Adam Silver defends Sixers rebuilding strategy, but admits perception of tanking is an issue

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BOSTON — Stan Van Gundy had plenty to say as part of the basketball analytics panel at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics conference on Friday, and a portion of his comments took a shot at the NBA’s current draft system, which seems to be incentivizing teams to lose games.

The draft lottery and the subject of tanking were topics that came up repeatedly during the two-day event, and Van Gundy made it clear that whatever was going on this season in Philadelphia wasn’t, in his opinion, intended to win as many games as possible.

“Not what Philadelphia is doing right now, which is embarrassing,” Van Gundy said. “I don’t care, Adam Silver can say there’s no tanking or what’s going on — if you’re putting that roster on the floor, you’re doing everything you can possibly do to try to lose.”

Former Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo actually admitted to trying to tank a couple of seasons ago, but he didn’t get the desired results.

“Admittedly, I will say, I tried to tank a couple years ago,” Colangelo said. “And I didn’t ‘come out and say, ‘Coach, you’ve got to lose games.’ I never said that. I wanted to have him establish a winning tradition and a culture and all of that, but I wanted to do it in the framework of playing and developing young players, and with that comes losing. There’s just no way to avoid that, but I never once said, ‘You’ve got to lose this game.’ “

And this is where Commissioner Silver’s definition of tanking seems to be different than the one the rest of us ascribe.

Silver appeared at the conference on Saturday afternoon, before heading to Philadelphia for Allen Iverson’s retirement ceremony later that night. While he chooses to label what the Sixers are doing as rebuilding rather than tanking, he did admit that as long as the public perception is there that this is going on, then the league needs to continue to keep an open mind as far as making changes to the process.

“I don’t agree with Coach Van Gundy at all,” Silver said, via CSNPhilly.com. “It is an insult to the entire league suggesting these guys are going out on the floor and not doing their very best to win games.

“Now if Coach Van Gundy is addressing appropriate rebuilding which every organization goes through and not just in sports,” Silver continued. “In any business you look at short-term results and long-term results. This organization is planning for the future and building from the ground level up.”

“I don’t want to ignore the issue that the chatter is out there,” Silver said. “If there is a perception out there that teams need to be bad to get good, we need to address it.

“We have a draft lottery in place. The purpose was to take the incentive away from teams potentially losing games in order to get a higher draft pick. We have tinkered with it over the years and if we need to adjust it again then we will.

“I am concerned about the perception,” Silver said. “I am not concerned about what is happening in Philadelphia.”

Silver has maintained that he will continue to take a fresh look at the draft — one detailed proposal put together by Celtics assistant GM Mike Zarren was a “wheel” concept, where picks would essentially be pre-assigned in perpetuity so that a team would know its place in the draft regardless of its won-loss record. But as Silver mentioned at Saturday’s conference, this plan is not without its flaws.

“When Mike first showed it to me, I thought, ‘Wow, that solves our problems,’ ” Silver said. “Teams can plan for the future, they have absolutely no incentive to do anything but win the maximum number of games per season, they know where the draft pick is coming from.”

“But [what] surprised me was when teams said, ‘Hold on a second,’ ” he said. “There’s a belief that certain markets have advantages. That players may choose to be on the coast, be in a larger market as opposed to a smaller market. I’m not entirely sure that’s the case, but that’s the perspective. The concern by some of the teams was that if a player going into college or coming out of high school … Say that he knows the hometown team here, the Celtics, has the No. 1 pick in two years. I’m going to wait those two years to come out, because I can game the system as a player. I can choose to be a Celtic.”

The core belief Silver has (or at least continues to express publicly) that teams are rebuilding instead of tanking isn’t exactly accurate, at least not from where the fans are sitting. Everyone agrees that players and coaches aren’t intentionally trying to lose games. But when a GM puts a roster on the floor that has little chance of competing (and trades away his best players midseason for more spare parts), that’s where people believe that the league incentivizes losing with the way its system is currently structured.

To his credit, however, Silver seems truly open to making the necessary changes to fix it.

After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”

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Joel Embiid was making friends all over the court on Friday night.

First, he got into a jawing match with Carmelo Anthony. Also during the first overtime, Embiid blocked Russell Westbrook‘s driving attempt at a game winner.

After the Thunder won in triple overtime, Westbrook trolled Embiid by waving goodbye to the Sixers’ center, who was yelling back at him.

When asked about it, Westbrook said Embiid was talking a lot so he told the Sixers center to go home.

That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.

Embiid threw a little fire back at Westbrook.

The league office is going to be looking into this one.

DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t expect Pelicans to trade him at the deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?

If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.

Cousins himself doesn’t think he is going anywhere, as he told Marc Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.

“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….

“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.

The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.

Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers.  DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.

But first he has to get past the trade deadline.

Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)

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Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.

Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.

I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.

Embiid talks a lot — A LOT — but he is backing it up.

For example, in the first overtime Russell Westbrook thought he made a drive that was going to win the game, and Embiid rejected him.

If you did not watch this game, go find a replay. This is the new best game of the season.

Rudy Gobert leaves game vs. Celtics with likely knee sprain. Again.

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Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.

Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.

If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.

The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.

Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.