As the Philadelphia 76ers round the corner and return to respectability, and as Joel Embiid shows the flashes of potential that have had scouts salivating, just imagine what he would have looked like being flanked not only by Ben Simmons, but also D’Angelo Russell.
It was much closer to happening than one would think.
Instead, with Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, the Sixers seem to have a bit too much depth in their front court – a problem the franchise will need to address. Still, at this point, it’s amazing to consider how close this conflict was to being avoided, all together.
It’s also amazing to consider how the fortunes of the Sixers and Lakers have become intertwined, despite the two never interacting directly on this pick.
Back in 2012, in an attempt to give Kobe Bryant a fighting chance to compete against LeBron James and his Miami HEAT in an NBA Finals, the Lakers made two “all in” trades. Famously, less than a month apart, they acquired Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. Many thought that the Lakers would have a chance at winning 70 games and that, for Bryant, an eighth NBA Finals appearance was in the cards.
Obviously, the basketball gods had other plans.
Head coach Mike Brown was fired after five games, eventually replaced by Mike D’Antoni. D’Antoni and Pau Gasol had issues, Bryant and Howard didn’t see eye-to-eye and Nash couldn’t say healthy. Gasol was alienated, Bryant ruptured his Achilles and Howard left for Houston. The rest was history.
Years later, though, the trade for Nash, discussions about it and the steep price the Lakers paid for him – it all lives on.
In acquiring Nash from the Phoenix Suns, the Lakers agreed to send four draft picks to the desert – first rounders in 2013 and 2015 and second rounders in 2013 and 2014. The Suns would eventually trade that protected 2015 first round pick to the Sixers in the 2015 trade deadline deal that saw Michael Carter-Williams get sent to the Milwaukee Bucks.
For the Sixers, the con was losing the former Rookie of the Year. But the pro was acquiring the first round pick, which, as we speak, is still owed.
Fortunately for the Lakers, the first round pick was top-five protected in the 2015 draft. Finishing with the fourth-worst record, the most probable outcome had the Lakers keeping it, which they did. As fate would have it, the Lakers swapped draft spots with the Knicks and eventually selected Russell with the second overall pick.
Imagine for a moment, though, that instead of moving forward two spots, the Lakers moved back two spots, into sixth. Had the Knicks kept the second selection, they would have likely chosen Jahlil Okafor, as intel from New York City during the predraft process indicated that he was highly coveted by Phil Jackson. That scenario – which assumes that the Minnesota Timberwolves would have stuck with Karl-Anthony Towns with the first selection – would have cleared the way for the Sixers to select Russell at third. The team needed a point guard, after all.
Had the Lakers fallen to sixth, by right, the Sixers would have gotten the pick, meaning that they would have also had a shot to draft Kristaps Porzingis. Imagine how different the world would have looked if that had been the case: Russell, Porzingis, Embiid and Ben Simmons on the same team.
Obviously, at this point, it’s all conjecture and a great “what if,” but one thing that is certain is that the Lakers still owe the Sixers a first round pick, and in all likelihood, it will be paid this season. Aside from being top-five protected in 2015, the first round pick was top-three protected in 2016 and will also be top-three protected in the 2017.
If the early going of this season is any indication of what is to transpire, it appears that the pick owed from the Steve Nash trade will finally be transferred – a whole five years after the trade.
The Lakers began the season with a few nice victories and ended up 10-10 through 20 games. Their 10th win of the season came before December, while last season, it didn’t occur until February. Based on what we’ve seen, even with such a small sample, it’s difficult imagining the Lakers finishing with a top three pick this season.
Although they are losers of seven straight, the club has endured injuries to key rotation players, including Russell and Nick Young. They enter play on Tuesday at 10-17, but seem a fair bet to resume the trajectory that had them raising eyebrows just a few weeks ago.
For what it’s worth, if the season ended at this moment, the Sixers would be guaranteed a top-four pick in the 2017 draft while the Lakers – unless they made a jump in the lottery similar to the one the Chicago Bulls made from further back in 2008 to select Derrick Rose – would end up with the ninth pick. In such an instance, the Sixers would have two picks in the top 10.
So here we are. Five years after Nash was sent to the Lakers and was thought to be a vital cog in Kobe Bryant’s quest for a sixth championship ring, his ghost continues to haunt Los Angeles while delighting Sixers fans.
As Embiid turns the corner and the Sixers return to respectability, maybe it would be wise to not spend too much time thinking about what could have been with Embiid, Simmons and Russell. Instead, maybe the Atlantic Division should be concerned with what Embiid and Simmons might be able to do with two more lottery talents, because if the season ended today, that’s exactly what Philadelphia would get.
And if the Lakers’ hot start was indeed an aberration, and they falter (or get lucky) and end up with a top three pick in the 2017 draft? The pick becomes unprotected in 2018, meaning it would go to the Sixers no matter what.
So as the Lakers and the Sixers continue along on their individual journeys, rest assured that the Sixers are probably rooting for the Lakers to do well – but not too well. After all, Embiid and Simmons would look pretty good with two more lottery selections from the highly regarded class of 2017.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN