Kurt Helin

Sixers’ Sam Hinkie: Joel Embiid should be ready for next season, not Summer League

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For young players coming off major injuries, NBA Summer League games often become a first step back into action — real games (albeit sloppy ones), a chance to get some sweat and shake off some rust. A chance to feel like a basketball player again.

But that’s not where Joel Embiid will make his return, according to the Sixers GM Sam Hinkie, who spoke to the media Friday.

The Sixers’ No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft has missed the past two seasons following foot injuries, and right now he is at a specialized sports facility in Qatar doing rehab, Hinkie said. Yes, Qatar, the ridiculous home of the 2022 World Cup. Hinkie vouched for the facility, and said he expects Embiid to be ready to go at the start of next season.

“I’ve always been excited about him because he has rare gifts and a real chance to have a fantastic NBA career,” Hinkie said.

There are a lot of fans rolling their eyes at that, but a simple fact remains — he could be the best player on the Sixers roster. He is tone one guy scouts thought had superstar potential, more than Jahlil Okafor, it was just a matter of if he could stay healthy. That hasn’t happened so far, but it’s too early for the Sixers to give up on him.

Celtics waive David Lee; Mavericks reported frontrunners to sign him

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The Boston Celtics worked with David Lee‘s agent to find the power forward out of Brad Stevens rotation a new home via trade, but his $15.5 million salary made that next to impossible. (He certainly would have been part of a big deal Boston nearly pulled off but that ultimately fell through.) When the trade deadline passed on Thursday, Lee was still a Celtic.

Friday, the Celtics announced they have waived Lee, part of a buyout agreement.

Once Lee clears waivers — a certainty, no team has the cap space to claim him off waivers — he will be an unrestricted free agent. The Dallas Mavericks are the front-runners to sign him, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Other teams will try to get their foot in the door with Lee, on a veteran minimum deal he provides real value. Lee has said his decision will be about winning but also about minutes and not being glued to the bench. As happened in Golden State last season (until the Finals) and Boston this season.

Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki at the four, Dwight Powell backs him up. There is Zaza Pachulia at the five, and JaVale McGee behind him. Lee could provide some minutes in that rotation, especially in a small ball lineup.

Celtics fans living in the Boston area and subscribing to Comcast Sportsnet, you can stream tonight’s Celtics game against the Jazz, just follow this link.

Daryl Morey on Rockets: “We feel good about our roster”

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Some media members trying to grade out the trade deadline — myself included — had the Rockets in the losers category for the trade deadline. The logic goes like this: the Rockets had a disappointing team with dysfunctional chemistry with Dwight Howard, James Harden, and Ty Lawson. Firing the coach didn’t fix things. So at the deadline GM Daryl Morey tried to repair the roster by shopping Howard and Lawson hard, but nothing came of it (because Howard wants to be a free agent this summer and would not opt-in to the final year of his deal). They are the same dysfunctional team they were before, and good luck to J.B. Bickerstaff trying to get that group to play as a unit now.

That said, this wasn’t a disaster for the Rockets. First, they didn’t make any stupid, panic trades that set the franchise back. Second, the one deadline deal they did make — Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Pistons for a top-eight protected 2016 first-round pick (and Joel Anthony, who the Rockets flipped in another deal) — is a good one for them.

Morey went on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski after the deadline and defended the moves they made.

“We’re not feeling good about how we’re playing, but we feel good about our roster. It’s the group that made the Western Conference finals last year….

“James and Dwight together have made the Western Conference finals, have won more than two-thirds of their games. This is a group that we would be very reluctant to split up. Obviously there was a lot of interest in (Howard) — I think there was a lot of noise about that — but that was something we were going to be very reluctant to break up. As part of my job, I do have to listen to everything, but nothing got close and we weren’t going to split that up unless it was something significant.”

The buzz is the Rockets were asking a high price for Howard, and some teams might have paid it because he still has real value on the court, but they weren’t going to spend those assets for a rental. They wanted him to say he would opt-in to the final year of his contract. Howard wouldn’t do that, he intends to be a free agent.

So the Rocket will ride this roster into the playoffs, where as it stands they are the eight seed and would get Golden State in the first round. Maybe the Rockets get on a little run, and they could face the Spurs or the Thunder in the first round. They have the talent on the roster Morey likes to create some matchup challenges for any of those teams. But they are not going to get out of the first round.

Then this summer in Houston will be interesting.

Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Trade deadline version (plus Clippers beat Spurs)

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NBA basketball was back on Thursday night with three games. But that’s not what anybody is talking about, not on trade deadline Thursday. So here are five takeaways from Thursday, mostly talking trades. Because we love trades.

1) Trade deadline comes and goes, but the balance of power at the top of NBA doesn’t change. Nothing happened Thursday to make the Golden State Warriors turn their heads. Or even the San Antonio Spurs. There were trades Thursday involving two of the four contenders for an NBA title this season — plus the Clippers making a move to try to get into that category — but at the end of the day, the balance of power had not shifted. Nothing changed. The Cavaliers added a little depth to their front line, a shooter in Channing Frye that gives coach Tyronn Lue some bench matchup options, but that’s it. Oklahoma City added Randy Foye to their “we can do this by committee” system at the two guard spot. The Clippers upgraded at the three spot with the erratic Jeff Green (plus there is some addition by subtraction with Lance Stephenson gone to what is now an interesting Memphis locker room).

