Atlantic Division Preview: Sixers


Atlantic Division Preview: Sixers

In the final installment reviewing the state of the Atlantic Division heading into the 2013-14 NBA season, John Finger tells us what to expect out of the Sixers:

Philadelphia 76ers
2012-13 record: 34-48 (fourth place in Atlantic Division)

The entire roster save for Thad Young, Spencer Hawes, Evan Turner, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown.

Jrue Holiday, Andrew Bynum, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Damien Wilkins.

Projected starting five
PG – Michael Carter-Williams
SG – James Anderson
SF – Evan Turner
PF – Thad Young
C – Spencer Hawes

Fun fact
Thad Young and Spencer Hawes were teammates in the 2006 McDonald’s High School All-American game. Going into his seventh season, Young is the longest-tenured Sixers player since Andre Iguodala spent eight seasons with the team. With seven years in the NBA, Young won’t turn 26 until next June 21.

No player has averaged 40 minutes per game since Monta Ellis did it in 2010-11 for Golden State and no Sixer has done it since Allen Iverson in 2005-06 (though Iguodala averaged 39.87 minutes per game in 2008-09). The significance of this is with the Sixers’ inexperienced and depth-challenged roster, Young and Evan Turner will be counted on to play heavy minutes for Brett Brown.

Look, we all see that 10 to 15 wins is going to be a fight for the Sixers this season. In the rebuild of all rebuilds, the Sixers are looking to the 2014 NBA draft in which they could have two lottery picks. In the meantime, it’s going to be a long, trying season on the court for the Sixers.

Is the 9-73 record of the 1972-73 Sixers in jeopardy? Doubtful. However, each win the Sixers get in 2013-14 is going to be a battle. Nothing will come cheap for the Sixers this season.

Used to challenges, Brandon Paul fighting for Sixers roster spot

Used to challenges, Brandon Paul fighting for Sixers roster spot

Brandon Paul returned home from school to tell his mother a story from the day. What exactly he wanted to share, he doesn't remember anymore. It was quickly overshadowed by the sadness he saw on her face when he entered her bedroom.

"She was sitting on the couch and had the TV on," Paul recalled. "I could see she had tears in her eyes. I didn't really know what was happening. She basically told me we were at war. It was so surreal."

Paul was 10 years old in 2001. He was about to experience six months he had never expected.

Paul's father, police officer Cliff Paul Sr., was deployed to a base in Spain as part of a law enforcement security group. He already had been deployed in the past with the Navy, including to the Persian Gulf. This time, it meant leaving three sons at home.

"You're young," said Paul, a Sixers roster hopeful. "You can only register so much. I just remember crying. At school, I was acting different. My friends were like, 'Why is Brandon acting all different?' A teacher got involved and I started yelling at kids. They said, 'Why are you acting like this?' and I kind of broke down in class. That was the first time I ever showed that type of emotion."

Paul stepped up despite being the middle child. He would look out for older brother Cliff Jr. and younger sibling Darius, he assured his father.

"Brandon said just as we departed, 'Don't worry dad, I'll take care of the family,'" Cliff Sr. said in a telephone interview. "It was very comforting. He'd always been kind of the unsung leader of those three in their shenanigans (laughs). It seemed like he was more mature than the other two, and he just kind of assumed that role."

Over the months, the family was able to communicate via Skype. His mother, Lynda, helped Paul get through the period by making sure he knew his father was not going to be fighting in the war. Paul kept his word to watch over his brothers, which often included spending time at their outdoor basketball hoop.

"That's kind of when I became the man of the house, so to say," Paul said. "I kind of took it upon myself to keep the family together. ... That was a challenging thing that helped me mature faster than most of my friends."

The 6-foot-4 guard has used that early maturity to persevere throughout his basketball career. In college at Illinois, he suffered a broken jaw during a collision on the court. His jaw was wired shut for six weeks.

After going undrafted in 2013, Paul signed a deal with Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. He came back to the United States in 2014 to play for the Canton Charge in the D-League. Just a few games in, he tore the labrum in his left shoulder. 

