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


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 “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.

Alvin Gentry on refs after controversial James Harden foul: “You can’t guess on plays”

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Alvin Gentry was heated after the New Orleans Pelicans lost to the Houston Rockets on Saturday night, all thanks to a late foul on James Harden. Oh boy.

Gentry was given a technical foul after speaking with officials with 5:39 to go in the fourth quarter in a tight matchup between the two Western Conference playoff teams. The Pelicans coach was heated about a foul called on Jrue Holiday after Harden swung through the defender’s area to get free throws on a 3-point attempt.

That didn’t sit right with Gentry, who went after referee David Guthrie. After complaining for some time, Gentry got a handle on himself and went back to his seat on the bench. That’s when he was called for a technical foul.

Here’s the play in question, and Gentry’s response after the game:

Gentry does have a general point, and sounds like just about any non-Houston fan you overhear at games or in bars regarding Harden’s wacky inflatable flailing arm tube man style. Nevermind his driving — which consistently gets players to legitimately hack away at his arms — the question on the play in New Orleans is whether the defender has a right to that space, and whether Holiday made a move.

Pelicans broadcaster David Wesley pointed out that if a defender is in his own defensive space and not moving, it shouldn’t be a foul if the offensive player jams his way into the defender’s arms. That’s part of why the idea of verticality works for modern NBA big men defending the rim.

Offensive players are getting more astute at drawing contact, then finding a way to immediately get fouled after the contact. It’s something that will need to be addressed by the NBA in coming seasons, as there are quite a few instances of contact specifically being drawn by an offender by moving into the defender’s space and drawing contact with their arms.

However, on the play in question, if you rewind it enough times you can barely see Holiday’s arm and elbow flex reactively before Harden moves the ball up. Thus, in the purview of instant replay, it was probably a foul.

Here it is in super slo-mo:

Gentry is likely to get a nice big fine as others have this season for criticizing officials. It seems that even after the All-Star Break meeting to sort out some issues between the NBPA and NBRA not everyone is happy.

Expect a bigger overhaul and more announcements regarding NBA refereeing in the offseason.

Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue sits out second half Saturday with illness

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CHICAGO (AP) Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue remained in the locker room to start the second half of their game against the Chicago Bulls because of an illness.

Lue was on the sideline as the Cavaliers used a strong second quarter to build a 17-point halftime lead. He did not come out for the start of the third Saturday night, and he did not return to the game.

Lue has missed one other game this season due to illness. He is expected back on Monday when the Cavs host the struggling Bucks.

The Cavaliers went on to get the win over the Bulls Saturday, 114-109.

Grizzlies snap 19-game skid with 101-94 win vs Nuggets

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Dillon Brooks scored 24 points, Tyreke Evans added 20 and the Memphis Grizzlies snapped a 19-game losing streak with a 101-94 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night.

Wayne Selden scored 16 points for Memphis by hitting 6 of 7 shots, including 4 of 5 from outside the arc. Marc Gasol added 14 points as Memphis won for the first time since Jan. 29.

Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 17 points and 12 rebounds, while Jamal Murray finished with 16 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Denver shot just 37 percent overall and 27 percent from 3-point range.

Denver entered the night in ninth place in the Western Conference, a game out of the playoff race. Denver played without leading scorer Gary Harris, who is expected to miss the next few games with a right knee sprain suffered against Detroit on Thursday.

The Nuggets struggled through a miserable first half of shooting, connecting on 22 percent in the first quarter. Memphis stretched its lead to 21 early in the second quarter before Denver cut it to 53-48 at halftime.

Brooks hit four 3-pointers to start the second half and keep Memphis ahead.

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LaMarcus Aldridge’s 39 points lead Spurs past Wolves, 117-101

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) – LaMarcus Aldridge had 39 points and 10 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a sluggish start to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 117-101 on Saturday night.

San Antonio won its third straight to move into fifth in the Western Conference five days after dropping to 10th and out of playoff position.

Karl-Anthony Towns had 23 points and nine rebounds for Minnesota, which dropped to sixth in the West.

The Spurs had lost three straight and nine of 11 but are now unbeaten halfway through a six-game homestand.

San Antonio shot 84 percent in the second quarter, their best shooting quarter since 2010.

Two nights after battling New Orleans’ Anthony Davis on both ends, Aldridge had to take on another All-Star in Towns. Aldridge responded by leading the Spurs in scoring for the 49th time this season while helping keep Towns in check.

Aldridge scored 18 of 21 points during a five-minute stretch in the second quarter, including 12 straight. He capped the run by coming from the weak side to swat Towns’ floater deep into the seats.

Minnesota started quickly, shooting 78 percent from the floor in the first 5 1/2 minutes while San Antonio floundered at 17 percent. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich called timeout, only to watch the Timberwolves’ Jeff Teague steal the ball once play resumed.

The Spurs responded behind veteran reserves Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay. San Antonio went on a 16-4 run bridging the first and second quarters to take a 29-26 lead.

Andrew Wiggins scored 21 points for Minnesota and Teague had 16.