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Joel Embiid says off-season goal is to improve conditioning, targets MVP next season

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Joel Embiid‘s season echoed that of Philadelphia as a whole: He went in with questions, exploded on the scene surpassing expectations and racking up accolades, pushed his team into the playoffs and then the second round, but ran out of gas at the end against Boston. The playoffs are a fire that burns away the excess and exposes the weaknesses in everyone’s game, and with Embiid the question was conditioning.

What matters for a young team on the rise is players recognize what happened and put in the work to improve.

Embiid clearly did — and has set lofty goals for next season.

Better conditioning also makes it more likely Embiid can stay healthy for all or most of next season (a concern that has not completely gone away).

This is good to hear from Embiid. He sounded like all the Sixers players at the end-of-season press conferences, the young core sounds like it learned from what happened against Boston. We even saw that in the final two games of the series. It’s going to be a wild summer with free agency, what this Sixers roster will look like when it returns in the fall is unclear.

Just expect Embiid to be ready to take another step forward.

It’s official: Charlotte hires James Borrego as new head coach

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This was reported as all but done a couple of days ago, now it is official.

James Borrego is the new head coach of the Charlotte Hornets. A deal was reached and the team made the announcement Thursday afternoon.

“I’m very excited to serve as the head coach of the Charlotte Hornets,” Borrego said in a statement. “I want to thank Michael Jordan, Mitch Kupchak and Buzz Peterson for this opportunity. I’m confident in the coaching foundation I’ve had the opportunity to develop during my time in San Antonio, Orlando and New Orleans, and I cannot wait to get to work in Charlotte.”

“We are thrilled to have James join our franchise,” Hornets GM Kupchak said in his statement. “He brings a wealth of experience and a strong track record of player development from his time as a coach in San Antonio, New Orleans and Orlando. He has been a part of teams that have ascended to the highest levels of success in our league and understands what it takes to win in the NBA. James is considered one of the NBA’s most well-regarded assistant coaches and it’s great to have him as part of our team. I look forward to working with him in the years to come.”

Borrego comes out of the Spurs coaching tree. He started with that organization as a video coordinator and worked is way up to being an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich. He left with Monty Williams to be an assistant coach in New Orleans, from there went to Orlando under Jacques Vaughn — where Borrego was an interim head coach for 30 games after Vaughn was fired. After that, he came back to the Spurs and has been an assistant there for three years.

He comes to a Hornets team on the cusp of changes, it’s just unclear what direction Kupchak will take the team. With massive contracts on the books for Nicolas Batum and Dwight Howard, plus paying eight figures to Marvin Williams and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the Hornets are capped out and are pushing the luxury tax. They can keep the roster together mostly, add a lottery pick, and make a push for the playoffs, or it could be time to start the rebuilding — which begins with trading Kemba Walker.

Borrego and Kupchak clearly talked about this before this hiring was made — Borrego knows what he’s getting into. While he picks a staff and sets up his infrastructure, the future direction of the Hornets will become clear.

 

While Spurs reject calls, other teams speculate, plan for Kawhi Leonard trades

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Call up R.C. Buford and the Spurs’ front office to inquire about the availability of Kawhi Leonard in a trade, and you might hear laughing in the background before you’re hung up on. Right now, the Spurs are not listening to offers and believe they can repair their relationship with Leonard. They’re probably right. Gregg Popovich smoothed over his relationship with LaMarcus Aldridge last summer while the big man was calling Portland trying to get back in. In Leonard’s case, there are 219 million reasons to think the two sides can work this out.

That hasn’t stopped executives from other teams from speculating on Leonard’s future and planning for a potential trade.

Ken Berger of Bleacher Report broke all the chatter down in his new piece on Leonard and the Spurs.

With Leonard, 26, eligible for a five-year, $219 million “super-max” extension this summer, the key question circulating through the league is, “Can the relationship be salvaged?”

“I don’t think it can,” the Western Conference executive said. “At the end of the day, Kawhi wants out.”

