NBA Notes: Wizards land Gortat in 5-player deal

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NBA Notes: Wizards land Gortat in 5-player deal

The Sixers now have competition in the Andrew Wiggins sweepstakes.

According to ESPN's Marc Stein (via ProBasketballTalk), the Suns on Friday acquired Emeka Okafor and a 2014 first-round pick from the Washington Wizards for Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown and Kendall Marshall. Phoenix now has four first-round picks in next year’s draft.

In September, the Wizards announced Okafor, the second overall pick in 2004, would be out indefinitely after tests showed a herniated disc in his neck. He was looking to return to game action in 2013-14, and not considering retirement.

This is another step in the road to rebuilding for the Suns, as they are one of several NBA teams with their eye on prized college prospect Wiggins in 2014.

Celtics/Lakers: Hall of Famer Sharman dies at 87
LOS ANGELES -- Bill Sharman, the Hall of Famer who won NBA titles as a player for the Boston Celtics and a coach for the Los Angeles Lakers, has died. He was 87.

Sharman died Friday at his home in Redondo Beach, the Lakers announced.

Sharman's unique basketball career spanned both sides of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry over a half-century in the sport as a smooth shooting guard, a championship-winning coach and a successful executive.

"Bill Sharman was, without a doubt, one of the greatest human beings I have ever met, and one of my all-time favorite individuals, both as a competitor and as a friend," said Jerry West, who played for Sharman and worked alongside him in the Lakers' front office. "He was the epitome of class and dignity and, I can assure you, we find few men of his character in this world."

Sharman won four NBA titles during an 11-season career as a shooting guard in Boston, teaming with Bob Cousy in one of the most potent backcourts in league history. He was widely considered one of the greatest shooters of his era, and he's still ranked as one of the NBA's best free-throw shooters.

Sharman then spent the past four decades with Los Angeles as a coach and executive. In his first season in charge, he coached the 1971-72 Lakers to a championship with 69 victories -- then an NBA record -- and a 33-game winning streak, the longest in pro sports history (see full story).

Knicks: Stoudemire, Smith to play Friday
NEW YORK -- Amare Stoudemire and J.R. Smith are scheduled to play for the New York Knicks on Friday night in their final preseason game after working their way back from knee surgeries.

Coach Mike Woodson says his top two reserves will each play about 10 minutes against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Smith had patella tendon surgery and an arthroscopy on his left knee in July, the Knicks saying at the time he would miss 12 to 16 weeks. Stoudemire's summer surgery was said to be minor, but it was his third in the last year.

However, he says he is the "hardest worker in this league" and felt like that got his body ready (see full story).

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

Joel Embiid 'shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry'

NEW ORLEANS -- Of all the players Joel Embiid could be compared to, a similarity between a 7-foot-2, 270-something-pound center and a 6-foot-3, 190-pound point guard wouldn’t seem like a match.

That’s exactly what Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry sees, however, when looking at Embiid and reigning MVP Steph Curry.

“He’s different than anybody that’s been in this league in a long, long time,” Gentry said Thursday before the Sixers win over the Pelicans. “He’s a tremendous talent, he really is. I’ve never seen a guy that size, and with that kind of strength, that’s got such a soft touch. He shoots the ball with the touch of like Steph Curry. It’s so soft when it leaves his hand.”

Curry is shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from three. Embiid is 45.8 percent from the floor is 44.2 percent from long range.

Embiid flashed a big smile and paused to react when hearing of Gentry’s praise. He had been feeling hard on himself after going 0 for 5 beyond the arc against the Pelicans (see story).

“Steph is probably one of the best shooters in the league right now," Embiid said. "So that compliment means a lot."

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”