76ers and Jazz are ridiculously young – and that works for them

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BOSTON – Jason Richardson knows plenty about losing.

He has spent 11 seasons in his 14-year career with losing teams. He has seen how losing tears teams apart, how it instills bad habits, how it fosters poor attitudes. He has played for multiple teams that were checked out mentally by this point in the season.

But he has never played for a team quite like these 76ers, who, by their 18-61 record, appear to resemble Richardson’s prior poor squads.

“Being on this team, guys not thinking they’re losers,” Richardson said. “And that’s a great sign.

“A lot of them haven’t gotten opportunity in the past. A lot of these guys have been in the D-League. A lot of guys just coming into the league. So, they try to take advantage of that. So, that’s what you want to see from young guys.”

Emphasis on young.

The 76ers, with an average age – weighted for playing time and set to each player’s age on Feb. 1 of a given season – of 23.2 are historically young. So are the Jazz, who have an average age of 23.4.

These teams are not just randomly stacked with young players. Their youth is fundamental to their identities.

Philadelphia is a full year younger on average than the NBA’s third-youngest team this season (Magic), and Utah also nearly clears that bar:

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Historically, the 76ers rate as the fourth-youngest team-ever, and the Jazz are sixth.

Both teams have seen average age fluctuate as their rosters have churned, and here’s how the age of Philadelphia (red) and Utah (gold) has progressed through the season compared to the NBA’s previous youngest teams:

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With roster compositions so different from the rest of the league, the 76ers and Jazz have their own styles.

“I won’t say it’s collegiate, but it’s…” Utah coach Quin Snyder, who previously coached Missouri, said, trailing off. Philadelphia coach Brett Brown describes the 76ers as a “program,” the college version of the NBA “franchise.”

If it’s not quite collegiate, it’s as close as the NBA gets.

The 76ers were nearly as young last season, when they finished with, to the point, the seventh-youngest average age in league history. Brown emphasized player development, and the Jazz are following suit – in ways older teams won’t.

Utah practices more often with contact and more frequently holds shootarounds.

“We try to squeeze every little bit out of every minute – whether it’s practice, shootaround, games, film,” Snyder said. “And that’s important, I think, for a group that doesn’t have experience. We’re going to try to gain it any way we can.”

Snyder and Brown both say they have stressed basic lessons, often repeating their message.

“If you haven’t done something a thousand times, you’ve done it 10 times, you need to keep doing it,” Snyder said. “So, the formation of habits, there’s a redundancy there that, for a player, can get old. And for our guys, it’s really a different type of mental toughness, to be able to come to work every day and grind and grind and grind. I always admired swimmers. To be able to to get in the pool and swim, that’s hard. We’ve asked our team to, some of the most mundane things that you associate with basketball, to commit to them and to commit to them with a level of precision. We’re not going to get better if we don’t do it right.”

And the Jazz have gotten better.

They’re 17-8 since the All-Star break, playing lights-out defense. Players are improving, perhaps nobody more so than Rudy Gobert.

The 76ers have their own success stories – including Nerlens Noel breaking out and Jerami Grant steadily improving – in this environment.

To whatever degree these teams got young because youth usually means losing, and losing means a better draft pick, they’re also committed to developing their players.

And it’s not as if these teams have gotten freakishly young on the individual level.

Aside from 19-year-old Dante Exum – the NBA’s fifth-youngest player behind Bruno Caboclo, Aaron Gordon, Noah Vonleh and James Young – there isn’t a teenager in the bunch.

Philadelphia’s youngest player, the 20-year-old Noel, isn’t even in his first year in the league.

But to balance this on the other end, the Jazz have nobody over 27.

Do they know which player is the oldest on Utah’s roster?

“Joe Ingles,” Elijah Millsap said.

“We’re tied,” Ingles said. “We’re kind of tied.”

“I’ll take Joe Ingles,” Millsap said. “He looks older.”

“My body is older,” Ingles admits with a twinge of pride.

“I do know that I’m the oldest,” Millsap finally conceded.

Millsap is correct. He’s a month and change older than than Ingles.

Having this discussion? Two rookies.

Unsurprisingly, Millsap is younger than any oldest player on a team in the NBA this season:

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“We really don’t have a veteran on this team,” Millsap said. “I wouldn’t say a veteran, veteran – a super veteran.

“I think it’s better this way. Guys have to learn on their own, bump their head and, in the process, just continue to get better.”

Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, both in their fifth seasons, are Utah’s most-experienced players. Trevor Booker and Jeremy Evans are also in their fifth years, but neither has played nearly as much.

Hayward says he and Favors embrace leadership roles despite being so young, but, he adds, “It’s definitely a weird situation.”

That strangeness can turn out well for involved, though.

