Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

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Iguodala making smooth transition with Nuggets

NEW YORK -- It’s been a season filled with adjustments for the 76ers. Just when they were preparing to adjust to life with a superstar player as the focus of the team, the plan changed.

Instead, the Sixers have spent the 2012-13 season adjusting to life without their superstar, Andrew Bynum.

The season has been one of adjustments for a bunch of the players involved in the four-team trade that brought Bynum to Philadelphia. In Los Angeles, Dwight Howard has seen his every turn treated as part of the daily soap opera that is the Lakers. Even the tiniest minutia of Howard’s relationship with new teammate Kobe Bryant is fodder for public debate. It’s gotten to the point that even Howard’s father is approached by reporters to weigh in on what’s going on with his son and the Lakers.

For Andre Iguodala, the longtime Sixer and 2011-12 All-Star who was the key piece in the acquisition of Bynum, it’s been a season of adjustments, too. However, the difference in Iguodala’s case is that all of the adjustments he’s had to make have been basketball-related.

“That’s been the story of the season so far,” Iguodala said before Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nuggets and Nets at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. “I’ve had to adjust to my new teammates and adjust to the attitude and things like that. It’s all been good though because we’ve been winning ball games and that makes everything easier.”

Because there are just a dozen or so players in the locker room for every game, personnel changes can have a major impact on a team. And given how the last few months have been a whirlwind for Iguodala, the adjustment period may last a bit longer than it would for other players. Plus, Iguodala, who sat out of Wednesday’s game with a stiff neck, has always been different from the typical pro athlete. Rarely is a question given a simple yes or no answer because to Iguodala, things are much more complicated than yes or no. There are shades of grey in even the simplest answer.

That’s the same way for when he plays, too.

“He’s a very cerebral player,” Nuggets head coach George Karl said. “He probably thinks too much and he probably worries too much.”

It’s never easy …
Could Iguodala ever lighten up? Is it too much to ask? Once, shortly after the Heat eliminated the Sixers during the 2010-11 playoffs, Iguodala was asked, point blank, if he wanted to play for the Sixers the following season. Instead of saying, “yes” or “no,” Iguodala gave a rather McNabbian response:

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team. This has been a great ride so far. I’m really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. I’m looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

“I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.”

Of course, Iguodala did return to the Sixers in 2011-12 and that’s when the whirlwind began. Last year at this stage of the season he was headed to Orlando for his first All-Star Game. This year, even though some of his statistics are more impressive, Iguodala is going to the All-Star Game to participate in the NBPA annual meeting in his role as the Nuggets’ player representative.

Then again, maybe it’s fitting that such a “cerebral player” and worrywart would be traded hours before the biggest basketball game of his life at the tail end of his most successful season.

First came the All-Star Game and then, a couple of months later, Iguodala led the No. 8-seeded Sixers to an upset victory over the top-seeded Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. It was Iguodala’s two foul shots with 2.2 seconds left in Game 6 that gave the series its dramatic crescendo.

That led to a nearly as dramatic seven-game series in the Eastern semifinals in which Iguodala’s defense nearly helped the Sixers to another upset. The Sixers’ unlikely playoff run was followed by a berth on the U.S. Olympic team and a gold medal in the games in London.

But in the middle of playing for the gold for the red, white and blue, during warmups before the semifinals game, Iguodala was told that he had been traded.

Fitting in with Denver
Since then, Iguodala has tried to relax and to fit in. Playing for the Denver Nuggets, apparently, is a bit different than playing for the Philadelphia 76ers. In Denver, Iguodala said, he’s been trying to teach himself to be calm and to relax and even to let his guard down sometimes.

After eight years of playing in Philadelphia, relaxing just might be Iguodala’s biggest adjustment.

