Joel Embiid

Bill Simmons: Joel Embiid’s back is fine

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Until Joel Embiid injured his back, the Kansas center had become the favorite to go No. 1 in the 2014 NBA draft. With an incredible mix of size, agility and skills, he looked special – even in a draft class that also includes Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.

Embiid could still go No. 1, but it will depend – more than anything else – on his back. His medical records aren’t exactly public, so we’ll take clues about his health wherever we can get them.

Bill Simmons of Grantland:

Embiid’s back is fine. I watched him work out last week.

Q: Wait … what? You watched Joel Embiid work out last week?

A: Yes — at a secret location in Santa Monica. He wasn’t playing against anyone, just going through a two-hour workout with Will Perdue. Here’s what I can tell you: He moves around as effortlessly as a 7-foot Serge Ibaka; he’s such an athletic freak that he’s one of those “still going up as he’s finishing the dunk” guys; his freakish wingspan might make Jay Bilas pass out; he has been playing basketball for only four years (which seems impossible); he gave up a world-class volleyball career; he has 3-point range; he can shoot jump-hooks with both hands already; he couldn’t have seemed more coachable/agreeable/likable; he’s a hard worker with a goofy sense of humor; his voice is just a touch Mutombo-y (deep with a heavy African accent); and his friends call him “Jo-Jo.” And again — his back seemed totally fine.

It’s encouraging Embiid looked so good to Simmons, but key questions remain.

How would Embiid’s back respond to actual competition? How likely is Embiid to suffer more back injuries?

The Cavaliers must learn a lot more about Embiid and his back before drafting him No. 1. The Bucks and 76ers must do their due diligence too before drafting him at No. 2 or No. 3.

Embiid working out without issue is a nice start to that process, but it’s only a start.

Ben Simmons says he plans to work on shooting, handles, getting stronger before camp

Philadelphia 76ers' Ben Simmons cheers from the bunch during the first half of the team's NBA summer league basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Thursday, July 14, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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The leap from college — even high-level college programs — to the NBA can be hard to describe. Now everybody is bigger, longer, and far more athletic — the guy at the end of the bench barely getting any burn was one of the best players on his college team.

Players get their first taste of that at Summer League. The Sixers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons looked pretty good when he got that taste, but you can see the development that needs to go on as well.

He’s spending the time between now and the start of training camp working on his shooting and getting stronger, among other things, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com.

“I think just getting in the gym and making sure I’m getting reps up, shooting-wise, dribbling,” Simmons said earlier this week after an appearance at Sixers Camp in Wayne, Pennsylvania. “The weight room as well, making sure I get my strength back and my weight up.”

All good things. Handles and shooting in particular — he’s about to start seeing much better defenders nightly. It’s going to take time, and we’ll see how far he can go, but Simmons unquestionably brings a lot of skill and potential to the table. That he’s putting in the work is a good sign — that was one of the concerns about him heading into the draft.

New GM Bryan Colangelo is going to benefit from Sam Hinkie’s process. So long as he doesn’t screw it up.

Report: Warriors sign JaVale McGee go make-good training camp contract

JaVale McGee
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JaVale McGee is getting another shot in the NBA.

He played just 34 games off the bench for Dallas last season. He played 23 games the season before that due to injury.

But the Golden State Warriors are thin up front — Zaza Pachulia will get the bulk of the minutes at the five (when the Warriors use a traditional center), and there is the often-injured Anderson Varejao behind him. The Warriors could use another big. So they are giving McGee a look, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

This is a low-risk move by the Warriors, and it’s worth the gamble. Vintage McGee, for all his Shaqtin’ a Fool flaws, is far more athletic and a better rim protector than any of the guys the Warriors now have at the five. If it doesn’t work out — and the odds are it will not — they cut him, if it does they pay him a minimum deal.

I hope he makes it, just because the league is more fun when McGee is in it.

Russell Westbrook laughs off question about Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant #35 discuss play during the first half against the Los Angeles ClipperLos Angeles Kingsat Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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At some point, Russell Westbrook will sit down with members of the media and discuss Kevin Durant leaving the Thunder, how he felt about the move, and how it impacted him both personally and professionally.

But not right now. He remains silent.

This Vine making its way around, where Westbrook laughs — probably at the question, although read into that whatever you want — when asked about Durant sums up where we are.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

In the full Facebook clip, Westbrook walks away, too. It’s his right. He can talk about it on his schedule.

Rudy Gay, Vlade Divac clear the air

Rudy Gay
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Rudy Gay expressed displeasure with how the Kings were handling trade rumors. Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac retorted that Gay had his phone number.

Apparently, Gay found it.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Following those comments, Gay told ABC10 on Thursday afternoon that he had since spoken with Divac.

“I have talked to Vlade,” Gay said from his Nike Skills Academy at Hardwood Palace in Rocklin. “I can’t say since Monday stuff has changed, but I just feel like we have a little bit of time to start changing things.”

Gay, who will be entering his 11th NBA season, has insisted he hasn’t demanded a trade and should he remain a member of the Kings by the time training camp opens in October, he says he’ll report and be ready to go.

“At this point in my career I just want to be happy,” said Gay. “I talked to Vlade and we’re trying to make that happen.”

Even if he hasn’t demanded a trade, it sure sounds like Gay would welcome one. I doubt the Kings would mind moving on, either.

But it takes another team to trade for Gay, and so far, one hasn’t emerged.

In the meantime, tensions appear to be eased. Open communication usually helps.