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NBA AM: The Philadelphia 76ers’ Master Plan

The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t doing anything, other teams haven’t done, they are just more transparent about it…

Steve Kyler

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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.

More Twitter:  Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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NBA Daily: Three-Point Champion is Just a Regular Joe

Joe Harris had his league-wide coming out at All-Star weekend when he shocked fans across the globe in upsetting three-point shootout favorite-Steph Curry.

Drew Maresca

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Joe Harris’ fortunes and those of the Brooklyn Nets appear to be traveling on the same trajectory. Harris’ personality and approach embody the softer side of the Brooklyn Nets’ team persona: he is loyal, hardworking and humble. And while Jared Dudley and DeMarre Carroll provide veteran leadership and Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson offer personality, Harris provides a grounded approachability.

No one would blame him, though, if he develops a small ego. After all, Harris just received his formal introduction to the world, having won the NBA’s three-point championship last weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s hard to deny that his star is rising.

And yet, Harris seems unaware that his status is rising.

“To be honest, I am solid in my role. That’s what I’m about,” Harris told Basketball Insiders before the Nets’ January 25 game against the Knicks. “I’m pretty realistic with where I view myself as a player. And I have the self-awareness to realize that I’m not a star player in this league by any means. I mean, I’m good in my role and I’m trying to take that to another level and be as complete as I can in my niche role that I have.”

While Harris’ comments could be misinterpreted as a humble brag, they shouldn’t be. He is simply a hard-working player who perhaps doesn’t quite realize everything he adds to his team. But let’s be clear, Harris’ presence absolutely improves the Nets’ play.

Harris boasts the second-best three-point percentage in the NBA (.471) through the first four months of the season; he trails only Victor Olapido and J.J. Reddick for top three-point percentage of all 48 players who have at least 10 “clutch” attempts from long-range and he’s ranked tenth in points per clutch possession (1.379).

He helps space the floor for teammates D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie, who take advantage of his long-range acumen by attacking an often less congested pathway to the hoop — and drives account for 53.4 percent of the Nets’ points (third in the entire league).

It is no surprise then that the Nets are currently in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

“At the end of the day we’re just trying to go play good basketball.” Harris said. “The wins are a byproduct of that. It’s about staying locked into this process and how it’s gotten us here regardless of who is on the court.”

Harris’ dedication to the team and its process is becoming more unique each year as players hop from franchise to franchise more frequently than ever before. While Harris only joined the Nets in 2016, he was immediately seen as a key player by the Nets’ leadership, albeit one on a minimum deal – according to Kyle Wagner of the Daily News, Coach Kenny Atkinson saw a lot of Kyler Korver in his game and GM Sean Marks wanted him to study Danny Green.

And while Harris’ 2018-19 stats reflect similar production to the career highs of both of Korver and Green (13.2 points per game with an effective field goal percentage of .622 for Harris versus 14.4 points with an eFG% of .518 for Korver and 11.7 points with an eFG% of .566 for Green), at only 27 years old, he should only continue to improve.

A lot has changed in the two and a half seasons since Harris signed a free agent deal with the Nets, but one thing that hasn’t changed is his character.

“We had various deals that were shorter for more (money),” Harris said. “And some were longer and roughly the same, but this is where I wanted to be and I’m happy it ended up working out.”

Harris ultimately signed a two-year deal for approximately $16 million, which can be viewed as both cashing in, given where he was only two years ago (out of the league), and betting on himself, considering the short-term nature of the contract and his relative youth.

And what’s more, Harris will probably go down as a value signing for the Nets considering his versatility. After all, he is not merely a one-dimensional shooter. In fact, he is actually shooting slightly better than 60 percent on 3.2 attempts per game from the restricted area – which is better than All-Star teammate D’Angelo Russell (53 percent on 2.8 attempts). Further, Harris shoots a fair amount of his three-point attempts above the break, which is to say that he does not rely heavily on the shorter corner threes – which tend to be a more efficient means of scoring (1.16 vs. 1.05 points per possession league-wide from 1998-2018) as they are typically a spot where specialist players lurk awaiting an opening look.

The question is, how much more can we expect to see from Harris in the future? If you ask him, he’d probably undersell you on his ceiling and allude to steady progress that ultimately looks similar to what he’s done recently. But the only thing similar about Harris’ career production is that it has steadily improved – and that’s partially due to his process-oriented approach.

“We talked about it in the midst of the losing streak,” Harris said. “What are you going to change, what are you going to do (when you’re in a slump)? Not that we were going to do the exact same thing, but we felt like we were very process oriented. We felt like we were right there. Our whole thing was about being deliberate and doing it as consistently as possible.”

Harris sees the validity in repeating what works. And he’s figured that out, partially with the help of his teammates. Harris clearly values veteran input and team chemistry.

“You look at our team right now and we have really good veteran presences with Jared and DeMarre and Ed (Davis),” Harris said. “That’s the voice from the leadership standpoint. I’m learning from them just like DLo is. And all the other guys in the locker room are. They’re the guiding presence of what it is to be a professional and they keep everything even keel. They don’t go too low when things are tough, and they don’t let us get too high when things are going well.”

