Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?


Can Sixers do better than Asik for Young?

It was bound to happen. It’s bound to continue. The rumors about potential trades. The speculation about which players might be involved. It is how things go in the NBA, particularly with a team that has assets it could be willing to unload.

The latest report by ESPN -- unconfirmed by CSNPhilly, it should be noted -- speculated that Philadelphia could be “a viable destination” for marginalized Houston Rockets center Omer Asik. The potential price? Thaddeus Young (see story).

The salaries match up. Asik’s cap hit for this season and next is approximately $8.37 million. Following next season, he would become a free agent. Young will make $8.85 million this season and $9.41 million next year. He has a player option for 2015-16 for $9.72 million.

One of the main benefits for the Sixers would be an extra year of possible cap flexibility, since Asik is under contract for just one more season after this while Young could potentially be on the books through the end of the ’15-16 campaign. That’s not nothing. The increased freedom, particularly for a team that’s rebuilding and will already have quite a bit of cap space for the 2014 offseason, is attractive. But is it enough?

Sixers president and general manager Sam Hinkie, who previously worked in the Rockets’ front office, is obviously well-acquainted with Asik and his abilities. Asik is the sort of in-the-paint presence the Sixers currently lack. For his career, Asik averages 53.3 percent shooting from the field, 5.4 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He doesn’t get to the line that often (2.4 free throw attempts per game), and he doesn’t shoot very well when he does (53.4 free throw percentage).

Asik averages 0.9 blocks per game and 0.4 steals. He’s not a great passer for a big man, averaging 0.6 assists. And unlike Spencer Hawes, Asik doesn’t take shots from distance. Ever. He’s attempted exactly one three-pointer in his career.

Back when he played for the Bulls, Asik was regularly on the court late in games because of his defensive abilities. He’s big. Asik is listed at 7-foot, 255 pounds. If he got regular starter's minutes, particularly in Brett Brown’s system, you’d expect his rebounds, steals and blocks per game to spike significantly.

(The Sixers could certainly use someone in the middle. While they average the second-most points in the paint, they surrender the eighth most.)

But, again, is that enough to unload Young, who’s having a solid season? I’m not sure it is.

Young is averaging 15.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.4 steals and 0.6 blocks. He’s also taking more three-pointers than he has in four years (see story), and he’s hitting them at a career-best percentage. He’s a good all-around player.

Young is listed at 6-foot-8, 230 pounds. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he’s a willing and capable defender on the interior or perimeter. Between the versatility he’s shown this season, and his reasonable contract, he has to be worth something to a team that’s in playoff contention. Or at least he should be worth more than Asik.

It’s a plus that Asik’s deal would expire after next season. But if he did land in Philly, how would his presence affect Nerlens Noel’s development upon his return? Let’s say both are in a Sixers uniform next season. What kind of minutes would Asik require to be productive and happy? Houston has already learned that Asik can turn pouty if he doesn’t play enough. There were reports that he was scratched from several games this season because he was “so unhappy” with his reduced role that he was “in no state to play.”

Juxtapose that attitude against Young, who has proven to be a quality teammate and professional. Under Doug Collins, Young was asked not to shoot from long range, to treat the three-point line as a “barbed wire fence,” to put on weight, and to serve more as a power forward. He obliged on all fronts. This season, under Brown and his radically different system, he’s been asked to take shots from the outside when he’s open, to carry more of the offensive load, and to guard swingmen and power forwards depending on what’s needed on a given night. He’s obliged on all fronts.

None of that means the Sixers can’t or shouldn’t trade Young. As Young himself said before Monday’s game, “it’s a job” and “a business.” But that doesn’t mean the Sixers have to trade him right now for Asik.

“I see it. I see it pop up on my Twitter page and stuff like that,” Young said when asked if he was aware of the latest trade talk. “When you see that type of stuff, you can’t help but read the article. But, hey, it is what it is. If they see fit to trade me, I have to go. I have to move to the next city and take my family with me, pack my bags and be ready to play the next game the next day.”

He gets it. He understands that he could be here today and gone tomorrow. But if that’s the case, the Sixers should get something more than Asik and his contract that won’t expire until after next season. They can do better -- can’t they?

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

Anthem singer at Sixers-Heat game kneels during performance

MIAMI — A woman performing the national anthem before an NBA preseason game in Miami on Friday night did so while kneeling at midcourt, and opening her jacket to show a shirt with the phrase "Black Lives Matter."