“It’s different. You catch yourself being too guarded at times, especially when dealing with the media when you’re always on guard,” Iguodala said. “But it’s a lot friendlier [in Denver] than it was in Philly. Sometimes I have to catch myself and say, ‘Just have fun with it.’ I don’t have to be so defensive all the time. Then with the fans, it’s different. In Philly they are a lot more passionate and up in your face and in Denver they’re calm and collected and they’re enjoying themselves.”

Iguodala is enjoying the basketball, too. At 33-21, the Nuggets have won nine out of their last 12 and 15 out of their last 20 games after Wednesday night’s first-half finale at the Barclays Center against the Nets. With Karl’s uptempo offense, the Nuggets have scored at least 97 points in 21 straight games and have the third-best scoring offense in the NBA, averaging 105 points per game.

Part of that has to do with the Nuggets’ running style and their ability to hit the offensive glass. Headed into Wednesday’s game, the Nuggets led the NBA with an average of nearly 14 offensive rebounds per game.

But mostly the Nuggets’ success has to do with what Iguodala brings to the team. Though they surrender 101-plus points per game, the Nuggets’ offense is fueled by their defense. They lead the NBA in rebounding, which is the perfect way to start a fast break, and also are second in steals, third in blocks and second in creating turnovers.

Karl says his team wouldn’t be nearly as good without Iguodala.

“We brought him in to bolster up our defense and I think he’s turned us into a good defensive team -- not a great defensive team,” Karl said. “It’s a luxury to have a guy like [Iguodala] that you can put on any player from a two, a three or a four, and feel pretty confident that you don’t have to help all the time.”

Then again, the Nuggets’ style of play has been another adjustment for Iguodala to get used to, too. In Philadelphia, the offense usually flowed through Iguodala. The Sixers ran when they could, otherwise they slowed things down and tried to win the battle in the halfcourt.

But in Denver the plan is to attack and attack and when the Nuggets finish with that, they want to attack some more.

“It’s different than the East where it was more … controlled,” Iguodala said, choosing his words carefully. “It’s not in a bad way. That style was good for me, so now I have to adjust to it. It’s just two different styles and I’m getting used to it -- I’m picking it up.”

Karl is pretty sure that Iguodala will be instrumental for the Nuggets as the season progresses. By the time the playoffs roll around, that adjustment period should be complete.

“I’m confident and satisfied with what we’ve gotten out of him and I’m excited about what he’ll give us in the second half,” Karl said.

In the meantime, Iguodala is doing his best to fit in. The offense doesn’t flow through him in Karl’s no-stars credo. In fact, Karl’s style might just be the perfect fit for Iguodala. Still, it just might take some time to get used to.

“Everything is a tough adjustment in its own little way,” Iguodala said. “With my teammates it’s been good because I have a good relationship with everyone here. The situation was a little better in Philly because I had been there for seven or eight years and I could control the environment. Guys knew certain things and I didn’t have to tell them things twice. That’s the only real thing that’s different here, so you have to build that. It’s not going to happen over night.”

No, nothing ever comes easy for Iguodala. It just looks that way. But in a season of big adjustments for a lot of teams, it’s Iguodala that might be headed in the best direction.

P.J. Carlesimo turns down Sixers' associate head coach job for 'family reasons'

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P.J. Carlesimo turns down Sixers' associate head coach job for 'family reasons'

Thirty-five years is more than enough time to get a sense of who a person is and how they do their job. That is how long Brett Brown has known P.J. Carlesimo, which made it easy for the Sixers' head coach to have interest in adding him to the staff. 

With Mike D’Antoni leaving to coach the Rockets, the Sixers had a vacancy at the associate head coach position. On Sunday, though, Carlesimo decided not to join the Sixers’ staff and remain a television analyst.

“He was a natural fit for me,” Brown said Monday following a pre-draft workout. “For family reasons, he just couldn’t do it. We talked a lot and it was an emotional thing from P.J.’s perspective. 

“P.J. is a very close friend of mine and he made that decision for family reasons and I understand it. The phone call really didn’t surprise me knowing what I know of him and how he views his family, having to travel across the country the whole time.”

