Stop Already: Sometimes in sports, the media generates an idea. That idea resonates with the fan base and however unrealistic that idea might be, it becomes fact or at least fact in the eyes of the general public.
It happens with trade rumors. It happens with rumored fights in the locker room, coaches on the hot seat – you name the speculative topic and as soon as it gains an ounce of support from the fans, that’s how it is. True or not.
The Philadelphia 76ers are tanking. They are deliberately losing games. Really?
Is that really what’s happening in Philadelphia or is that simply the narrative that makes the most sense to those on the outside?
Why else would the 76ers field a roster that has almost no chance to win? Why else would the 76ers continue to take chances on draft picks that are a little dinged up or are planning to stay in Europe for a year or two instead of drafting proven guys who are ready to play?
Before we get into why, let’s rewind to how we got here.
Under Doug Collins a few years ago, the 76ers were a playoff team. They had guys that could play and were scrappy. The problem is that squad was just talented enough to be the eighth seed in the East. They were basically capped out with an average team that likely wasn’t ever going to get appreciably better. They were not a free agent destination and the kinds of contracts they had to trade were not going to return a transcendent star.
When Josh Harris and his group bought the 76ers in 2011 they naively believed they could hire a known coach, toss some money at the roster and they could compete for a championship. They found out the hard way that was not how things worked in the NBA.
Rather the muddle around the bottom of the playoff picture, the 76ers decided the best way to build a team that truly mattered and had staying power was to rip it all the way down to the ground and start over.
General Manager Sam Hinkie explained how the process would go, how much time it would take and the strategy they would employ. Ownership signed off on it.
The idea at the time, and it remains somewhat true today, is that the 76ers’ cupboard was basically empty. They had a couple of good players, but they had leveraged themselves to the point that nothing they had would matter.
So in comes the so-called tanking. The idea in Philly is to grow assets. If you have watched the Sixers’ process, the have used their cap space as middlemen to secure draft picks. They have cycled through dozens of would-be talents from anywhere they could find them trying to search for guys that matter. They have drafted guys with a lot of upside, hoping to find that transcendent star they knew they could never get in free agency.
Most of the draft picks were about the long-term not the short, because in the NBA teams have a window in which they can reasonably compete. Even if you gave the 76ers the four best guys from each of the last two draft classes they still couldn’t compete with the likes of Chicago or Cleveland.
Look at the Washington Wizards, they languished as a below average team for several years after drafting John Wall number one overall in 2010. Last year Wall and his Wizards made the postseason. This year they are extremely competitive. It took four years.
The Oklahoma City Thunder, who at the time were the Seattle Sonics, drafted last year’s MVP Kevin Durant second overall. They were bad for almost four more years before they sniffed at the playoffs.
There are no shortcuts and the 76ers know it. They knew it when they decided to tear the team down.
The problem for the 76ers isn’t that they have ripped the team down to rebuild it. The Orlando Magic have done the same thing post-Dwight Howard. The problem is the 76ers were way out in the open about it. The Magic at least trotted out some veterans to make fans feel like they were trying. The 76ers simply aren’t masquerading their intentions to use these games to grow their guys.
It is obvious that winning is not the main goal. These last few seasons were transition years and the future was all that really mattered. That too is not new. Teams have done that before as well.
In the build up to the free agent class of 2010, teams were jockeying for cap space at any cost in order to get a shot at LeBron James. They were trading for terrible contracts in order to have space. Teams will do it again in 2016 for a shot at Kevin Durant and his pending free agency.
What the Sixers are doing is far from unique. It’s just so far out in the open that fans, and more importantly the media have an issue with it. It’s that media driven view that the Sixers are somehow doing something wrong, that has driven this notion that the Sixers are willfully losing games. The losing is a by-product of a bigger concept. That concept is the 76ers are growing assets.
Had the Sixers drafted four of the top five players in the 2014 NBA Draft and played them all this season how many more wins would the team have?
Andrew Wiggins is far from the superstar capable of taking over games that he was billed to be. He may become that in time, but he is not that guy today. Jabari Parker looks like the most NBA ready rookie, as he was billed to be in the draft process, but is still shooting 41 percent from the field. Would either of those guys really have made the 76ers title contenders? Playoff contenders?