Paul fought to return in 3½ months, only to tear his right shoulder during a summer league scrimmage with the Bulls. He missed another four months recovering from surgery.

In 2015, Paul was once again playing for the Charge. He was a few weeks away from the NBA playoffs when he dislocated his left shoulder a second time. 

"After the first one I was like, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Paul said. "After the second one I thought, 'I can't believe this is happening again. I'm about to play for my hometown team.' ... The third one, that was the one that took a real big mental toll on me. I had already gone through two and I was playing well enough and had a bunch of teams ready to call me up. It was the worst timing."

Paul went overseas again to make an impact. Last season, he led FIATC Joventut of Spain in scoring (13.2 points per game). Paul played for both the Hornets (Orlando) and Sixers (Las Vegas) summer league teams in July. Following a strong showing, the Sixers signed him to a non-guaranteed deal.

Paul entered his first training camp at 25 years old. He jumped instantly when he saw an opportunity to make an impact. Paul scored 15 points (6 for 10 from the field) with four rebounds in 13 minutes against the Celtics in the preseason opener. He has appeared in four games, averaging 7.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three. 

The Sixers have until 5 p.m. Monday to make their final cuts and bring their regular-season roster to 15. It currently stands at 19. Paul, Cat Barber, Shawn Long and James Webb III are the most likely Sixers to be waived and spend time with the D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.

If that happens, Paul will continue to fight to land in the NBA, as he has been doing for years.

"A-plus human being," Brett Brown said. "He's high class. He really is a polished person. I think there is a toughness in him. He's physical. He is a two-way player — he can make a shot and he can guard. I think he's got a real bounce, he's hungry. He's been great to have around. I believe he's an NBA player."

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

Jahlil Okafor eager for more minutes as knee heals

CAMDEN, N.J. — Jahlil Okafor has been patient with his right knee. He was disciplined with restrictions and recovery during the preseason, recognizing the goal of being ready for opening night. 

At the same time, once he got back on the court he wanted more. Okafor played eight minutes Friday against the Heat, his first game since Feb. 28 before undergoing surgery to repair a right meniscus tear. 

“I don’t think I’m going to do eight again,” Okafor said Sunday. “They kind of heard me complain about that a lot. I think it’ll definitely be more than eight, but it won’t be much more.” 

Okafor has been limited since aggravating his knee during the final day of training camp. He practiced “to tolerance” on Sunday, according to the Sixers. Okafor did not participate in the team scrimmage and worked out individually with assistant coach/head of strength and conditioning Todd Wright. 

The second-year big man did not feel soreness on Saturday following the game. On Sunday, he felt “kind of stiff” during practice. Brett Brown has been watching Okafor’s movement closely. While Okafor considered it to be “good,” Brown was a tougher critic. 

“I think he looked OK,” Brown said. “He didn’t look great to me today. I’ll give him a B-minus … It’s always how do you move? East, west, north, south, how do you move?” 

Okafor scored four points and had one rebound, one assist, one block and one turnover in Miami. He focused on his defense during the game. When he subbed out, he checked in with Elton Brand on the bench to receive feedback from the now-retired veteran. Okafor plans to continue to tap into him for advice throughout the season. 

With opening night three days away, Okafor still plans to be on the floor for it.

“I am optimistic about it,” he said. “I should be ready to go.” 

Robert Covington sprained his right ankle in Friday’s game and did not practice Sunday. Brown anticipates Covington, who has been starting at small forward, also will be ready to go Wednesday. 

“I do (expect him to play),” Brown said. “But we won’t know that for sure yet.” 

Sixers waive retired Elton Brand
The Sixers waived Brand on Sunday, making his retirement official. Brand announced his intentions to walk away from the game Thursday. The Sixers' request of waivers was a procedural step. The roster currently stands at 19. 

“It’s been an honor, it’s been a privilege to play this game, the game that I love, and I’m certainly going to miss it,” Brand said last week (see story). “But it’s definitely time now.” 

Brand celebrated his career with his teammates at Komodo in Miami on Thursday night ahead of their preseason finale against the Heat.