With Brown, player development will be key

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With Brown, player development will be key

After Brett Brown had finished answering all the questions and meeting folks from the local media and Sixers’ front office, a tall fellow well dressed in stylish summertime clothing introduced himself to the new coach.

“Hi, coach. I’m World B. Free.”

Suddenly it was as if Brown had been transported back to the Boston Garden in 1977. That’s where one could have spotted Brown with a camera trying to snap pictures of all his heroes.

“World B. Free! You were my guy,” Brown said after meeting the Sixers’ community ambassador.

Brown said he felt quite humbled to be a part of the Sixers’ organization. While growing up in Portland, Me., Brown rooted for the Celtics, and the Sixers were always their biggest competition in the Eastern Conference.

But like any student of the game, Brown had plenty of respect for the Sixers.

“To be here is surreal. I can still see Doc (Julius Erving) and (George) McGinnis and Mo Cheeks and (Andrew) Toney,” Brown said during his introductory press conference on Wednesday, “and I’m sitting there at the Garden with my Polaroid camera trying to get any shot I can.”

Along with the guys he grew up rooting for (or against), Brown had a few potential Hall of Famers he helped groom with the Spurs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are two players Brown played a role in developing. But defender extraordinaire Bruce Bowen was Brown’s guy.

Now, Brown has to learn who his guys are with his new team.

So far, Brown has an outsider’s perspective on the Sixers based on game planning against them two times a year. He knows all about Thad Young and Evan Turner, while Spencer Hawes has a style that can present match-up issues. Those three players are the remaining veteran core of the Sixers, and they will all be 25 on opening night.

“I’ve always been a fan of Thaddeus. I see that potential in Evan. You pay attention to Spencer,” Brown said. “The pieces that are in place are workable pieces. I look forward to working with them.”

After that trio, which has a combined 15 years of NBA experience, the rest of the roster is even younger. Big man Nerlens Noel was the No. 6 pick in the June draft and won’t be able to play until December. Michael Carter-Williams, the No. 11 pick, is a raw talent with a shot that needs work.

Returning is last year’s first-round pick Arnett Moultrie, who is still just 22. Lavoy Allen, 24, will be back for his third year in the league in what could be a make-or-break season.

Then there is the enigmatic Royce White, still only 22, who was acquired from Houston after the draft, and Arsalan Kazemi, the first Iranian drafted, who will also be a project.

The Sixers have a lot of youth, not much experience and the most cash under the salary cap of any team in the NBA. In fact, the Sixers are flirting with the salary cap floor, which requires each team to use at least 75 percent of its cap space.

After spending the last decade with future Hall of Famers on those juggernaut Spurs teams, Brown says he knows what he got himself into with the Sixers.

“If I was going to leave the situation I had in San Antonio, it had better be for the right one,” Brown said. “I think this is a high-calculated chance. It's dangerous. [Rebuilding] is always a very hard thing, but I feel just thrilled to be here.”

Part of the trick of working with a young, rebuilding team is to make sure everyone is on the same page. Brown said one of his main tasks this season will be to make sure to keep “the locker room together.” Certainly that will be tough because there will be nights when the Sixers will be playing as hard as they can, and it won’t be good enough.

That’s why Brown wants to hit the ground running, literally. Fitness is going to be the cornerstone with the Sixers. They will be able to run and play defense, Brown said.

Of course, that leaves biggest issue: shooting. With Jrue Holiday traded to New Orleans, the Sixers lost their best shooter and assist man. Turner could be the go-to scorer, but he has struggled with his shot ever since he came into the NBA. Coming off his worst shooting season as a pro (41.9 percent from the field), Turner connected at 38.1 percent on shots 16-feet or longer.

Meanwhile, Young has played as an undersized power forward for the last several seasons and hasn’t developed his shot as much as he would like. And at 7-foot, Hawes isn’t conjuring thoughts of the second coming of Dirk Nowitzki.

