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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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Update: Eric Bledsoe Trade Talks

Michael Scotto updates the ongoing Eric Bledsoe trade saga.

Michael Scotto

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The sun has set on the 2017-18 season for Phoenix three games into the year.

The Suns fired head coach Earl Watson and promoted Jay Triano as the team’s interim head coach, as ESPN first reported. The Suns suffered an embarrassing 124-76 loss in the home opener against the Portland Trail Blazers. The final straw came during a 130-88 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on the road to drop the team to 0-3.

Then things went from bad to worse rapidly after a tweet from guard Eric Bledsoe.

General manager Ryan McDonough spoke with Bledsoe. Bledsoe told McDonough he was at a hair salon with a girl and the tweet wasn’t related to the Suns. McDonough didn’t believe that to be true and said the 27-year-old guard “won’t be with us going forward.”

Bledsoe spoke with McDonough and owner Robert Sarver privately several weeks ago. During that conversation the desire for a change was expressed, a league source told Basketball Insiders.

Since then, Phoenix has discussed trades involving Bledsoe around the league, sources told Basketball Insiders. In addition, Tyson Chandler has continued to be shopped by the Suns during that time.

Trade talks have rapidly picked up since Bledsoe’s desire to be traded was made public.

The Suns and Denver Nuggets have discussed a trade of Eric Bledsoe for Emmanuel Mudiay and other pieces, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has emerged as part of the trade package with Mudiay, league sources told Basketball Insiders.

Denver has shopped Faried for years. The 27-year-old forward is owed $12.9 million this season and $13.7 million next season. Mudiay is owed $3.4 million this season and $4.3 million next season. Mudiay will then become a restricted free agent if given a qualifying offer in the summer of 2019. For more information on Denver’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Suns also spoke to the New York Knicks and asked for No. 8 overall pick Frank Ntilikina and Willy Hernangomez in exchange for Bledsoe. The Knicks are not interested in that package, however.

Kyle O’Quinn is a candidate to be traded. Several teams have called the Knicks expressing interest in O’Quinn. New York wants to retain Hernangomez for the foreseeable future despite a lack of playing time early in the season. It’s also worth noting Hernangomez is a close friend of Kristaps Porzingis. Ntilikina is currently the point guard of the future in New York.

In addition, New York would need to add a salary filler to make the trade work financially. For more information on New York’s salary cap situation, click here.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also expressed interest in trading for Bledsoe, according to the New York Times. The Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trail Blazers also have interest in Bledsoe, according to Amico Hoops.

Bledsoe is owed $14.5 million this season and $15 million next season before entering unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2018.

Bledsoe has averaged 18.8 points, 6.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game with Phoenix. In addition, Bledsoe shot 45 percent from the field, 34 percent from downtown, and 81 percent from the foul line.

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NBA PM: Greek Freak Off to an MVP-Caliber Start

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Bucks’ MVP and looks primed to be in the actual MVP race this season.

James Blancarte

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The NBA season is officially underway. Although each team has only played a few games so far, it has helped illuminate where many teams and players are in their development. For example, last night’s game in Oklahoma City gave a glimpse into how the Thunder will handle a late-game situation now that the team has three previous number one options. In the final minute, Russell Westbrook scored two of the Thunder’s last three baskets and assisted Carmelo Anthony on the final basket just before Andrew Wiggins hit a game-winning buzzer beater from well beyond the arc.

After three games, Giannis Antetokounmpo’s individual development has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow. A number of positive and far-reaching questions can be asked of Giannis. What is the ceiling for him? Can a player of his considerable talents continue to improve after winning Most Improved Player last season? Remember, Giannis was drafted in 2013 and is still only 22 years old.

When told in August that although he could win most valuable player, he could not also win most improved player as well, he responded with a simple, yet telling response.

“Why not?” Antetokounmpo responded.

While he continued to be lighthearted and moved on to the next topic, it’s fair to ask, “why not?” when it comes to Giannis. Through three regular season games, he is averaging 38.3 points, five assists, 9.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game. These averages will likely regress to more sustainable numbers as the season continues. For now, however, his averages are in elite territory. In addition, his ability to impact the game is already getting to the point where LeBron James may be the only other player who can similarly fill up the stat lines while physically terrorizing opponents on both the offensive and defensive end of the court.

When asked who the “biggest freak in the NBA” is, Giannis elaborated that it was James due to his ability to impose himself on the game.

“The things [James] does, the veteran leadership he brings to the team, how big he is, how quick, how strong,” Giannis stated. “And at the end of the day, how smart he is. He can put his team in the right spots, make the right decision.”

