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NBA Saturday: The NBA is Trusting The Process

After four seasons in the shadows of NBA relevancy, the league is ready to shine light on the new-look Sixers.

Dennis Chambers

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Two years ago the Philadelphia 76ers won 10 games, they ranked 28th in league attendance and statistically were the worst team in the NBA by a wide margin.

For next season, however, the league is pegging Philadelphia as one of their most marketable clubs.

On Thursday, the NBA released the schedules for their opening week and Christmas Day games. The third game of the league’s new season features the team who struggled to reach double-digit wins just two years ago. On Christmas Day — a jolly basketball tradition — the Sixers kick things off for the league at noon. The Sixers will even take a trip across the pond and play the Boston Celtics all the way over in London on Jan. 11.

Finally, the NBA is trusting the process.

Next season marks the first time the Sixers are actually fielding a roster of players that can compete on a nightly basis in the NBA since 2012-13 when the team went 34-48. Featuring the likes of Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, J.J. Redick, Dario Saric, and Joel Embiid, Philadelphia has something to show for the copious amounts of losing they produced since 2012.

Even with the NBA looking to cash in on the fruits of Philadelphia’s losing labor — as they should — had the league gotten their way back in 2014, this Sixers marketing machine may not have even existed.

In 2014, the owners of the league voted on a policy that would have changed the current draft lottery system that allows the team with the worst record in the league a 25 percent chance at winning the top overall pick. The Sixers were at the heart of the debate when the vote for reform arose, as the change was expected to thwart Philadelphia and other teams from openly tanking in order to get higher draft picks.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver voiced his concern when the reform failed to garner the 23 votes it needed to pass.

“My greatest concern right now is frankly about perception,” Silver said in 2014. “I think there’s an unfair pressure on some of our teams to under-perform because there becomes this view in those markets that they’re better off performing poorly in order to win over the long term.”

It is reasonable to expect a league to try and resist one of their team’s from openly putting out a sub-par product. But in the era of super teams, where the top contenders throughout the NBA feature as many as four All-Stars, the avenues to building a club that can compete with that level of talent are limited.

In the simplest of explanations, tanking built one of the most intriguing teams in the NBA for next season. Instead of continuing to shame the manner in which the Sixers arrived at this point, the league is making a smart decision to capitalize on the interest in Philadelphia basketball.

Next season the Sixers project to sell out every home game, and have already sold a record-setting number of season ticket packages. A quick scroll through NBA Twitter will yield common and consistent questions of intrigue about the Sixers’ ability to compete next season with so many young but also talented players. At the very least, there is a general feeling of excitement about watching the Sixers play basketball next season. All of this on the heels of four years that saw a tally registered in the loss column for Philadelphia 253 times.

The league could have waited around for a season to see if the hype around the team would pay off. There are more than a few reasonable question marks that accompany the Sixers’ excitement. Will Embiid be able to stay on the court? The same question goes for Simmons, who missed all of his rookie season with a broken foot. How will four of the team’s core players — all under the age of 24 — deal with the spotlight and competitive nature of the NBA? It isn’t a slam dunk that the Sixers will live up to the hype next season, or any season for that matter. But the league is placing a certain level of trust in what the franchise has been able to accomplish up until this point by betting that the Sixers will carry their intrigue valiantly throughout this upcoming season.

With the third game of the year, the league pits this new-look Sixers team against the Eastern Conference heavyweight Washington Wizards and John Wall. The second night of the new NBA season is being placed in the hands of a team that figures to be right in the thick of Eastern Conference finals contention next season, and a team that just drafted first overall for the second consecutive year.

The last time the Sixers appeared in a game on Christmas was back in 2001, where Allen Iverson got his Finals rematch with the Los Angeles Lakers. Sixteen years passed without the league giving Philadelphia another Christmas present. Rightfully so, as most of those teams fielded by the Sixers didn’t deserve national recognition.

With the start of the new season right around the corner, the anticipation of the Sixers’ success and interest should only grow. Once players like Simmons and Fultz suit up for preseason, a flashy pass or a deep three-pointer will make its rounds on social media and drum up more conversation heading into opening night for Philadelphia.

But no matter how this first season of competitive basketball in a long time shakes out for the Sixers, the NBA made the right call by putting the ball in their hands and letting them show the rest of the league what they can do with it.

Becoming nationally relevant doesn’t signify the end of the process, however, it’s just another step.

“Sometimes people don’t understand the definition of the process,” Embiid told Jessica Camerato on Draft Lottery night. “The process is not just about getting over what we’ve been going through for the past three or four years. I feel like the process is going to keep on going. It’s a process to get over that hump. Then it’s a process to make the playoffs. Then it’s another process to get to the Conference Finals and then another process to get to the Finals and win an NBA championship. It applies to everything in life. We’re always going to be trusting the process.”

Dennis Chambers is an NBA writer in his first season with Basketball Insiders. Based out of Philadelphia he has previously covered NCAA basketball and high school recruiting.

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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.

David Yapkowitz

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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.

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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.

Dennis Chambers

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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.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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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

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