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NBA Sunday: Kyrie Irving Could Make Sense For The Sixers

Kyrie Irving’s list of preferred destinations doesn’t include the Philadelphia 76ers, but perhaps it should.

Moke Hamilton

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With the stroke of his mighty pen and gargantuan expectations on his shoulders, three years ago, LeBron James announced to the world that he intended to finish what he started in Cleveland.

Sure, the four years he spent in Miami were a success—four conference titles and two championships was nothing to sneeze at—but James sought to get one for ‘The Land,” which he eventually did.

Even back then, though, three years ago, we knew that Kyrie Irving, from a mentality standpoint, was more Kobe Bryant than he was Tony Parker. Bryant, in a desire to become his own man and prove his worth as one of the NBA’s all-time great players, willingly waved goodbye to Shaquille O’Neal, despite the fact that the duo made it to four NBA Finals in five years and won three of them.

Parker, on the other hand, will go down as one of the best international players in NBA history—not simply one of the best players. Because Parker spent the prime years of his career in San Antonio, in the comfy confines of Gregg Popovich’s system and Tim Duncan’s greatness, it’s fair to say that he’s been overshadowed. His greatness, while appreciated, is quite often overlooked.

Parker himself is fine with it, but upon the return of James to Cleveland, we had our doubts about Kyrie Irving, and, whether in the long run, he would be.

As it turns out, he’s not, and as he reportedly seeks a new team to call his own, his joining the Philadelphia 76ers is a move that could make plenty of sense.

* * * * * *

Of all point guards that have entered the NBA, Damian Lillard and Kyrie Irving are the two who seemed to catch on the quickest. Playing the lead guard position in the league is one of the more difficult things for a young player to learn, especially one who, in the case of Irving, only had a few college games under his belt.

In many ways, the lens through which we look to define greatness is foggy. We have collectively witnessed the devaluation of the scorer. Players like LeBron James, Draymond Green and Kawhi Leonard are applauded for their versatility and overall ability to impact winning on multiple fronts, while players like Carmelo Antony, Irving and, to a lesser extent, James Harden, are often criticized because what they happen to do best at the NBA level is score.

Somewhere along the line, we were taught to downplay the most important statistic in pro basketball: buckets. Those whose primary weapon is their ability to score, rather than being built around and protected—think Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks—are considered lost causes.

The ultimate irony is that although it was Irving who hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, the masses mostly believe that James could have won that series with almost any other elite guard by his side. But it takes a special, special player to make that shot under those circumstances. In years to come, after James Harden, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins and Bradley Beal fail to hit those shots in similar circumstances, Irving’s three-point shot will be given newfound respect. It takes a special player to hit that shot just like it takes a special player to be the most dominant scoring force in the Finals.

Despite what the masses have been told as it relates to a score-first guard, I’d take Irving on my team in a heartbeat and figure out the rest later. Every coach and most executives around the league would, as well.

In pairing Irving with James, the Cavaliers had the good fortune of combining two mega forces. And with news breaking that Irving wants out, despite the San Antonio Spurs, Miami HEAT, New York Knicks and Minnesota Timberwolves being the top four teams on his list, the one that makes the most sense is in Philadelphia.

* * * * * *

With little remorse and no regard for those whom he would hurt, LeBron James packed his bags for Greenwich, Connecticut and delivered news that changed everything.

He left Cleveland before, and as the whispers have grown louder that he is preparing to do the same, he has sat by, idly and eerily silent. Especially with the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, a superstar that wishes to marry his franchise has tremendous financial incentive to do so. James Harden and John Wall, for example, each recently signed four-year extensions that will pay them an average of $42.5 million per year.

The signing of an extension in today’s NBA is a comforting commitment that allows a franchise to sleep easy at night.

James insists on causing the Cavaliers to have nightmares.

If James intended on finishing his career in Cleveland, he would not have allowed his status and his pending free agency to have become such a topic of discussion. He would have directly addressed his situation and, at the very least, declared his allegiance to Cleveland and assured everyone that his refusal to sign a long-term deal was more about economics than anything else.