In Saturday night’s game against the Portland Trail Blazers, Giannis willed his team to victory. It was Giannis demonstrating how big, strong and smart he was, putting his team on his shoulders and carrying them to an impressive win.
With less than a minute left in a close game, Giannis closed in with a well-timed double team on Damian Lillard and came away with a clean steal. The steal got the Bucks the ball back and Giannis was fouled, which put him on the free throw line. Unfortunately, he came up short on both attempts and the Bucks remained a point behind.

Despite missing the free throws, Giannis came up huge on the very next play. Giannis took on C.J McCollum one-on-one at the top of the key and created yet another steal. He then leaked out to receive the pass for a breakaway dunk that quickly gave the Bucks the lead with 11.4 seconds remaining.

On the next play, when Jusuf Nurkic set a high screen and roll, he received the pass on the roll and headed to the basket. Giannis’ primary responsibility was the shooter in the corner and yet he read the action correctly and was ready and waiting at the rim for Nurkic. Giannis times Nurkic’s shot perfectly and rejected him at the rim, which effectively ended the game in favor of the Bucks.

Giannis’ ability as defensive Swiss Army Knife was instrumental in the Bucks’ close win over Portland. In addition, Giannis has also made further improvements in an area of his that has received a lot of attention over the years. He continues to shoot a below average three-point percentage for his career (27.6) and has had a rocky start to this season as well (16.7). It’s likely that Giannis’ three-point shooting will be a significant limitation in his game for the foreseeable future. However, over his career, Giannis has shown an ability to improve his shooting percentage on two-point shots consistently, especially shots from 0-3 feet and 3-10 feet, per basketball-reference. As Giannis has gotten stronger and more explosive, he has developed a strong desire to attack opponents off the dribble and absorb contact at the rim. Whether he blows by his opponent outright or scores through opponents at the rim, Giannis has developed into an offensive force that few players in the league could hope to slow down.

In addition to his scoring, Giannis continues to display his unique ability to handle the ball in transitions and run the Bucks’ offense in the half court as a point forward. This sort of ability separates Giannis from the other elite wings in the league who don’t have the skill or vision to act as a primary playmaker. Giannis is doing much of what he did last year, but seems more aggressive and physically dominant through the first three games of this season. That sort of improvement of course puts Giannis in the MVP discussion (though it is incredibly early in the season to even start this sort of discussion).

Giannis was recently asked about his ability to win the MVP and wasn’t shy about his desire to win the prestigious award.

“I’m going to be one of the players that hopefully dominates the game. But I’ve got to still make sure that my team wins, that my teammates get better,” Giannis stated. “I’ve set the goal since the last game against Toronto last year, at the playoffs. I want to be the MVP this year.”

What helps solidify Giannis’ ability to be such a strong MVP candidate is also what makes his team less dangerous. The Bucks are woefully dependent on their star and, at least for now, lack the necessary depth to be a true contender in the East.

Through three regular season games, it’s clear that the Bucks will only go as far as Giannis can take them. And that is the key to Giannis’ budding MVP campaign. Let’s take a look at last year’s top five MVP candidates. Last year’s winner, Westbrook, has two new star-caliber players (Paul George and Carmelo Anthony) to share the spotlight, and the ball, with. James Harden is sharing the ball with Chris Paul, who is currently struggling with a knee injury. LeBron James and the Cavaliers are almost exclusively concerned with the postseason. Kawhi Leonard is similarly crucial to the San Antonio Spurs on offense and defense but has lingering health concerns and has yet to play this season. Finally, Isaiah Thomas is coming off a major hip injury and is not projected to play until January.

With so much uncertainty, Giannis has the opportunity to continue to draw attention as not only the most important player on the Bucks but perhaps the most valuable player in the league. Giannis’ early play this season indicates that this is possible. Despite his early-season outburst, Giannis is giving deference to LeBron James — though he admits he hopes to reach James’ level at some point in the future.

“Definitely [James is] the best player in the NBA. For a few years to come,” Giannis stated. “But I think a lot of players are getting better. Even myself. And hopefully one day we can get to that spot from him.”

Perhaps Giannis will take the spot as the best player in the NBA as early as this season. Considering how dominant he has been so far this season, it’s fair to ask “why not?”

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Wright Primed To Take Next Step With Raptors

Third year Utah alum Delon Wright is showing flashes of what he can do in an expanded role for Toronto.

Spencer Davies

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Backup point guards are essential to a team’s success.

They’re the floor generals of the second unit. They create for themselves to score. They collapse defenses in order for the others to get opportunities.

In some cases, these players perform so well that they outgrow the role they provide and force their way into the starting five—on that same team or elsewhere. Just look at past examples: Darren Collison, Eric Bledsoe, Reggie Jackson, Dennis Schroder, etc. The list goes on.

