Cheeks confident Wallace will make good coach

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Cheeks confident Wallace will make good coach

ORLANDO -- Detroit was playing Oklahoma City in the Orlando Pro Summer League on Tuesday, and sitting on the Detroit bench was Philadelphia native and Simon Gratz alum, Rasheed Wallace.

Wallace’s NBA playing days are over, but Tuesday he starts a new chapter in his basketball career, joining the Pistons as an assistant coach to Maurice Cheeks.

“He never expressed interest in coaching, but I called him to see if he wanted to do it. And he said he wanted to do it,” Cheeks said. “I am excited about it.”

Wallace played 16 seasons in the NBA -- two and a half of those were for Cheeks when the former Sixers guard was the head coach of the Portland Trail Blazers. In 2004, Wallace was traded from Portland to Atlanta and 10 days later, the Hawks moved him to Detroit.

The 6-foot-10 big man was the missing piece that helped Detroit secure the NBA championship later that spring.

Wallace was absolutely a special NBA talent, but he also had a tendency to lose his cool on the court and occasionally off the court as well. Many wouldn't look at Wallace as coaching material. Cheeks saw differently.

“If they looked at the way he played the game ... and not at some of the things that he did, they would know that he was a very valuable player on the court and he understood the game,” Cheeks said. “He was very smart in the game, and I am thinking he has the ability to transfer that over to a lot of guys we have.

“We have a lot of young guys. In particular, we have Greg Monroe, Andre Drummond,” Cheeks continued. “[Wallace's] forte, of course, was shooting the basketball, but for me his main forte was the way he talked on defense, covered the court defensively, getting to a certain area. I am hoping he will pass that on to our young big guys, and while it may not look like he would be an ideal coach, I think he will be very good at it.”

Wallace is not the only Philadelphia native venturing to the sideline for the first time this week. Germantown Academy and Villanova standout Alvin Williams, formerly a scout for the Raptors, is now an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics.

“Toronto management changed and they went a whole new direction and got new people,” Williams said. “When that happened, Jay Larranaga, player development for the Celtics, he gave me a call about working the summer league. So it is a trial period, but hopefully things pan out. But all the other teams are getting an opportunity to see me too.”

After finishing his nine-year NBA playing career, Williams said he was looking for an opportunity to stay involved in the game. Through scouting he got to know some younger players and realized the impact he could have on their careers, both on and off the court, if he went into coaching.

Should Williams’ trial period work out and land him a permanent coaching job in Boston, he sees in the Celtics an organization that, like the Sixers, is rebuilding with a plan.

“You have teams now that build through the draft -- it’s harder now because these guys are so much younger and also through free agency,” Williams said. “Fortunately, Boston has such rich tradition that it isn’t hard to attract free agents and Danny Ainge has been doing a good job through trades to also bring in talent, so we will see what happens.

“I think with the new coach (Brad Stevens), I think it is a brilliant thing or it can be. They can start fresh. He is a young coach. They got younger players, so that is a good mold because he has a good feel for younger players coming from college. Danny Ainge did his research and he has had his eye on him for a long time, so I think it is a good thing for the Celtics.”

And for those wondering if putting on a Celtics golf shirt is tough for Williams given his Philly roots, he admitted it is before smiling and saying, “I am getting used to it.”

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

Sixers being cautious with Jahlil Okafor early in training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The Sixers lost Jahlil Okafor for the final 23 games last season because of a small meniscus tear in his right knee. Now they are being cautious as he prepares for his second year.

As part of the Sixers’ prescheduled load management for Okafor, he participated in a portion of practice and then worked out individually with head strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright.

“They just told me to relax once I did what they wanted me to do today,” Okafor said. “I was off to the sidelines. I feel fine. I’ll be good tomorrow.”

Okafor learned during his first NBA season that he should speak more openly with the staff about his body.

“Communication is key,” he said. “I think last year I didn’t really communicate how I was feeling, so I wasn’t able to get the help I needed.”

The team held three practice sessions in the first two days of training camp. Okafor said he knew the Sixers would be cautious with his workload. He is poised to improve upon his rookie year in which he averaged 17.5 points and 7.0 rebounds in 53 games last season.

“I’m 100 percent healthy,” he said. “I’m all good.”

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

Joel Embiid adjusting to new challenges in 1st NBA training camp

GALLOWAY, N.J. -- With Joel Embiid's excitement to be on the court following two years of injuries comes the reality of his lengthy setback.

Embiid is participating in his first NBA training camp this week. While he has impressed with his natural abilities and improved skills, Embiid is facing challenges as he gets accustomed to the league.

"Everything is kind of off right now as far as catching the ball or shooting," Embiid said after practice Wednesday. "I've still got to get in the flow of the game."

Embiid has yet to play since being drafted in 2014. For the past two years he has worked out individually and in controlled settings. Practices, even in training camp, are different. 

"You see all the time when you realize he hasn't played basketball for a long time," Sixers head coach Brett Brown said. "He's trying to gather his feet and find his balance, he's trying to figure out stuff in real time speed on defensive assignments and rotations."

On Wednesday, Embiid went through practice without any minute restrictions and was feeling healthier from the cold and virus he had been battling (see story). Teammates have praised his physical presence and eagerness to compete. He makes an impact with his 7-foot-2 presence alone, but there is more he wants to improve. 

Embiid is adjusting to the speed of the game. He has been facing challenges with getting the ball in the post and spoke to the coaches about his frustrations. The staff explained they are focusing on pick-and-roll defense and getting out to run during training camp, but he will get that desired location in game situations. 

“You continue to see the size of Joel Embiid,” Brown said. “He's a big man and he's got a mindset to back up his physical gifts. He really wants the ball. He wants to get deep catches. He wants to dunk on people.”

Embiid always has been realistic about his transition to his rookie season. He has pointed out many times that he is a fast learner, and is anxious to soak up new knowledge and apply it to the court.

"It's really frustrating," he said. "But like I've said, you've got to trust the process, which I've been doing."