Report: 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie reneged on promise to release Andrei Kirilenko

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Update: Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This likely explains how the 76ers got an extra roster spot to acquire Jared Cunningham.

 

The Nets traded Andrei Kirilenko, because they didn’t want to pay him or the amount he increased their luxury-tax bill. The 76ers took him, because they’re far enough below the salary floor that his salary contributes to dollars they’d have to spend anyway, and they got a draft pick from Brooklyn for their trouble.

Those are the details, in simplest terms, that motivated the deal.

It has gotten much more complicated since.

A family issue has reportedly kept Kirilenko in the New York area. The 76ers want him to report, but he has yet to do so.

Some are blaming Philadelphia general manager Sam Hinkie for the stalemate.

Bob Ford of The Inquirer:

According to two sources with inside knowledge of the negotiations, the Sixers had agreed to release veteran forward Andrei Kirilenko after the trade was consummated, but did not follow through on that handshake deal. Kirilenko, who played only seven games with the Nets this season, remains on the Sixers roster but has refused to join the team despite a request to do so.

“He might have an IQ of 150, but [Hinkie] doesn’t seem to realize you have to deal with these people over and over,” one league source said.

Could Hinkie have misinterpreted or misunderstood the alleged agreement with the Nets, who wanted to satisfy the desire of Kirilenko – a favorite of Russian team owner Mikhail Prokhorov – to become a free agent?

“No,” said another source. “I think he started thinking he can just hold onto him and use him at the trade deadline in a package to get something.”

Nets general manager Billy King and Hinkie both declined to comment on the record for this story, but a Sixers team source disputed the allegation.

“We made the trade to get the draft pick and in hopes [Kirilenko] might play for us,” the Sixers source said. “[Releasing him] was not a condition of the trade, but I have no idea what was said to him on the other end.”

The 76ers waived a physical as condition of the trade, according to Ford, a clear sign they’re not too concerned about Kirilenko playing for them. That, and every other move Hinkie has made, indicates this trade was about the financials, not Kirilenko as a player.

Kirilenko’s contract could be useful to facilitating another deal before the deadline, and I can see why the 76ers would strategically want to hold it until then. Heck, there’s no reason they wouldn’t also hope Kirilenko plays, exceeds expectations and somehow fetches an asset for what he can do on the court.

I’m confused why anyone cares whether the 76ers release Kirilenko now. If a family matter is keeping Kirilenko in New York – before the trade, Kirilenko was available only for Nets home games – what is he going to do as a free agent? League rules prevent him from signing with the Nets. Does he want to sign with the Knicks? As Phil Jackson dismantles his team, what use would they have for a 33-year-old?

Kirilenko’s absence is reportedly due to his wife’s pregnancy, so I suppose he just wants to ensure he has his options open if he returns later in the season. But if the 76ers don’t flip Kirilenko, I can’t see why they wouldn’t be willing to release him after the trade deadline. And if a team trades for Kirilenko, it will either be:

  • for his contract to make salaries match, and that team can release him.
  • for his playing ability, and there probably aren’t any of those. But if there is, Kirilenko joining that squad wouldn’t be so bad on his end.

In the meantime, Kirilenko’s status with Philadelphia is unclear.

The 76ers’ trade for Jared Cunningham gave them 16 players. Though they waived Cunningham, they still temporarily exceed the typical limit of 15 players.

Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said a hardship granted the 76ers the extra roster spot. Without four injured players who’ve missed three straight games (only Jason Richardson, Joel Embiid and Hollis Thompson have), Philadelphia wouldn’t have qualified through the method discussed here. It’s possible the 76ers or NBA has quietly suspended Kirilenko for failing to report, and if he’s on the suspended list, he wouldn’t count toward the active or inactive lists.

NBA by-laws also allow teams to exceed roster maximums in the event of “extreme hardship” if a majority of the Board of Governors allows it.

Given how people are talking about Hinkie, though, I doubt other teams are rushing to help the 76ers. Ford:

“General managers like to call each other and talk, but nobody wants to talk to Sam Hinkie. Nobody trusts this guy,” one source said.

