Five Takeaways from NBA Monday: Some things change, some don’t for Philly

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If you’re a League Pass addict like me, you’ve heard Clippers’ announcer Ralph Lawler mention “Lawler’s Law” — the first team to 100 will win the game. But I wondered during last night’s close Clippers game how often that is true? Turns out, there is a tracker and the first team to 100 wins 93.9 percent of the time. That’s just one thing to know from a Monday around the NBA.

1) Trust the process… or entrust the process to Jerry Colangelo, who takes over as the guy with the final say for Sixers. It was one of PBT’s 51 questions asked before this NBA season: “How long will 76ers owner stay patient with rebuilding?” Apparently the answer was until about two weeks ago. That’s when all the losing from the past couple years broke owner Josh Harris and he — with an assist to Adam Silver — reached out to former Suns owner/president and the current USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo. Monday, Harris officially gave Colangelo a spot in the organization above GM Sam Hinkie. Harris said he wanted to see the process move a little faster than it has been.  

While this signals a change in the vaunted “process” Hinkie talked about, it’s big picture right now. This is not likely to mean any short-term changes on the ground — the Sixers will still be terrible this season and hope the lottery is kind to them. They likely will have three and maybe a four first round picks this year (depending on pick protections and the draft order). If the Sixers get another top three pick, they are going to keep it and add to the growing stockpile of talent. However, Colangelo is more likely to try to turn some of those picks into trades for solid veteran players. He is going to spend money on more veteran free agents to teach the young stars how to be professional and win some games. These new players are not going to be franchise cornerstone guys — those Jahlil Okafor level guys still need to come through the draft for now in Philly — but they will be players who will help speed the process along and get more wins.

2) Colangelo or no, the Sixers pain isn’t over — they fall by 51 to the Spurs. The Spurs rested Tim Duncan, had Kawhi Leonard out with the stomach flu, and still set a franchise record for the largest win, 119-68. It was a reminder that while there may be changes at the top in Philadelphia, it’s going to be a while before the impact trickles down to the roster itself. A change in the philosophy of the process doesn’t change the fact the Sixers are a 1-21 team with many players on the roster who will be out of the league in a couple of years. After the game coach Brett Brown was virtually speechless.

Meanwhile, the Spurs are the Spurs. They played little used Boban Marjanovic — the 7’3″ Serbian center who dominated Euroleague last season — and he stepped in and looked very Spursian, dropping 18 points. He faked Okafor out badly a couple times.

3) Suns score 42 in fourth on the second night of the back to back, defeat Bulls on buzzer beater. For a Suns team that had lost four in a row but were within five points in the final five minutes in all of them, this was a sweet bit of revenge. After a 10-point third quarter, they fought back with a massive fourth quarter to come from behind and beat the Bulls on Mirza Teletovic‘s offensive rebound and game-winning shot.

For the Bulls, this loss seemed a punch to the gut. Jimmy Butler talked about how the team lacked a killer instinct. The fluctuation between a great defensive third quarter and an abysmal fourth speaks to a lack of identity, and with that a lack of consistent energy by the team. This was a new low point for the Bulls this season.

4) Chris Paul, J.J. Redick return for Clippers in win, but all anyone will talk about is Garnett dunk. If the Clippers are going to find their way back into the elite of the Western Conference and be a real playoff threat, they have some work to do — and they needed to get Chris Paul (rib injury) and J.J. Redick (ankle) back on the floor. They did that just in time to pick up a close win over Minnesota on the road Monday night.

But all anyone will remember from this game was this dunk by Kevin Garnett.

5) Byron Scott decides to bring D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle off the bench, start Lou Williams. I have made the argument more than once that Lakers’ coach Byron Scott needs to play his young trio — Jordan Clarkson, D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle — together more and away from Kobe Bryant as much as possible. Oh, and let the kids close games so they can learn to play in that environment.

Scott took a step toward staggering Kobe’s minutes from his young stars Monday, but in classic Scott style found a way to make it look like a punishment and demotion for the young players he is charged with building up. He benched Russell and Randle, starting instead Lou Williams and Larry Nance (who has had a nice rookie season so far but doesn’t have the skills nor ceiling of Randle, who he replaced). The staggering worked in the sense they didn’t play with Kobe a ton. Randle seemed to adjust better, with 15 points and 11 boards, while Russell had nine points on 11 shots, and as many turnovers as assists. 

