51Q: How long will 76ers owner stay patient rebuilding?

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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

How much longer will Philadelphia 76ers ownership be okay with this rebuilding process?

Trust the process.

That’s been the mantra in Philadelphia as they have taken the “get bad to get good” rebuilding method to an extreme no other team has attempted. The Sixers won 19 games two seasons ago, 18 last season, and they are widely expected to be once again one of the worst teams in the NBA in 2015-16.

Don’t get me wrong, the Sixers should be better this season — Jahlil Okafor is the kind of franchise cornerstone player that GM Sam Hinkie has been looking for, but he is still a rookie and showed in Summer League he has some work to do. Last season coach Brett Brown built a good defensive mindset around Nerlens Noel in the paint and the Sixers were 12th in the NBA in defensive rating and that should continue. Other young players for the Sixers — such as Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas — should show some improvement and progression.

Still, this is going to be a bad team. The playoffs are about as likely as building a colony on Mars by next April. Even something like the 30-win barrier seems impossible to clear.

Trust the process.

The Sixers will head into the 2016 NBA draft with as many as four first-round picks: Theirs, the Lakers (top three protected), the Heat’s (top 10 protected), and the Thunder’s (lottery protected). They still have Dario Saric stashed overseas — he showed a little promise but looked a bit raw at EuroBasket — and he is expected to come over next summer. Plus they have Joel Embiid, who was a top three pick and highly rated, but who is about to miss his second full season due to a second foot surgery (never a good sign with big men).

How Sam Hinkie and the Sixers have gone about building this roster rubs a lot of people in a competitive NBA the wrong way, but no doubt they have the potential if they draft well — or use those draft assets well in trades — to build a quality roster. It’s just going to take more time.

The real question for the Sixers is this:

How much longer will owner Joshua Harris trust the process?

Owners are notoriously impatient — in no other aspect of their business life do they sit on the sidelines and suffer short-term losses for long-term profits for very long (if at all). To his credit Harris has been patient. He bought in from the start on the Hinkie plan and has stayed out of his way. But it’s fair to ask after a third straight ugly season ends next April for the Sixers, will he continue to be that patient?

A lot of it likely comes down to progress shown — this season do we see a step forward for the Sixers? With Okafor in the paint (despite a lack of good point guards to feed him the rock), does their offense improve from an abomination in the eyes of the Lord to just plain bad? Does Brown’s defensive culture continue to take root?

Can Harris and the rest of us see the foundation for future success starting to solidify?

If so, and if the Sixers can draft well in 2016 (or at least appear to, it’s always hard to judge a class until a few years out), then there is good reason to stick with the plan. But starting now there needs to be some tangible annual improvement — by 2017-18 this needs to be a team over .500 that makes the playoffs (or is at least close, if the East improves). That’s still a couple years away, but it would be the fifth year of this rebuilding effort and a reasonable target considering how far the Sixers have to go.

Hinkie can’t use a perpetual rebuild for perpetual job security forever — at some point there needs to be real, tangible progress. That needs to start this season, even if it only slightly registers in the win column.

If not, he could find himself dealing with an impatient owner.

Michigan State’s Xavier Tillman, possible first-rounder, staying in 2020 NBA Draft

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman
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Michigan State power forward Xavier Tillman went No. 23 in the last mock draft by Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster.

That’s the type of confidence in Tillman that has him staying in the 2020 NBA Draft.

Michigan State release:

Michigan State men’s basketball rising senior Xavier Tillman Sr. (Grand Rapids, Mich./GR Christian) announced today that he would remain eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft and plans to hire an agent.

Tillman doesn’t look like a typical first-round pick. He’s an upperclassman, 6-foot-8 and 245 pounds and not an elite athlete.

But he just knows how to play.

Tillman is a physical interior defender who’s mobile enough on the perimeter. His basketball intelligence typically outshines his physical limitations.

That also goes for offense, where Tillman is also hamstrung by lackluster outside shooting. But Tillman can screen and finish or pass – a useful combination for a roller in the NBA.

I’m not sure whether Tillman will go in the first round. Teams tend to value higher-upside players, as the draft is often the best opportunity to acquire a star.

But Tillman was darned effective in college and has a reasonable chance of being effective in the NBA. In this draft, that should make him a first-round pick.