There is a perception in some corners that Hinkie is unqualified to run a team, because he lacks the necessary interpersonal skills. It’s a fair concern, but I’m not qualified to say whether it’s fairly applied to Hinkie.

I like the rebuilding approach he has taken, and I think the 76ers have a bright future once they finish tanking. Hinkie deserves a chance to see this process through.

But as long as he remains general manager, these shots at him will continue. He’s a threat to the old guard that dislikes his analytical approach.

And like I said, the concern is fair. People skills are important to being a general manager.

But, in this case with Kirilenko, I don’t see enough evidence to convict Hinkie of wrongdoing.

Alex Abrines says Russell Westbrook stood by him through mental health issues

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Alex Abrines is a big fan of Russell Westbrook the person.

Westbrook takes some hits as a selfish teammate from some quarters of NBA fandom, but Abrines had to leave the Thunder due to personal, mental health issues and said Westbrook stood by him. This is from an interview with Basket en Movistar+, via Eurohoops.

“He’s a very nice guy. He helped me a lot especially in the first year. In most of our trips we did something together, watch a movie, have dinner. When I went through all this and did not travel with the team, he kept in touch. He asked me to meet him for dinner. He cared for the person beyond the player. He calmly told me what I should do noting that he would support me if I decided to leave.”

“Athletes are normal people, but are pressured above average. Medication helps, but at the end of the day you must seek professional aid, discuss with friends and family, move forward with their support” adds Abrines on his illness, “It is a different kind of pain. Physical pain is something you can see and feel. Mental pain can not be observed and can not be treated like an injured knee for example. If you don’t go through something similar, you can’t realize it. In the end of the day, money is not above everything. Until it happens, you don’t realize that you don’t give a shit about money.”

Abrines signed with FC Barcelona, but could not travel with the team to all its games last season. He’s still on his path to wellness, and hopefully he gets there.

We tend to think of professional athletes in two dimensions, focusing on how they entertain us or help our fantasy teams. However, as Abrines notes, they are ordinary people with families and challenges, including mental health issues. More and more players are willing to speak out about that, but having friends — not just teammates, but real supporters like Westbrook was here — is also a big help.

Andre Drummond focused on conditioning heading into contract season

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Andre Drummond can be a free agent next summer. That would mean walking away from a $28.8 million player option for that season, so he’s not going to do it unless he thinks he can land an even bigger payday (a max contract) or he decides he wants some security long term. Drummond has said he’s excited to be a free agent (then quickly tried to walk that back).

How Drummond plays this coming season will play a big role in what kind of offers he will get. What is Drummond doing to prepare for this contract year? Improving his conditioning, reports coach Dwane Casey to Pistons.com.

“One, his overall conditioning. He’s in the best shape since I’ve been around him, the year and a half that I’ve seen. His body is slim and trim, his body fat is down, he’s been in Vegas working with Coach Gerg (Tim Grgurich) and Sean Sweeney all summer religiously, two and three times a day. That in itself is going to pay great dividends. Watching him in pickup games, he’s running like a deer. His decision making, I think the 3-point shooting experiment, we kind of put that on hold in the second part of the year last year but still, catching the ball on pick and roll, making decisions, he’s doing a great job of that – a much better job than he did last year. That’s something he’s worked on this summer, making the right read, the right decision.”

This time of year, right before training camp, reports of players being in “the best shape of their life” is worth as much as tickets from the Fyre Festival. It’s good to hear this about Drummond, but we’ll want to see it before we believe it.

Can Drummond punish teams that go small against him? Can he find a way to get easy buckets in transition and space the floor a little more? Do that, with his rebounding, and he may get the payday he wants. But he’s going to have to show it all season long.

 

Report: Kawhi Leonard talked to Paul George — and PG asked for trade — before free agency opened

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This story is a perfect example of why small and middle-market owners were pissed off (to put it mildly) after this summer’s free agency. It’s why the league did an investigation. It’s why there are new rules, new talk of enforcement, and preaching a “culture of compliance” around tampering in the NBA.

