NBA Draft: Evan Turner could work with Andre Iguodala, not against him

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iguodala_game.jpgNow that the Sixers hold the No. 2 pick in the draft, they have all kinds of options. Maybe Ed Stefanski will cash in on the pick’s value now, trade it, and get back a proven commodity that can make an immediate impact while dumping Elton Brand’s salary. Maybe Stefanski sees Turner as a franchise treasure, and will attempt to retool his roster to build around Evan as the Sixer of the Future alongside Jrue Holiday. Maybe Andre Iguodala could play shooting guard with Turner starting his rookie season coming off the bench, or maybe Stefanski will trade Iguodala in order to give Turner all the elbow room he desires.

Or, Stefanski and the Sixers could do something absolutely revolutionary: nothing.

Well, let me clarify. Philadelphia needs to do a lot of something to figure out their troubles on offense and defense, and hopefully that introspection has begun with the ongoing head coach search. That something involves creating roster flexibility, infusing more talent, getting more consistent shooting, and solidifying the middle. There’s a lot of work to be done, and Philly’s current roster makes it very difficult.

Trading Iguodala at this point, a topic that our own Matt Moore tossed around yesterday, just seems to make it even more difficult.

For now, Iggy is the best that the Sixers have. He was tops on the team in points (17.1), assists (5.8), and steals per game (1.7), second behind only Samuel Dalembert in rebounds per game (6.5), and tied for the top spot in three-pointers made (1.1) per game. He was second on the team in PER (17.8), first in win shares (6.7), and remains an elite defensive wing.

He happened to start at shooting guard for this team in quite a few games, but is that really a compelling reason to move the top talent on the roster, especially when doing so is so unlikely to get good return value? Despite Iguodala’s talent, he’ll make $56.5 million over the next four seasons, with an average salary of over $14 million a year. That’s a long-term commitment with a big price tag, one that a lot of teams will be reluctant to take on in any circumstances, much less with the new CBA likely to change the salary structure in 2011-2012.

If Philadelphia looks to move Iguodala, they may be able to get salary relief in return, or maybe a young player packaged with a burdensome contract. They will not get anyone that’s as skilled on both ends of the court, and while that doesn’t necessarily justify paying Andre’s ridiculous salary, it’s a concrete reason why Stefanski may be wise not to part with him. The mistake was signing Iggy to such a deal in the first place, but to deal him now, when the Sixers would likely get little in return? That’s an even bigger mistake.

Instead, Philly should take a long look at what could be an interesting three-man core of Holiday, Turner, and Iguodala. All are unselfish, all can create for others, and…none of the three has a consistent three-point stroke. Some things just never change in Philadelphia. Still, all three players can be considered works in progress, so their perimeter shooting could technically improve. In the meantime, the Sixers will have three long, talented players that can both score and defend at a number of different positions.

Is there really any reason to compromise that? Turner has the ability to be a very good defensive player in the pros, and when paired with Iguodala, could make one of the best defensive tandems on the wing in the entire league. If the Sixers can resuscitate the defensive tenacity that made them so fun to watch at the tail end of the ’08-’09 season — and Turner and Iggy both would be an important part of that — you’re looking at a team that could be pretty fantastic at getting out into the open court.

Even with Turner in the mix, the Sixers’ future isn’t bright. Holiday came on strong to close his rookie year, but the mammoth salaries of Iguodala and Elton Brand will continue to gum up the works for Philadelphia. Ditching both of those contracts would obviously be in the Sixers’ best interest, but they can’t truly rebuild unless they can ditch both, not just one. Brand’s deal is just too big and too damaging on its own (he’ll make almost $16 million this season), and right now he’s as close to unmovable as any player in the league.

It’s going to be a long rebuild for Philly, so what’s the rush? Find out of Turner and Iguodala can play well together first, and if there’s nothing there, then move on. Stefanski should take the Kings of last season as a perfect example. Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin didn’t play all that well together, but the important thing is that Geoff Petrie and the Kings knew for sure. The satisfaction of trying and knowing is what the Sixers should strive for should they select Turner, even if he and Iguodala turn out to be a less-than-perfect fit.     

