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.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”