When Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward sat next to one another during their introductory press conference with the Boston Celtics, neither of the two thought that their respective seasons would end prematurely.
And neither of them thought that the Philadelphia 76ers would have a shot at winning the Eastern Conference.
Yet, here we are.
With the Celtics announcing on Thursday that Irving would undergo another knee procedure that would keep him out for four to five months, the Celtics, who will likely enter the postseason as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, will be without either one of their prized acquisitions.
Now suddenly, you don’t really need to be Warren Buffet to know that the Sixers aren’t a bad bet as the playoffs get set to begin next week. You’ve just gotta have a little imagination…
And a little guts. Let me explain.
This season, even as the younger superstars who are vying for his crown have gone down with an assortment of ailments, LeBron James has been the best version of himself. Sure, he’s gonna lose the MVP Award to James Harden, but as the Cavs head toward the finish line, it’s James who is still regarded as the league’s best player—and perhaps the healthiest.
Still, for all the know-it-alls and neigh sayers that argued that this season would be “unwatchable” because we all knew that the Golden State Warriors and Cavs would square off in the Finals for a fourth straight year, you’ve gotta admit, this final week of the season is full of intrigue.
The City of Philadelphia is in the center of it all.
With just four games remaining, the Cavs and the Sixers will each enter play on April 5 with the same 48-30 record. If the playoffs began today, the Cavs would own the third seed, while the Sixers would host the Indiana Pacers in the first round.
Where things get very interesting, however, would be in the second round. With Irving sidelined for the remainder of the season, the winner of the third-sixth matchup would square off against the winner of the second-seventh. Assuming for just a moment that the seeds held and that Philly was somehow able to get the third seed from the Cavs, that would give the Sixers the opportunity to square off against the Celtics in the second round.
Boston is battled-tested, and Philly isn’t. Boston thrives off of adversity and the Sixers don’t. And the Celtics wouldn’t simply be happy to advance to the second round of the playoffs, but the Sixers might.
Still, for Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid (assuming he’s able to return), they’d be able to compete against Boston without any weight on their shoulders.
The major point, however, is that the road to the Eastern Conference Finals—should it go through Boston—would be much more enticing than the one that goes through Toronto. And either Cleveland or Philadelphia would have the “good” fortune to travel up to Beantown.
If nothing else, the injury to Irving opens up the East in a way that few foresaw back when the Celtics were destroying everything in their paths back in January.
If the Sixers can nab the third seed, believe it or not, they may be the biggest beneficiary.
Simmons and Embiid are each uniquely gifted in the era of positionless basketball. Simmons has the size of a power forward but the eyes and nimbleness of a point guard. Embiid, on the other hand, has a chance at being the best big man to enter the league since Tim Duncan. His unique combination of size, footwork, outside shooting and defensive instincts is what franchise players are made of.
Best of all? Simmons and Embiid complement one another. Their duo is one destined for great things. There’s no reason to not believe that they can’t begin to rise this season.
And with Irving’s unfortunate injury, there’s good reason to believe that they could seize an unforeseen opportunity to start sooner than any of us thought possible.
* * * * * *
As LeBron begins his quest to play in his ninth NBA Finals, father time would probably be willing to bet some money against him. At 33 years old, LeBron has played over 9,100 postseason minutes. That’s about 500 more than Kobe Bryant played in 20 seasons. LeBron is only finishing his 15th.
In those 9,100 minutes, LeBron has mostly impressed us and, on more than one occasion, given us a few performances which were among the greatest the sport has ever seen.
If it were my money and I were wagering it on someone, it would probably be LeBron. He’s been the most consistent player this generation has seen and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, despite being just one of seven players from the 2003 draft class to still be in the league.
But if someone were feeling brave and wanted to put some money on the Sixers as being the team most capable of doing something that nobody expected, with four games left in the regular season, they’re a pretty reasonable bet. It hinges on them attaining the third seed, though, which is anything but promised.
What makes the competition for the third seed all the more intriguing is the fact that the Sixers will host King James on Friday night in a game that will likely decide who will be cross-matched with the Celtics in a potential second round match up.
And don’t for a second think that LeBron doesn’t know what’s at stake.
Despite his reputation for shying away from the spotlight, the one consistent thing about LeBron has been his ability to show up when it matters.
So as usual, I’d bet on the King.
But make no mistake about it, if you wanted to put your money on the Sixers and buy stock in the Process, I’d certainly understand.
NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft
Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.
The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.
The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy
The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.
The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.
In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.
Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?
The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.
Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.
Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.
Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.
Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly
Despite the Hawks trading Luka Doncic, the Hawk drafted players that can help and contribute right away, plus Quavo from the Migos got his wish of Trae Young being selected.
With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and they took Omari Spellman from Villanova with their third pick in the first round. The Hawks are starting to build themselves like the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with the Golden State Warriors before taking the job with the Hawks.
They have the core for their future and I am really excited to see what Young can do in the NBA.
The Rich Got Richer In Boston
The Celtics once again got a steal in Robert Williams from Texas A&M. They get another athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. I am pretty surprised he fell this far.
He is another rim protector the Celtics can use. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in college. He will also provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in college. He is just a monster on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards.
He would have been a lottery pick in last years draft, but he decided to stay in school another year, and I am sure the Celtics are happy about that.
Luka Doncic Found A Good Home
The Mavericks have the best young backcourt duo in the NBA now in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. They also drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ younger brother, in the second round. I love the Mavs’ backcourt a lot.
It is going to be very scary in a couple of years. It will take time and patience to develop them, but it will be worth it. This is going to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Mavs. The Mavs have set themselves up not only for the future, but also to compete and to try to get into the playoffs. It also depends if they can bring in a max player in free agency, but I love the core the Mavs are building.
The Mavs should be a better defensive team next season, and will be a better offensive team next season with the weapons they have added to the team.
The Mavs are the clear cut winners of the 2018 NBA Draft.
NBA Draft Night Trades
David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.
Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.
1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks
The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.
Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.
For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.
2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers
The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.
For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.
The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.
The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.
3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns
The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.
Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.
For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.
The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.
4. Second-Round moves
There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.
For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.
The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.
The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.
The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.
In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.
#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors
With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.
Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.
Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.
Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.
The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.