With playoffs nearing, Sixers can only reminisce

slideshow-041013-sixers-team-ap.jpg

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.

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

Joel Embiid says he's '100 percent' back from foot injury, excited to play with Ben Simmons

AVALON, N.J. -- Joel Embiid has been waiting since 2014 to make his NBA debut. Two years later, the former third overall pick is nearing that day.

“I feel a hundred percent,” Embiid said Saturday at the Sixers Beach Bash. “I’m ready to get started. My summer has been great. We’ve been working out a lot this past summer, just getting some runs in. I’ve gotten a chance to play a little bit against the guys.” 

Embiid’s pro career has been sidelined by injuries, undergoing two foot surgeries in as many years. The first was to repair a stress fracture in his right navicular bone. The second, a bone-graft operation on the same bone. 

The 7-foot-2 big man has been rehabbing since then, traveling as far as Qatar in the process. This offseason Embiid was cleared for monitored, five-on-five drills. He joined the Sixers during the Las Vegas Summer League to continue his recovery away from game competition.

“It’s been really tough,” Embiid said. “The main thing is, I haven’t gotten a chance to get on the court and play, or help my teammates, or play in front of Sixers fans. I look forward to it and I can’t wait.”

Embiid said he “definitely” plans to be a go for training camp. He expects there will be a transition period once cleared to play given the length of his rehab, but notes he is a quick learner. Embiid also anticipates having restrictions, but has not discussed the specifics with the Sixers. 

“Probably,” he said. “But I think the restrictions would probably be about the fact that I haven’t played in two years. It’s not going to be about because people are worried that I’m going to re-injure myself, which I don’t think is going to happen.”

One player who is eager for Embiid’s return is rookie first overall pick Ben Simmons. The two have been friends since high school. They easily gel off the court, and plan to do the same in games. 

“He has great footwork, he has great touch, so I’m looking forward to playing with him,” Simmons said, continuing, “Off the court, we’re like brothers. We have fun.” 

Embiid has been present with the Sixers for games and practices. He has had numerous conversations with head coach Brett Brown about his days on the San Antonio Spurs coaching staff and how the organization achieved success with fellow big Tim Duncan, one of Embiid’s basketball role models. 

With an abundance of bigs, the Sixers will have to determine how they share the floor. For Embiid, who can also knock down long-range shots, he plans to fill whatever role the coaches outline for him.

“I think I’ll take a couple threes, but I’ll do what’s best for the team and whatever I’ll feel comfortable doing,” he said. “Obviously they’re going to need my presence inside and that’s what I’m going to do. But when I’m open, I might fire some threes.”

After a series of setbacks, Embiid is enthusiastic about the thought of making his NBA debut. 

“It feels great,” he said. “Especially after the past two years, I haven’t been able to do what I love. It just feels great.”  

Sixers trade Kendall Marshall to Jazz for center Tibor Pleiss, draft picks

Sixers trade Kendall Marshall to Jazz for center Tibor Pleiss, draft picks

The Sixers on Friday traded point guard Kendall Marshall to the Utah Jazz for center Tibor Pleiss, two future second-round picks and cash. 

Both second-round picks are in the 2017 NBA draft. The Jazz have four second-rounders — their own, as well as the ones belonging to the Warriors, Knicks and Pistons. The Sixers will receive the highest and lowest of those four picks.

The Sixers are likely to waive Pleiss. The team made a similar move in July, waiving center Sasha Kaun two days after acquiring him in a trade with the Cavaliers.

Marshall, who was later waived by the Jazz after the deal, was likely to be cut by the Sixers. The team signed guards Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless and Sergio Rodriguez this offseason. The deal gives the Sixers future assets and cash while unloading a player signed by the previous front office.

Marshall was one of the few free agents Sam Hinkie added, signing a deal for the 2015-16 season and options for the next three seasons.

It looked initially like Marshall would be the starting point guard last season. However, Marshall, was hurt to begin the season and struggled when he got on the court. He played just 30 games and started six, averaging 3.7 points per game in 13.3 minutes. His field goal, three-point and free throw percentages all regressed from his 2014-15 season with the Bucks.

Pleiss was originally a second-round pick by the Nets in the 2010 NBA draft. The German center's rights were dealt in three separate deals, eventually ending up with the Jazz last offseason. He signed a multi-year deal and spent the 2015-16 season bouncing between the Jazz and their D-League affiliate. He averaged 2.0 points per game in 6.8 minutes. 

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

NBA Notes: City officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES -- Lakers fans packed Los Angeles City Hall chambers to witness the mayor and other officials declare Kobe Bryant Day in honor of the retired NBA superstar.

Councilman Jose Huizar said Wednesday's declaration is the city's way of thanking Bryant for his excellence on the court and philanthropic efforts across Los Angeles.

Bryant attended with his pregnant wife and their two daughters. He called the experience "surreal" and jokingly said someone would have to explain to his unborn daughter why "daddy has a day named for him."

Fans cheered and chanted Bryant's name as he was presented a framed proclamation by Mayor Eric Garcetti and council President Herb Wesson.

Bryant played his entire 20-season career with the Lakers, leading them to five NBA championships.

Lakers: No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram, vet Yi Jianlian signed
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers have signed top draft pick Brandon Ingram and Chinese NBA veteran Yi Jianlian and re-signed center Tarik Black.

Ingram was the No. 2 overall pick in this summer's draft. The Duke product's rookie contract is expected to be worth more than $23 million over four years.

The 28-year-old Yi hasn't played in the NBA since 2011-12 with Dallas. The former No. 6 overall draft pick by Milwaukee spent five seasons in the NBA, averaging a career-best 12.0 points and 7.2 rebounds for New Jersey in 2009-10.

Yi spent the past four seasons with the Chinese Basketball Association's Guangdong Southern Tigers. He is an eight-time MVP of the CBA, winning four championships.

The 6-foot-11 Yi averaged 20.4 points per game for China at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Black has averaged 5.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in two seasons with the Lakers.

Timberwolves: Towns chosen as face of 2K mobile app
MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns has been tabbed to be the face of 2K's mobile companion application to NBA 2K17 video game, which is set to launch on Sept. 8.

The reigning rookie of the year will be the icon cover athlete for MyNBA2K17, the latest in a series of high-profile endorsements for Towns. The NBA 2K franchise has been the No. 1 selling NBA video game for the last eight years.

"I've been a dedicated NBA 2K fan since I was young, and being selected as the face of MyNBA2K17 is an incredible milestone this early in my career," Towns said on Wednesday. "Playing MyNBA2K and NBA2K is an essential part of my offseason and keeps me grounded during the season with all my travel. I love that I will have the opportunity to connect further with my fans through MyNBA2K17."

The free app connects players to the NBA 2K17 console game and includes facial scanning technology. That allows fans to design players for the game on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 using their own facial features. The app also allows users to watch 2KTV on their mobile devices and play quick games and season tournaments against users around the world.

Towns also has deals with Nike and Samsung among others and made a guest appearance on the Disney television show "Gamer's Guide to Pretty Much Everything" this summer.

On the court, he is teaming with Andrew Wiggins, Zach LaVine, Ricky Rubio and Kris Dunn to try to end the Timberwolves' 12-year playoff drought.