That leaves the rookie Carter-Williams, who shot just 39 percent from the floor and 29.2 percent from three-point range for Syracuse last season. Brown was quick to point out that neither Parker nor Jason Kidd was much of a shooter when they came into the league.

“It’s a great example, comparing Tony and Michael Carter-Williams,” Brown said. “There are lots of things that Michael is going to have to expect on how people are guarding him and to counter it he’s going to have to get better.

“Look at the history of Russell Westbrook. Look at the history of Derrick Rose. Those guys learned to take their speed and space and still be great. It’s not a matter of rising up and hitting threes. You have to use your environment wisely. With Tony, Russell and Rose, you can see the evolution of their shot. Look at Jason Kidd. There are a lot of examples where you can say, ‘Hey, Michael, here’s the whole chain of events.’”

It’s fun to talk about the future now, but in its infancy and development, there will be a lot of growing pains with the Sixers.

Doc, McGinnis, Cheeks and Toney won’t be walking through that door when training camp opens. Those guys are going to have to be made in the gym with Brown leading the way.

“Some of our players got better [Wednesday],” Sixers president and GM Sam Hinkie said when hiring Brown.

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A week ago after waking up in Paris to flurry of congratulatory text messages, Serge Ibaka wasn't quite sure how to feel about the NBA draft night trade that landed him in Orlando.

But one text message in particular helped him feel better about his transition from the Oklahoma City Thunder -- a team contending for an NBA championship -- to a young team trying to figure out how to make the postseason.

"One of things that made me feel good at that moment was dad texted me," Ibaka said Thursday a news conference. "Before I could get excited and happy, my dad was happy. He congratulated me and said he was real happy for me. That's what changed everything at the moment.

"This is a business, and things happen for a reason. So I'm happy to be here and for my family and for my daughter" (see full story).

Mavericks: Center Mejri has knee surgery
DALLAS -- Mavericks center Salah Mejri has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, a procedure that isn't expected to sideline the 7-foot-2 Tunisian during the season.

Mejri, who had surgery Thursday, emerged as an energetic shot-blocker and rebounder in the second half of his rookie season in Dallas. He turned 30 in June.

While the Mavericks plan to pursue a starting center in free agency, they like the youth and promise in Mejri and the 6-11 Dwight Powell, who turns 25 in July. Powell is all Dallas has left to show for the ill-fated Rajon Rondo trade with Boston in December 2014.

Mejri averaged 3.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 34 games with six starts last season.

Clippers: Frank promoted to front office
LOS ANGELES -- The Clippers have promoted Lawrence Frank to executive vice president of basketball operations under Doc Rivers.

Frank has spent the last two seasons as an assistant under Rivers, who coaches the team and serves as president of basketball operations.

In his new job, Frank will oversee the basketball operations department and report to Rivers.

Frank coached the New Jersey Nets from 2003-10 and the Detroit Pistons from 2011-13. He was an assistant in Vancouver, New Jersey, Boston and Brooklyn before joining the Clippers.

Bucks: GM Hammond gets contract extension
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that the Milwaukee Bucks have extended the contract of general manager John Hammond through the 2017-18 season.

It's an extra year on Hammond's contract and the plan is for him to continue to serve as a consultant after that while assistant GM Justin Zanik takes over the main front office duties. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Bucks have not announced the move.

Zanik was hired away from the Utah Jazz in June to be groomed as Hammond's successor.

Hammond has been the Bucks GM since 2008 and was the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2009-10. He has helped bring in promising youngsters including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker.

Yahoo Sports first reported the extension.

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

General managers talk to other general managers about players all the time. 

Sometimes, news of these discussions leak.

Sounds like this is one of those cases. So don't make a big deal out of it. 

According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Toronto Raptors have contacted the Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel. Lowe cites sources who state that the Raptors have offered a "rotation player — perhaps Terrence Ross, and other goodies — in exchange for Nerlens Noel" but also noted that "the talks haven't gained much traction yet."