It’s easy to say the 76ers wasted draft picks, but the truth is even had they drafted the top five guys it wouldn’t have mattered this season. It simply takes time for players to learn and grow into the NBA game, so if it’s going to take time why not draft the guys you believe have the best long-term future? That’s what the Sixers did in drafting Joel Embiid and drafting Dario Saric who is in Europe this season.
Rebuilding is a tough and painful process, but if you rewind back to what the team was in 2011, and what the team looks to be in 2017, things look a lot brighter for the 76ers.
They’ll have four or five elite level young guys. They’ll have a small mountain of trade assets and they will have played through the toddler years with their draft picks.
That’s how you become a franchise with staying power. That’s how you get to the position of competing for the top of the playoff board and not the last chair at the bottom.
Is that tanking or is that re-building?
Not sure if you have ever had to endure a remodel of your home while you were still living in it. It’s a messy, annoying and painstaking process. However if you plan it out right, you end up with something better on the other side.
That’s exactly what the 76ers are doing. They are growing assets. Losing isn’t the goal, it’s the by-product with the goal of being significantly deeper and better in 2017 and 2018 when the window would be open for the Sixers to be like Toronto or Washington or even Chicago – a deep team filled with young guys that know how to play with each other.
Until then, pardon the mess, the 76ers are in the process of upgrading for a brighter tomorrow.
Your Favorite Rookie: If you stand in front of Orlando Magic rookie Elfrid Payton’s locker long enough he’ll look up at you with a sheepish smile and say “Hey, do you need me?”
He’ll stop what he’s doing and make eye contact, and eagerly answer your questions.
Sounds basic enough; sounds like something everyone would do, however that’s not even remotely true with your average NBA rookie.
However, Payton is far from your average NBA rookie. Payton is a kid from the small town of Gretna, LA population 17,736. He proudly wears the fleur-de-lis tattooed on his shoulder. He played basketball at John Ehret High School in Jefferson Parish and went onto Louisiana–Lafayette. To say he’s a kid from Louisiana is a perfect description.
The fact that he is starting for the Magic in his rookie year is somewhat impressive. Sixteen months ago most people didn’t know his name, let alone that he could play NBA caliber basketball.
Payton, who was the 10th overall pick in the 2014 Draft is leading the rookie class in assist per game 6.4 per content. That’s enough for 14th best in the NBA, 11th best among point guards. It’s hard to believe Payton’s only played two weeks of regular season basketball.
“It feels like it’s been more than two weeks to be honest,” Payton told Basketball Insiders. “I’m getting a lot of late game experience and coach is letting me make plays down the stretch. Right now I’m just trying to help my team win and I’m getting a lot of help from not only the veterans but also the young guys to keep my confidence up.”
Payton’s finding his way, although he looks like a seasoned veteran at times, picking apart the opposition and finding his teammates with passes some veteran guards can’t make. It wasn’t that long ago Payton was wheeling and dealing in college, but he understands what it takes at this level.
“It’s different because the players are betters so the atmosphere becomes more intense,” Payton said. “Because of that you have to be more precise and go that extra mile to make a play.”
Behind his sheepish grin is a lot of confidence. Payton’s ability to plug right in hasn’t been a surprise to him.
“To be honest with you everyone from the coaching staff to the front office has a lot of faith in me,” Payton said. “I have confidence in myself and I worked really hard just to get in this position. I’m still working hard so it’s just paying off for the most part.”
Payton said he’s still trying to adjust to the attention he’s getting, especially as he continues to get minutes as a starter.
“You can’t pay attention to any of that,” Payton said. “You have to have tunnel vision which is crazy to say because I’m a point guard but you just have to focus on what’s important which is getting better and winning games.”
The 20-year-old point guard has fit right in with the Magic’s young core and that’s helped the adjustment process considerably.
“Just having so many guys that have been through the things that I’ve been through is such a big help,” Payton said. “On top of that, the veterans on this team have been great in helping us younger players get through the learning process too.”
While the NBA season is still young, there has already been talk that Payton could be a sleeper candidate for rookie for the year. While he may not beat out the named guys drafted ahead of him, Payton is looking the part of a top rookie, however you wouldn’t know it in how he carries himself.