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak hinted in an interview Monday he is not happy with the pace of player development so far. He shouldn’t be. But whether the Lakers do anything about it before next summer is another question entirely.

Watch Klay Thompson knock down 12 3-pointers, lift Warriors to win without Curry

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Stephen Curry was not in the building, the first of maybe a month of games he’s going to miss with a leg injury. Who would take charge of the Warriors’ offense with No. 30 out?

Klay Thompson.

Thompson knocked down 12 3-pointers and scored 42 points to lead the Warriors as they blew past the Thunder.

“It was a beautiful game to watch him play…” Draymond Green said of Thompson, via the Associated Press.”We needed it. It’s been a while since we had a blowout win. It’s good to get this one, especially first game with Steph out. It was good to start off on this foot and try to create some momentum.”

Jordan Poole is back in the starting lineup with Curry out, scoring 21 points with 12 assists (a career best).

All-Star Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led the Thunder with 20 points. But this was Thompson’s night. And one for the Warriors.

NBA owners, players union agree to push back CBA opt-out date. Again.

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The NBA and players union are progressing toward a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Just not very fast progress. In December, they pushed the opt-out date for both sides — when either the owners or players could opt out and end the CBA on June 30 of this year — to Feb. 8.

They aren’t going to hit that deadline either so the two sides have agreed to push the new opt-out date back to March 31, they announced.

“The NBA and NBPA have mutually agreed to extend the deadline to opt out of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) from Feb. 8, 2023, to March 31, 2023, as the two sides continue negotiations to reach a new agreement,” the sides said in a joint release. “If either party exercises the opt-out, the CBA’s term will conclude on June 30, 2023.”

There is one bit of good news in the talks, the owners have backed off the “upper spending limit” idea, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. At least some owners — troubled by the massive spending into the luxury tax of the Warriors, Clippers, and Nets  — pushed for an “Upper Spending Limit” for teams, which the players saw as a hard cap and a deal breaker.

As the sides pursue an early labor deal, a significant part of what has allowed discussions to progress has been the NBA’s willingness to soften from its original push for an upper spending limit on team payrolls — a de facto hard cap, sources said.

Still, expect changes to the luxury tax system to attempt to rein in the spending of some owners. There are a lot of economic concerns that will push toward a deal getting done, including this interesting note:

There are broader economic concerns looming for the league that are motivating factors in reaching a new labor deal in the coming weeks and months — including the potential bankruptcy of the Sinclair/Diamond Sports Regional Sports Networks, which is responsible for broadcasting 16 of the league’s teams on local deals. The longer labor talks linger, the more moderate positions among ownership can harden on financial issues and risk deeper difficulties on reaching a new labor deal.

The conventional wisdom has long been there would be no lockout and potential work stoppage because every side was making money again, the trajectory of the league was good, and nobody wanted to slam the breaks on that momentum. But there is always a risk, especially if the owners are fighting among themselves. Which is why a deal getting done sooner rather than later is best for everyone — especially fans.

Focus on body, conditioning has LeBron James on cusp of scoring record

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LOS ANGELES — LeBron James has prepared for this day since high school.

Maybe he didn’t envision this day exactly — the day he would break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s all-time NBA scoring record, something he is just 36 points shy of heading into Tuesday night against the Thunder— but LeBron was preparing for playing at a high level deep into his career. A career that has seen very few injuries (in 20 seasons his only surgeries have been LASIK and oral surgery in the offseason), very little time missed, and a lot of points.

Through all the years, teams and tribulations, LeBron’s focus on preparing his body has never wavered.

“I’ve just learned more about my body and how to prepare my body. But I’ve been taking care of my body since I started playing basketball,” LeBron said earlier this season. “Like, even when I was younger — you can ask any of my best friends growing up — before I went to sleep I would stretch and as soon as I would wake up I would stretch. I was like, 10 years old. In high school, I was one of the few guys that would ice after the game. My rookie year I was icing after the game, as well.