Probably because the trade depends on the value of the so-called goodies.

A 6-foot-7, 195-pound swingman, Ross has been inconsistent over his four-year career. After starting 123 games the previous two seasons, Ross, 25, primarily came off the bench last season, starting seven of 73 games. He averaged 9.9 points and shot 38.6 percent from three, right around his career averages (9.3 and 37.8).

He's a three-point shooter and finisher (a little like Harrison Barnes) who in January 2014 erupted for 51 points in a loss to the Clippers and hit 10 of 17 from three. He hasn't scored 30 in a game since.

Ross was drafted by the Raptors in 2012 out of Washington with the eighth overall pick. He signed a three-year extension late last year that will pay him $10.5 million per season.

Toronto is interested in Noel because big man Bismack Biyombo may leave during free agency, which begins Friday.

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Over the course of this week, we will look at the Sixers' free-agent possibilites at each position. We've already analyzed point guardsshooting guards and small forwards. Today, we'll break down frontcourt players.

Sixers frontcourt players for 2016-17
Joel Embiid (guaranteed, $4,826,160)

Richaun Holmes (guaranteed, $1,025,831)

Carl Landry (guaranteed, $6,500,000)

Nerlens Noel (guaranteed, $4,384,490)

Jahlil Okafor (guaranteed, $4,788,840)

Dario Saric (yet to sign)

Ben Simmons (yet to sign rookie deal)

Current frontcourt situation
In case you haven't heard, the Sixers have a few big men. By my list, that's five under contract, one that will sign his rookie contract shortly, and another that claims he'll be under contract soon enough.

Of course, there have been rumors of Okafor and/or Noel being shipped off for backcourt pieces, but as of now, they are Sixers. If the team were to move one or both of them, they'd be moving their most proven NBA frontcourt pieces, even if the experiment of playing them together was a disaster.

Simmons has infinite potential, but has yet to play an NBA minute. Same goes for Embiid and Saric. Landry and Holmes are solid bench big men. They'll be valuable depth if Bryan Colangelo pulls off a move or two. Stay tuned.

Reach free agent

Al Horford, unrestricted
Horford, a four-time All-Star, has been a focal point for the Hawks' offense for almost a decade. More of a finesse big man than a banger down low, Horford has an excellent midrange game and possesses great touch around the basket. He's also a decent passer from the post, averaging 2.7 assists per game for his career. He's averaged 14.3 points per game on a robust 54 percent from the field. With all that said, Horford is not the guy for this team. Even if Noel and Okafor are traded, Horford is 30. Also, Simmons would be better playing with a center that offers better rim protection.

Possible fits

It's hard to look into any of these guys seriously with the Sixers' current logjam. We'll dissect them as if a shakeup in the frontcourt has occurred and the team needs to fill a gap or two.

Ryan Anderson, unrestricted
If you were to Google the term "stretch four" a picture of Anderson would appear (not even kidding, it actually does). Anderson has shot 38 percent for his career from downtown. Back in 2011-12, he led the NBA in threes made and attempted while playing for the Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game, the second-highest number of his career. Assuming Simmons expands his game beyond the power forward position, a guy like Anderson would make a ton of sense playing alongside him.

Marvin Williams, unrestricted
Williams is an interesting case. He's never lived up to the billing of being the No. 2 overall pick back in 2005, but he's had a solid NBA career as a role player. The element he's added to his game that should intrigue the Sixers is his three-point shooting. Williams hit a career-high 40 percent from distance on 378 attempts, also a career mark. Williams also offers defensive versatility with his ability to play on the wing at times.

Festus Ezeli, restricted
Ezeli has made himself into a solid rotational big in Golden State. With the Warriors' success, guys like Ezeli are bound to be poached from their roster. Ezeli is nothing special but would come in handy if the Sixers find a suitor for Noel. They'd need someone like Ezeli (2.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season) to help fill the void Noel would leave as a strong rim protector.