Three Things to Know: Blake Griffin has been NBA’s hottest player so far

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Blake Griffin remains red-hot, drops 50 on Sixers in Pistons win. On the latest edition of the PBT Podcast, guest Keith Smith pointed out Blake Griffin as one of the players who had left a big impression on him to start the season. Often overlooked in the discussion of the game’s best forwards, Griffin had 26 points and 8 rebounds, against the Nets and 33 points and 12 boards against the Bulls (torching Jabari Parker) in his first two games.

And he was just getting started.

Griffin dropped 50 points — including hitting the game-winner in overtime — on the Philadelphia 76ers Tuesday night, keeping the Pistons undefeated.

Great play design by coach Dwane Casey on the game-winner (he had run that before with Jonas Valanciunas in Toronto). The key is the ball-fake to Reggie Bullock is enough of a threat to draw over Joel Embiid, but Amir Johnson isn’t in place for the switch on Blake Griffin, which leaves an open lane to the hoop. Griffin may not jump-over-cars explode like he used to but the man still knows how to attack the rim and Robert Covington wasn’t going to stop him. All night long the Pistons ran their offense through Griffin — sometimes at the elbow, sometimes bringing the ball up as a point forward — and all night long he responded. It was the kind of night that had Pistons fans chanting MVP for him.

Griffin is averaging a league-leading 36.3 points per game on 53.3 percent shooting overall and 61.1 percent from three, plus grabbing 11.3 boards and dishing out 5.7 assists a night. If he can stay healthy this season (and that’s a big ask, based on history), the Pistons are a playoff team, and Griffin is an All-Star. Long way to go, but that’s the dream in Detroit.

Also from that game, watch Joel Embiid flop and then draw a technical foul on Andre Drummond, which gets the Pistons’ center tossed (it was his second tech of the game). All night long Embiid was yelling “you can’t guard me” at Drummond on his way to 33 points and 11 rebounds. After the game Embiid said “I feel like I own a lot of real estate in his head.”.

Drummond, however, got the “W.”

2) Anthony Davis, Pelicans keep on rolling. If anyone is going to challenge Griffin for the hottest player in the league to start, it’s Davis — 30.3 points a game while shooting 59 percent, and grabbing 13 rebounds a game. And he has the led the Pelicans to an undefeated start.

That continued Tuesday night when Davis had 34 points, 13 rebounds, and five blocks to lead the Pelicans to a 116-109 win over the Clippers.

The Pelicans have scored 396 points in three games.

3) The (verbal/social media) fight after the fight: Rajon Rondo calls Chris Paul bad teammate, Daryl Morey has a perfect retort. The fight that left Chris Paul, Rajon Rondo, and Brandon Ingram suspended just will not go quietly. Well, Ingram tried to do that, offering the standard “I have to know better” apology after getting a four-game suspension.

Rondo, however, was defiant. Rondo and CP3 don’t like each other and have had a running feud for a decade. (Heck Rondo’s girlfriend and Paul’s wife don’t like each other.) So when asked about the incident Rondo said first Paul is “a horrible teammate. (Fans/media) Don’t know how he treats people)” and that he didn’t spit at Paul, it’s just that with his mouthpiece in when he talks some spittle flies out. Not sure I believe him, but that’s Rondo’s case and he’s sticking to it.

Daryl Morey, the Rocket’s GM, then Tweeted.

Well played — and you’ve got to love a league where a GM Tweets this and the league loves it. Can you imagine if an NFL GM did this?

Rondo is right on one level, there are plenty of former teammates who have issues with the highly competitive, constantly critical, hard-driving style of Chris Paul (Blake Griffin had his problems with it). However, the list of teammates/coaches/executives who are no fan of Rondo and his attitude is plenty long as well, as Morey points out brilliantly.

Circle Dec. 13 on your calendar, that’s when the Rockets and Lakers face off again.

Misadventures stall progress for 76ers

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NBCSports.com’s 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.

After an extended period of mediocrity then several years of tanking, the 76ers won 52 games and reached the second round, their best season since Allen Iverson led them to the 2001 NBA Finals.

