ProBasketballTalk 2014-15 Preview: Philadelphia 76ers

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Last season: The Sixers were in year one of an admitted full-fledged rebuild, which involved not even trying to win basketball games. The plan was to bottom out, and work on acquiring and developing young talent that has superstar potential to lead the team back to respectability, and restoring it to the status of contender for years to come. Michael Carter-Williams winning Rookie of the Year was a nice start in that regard, but even a 26-game losing streak didn’t help the team finish with the league’s worst record; the Milwaukee Bucks were somehow worse.

Signature highlight from last season: Ending that 26-game losing streak against the Pistons helped Philadelphia avoid history, and showed that sometimes, a youthful group of talented players can come together to produce something special.

Key offseason moves: The Sixers continued their plan of drafting what they feel are the best players available, even if they won’t be ready to contribute in the upcoming season. Joel Embiid (injury) and Dario Saric (Europe) were nice additions, though neither is expected to play this year. The team’s last solid veteran player in Thaddeus Young was traded as part of the Kevin Love deal, with Alexey Shved and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute coming back in return — and both expected to be a part of the rotation.

Keys to the Sixers season:

Embrace the tank: Philadelphia won’t be good, but that’s by design. The decision has been made to have solely young and developing players on the roster — both as a plan for long-term improvement, as well as a way to take advantage of the draft lottery system that’s currently in place by losing enough games to get a chance at landing one of the top picks in next summer’s draft.

Nerlens Noel: The Sixers prize of the 2013 draft sat out all of last season, even though from a health standpoint he was ready to go, and could have played in games that counted in the latter part of the season. Head coach Brett Brown could often be seen on the main court working out Noel personally on game nights, which is rare for head coaches at the NBA level. But it shows just how much player development is in the forefront in this current incarnation of the Sixers, and now we’ll see whether or not the entire season of rehabilitation and teaching has paid off, along with finding out just how good Noel’s prospects are of being one of the franchise’s long sought after cornerstones.

Michael Carter-Williams: As the rebuilding plan begins its second year, Carter-Williams will be the canary in the coal mine that tells you whether or not it’s off to a positive start. The point guard’s averages of 16.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game were indeed impressive, but it’s worth wondering if the strength of those numbers was dependent on the team being so dismal. Carter-Williams will be worth watching closely to see if the development is taking place as scheduled, because with Noel in place, those assist numbers have a chance to jump significantly. But whether they do or they don’t, his shooting percentages — both from beyond the three-point arc (26.4 percent) and overall (40.5 percent) must begin to show marked improvement in order for him to begin to realize the potential he’s already shown.

Why you should watch: Carter-Williams and Noel should be all kinds of fun, and if Embiid gets on the court at some point later in the year (unlikely), that’s a lot of young talent with star potential that you can begin to follow in its extremely early stages.

Prediction: Pain. But only in the short-term, and only because that’s the mandate from the front office.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.