Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

slideshow-sixers-evan-turner-uspresswire.jpg

Sixers sticking with plan after rough preseason

BOX SCORE

No matter what you think you saw during the Sixers’ 125-102 exhibition season loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (see Instant Replay), it hasn’t dissuaded coach Brett Brown.

The Sixers are sticking with the plan.

Obviously, the plan has very little to do with winning games and making the playoffs this season. Though no one will admit it, the Sixers are in full tank mode, which they like to call, “rebuilding.” And as Brown pointed out when he accepted the job to coach the team, rebuilds can often be painful.

Wednesday’s loss to the Timberwolves featured plenty of pain.

“It is what I expected. It’s always more real when it’s in real time,” Brown said. “You always see it clearer, the enormity of the challenge -- it’s ever present, it’s real, it’s present and you’re a part of it now. When I accepted the job in August I was living it and breathing it with them and I love it. We go to practice, we work, the guys are into it, they give 100 percent effort. There are things we all have to do better and that’s the bottom line.

“I like this group and I like coaching this group -- their hearts are in the right place. There is a skill level we have to develop and we will. We will not go astray from the plan.

“The plan is to keep this group together in relation to keeping the locker room together in relation to keep the development side going.”

Things will become even more real next Wednesday when the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat come to town. Pain just might be the operative word. Miami is favored to threepeat this season, while the Sixers are picked to finish last … in the entire NBA.

So with a week to go before the games count for real, Brown sees plenty of work ahead of him and the team. With a team that lacks rebounding and an inside presence, the Sixers spent a lot of their practice time concentrating on protecting the paint, which they did well against Minnesota. But in concentrating in shutting down the paint, the Sixers’ defense left everything else open and the T’wolves took advantage of it.

Minnesota shot 15 for 29 from three-point range. Big man Kevin Love, a veritable double-double machine, took just two shots from inside the paint and went 4 for 6 from beyond the arc.

When Love is looking for the three-pointer instead of a basket at the rim, it tells a coach something.

“You look at it and we took a step back defensively, there’s no doubt about that,” Brown said. “We put a large emphasis on playing defense and trying to guard the paint and they made us pay from the three-point line. Give them credit -- they shot it. It will be interesting when you go back and look at how they got those three-point shots. I didn’t feel as the game was unfolding that it was because we were doing such a great job moving around and defending the paint. I feel like we got a little bit lazy, a little sloppy and it didn’t feel like that desperation was there.”

One has to wonder if teams will shoot the three-pointer as well as the T’wolves did on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, one also has to wonder if the Sixers will be able to score in a half-court set. Though the Sixers got off to a quick lead, they promptly fell behind by double digits when their shots wouldn’t fall.

The Sixers were 3 for 22 during the first half on shots outside of the paint. Of those shots, the Sixers went 3 for 10 on three-pointers during the opening half and 4 for 19 during the second half.

The Sixers made just three shots from two-point range outside of the paint.

Still, Brown and the Sixers figure they will get their points. All five starters scored in double figures with two-guard James Anderson leading the way with 23 points on 9-for-13 shooting.

Defense remains the concern.

“They hit a lot of shots tonight and we’re trying to protect the paint,” said Evan Turner, who scored 11 points on 2-for-15 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and five assists. “We have to do a better job of communicating.”

It will be a long week of practice waiting for the Heat to come to town for the opener. There is a lot of work to do.

“There are a lot of teams that have the people that can shoot the basketball,” said Thad Young, who also had 11 points. “But we have to concentrate on defensive structures and run guys off the line. Right now, because we have such a young team, we just have to stick with the principles that have been taught.”

In other words, they’re sticking with the plan.

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

NBA Notes: Serge Ibaka happy after surprise trade to Magic

ORLANDO, Fla. -- A week ago after waking up in Paris to flurry of congratulatory text messages, Serge Ibaka wasn't quite sure how to feel about the NBA draft night trade that landed him in Orlando.

But one text message in particular helped him feel better about his transition from the Oklahoma City Thunder -- a team contending for an NBA championship -- to a young team trying to figure out how to make the postseason.

"One of things that made me feel good at that moment was dad texted me," Ibaka said Thursday a news conference. "Before I could get excited and happy, my dad was happy. He congratulated me and said he was real happy for me. That's what changed everything at the moment.

"This is a business, and things happen for a reason. So I'm happy to be here and for my family and for my daughter" (see full story).

Mavericks: Center Mejri has knee surgery
DALLAS -- Mavericks center Salah Mejri has undergone arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, a procedure that isn't expected to sideline the 7-foot-2 Tunisian during the season.

Mejri, who had surgery Thursday, emerged as an energetic shot-blocker and rebounder in the second half of his rookie season in Dallas. He turned 30 in June.

While the Mavericks plan to pursue a starting center in free agency, they like the youth and promise in Mejri and the 6-11 Dwight Powell, who turns 25 in July. Powell is all Dallas has left to show for the ill-fated Rajon Rondo trade with Boston in December 2014.

Mejri averaged 3.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 34 games with six starts last season.

Clippers: Frank promoted to front office
LOS ANGELES -- The Clippers have promoted Lawrence Frank to executive vice president of basketball operations under Doc Rivers.

Frank has spent the last two seasons as an assistant under Rivers, who coaches the team and serves as president of basketball operations.

