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NBA PM: Are The 76ers Ready To Contend?

After a strong first half, the Philadelphia 76ers are looking to prove themselves as championship contenders for the first time since they began trusting the process almost a decade ago.

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As the season comes back into full swing following the All-Star break, the Philadelphia 76ers are ready to defend the No. 1 seed they currently hold. Since the dismissal of former head coach Brett Brown and the addition of a well-respected coach in Doc Rivers, the 76ers have seemingly changed their entire philosophy. While the days of Trusting The Process are long gone, the franchise has entrenched itself as a solid contender in the Eastern Conference – but with that comes higher, loftier expectations. 

After a disappointing playoff run in the bubble where they could not get past the Boston Celtics and were swept in the first round, the 76ers have dominated thus far. The Doc Rivers bump was real and it has been on full display in Philadelphia, sitting at 24-12 at the halfway point.

Heading into the stoppage, the 76ers even put an overtime win on the NBA-best. Utah Jazz. Led by Joel Embiid with 40 points and 19 rebounds, they dominated the extra period by a tally of 13-5 – with the obvious caveat that the Jazz lost their star, Donovan Mitchell, to a questionable ejection. Tobias Harris was also a huge factor in the comeback victory as he added 22 points and 10 rebounds of his own. With the 131-123 win, they confirmed that they deserve to be leaders in the contending conversation.

But Embiid has taken his game to a completely different level under Rivers and has improved his numbers from last season in almost every single category. The talented center had averaged 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. All of these are improvements from last year, besides his rebounds per game which has remained the same. Best of all, Embiid has taken much fewer three-pointers, but raised his three-point percentage over eight percent, up to a blistering 41.6 percent. 

Embiid has attempted 15.3 two-pointers a game – a career-high – while shooting 3.1 three-pointers per game – a career-low – per Basketball-Reference. Under Rivers, Embiid has also gotten to the free-throw line much more often, notching 11.6 free throw attempts per game while also raising his free-throw percentage to 85.6 percent, another career-high. To say that Embiid is an early MVP contender would be a vast understatement.

Rivers isn’t just helping his star either: enter Harris, a crafty forward that is awful familiar with his new head coach. During his time with Rivers in Los Angeles, Harris established himself as a strong scorer and a more well-known name in the league. Needless to say, the reunion has been great for Harris. Over 31 games, he’s averaged 20.2 points and 7.6 rebounds per game to go along with a 40.2 three-point percentage. But don’t sleep on his defensive impact either, as Harris is eighth in defensive win shares with 0.132, per NBA Advanced Stats

The defense in 2020-21 has been dominant, to say the least. Fifth in team defensive rating with a 108.6 rating, per NBA Advanced Stats, the big three of Embiid, Harris and Ben Simmons all rank in the top 15 for defensive win shares, essential to their successes. 

The addition of Seth Curry has flown under the radar and he’s lethally shooting 44.8 percent from deep – an excellent piece to place around multiple stars. With Curry on the floor, the opens up for Simmons to operate and better utilize his elite playmaking skills. 

Looking ahead, the 76ers have a tough test against the Milwaukee Bucks on Mar. 17 in Philadelphia. If the Sixers can pull off a victory against the Bucks on primetime television, perhaps, finally, with the end of the regular season creeping toward us, they’ll get more league-wide top-billing. To end the month, Philadelphia will play four in a row against the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets – all of them on the road. 

Of course, the 76ers need to worry about the new-look Brooklyn Nets and their recent surge, despite a missing Kevin Durant.

If matched up with the Nets, the 76ers have favorable defensive matchups all-around. They have Harris to guard Kevin Durant, Simmons on James Harden and Matisse Thybulle to guard Kyrie Irving, not to mention Embiid holding down the paint – the latter of which Brooklyn will have no answer for. 

But the fate of Philly ultimately relies on the shoulder of its superstar, Embiid. He has shown throughout his career, that he is capable of taking a game over completely and this season has exemplified that. If he can replicate performances like his 50-point, 17-rebound back in February, but in the playoffs, then the franchise is a real threat to win the league, let alone the Eastern Conference.