It’s commonly heard on the front office grapevine that Leonard is eyeing the Lakers as a free agent in 2019. One of the Western Conference executives noted it’s no accident that the Lakers reportedly have shifted their free-agent plans to focus on the ’19 class (which Leonard may headline)…

“That’s why [the Lakers] are spinning it into ‘wait till next year,'” the executive said. “They know they can get Kawhi.”

All of this stems back to what I had heard from sources (and something Berger and others have mentioned): Leonard’s “people” were taken aback by the Jordan Brand offer for a new shoe deal (rumored to be four years, $22 million), which they saw as well below market value. Leonard’s group seeks to blame the small market and team-over-all style of San Antonio for this issue. (What they should do is look in the mirror.) They see Los Angeles — or another major market that will play on the league’s biggest stages, such as Philadelphia — as situations that solve their marketing woes. That has led to some in his camp to try to plant the seed about getting out of San Antonio.

Eventually in the coming weeks, when Gregg Popovich is ready (and he should be afforded all the time he needs), the sides will sit down and talk. Based on history — and the fact Leonard will want that $219 million — the smart money is on the two sides working it all out.

But if not, there are 29 other NBA GMs planning right now so they will be ready to pounce.

PBT Podcast: Eastern, Western Conference finals breakdowns

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Houston vs. Golden State — the showdown we’ve been waiting for since before the season began — has finally arrived. It comes with a lot of questions: Can James Harden get isolations and go right at Stephen Curry, and will that work? Can Clint Capela give the Warriors’ Hamptons’ Five lineup trouble?

LeBron James has just one more team between him and an eighth straight trip to the NBA Finals, but the Boston Celtics with Al Horford and a smart defense are going to present challenges the Toronto Raptors did not last series. Will Kevin Love and Kyle Korver continue to make big plays.

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports get into each series and look at the details. The pair also get into the discussion of coaches in Toronto and Philadelphia, where there are segments of both fan bases that want to fire the head man.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Add Isaiah Thomas to list of people confused coaching peers didn’t vote for Brad Stevens

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The National Basketball Coaches Association — made up of all 30 NBA coaches — cast their ballots, and Toronto’s Dwane Casey was named Coach of the Year. A good choice, the Raptors revamped their culture and offense, then went on to win a franchise-record 59 games.

What caught everyone’s attention was who didn’t get a vote: Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Brett Brown, Mike D’Antoni, Nate McMillan, Gregg Popovich, Doc Rivers, Quin Snyder and Terry Stotts each got at least one vote, but not Stevens.

Celtics fans took that about as well as you’d imagine.

Among those taken aback, former Celtic Isaiah Thomas.

Why no love for Stevens? It is a little odd, but take off your tin foil hats, there is no conspiracy. Sorry Mulder, there is no grand plan to keep Boston down. It was likely a combination of four factors:

1) The coaches each only get one vote. When the NBA’s official Coach of the Year voting is released after the June 25 televised awards ceremony, you will see those media members who got to vote had to give their top three choices for the award. I imagine if asked to name three coaches, Stevens would have been on many if not most ballots, but other coaches did not give him the top spot, and that’s all they were asked to do.

2) It’s an incredibly deep pool of coaches. This was the hardest award to vote for this year because one could make a very legitimate case for a lot of guys. Popovich coached up an injured team, too. Quin Snyder’s Jazz were the most resilient team in the NBA and had smart sets to go with Donovan Mitchell. Nate McMillan’s Pacers were supposed to be in the lottery. The point is, there’s a lot of qualified coaches and the guys voting only got to vote for one.

3) Brad Stevens is not a great self-promoter. Not that any of these guys were out campaigning for the award, but Stevens isn’t one to draw attention to himself.

4) The voting was before the playoffs. While Stevens did an amazing regular season coaching job, a lot of fans have seen the Celtics over-achieve in the postseason and now are incensed that the other NBA coaches didn’t recognize Steven’s greatness. However, I bet a lot of those fans, if given one vote before the playoffs started, would have chosen a different coach.