“It’s kind of a blessing to be able to be kind of thrown into the fire,” said Hornets forward Marvin Williams, who was a rookie on the 2005-06 Hawks – the youngest team of all time. “You have to take your lumps when you’re learning on the fly like that.”

Williams looked up to veterans Tony Delk and Tyronn Lue on that team, but in many ways, he was on his own in a mostly young locker room. Playing back-to-backs for the first time, Williams wasn’t ready for the grind.

“I would take losses so hard,” Williams said. “When I would go home, my buddies would always tell me I was in such a bad mood all the time. I wouldn’t want to do anything. Sometimes, I wouldn’t sleep.”

There are advantages to having such young teams, though, especially when trying to develop chemistry.

“We have a lot of similar interests in just everyday things, from to music to the usual activities,” Noel said. “Everybody gets along so well. Everybody was in college so recently, so I think we’ve done a great job bonding and staying close-knit.”

But that process hasn’t come as easily for everyone in Philadelphia.

“It challenges you,” said Luc Mbah a Moute, the 76ers other established veteran, a 28-year-old and seven-year pro.

Which aspect is most challenging?

“Everything, pretty much,” Mbah a Moute said. “Just the grind of having to be patient and having to wait and see how those guys learn. They pretty much have to learn through mistakes.”

Though Mbah Moute said he enjoys seeing that process unfold, there are difficulties for him, especially when it comes to relating to his younger teammates.

“Definitely different. Definitely too young for me,” Mbah a Moute said. “But I’m not that old, so we still spend time, enjoy ourselves. Obviously, I’m not as wild as they are.”

Mbah a Moute certainly doesn’t seem to be working against the stream, but Richardson – Philadelphia’s oldest player, who received adult diapers from his teammates when he turned 34 earlier this year – sounds fully on board with the 76ers’ youth.

“They gave me inspiration, just the way the come in and work hard and love the game. They’re happy that they’re here, but they’re working still at the same time,” Richardson said. “I can remember that feeling as a young guy.”

Mike Budenholzer no fan of Drake’s free run on Toronto sideline

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Drake is the Mayor of Toronto.

Actually, he does fewer drugs than some former mayors of Toronto, and Drake was not elected, but he’s The Mayor in any meaningful way. The man can do whatever he wants.

Such as walk up and down the sidelines of a Raptors game with impunity, and give Nick Nurse a massage during the game.

Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer has much bigger things to worry about — such as were Eric Bledsoe misplaced his shot — but somehow during his conference call with the media on Wednesday, before a critical Game 5, Drake was the topic of discussion. Budenholzer is not a fan of Drake getting to patrol the sidelines. Via ESPN:

“I will say, again, I see [Drake talking to Raptors] in some timeouts, but I don’t know of any person that’s attending the game that isn’t a participant in the game a coach,  I’m sorry, a player or a coach, that has access to the court. I don’t know how much he’s on the court. It sounds like you guys are saying it’s more than I realize. There’s certainly no place for fans and, you know, whatever it is exactly that Drake is for the Toronto Raptors. You know, to be on the court, there’s boundaries and lines for a reason, and like I said, the league is usually pretty good at being on top of stuff like that.”

My guess is the league (and maybe the referees before Game 6 in Toronto) will reach out to Drake and tell him he can’t go Joe Biden on a coach during the game, and to stay near his seat. This is precisely the kind of distraction from the game that fans love to talk about and annoys the league office, which wants the focus on the court.

Personally, the more personality around the game, the better. It’s entertainment people, enjoy the show.

Knicks president Mills says Porzingis threatened to return to Europe if not traded in seven days

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If you thought the Knicks thrashing or Kristaps Porzingis on his way out the door was over, well, you haven’t been paying attention to the Knicks.

Team president Steve Mills was at a Knicks fan forum on Wednesday and was asked about the Kristaps Porzingis trade and dropped this bomb: Porzingis gave the Knicks the ultimatum of “trade me or I’m going back to Europe.”

“When he walked into our office, my office, and Scott [Perry, Knicks GM] was sitting there with me, and point blank said to us, ‘I don’t want to be here, I’m not going to re-sign with the Knicks, and I’ll give you seven days to try and trade me or I’m going back to Europe.'”

To be clear, Porzingis had to mean going back to Europe to work out and hang out, he could not have played professionally this season. European clubs honor commitments to NBA contracts — they will not sign and play a guy under an NBA contract — the same way the NBA does with European clubs (as well as China and all FIBA leagues).

Saying he wasn’t going to re-sign makes things clear for New York, it’s one of the reasons the NBA touted the “super-max” contract extensions because teams would find out earlier about player intentions. The Europe part, he could have signed there this summer, but the most a European team would pay him would still be more than $20 million less his likely next NBA contract (the top Europeans players make less than $3 million annually). But sure, go ahead and believe Porzingis would leave that money on the table.

