After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

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After surprising start, Sixers come back to reality

Thaddeus Young heard the talk -- the endless chatter about the Sixers tanking (or rebuilding, if you prefer a more genteel euphemism). He’s been here six seasons. Young has seen all sorts of Sixers iterations -- from teams that struggled to win 27 games to the squad that overachieved and came within one victory of the Eastern Conference Finals to this year’s squad and its early-season surprise.

Young recently talked about the organization’s ebb and flow. But when he was asked about playing for a franchise that everyone thinks is focusing on tomorrow instead of today, Young brushed it aside.

“I don’t get into that type of stuff,” Young said. “I just show up ready to play and help my team win games. I’ve been helping with these young guys. Hopefully, they’ve been able to take in some of the things that we’ve been trying to instill in them or teach them or show them and they can take it with them on the court.”

They took it on the court. Then they took it right to the Heat. And the Wizards. And the Bulls, too. The first three games were excellent. The fourth was not.

The Sixers did not take it to the Warriors. Golden State thumped the Sixers, 110-90, at the Wells Fargo Center on Monday (see story).

“When we dribble a lot and don’t move the ball, it becomes very stagnant and terminal and we have real issues,” Brett Brown said. “And we’re not dynamic. We don’t boast [isolation] guys that are going to go break people down one-on-one and people are going to stand there and watch them. We need to move the ball. I didn’t feel like we did that [Monday]. I thought we were very static. I thought we were individual. That’s on me to help them continue to understand the importance of playing as a team so it doesn’t become an individual exercise.”

If they don’t move the ball, they become “stagnant and terminal” and “have real issues.” That about covers it.

The Sixers shot 35.2 percent from the field, 20 percent from distance and 62.2 percent from the line against the Warriors. They totaled 19 assists but a season-high 24 turnovers (see Instant Replay).

Brown went out of his way to credit the Warriors for being “a very underrated defensive team," but the head coach also admitted the Sixers were “sloppy” and “careless with the ball.”

If their ball handling was ugly (and it was), this was worse: Andre Iguodala had a game-high 32 points (27 in the first half), several highlight dunks, a ridiculous leaping, behind-the-back pass and seven three-pointers (see 5 observations). The Sixers, as a team, hit only five three-pointers.

And what of Michael Carter-Williams? He was just the second rookie ever to be named Player of the Week to start his career (see story). But on the same day that was announced, MCW went 4 for 17 from the field (1 for 7 from three-point range) with six rebounds, four assists and six turnovers.

“I think he wants to attack bigs,” Brown said. “It’s his nature. I like it … but he’s going to have to get use to going at that size. And then there will be an education where you have to kick it out to shooters or maybe you have Spencer [Hawes] or the pick-and-pop guy behind you that’s open. It’s part of the process. It’s part of his learning curve.”

His learning curve -- and the team’s. The Sixers got off to their best start since going 3-0 in 2006-07. Now they have a loss. It was bound to happen. They will lose quite a few more before the season is over. That is also bound to happen. This is one of the few towns where writing sentences like that is somewhat necessary. Sometimes people can get a little carried away and forget about reality. You are no doubt shocked.

This is a fickle place. Always has been. The wind likes to blow through Philadelphia first before deciding which way public opinion is gusting for the moment. Some fans and media members who initially wanted the Sixers to tank this season in a blatant attempt to increase the odds of landing Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker changed course completely after the Sixers won their first three games. Suddenly, certain people started talking openly -- and without irony -- about the Sixers making the playoffs.

That actually happened during a popular sports talk radio program on Monday. The hosts wondered whether we might have been wrong about the Sixers (reasonable). At which point they fielded a call from a man who suggested they would go 25-5 to start the year (far less reasonable). After playing three games and winning three games. That is staggering and willful delusion, even in this city.

It should be noted, again, that the Sixers were really good in their first three games. But it should also be noted, again, that they were pretty terrible in their fourth outing. So where does that leave the Sixers? Where are they on the good-to-terrible spectrum?

“I have no idea,” Brown said.

It was an honest response. He must be new.

P.J. Carlesimo turns down Sixers' associate head coach job for 'family reasons'

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P.J. Carlesimo turns down Sixers' associate head coach job for 'family reasons'

Thirty-five years is more than enough time to get a sense of who a person is and how they do their job. That is how long Brett Brown has known P.J. Carlesimo, which made it easy for the Sixers' head coach to have interest in adding him to the staff. 

With Mike D’Antoni leaving to coach the Rockets, the Sixers had a vacancy at the associate head coach position. On Sunday, though, Carlesimo decided not to join the Sixers’ staff and remain a television analyst.

“He was a natural fit for me,” Brown said Monday following a pre-draft workout. “For family reasons, he just couldn’t do it. We talked a lot and it was an emotional thing from P.J.’s perspective. 

“P.J. is a very close friend of mine and he made that decision for family reasons and I understand it. The phone call really didn’t surprise me knowing what I know of him and how he views his family, having to travel across the country the whole time.”

Like D’Antoni, Carlesimo has a lengthy résumé on the NBA sidelines. He was a head coach for parts of nine seasons and worked five as an assistant coach. Brown called working with D’Antoni “a real learning experience,” and an ideal candidate would have similar experience to help both the staff and the young roster.

“That role will be filled with maybe that type of flavor,” Brown said. “I know this, we are still in a complete development mode. We still have a bunch of 20 year olds, guys that could be with us for a long time, but they’re not old, that we have to make sure that the city and me, we remember that. We still need people and teachers that can teach and coach and establish relationships. 

“So you tick boxes on relationships, teaching, development, those still rule the day. If you can do that with some veteran wisdom and some type of experiences like Mike’s, say, or P.J. had, well then you’re really knocking it out of the park.”

Coaching vacancies are coveted at this level. With the No. 1 pick in the draft, a revamped front office, and a 125,000-square foot training facility under construction, the Sixers have enhanced the appeal of the role. 

"My phone is very active, as you can imagine," Brown said. "I think it’s a highly attractive position. … Like our draft picks, I too spend a lot of time studying who will be the best fit for me and our program."

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."