Now armed with a championship-winning head coach and higher-than-ever aspirations for his new squad, Embiid is a strong favorite to take home some pludits this awards season. His play, combined with elite playmaking and defense from Simmons, a consistent scoring threat and lockdown defense from Harris and shooting from Curry and Danny Green, certainly means that the 76ers are bigger contenders than ever before.

Ahead of the Mar. 25 trade deadline, Daryl Morey, president of basketball operations, is no stranger to making small trades that can impact a team’s outlook. If the team were to reunite with JJ Redick, he could bring another impact scoring presence off the bench. They’ve been in the mix for both Larry Nance Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica as well, reportedly. Either of them would add more length and an ability to shoot off the bench. Bolstering the supporting cast, and developing the young players around the team’s nucleus as they make a playoff run, should be the goal during the second half of the campaign.

No longer a squad that can be easily pushed around or neutralized, Philadelphia will be in the NBA Finals mix for the first time since they started this long journey nearly a decade ago.

Dylan Thayer is a Contributing Writer for Basketball Insiders, and a Sport Management student in the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst.

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Jazz agree to trade Derrick Favors, first-round pick to Thunder

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First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Utah Jazz are trading power forward/center Derrick Favors and a first-round pick to the Oklahoma City Thunder for a future second-round pick. The goal here was to help reduce their tax bill. While the six-foot-eight Georgia native does not have any notable NBA awards or honors on his basketball résumé, in the 2020-21 NBA season, Favors averaged 5.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 63.8 percent. The 11-year NBA veteran also recorded a free throw shooting percentage of 73.8 percent last season.

The 2020-21 Thunder finished 27-50 (.306), ranking 14th overall in the Western Conference. They could use another first-round pick. Plus, per ESPN’s Bobby Marks, this trade will put Utah $13 million below the luxury tax. On November 24, 2020, Favors signed a three-year, $29.2 million contract with the Jazz. Favors is set to earn $9,720,900 next season. This is the second time in his career he has left the Jazz.

He played with them from the 2010-11 season to the 2018-19 season, before he was traded to the New Orleans Pelicans on July 7, 2019 for a 2021 second-round pick and a 2023 second-round pick. For the 2022-23 season, he has a player option of $10,183,800. The Jazz plan to also re-sign Mike Conley, so this was somewhat of a drastic move to help clear up cap space. On July 6, 2019, Conley was traded by the Memphis Grizzlies to the Jazz, in exchange for Grayson Allen, Darius Bazley, Kyle Korver, and a 2020 first-round pick.

Moreover, scoring-wise, the 33-year-old point guard has not lived up to his performances from his last few seasons on the Grizzlies, but the Jazz need all the help they can get. Jazz general manager Justin Zanik will make it a top priority to re-sign Conley here soon. Conley earned $34,504,132 in the 2020-21 season.

According to Spotrac, Conley has a cap figure of $39,344,900. Center Rudy Gobert and shooting guard Donovan Mitchell have a combined percentage of 47.61 percent of Utah’s total salary cap. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five year, $205 million extension with the team. He will earn $35,344,828 next season.

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Wizards, Lakers agree to Russell Westbrook and Three-Player Trade Deal

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The Los Angeles Lakers have agreed with the Washington Wizards to acquire Russell Westbrook in a three-player trade, sending Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the No. 22 pick in Thursday’s 2021 NBA Draft to the Wizards. According to ESPN, the Wizards are also giving up their 2024 and 2028 second-round picks as well. During last night’s draft, at pick No. 22, the Lakers sent Wildcats’ center Isaiah Jackson to the Pacers via the Wizards. At pick No. 15, the Wizards drafted Gonzaga forward Corey Kispert. In the second round, at pick No. 31, the Milwaukee Bucks traded NBA G League player Isaiah Todd to the Wizards via the Pacers.

On Thursday, Harrell decided to pursue his $9.7 million player option for next season. Yesterday, rumors surfaced across social media regarding a possible Lakers-Kings trade involving Harrell. Despite the outlandish predictions and mindless speculation from fans over these last couple of days, this trade move could work out great for both teams.