Harris is clearly a little uncomfortable taking credit for his team’s success, and he shies away from the spotlight a bit. He seems to prefer anonymity. But Harris should probably get used to the attention he’s received this season because it will only increase as his profile continues to rise as we enter the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

“He’s not just a shooter,” Atkinson told NBA.com last April. “He’s worked on his drive game, he’s worked on his finishing game. I think he’s worked on his defense. So just a complete player who fits how we want to play. He’s one of our most competitive players. Not a surprise watching, from the first day we had him, how locked in he was, how hungry he was. On top of it, he’s a top, top-ranked human being.”

So expect to see more of Joe Harris this April and beyond, but don’t be surprised by his humility. It’s one aspect about him that won’t change.

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NBA Daily: Danuel House Optimistic About Future

David Yapkowitz speaks to Danuel House about life as a two-way player for the Houston Rockets & what he hopes comes out of his time in the G League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

David Yapkowitz

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Opportunity is everything in the NBA. Last season’s implementation of two-way contracts gave a lot more players potential opportunities in the league that may not have been previously available.

One player who has used two-way contracts to showcase himself and really prove that he belongs in the NBA is Danuel House Jr.

House actually began his career two years ago as an undrafted rookie with the Washington Wizards. However, he suffered a wrist injury only about a month into the 2016-17 season.

He was subsequently cut by the Wizards and used the summer to heal up before joining the Houston Rockets for training camp prior to the start of last season. He ended up being one of the final cuts in camp, and he joined the Rockets’ G League affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

His strong play earned him a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns after only two months of G League play. This year, he rejoined the Vipers, only to earn another two-way contract with the Rockets. Having had some experience now with a two-way, it’s something that House sees as being beneficial.

“It’s got its good perks and its bad perks. But then the NBA is just trying to open more doors for more guys to be seen and have an opportunity,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s a good idea, it’s gonna work the kinks out so it can be more beneficial to the players. It’s still new and it’s still trending and working itself through the NBA.”

This season has been a bit of a whirlwind for House. He initially joined the Golden State Warriors for training camp, only to have them cut him before the start of the season. After spending about a month with the Vipers, the Rockets called him up, only to cut him and then eventually re-sign him to a two-way deal.

Due to injuries in the Rockets lineup, House saw meaningful minutes right away, even being placed in Houston’s starting lineup. He had some solid performances down the stretch of last season with the Suns, but this season he really looked the part of a legitimate NBA rotation player.

When a player signs a two-way deal, they are allotted a maximum of 45 days of NBA service, meaning that the rest of the time they must remain in the G League. If a player exceeds the 45-day limit, they must be sent back down to the G League unless they’re able to reach an agreement on a standard contract with the NBA team.

Because of the Rockets’ necessity of House in the rotation, he used up his NBA days last month. He and the Rockets were unable to agree on a contract, so he returned to the G League with the Vipers. While there haven’t been many updates as of late, he’s still hopeful that something can work out with the Rockets.

“Hopefully I can go back to Houston and compete for a title. There’s nothing like learning from James [Harden] and Chris Paul, Gerald Green, Eric Gordon and those guys,” House told Basketball Insiders. “And now with the additions of [Iman] Shumpert and Kenneth Faried, I’m just excited to hopefully get something done so I can be out there and competing with those guys.”

Initially, House wasn’t playing with the Vipers upon returning to the team. But he made his return to the court a few weeks ago on Feb 8. In that game, House shook off some initial rust and ended up having a solid performance including hitting the game-winning free-throws.

In the past, the G League was often times seen as a punishment for NBA players. The league didn’t have that great of a reputation, but over the past few years that image has started to change. The competition has gotten a lot stronger, and according to House, there are plenty of guys who are that close to making it to the NBA.

“The competition here is real. There’s a lot of dudes out here that got a lot of talent that they can showcase. They just want their one opportunity, their one chance that I was so fortunate and blessed with,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I know not to come out here and take it for granted, that’s why I’m playing hard and of course still trying to be a student of the game and learn.”

Recently, during a media availability session, Rockets star and perennial MVP candidate James Harden expressed hope that the Rockets and House could work something out. Harden told reporters that they all know how good House is and what he brings to the team.

In 25 games for the Rockets this season – including 12 starts – House put up nine points per game while shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 39 percent from the three-point line. He’s in the mold of a three-and-D type player, but he also moves well without the ball on cuts to the rim and can attack the basket as well.

“My role was to play defense and make the right read,” House told Basketball Insiders. “Shoot when I’m open, drive, attack the rack, and run the floor. Of course, defend and rebound and make good reads. It was easy.”

As it stands, the Rockets have 12 players on their roster, and a pair of two-way deals for House and Vincent Edwards. House is not eligible to rejoin the Rockets until the G League season concludes. Even then, he won’t be eligible to play in the playoffs as per two-way deal restrictions.

The Rockets will need to add at least two players to get up to the league-mandated 14 players on the roster. House would appear to be a good candidate for one of those spots, but that remains to be seen. But regardless of whether or not it works out in Houston, House is confident that he’s done enough to prove he belongs in the NBA.

“It gave me the utmost confidence, but my hard work, my passion, and my faith in the man upstairs gave me the ability. I asked him to guide me through the journey and he’s been taking care of me,” House told Basketball Insiders. “I’m so grateful that the opportunities and I used my ability to perform and do something I love to take care of my family.”

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PODCAST: Checking In On Clippers & Lakers, East Arms Race, Warriors’ Challengers

Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders Deputy Editor Jesse Blancarte and Writer James Blancarte evaluate the L.A. teams after the trade deadline, break down the Eastern Conference contenders, and look for the Warriors’ biggest challengers.

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