. 16 pick in the 2016 draft, which means he is on the rookie scale and at least the first two years are guaranteed.

Yabusele is an explosive but very raw 6’8” power forward out of France who the Celtics had get a year of seasoning in the Chinese Basketball Association. He’s a project and may not be able to contribute this season to the Celtics, but he’s got the athletic potential to at least be a rotation player in the league. That the Celtics signed him means they must think that potential is real. He didn’t play at Summer League because he is coming off surgery to remove bone spurs from his foot.

Interestingly, with the Celtics’ signings of Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis in the last 24 hours, Boston now has 16 guaranteed contracts on the roster. They can only go into the season with 15 players on the roster (plus two two-way contracts, but we’re not talking about those deals). Someone is going to be cut and be paid not to play this year, or be traded.

One year after attempted murder charge dropped, Eric Grifin signs two-way deal with Jazz

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — One year after having an attempted-murder charge against him dropped, Eric Griffin signed a two-way contract with the Utah Jazz.

Griffin was a member of the Jazz during NBA summer leagues in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. He averaged 10.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in Vegas.

The 6-foot-8, 205-pound center/forward played for Hapoel Galil Gilboa in the Israeli Basketball Premier League last season, averaging 14.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.

This is the first time the Jazz have used the two-way contracts implemented by the NBA for the upcoming season.

Teams can sign two players to these deals in addition to the 15-man roster. The contracts allow NBA teams to better compensate Gatorade League players expected to spend time with the big league team. Griffin can spend up to 45 days in the NBA.

Warriors fans will need to buy “memberships” to then pay for season seats in new arena

Image courtesy Golden State Warriors
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Going to NBA games — particularly playoffs and NBA Finals games — at Oracle Arena in Oakland is a joy because it is loud and filled with exuberance and love of the sport. It feels more like a college atmosphere (with beer) than it does the more staid feel of many modern NBA arenas. I hope the Warriors don’t lose that when they move into their new arena in San Francisco in the fall of 2019.

What I do know: It’s going to cost some serious bank just to have the right to buy season seats in the new building.

The Warriors are making teams buy “memberships” for the right to buy season tickets — just don’t call them “personal seat licenses.” The San Francisco Chronicle has the details.

The team is calling it a “membership” program, and it will require season-ticket buyers to pay a one-time fee that will enable them to buy their seats for 30 years. In a unique twist yet to be used in any pro sport, the Warriors promise to pay back that fee after 30 years.

Golden State’s ticket plan represents the latest evolution of a business trend that has deep roots here in the Bay Area, where Al Davis and the Raiders were pioneers in selling “personal seat licenses,” and where both the Giants and the 49ers used similar strategies to help finance their new stadiums. The twist the Warriors are stressing is that, unlike PSLs, which required a one-time cost allowing a customer to buy season tickets every year, this plan involves a refund at the end.

How exactly does this work?

If you want to own Warriors season tickets, you would pay a one-time fee for the right to purchase your seats every year for the next 30 years. You can do that in one lump sum, or finance the payments. That’s a big commitment, but the team says memberships will be transferable and can be sold, but only through a marketplace run by the team.

How much are they? The Warriors say about half the memberships will be less than $15,000, the other half scale up from there.

In the Bay Area, there was zero chance the Warriors would be able to get public funding to help them build this new $1 billion arena (as it should be everywhere, but that’s another rant for another time). This is the Warriors’ way to essentially get an interest-free loan to help pay for part of that arena. This is not a plan that will work in every market, but with the money available in San Francisco they can pull it off.

This arena is going to generate a lot of new revenue for the team outside of just this membership fee, and those fattened revenue streams are something Warriors ownership is counting on to help them keep the best — and soon to be the most expensive — team in the NBA together.