Like D’Antoni, Carlesimo has a lengthy résumé on the NBA sidelines. He was a head coach for parts of nine seasons and worked five as an assistant coach. Brown called working with D’Antoni “a real learning experience,” and an ideal candidate would have similar experience to help both the staff and the young roster.

“That role will be filled with maybe that type of flavor,” Brown said. “I know this, we are still in a complete development mode. We still have a bunch of 20 year olds, guys that could be with us for a long time, but they’re not old, that we have to make sure that the city and me, we remember that. We still need people and teachers that can teach and coach and establish relationships. 

“So you tick boxes on relationships, teaching, development, those still rule the day. If you can do that with some veteran wisdom and some type of experiences like Mike’s, say, or P.J. had, well then you’re really knocking it out of the park.”

Coaching vacancies are coveted at this level. With the No. 1 pick in the draft, a revamped front office, and a 125,000-square foot training facility under construction, the Sixers have enhanced the appeal of the role. 

"My phone is very active, as you can imagine," Brown said. "I think it’s a highly attractive position. … Like our draft picks, I too spend a lot of time studying who will be the best fit for me and our program."

NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

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NBA draft profile: Kentucky G Jamal Murray

Jamal Murray

Position: Guard

Height: 6-5

Weight: 210

School: Kentucky

It's tough for a Kentucky star freshman to fly under the radar, but that's exactly what Murray did last season. While Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine dominated the spotlight, Murray was quietly as good as anyone in the country for the second half of the season.

In Kentucky's final 14 games, Murray averaged just under 24 points and shot better than 46 percent from three-point range. For the season, he averaged an even 20 points and connected on 41 percent of his three-point attempts. He also chipped in an impressive 5.2 rebounds. 

Kentucky lost some games early and fell toward the bottom of the Top 25 rankings. But Murray continued to produce and played his best basketball down the stretch, lifting the Wildcats to 27 wins and SEC regular season and tournament titles. 

As good as he was during his only college season, Murray projects to be an even better pro. He's the best guard prospect in the 2016 NBA Draft. 

Strengths
Shooting the ball. He has the best shooting stroke of any prospect in this year's draft. Murray's form on his jump shot is textbook with the results to match. He's able to get his shot off quickly and has range well beyond the NBA three-point line. Murray's outside shot is his greatest asset. Shooters are always in high demand and have never been more valuable in the NBA. The defending champion Warriors offer all the proof you need of that.

However Murray isn't a one-dimensional player. He can get to the basket off the dribble and is a terrific finisher around the basket. He also developed a polished mid-range game during his time at Kentucky. Murray also plays hard — a characteristic that NBA executives monitor closely. He rarely takes a possession off and competes hard on the glass for a perimeter player, as evidenced by his five rebounds per game last season.

Weaknesses
Murray doesn't have a defined position on the NBA level. He's not a true point guard and isn't quite big enough to be considered a prototypical shooting guard. While NBA talent evaluators are concerned by this, I don't necessarily view it as a weakness. Murray projects as a combo guard, capable of playing point guard but also comfortable away from the ball. He's similar to the Trail Blazers' C.J. McCollum in that regard.

Murray isn't an elite-level athlete and by no means is he a great defender. He'll struggle to stay in front of the more dynamic perimeter players in the NBA. But he has a very good work ethic and should be able to improve defensively.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
Extremely well. The 76ers need shooters. That need will only become exaggerated if and when they draft Ben Simmons with the No. 1 pick. With Simmons, Dario Saric, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid, the Sixers have a significantly frontcourt-heavy nucleus. They need quality guards to balance out their lineup.

The much-discussed hypothetical trade that would send Okafor to the Celtics for the No. 3 pick makes a ton of sense for the 76ers. They could clear out space in their frontcourt rotation as well as acquire Murray with that third pick. Murray would flourish playing alongside Simmons, knocking down the open jump shots that Simmons creates.    