If you have had a chance to see him play yet, you may want to tune in. He just might become your favorite rookie.
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NBA Daily: A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
The Toronto Raptors made some bold moves this off-season, but will those moves be the beginning of something new or the beginning of the end of Raptors run in the East?
A New Beginning Or The Beginning Of The End?
The Toronto Raptors were clearly at a crossroads after being swept unceremoniously by the Cleveland Cavaliers in May. It was a microcosm of their situation – good enough to win the East in the regular season, but not good enough to win in big playoff games.
The Raptors went on to fire Dwane Casey as head coach, despite him ultimately being named Coach of The Year. The idea behind the firing wasn’t an emotional reaction to the swept; it was the acceptance of the reality that Casey wasn’t going to evolve as a coach, at least not the way management had hoped.
Casey’s ouster wasn’t the only change; the Raptors also traded away franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan in a “dare to be great” trade with San Antonio for forward Kawhi Leonard.
From a pure talent standpoint, Leonard is an upgrade in almost every way to DeRozan, a multi-time All-Star in his own right. The problem with Leonard isn’t what he is as a player, its what he’s become as a person. No one saw the divorce in San Antonio coming, nor the lengths his camp would go to force an exit and leave countless millions on the table for a new start.
The problem for Toronto is the new start Leonard was seeking never included them. So, much like the Oklahoma City Thunder did a year ago with Paul George, the Raptors are hopeful that a long and successful courtship of Leonard could win him over and into a new long-term deal. If that sounds like a pipe dream, it probably is.
Let’s be real about a few things.
Toronto is a beautiful and passionate basketball city, but is that enough to sway a kid from Southern California to stay? The Raptor faithful will point to DeRozan as an example of yes; he did exactly that when he signed his current deal. But is the situation ideal for Leonard, again the answer might be yes, especially if he is fully recovered from the quad injury that sidelined him for most of last season.
There is no doubting that the Raptors are built to win right now. They won 59 games with arguably the same roster and will enter an Eastern Conference that no longer has LeBron James in Cleveland.
Sure, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are formidable challengers for supremacy in the East and let’s not forget about the Indiana Pacers, who could be in that same pack of teams vying for the top spot. But are any of them far and away better than the Raptors in terms of proven in their prime players?
The script seems to be written for the Raptors to either explode and cement themselves at the top of the East or implode on their own decisions.
New Raptors coach Nick Nurse is as a good as they come from the assistant ranks. He is a bright basketball mind, and he knows his players and has relationships with most of them. The question is will he be as good as advertised? If he not, this dance could be over before it starts.
Leonard has so much to prove after orchestrating his exit from San Antonio. If he gets back to MVP form in Toronto how can the Raptors not be considered the front-runner for the East? Yes, Boston is going to be really good too, but if you were betting on two players – MVP version of Kyrie Irving or MVP version of Leonard, who are you taking?
The problem for the Raptors is what if Leonard isn’t that guy again? What if all the negativity becomes too much? What if not being coddled and sheltered by the Spurs is a problem? No, Leonard isn’t a baby that needs mothering, but if you have followed anything about Leonard, he’s not this rock of a person that can handle anything. It’s a real question only he can answer with his play on the floor.
Equally, what if the quad isn’t fully healed or he goes Isaiah Thomas and tries to come back on to make it worse and needs surgery?
These are not easy questions to answer.
If the Raptors come out on top of most of these decisions – Nurse and Leonard are what people hope them to be — then things could swing in a very interesting direction for the Raptor franchise.
That’s what makes the “dare to be great” move interesting.
Thunder GM Sam Presti made news when he was quoted in Paul George’s ESPN docu-series, saying one of his favorite Lyrics was from Tribe Called Quest – “Scared money don’t make none” — in rationalizing his all-in approach to George.
It seems like Raptor president Masai Ujiri may have stolen a play from the Thunder playbook, because the franchise is now all the way in on the make or break moves of this off-season.
This could be the beginning of a new chapter for the Raptors, or it could end being the moves that cratered something special.
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NBA Daily: Why Teams Should Think Twice Before Tanking
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry, writes Spencer Davies.
Making up for the loss of a superstar is not a cut and dry affair.