Myles Turner says he’s staying focused, tuning out trade rumors

Minnesota Timberwolves v Indiana Pacers
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Myles Turner heard his name come up all summer in trade rumors, particularly to the Lakers in a massive Russell Westbrook swap. It never happened as the Lakers would not throw in two first-round picks to seal the deal. Since the season started, the trade rumors around Turner have not stopped, with the Clippers mentioned as having interest.

Turner is trying to ignore all of it.

That was especially difficult on a recent swing through Los Angeles, and Turner spoke to Law Murray from The Athletic about it.

“Nothing changes,” Turner told The Athletic.”Just go out there and focus on getting wins for this team. That’s just where my focus lies. You can’t pay attention to outside noise … doesn’t change anything, bro. All I can do is go out there and play my game.”

Every player says some version of that, but Turner has lived up to it. Able to play his natural spot at the five without Domantas Sabonis sharing the paint (Sabonis was sent to the Kings in a trade that brought back Tyrese Haliburton to Indiana), Turner is averaging a career-high 18 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, while shooting 39.7% from 3. Plus, Turner remains an elite rim-protector, averaging 2.6 blocks per game (second in the league).

Turner is playing the best basketball of his career, coincidentally as he heads into summer as a free agent.

Whatever team trades for him will have to pay him next summer impacts Turner’s trade market, as does the fact that the Pacers are a surprising 12-8 start — Indiana is reportedly not as eager to trade Turner. If a team wants to trade for him, they are going to have to overwhelm the Pacers.

Turner has hinted he likes the idea of a brighter spotlight than he has seen in recent years, but in the end money will talk. Turner has kept his head down and his play this season has earned him more of it.

Damian Lillard reportedly targeting Sunday for return from calf strain

Portland Trail Blazers v Cleveland Cavaliers
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How much the Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard was on clear display Tuesday night in maybe their ugliest loss of the season. The Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, Anfernee Simons was on his way to putting up 37, and they were facing a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. Yet Portland came from ahead to lose. Their defense was bested by the unstoppable offensive weapon that is Nicholas Batum (32 points). Portland just let go of the rope in this one.

The Trail Blazers are now 1-4 with Lillard out with a strained calf (the second time this year). The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is targeting Sunday against the Pacers for a return, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

Haynes is well connected with the Lillard camp, this is a report that can be trusted.

Portland is trying to keep its head above water and is now 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week, with games at the Lakers and at the Jazz before Lillard’s targeted return.

Lillard is averaging 26.3 points and seven assists a game this season, showing the explosion we were used to seeing before he was slowed by an abdominal injury that required surgery.

Bulls extended coach Billy Donovan before season started

Denver Nuggets v Chicago Bulls
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Bulls’ fans are not thrilled with a 9-11 team sitting 11th in the East, outside the play-in.

Bulls’ management is not either, but they aren’t laying the blame at the feet of coach Billy Donovan — in fact, they extended him just before the season began, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic and since confirmed by Bulls’ media relations staff to K.C. Johnson NBC Sports Chicago.

Why the extension? Because Donovan and head of basketball operations Artūras Karnišovas have a tight relationship, Johnson writes.

Karnišovas’ continued belief in Donovan centers on Donovan’s leadership and communication skills. The two men talk virtually daily and there’s never any misunderstanding in their shared, direct conversation — even when the subject matter becomes difficult.

And not everything has been or continues to be smooth sailing for the Bulls, who have played without Lonzo Ball since January and are off to a 9-11 start in a season with modest outside expectations.

No details about the length of the extension were made public.

This is a decision about stability. Donovan is a solid coach and the front office trusts him. That’s enough to get some extra years on your deal in Chicago.

The Bulls’ issues are not because of Donovan, it’s more a roster that has a “playoff team but not much more” ceiling — a ceiling that is lower this season due to injuries forcing constantly shifting rotations. The Bulls are especially hamstrung without the defense and transition play of Lonzo Ball (still out after another knee surgery). Chicago has defended well this season without Ball (10th in the league), but the offense is bottom 10 and misses the easy buckets Ball helps get with his passing and transition (plus he can knock down some 3s). Donovan has done a respectable job with the players he has.

