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.

Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma trolling now in ad for Wish shopping app

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The Lakers asked Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma to back off on their social media trolling battle.

However, they made an exception for this new Wish.com app ad (Wish is the Lakers’ jersey ad sponsor).

Well played guys.

Miami bringing Briante Weber into camp with chance to make roster

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For three seasons, Briante Weber has bounced around the fringes of the NBA. The defensive-minded point guard has played in short stints (often 10-day contracts) for the Grizzlies, Heat, Warriors, Hornets, and last season he got in 13 games for the Rockets (plus five in Memphis). He’s spent most of his career in the G-League, working for his chance to get in the door.

Miami is bringing him into training camp, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

This is apparently camp invite.

There is roster space in Miami if Webber blows them away. Miami has 12 fully guaranteed roster spots and, with Webber, two partially-guaranteed deals (Malik Newman, who was undrafted out of Kansas, is the other).

The problem for Webber is Miami is deep at the point guard spot: Goran Dragic will start, and if Tyler Johnson is healthy (as expected) he will get a lot of minutes behind him, and then there is Newman. The Heat also have in the guard rotation Dion Waiters, Wayne Ellington, Rodney McGruder, and possibly Dwyane Wade if he returns (all of those guys are more two guards).

That’s a lot of guys for Webber to beat out and find a spot. On the other hand, his defensive style is something different from what the Heat have on the roster.

Webber is a longshot, but he’s at least going to camp.

Russell Westbrook “very, very excited” Paul George re-signed with Thunder

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What did you expect him to say?

Rather than a potential rebuild — or another “Russell Westbrook vs. The World” season — the Oklahoma City Thunder were one of the big winners of the off-season when Paul George agreed to re-sign with the team. They also moved on from Carmelo Anthony, will get Andre Roberson back from injury, and added Dennis Schroder to give them a shot creator off the bench.

Needless to say, Westbrook is a happy man. We could kind of tell that from the party he threw the night George agreed to re-sign, but he said it directly in an ESPN interview while in China on his Jordan Brand Tour.

“I’m very, very excited. Paul has been an unbelievable teammate, obviously a great friend. I’m very, very excited that he is back and we’re ready to make some noise. We are just going to take it one day at a time. I think our team has a lot of great, young talent. We have one goal now and that is winning a championship.”

While it’s hard to envision the Thunder reaching that goal (as constructed), the Thunder could well be the three or four seed in the West and have home court in the first round of the playoffs. While the margin for error in the West will be minuscule (with 12 teams having a shot at the eight playoff spots), with the Thunder’s strong top-10 defense and two stars who can take over games nightly, they should be one of the more consistent regular season teams in the West.

Either way, the Thunder are a lot more interesting with George than without. It’s going to be a good season for the Thunder.

PBT Extra: Carmelo Anthony officially a Houston Rocket now — this can work

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Did the Houston Rockets get better this summer? The conventional wisdom is no, they will miss the switchable defense and versatility of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute against the NBA’s other elite teams.

But with Carmelo Anthony officially signing with the Rockets on Monday, don’t expect a big step back, something I cover in this latest PBT Extra.

The Rockets had the second-best offense in the NBA last season (almost tied with the Warriors) and ‘Melo can enhance that — he can still punish switches in the post, he has a catch-and-shoot game, and while he may not be as efficient as he once was, the man can get buckets. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, expect Mike D’Antoni to find him minutes while Chris Paul and James Harden rest where he can be an offensive focal point.

This all could work out in Houston.