Adam Silver says he doesn’t think tanking works

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We haven’t even started the season — he’s not even commissioner yet — and already Adam Silver seems bothered by talking about tanking.

Well, a lot more questions are coming this year, tanking is going to be one of the big topics around the league this season. With a deep and loaded draft next season a number of teams have already started the “we’ll get bad to be good” train — Philadelphia, Utah, Phoenix, and Orlando (plus maybe the Bobcats, except they have just been bad for a few years and they did add Al Jefferson this season). Other teams with slightly better rosters that struggle out of the gate this season will shed assets to get better lottery odds for a shot at Andrew Wiggins and crew.

In an interview with Bucks.com (hat tip to Eye on Basketball) Silver said he is uncomfortable with all this because he doesn’t think it works.

“Number one, I don’t think it works, because culture is critical,” Silver said. “And I don’t think you can build a winning tradition by this undercurrent of ‘‘it’s really better to be bad and you need to be bad to be good.’ I haven’t seen it done successfully around the league. It makes me nervous that it has to be asked, so I recognize it’s something the league has to focus on.”

It hasn’t been successful? Then why exactly is it referred to as the Oklahoma City system? OKC was bad long enough to draft Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden with top four picks in consecutive drafts. That built the foundation of a contender.

It can work and a lot of GMs and owners like it better than feeling stuck in a rut in the middle of the league. You can build from the middle and win if you are smart and a little lucky (see the Indiana Pacers) but a lot of GMs and owners realize that to win in the NBA you need an elite player to get there. If you’re the Knicks or Lakers you can get those stars via free agency, but if you’re the Jazz or Magic you need a good draft.

(Plus, you can sell your owner on the roster being far less expensive for a few years. Owners like that.)

I think Silver swings and misses on the culture issue as well. The Magic and Sixers and every other team out there will tell you they are not “tanking” — they are not intentionally trying to lose games. Their coaches will put together detailed game plans, the players will bust their tails every night to win games, and there will not be a culture where losing is acceptable. That’s not how it plays in the locker room. What we are talking about is a management decision to put less talent (or younger, developing talent) in that locker room.

Tanking isn’t a sure fire rebuild method, but it is one that can work with a few breaks. And anytime you have potential franchise-changing guys coming into the league (and there are potentially multiple franchise changers in 2014) you’re going to see this. Anything you do to the lottery isn’t really going to change that.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.

Report: Kings’ Buddy Hield in 3-point contest

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Players who’ve attempted more than seven 3-pointers per game while making more than 40% of them this season:

Sharing company with only the greatest shooter of all-time will earn Hield a spot in the 3-point contest.

Carmichael Dave of KHTK Sports 1140:

Sacramento getting three players into the Rising Stars Challenge for the second straight year speaks to the team’s nice collection of young talent. Bogdan Bogdanovic (who won MVP last year) and De'Aaron Fox return to the game. No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III replaces Hield, who ages out.

Hield has a chance in the 3-point contest, though the league is better from beyond the arc than ever. He’ll certainly have plenty of competition.

PBT Extra: Five players to watch heading into the NBA’s trade deadline

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It’s going to be a slow NBA trade deadline this year.

The reason it will be relatively quiet on Feb. 7 (the deadline day) this year is reflected in the five players to watch talked about in this PBT Extra. The bottom line: There are far more buyers than sellers.

Take Trevor Ariza in Washington, for example. A number of playoff teams are looking for wings on expiring contracts to help them out — the Rockets and Lakers are at the front of that line — but Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said the team the team will not tank, so is Ariza even available.

Or, what about Terrence Ross in Orlando? Another wing a lot of teams have interest in, but is Orlando selling?

And while the Dallas Mavericks have made public overtures about reconciliation with Dennis Smith Jr., sources tell me the plan on both sides is still to find a trade, it’s just right now the offers are lowball ones (because the Mavs have no leverage and there will be good young point guards such as Terry Rozier and D'Angelo Russell available in July as restricted free agents, and teams like them better).

Still, there will be trades. These are the guys to watch.