NBA Notes: Lakers not rushing Kobe's return

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NBA Notes: Lakers not rushing Kobe's return

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers are heading into training camp still unsure when Kobe Bryant will be on the court this season.

General manager Mitch Kupchak says Bryant was at the Lakers' training complex almost every morning this summer, working aggressively to return from mid-April surgery on his torn left Achilles tendon.

Although the 35-year-old Bryant has made steady progress in his recovery, the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history hasn't yet returned to the Lakers' practice court for any basketball work.

The Lakers aren't pushing Bryant to return. They've got enough work to do as coach Mike D'Antoni patches together a team in the wake of Dwight Howard's departure.

Kupchak says Steve Nash and Pau Gasol are fully healthy, but will ease into training camp workouts (see full story).

Thunder: Westbrook's status unclear
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti says the timetable for All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook's return from a knee injury remains uncertain as the Thunder open training camp.

During his "state of the franchise" news conference Wednesday, Presti fielded many questions about Westbrook's status.

Westbrook tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee during Game 2 of the first-round playoff series against Houston.

Westbrook had surgery April 27 and hasn't been fully cleared medically yet. Presti says it would be "irresponsible" to say when that might occur, but didn't dispute the notion that Westbrook could miss the Thunder's season opener Oct. 30 at Utah.

Presti says Westbrook has been cleared to participate in portions of training camp, which starts Saturday, but the decision to release him for unrestricted activity "will be a medical decision" (see full story).

Wizards: Team eyes return to playoffs
WASHINGTON -- Asked whether he feels any extra pressure to reach the postseason, Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman fiddled with his eyeglasses on the table in front of him and looked straight ahead.

"Well, that's what we want: We want to get to the playoffs," Wittman said. "Do you think this is the first time I've been on a one-year contract? No. It doesn't mean anything."

Wittman and team President Ernie Grunfeld -- both men have deals that end after the upcoming season -- held a joint news conference Wednesday and made pretty clear what the aim should be for point guard John Wall and the rest of the Wizards.

"We want to build on what we started to establish last year. Obviously, our initial goal is to be a playoff contender and ultimately, by the end of the year, make the playoffs," Grunfeld said.

Washington went 29-53 last season, missing out on the postseason for the fifth consecutive year (see full story).

NBA: Knicks, Nets to share '15 All-Star festivities
NEW YORK -- New York City has been selected to host the NBA All-Star weekend in 2015, with the game played at Madison Square Garden and the slam dunk contest and other skills events held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

NBA Commissioner David Stern, Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the official announcement at a news conference Wednesday.

The league has been working with the Knicks and Nets for months on the plan to split the events.

The league last split sites for its midseason showcase in 2010, when the Saturday events were in the Dallas Mavericks' arena and the game was held at the Cowboys' stadium.

The NBA All-Star game was last played at Madison Square Garden in 1998 (see full story).

Sixers exercise team option on forward Hollis Thompson

Sixers exercise team option on forward Hollis Thompson

It looks like Hollis Thompson will be back next season. 

The Sixers exercised the forward's fourth-year team option for the 2016-17 season. The option is worth just north of $1 million, according to Basketball Reference. 

Thompson, 6-foot-8, 206 pounds, has played three NBA seasons with the Sixers after going undrafted out of Georgetown in 2012. 

In his 225 NBA games (81 starts), he has averaged 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game. He's also shot 39 percent from three and his 331 career three-pointers rank him eighth in Sixers history. 

Sixers free-agent fits: Small forwards — Superstars, Barnes, Parsons and more

Sixers free-agent fits: Small forwards — Superstars, Barnes, Parsons and more

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

Sixers small forwards for 2016-17
Robert Covington (guaranteed — $1,015,696)

Jerami Grant (guaranteed — $980,431)

Current SF situation
When you're a 10-win team, you need help just about everywhere. Small forward is no exception for the Sixers.

Covington worked hard all last offseason to become a more well-rounded player and it paid off in some aspects. He grabbed a career-high 6.3 rebounds and was a much better on-ball defender than the previous season. However, with more freedom the three-point specialist's offensive production actually dropped a bit. Covington's points (13.5 to 12.8), field goal percentage (39.6 to 38.5) and three-point percentage (37.4 to 35.3) all took a dip in 2015-16.

Grant took the next step in his progression last season, but there is still a long way to go. The 22-year-old increased his scoring to 9.7 points per game and rebounding to 4.7 a night while also bumping his field goal percentage from 35.2 percent to 41.9. He also proved to be one of the game's emerging defenders with 1.6 blocks a game (12th in the entire NBA). But with the Sixers already having so many players operating in the paint, they would prefer Grant to step outside to develop his jump shot. That didn't go well at all, as he managed to sink just 35 of his 146 three-point attempts (24.0) a season ago.

