With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce

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With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce

The Sixers took their team picture on Wednesday. Their were plenty of new faces in this year's photo, but two in particular were absent (see story).

Can you imagine being the poor photographer who drew that assignment? Had to be tougher than doing a family portrait at the mall with a bunch of unhappy children. You could shake a stuffed animal above the camera and remind them all to say cheese and it probably still wouldn’t make the Sixers smile. It’s been that kind of season.

The annual exercise made Doug Collins wistful. The Sixers head coach said he spent some time thinking about this year and how the team is in a very different spot now than it was when it took its team picture last season.

When I told Spencer Hawes that picture day prompted Collins to reflect on this year and how it contrasted with last season, the center responded with two words: “Uh oh.”

So you didn’t do the same thing?

“No,” Hawes said before the Atlanta Hawks smacked the Sixers, 124-101, at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay). “I haven’t reflected on this year too much. I’d like to reflect on taking the positive and leaving the rest behind.”

The season is almost over. Only four games remain. If taking the positive and leaving the rest behind is like cleaning out your desk when you leave a job, then the Sixers should be able to fit all the cheery stuff into a single cardboard box. (Jrue Holiday becoming an All-Star. Thad Young becoming a consistent frontcourt option. That's about it.) Again, it’s been that kind of season.

The Sixers are 31-47. That’s four fewer wins in full season than they had last year in a 66-game lockout-shortened campaign. That says so much, none of which is good. How quickly things change.

“A year ago, we played Indiana on our team photo [day], lost, and played five straight road games to get into the playoffs and won four of them,” Collins said. “It’s just interesting where you are from this year to last year. And just the thoughts you have when you take that picture.”

Thoughts. Yes. He had a few. Even as he admitted what everyone already knows -- that this season has been “disappointing” -- Collins reminisced about last year’s Sixers, how they slipped into the playoffs and came within one win of the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a good run, and it all began with that Indiana game toward the end of the regular season.

“I’ll never forget,” Collins said. “We had our picture that night. Lost the game. Tough game. We fought back against Indy. I remember Lou [Williams] had a three late in that game. I don’t remember if it put us up, but it at least tied it. But we lost that game. I remember Julius [Erving] talking to our guys after the game. And we had to go out on the road and we had five games staring at us out on the road.

“That’s what I thought about. And I thought about how that team was really able to gather themselves. We had such tremendous leadership on that team. We had guys that had been around. I don’t think people really realize -- guys like Elton Brand and [Andre Iguodala] and Lou and Jodie [Meeks] and guys we’ve really missed this year as we’ve changed our team and our injuries and all.”

He’s right. They have missed Brand and Iguodala and Williams (Meeks was a memory too far) -- not just their leadership but also their production. Looking back on all that has to be bittersweet. Because that team accomplished more than anyone expected -- and then that team was dismantled by Collins and the rest of the Sixers power brokers.

That isn’t second-guessing. Along with lots of other people, I endorsed the decision to jettison those players and bring in new personnel. It obviously hasn’t worked out. Injuries and awful basketball have conspired to render the Sixers irrelevant this year -- which is why reflecting on last season has to be particularly painful. That’s as close as these Sixers will come to the playoffs -- leftover recollections from a year ago. How sad.

Back to photo day. It was the 11th time in his coaching career that Collins took part in one. Someone wondered whether -- since he’s the nostalgic sort -- Collins has kept all those pictures from all those teams over all those years. Collins smirked before responding.

“No,” he said.

Everyone laughed. Gallows humor is hard to beat.

Charles Barkley: Sixers can be 'really good, really quickly'

Charles Barkley: Sixers can be 'really good, really quickly'

Charles Barkley is jumping on the Sixers bandwagon.

"I think the Sixers gonna get really good, really quickly, but it all depends on (Joel) Embiid," Barkley said. "They're not gonna win a championship the next couple years, but I think they can really become a perrenial playoff team in the next three years."

Sounds good, right? Not so fast. There are a lot of "ifs" according to Barkley. 

Most of those "ifs" ride on the health of center Joel Embiid. If the big man gets healthy, and the Sixers can resolve the "glutton of big guys," Barkley likes the Sixers chances.

"I think the most important thing they need to figure out is if Joel Embiid is going to be healthy. ... I like (Jahlil) Okafor and I like (Nerlens) Noel, but they gotta figure out if Joel Embiid is going to be healthy. 

"I like Ben Simmons, but that team's got a long way to go," Barkley said.

To hear more of Barkley's thoughts on the Sixers' future, watch the full video above. 

 

 

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

Team USA overpowers Argentina in 1st Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS -- New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power -- and dominant on the inside -- the U.S. men's basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

"There's a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "These are very good guys."

A U.S. team that hasn't lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

"Nothing is for sure," Durant said. "We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way."

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

"Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world," Argentina's Luis Scola said. "That's a big difference in their favor."

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren't any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

"The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be," Krzyzewski said. "But we really have an inside presence on the boards."

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony -- the only two players from the 2012 team -- to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green's 12 minutes the least played by any American.

"We're going to have fun and we're going to enjoy ourselves," Anthony said. "If it's not fun it's not worth it. We're going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we're going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal."

Durant finished as the game's high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

Manu Ginobili intrigued by coach Brett Brown, Sixers before re-signing with Spurs

The Spurs have been one of the most consistent NBA teams for nearly 20 years. They have made 19 consecutive postseason trips and won five championships during that span. 

The Sixers, on the other hand, are entering a phase of building a new foundation with a group of young players. They are working to improve upon a 10-win season, let alone making the playoffs.

Yet four-time NBA champion Manu Ginobili saw more than records when weighing his options in free agency. The veteran point guard looked to the Sixers sidelines and was intrigued.

Head coach Brett Brown previously worked in the Spurs basketball operations department and on the coaching staff under Gregg Popovich. He was part of four championship teams in San Antonio. When the Sixers approached Ginobili this offseason, he gave them consideration before returning to the Spurs, where he has spent his entire 14-year career.

“The fact that Philadelphia had a great coach and a person I appreciate so much as Brett Brown, made it more appealing in the case the Spurs didn’t happen,” Ginobili told The Vertical on Thursday. “But the Spurs happened and they always had the priority.”

The Sixers reportedly offered Ginobili, 38, a two-year, partially-guaranteed deal worth around $30 million. The Spurs first offered him a one-year, $3 million contract. Ginobili ended up re-signing with the Spurs for one-year, $14 million. 

“It was not my main option. I never wanted to leave San Antonio,” Ginobili said. “But I had to listen to all the options that are there.”

Ginobili averaged 9.6 points, 3.1 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 19.6 minutes coming off the bench last season. The Sixers are adding veteran leadership, and Ginobili is one of the most experienced in the game. In addition to his reliability at the position, he could have been a mentor to the entire team and worked with Ben Simmons to help hone his point guard skills as the rookie big man plays point-forward. His years of international competition would have gelled with incoming players such as Dario Saric, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Sergio Rodriguez. 

The Sixers signed point guards Jerryd Bayless (three years, $27 million) and Rodriguez (one year, $8 million) this summer. T.J. McConnell and Kendall Marshall still are under contract. Last season's starting point guard Ish Smith signed with the Pistons at the start of free agency.