NBA comparison
I see a mix of Bradley Beal and Eric Gordon in Murray's game. Beal and Gordon have similar builds to Murray and both entered the NBA as exceptional shooters. All three are natural scorers who have no problem getting their own shot on the NBA level.

Draft projection
Murray will be a high-end lottery pick. He could go as high as No. 3 to the Celtics and shouldn't fall any lower than No. 6 to the Pelicans.  

Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

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Western Conference Finals: Warriors-Thunder ready for Game 7

OAKLAND, Calif. -- After a record 73 wins and a memorable Game 6 comeback on the road, the Golden State Warriors' goal of getting back to the NBA Finals and defending their title comes down to Game 7 at home against the powerful Oklahoma City Thunder.

All along, the Warriors have said the numerous team milestones and personal accomplishments they set during this special season won't matter a bit unless they repeat as champions.

They need one more victory to become the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 postseason deficit.

"I've learned that our players are tough, they're mentally tough," Coach of the Year Steve Kerr said Sunday, when his team took a day off from film and practice. "I don't know if I really learned that. I already knew that. But they've firmly confirmed that. It's been a great comeback. Now we still have to play. We still have another game."

Kerr just wanted his Warriors to grab back some momentum from Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Now, they have it, all right, heading into the decisive game of the Western Conference finals Monday night after winning two straight.

When his team won Game 5 on Thursday night, MVP Stephen Curry hollered "We ain't going home!" -- and Golden State wants no part of the Thunder having the last say in the Warriors' summer plans.

"We got a big one last night to stay alive, and now we've got some momentum. But it can work in reverse," Kerr said. "One game changes everything, and we've got to come out and play our game and play well to finish the series out."

Golden State hardly considers this a gimmee just because the team is playing at deafening Oracle Arena, where the Warriors have lost just three times this season. They have had their problems against Durant, Russell Westbrook and the towering Thunder.

Oklahoma City is fueled by trying to reach its first NBA Finals since losing to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012. James and Cleveland are waiting on Monday's winner.

"It's going to be a hard game. If we thought tonight was hard, Game 7's going to be even tougher," Curry said. "Everybody on both sides of the ball is going to leave it all out on the floor. It's win or go home. So we can't expect just because we're at home that we can just show up and win."

As has been the case all playoffs with Curry ailing, Golden State got a huge performance from Klay Thompson. He made a playoff-record 11 3-pointers and scored 41 points in a 108-101 win at Oklahoma City on Saturday night, and will need an encore Monday.

"Lot of people probably counted us out," Thompson said.

Kerr said last week that his group might be different than the all the other teams that have tried to come back from 3-1 down: because the Warriors won it all last year.

The Thunder certainly would have preferred to close out the series at home over traveling back across the country to the Bay Area for the deciding game.

Yet they never expected it to be easy against the 2015 champs.

"This is what you dream about, getting this opportunity. We've got to take advantage of it," Durant said Sunday. "Go up into their building, and it's going to be great atmosphere. ... No matter where you play, you've still got to play. That's how we look at it."

That's partly because first-year Thunder coach Billy Donovan has talked to his team about the mentality it takes to win in a hostile venue like raucous, sold-out Oracle Arena, and Oklahoma City came in and did it in Game 1.

"We lost Game 6, and it was a tough, hard-fought game," Donovan said. "We're disappointed about not having a different outcome. But we haven't lost the series, and we have an opportunity again. I think just being around these guys, they're a resilient group."

Curry and the Warriors expect another entertaining, great game.

From an ankle injury that sidelined him in the first round against Houston to a sprained right knee and puffy elbow, Curry has dealt with his share of pain this postseason. He has to push that aside for what he hopes is one more game this series and then a second straight trip to the Finals and another championship.

"I actually kind of like it, because you understand the moment of the playoffs and just kind of gets you going," he said. "I'll be ready to go and give it everything I've got for Game 7."