In other words, if you’re the Cavaliers, it should appear obvious that James already has one foot out the door. The team may be the cream of the East, but there’s little reason to believe they will be able to topple the Golden State Warriors. So, if you’re the Cavaliers, with James’ intentions to leave becoming more transparent by the day, a trade involving Irving—if it were to happen—is one that should be made for the betterment of the future of the franchise. This would be an obvious departure from the way the team has built around James in his second go round, as everything done has been for the here and now.

Until James let it be known that he intends to remain, the Cavaliers must begin preparing for life not only without Irving, but one without him, as well. Unless James commits to signing a multiyear extension now, any Irving deal should be made with the assumption that James is already gone, because trading Irving for pieces that are designed to help James win today—such as moving Irving for Carmelo Anthony—would be a disaster if James himself decides to bolt next July.

So long as the scenario is plausible, the most irresponsible thing the Cavaliers could do would be to trade Irving without getting future assets in return.

That’s why, for the Cavaliers, the Sixers would make an ideal trading partner.

* * * * * *

At this point in his career, after hearing his name called and witnessing his tremendous growth, it’s hard to believe that Irving is only 25 years old. He is a seasoned veteran, someone who knows how to win and a player who knows what it feels like to be a champion. That is exactly the type of player that Bryan Colangelo should be trying to fit in with the Philadelphia 76ers, especially if such a player were amenable to taking the fortunes of the franchise upon his shoulders.

Although Irving doesn’t own a no-trade clause, the fact that he only has two guaranteed years left on his current contract gives him some leverage in any trade discussion. Few teams would be willing to part with significant assets if they aren’t given some assurances that Irving would be willing to re-commit after likely becoming a free agent in July 2019.

So the first and most obvious question would be whether or not Irving would be amenable to re-signing in Philadelphia and fully committing to the franchise. Whether or not he would be is dependent on his personal priorities, but at this point, it appears that Irving is intent on spreading his wings, becoming the savior of a franchise and earning a legacy for himself, similar to what Bryant accomplished after his breakup with Shaquille O’Neal many moons ago.

In Philadelphia, if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons could remain healthy, with J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson and Nik Stauskas, Irving would immediately have a few core contributors that could help the Sixers make inroads in the weakened Eastern Conference. With Markelle Fultz, Jahlil Okafor and the future first round picks owed to the Sixers by the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings, it’s easy to imagine a deal that would make sense for both the Cavaliers and Sixers, even if the Sixers ended up moving Fultz, an unknown quantity, to Cleveland.

Although the mere suggestion of moving Fultz in a trade is bound to evoke negative sentiments from fans in Philadelphia, the simple truth is that the odds do not favor Fultz being a more effective lead guard than Irving. While it is possible, it certainly isn’t promised—and you can bet Danny Ainge shares similar sentiments.

Once upon a time, for the Chicago Bulls, the thought of trading Derrick Rose was unimaginable. But with an injury here and some infighting there—everything changes. As a class, NBA general managers are all about maximizing opportunity while mitigating risk, and the Sixers will likely spend the next three years hoping that Fultz can become as impactful as Irving already is. In real life, NBA prospects are stocks, and we simply don’t know whether Fultz’s value will increase or decrease or whether he will ever be able to live up to the expectations that people have of him.

Many thought that Kris Dunn was one of the best prospects in last year’s draft—how’s that proclamation looking now?

Dunn will obviously have the opportunity to fulfill his potential as a member of the Chicago Bulls, but we simply can’t allow a player’s potential to be great cause us to roll our eyes when a player whose true value and impact is already known becomes available on the market.

No responsible general manager would, either.

When Bryant Colangelo spoke exclusively with Basketball Insiders during the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League, he was proud of the progress that his team had made and, more importantly, the flexibility and the assets that they’ve managed to hoard. Adding Irving to an already impressive core would push their rebuild to the next level and make Philadelphia a premier free agent destination again. With the lack of long-term commitments in Philadelphia, with Irving, there’s no reason to believe that impactful players that are being squeezed out of contention out West wouldn’t give an Irving-led Sixers team consideration. Look at Gordon Hayward, for example.