For the Knicks brass, speaking in front of Knicks fans, this was the chance to make themselves look good — “see, we already had a good trade in place” — and thrash the guy they had been selling as the franchise savior a year before. It’s all about perception.

The Knicks have a lot of cap space this summer and their perception as a front office will hinge on what they do — or do not do — with it.

Porzingis landed in a good spot with Luka Doncic in Dallas, and the Mavericks will give Porzingis a max contract. Then it’s on him to earn it.

New Suns coach Monty Williams: ‘I’m here at the right time, and I’m here with the right people’

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PHOENIX (AP) The Phoenix Suns have gone through coaches like tear-away racing visors, the count up to five in five years.

The instability has hurt them on the court, the run of playoff-less appearances stretching to nine straight seasons with this year’s 19-63 finish.

Monty Williams, the man GM James Jones hired to coach the Suns, hopes to change the trend.

“Continuity, having a staff here for a while and putting in a system that the players can rely upon, but ultimately it will come down to James, myself and the players pushing this thing forward,” Williams said during his introductory news conference Tuesday. “The players are going to have to embrace a level of work and commitment that it takes to be a champion.”

Williams was hired on May 3 to replace Igor Kokoskov, who was fired after one season in the desert.

Williams’s arrival in Phoenix was delayed while he finished out the playoffs as an assistant to Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. The 76ers were eliminated from the playoffs last week by Toronto on Kawhi Leonard‘s hang-on-the-rim buzzer-beater in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Williams’ name had been linked to numerous head coaching jobs, including the Lakers, but he wound up in the Valley of the Sun after multiple discussions with Suns owner Robert Sarver.

“In my conversations with Mr. Sarver, I saw someone who didn’t duck the tough questions,” Williams said. “We both had tough questions for each other and in this day and age where people throw each other under the bus, make excuses, blame, I didn’t see that. I saw a man who really wants to bring success to this city and I mean that with all of my heart or I wouldn’t have come here.”

Williams had a previous stint as an NBA head coach, leading New Orleans from 2010-15. A year after he was fired, Williams’ wife, Ingrid, was killed in a car crash.

He didn’t know if he wanted to get back into coaching after her death, but was pushed by his kids to return to coaching the sport he loves.

“When everything happened to my family, my focus was just take care of my children,” said Williams, who has remarried. “That led me to believe I might not ever be able to coach again, and I was cool with that. But they weren’t. And to have your children want you to go back to doing what you love to do gave me even more confidence, more strength. Hopefully that translates and the players can pick up on that.”

The Suns have been known as a dysfunctional franchise, but were lauded for landing Williams, a well-respected, well-rounded coach.

Williams played nine NBA seasons with New York, San Antonio, Denver, Orlando and Philadelphia. He’s been a head coach, an assistant and spent two years in San Antonio’s front office.

“His experience in all facets of basketball as a coach, player development on the offensive side of the ball and the defensive side of the ball, in the front office gives him a unique perspective that I think is well suited for our franchise,” Jones said.

In the Suns, Williams takes over a young team with two star-quality players at its core: Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton.

Booker has developed into one of the NBA’s best scorers, leading the Suns with 26.6 points per game. He had five 40-point games the final month of the season, including 50 and 59 in consecutive games.

Ayton was the No. 1 overall pick in last year’s NBA draft and didn’t disappoint, shooting 59% while averaging 16.3 points and 10.3 rebounds.

Phoenix should add to its talent base with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft.

“There’s so much room to grow,” Williams said. “I think we have a young team that’s learning how to win and they will and I have to do my job. I have to enhance the strengths but be honest about our weaknesses and get the players to consider a new way of doing some things. I think I’m here at the right time and I’m here with the right people.”

Hornets’ Miles Bridges on All-Rookie: ‘I didn’t get snubbed. I played like a— all year’

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The NBA released its All-Rookie teams yesterday. Hornets forward Miles Bridges missed out, getting only one first-team vote and four second-team votes.

Bridges:

I love this attitude. Bridges didn’t deserve to make it. It’s silly to for anyone, including him, to pretend otherwise.

He’s obviously being too hard on himself. He had an OK rookie year. It just wasn’t one of the NBA’s 10 best this season.

Players often hold inflated opinions of themselves. That might help them succeed in a high-pressure job, and that’s obviously their priority. To be clear: I’m not criticizing them for adopting an approach that helped them reach this high level. But it leaves them as lousy analysts of their own performance.

Bridges doesn’t have that problem. It’s easy to see how this will drive him to improve.

His humility won’t work for everyone. But it works for him, and it’s a refreshing change of pace.