In his new job, Frank will oversee the basketball operations department and report to Rivers.

Frank coached the New Jersey Nets from 2003-10 and the Detroit Pistons from 2011-13. He was an assistant in Vancouver, New Jersey, Boston and Brooklyn before joining the Clippers.

Bucks: GM Hammond gets contract extension
A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that the Milwaukee Bucks have extended the contract of general manager John Hammond through the 2017-18 season.

It's an extra year on Hammond's contract and the plan is for him to continue to serve as a consultant after that while assistant GM Justin Zanik takes over the main front office duties. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the Bucks have not announced the move.

Zanik was hired away from the Utah Jazz in June to be groomed as Hammond's successor.

Hammond has been the Bucks GM since 2008 and was the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2009-10. He has helped bring in promising youngsters including Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker.

Yahoo Sports first reported the extension.

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

Report: Raptors contact Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel

General managers talk to other general managers about players all the time. 

Sometimes, news of these discussions leak.

Sounds like this is one of those cases. So don't make a big deal out of it. 

According to ESPN's Zach Lowe, the Toronto Raptors have contacted the Sixers regarding Nerlens Noel. Lowe cites sources who state that the Raptors have offered a "rotation player — perhaps Terrence Ross, and other goodies — in exchange for Nerlens Noel" but also noted that "the talks haven't gained much traction yet."

Probably because the trade depends on the value of the so-called goodies.

A 6-foot-7, 195-pound swingman, Ross has been inconsistent over his four-year career. After starting 123 games the previous two seasons, Ross, 25, primarily came off the bench last season, starting seven of 73 games. He averaged 9.9 points and shot 38.6 percent from three, right around his career averages (9.3 and 37.8).

He's a three-point shooter and finisher (a little like Harrison Barnes) who in January 2014 erupted for 51 points in a loss to the Clippers and hit 10 of 17 from three. He hasn't scored 30 in a game since.

Ross was drafted by the Raptors in 2012 out of Washington with the eighth overall pick. He signed a three-year extension late last year that will pay him $10.5 million per season.

Toronto is interested in Noel because big man Bismack Biyombo may leave during free agency, which begins Friday.

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

Sixers free-agent fits: Frontcourt — Horford, Anderson, Ezeli, more

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

Sixers frontcourt players for 2016-17
Joel Embiid (guaranteed, $4,826,160)

Richaun Holmes (guaranteed, $1,025,831)

Carl Landry (guaranteed, $6,500,000)

Nerlens Noel (guaranteed, $4,384,490)

Jahlil Okafor (guaranteed, $4,788,840)

Dario Saric (yet to sign)

Ben Simmons (yet to sign rookie deal)

Current frontcourt situation
In case you haven't heard, the Sixers have a few big men. By my list, that's five under contract, one that will sign his rookie contract shortly, and another that claims he'll be under contract soon enough.

Of course, there have been rumors of Okafor and/or Noel being shipped off for backcourt pieces, but as of now, they are Sixers. If the team were to move one or both of them, they'd be moving their most proven NBA frontcourt pieces, even if the experiment of playing them together was a disaster.

Simmons has infinite potential, but has yet to play an NBA minute. Same goes for Embiid and Saric. Landry and Holmes are solid bench big men. They'll be valuable depth if Bryan Colangelo pulls off a move or two. Stay tuned.

Reach free agent

Al Horford, unrestricted
Horford, a four-time All-Star, has been a focal point for the Hawks' offense for almost a decade. More of a finesse big man than a banger down low, Horford has an excellent midrange game and possesses great touch around the basket. He's also a decent passer from the post, averaging 2.7 assists per game for his career. He's averaged 14.3 points per game on a robust 54 percent from the field. With all that said, Horford is not the guy for this team. Even if Noel and Okafor are traded, Horford is 30. Also, Simmons would be better playing with a center that offers better rim protection.

Possible fits

It's hard to look into any of these guys seriously with the Sixers' current logjam. We'll dissect them as if a shakeup in the frontcourt has occurred and the team needs to fill a gap or two.

Ryan Anderson, unrestricted
If you were to Google the term "stretch four" a picture of Anderson would appear (not even kidding, it actually does). Anderson has shot 38 percent for his career from downtown. Back in 2011-12, he led the NBA in threes made and attempted while playing for the Magic. Last season he averaged 17 points per game, the second-highest number of his career. Assuming Simmons expands his game beyond the power forward position, a guy like Anderson would make a ton of sense playing alongside him.

Marvin Williams, unrestricted
Williams is an interesting case. He's never lived up to the billing of being the No. 2 overall pick back in 2005, but he's had a solid NBA career as a role player. The element he's added to his game that should intrigue the Sixers is his three-point shooting. Williams hit a career-high 40 percent from distance on 378 attempts, also a career mark. Williams also offers defensive versatility with his ability to play on the wing at times.

Festus Ezeli, restricted
Ezeli has made himself into a solid rotational big in Golden State. With the Warriors' success, guys like Ezeli are bound to be poached from their roster. Ezeli is nothing special but would come in handy if the Sixers find a suitor for Noel. They'd need someone like Ezeli (2.5 blocks per 36 minutes last season) to help fill the void Noel would leave as a strong rim protector.