Most importantly, relocating to Philadelphia would give Irving a franchise that he could truly call his own and one that’s merely a stone throw from where he came of age in West Orange, New Jersey. They are ahead of the curve in terms of their rebuild and happen to be in a conference that’ll become wide open should James take his talents to Los Angeles.

* * * * * *

In the NBA, it’s never easy to trade a superstar. After just six years in the league, Irving has become a household name and helped to deliver something that the City of Cleveland will never forget. In short, he’s a truly special player, even if his best asset—his ability to score—has been devalued.

As Irving looks to move on and find a franchise he can call his own, judging by the teams he’s reportedly interested in, it’s obvious that he’s in search of an impactful legacy, not necessarily a team that’s contending at this very moment. At the very least, it would be interesting to know whether he would consider the Sixers or not.

For Colangelo and the franchise, their return to respectability, despite the excitement surrounding them, is surrounded by uncertainty and “if” scenarios…

If Joel Embiid can stay healthy…

If Ben Simmons is as good as advertised…

If Markelle Fultz is the real deal…

On the other hand, Kyrie Irving is a sure thing. So if Bryan Colangelo got a call from the Cavaliers, at the very least, he would listen.

With LeBron James already seeming to have one foot out the door, for the Cavs, the most prudent thing to do when entertaining trade offers for Irving it to imagine that he’s already gone. He has the power to end the speculation over his future, and especially with Irving’s status hanging in the balance, could easily notify management of his intention to remain long term and encourage the team to move Irving for pieces that will continue to help him contend today.

Short of that, the Cavs should do what James has been for all these years—acting in its own best interest.

Engineering a trade that sends Irving to Philadelphia in exchange for future assets would be exactly that.

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NBA Daily: Spurs Enter New Territory After Moving Parker To Reserve Role

The San Antonio Spurs are seemingly entering a new phase as Tony Parker has been moved to a reserve role.

James Blancarte

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San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg made a significant change to his rotation earlier this week. On Sunday, January 21 Popovich placed guard Dejounte Murray into the starting lineup in place of Tony Parker. The Spurs went on to lose the game at home to the Indiana Pacers. The result was the same as a losing effort in Friday’s matchup against the Toronto Raptors in Toronto.

The San Antonio Spurs came into the 2017-18 hoping to bounce back from last year’s playoffs where the team suffered injuries to Kawhi Leonard and Parker and eventually lost to the Golden State Warriors. This season started off with the Spurs surviving without Leonard and Parker as the two continued to rehab from lingering injuries. As of now, Leonard is once again taking time off to rehabilitate after playing in nine games while Parker has been able to stay healthy so far. Unfortunately, being healthy enough to play doesn’t make up for the inevitable decline that comes with age and injuries.

On the season, Parker is averaging a career low in minutes (21.6), assists (4.0) and points (8.2), as well as free throws made and attempted per game. His usage rate, player efficiency rating (PER) and shooting percentages are also all at or around career lows. It’s hard to argue against the notion that Parker, at 35 years old with 17 years of pro basketball under his belt, is in the twilight of his impressive career.

Parker has acknowledged his demotion but seems to be handling it like a true professional.

“[Popovich] told me he thought it was time, and I was like, ‘no problem.’ Just like Manu [Ginobili], just like Pau [Gasol], you know that day is going to come,” Parker said recently. .

Before Sunday’s game, Parker had started 1151 of 1164 games played, all with the Spurs of course.

Popovich was asked specifically if the plan was either to start Murray at point guard moving forward or if this switch in the lineup was a part of some kind of injury management program for Parker. Never known for being overly loquacious, Popovich responded with little detail or insight.

“We’ll see,” Popovich stated.

In the starting lineup, Murray logged eight points, four assists, seven rebounds, three steals and one block in nearly 28 minutes of action. Murray had previously started before Parker returned from injury earlier this season but eventually relinquished that spot to career reserve guard Patty Mills.