If it happens, ownership and management have to choose between two options.
1) Attempt to stay competitive
2) Blow everything up and go for a high draft pick
The second choice seems to be the favorite path for executives to take as of late. After all, just look at the job the Philadelphia 76ers have done with perfecting the art of the aptly named process, “tanking.”
Former Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie’s three ultra-quotable words have turned NBA fans on to see the bigger picture. Who cares if a team has to suffer through multiple seasons of losing? If it takes a couple of years, so be it. In the end, we’ll reset with younger talent to build around. Trust The Process.
Philadelphia lost a lot of games between the 2013 and 2017 seasons. It was flat out brutal to watch. With that said, it did give the organization the opportunity to draft the likes of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons and acquire a young international talent like Dario Saric.
They were extremely patient throughout this whole operation. Brett Brown remained the head coach through thick and thin. Players swore on buying into what was being preached.
Last season was a breakthrough for the Sixers. They won 52 games and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign. Two of the guys they drafted turned into recognizable names with their play and have sky-high potential to break through in this upcoming season.
But is this really what it takes to achieve relevancy and perpetual competition in the NBA now? Do you really have to wipe the slate clean entirely and put out an unacceptable product year-in and year-out for half a decade so that there’s a possibility of one day becoming a winning franchise?
It’s obvious that Philadelphia did its homework, but who’s to say that other front offices can function like that? The Sacramento Kings have been in the doldrums for 12 years. The Orlando Magic have missed the playoffs for six straight seasons and the New York Knicks haven’t made an appearance in five.
What it comes down to is hitting on draft picks, plain and simple. You don’t hear often about the missteps of the process. Nerlens Noel was supposed to be a key piece of the Sixers core, as was Jahlil Okafor. Both of those players were top six selections in their respective drafts.
In order to acquire Noel (along with New Orleans’ 2014 first-round pick), Philadelphia sent Jrue Holiday, Pierre Jackson and the 42nd overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft to the newly branded New Orleans Pelicans.
In hindsight, this was an awful move—no bones about it. Holiday had been coming off an All-Star season. He stood a head above the rest on a roster mixed with veterans and middle-of-their-career players. Most impressive of all, it was only his third year in the league.
The Sixers picked a gamble that did not return the results they were hoping for. Michael Carter-Williams won Rookie of the Year and Noel had his moments, but there’s no way it was worth losing a player the caliber of Holiday. But they had to abide by the process by any means necessary, right?
Philadelphia hasn’t won a championship, yet they’re heading in the right direction. They were able to overcome those bumps in the road. The three teams in Sacramento, Orlando and New York to this point have not.
Tanking may not be the wrong answer. It’s not always the right one, though. It all depends on timing. Take a different approach of re-tooling in lieu of rebuilding.
A prime example of this viewpoint is the Utah Jazz last season. After Gordon Hayward signed with the Boston Celtics, many pundits stuck a dead duck label on the Utah Jazz. Those people said that in spite of the fact that the organization was on the rise with a brilliant head coach and an up-and-coming center bordering on best defensive player in the league status.
General manager Dennis Lindsey made a few moves here or there, but did not even think about giving up on the overall progress the Jazz had attained. He kept Quin Snyder and Rudy Gobert, drafted Donovan Mitchell and began a new chapter in the same book instead of writing a different novel.
Utah opened a ton of eyes last season, not only making the playoffs—competing until the very end. And even that was fluky when injuries came into the picture.
They never had to go into the gutter. In the four straight years the Jazz missed the playoffs, it wasn’t because of a set strategy to take a nosedive. They had the wrong coach the first two and were learning how to play winning basketball under the right leader the next two.
It seems as if the Cleveland Cavaliers are taking that route instead of the usual cry to “blow it up.” This isn’t comparing the impact of losing Hayward to LeBron James. That would be irresponsible. But they’ve clearly formed a strategy for all of this and were much more prepared the second time around.
Their true plans were revealed on July 24 when Kevin Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stick around with the wine and gold. Confusion surfaced all around. Nearly everybody in the NBA world expected general manager Koby Altman to trade him and stock up on future assets. After all, the Cavaliers’ first-round draft pick next season only conveys if they finish as a bottom 10 team in the league. If they do not, the selection goes to the Atlanta Hawks.
