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.”

Doc Rivers: I told Steve Ballmer, if Kawhi Leonard signed with Lakers, Clippers moving to Seattle

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We know what happened: The Clippers traded for Paul George, signed Kawhi Leonard and became championship favorite.

But at one point, Clippers coach Doc Rivers thought the George trade with the Thunder would fall through and Leonard could sign with the Lakers.

Rivers, via Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times:

“The day of the trade at 12 noon the deal was off,” Rivers said. “I was at home in Malibu and Lawrence called me and told me, ‘It looks like he’s either going to Toronto or the Lakers.’ The Lakers part just threw me over. I told him that can’t happen. … I remember I kept telling him, ‘We cannot allow that to happen!’

“I actually told Steve jokingly that if that happens, we’re moving the team to Seattle. It was a joke, but I was actually serious about it. I really believed that.”

Kawhi Leonard cost us the SuperSonics returning!

I don’t know how serious Rivers really was. Leonard joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on their cross-arena rival would’ve been disastrous for the Clippers.

I’m convinced Ballmer will keep the franchise in Los Angeles. Ballmer’s ties to Seattle through Microsoft are well-established, and he previously tried to buy the Kings to move them to Seattle. But I can’t see him moving the Clippers from such a prime market, especially after going so far to get a new arena built in L.A. At every turn, he has maintained he’ll keep the team in Los Angeles.

Then again, Ballmer also phrased that guarantee as, “I will die owning the L.A. Clippers.” Now, he’s open to changing the nickname. Hmmm…

To be clearer than Rivers: That’s a joke I’m not actually serious about don’t really believe.

Stephen Curry responds to Kevin Durant: We all want to iso, but I’d rather win titles

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After the Warriors lost to the Jazz in December, Steve Kerr said his team didn’t move the ball enough. Kevin Durant said Golden State passed too much.

That public disagreement sure looks more significant now. Not only did Durant leave for the Warriors, he cited offensive style as a reason.

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“The motion offense we run in Golden State, it only works to a certain point,” he says. “We can totally rely on only our system for maybe the first two rounds. Then the next two rounds we’re going to have to mix in individual play. We’ve got to throw teams off, because they’re smarter in that round of playoffs. So now I had to dive into my bag, deep, to create stuff on my own, off the dribble, isos, pick-and-rolls, more so than let the offense create my points for me.” He wanted to go someplace where he’d be free to hone that sort of improvisational game throughout the regular season.

Stephen Curry clearly viewed things differently.

Curry, via ESPN:

“Well, I don’t really care what plays we ran,” Curry said. “We won two championships. And at the end of the day, we had a lotta talent and there was an expectation of us figuring out how to balance all that. And we talked a lot about it throughout the three-year run. It wasn’t always perfect, but I think in terms of, you know, the results and what we were able to do on the floor, that kinda speaks for itself. We all wanna play iso-ball at the end of the day in some way, shape or form. But I’d rather have some championships, too.”

There’s truth to what Durant said. Defenses tighten deep in the playoffs, both because good defensive teams are more likely to advance and scouting committed to a single opponent tends to favor the defense. At that level, elite isolation scorers like Durant are particularly valuable. They can render schemes moot.

The Warriors learned that the hard way in the 2016 NBA Finals. They lost to the Cavaliers, who turned up their defense that postseason. Golden State scored fewer points per possession in its series against Cleveland than the Pistons did in the first round against the Cavs.

Adding Durant made the Warriors’ offense nearly unstoppable in every round. They leaned on their movement-heavy system when possible then turned to Durant isolations in moments of need.

Assessing playoff output is tricky because of varying opponents. But in three years with Durant, Golden State faced nine teams that played multiple postseason series. Eight of those teams had their worst defensive series against the Warriors, each by at least 2.6 points per 100 possessions. Only the 2019 Trail Blazers fared worse defensively against another team. They allowed just 0.2 more points per 100 possessions against the Nuggets than against Golden State.

Of course, Durant missed last season’s Western Conference finals against Portland. His absence was a big reason the Warriors’ didn’t meet their usual offensive standards.

Still, Golden State’s base offense was elite. Infallible? No. But it won multiple big playoff series before Durant arrived. He just took the Warriors to an even higher level.

Though he sometimes chafed at how the Warriors played, Durant also did his part to fit with them. He played his part in running Kerr’s preferred style.

It just seems Durant no longer wanted that safety-valve role. He holds immense respect for individual scoring as a skill. He’ll have a better chance to spread his wings in Brooklyn.

Durant will have a harder time winning a title without the incredible supporting cast he left behind. Curry might have wanted to point that out.

But everyone did their part in Golden State the last few years. That’s why they won those championships.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there

Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?

While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.

The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.

Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.

But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.

One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).

That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.

The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?

I just don’t know.

As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.

The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.

At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.

Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.

Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.

In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.

Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.

But they were already in place.

Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.

Offseason grade: C

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

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Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.