51 Q: Besides Sixers, who else is tanking?

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By now, we know the Philadelphia 76ers’ program. They’re entering year three of the Sam Hinkie era, year three of #TrustTheProcess, year three of completely disregarding the idea of being a competent NBA team in the name of collecting assets. It’s a controversial strategy, but a logical one for what they’re trying to accomplish. They’ve been a lightning rod around the league for arguments in favor of lottery reform and other preventative measures to combat this blatant lack of competitiveness. But the problem isn’t as widespread as it seems: a look around the league heading into the season shows most of the bad teams at least trying to be better, even if they won’t be successful.

The closest thing to another all-out tank job looks to be the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost four out of five starters, including LaMarcus Aldridge. In their place, they’ve loaded up on prospects. The highest paid player on their roster (until next year, when Damian Lillard‘s massive extension kicks in), is Al-Farouq Aminu, making just over $8 million. Moe Harkless and Tim Frazier figure to be rotation players on this team. With the core of a perennial Western Conference contender gone, GM Neil Olshey is instead opting for a more palatable version of the Sixers’ model. It helps their watchability that they already have a franchise player in place in Lillard. Around him, for now, they’re just throwing stuff at the wall and hoping to hit on a few fringe players and pick up extra first-round picks by taking back bad contracts (their cap room is almost unlimited). It’s a sound plan for where they find themselves in a post-Aldridge existence, but it’s going to be ugly, at least for this season.

Most of the rest of the teams that might have been seen as tanking have made legitimate moves to get better. The Lakers have a stated goal of getting back to contention soon, which is absurd, but they’re not going to purposely lose in what will likely be Kobe Bryant‘s final year. They made a few big offseason acquisitions of legitimate NBA rotation players, including Roy Hibbert and Lou Williams, and have No. 2 overall pick D'Angelo Russell and a healthy Julius Randle in the fold. If everyone is healthy, they’re going to be at least competing to be in the group of teams just outside of good enough to seriously compete for a playoff spot in the west. Ditto the Kings, who added Rajon Rondo and Marco Belinelli. Everything could go to hell in a second for them β€” it’s always in play there β€” but at least on paper, they figure to be better.

Even in the notoriously inferior Eastern Conference, there are going to be more teams shooting for 30 wins than the Knicks’ 17. New York had a solid offseason of signing veterans and taking incremental steps to being a normal basketball team. The Nets, as mediocre as they may be, have no incentive to tank since they don’t have their own pick in next year’s draft. The Pacers are getting Paul George back. The Pistons should be better with a roster that actually fits Stan Van Gundy’s style.

That’s not to say some teams won’t pivot strategy during the season when they see that a playoff spot isn’t happening. The Nuggets are a prime candidate. Right now, they’re a strange mishmash of quality veterans and completely unproven youngsters that, on paper, should be worth a solid 35 wins. If they decide to blow it up, though, it will be easy to move the contracts of Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler and Danilo Gallinari. Denver already took a step towards this youth movement by unloading troubled point guard Ty Lawson and handing the keys to No. 7 pick Emmanuel Mudiay. A rookie point guard is always a tricky proposition, even when it’s someone as talented as Mudiay, but at least for now, he has competent teammates that will at least be competitive every night.

Charlotte is another team with a lot of variance in how their season could shake out, and Rich Cho has never been afraid to shake things up. It’s not impossible to imagine a world where they’re competing for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference; it’s also not impossible to picture them winning 20 games and having a fire sale in February. Nicolas Batum, just acquired this summer from the Blazers, is a prime candidate to be moved to a contender as a rental if the Hornets’ season falls apart.

For as much attention as the act of tanking gets in the conversation around the NBA, there are only two teams actively engaging in it from the start. A look around the league’s lower tier shows most teams taking steps to improve, at least in theory. Whether they will or not is a different story, but at least they’re trying.

NBA teams enhancing fan experience with high-tech replays

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ATLANTA (AP) β€” NBA fans will soon be able to look up at the big videoboard above the court and get a different look at that deep Trae Young 3-pointer early in the first quarter. Or see a different perspective of that monstrous Giannis Antetokounmpo dunk.

In a reversal of roles, NBA teams are bringing the video game experience back to the live action – one arena at a time.

The Atlanta Hawks Friday will become the fifth NBA team to unveil significant financial investments into new 360-degree replay technology designed to eventually give fans the power to change the way they see the game.

“It’s the wave of the future,” said Hawks vice-president of live experience Joe Abercrombie, who says the technology also is “one more thing to give people a reason to come” to the arena.

The Bucks, Mavericks, Pacers, Wizards and now the Hawks are using the technology to package and replay highlights in the arena during games. The Bulls, who host the 2020 All-Star game, are scheduled to come online next month.

“It’s very nice. I especially like that up-above view,” said Allen Hazlett a fan from New Berlin, Wisconsin, after seeing the new technology at Thursday night’s Bulls-Bucks game in Milwaukee.

“I think it’s an added benefit for the fans. For those that aren’t here all the time, to see that, I think, really ups the fan experience for them. I don’t think people realize until you go somewhere else and you don’t see it how lucky we are to have this arena. Everything here is state of the art.”

The six teams have joined NBA partner Intel, which provides the technology for the new video replays. The process begins with 38 5K video cameras strategically located around arenas. The high-tech cameras work together, bringing 360-degree replays to in-game video boards, TV broadcasts and fans’ devices through social media.

