NBA Season Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

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Today begins PBT’s team-by-team season preview, going through all 30 squads. We are starting in the deep Atlantic Division that could well send four teams to the playoffs, and we will move West from there. First up, your Philadelphia 76ers.

Last season: They were a slightly better than .500 team (35-31) that played great defense but struggled to score consistently. Their record got them the 8 seed in the east and they were doomed to another early first round exit until Derrick Rose blew out his ACL. With that gift they got past Chicago and pushed Boston to 7 games in the second round.

Key Departures: After years of rumors, the Sixers finally did trade Andre Iguodala, finding their way into the four-team Dwight Howard trade. As part of that trade, they did nave to give up Nikola Vucevic, who the franchise liked. They also amnestied Elton Brand, who played pretty well for them but was not worth the cost. Jodie Meeks took his outside shooting to L.A.

Key Additions: They added the second best center in the NBA in Andrew Bynum as part of the Howard/Iguodala trade, radically reshaping the roster and setting up some fun Bynum/Roy Hibbert battles in the coming seasons. They also added Jason Richardson and Nick Young to provide scoring at the two spot. They also added Dorrell Wright and No. 27 overall pick Arnett Moultrie.

Plus, this year the Sixers fans get to become the group that tries to convince themselves Kwame Brown can really help them if they just use him in the right situations. It’s a study in cognitive dissonance.

Three keys to Sixers season:

1) Andrew Bynum grows to handle the pressure of being the franchise guy. There is no doubt Bynum is talented and has been blessed with a body few in the NBA can deal with on the block (even if it is a bit fragile at times). In Los Angeles, he wanted a bigger role and was vocal about it while still being a good teammate most of the time. He is bright, he is thoughtful. But now he does not have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol drawing the attention of defenders on the court and the media off it. This is his team, his spotlight. It is what he wanted.

Bynum is going to have to be the anchor on defense — he is going to have to be more active on the high pick-and-roll, his rotations will need to be consistently sharp not spotty. On offense, he’s going to have to recognize and pick apart teams when the double-team comes, and do it quickly. There is more, but the fact is Bynum can do all those things, he just hasn’t had to in the past for his team to have a shot at winning every given night. Now he does. There can’t be the lapses of effort when he doesn’t get involved early, there can’t be the moments of immaturity. It’s on him to step up. He can, but he has to prove it now. It’s that simple.

2) Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner need to take the next step. Together. The Philadelphia 76ers have potentially two of the best young perimeter players in the NBA. Holiday has been a good point guard — able to run the offense, set guys up — but needs his shot to finish better in the lane (he shot just 53.6 percent inside the restricted area and 37 from 3-9 feet) and maybe not take as many long two pointers (although he shot 40 percent on those). This is a contract year for Holiday, he needs to make a leap forward to really get paid.

Evan Turner’s showed flashes of looking like the No. 2 overall pick as the season wore on — he had solid rebound numbers and he moved the ball well. But he got outclassed in the playoffs, he’s got to hit threes at better than a 22.4 percent clip, he’s got to be consistent.

Turner had Iguodala and Meeks out taking shots and making plays on the wing, now they are gone and it is his job. He will start at the three and play some backup point, coach Doug Collins has said. The table has been set for him to make the leap, it is up to him.

3) Their defense cannot slip much. Last season the Sixers had the third best defense in the NBA, allowing just 96.6 points per 100 possessions (only Chicago and Boston were better). That is why they made the playoffs at all. With Andrew Bynum as a focal point in the post and growth from Turner and Holiday (plus Nick Young in the Lou Williams gunner off the bench role) we are expecting more from them on offense. But if the Sixers want to really take a step forward they need to still be a top 5 defensive team. Which is not going to be easy with the loss of Iguodala, one of the best perimeter defenders in the game today.

Andrew Bynum will help being a big presence in the paint (again, see point No. 1 about consistency) but guys on the perimeter have to step up and the team defense has to be there. If the offense gets better but the defense sags there will not be much improvement.

What one thing should scare Sixers fans? Andrew Bynum not re-signing with the team after this season. But, it shouldn’t scare them that much, I think he will. (He is not going to sign an extension, under the new CBA it makes far more financial sense for him to become a free agent then re-sign with a team, as Deron Williams did in Brooklyn.)

Bynum wanted to be the focal point of a major franchise, he is now. His ego will get fed and he’s closer to home (he grew up in New Jersey). Bynum is also a financially motivated guy and the Sixers max deal offered next summer will be one year longer and have larger raises than anyone else. But it is possible for this year to go sour, for the fans and tabloids to turn on Bynum and for him to decide he wants out as a free agent. If that happens, the Sixers essentially will have gotten nothing for Iguodala. It’s a concern, but not a huge one.