That is good enough in Chicago to get a few more years.

Three things to know: Luka Doncic looks like an MVP, but can he keep this up?

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Luka Doncic looks like an MVP, but can he keep this up?

Luka Doncic vs. Stephen Curry.

The schedule makers gave us a showdown of early-season MVP candidates but also two guys who have had to carry a massive load this season, waiting for their teams to come together around them. Curry has gotten more of that lately as Klay Thompson has started to find his legs and some rotation shifts have improved play off the bench.

Luka is still on a Brunson-sized island waiting for help. Tuesday night that island got smaller when Spencer Dinwiddie got ejected for an elbow to the face of the Warriors’ Jordan Poole.

That just meant more Doncic, and he reminded everyone why nobody wants to play the Mavericks in the playoffs with a 41-point triple-double (12 rebounds, 12 assists).

Doncic was a force of nature, although Curry had his chance in the final 10 seconds but got called for traveling (a call the Warriors disputed).

The Mavericks got the 116-113 win. Tim Hardaway Jr. pitched in 25 points, including five 3-pointers for Dallas, but this was the Luka Doncic show.

Doncic has been asked to carry a massive load for Dallas this season. He has a usage rate of 38 through the first quarter of the season, a number that would rank in the top-10 all time (right around 1987 Michael Jordan and 2006 Kobe Bryant).

How long can Doncic do this without starting to wear down? Without risking injury? Sure those other players like Jordan and Kobe got through the entire season, but they also didn’t make the kind of playoff runs Dallas is hoping for. Coming off EuroBasket, Doncic entered this season in the best shape he has ever been in to tip-off an NBA campaign, but there have already been stretches where he has started to look worn down. Then there are nights like Tuesday when he carries the Mavericks to a win and looks unstoppable.

Doncic is young, but asking him to carry this load also puts a ceiling on how good this team can be. Curry is getting that help. Giannis Antetokounmpo is also putting up historic usage percentage numbers this season, but Khris Middleton will return to the Bucks and take on some of that load. The Mavericks touted Christian Wood as an answer, but he is coming off the bench and his defense does not have him in Jason Kidd’s good graces. It’s a one-man show more than ever in Dallas.

If the Mavs want to win in the postseason, it can’t just be the Luka show. But during the regular season, some nights that is enough. At least until he wears down.

2) Damian Lillard to return Sunday, not soon enough for Trail Blazers

The Portland Trail Blazers miss Damian Lillard (calf strain, his second this season) — they are 1-4 in the current five-game stretch without him, playing their worst defense of the season. The latest of those losses — a come-from-ahead loss to a Clippers team without Kawhi Leonard or Paul George — was maybe the team’s worst loss of the season. Anfernee Simons put up 37, the Trail Blazers led by 18 in the second half, and yet they collapsed against a team whose best offensive weapon was Nicholas Batum (32 points).

The good news for the Blazers is Lillard is due back on Sunday, reports Chris Haynes of TNT.

If you didn’t watch the late game on TNT, you missed a battle of two teams trying to keep their heads above water while their star (or stars) sit out injured.

Portland is still 11-10 on the season but has struggled this past week. What was ugly about Tuesday’s loss was the team just let go of the rope. This was a winnable game, but when it got tight they let go.

Powell scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and took over to get the 13-9 Clippers another win.

Los Angeles has done it against a soft schedule, but they keep finding ways to win until their stars return. Nobody is sure how good this team ultimately can be, but Tyronn Lue has got his squad defending and finding ways to win until everyone does get right. It’s an impressive coaching job.

3) Karl-Anthony Towns out weeks with calf strain (likely more than a month)

The MRI is in and Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns is out for weeks with a right calf strain, the team announced. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reports Towns likely will miss 4-6 weeks.

Not good, but it looked a lot worse when it happened.

Towns has averaged 21.4 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his stats are down this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers — the team has struggled at times without him, particularly lineups with Rudy Gobert and Anthony Edwards together, an -11.8 net rating (in non-garbage time minutes, via Cleaning the Glass).

The Timberwolves are not off to the start they thought they would be, and if they don’t figure out a way to win without Towns the next month this season could get sideways on them.