After all, Westbrook is a 9-time NBA All-Star and three-time assists leader. In his MVP season back in the 2016-17 season, over the course of 81 games, he averaged a career-high 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, 10.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. On Twitter, Westbrook tweeted, “I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

In the 2020-21 NBA season, Caldwell-Pope averaged 9.7 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game in 67 games started for the Lakers. The 28-year-old shooting guard will make $13 million next season. As for Kuzma, in 68 games played last season, he averaged 12.9 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. Kuzma is set to earn $13 million next season. For Harrell, in 69 games played last season, he averaged 13.5 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. The six-foot-seven power forward/center is also a six-year player. Instead of having one or two notable super stars, the Wizards having several contributing players might work out better in their favor.

Last season, in 65 games played in his only season spent on the Wizards, Westbrook averaged 22.2 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 11.7 assists. The 32-year-old point guard finished the 2020-21 season with 38 triple-doubles, ranking first in the league and second highest in his own playing career. Westbrook also surpassed Oscar Robertson last season for the most all-time assists; Robertson accumulated 181 triple-doubles in 14 seasons. Now, the two-time NBA scoring champion has 184 career triple-doubles, the most all-time for any player. Furthermore, this is Westbrook’s fourth team in his NBA career.

He is the fifth former MVP in league history to play on four different teams over the course of four seasons or less, adding to the existent list of Bob McAdoo, Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal, and Derrick Rose. Moreover, on December 2, 2020, Westbrook was traded by the Houston Rockets to the Wizards for John Wall and a 2023 first-round draft pick. He is set to earn $44.2 million in the upcoming season. His player option for the 2022-23 season is $47 million. This trade deal will not be official until August 6th.

Per Bovada’s NBA Futures odds, the Lakers now have +300 odds of winning their eighteenth championship in the 2021-22 season. This is a move from 4/1 odds before the trade, leaping the Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors, and they now have the second best odds behind the Brooklyn Nets (+250). Westbrook also has the best odds of leading the league in assists next season, with first place odds showing EVEN. He is ahead of James Harden (+150), Trae Young (+450), and Luka Doncic (+600). With +6600 odds, he also ranks 19th in the NBA for next season’s MVP odds, trailing Lakers’ teammates such as James (+1200) and Davis (+2800).

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Russell Westbrook joins L.A. Lakers in One of the biggest trades in NBA History

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(Image courtesy of AP)

In one of the biggest NBA Draft trades ever, Los Angeles Lakers acquired the services of Washington Wizards’ former MVP, Russell Westbrook, last night!

As a result of the trade, the Lakers can now boast a holy trinity of attacking talent in Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and, of course, Lebron James, unlike anything seen in recent memory. Assuming this new contingent clicks into gear, it might just be the most frighteningly talented trio to play together in NBA history, rivaling the Bulls triple horn of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, or that great Lakers team of the late 80s with Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

In exchange for their star man, the Wizards received three players and what was the No 22 overall pick in last night’s NBA Draft. The former Lakers tasked with replacing Westbrook in Washington will be Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Montrezl Harrell.

Washington then spent the Lakers No.22 pick on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson, but immediately traded him on to the Indiana Pacers in a deal that saw the Wizards acquire pick No.31 and point guard Aaron Holiday. Wizards then used pick No.31 to draft Isaiah Todd to bolster their ranks at power forward.

(Image courtesy of AP)

The effervescent Westbrook had another great year in 2020-21, averaging 22.2 points, 11.7 assists, and 11.5 rebounds per game in his first season with the Wizards.

In joining the Lakers star cast, which already boasts the likes of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Westbrook, a 9x NBA All-Star & 2016-17 MVP, will now be hoping to end his NBA championship drought.

Westbrook has since taken to social media to thank the WashingtonWizards franchise for a great year spent in the capital, tweeting:

“Thank you DC! You welcomed my family and I with open arms from day one,” he wrote. “Everyone from the front office, to the training staff, the coaches, my teammates, and the fans. I’m grateful y’all took a chance on me and supported me every step of the way.”

“I’m blessed to have been a part of such a stand up organization. It didn’t take long to make a home in DC, and I will forever be grateful and appreciative of my experience with the organization. Thank you!”

With a legendary point guard now fixed among the ranks, 2020 NBA Championship winners the Lakers have all the talent required to wrestle back the title from the freshly-crowned Milwaukee Bucks.

So, get yourselves ready for an influx of NBA betting lines on Antetokounmpo, Holiday, and Middleton vs. LeBron, Davis, and Westbrook for next year’s championship games!

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