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).

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien Championship Trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

Sixers take lasting lessons from talk with Will Smith at team dinner

GALLOWAY, N.J. — The sprawling city skyline could have been the highlight of the Sixers' team dinner at One Liberty Place on Monday night. Instead, it was a surprise celebrity appearance that left them in awe.

Will Smith, who is part of the Sixers’ ownership, caught the players off guard when he visited with the team to offer advice and answer questions.

“Man, that’s one of my idols,” Nerlens Noel said Tuesday following the first training camp session at Stockton University. “Everything he said I really took in and all the guys did too.”

Rather than entertaining the group with his acting or musical skills, Smith imparted important lessons that are applicable in sports. The 48-year-old has had decades of success across multiple platforms, and he offered pieces of wisdom that can resonate in any situation. 

“If you have bad people around you, that’s how people see you and that’s how you are,” Joel Embiid said. “He said to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

The Sixers had differing memorable moments the morning after Smith’s visit, which demonstrated how many topics he addressed with the team. 

“He’s a good guy,” Ben Simmons said. “I definitely learned a lot from hearing him talk. … You’ve got to look at things from a positive and negative with every situation.”

Jahlil Okafor was especially caught up in Smith’s appearance. Smith is Okafor’s favorite actor, most notably for his role in "I Am Legend," and impressed Okafor with his character. 

“We already know about his accolades and how smart he is and obviously he’s an entertaining person,” Okafor said. “But it just seemed like he really wanted to be there to help us out. I just took away that he was a great person.”

Okafor also added, “It just helps [to hear from him] because the road to success is pretty much the same. It’s about being focused, it’s about knowing that you’re going to be knocked down, you’re going to fail. That was one of the messages that Will Smith shared, was expect failure but the main thing is to get back up.”

Noel previously had seen Smith courtside at Sixers games, and this was his first opportunity to hear directly from him. Noel listened to everything Smith had to say, from how to deal with the media to ranking his best and worst movies. 

“Never get caught up in too much of the negativity,” Noel recounted. 

While people view professional athletes as celebrities, the Sixers were on the opposite side Monday evening. 

“It’s hard to get starstruck nowadays,” Noel said. “But when you see Will Smith, it’s a whole different ballgame.”