But Philadelphia sure didn’t get the typical stability that follows a breakthrough like that.

The 76ers experienced plenty of disorder this offseason – some welcomed, some not, some between and most of it in service of adding another star.

The Process was always built on the understanding that acquiring multiple stars is both extremely difficult and all but necessary to win a championship. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, a combination many teams would envy, aren’t enough for Philadelphia.

That’s a reason the 76ers ousted Sam Hinkie, who drafted Embiid and positioned Philadelphia to make the easy call of drafting Simmons. Hinkie executed his vision smartly, but also callously. It’s hard to tank for that long without upsetting people, and the perception he turned the franchise into an embarrassment only grew. So, the 76ers turned to an executive with a more acceptable reputation around the league.

That decision that came home to roost this summer, as Bryan Colangelo’s tenure ended in a scandal far more tawdry than anything under Hinkie.

We still don’t know precisely what happened with those burner Twitter accounts, but the 76ers determined Colangelo’s wife, Barbara Bottini, ran the accounts and he mishandled private and sensitive information. The 76ers didn’t find proof he knew about the accounts, and he denied prior knowledge. But it shouldn’t be lost the team’s investigation was impeded by Bottini deleting the contents of her cell phone. Also remember: Two days after news broke of the accounts’ existence, Colangelo was still denying any knowledge of anything about them. In the midst of the biggest scandal of his career, his wife never came clean to him? That is the most unbelievable part of this saga.

So, the 76ers rightfully dumped Colangelo, even though it left them without a general manager for the draft and free agency. With that void in leadership, LeBron James, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard all ended up elsewhere.

Unable to get that additional star via trade or free agency, Philadelphia used most of its cap space on J.J. Redick and Wilson Chandler.

Re-signing Redick (one year, $12.25 million) was especially important given Ersan Ilyasova’s and Marco Belinelli’s departures in free agency. Ilyasova (two years, $14 million guaranteed from the Bucks with an unguaranteed third season) and Belinelli (two years, $12 million from Spurs) were important cogs on last year’s team due their shooting. The 76ers were +42 in the playoffs when Ilyasova and Belinelli shared the court and -3 otherwise – a remarkable split for a pair of reserves.

But Philadelphia clearly didn’t want to limit its long-term star-acquiring flexibility. So, matching multi-year contracts for Ilyasova and Belinelli was a no go.

That’s why trading for Chandler was at least logical. Though overpaid, he’s on an expiring contract can can still pay. The 76ers also got second-round consideration for taking him from the tax-avoiding Nuggets.Still, it seems Philadelphia could have gotten a better free agent for that money, someone good enough to justify passing on the Denver picks.

Keeping a theme, the 76ers lost Nemanja Bjelica when he determined the one-year room exception didn’t provide him enough stability. Why he didn’t figure that out before agreeing to the deal with Philadelphia is on him, but the 76ers paid the price for his defection to the Kings on a multi-year deal.

So, still in need of a stretch big with Ilyasova and Bjelica out of the picture, Philadelphia traded Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot for the Hawks’ Mike Muscala, who, naturally, is on an expiring contract. Because Muscala is a four/five (to Bjelica’s four/three), the 76ers dumped reserve center Richaun Holmes for cash. They also re-signed backup center Amir Johnson to a minimum contract for – you guessed it – one year.

Not only are the 76ers preserving 2019 cap space, they’re also stockpiling assets for their star search. On draft night, they traded No. 10 pick Mikal Bridges – who profiles as a solid role player and would have acclimated nicely to Philadelphia, where he grew up and played collegiately at Villanova – to the Suns for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and the Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick. That Miami pick has major upside and could be valuable in a trade with a team moving its star and rebuilding.

Philadelphia left the draft with Smith, No. 26 pick Landry Shamet and No. 54 pick Shake Milton. The 76ers also signed last year’s second-rounder Jonah Bolden to a four-year contract. It’s a nice haul of young talent to add to Philadelphia’s stockpile.

But none of those players is the star the 76ers clearly seek. After undercutting themselves, they at least did well to give themselves a chance to try again next year.