Must watch: Lonzo Ball halfcourt alley-oop to Zion Williamson

Lonzo Ball Zion Williamson
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Damn. This is just a thing of beauty.

Lonzo Ball and Zion Williams have a connection on the court and the Grizzlies got a look at it up close and personal Monday.

NBA TV has another angle

In a must-win game for 0-2 New Orleans, Zion played more in the first half than we have seen recently, but he was still under 10 minutes total. He had 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, leading an energized Pelicans team that led by seven at the half.

Thunder’s Dennis Schroder leaves bubble for birth of child

Dennis Shroder child
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Dennis Schroder was not in uniform when Oklahoma City lost to Denver Monday. He wasn’t even in Orlando.

Schroder left the bubble to be with his wife for the birth of his child, something the team knew was coming but came up suddenly Monday morning, coach Billy Donovan said pregame (reporting from ESPN’s Dave McMenamin inside the bubble).

 

“I’m not gonna leave my wife by herself while she’s having a second baby,” Schroder said when he talked about this with reporters previously. “(Dennis) Jr. is still 17 months old, so I’m for sure gonna go there and support her and try as much as I can to be there for my family.”

Congratulations to the Schroder family, we hope everyone is happy and healthy.

The Thunder will miss Schroder while he’s gone. He is a Sixth Man of the Year candidate averaging 19 points per game while shooting 38.1% from three. The Thunder are at their most dangerous when Schroder is paired with Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a rotation that we will not see for a while.

The first round of the playoffs starts Aug. 17. Schroder can return to the team, the question is how long he will be in quarantine when he does. If Schroeder has a negative coronavirus test for seven consecutive days before his return, he will be in quarantine for four days. If he does not get tested, or if he exposes himself to the virus unnecessarily while outside the bubble — for example, picking up wings from a strip club for dinner — he will have a 10-day quarantine.

The Thunder could use him for what will be a tight first-round playoff series in a very balanced West. Schroder may or may not be there, he has higher priorities right now.

Oklahoma state Rep. threatens to increase Thunder’s taxes for kneeling during national anthem

Oklahoma City Thunder kneel during national anthem
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The Oklahoma City Thunder – like all NBA teams (minus a few individuals) – kneeled during the national anthem.

That powerful protest calls attention to racism, particularly through police brutality. It is highly patriotic to work toward ending those shameful practices. Though some have distorted the underlying message, the protests have largely worked. In the years since Colin Kaepernick first kneeled, Americans have developed a heightened sensitivity to racism and police brutality.

Of course, there are still many opponents of anthem kneeling. The demonstration causes a visceral reaction (which is also why it has been so effective). At this point, it’s hard to stand out among the critics of anthem kneeling who keep making the same, tired arguments.

Oklahoma state representative Sean Roberts found a way.

Roberts, via Oklahoma’s News 4:

“By kneeling during the playing of the national anthem, the NBA and its players are showing disrespect to the American flag and all it stands for. This anti-patriotic act makes clear the NBA’s support of the Black Lives Matter group and its goal of defunding our nation’s police, its ties to Marxism and its efforts to destroy nuclear families.

If the Oklahoma City Thunder leadership and players follow the current trend of the NBA by kneeling during the national anthem prior to Saturday’s game, perhaps we need to reexamine the significant tax benefits the State of Oklahoma granted the Oklahoma City Thunder organization when they came to Oklahoma. Through the Quality Jobs Act, the Thunder is still under contract to receive these tax breaks from our state until 2024.

Perhaps these funds would be better served in support of our police departments rather than giving tax breaks to an organization that supports defunding police and the dissolution of the American nuclear family.”

This is outrageous.

It’s outrageous that the Thunder get such a targeted tax break. The franchise is a private company that should succeed or fail based on its own merits. While it’s easy for NBA fans (like readers of this site) to get caught up in the league, professional basketball isn’t actually important for the greater good.

It’s outrageous that a company’s tax status could depend on how its employees exercise their freedom of expression. The First Amendment still exists.

Ultimately, Roberts almost certainly doesn’t have the power to do what he’s threatening. This is grandstanding for political gain. It gets Roberts into national headlines and little else. Mission accomplished, I guess.

So, Roberts builds a reputation as another big-government politician – someone who wants to use the heavy hand of government to dissuade free expression.