All of those are moves on the periphery, at best they make those teams marginally better. Golden State is the defending champion and playing better than they did a season ago and nobody made a move that in any way challenged them as the team to beat. The Spurs didn’t make a move either, and I still see them as the clear second-best team in the league. The Cavaliers will get their shot at one of them in the Finals, but they still seem a step back. It was a fun day of trades, but at the top nothing changed.

2) No big name moved at the trade deadline, but wait for this summer. Dwight Howard didn’t change teams because nobody would offer the Houston Rockets much for him. Same with New Orleans trying to trade Ryan Anderson. The Clippers gauged the trade market for Blake Griffin, the Cavaliers did the same with Kevin Love, and while neither team had serious plans to move those two stars in February there was a method to the madness.

This summer is when the big names will be on the move. While everyone will be talking about whether Kevin Durant will bolt Oklahoma City, other moves are coming. With the rising salary cap (thanks to the flood of money from the new NBA television deal) every team is going to have some cap space and a majority will have enough for a max contract. That means teams will have big money to throw at free agents, and can make trades without matching salaries. So free agents  — Al Horford, DeMar DeRozan, Dwyane Wade, Nicolas Batum — will have options (even if they don’t want to leave their current teams). And GMs who may want to trade name players — potentially Brook Lopez from Brooklyn (now that they finally have a GM), Love, Griffin, others — will have options. What this trade deadline did was set up a summer where we will see some significant moves.

3) By the way, there was an NBA game and the Clippers kept winning (and DeAndre Jordan kept dunking). There was actual basketball in the NBA on Thursday night. The marquee game of the night was the Clippers hosting the Spurs — and Los Angeles didn’t miss a step from where they left off on a run before the All-Star break. That starts with Chris Paul shredding defenses — including on Thursday the NBA’s best one to the tune of 28 points and 12 assists. While the Clipper offense is making plays, quietly they have had the best defensive numbers in the NBA through their last 10 games (allowing 96.5 points per 100 possessions), and if they defend like that they become much more dangerous in the playoffs. Not that anyone should read anything about the playoffs out of this game (no Kawhi Leonard for the Spurs, for one thing), but the Clippers are playing well. And still throwing lobs to DeAndre Jordan for monster slams.

4) Biggest trade deadline winner was Detroit. Who made out best at the trade deadline? Stan Van Gundy and the Detroit Pistons. This may not vault them into the playoffs this season (although they are just half a game back of faltering Chicago for the eight seed) but it’s what they did to set themselves up for the future. The Pistons traded for Tobias Harris on Tuesday, and then on Thursday added Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton. Motiejunas is a bit of a gamble because of his health, but he’d be a great fit.

Think about the Pistons lineup. Andre Drummond is an All-Star at the center spot, and he has good pick-and-roll chemistry with Reggie Jackson at the point. Now around them on the wings are Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, Stanley Johnson, Marcus Morris and Marcus Thornton — that’s a lot of long, athletic guys who can shoot the ball, run the floor, and switch everything on defense. And they are all 26 or younger (the average age is 23). This is a team that is going to develop and could be very good in a couple of years.

5) The playoff push at the bottom of East is now most interesting race in NBA. There are just 3.5 games separating the four seed Atlanta Hawks from the current the nine-seed (and out of the playoffs) Detroit Pistons. Then there are the Washington Wizards just two games back of the Pistons. It’s a tight race for the playoffs already, but what makes it even more interesting is to see who made trade deadline deals in the East — the nine seed Pistons were big winners, the seven seed Hornets added Courtney Lee (to replace the injured Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) and those 10-seed Wizards upgraded with Markieff Morris (who can be a great fit for them if he chooses to play hard and not be a disruptive force). Meanwhile, Chicago (eighth seed), Miami (fifth), and Indiana (sixth) all stood pat at the deadline. Now the teams that made moves have a burst of energy and are going to make a run at pushing the teams above them out of the playoff picture. What teams make the playoffs in the East — and what the seedings will be in the middle of the pack — will be the best race in the NBA down the stretch.

How we know NBA games are back: Chris Paul to DeAndre Jordan alley-oop (VIDEO)

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If you want to know how the Clippers just keep on winning during without Blake Griffin, it’s all right here.

They run a little more spread pick-and-roll with Griffin gone, using Chris Paul‘s decision-making skills to carve up defenses — Thursday night against San Antonio he finished with 28 points and 12 assists. They run that pick-and-roll with DeAndre Jordan, who rolls hard and finishes well — he stays in his offensive lane and in that lane there may be nobody better. Put some shooting around that and it all works.

Danny Green read this play, got in position, and there was nothing he was going to be able to do to stop it.

The Clippers won handily 105-86. It was a quality win for the Clippers, but the Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard, and they clearly missed him.