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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-

Udonis Haslem reveals why he chose to return to Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Udonis Haslem arrived at the Miami Heat facility for a workout one day last week, and was told he needed to sign a waiver before he took the court.

The reason: Technically, he wasn’t on the team.

“That was a little weird, having to do that,” Haslem said.

It won’t be a problem for the next year. Haslem officially signed his one-year, $2.4 million contract with the Heat on Monday, a deal that was struck last week and finally became official when he put pen to paper. Haslem will enter his 16th NBA season, all with the Heat, and that means the Miami native will be with his hometown franchise for more than half of its 31-year history.

“For the hometown kid in me, that means the world,” Haslem said. “I wish I understood how big that is right now, because I really don’t, but I know it’s big.”

Haslem was the seventh-oldest player in the NBA last season – and will rise at least one spot on that list this season, with the retirement of San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili. Vince Carter is 41 and will play for Atlanta, Dirk Nowitzki is 40 and back with Dallas, and Haslem is 38.

“It’s great to have our captain back,” Heat President Pat Riley said.

The others who played last season and are older than Haslem are Jason Terry, Damien Wilkins and Jamal Crawford. They all remain unsigned for the coming season.

So, too, does Dwyane Wade. He and Haslem are the only two players who were part of all three Heat championship teams. Haslem said he’s busily recruiting his business partner – the pair shares several off-court interests, including a pizza chain – to come back as well.

“My mindset has always been for us to finish it together,” Haslem said. “I want us to do a whole season together. Experience the road, dinner on the road, go through that whole process. I want us to experience that together.”

Wade tweeted his congratulations to Haslem when the deal was signed.

“You are (the) most selfless person I’ve ever met,” Wade said in his tweet.

Haslem appeared in only 14 games last season, and hasn’t had much of a role with the Heat in the last three seasons. Haslem believes he can still play – he has kept himself in tremendous condition – but knows that he probably won’t have a big on-court presence again.

Still, a meeting with Heat coach Erik Spoelstra last week helped seal the deal to return.

“Me and Spo were honest with each other,” Haslem said. “Honesty is not always telling somebody what they want to hear. And we both have gotten to that point in our careers where we value each other’s opinions, whether we want to hear them or not. We trust each other. We root for each other. We both have the best interests of this team in mind.”

But even if he doesn’t get much in the way of minutes, Haslem knows he’s valued. Spoelstra raves about the way he interacts and mentors teammates, and Haslem said that was a huge part of his decision as well.

“It’s about my love for the organization and my love for the guys,” Haslem said. “It wasn’t about me. If I was looking for playing time, I could have gone someplace else or played in China or something. But at the end of the day, would it have made me as happy as being around this organization and being around these guys? No, I don’t think it would.”

 

Atlanta Hawks sign former Georgia State star R.J. Hunter to training camp contract

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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks have signed guard R.J. Hunter, bringing him back to the city where he was a college star playing for his father.

The Hawks announced the signing Friday.

Atlanta already has 15 fully guaranteed contracts on the books, the max they can carry into the season, plus a partially guaranteed one for Thomas Robinson.

Hunter was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2015 but has yet to make much of an impact while also playing for Chicago and Houston in the NBA. Last season, Hunter was on a two-way contract with the Rockets, spending most of the season with Rio Grande of the NBA G League. He averaged 20.4 points per game in the developmental league. He played for the Rockets at Summer League and averaged 11.2 points a game on just 40 percent shooting.

Hunter was the career scoring leader at Georgia State, where he memorably hit a 3-pointer in the NCAA tournament to finish off an upset of Baylor.

His father, Ron, is still the Panthers’ coach.

Nets come out ahead in busy summer

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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.

Timofey Mozgov, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin, Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Isaiah Whitehead and Jared Dudley are real people with real thoughts, real feelings and real basketball abilities. But to Brooklyn this summer, they were mostly just contracts to be shuffled. After all their wheeling and dealing with that group, here’s where the Nets stand:

  • Draft picks (give or take): +1 first rounder, -1 second-rounder
  • 2018-19 salary: +$13,697,024
  • 2019-20 salary: -$16,720,000

That’s right: Brooklyn cleared more 2019-20 salary than it added in 2018-19 salary while still coming out ahead in draft picks. That is incredible – especially because the Nets’ cap space should go further with desirable free agents next summer than it would’ve this year.

But just because stars aren’t ready to consider Brooklyn doesn’t mean Brooklyn is ready to punt the season. The Nets, possessing their own first-rounder for the first time in five years, refuse to tank. They’ve already come too far building a culture to intentionally plummet in the standings now.

To that end, Brooklyn re-signed Joe Harris to a two-year, $16 million contract. That might be a little steep for him, but he’s a glowing example of the Nets’ player-development program, and his salary descends. This was a deal worth doing.

Brooklyn also signed Ed Davis (one year, $4,449,000 room exception), Shabazz Napier ($1,942,422 guaranteed this season with the minimum unguaranteed next season) and Treveon Graham (minimum guaranteed this season with minimum unguaranteed next season). I doubt they lift the Nets significantly, but those three are all worthy pickups. Napier and Graham, with those unguaranteed seasons, look especially valuable. Napier is just finding himself as an NBA player, and Graham has potential as a 3-and-D wing in a league starving for players like that.

The Nets also drafted Dzanan Musa No. 29 and Rodions Kurucs No. 40. There are a lot of pieces here.

The next step is evaluating which are keepers.

Brooklyn projects to have more than $61 million in cap space next summer. Some could go toward keeping D'Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie and/or Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, but that still leaves plenty to add a star or two.

The Nets endured years of pain – losing without reaping the rewards of a high draft pick. The light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight.

Thanks to this summer, it’s brighter.

Offseason grade: B+

Hawks’ center Dewayne Dedmon suffers ankle avulsion fracture

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At the time most players are going hard in the gym to get their bodies and game in shape for the start of training camp, Hawks’ big man Dewayne Dedmon has suffered a setback.

Atlanta announced Dedmon suffered an avulsion fracture to his left ankle.

An avulsion fracture is where a strain to ligament pulls a little bit of bone off where the two connect. It sounds bad, but it’s not considered serious, and rest often is all that’s needed.

The severity of the injury can vary and people can be sidelined from a few weeks to months, depending upon how it heals. Meaning Dedmon could be ready to go at the start of training camp, or could be slowed through some or most of it.

Dedmon is the Hawks starting center this season, with Alex Len and Miles Plumlee behind him in the rotation. Dedmon was solid and averaged 10 points and 7.9 rebounds in almost 25 minutes a game for the Hawks last season.