The Sixers could get a boost on the wing if international prospects Dario Saric or Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot join the club. Luwawu-Cabarrot is more likely to strike a deal, but either way it will be tough to ask a rookie who is also new to the United States to come in and contribute at the game's highest level right away.

Reach free agent(s)

LeBron James and Kevin Durant
Nope. Not going to happen. Moving right along.

Possible fits

Harrison Barnes (restricted)
Yes, we saw the memes with Barnes' face Photoshopped onto milk cartons and trash cans after the Finals. They were both hilarious and semi-accurate after a postseason performance in which he averaged 9.0 points per game on 38.5 percent shooting. However, we're not ready to write Barnes off after a rough two-month stretch and reportedly neither are the Sixers. Barnes, 24, proved to be a key cog of the Warriors' record 73-win team. He put up a career-high 11.7 points on 46.6 percent shooting from the field and 38.3 percent from three-point range. That level of consistent floor spacing with the ability to grab rebounds (4.9 per game) and still slash to the rim is exactly what the Sixers need. The big question is will they get that same package or was that just the benefit of Barnes playing with a star-studded Golden State team that won a record 73 games during the regular season?

Nicolas Batum (unrestricted)
Perhaps the most versatile of all the free-agent small forwards, Batum had a strong first season in Charlotte. The Frenchman averaged a career-high 14.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 35.0 minutes a game for the up-and-coming Hornets. Batum would be a huge upgrade for the Sixers as he doesn't need the ball to be effective, uses his length to play lockdown defense and drains enough three-pointers to keep defenses honest (career 36.0 percent shooter from long range). At 27 years old along with a wealth of NBA and international experience, Batum would instantly be a leader for this young Sixers group. But without ever winning on the top levels of competition, Batum might opt for a more championship-ready team than the rebuilding 76ers.

Chandler Parsons (unrestricted)
A source close to Parsons told ESPN last week that the small forward would be "all ears" during free agency after declining his player option with the Dallas Mavericks. Parsons doubled down on that notion with an Instagram post. He will likely only start listening once the max offers cross his agent's desk. Parsons, a 2011 second-rond pick, has worked his way into being one of the more well-rounded players at his position. He posted 13.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game for the Mavs while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 41.4. Parsons is the classic 3-and-D player the Sixers have been coveting for years ... if he's healthy. He has been shut down in each of the past two seasons with knee injuries, which both led to surgeries. The Sixers would need to be absolutely certain Parsons is back to full health before throwing that kind of money at him to sign in Philly.

Kent Bazemore (unrestricted)
The name may not be the sexiest out there, but he can ball. After going undrafted and biding his time with the Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers and Atlanta Hawks for several seasons, Bazemore broke out in his first consistent stint as a starter in 2015-16. In 27.8 minutes a night, he put up 11.6 points, 5.1 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals. The 26-year-old Bazemore's athleticism fits right into Brett Brown's desire to get out and run while his defensive intensity would help boost a team that needs all the help it can get on that end of the floor. A bonus is the fact he can sink shots from beyond the arc when left open (35.7 percent from three-point range). Doubtful that he will ever turn into a guy you can count on for 20-plus points a night, but would still be a pretty solid fit in a Sixers uniform if they miss out on their other top targets. 

Reports: Sixers to be 'serious suitors' for Barnes, interested in Waiters

Reports: Sixers to be 'serious suitors' for Barnes, interested in Waiters

The Sixers didn't get a chance to speed up the process as much as they would have liked during the draft, but it appears they're going to try during free agency.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein, the Sixers plan to be "serious suitors" for Golden State Warriors restricted free agent forward Harrison Barnes.

The 6-foot-8, 225-pound Barnes averaged a career-high 11.7 points and 4.9 rebounds last season for the Warriors and shot 38.3 percent from three. The four-year veteran didn't produce as well in the playoffs, averaging 9.0 points on 34.2 percent shooting from three and 38.5 percent shooting overall. He would give the Sixers an outside threat who can finish around the rim. The question is whether he'll be able to create his own shot and flourish without the star-studded Warriors lineup around him.

Meanwhile, the AP's Michael Scotto reports the Sixers (and Kings) are interested in Thunder restricted free agent Dion Waiters. Waiters, 6-4, 225, has averaged 12.8 points and 2.5 assists per game in his four-year NBA career. He is a Philadelphia native and played high school ball at Life Center Academy in Burlington, N.J.

Barnes, 24, made just under $3.9 million last season, while Waiters, 24, made just over $5.1 million. Because both are restricted free agents, the Warriors and Thunder can match any offer the respective players receive. Barnes turned down a four-year, $64 million last year and is likely to receive a max offer, which should be around $23 million.

Either would give the Sixers an upgrade, and given their meager payroll, they can certainly afford to overpay if needed. They should have about $60 million in cap space, as the new cap is projected to be $94 million. 

Golden State selected Barnes out of North Carolina with the seventh overall pick of the 2012 draft. Waiters was originally taken fourth overall by the Cavaliers in 2012.