How it likely works out: After the Miami Heat in the East things are pretty fluid and a number of teams think they can be the two seed — Indiana, Boston, New York, Brooklyn. And you can put Philadelphia in that mix.

The question is, how much better are they now than the slightly above .500 team of last season? Is Bynum in the middle that much better than Iguodala on the wing (and Lou Williams off the bench). Can their defense hold while all their players take the steps forward expected of them?

I’m not convinced the Sixers are dramatically better short term, but I like what Philly did. Standing pat they might have improved to a six seed (probably 7-8) and would get bounced in the first round. Now there is a real chance for a Holiday/Evans/Bynum core to be very good and grow together over a few years.

I like the idea of going big with Bynum at the five and Spencer Hawes starting at the four in a conference where powers Boston and Miami are going small. Last year the Sixers were far, far to much of a jump shooting team that never got to the free throw line. Bynum will change that, he will score in the paint and draw fouls.

But I’m not convinced the success is instant or as strong as some in Philly expect. Bynum must adjust to his role and move the ball — the Sixers got off to a fast start last season in part because Spencer Hawes did a great job as a fulcrum moving the ball from the strong to weak side quickly. When Hawes got injured, they started to struggle. Now it’s on Bynum to do that job and it’s an adjustment.

Teams that expect a lot of guys to step up in the same year tend to have more fits and starts than a smooth, fast ride to the top.

I like what Philadelphia is doing, they are certainly a playoff team in the East and one that should have a goal of having their first-round series start at home. But I have a feeling their best years are two or three down the line, not this season.

Prediction: 47-35, which could be a four to six seed in the east. They are a team to watch, a team that might well be much better in April and May than November as they grow together. Last year they got out of the first round of the playoffs because of a fluke, if they get to the second round next season it’s because they are that good. And getting better.

Report: Stephen Curry also skipping Team USA minicamp

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In 2015, then-USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo declared a minicamp mandatory for invited players who wanted a chance to join Team USA in the Olympics the following year. (Colangelo didn’t exactly stick with that.)

New USA Basketball chairman Martin Dempsey isn’t bothering to set such a hard line a year before another major competition – the 2019 World Cup.

LeBron James will miss next week’s minicamp, and so will Stephen Curry.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Golden State Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry will not be in attendance for Team USA’s minicamp next week in Las Vegas, league sources tell ESPN.

The two-time NBA MVP, according to sources, will be spending time with his family, including his newborn son.

Curry and James will not be eliminated from consideration moving forward.

Curry and LeBron have both played all the way through the NBA Finals the last four years. I don’t blame them for taking time for themselves. They’re also good enough to still get onto Team USA in 2019 if they want to play. They have leverage other players might not.

If Kawhi Leonard is looking for attention-grabbing cover to attend the camp, he won’t get it from the NBA’s two biggest stars. If Leonard participates, he’ll be – by far – the biggest story there.

Are Raptors viable trade destination for Kawhi Leonard?

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The Lakers, Clippers, 76ers and Celtics have dominated Kawhi Leonard trade discussions for most of the summer.

But the Raptors have emerged as a trendy pick for the star’s destination. One betting site even gave Toronto even odds against the field – including the Spurs – as Leonard’s team to begin next season.

Are the Raptors actually a realistic landing spot for Leonard?

Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN discussed on The Lowe Post podcast.

Windhorst:

Toronto Raptors, I think they’re in the driver’s seat for Kawhi. Because I think the Lakers have given up. The Sixers have given up. And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat.

Lowe:

I’ve seen a lot of snark on Twitter that the Raptors stuff is a joke, that the odds went up because of something I said on my podcast and you said on TV. I’ve seen it being dismissed. It may not happen. Most NBA trades don’t happen. But if you think it’s a joke, you should probably recalibrate your expectations.

The Raptors can construct an offer built around:

Because DeRozan and Lowry earn more than Leonard, the Raptors could also take back a costly contract San Antonio wants to dump.

Such a deal would allow the Spurs to remain competitive now while gaining long-term assets under greater team control than Leonard, who can walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.

It’d also give the the Raptors a championship chance they wouldn’t have next season otherwise. The window might not remain open long considering Leonard’s health and contract status, but there’s something to be said for raising the ceiling when it can reach that level – even if it means lowering the floor. Plus, if Leonard left, Toronto could more easily transition into its next phase than if DeRozan and Lowry remained on the books.

This trade framework makes too much sense for the teams not to discuss it. But whether that’d result in an actual deal is another question.

Report: Kawhi Leonard considering participating in Gregg Popovich-led Team USA minicamp

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The Spurs want to repair their relationship with Kawhi Leonard and keep him long-term. Leonard wants to leave San Antonio. Potential trade partners want to know more about his health and mindset.