None of that may have mattered in this case, either. The anti-tampering crackdown sounds good, but how much will it slow down how the real recruiting gets done: player-to-player? From Draymond Green texting Kevin Durant just after the Warriors 2016 Finals loss to this summer, it’s the game’s best players recruiting their peers that really bothers some teams.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, on his latest podcast, talks about just that and uses Kawhi Leonard‘s recruitment of Paul George as an example — and in the process blows up Doc Rivers idea that Leonard made his choice in a meeting when presented with a list.

“The idea that Kawhi Leonard first introduced the idea of trading for Paul George in his meeting with the Clippers, from a list, we know that days before free agency started, well days before, Kawhi and Paul George were talking. Paul George’s agent went to Oklahoma City prior to the start of free agency and said Paul would like to be traded to the Clippers. He wants to play with Kawhi. But, at that point, Kawhi wasn’t allowed to be talking with the Clippers. They couldn’t officially have contact with him until after June 30, 6 p.m.

“But among small markets, the player-to-player [tampering] is the issue. As a GM said to me recently, the teams are often the last to know in these instances. The star player goes out and starts working a guy, then says ‘I want this guy.'”

If you don’t think that is true, think back to the Brooklyn Nets saying Kevin Durant chose them without there even being a pitch meeting. It may not have been a total shock to Brooklyn Durant was coming, but they were not in the loop on decision-making process (except via Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who was recruiting Irving).

The problem comes back to enforcement: How exactly is the league going to stop players who work out together in the summer, who go to dinner with each other, who may share agents (LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for example), from talking and recruiting each other? When Leonard spoke to George, he was about to be a free agent — he could talk to anyone he wanted. Leonard may have orchestrated all of this. How much the Clippers were in the loop is certainly up for debate, but this was Leonard’s power play.

Tampering may be less of an issue next summer with a soft free-agent class, but just wait for 2021 when potentially Kawhi and George, LeBron, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and more hit the market. Those players will be talking, the league will be hard-pressed to stop it, and it all could lead to impressive fireworks.

Klay Thompson: ‘That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.’

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Stephen Curry wants to go to Tokyo and play for Team USA next summer. So does Draymond Green.

How about three Warriors?

If Klay Thompson is healthy, he wants to play in the Olympics next summer he told Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic.

“I would love to play (for) Team USA,” Thompson said. “That is the plan. I would love to be on the Olympic team.”

The biggest question for Thompson’s candidacy will be health. He is expected to be out until at least after the All-Star break recovering from the ACL he tore during the Finals last season. He could miss all of next season. That said, if he is healthy he would be a perfect fit for the international game — he is a dangerous three-point shooter, can handle the ball when needed, and is an outstanding perimeter defender. Team USA could use guys like that.

It won’t just be the big-name Warriors players who will want to step up next summer.

After USA Basketball finished seventh at this summer’s World Cup in China — due mostly to numerous top players choosing not to play for their nation this summer — it was expected that a wave of elite players will sign up for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Players are doing this less because revenge or re-establishing the USA’s basketball dominance — although expect that to be the narrative they pitch — and more about timing. FIBA, in its “infinite wisdom,” decided to move the World Cup from its usual spot, which would have been 2018, to 2019. Playing for USA Basketball is a 6-8 week summer commitment, and now the World Cup and Olympics are in back-to-back years. That left a lot of elite NBA players — and not just for Team USA — looking at the calendar and feeling they had to choose one or the other. And for American players, the Olympics will almost always win that fight.

USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo said he is going to remember who was willing to make the sacrifice to come this summer when it comes time to choosing an Olympic team. That may happen with a couple of roster spots, but he’s not turning elite talent away, either.

And all three of those Warriors would be the kind of elite players Team USA will want in Tokyo. If Thompson is healthy enough to go, expect him to pack his bags for Tokyo.