The 76ers are legit. But can they win big playoff games?

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The Philadelphia 76ers beat the Chicago Bulls Wednesday night. Yes, a Bulls team without Luol Deng or Richard Hamilton, but still the team with the best record in the east and the reigning MVP Derrick Rose.

As I said in the recaps, this was another clear sign that the Sixers are legit. They are a top three/four seed in the East, they are going to win a lot of games and be a tough team to beat come the playoffs. They are balanced, have fantastic ball movement and play great defense.

But in the playoffs, will Philly be able score at the end of close games without a superstar? Conventional wisdom is you need a star who can create his own shot late in tight games (like Dirk Nowitzki did for the Mavericks last year). Can the 76ers really be considered a contender without one?

In an interesting, wide-ranging interview with Zach Lowe of Sports Illustrated, Sixers GM Rod Thorn says we are all going to find out about that together.

So Rod, can the Sixers win regularly in the payoffs, can they score enough late in the game without a superstar to give the ball and get out of the way?

That’s the $64,000 question: Can you do that night in and night out in close games? It’s an advantage to have someone who can get a good shot, or get fouled late in the ball game. Even the bad teams, if the games are close late, on the defensive end of the court, they get much harder and much better. And it’s harder to just run plays. Patterns you’ve run all night — it’s harder to do late. So ultra-talent certainly helps late. But with us and with Denver, you don’t know where it’s coming from.

If you’re playing the Lakers, you know what they’re going to do down the court every time late in the game.

So, are the Sixers contenders right now?

That’s a leap for us right now. We just made the playoffs as the seventh-place team. We’re definitely better this year when we have all of our pieces healthy. Spencer [Hawes] was an incredible plus for us in the first eight games. It put us on another level. We haven’t had him for a while. I think we can compete with anybody, but we have to prove we can play at that level, with those really, really elite teams.

I think the Sixers are good. Probably the third best team in the East, but the gap up to one and two is huge. Wednesday night was a good win for the 76ers, but it was an early season win with the Bulls missing some key pieces. I like Jrue Holiday, I love Lou Williams off the bench, I love how Spencer Hawes has stepped up. I still don’t think the Sixers can beat the Bulls or Heat over a seven game series.

But both the Sixers and Nuggets are good teams without a classic superstar this season, and come the playoffs they are going to be interesting to watch. Unless you are the Bulls, Heat and Thunder, in which case they are teams to avoid.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.

Mavericks reportedly front runners to land Al Horford, Lakers and Clippers also interested

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Al Horford is moving on from Boston, the latest blow in a year where the Celtics went from “they will be in the Eastern Conference Finals every year for the next five years at least” to “they’re okay but have a lot of work to do.” It’s been a perfect storm of things gone wrong.

So where does Al Horford play next season?

How about next to Kristaps Porzingis in Dallas?

That’s the buzz, with the two Los Angeles teams trying to get in the conversation, according to Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

The Mavericks are considered favorites to land Celtics free-agent big man Al Horford, according to league sources, and the two Los Angeles teams are said to also have interest, though they both have their sights set on bigger fish like Kawhi Leonard.

Dallas makes sense for both sides.

The Mavericks have the cap space to offer Horford the $20 million or more starting salary he wants, reportedly he seeks $100 million across four years (he opted out of a $30.5 million season in Boston for the security of more years). Dallas has $31.3 million in cap space, even after Dwight Powell opting in. While they likely will reach a max deal on a new contract with Porzingis, the Mavs have his bird rights so they can sign Horford then go over the cap to re-sign Porzingis (who missed all of last season recovering from an ACL injury).

On the court, Horford can both be paired with Porzingis — two bigs teams have to defend out to the three-point line — and help limit the young big man’s minutes. While not young at 33 (and the Mavs may regret the final year of a four-year contract), Horford is the kind of glue big man who can do everything well, giving coach Rick Carlisle a lot of options. Horford can score in the post, shot 36 percent from three, sets good screens, is a good man defender and can protect the rim, and all that versatility makes him valuable. He can fit into the Dallas frontcourt rotation with Porzingis, Dwight Powell, and Maxi Kleber.

That versatility would make him a great second addition to the Clippers if Kawhi Leonard chooses to leave the Raptors to join Doc Rivers’ squad (he Leonard stays the Clippers are out of this running). While Los Angeles start Ivica Zubac at the five, Horford would be an upgrade and they still have Montrezl Harrell off the bench. Horford also could mix in at the four for the Clippers.

For the Lakers, who are looking for a third star, they could sigh Horford at a $20 million starting salary (with raises from there) without having to go through the salary cap gymnastics it would take for them to clear cap space to land someone like Jimmy Butler or Kemba Walker.

Horford has fans all over the league and will have options, but Dallas is aggressive and there is a logical fit there.

Ted Leonsis denies making overture to Raptors’ Masai Ujiri to run Wizards

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The NBA offseason is a time for rumors and official denials. The Washington Wizards were reportedly going after Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri to run the franchise. The reported talks with Ujiri centered around a role that could have expanded his influence beyond the Wizards. Monumental Sports owns the Washington Capitals and Mystics in addition to the NBA franchise.

Now Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is denying that they have pursued the Raptors president. Speaking to the Washington Post this week, Leonsis said that they will not name a new president until after the 2019 NBA draft on Thursday. That seems like an odd decision given that the draft is one of three ways NBA teams can get better, and likely is the only way the Wizards will be able to improve their roster thanks to the cap hell they find themselves in due to John Wall‘s massive super max contract.

Via the Washington Post:

On Tuesday, Leonsis released a statement to The Washington Post in which he shared the plan to take his time in forming the franchise’s new leadership team. Leonsis also denied reports that the Wizards pursued Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri, who constructed the roster that last week won the NBA Finals.

Tommy Sheppard, who has led the Wizards’ basketball operations on an interim basis for the past 11 weeks, will continue in the role through Thursday’s NBA draft and the start of free agency, which arrives June 30.

“I am very happy with the work and preparation Tommy Sheppard, Coach [Scott] Brooks and our staff have done and I’m confident we’ll execute both the draft and free agency in an expert manner,” Leonsis said in a statement. “Having that confidence has given me the freedom to continue the conversations I’ve been having on how to build a great organization and, as a result, I don’t expect to make any decisions before the start of free agency.”

This comes with information from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that the Raptors would require significant compensation to allow Ujiri to walk to another NBA team.

Ujiri is still under contract with Toronto.

Via The Hoop Collective:

“I have heard there’s been at least some communication between the franchises and Toronto has expressed that if they’re going to give up Masai Ujiri, they would like to have significant compensation.”

Ujiri took a big risk to land Kawhi Leonard and it worked out. The former San Antonio Spurs small forward is now trying to decide where he wants to go this offseason as well, with reports saying he is still strongly considering the Los Angeles Clippers.

Marc Stein mentioned in his most recent newsletter that Leonard could also sign a 1+1 deal that gives him a $33 million payout for this upcoming season and an option for the next.

In short, everything is up in the air and nobody has gone anywhere… yet. The NBA offseason is already wild with July still some weeks away. Strap yourself in, it’s only going to get weirder from here.