Parker also spoke of the benefit of coming off the bench and potentially mentoring Murray’s growth in his new presumed role as the starter.

“If Pop [Coach Popovich] sees something that is good for the team, I will try to do my best,” Parker said. “I will support Pop’s decision and I will try to help DJ [Murray] as best as I can and try to be the best I can in the second unit with Manu [Ginobili] and Patty [Mills].”

If nothing else, this move will allow the Spurs to see if Parker can be more effective in limited minutes against opposing bench units. Additionally, Parker will hopefully benefit from playing alongside his longtime running mate, Ginobli.

Parker’s willingness to mentor Murray may come as a relief to Spurs fans watching the ongoing dismantling of San Antonio’s former Big-3, which began with the retirement of future Hall-of-Famer, Tim Duncan. At 6-foot-5, Murray benefits from greater size and athleticism than Parker, although Murray failed to keep the starting job when given an opportunity earlier this season. Coach Popovich gave another straightforward answer when asked which areas he thinks Murray can improve in.

“He’s 21-years-old,” Popovich declared. “He can improve in all areas.”

After asking for a trade in the offseason, the Spurs have benefited from focusing their offense around LaMarcus Aldridge, who is having a bounce-back campaign. However, Leonard is now out indefinitely and the Minnesota Timberwolves have now caught the Spurs in the standings. The pressure is on for this resilient Spurs team, which has again managed to beat the odds despite an injured and aging roster.

Parker became a starter for the Spurs at age 19 and never looked back. Now all eyes are on Murray to see how well he performs in his second stint with the starters at a crucial point in the season.

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Sources: Milwaukee Bucks Fire Coach Jason Kidd

Basketball Insiders

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The Milwaukee Bucks have fired coach Jason Kidd, sources ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Source: Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN

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Defensive Player Of The Year Watch – 1/22/17

Spencer Davies checks into the DPOY race with his latest list of candidates.

Spencer Davies

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It’s a new year and Basketball Insiders is continuing its Defensive Player of the Year watch with sample sizes widening and new players emerging in the conversation.

There were a couple of names knocked out of the list, but that gives more of a spotlight to those who have really stepped up since our last edition ran on December 29. Without further ado, let’s get into it.

 6. Hassan Whiteside

After missing nearly a month of action with a knee injury, Whiteside has returned with a vengeance. The Miami HEAT were already a good defensive team before he came back, but he’s really bolstered that reputation even further. Since Dec. 26, the 7-foot center has recorded eight multi-block games. In five of those, he had at least four swats, including a six-rejection performance in a win at Milwaukee. Overall in ESPN’s Defensive Real-Plus Minus, Whiteside owns by far the best rating at 4.73. “Agent Block” is back and daring all comers to try him.

5. Anthony Davis

Slowly but surely, the New Orleans Pelicans are creeping away from the bottom of the league in defensive rating. Once ranked in the bottom five a few weeks ago, they’ve shot up to 18th in the league (108.4) rather quickly. While that’s not the most impressive statistic to provide, the obvious reason for their improved standing on that end of the floor is Davis. He’s been an absolute workhorse for Alvin Gentry in the restricted area as an elite rim protector, with a heavy responsibility and a ton of minutes. Without him on the floor, the Pels are allowing 8.9 more points per 100 possessions, which puts Davis in the 96th percentile according to Cleaning The Glass.

4. Josh Richardson

Notice there are two members of the HEAT on this list. It’s because they are on fire right now, no pun intended, so it’s about time they received some love in the conversation for DPOY. Whiteside was addressed first, but if we’re talking about a greater sample size with consistent evidence, Richardson fits the bill. Opponents are attempting over 11 shots per game against him, yet are only making 38.9 percent of those tries. That’s the lowest conversion rate in the league with a minimum of 10 attempts.

Battling injuries a season ago, Richardson has played in all 46 games for Miami this year. While it’s been a team effort, he is the heart and soul of Erik Spoelstra’s defense, taking on the most difficult assignments each game. For that reason, he deserves long overdue recognition on this list.