That said, maybe they already have the additional star they desire. Markelle Fultz suffered through a miserable rookie year due to the yips. Whether injury was the cause or effect barely matters now. If he finds his groove, that could swing the franchise’s fortunes for a decade. His development might be more important to Philadelphia’s offseason than any signing, trade or draft pick.

I believe Fultz has improved over the summer. But I just can’t project he’ll return to the star track that made him the No. 1 pick a year ago. That’s too big a leap of faith. Even major advances could still leave him well short of stardom.

But he is the biggest variable in offseason that saw Philadelphia lose helpful contributors, fail to maximize its ample cap space and move one year closer to Simmons joining Embiid on max contracts that will limit flexibility.

At least they’re still in strong shape for next summer.

Offseason grade: C-

Report: 76ers trading Richaun Holmes to Suns, signing Jonah Bolden

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The Thunder-Hawks-76ers three-team trade was reportedly on hold to becoming official while Philadelphia eyed another move.

Trading Jerryd Bayless (and surely something positive, like a draft pick) for Kyle Korver? The 76ers could still do that.

But this appears to be the move that had to precede the three-team trade – and the move that completed the Suns’ trade with the Nets.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

The Suns did well to add Richaun Holmes, a 24-year-old energy center. The only question is whether did it in the optimal way.

Instead of trading a second-rounder to go from Jared Dudley‘s $9,530,000 salary to Darrell Arthur‘s $7,464,912 salary, Phoenix could have cleared the cap room necessary to acquire Holmes by waiving Davon Reed or Shaquille Harrison.

Instead, Phoenix will keep Reed and Harrison. The Suns should know Reed and Harrison, both of whom played limited minutes as rookies last year, better than outsiders do. To a certain extent, there’s little choice but to defer to the team’s judgment.

Holmes was behind Joel Embiid and Amir Johnson at center in Philadelphia. Given Embiid’s injury history, third center is an important role on the 76ers. But, after Nemanja Bjelica backed out of his deal with them, they traded for Mike Muscala as their stretch four. However, unlike Bjelica (who swung more toward small forward when switching positions), Muscala swings toward center. He provides enough depth behind Embiid and Johnson.

So, Holmes became the odd man out with Philadelphia needing to clear a roster spot to sign 2017 No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (a player I liked quite a bit in the draft).

Bolden’s minimum salary would have been $5,721,234 over the next four years. So, he got a little more and likely some of it guaranteed. In exchange, he gave the 76ers team control at a cheap salary for the longest possible time. He’s betting against himself.

After signing Bolden into cap space, Philadelphia can now execute the deal with Oklahoma City and Atlanta.

Reports: Amir Johnson returning to Philadelphia next year

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Amir Johnson is going back to the Philadelphia 76ers for at least one more season.

A person with knowledge of the negotiations said Wednesday that Johnson has agreed to a one-year contract with Philadelphia that could become official as soon as Friday, when the NBA’s offseason moratorium on player movement ends. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of that moratorium.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story.

The 6-foot-9 Johnson was primarily a reserve for the 76ers last season, when he averaged 4.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. Philadelphia is the fourth club for the 31-year-old, who will be entering his 14th NBA season this fall.

 

Amir Johnson on South Beach: 2006 Pistons ‘let the streets beat us’

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Amir Johnson is a savvy veteran on the young 76ers.

On the 2006 Pistons, he was a scarcely used rookie straight out of high school.

But he was learning lessons he’d apply to his current role.

Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press:

Philadelphia heeded Johnson’s advice. The 76ers won Games 3 and 4 in Miami to take a 3-1 series lead.

The Pistons went 0-3 in Miami during the six-game 2006 Eastern Conference finals. There was little shame in losing to those Heat. They pushed Detroit to seven games in the 2005 conference finals and were – with Dwyane Wade transcendent while Shaquille O’Neal remained in his prime – even better the following year.

But too much partying is a major charge and a somewhat surprising one. The Pistons were led by the same veteran core – Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace – that made the previous two NBA Finals and won the 2004 title. They’d been around long enough to know better.