Kyle Lowry was 20 years old when he was drafted late in the first round of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies. He studied the position behind veteran guards Chucky Atkins and Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire.

But even after showing promise in his rookie season, management decided to take Mike Conley Jr. the very next year. Though the two were about even in playing time, it was clear the Grizzlies favored youth over anything else, so in 2009, Lowry was dealt with the Houston Rockets in a three-way trade at the deadline.

At this point, Lowry had started in only 30 games over two-and-a-half seasons, so the keys to the car weren’t ready for him just yet. Aaron Brooks was a unique talent that Rick Adelman loved to throw out there along with Tracy McGrady and Kevin Martin.

Brooks started all 82 games in the 2009-10 campaign and blossomed into a scoring machine. He was shooting the lights out that year, and because of that, it was tough to sit him. Lowry still took advantage of his playing time, though, with plenty of floor run. He averaged nearly 14 points and seven assists per 36 minutes.

To the misfortune of his teammate and the advantage to Lowry the next season, Brooks struggled mightily with the jump shot that made him so deadly. After 34 games, the Rockets moved him in a deal to Phoenix for Goran Dragic and a first-round pick. Dragic was on his way to carving his niche in the league, but it opened up a door for Lowry to really take hold as “quarterback” of the team.

Circumstances arose once again, however. Houston had let go of Adelman and hired Kevin McHale in June 2011. Lowry and his new head coach did not have the same rapport. He unfortunately suffered from a bacterial infection and missed out on the beginning of the season, and towards the end, the emergence of Dragic led to his demise.

That summer, the Rockets sent Lowry to the Toronto Raptors for Gary Forbes and a future first-rounder. Once again, it was a fresh start for him, but also a brand new team with a different head coach.

It didn’t take long for the man to realize his true potential there. Aside from shuffling a bit with Jose Calderon as the starter in Toronto, Lowry found a home. The jump he made between that season and the next one was impressive.

Lowry got paid after that 2013-14 season and re-signed with the Raptors for four years. He earned three All-Star appearances and—aside from the postseason disappointments—led the team to new heights with his fellow All-Star backcourt partner DeMar DeRozan.

Toronto and its star point guard agreed to a three-year, $100 million deal over the summer to keep him running the show and to honor that contract well as he has always had. But now there’s somebody behind Lowry waiting to break out, and could very well be the one who gets the torch passed to him.

Delon Wright is ready to make his mark. When he entered the league, he was a reserve behind Cory Joseph and had to observe and soak in the experience of NBA life. For some rookies, they get the chance immediately, and for the others, they have to wait their turn. In this case, it was the latter.

Playing the waiting game ended up working out well for him. In the offseason, the Raptors went out and traded Joseph for C.J. Miles due to the loss of DeMarre Carroll. It was a move that not only addressed a need for depth at the wing but also opened a door for Wright.

So here we are, two games in. The Raptors are 2-0 and have outscored their opponents by 51 points. In those combined, Wright has received 55 minutes of playing time.

Despite the competition being the rebuilding Chicago Bulls and a Philadelphia 76ers team trying to find an identity, he looks extremely comfortable. You don’t want to take too much out a sample size as small as that, but neither the numbers nor the eye test lies.

Wright has played the third-most minutes on the team thus far. He’s done a great job on both sides of the floor but has truly made a difference on the defensive end. As of now, the Raptors are only allowing 83 points per 100 possessions with him on the hardwood. When he’s not, that number blows up to 98.9 using the same scale.

Offensively he’s almost been just as good. Wright has been aggressive as a facilitator and as a shooter, putting up 13- and 14-point games early on. He dished out five assists in the season opener and nabbed five rebounds in the second game. He has a higher offensive rating than both Lowry and DeRozan.

According to NBA.com, Toronto’s net rating with him off the court (12.9) is the second lowest to his lifelong teammate Jakob Poeltl (12.8). Take it with a grain of salt because it’s one week into the season, but Wright has the best net rating in the league (37.6) among those playing at least 25 minutes per game.

Call it garbage time play or whatever you want: He has the tools to succeed. The stature is there. The intangibles are evident. It’s all about putting it together over the course of an entire season.

If the trend continues, there’s no way Casey can keep him off the floor for long. We don’t know where Wright’s career could go. It’s way too early to tell. The Raptors are likely hoping for him to be the successor after this era of basketball has come and gone.

Lowry is the man in Toronto, as is DeRozan. Nothing is changing that anytime soon. But rest assured, Wright’s primed to take a big step this year and it’s going to be fun to watch.

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