It’s the latest effort by teams to entice ticket-buying fans to come to new and renovated NBA arenas. Atlanta spent almost $200 million to renovate State Farm Arena; Milwaukee last year opened its $477 Fiserv Forum.

“For us it was really a no-brainer,” said Matt Pazaras, the Bucks’ senior vice president for business development and strategy.

“There’s nothing like seeing a Giannis dunk live, and if we can supplement that experience with this technology, great. But if people are experiencing the Bucks wherever they are, hours away or thousands of miles away, we can still make the experience better.”

NFL fans already have seen 360 replays on TV. Those replays start from the traditional side camera before swinging around to bring the viewer behind the quarterback.

Not that the NFL was first in line.

Gamers have been manipulating all-angle replays for years. Video game-savvy kids may roll their eyes when their parents come home from NBA games eager to share their stories about their first looks at 360-degree replays.

Those video games were designed to mimic the real games. Now it’s time for some role-reversal.

Rich Green, Intel’s director of sports, said popular video games Madden NFL 19 and NBA 2K20 “have camera angles and if you do replays, you can spin the camera around.”

Added Green: “Now we’re going to have that in live games. Now they can watch their favorite player and follow just him. It increases their level of engagement.”

The new technology isn’t just for the fans.

Coaches and scouts can make use of the enhanced replays to improve player evaluations.

“I think the future of this is going to weigh heavy for basketball operations and player development,” Abercrombie said.

Players now have better tools to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses. Abercrombie said players who take dozens of shots in a practice can now study their shooting form in a new way.

“Players have asked ‘Can I shootaround and you take a look at the way I’m shooting and I want to spin around and take a look at the way I’m releasing,”‘ he said. “You think about traditional coverage of a game, there’s only four angles. Two on the floor and two up.

“When you think about 360 view and repetitive shooting over and over again, they can say ‘Oh, I see where my tendencies are.”‘

Hawks CEO Steve Koonin, a former executive at Turner Entertainment, says TV sports leaders have dreamed for years of the day fans could control the way they watch a game.

“We’ve been reading for years that ‘You can be the director,”‘ Koonin said. “Actually, you can do that with this. The capabilities are unbelievable. … We think it’s the next generation of sports media.”

Green said there is more to come as new ways to utilize the technology will be found that are not yet possible.

Green said such high-tech terms as “voxels” – similar to pixels in the 3D age – and “volumetric video” will become common. He said fans will be able to follow a game from the viewpoint of their favorite player.

“How you watch a play could be completely different from how I watch it based on how we control what angle we want to see,” Green said. “That’s why we’re just scratching the surface.”

 

Watch Lance Stephenson get into flopping battle in China

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You can take the flopper out of the NBA but you can’t take the flopping out of his game.

Unable to land an NBA contract this season, Lance Stephenson signed with the Liaoning Flying Leopards of the Chinese Basketball Association. He has taken his flopping skills to China.

However, he may have met his match with one Chinese player, who tried to sell a non-contact, off-the-ball, sniper-in-the-grassy-knoll level flop that even legendary flopper Vlade Divac would have called extreme. The Chinese referees saw through that and awarded a technical to Stephenson’s team.

Then Stephenson drew another foul later in the game with a flop as he tried to grab the ball away from a player after the play. That drew a foul on the opposing player, who complained and then got his own technical.

It’s all just Lance being Lance.

Kyrie Irving out Saturday vs. Bulls due to shoulder injury

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Already without Caris LeVert for a couple of weeks due to thumb surgery, the Nets just lost their primary playmaker for at least one game.

Kyrie Irving is out Saturday night for Brooklyn’s game in Chicago.

Irving has been battling this pain for some time. This is the kind of injury often seen in swimmers where, due to usage, the bones in the shoulder impinge on the tendons or bursa (the sac of fluid in the joint that makes movement smooth and painless).

The treatment for this is generally rest and time off, it would not be surprising if Irving missed more time to get his shoulder healthy and right (a specialist told the New York Post exactly this). Call it load management or whatever you want, better to get Irving healthy now rather than have this be a chronic thing all season long.

Irving is leading the Nets averaging 28.5 points and 7.2 assists a game, hitting 34.1 percent of his threes, and he’s the guy with the ball in his hands being asked to make plays. The Nets offense is 10.4 points per 100 possessions better when Irving is on the court this season.

Spencer Dinwiddie, who has struggled some with his shooting and efficiency to start the season, now will be asked to step up and carry the load. With the Nets off to a 4-7 start, they don’t want to give up a lot more ground in the East playoff chase (the Nets are currently in a four-way tie for the nine-seed, just half a game out of the playoffs).

Kings’ Dwayne Dedmon snags french fry from Lakers’ fan during game (VIDEO)

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The french fries at Staples Center are pretty good. Better than the popcorn.

Kings’ center Dwayne Dedmon was on the bench at one point Saturday night during the Kings’ loss to the Lakers, looked at the dude sitting next to him in fan seats (and look at that guy, he’s a “dude”), and asks if he can have a french fry.

No ketchup or sauce, but the fries seem to get Dedmon’s seal of approval.

A player like Dedmon burns a lot of calories during a game, you got to keep that energy level up with a few carbs. Plus, french fries are awesome. Can’t blame the guy.