“But, as I got older and older and older, I started to figure out other ways that I could beat Father Time by putting in more time on my game and on my craft. But mostly on my body and my mind. I feel like if my mind can stay as fresh as it possibly can through a grueling up-and-down NBA season — which it is — then my body is going to be able to try and perform at the highest level. So, I’ve always wanted to maximize even the most out of my career and squeeze the most juice I can out of my career.

That level of investment in his body — financially, but more importantly with time and energy — has made his fitness routine a legend around the league. It’s the reason he is still an All-NBA-level player when the rest of his draft class — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Kyle Korver, David West, Steve Blake, Kirk Hinrich — have hung up their sneakers.

“LeBron is taking care of himself so well that he’s been able to play a bundle of games for a lot of years. And that’s what he takes,” said Spurs legend Gregg Popovich. “But he gets credit for taking care of himself and being able to be out there. The way a lot of players don’t even come close to. His commitment to the game and to what he has to do, has allowed him to be in this position.”

LeBron has made fitness and recovery a core part of his daily routine. That commitment to his body means he works out at least five days a week even in the slow weeks of the offseason. Get close to the season and into the grind and it’s seven days a week.

These are not ‘I’m going to jump on the elliptical and get in a little cardio’ workouts, these are specially designed HIIT workouts with his personal trainer, Mike Mancias, that target on different days his core, legs, upper body and other areas, plus mixes in yoga and stretching, and then a recovery program. It is holistic and includes a diet low on refined sugars but with enough carbs to fuel his workout and play.

All that doesn’t even include his pregame stretching and workout routine.

LeBron puts his money into maintaining his conditioning — his business partner and friend Maverick Carter once said LeBron spends about $1.5 million a year on not just trainers and a personal chef, but equipment such as cryotherapy chambers, hyperbaric chambers, NormaTec leg boots, and much more.

Does LeBron have a go-to cheat? Wine. But he’s earned it.

Players don’t reach the NBA, or especially, stick around, without an impressive commitment to fitness. Plenty of players enter the league with bad habits that, by season three or four, they figure out they have to dump if they are going to stick around (and get paid). LeBron’s focus, consistency, and relentlessness is on another level, and it is what has him as the best player the league has ever seen in his 20th season, at age 38. Nobody has ever played this well, this long.

“I think he’s gonna have the greatest career of all time,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of LeBron. “I think he’s already had it, you know, and I think Michaels the greatest of all time. But that doesn’t take anything away from LeBron. LeBron has had the greatest career.”

And he put in the work to get there.

On fringe of rotation, Sixers guard Korkmaz reportedly requests trade

NBA: JAN 17 76ers at Clippers
Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Last season, Furkan Korkmaz was a regular part of the 76ers rotation — he played in 69 games, started 19, and averaged 21 minutes and seven shot attempts a night.

With De'Anthony Melton added to the rotation this season, Korkmaz has played in 25 games (less than half of the team’s games) at 10.2 minutes a night when he does get in, and he averaged 3.1 shots per game. Korkmaz wants to be somewhere he is wanted and used and has requested a trade, reports Keith Pompey at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Sources have said the Turkish player has requested to be traded before Thursday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. Asked about it, Korkmaz would only say he “would not confirm nor deny it.”

Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey didn’t immediately respond to a text message asking if Korkmaz asked to be traded. But sources have said Korkmaz was informed the Sixers will try to package him in a deal.

Korkmaz is not the only 76ers whose name comes up in trade conversations, wing defender Matisse Thybulle also has drawn trade interest. The Sixers are looking for a backup point center for their playoff run.

Korkmaz, 25 and in his sixth NBA season, is a career 35.4% shooter from 3 at the guard spot, but his competent shooting has not made up for limited playmaking and poor defense at the NBA level. The Sixers went out and got an upgrade this offseason in Melton.

Korkmaz makes $5 million this season and has a fully-guaranteed $5.4 million on the books for next season. A fair price if a team believes the Turkish guard can help their guard rotation, but the market for him is likely limited.

Still, it’s another name to watch in Philadelphia as we move toward Thursday’s trade deadline.