Sixers beat Pacers… can Philly win the Atlantic division?

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We’re only eight games into the season — about 12 percent of the way —so drawing broad conclusions is tough. But it was hard not to look at a couple games Monday night and not have one particular question pop up.

The game first was the 76ers taking on the Indiana Pacers, two of the rising teams in the East. Indiana was without Danny Granger and the entire game had the sloppy feel of so many early season contests this year, but the 76ers controlled most of the second half and won handily, 96-86. They looked pretty good doing it, with quality offensive looks and solid defense —they looked like a team that could be dangerous as the season wears on.

Next the New York Knicks needed a whole lot of Carmelo Anthony and a few breaks down the stretch to beat the struggling Charlotte Bobcats.

Taken together it was hard not to wonder — can Philadelphia win the Atlantic division over New York and Boston?

Maybe. Before the season that seemed a real long shot, but now… they look as good as anyone else. If not better. As of Tuesday Philadelphia at 6-2 is a game and a half ahead of 5-4 New York and two games ahead of 4-4 Boston.

More than that, Boston and New York have really struggled at moments this season. The Knicks look like mismatched pieces not fitting a system, the Celtics look old at times and not as deep a team as they were.

Philadelphia looks solid. Especially on defense. They came into the game allowing just 90.2 points per 100 possessions, best in the NBA. The Pacers scored at a 92.3 points per 100 pace in this game. They do it by not letting the other team shoot well or get into their offense and that happened to a Pacers team that has previously looked good this season. The Pacers shot just 36.6 percent, with David West going 6-for-14 and Darren Collison 2-of-11.

On offense, the 76ers are looking to get out and run a little more, which suits them. If they get some easy buckets to go with that defense, it works. Andre Iguodala is looking more to facilitate, driving to draw the defense then kicking out for assists when the defense collapsed. Iggy had 20 points and nine rebounds to go with five assists.

Philly also got good play from their role players. When Spencer Hawes got in foul trouble trying to deal with Roy Hibbert, rookie Nikola Vucevic came in with 11 points and eight rebounds.

The Pacers will have better nights. They had strength inside but when the Sixers defense collapsed the Pacers didn’t make them pay on the kickouts, shooting just 4-of-13 from three. Hibbert finished with 19 points on 12 shots.

The Pacers were more balanced, with Lou Williams having 13 off the bench and six players in double figures.

We will have to see if Philly can keep up this level of defense for an entire season, how they deal with adversity when it eventually arrives as it does for all teams. But right now, eight games in, they look as good or better than anyone in the Atlantic division.

Paul George: I would have signed with Lakers if Pacers didn’t trade me to Thunder

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Paul George didn’t request a trade from the Pacers. He merely informed them he’d leave in free agency and told people he’d sign with the Lakers, leaving it up to Indiana what to do about it.

The Pacers traded him to Oklahoma City, where George found a long-term home. He re-signed with the Thunder this summer.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

Paul George revealed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that he “would have been in a Lakers uniform” if he had never been traded from the Indiana Pacers. But after the Pacers dealt the five-time All-Star to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead last year, he fell in love with his new team and playing with Russell Westbrook before eventually agreeing to a four-year, $137 million contract extension this past offseason.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Even while with the Thunder, George spoke openly about the appeal of Los Angeles. Despite not meeting with the Lakers in free agency, he still called them tempting. He’s mostly just confirming what we already believed.

Remember, the Lakers could have traded for George last year. Instead, they banked on getting him without surrendering assets, and that gambit failed. Importantly, they still lured LeBron James, but they’re still searching for a second star.

This ought to reopen questions about whether the Lakers erred by not trading for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard reportedly has interest in Los Angeles (though maybe more in the Clippers), but the Lakers watched the Spurs trade him to the Raptors. Will Leonard similarly fall for Toronto and spurn his hometown team?

It’d be a mistake to assume Leonard will follow the path of George, who’s a completely different person. But it’d also be a mistake not to evaluate the precedent set by George and learn from it.

Pistons play recording of Aretha Franklin’s national anthem while spotlighting open microphone at center court (video)

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Pistons legend Isiah Thomas eulogized Aretha Franklin – a proud Detroit native – last summer and concluded with a message to the deceased singer:

I want you to know, I love you. The world loves you. And most importantly, Aretha, Detroit loves you.

Detroit showed its love for Aretha before the Pistons’ opener yesterday. Thomas again spoke kindly of her then asked for a moment of silence. The arena went dark and quiet.

Then, a spotlight shined on an unattended microphone at center court as a recording of Aretha’s national anthem played. While this video shows the powerful rendition of the song, by focusing on the images of Aretha shown on the scoreboard, it doesn’t even capture the full feeling of the moment.

Seeing that open spotlighted microphone throughout the entire anthem was hauntingly beautiful and a great tribute to the Queen of Soul.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.