While that’s a true statement, nothing is guaranteed. Anything that happens in a season can be unpredictable. Anything that goes on in a draft is unpredictable.
In one timeline, Cleveland could be as bad of a team as some are predicting with Love. In another, they could make the playoffs and shock their doubters.
We don’t know what Collin Sexton will be in this league yet. We do know that experience is irreplaceable. Why not surround the young man with talent for him to breed confidence in himself and others? It’s better than losing a ton of games because the front office is waiting for the next guy to pair him with, right?
The Cavaliers are keeping their head coach. They’re acquiring players aching for an opportunity. They’re altering their direction, but keeping the same focus.
With LeBron James, Cleveland made four straight NBA Finals. In doing so, they’ve set a standard for the organization. Even with The King going west, why would it make any sense to change that message?
Considering the talent this league already has and the “super teams” that are being built among them, there is a difference between a ball club that wins 20 games and one that wins 35. They both miss out on the postseason and have a lottery pick, however, Team A silently creates losing habits while Team B tries to instill a culture of winning.
There is no perfect method for filling a void left by losing a superstar player. Nobody is a psychic.
Maybe it’s naïve to criticize “The Process” for not wanting to be in NBA purgatory—usually somewhere stuck between a seven seed in the playoffs and the 10th team in the conference standings—but tanking is a tricky game. Precision is necessary to pull it off. If it isn’t there, you’ll be in a world of hurt.
At least when you’re in NBA purgatory, you can add to what you have or try a different coach. Championship or bust is a dangerous mentality in the current landscape of sports.
Of course, that’s always the goal, but very few understand what it takes to get to that point. It all starts with a winning attitude, a quality of most teams that have tanked do not possess.
NBA Daily: The Summer’s Most Impactful Coaching Hires
There have been a lot of coaching swaps this offseason, but there are only a select few that should impact what happens next year.
Building a successful team is like cooking a meal. The players serve as the ingredients, while the coach serves as the cook who stirs the ingredients. A championship team requires the right ingredients just as much as it requires an adept cook.
Take the Warriors for example. Mark Jackson played an important role in putting Golden State back on the map in 2013. However, after it was clear that he wasn’t capable of pushing them much further the following year, they replaced him with Steve Kerr.
That made all the difference. The Dubs went from pseudo-contender to legitimate contender, thanks to their new coach revolutionizing the team’s offense. The team went from the league’s 12th-ranked offense in the league the previous season (107.5 points per 100 possessions) to its second (111.6). Stephen Curry’s evolution into a basketball supernova led the way of course, but it was Kerr’s revisions to the team that pushed them to another level.
It all started with how he handled his rotation. Making Draymond Green a full-time starter while also transitioning Andre Iguodala into the sixth man made the Dubs all the more lethal as a team. The final touch was forming the “Death Lineup”, which consisted of Curry, Green, Iguodala, Klay Thompson, and Harrison Barnes, that made Golden State nearly impossible to stop.
Golden State had a roster built for a title. All they needed was a coach who could get them the best results. Kerr was the man for the job.
That goes to show how vital a coach is to a franchise that has high aspirations.
Because of success stories like Golden State, we saw quite a few coaching changes this summer from teams hoping to have a Hollywood ending much like the Warriors.
Milwaukee Bucks – Mike Budenholzer
Poor Coach Bud. It’s not his fault that the Hawks team that he guided to 60 wins in 2015 slowly disintegrated over the last three years. Luckily he got out of there to avoid having to take on a rebuild. So now, he gets a fresh start in Wisconsin.
Budenholzer’s stock has gone down considerably since winning the Coach of the Year three years ago. That being said, he’s shown that when he has lemons, he can make lemonade. Now that he is running the show in Milwaukee, he is coaching one of the more unique situations in the league. Coach Bud now has a superstar at his arsenal in Giannis Antetokounmpo, which is something he never had in Atlanta.
It’s true that Milwaukee has been one of the league’s frequent underachievers since they kicked the tires of the Greek Freek era, but their talent cannot be understated. Remember that Coach Bud once made the likes of Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver All-Stars, statuses that they’ve never come close to regaining since. If he can do that with guys like Teague and Korver, imagine what he can do with Giannis and Co.
