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: Chris Paul to undergo surgery for torn ligament in thumb

NBA Notes: Chris Paul to undergo surgery for torn ligament in thumb

LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul will undergo surgery on Wednesday to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb and is expected to miss six to eight weeks.

The Clippers said Tuesday that their All-Star guard will continue to undergo treatment and evaluation by the club's medical staff.

Paul was injured on a first-half play involving Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook in Monday night's victory over the Thunder. Paul didn't return in the second half.

The Clippers are 26-9 in 36 games with Paul in the lineup this season. He is averaging 17.5 points, 9.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds, and leads the NBA with 2.25 steals per game (see full story).

Knicks: Anthony tells Jackson he wants to stay in New York
NEW YORK -- Carmelo Anthony still believes the Knicks can win and still wants to be in New York when they do.

Another January collapse makes it easier to wonder if either will happen.

The Knicks have fallen off the playoff pace, again proving they can win headlines but not games. It seems like the same old story in New York, even though Anthony still thinks they can change the ending.

"Yeah, we will," he said. "I still believe."

He reiterated that Tuesday in a meeting with Phil Jackson, telling the Knicks president of basketball operations that he wanted to remain with the team, according to a person with knowledge of the discussion.

The question is how much Jackson still wants him.

A Fanragsports.com piece by Charley Rosen last week was heavily critical of Anthony, saying his legs are "going, going, almost gone" and that "the only sure thing is that Carmelo Anthony has outlived his usefulness in New York."

Criticism of Anthony is nothing new, but this came from a longtime confidant and former assistant coach of Jackson, leading to speculation that those were the same thoughts as the Knicks executive (see full story).

Hornets: Clifford blames poor defense for Hornets' losing streak
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team's five-game losing streak -- a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte's fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

"It starts with our ability to guard our guy," Clifford said. "When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s -- and that's what is happening."

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed (see full story).

Kings: F Omri Casspi out for up to 2 weeks with calf injury
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Sacramento Kings forward Omri Casspi will miss up to two weeks with an injured right calf.

The team said Tuesday that an MRI showed Casspi strained a tendon in his calf during practice on Monday.

Casspi is averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds per game this season.

Another injury, another opportunity as Sixers' PG merry-go-round continues

Another injury, another opportunity as Sixers' PG merry-go-round continues

CAMDEN, N.J. — The camouflaged tape wrapped around T.J. McConnell’s right wrist couldn’t disguise the latest hit to the Sixers’ backcourt. 

McConnell suffered a sprain on Saturday in a play against John Wall and was in a splint on Tuesday. He did not participate in practice and is listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game against the Raptors (see story)

“[I’m] trying to keep it stable and not move it around a lot. I should be good to go very soon,” McConnell said. “I’m leaving [when I play] up to the medical staff. I’ll just tell them how I feel. It’s getting a lot better each day.”

Add McConnell to the list of point guards who have battled injuries this season. Let’s start at training camp: Jerryd Bayless suffered a left wrist ligament injury that ended up requiring season-ending surgery. His absence bumped Sergio Rodriguez into the starting lineup, until Rodriguez sprained his left ankle in late December and missed three games.

That left McConnell as the team’s only healthy true point guard at that point. McConnell played so well as a starter while Rodriguez was sidelined that he remained in the lineup when Rodriguez returned. 

“I obviously want to get back quick, but I know me and my teammates won’t lose that cohesion together,” McConnell said.  

This time around, the Sixers are better equipped to handle the injury of a point guard. They signed Chasson Randle from the Westchester Knicks (NBA Development League) to a 10-day contract on Jan. 10. The team liked Randle for his combo skills that would allow him to play shooting guard in practices and give Gerald Henderson an opportunity to rest. Turns out, they need him at the one spot the most. 

Randle played 16 minutes off the bench in Monday’s win over the Bucks. He scored 10 points (3 for 6 from the field, 2 for 4 from three, 2 for 2 from the line) with two rebounds, an assist and five fouls. Randle took his first shot just 23 seconds after checking in for Rodriguez and made his first NBA bucket, a three. 

“He did a great job,” Rodriguez said. “He stepped up in the game, he made some shots, he got the rhythm of the team going. For us, it’s amazing … he’s just here for a few days and he’s talented and he showed [Monday].”

Now Randle could be the latest point guard to maximize an opportunity created by injury. The Sixers have been impressed by what Stanford’s all-time leading scorer can do on both sides of the court. 

“When you start looking at what we have access to, the physical measurements, his wingspan is elite,” Brett Brown said. “You sit him in a stance and he spreads out, he uncoils. He really can cover some ground with his width, his length, albeit from a point guard position. Some of the deflections he got and defensive plays he made, I thought were outstanding.”