Something has to give.

Maybe it will next week.

Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich, taking over Team USA, will direct a minicamp in Las Vegas. Leonard is invited and – in a surprising development after he missed the few months of the season due to a quad injury – might actually play.

Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is seriously considering participation in the USA Basketball national team’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week, an event for the embattled All-NBA forward to showcase the status of his recovery to prospective trade partners, league sources told ESPN.

Among NBA teams and USA Basketball officials, there is a belief that Leonard wants to participate in the camp, but could be dissuaded based on ancillary concerns.

Leonard holds some enthusiasm for showcasing his revitalized health in the wake of the quad injury that has been at the center of discord between the Spurs and him, sources said. The question being debated, sources said, is whether participating in the Team USA camp will ignite trade talks that deliver him to his preferred destination — the Lakers — or give the Spurs more cause to hold on to Leonard and push him to report to training camp in September.

For what it’s worth, there is conflicting reporting about Leonard’s preferred destination. Some say it’s the Clippers.

This low-intensity camp won’t be a chance for Leonard to prove he’s fully healthy, but he can show enough to ignite trade interest. Maybe that helps propel him out of San Antonio – though if it’s not to Los Angeles, how much would that mean to Leonard?

The camp could also give Leonard and Popovich a chance to reconnect. Depending on whom you believe, maybe some in Leonard’s camp or even Leonard himself don’t want to give the Spurs boss that opportunity.

If Leonard goes to Las Vegas, it’d become a media circus. All his movements and interactions, especially with Popovich, would be closely scrutinized. At one point, I would have figured the reserved Leonard would want no part of that. But I now believe we incorrectly assumed too much about him just because he’s quiet.

So, I’m not entirely sure what he wants – or what direction participating in this camp would send him.

Leonard knows more about the former. It’s on him to evaluate the latter.

Report: Kings get Ben McLemore back in trade with Grizzlies

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Since the NBA instituted a four-year rookie scale for first-rounders in 1998, just 22 top-10 picks spent their entire rookie-scale contract with their original team then left that team in free agency.

Many stayed on their first team long-term. Others got traded while teams were still intrigued by the talent that got the player drafted so high in the first place. Some were signed-and-traded, the threat of restricted free agency giving teams one last chance to recoup value from a high pick.

There’s a certain stagnancy with a player’s development and a team’s decision-making when a team drafts someone high, holds him for his entire rookie-scale contract then just watches him leave in his first free agency.

Former No. 2 pick Jabari Parker is an atypical example of that rare situation, as he was picked especially high before the Bucks let his value drain until he signed with the Bulls last week.

Ben McLemore is far more representative.

The Kings drafted him No. 7 in 2013, and his production oscillated between degrees of poor. Sacramento explored trading him numerous times, but never pulled the trigger. The Kings didn’t even extend him a qualifying offer last summer, and he signed with the Grizzlies.

It was a failure of development by McLemore and foresight by Sacramento. The Kings clearly just never figured what to do with McLemore – which makes this trade, oh, so special.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian:

To be fair to the Kings, maybe this isn’t about McLemore at all. He could just be a salary for matching purposes, the player receiving it completely irrelevant.

All three traded players are on expiring contracts. All three are overpaid based on their production. Temple is the best and highest-paid player in the deal. Davis and McLemore have better chances of helping Sacramento win meaningfully.

The Kings, generously, have minimal chance of winning a satisfactorily next season. Temple wasn’t going to change that, and at 32, he had little chance of helping once Sacramento was ready.

McLemore is a longshot to ever become an effective rotation player, but he has the requisite size and athleticism for an NBA shooting guard, and he’s not old at age 25. The 21-year-old Davis is far more intriguing as a bouncy center, but he must make major strides in effort and awareness.

Even as low-odds bets, Davis and McLemore offer more to Sacramento than Temple did. The second-rounder and cash only improve the Kings’ return.

Sacramento also opens $995,049 in additional cap space. Could that go toward signing another restricted free agent to an offer sheet after the Bulls matched Zach LaVine‘s? Marcus Smart? Rodney Hood? Clint Capela?

Temple is the biggest winner of the trade. He opted in for $8 million next season, even though that meant committing to the lowly Kings. But now he gets his money and gets to join a better team. He might even start at shooting guard in Memphis. Temple is a fine player and an upgrade for the wing-hungry Grizzlies. But he’s also 32 and showed slippage last year. Memphis hopes a change in scenery will solve that and it wasn’t simply aging.

The Grizzlies were wise to bet on Temple considering the low cost of acquiring him. They’re trying to win now, which isn’t necessarily the wrong move with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley under contract. It’ll still be an uphill battle in the loaded West, but Temple is another helpful addition along with Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi and Jevon Carter this summer.