Milwaukee has also done a solid job building a team that fits Budenholzer’s emphasis on floor stretching. Adding Brook Lopez and bringing back Ersan Ilyasova should give a team that ranked 21st in three-point percentage more spacing. That’s quite impressive since Milwaukee had the ninth-best offensive rating in the league (109.8).
Milwaukee’s been trying to find their big break for a while now. They may have found theirs in Coach Bud.
Detroit Pistons – Dwane Casey
Nobody had a harder spring than Casey. Usually, winning Coach of the Year would be a moment worth treasuring, but in Casey’s case, it was far from it. Leading up to getting the award, Casey and the Raptors were swept by the Cavs for the second consecutive time, then he got fired shortly afterward. Casey getting Coach of the Year this season was pretty much like Dirk Nowitzki getting the MVP in 2007 after getting upset by the Warriors in the first round.
Thankfully, Casey’s illustrious resume was good enough for him to land on his feet just about anywhere. That anywhere happens to be Motown, where he’s replacing Stan Van Gundy as head coach. Detroit also has not had the most success since they’ve turned to Andre Drummond. That could be attributed to the unfortunate injuries that they’ve had to deal with in the last two years.
Despite having the persistent monkey on his back come playoff time, Casey has improved his craft in response to his failures. The Raptors saw improvement every year when Casey ran the show, and now Casey has the chance to show he can do the same in Detroit.
It will be an interesting transition going from the Raptors to the Pistons. Though not as talented as Toronto’s, Detroit’s strength should primarily come from their frontcourt. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond should be one of the league’s best frontcourt pairings on paper. Casey has a reputation for making things work, so now that they will have a full season together, they may shine more than they did last season.
One particular question that should be answered is if Toronto’s problem was Casey or his roster. That may be answered by how Detroit does this season. Oh hey, speaking of Toronto…
Toronto Raptors – Nick Nurse
There seems to be a fair amount of optimism surrounding Nurse. Supposedly, he was the reason why the Raptors’ offense improved so much last season. Casey executed it to perfection, but Nurse was the one who designed it. Now, he’s at the forefront on a team that is desperate for success now more than ever.
This is Nurse’s first gig as a head coach, and the pressure is going to be on. It’s not just that Toronto’s been trying to get past its playoff demons. Now that they have Kawhi Leonard, they have to do everything in their power to keep him around — tall order given he seems hellbent on going to L.A.
Still, Leonard is an upgrade over DeMar DeRozan. Acquiring him, along with promoting Nurse, shows that the Raptors aren’t playing around. Being the head coach for one of the league’s powerhouses is a big break for Nurse. This may be his only to chance to prove he deserves a spot in this league.
James Borrego – Charlotte Hornets
Another Popovich protegee moving up through the ranks! Borrego has had some head coaching experience, though it was with the Orlando Magic, who were not going anywhere, three years ago. Now he’s going to Charlotte, a team that’s in a pretty tough situation right now.
Right now, Charlotte is hard-capped on a roster that does not have much room for improvement. The team has not made the playoffs in two years, and it’s hard to imagine how they improve from where they currently are. However, that might be why they hired Borrego.
Instead of going for a known name like Stan Van Gundy or Jeff Hornacek, they went with a guy who has learned under the NBA’s best coach for several years. Coach Bud became a great coach after learning from Pop, so perhaps Borrego may follow in his footsteps. This is a pivotal year for Charlotte since Kemba Walker’s bargain contract is expiring. If Borrego can help Charlotte return to the playoffs, then that could do wonders for them.
Note that David Fizdale, Lloyd Pierce, and Igor Kokoskov weren’t named. It isn’t fair to include them because the teams they are running are currently in the rebuilding phase with little expectation. They could be very impactful hires down the line. Just don’t expect a lot from them right away.
Same goes for J.B. Bickerstaff, but that’s because he already was the Grizzlies’ head coach. Now he’s full-time instead of interim. Call it cheating if you want to.
As for those who have been named, these hires should have a significant impact on what happens in the Eastern Conference playoff race this season. One of these hires could very well put their team in the finals, while another could put them in the NBA lottery.