The singer was identified by the Heat as Denasia Lawrence. It was unclear if she remained in the arena after the performance, and messages left for her were not immediately returned.

Heat players and coaches stood side-by-side for the anthem, all with their arms linked as has been their custom during the preseason. Many had their heads down as Lawrence sang, and the team released a statement saying it had no advance knowledge that she planned to kneel.

"We felt as a basketball team that we would do something united, so that was our focus," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Throughout all of this, I think the most important thing that has come out is the very poignant, thoughtful dialogue. We've had great dialogue within our walls here and hopefully this will lead to action."

The anthem issue has been a major topic in the sports world in recent months, starting with the decision by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick to not stand for its playing. Kaepernick cited racial injustice and police brutality among the reasons for his protest, and athletes from many sports -- and many levels, from youth all the way to professional -- have followed his lead in various ways.

"All I can say is what we've seen in multiple preseason games so far is our players standing for the national anthem," NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in New York earlier Friday, at a news conference following the league's board of governors meetings. "It would be my hope that they would continue to stand for the national anthem. I think that is the appropriate thing to do."

The NBA has a rule calling for players and coaches to stand during the anthem.

Heat guard Wayne Ellington often speaks about the need to curb gun violence, after his father was shot and killed two years ago. He had his eyes closed for most of the anthem Friday, as per his own custom, though was aware of Lawrence's actions.

"At the end of the day, to each his own," Ellington said. "If she feels like that's the way she wants to stand for it, then more power to her."

Making a statement in the manner that Lawrence did Friday is rare, but not unheard of in recent weeks.

When the Sacramento Kings played their first home preseason game earlier this month, anthem singer Leah Tysse dropped to one knee as she finished singing the song.

Tysse is white. Lawrence is black.

"I love and honor my country as deeply as anyone yet it is my responsibility as an American to speak up against injustice as it affects my fellow Americans," Tysse wrote on Facebook. "I have sung the anthem before but this time taking a knee felt like the most patriotic thing I could do. I cannot idly stand by as black people are unlawfully profiled, harassed and killed by our law enforcement over and over and without a drop of accountability."

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

Joel Embiid ends preseason on impressive note, has Sixers excited

MIAMI — It’s a cautious optimism to be sure — there can be no other type for the Sixers right now given their history of injuries — but you can tell the team is starting to get excited about Joel Embiid.

In Friday’s 113-110 exhibition finale win over the Miami Heat (see game story), Embiid scored 18 points in 18 minutes before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.

The 7-0 center, who missed his first two NBA seasons because of foot surgeries, made 8 of 16 shots and 2 of 2 on free throws, adding a game-high nine rebounds.

“I’ve always felt like I’m a complete player — that’s what I do,” Embiid said. “I’m starting to get easy points.

“I just got better every game [in the preseason], defensively, offensively.”

Sixers coach Brett Brown said he is still learning how to best use Embiid.

Brown added that the rust is apparent in Embiid’s game. But …

“He is as self-taught as any player I’ve ever been around,” Brown said. “He grew up in Cameroon and hasn’t played a lot (because of injuries). But he studies, he looks at stuff. He pays attention. He’s instinctively curious.

“There’s a lot of stuff in his head that he thinks through. His mind is quicker than his feet. At times, his core, his balance and his decision-making are off because his mind is working faster than his body.”

Embiid scored most of his buckets on Friday at close range — a finger roll, a tip-in, a couple of put-back dunks, an alley-oop dunk and a fast-break layup. But he did make a 10-foot jumper and took — but missed — a three-point try.

“He does stuff in a game that makes you step back and say, ‘Wow,’” Brown said. “He will trail and hit a three. He will have a pound, pound drop-step, dunk.

“Like a traditional post, he will turn his face and make a bank shot. He has that up-and-under stuff.

“But he’s raw. His preseason has been highlighted by those few things that you notice, all under the umbrella of, ‘He really has a chance to be very, very good.’"

Brown was asked to summarize the Sixers' 2-5 preseason, and he called it a “completely erratic” exhibition season because of injuries.

“Jahlil [Okafor] hasn’t practiced,” Brown said. “Joel has been steady and incremental. I think we all see that Dario Saric has got a lot to offer. I think the pairing of Joel and Dario was solid.

“We’ve seen Jerami [Grant] have a really good preseason. Richaun Holmes has taken his opportunity to play big minutes. Those type of things come to my mind.”