3. Kevin Durant

This isn’t a case where Durant is slipping because of his performances. He’s only ranked third this time around because of the job others have done outside of him. The Golden State Warriors are still a juggernaut on both sides of the court. He’s still a top-notch individual defender. The numbers don’t suggest otherwise and the eye test certainly confirms it.

In isolation situations, Durant is allowing only 0.53 points per possession, which is second in the NBA to only Tony Snell. When it comes to crunch time, he’s always locking up. In fourth quarters, he is limiting the competition to shooting less than 30 percent—and his defended field goal percentage and field goal percentage discrepancy is the best in the league at -17.2. He’s got as good of a chance as anybody to take home DPOY.

2. Joel Embiid

Everybody loves to focus on the off-court antics and hilarities that come with Embiid, but the man deserves his due when it comes to his reputation in the NBA as a truly dominant big. The Philadelphia 76ers have won seven out of their last eight games and it has started on the defensive end of the floor.

Take the games against Boston, for example. Al Horford is a crucial part of the Celtics offense and has had problems getting going against the 23-year-old. In the 22 minutes per game, he’s been on the floor along with him, Horford has been held to below 30 percent from the field on an average of nine attempts. With Embiid off, he’s converted nearly 73 percent of his tries.

Another matchup you can examine is with Andre Drummond. The two have had their fair share of words with each other, but Embiid’s had the edge one-on-one. Similar to Horford, the Detroit Pistons big man has had a rough time against him. Embiid has limited Drummond to under 38 percent on five attempts per game in an average of over 23 minutes on the floor together. When he’s not playing, Drummond has had close to a 78 percent success rate.

Regarding centers, Embiid ranks second in ESPN’s DRPM and fifth in Basketball Reference’s Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Citing Cleaning The Glass, the Sixers are allowing 10 more points per 100 possessions when he’s sitting, which slots Embiid into the 97th percentile.

He’s altering shots. He’s blocking shots. He’s forcing kick outs. And that’s a big reason why the NBA gave Embiid its Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors. Trust The Process.

1. Paul George

Basketball Insiders was well represented this past Saturday in Cleveland when the Oklahoma City Thunder decimated the Cavaliers in their own building. The focus was on the “OK3” exposing a terrible defense, but the real story in this game was how in-tune and sound George was on both ends of the court. He was sizzling shooting the basketball, but perhaps more defining was shutting down LeBron James on a day that was supposed to belong to him.

Any time 23 got the ball to try and get the Cavs going, George was there. He suffocated him with pressure, forcing James into bad decisions and contested shots. The talk of the day was the 30,000-point mark, but PG-13 had other ideas.

“I was hopeful that it took two games for him to get to that,” George said after the 148-124 win at Quicken Loans Arena. “I actually didn’t know that stat until right before coming into [Saturday]. They told me he needed 25 to go to 30,000. I’ve been a part of a lot of those baskets that he’s had, so that’s an achievement or milestone I didn’t want to be a part of.”

Thunder teammate Steven Adams spoke to his prowess on that end of the floor.

“He’s a really good defender man,” Adams said. “It was like a perfect matchup, honestly. He played LeBron really well in terms of our system and what we want him doing. He did an amazing job there.”

Oklahoma City head coach Billy Donovan is a huge fan as well.

“He really I think puts forth good effort,” Donovan said pre-game. “He’s long, smart. He’s disruptive. He’s got good feet. He’s a physical defender. He’s hard to shoot over. Certainly, with he and Andre [Roberson] on the wings, that’s certainly bolstered our defense.”

That was one performance, but it’s obvious how much George brings to the table as one of the toughest guys to score on in this league. He’s got a league-leading 188 deflections and is tied with Eric Bledsoe at the top of the NBA with 2.2 steals per game.

Recently, the Thunder have allowed 91 points at most in three of their last four games. They are also in the top three allowing just 104.7 points per 100 possessions and George has been a huge part of that.

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