Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Brand, Iguodala put stamp on gritty season

Thursday, April 28, 2011
Posted: 1:45 a.m.

By John R. Finger
CSNPhilly.com

MIAMI As he drew his sixth foul of the game and walked to the bench for the final time of the season, Elton Brand was put into an extra long hug from his coach Doug Collins. If anyone deserved it for the way he played over the final months of the season, it was Brand.

I was so proud of him, Collins said. What a great year it was for him with two tough years in Philadelphia. He has the heart of a lion and just competes every single moment. I am glad he is on my team. I thank him for all he has done this season. He is one of the ultimate professionals I have ever been around.

Thats high praise coming from a longtime coach and player like Collins, but there was more to it than just the points and rebounds Brand put up every night. After those two tough seasons Collins talked about, Brand led the team with 15 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. But more than that, Brand was the spiritual leader of the Sixers and along with Andre Iguodala, one of the mentors to a roster filled with young ballplayers.

So when Brand plays the final two months of the season with a broken right hand and a dislocated finger on his left hand, it resonates. It might even mean more to the team than the 22 points and eight rebounds Brand posted in the Game 5 defeat against the Heat on Wednesday night at American Airlines Arena.

Though far from his best season statistically speaking, the 2010-11 campaign just might have been Brands most meaningful.

I was proud to have these guys under my tutelage, Brand said after the 97-91 loss to the Heat on Wednesday. They listen, work hard and will get better. Its kind of tough playing with young guys, but not these young guys. The guys just did a great job this season.

It takes a special kind of person to sacrifice himself for the good of the team. Thats especially the case for a player who has been in the league for 12 seasons, and takes a mentorship role on a young team. However, the young guys helped Brand get to the postseason for just the second time in his long career.

We had a great season. We played together, Brand said. There are definitely going to be different phases, it happens to every team, so we needed to enjoy the run we have. We worked hard this year.

Brand likens it to laying a base. It may have looked like a five-game exit in the playoffs to a superior team in black and white, but it was bigger than that.

We were in every single game, down to the wire. We are proud of ourselves, Brand said. We are definitely going to work harder. We know what we have to do to get better. Its obvious were not far away.

Headed into next season, Brand, 32, has two years worth more than 35 million on his deal and will be difficult to trade. However, one player who may be difficult to trade because of both his contract and his ability will undoubtedly be part of the offseason intrigue.

Typically when a season ends short of a championship, the speculation over which players will remain for the next year and which ones will depart. Needless to say, its the potential departures that garner the most speculation and media intrigue.

Certainly when it comes to staying or going, Iguodala is the first name mentioned.

Asked point blank if he wants to return to the Sixers in 2011-12, Iguodala said he wants to play for one team for his entire career.

Its always been a dream of mine to play ball for one team, Iguodala said. This has been a great ride so far. Im really looking forward to the summer, letting my body recuperate. I want to get back to 100 percent. Im looking forward to next year being my best year in the league.

Like Brand, Iguodala battled an injury that would have sidelined a lesser man. With tendonitis in his knee, Iguodala appeared in 67 regular season games. Thats significant because in his first six seasons with the team, Iguodala missed just six games and played in every game during the past three seasons.

But going forward, Iguodala would like to put his stamp on the game as a 76er.

I always wanted to be in one place, be comfortable in one spot. I still feel the same way, being able to put a stamp on not only my career, but the Philadelphia 76ers record book, Iguodala said. I want to keep climbing the charts with some of the greatest basketball players ever. Just for my name to be brought up as having some of the most steals in team history is something I always thought about. I want to continue to climb the charts and take this team to the next level.

The season was something of a breakthrough year for Iguodala. Though he often took some ill-advised shots, Iguodala bought into Collins philosophy and thrived. Like Brand, his numbers were off from his best years, but Iguodala finished eighth in the defensive player of the year balloting and was the go-to guy for the Sixers not because of his shooting, but because he could find an open teammate.

Still, in Game 5 it was Iguodalas tough jump shooting that spurred the Sixers late charge and brought them to within a point with 36 seconds to go. He scored 18 of his 22 points during the second half.

He is a very good player, Heat coach Erik Spolestra said of Iguodala. He is so unique in terms of how many things he does to impact the game. He is such a good defender, hes long and he moves his feet. Also, he is a very good rebounder and an intelligent defender. Offensively, I think he gets judged on how many points he scores. He does so many other things.

Undoubtedly, Brand and Iguodala will return next season, though its clear the teams future lies in its youngsters. For now, the vets are passing along the knowledge until its time to pass the baton.
E-mail John R. Finger at jfinger@comcastsportsnet.com

NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

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NBA Playoffs: Cavs blow out Raptors for second straight Finals appearance

BOX SCORE

TORONTO -- LeBron James scored 33 points, Kevin Love had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to their second straight NBA Finals by beating the Toronto Raptors 113-87 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals Friday night.

It's the third finals appearance in team history for the Cavaliers. Cleveland lost to Golden State in six games last year and got swept by San Antonio in 2007.

For James, it's his sixth straight trip to the finals, including four with Miami. He broke the 30-point barrier for the first time this postseason and finished with 11 rebounds and six assists.

"We needed LeBron to set the tone for us early and I thought he did that," coach Tyronn Lue said.

James will be the eighth player in NBA history to appear in six consecutive finals and the first who didn't play for the Boston Celtics.

"He's just a great player," Lue said. "He's a proven winner. He's always won over the course of his career. To go to six straight finals is unbelievable."

James got there by taking down a Toronto team that set a franchise record with 56 wins and reached the conference finals for the first time in 21 seasons.

After a second-quarter dunk, James shared some verbal barbs with rapper Drake, the Raptors' global ambassador and the man who popularized the nickname `6ix' for Toronto.

Kyrie Irving had 30 points and J.R. Smith added 15 for the Cavaliers, who will face the winner of the Golden State-Oklahoma City series on Thursday.

Cleveland would open at home against the Thunder but would be on the road against the 73-win Warriors, who trail 3-2 against Oklahoma City heading into Saturday's Game 6.

The Cavs will be seeking to end Cleveland's 52-year championship drought, the longest by any city with at least three professional teams. No Cleveland team has won it all since the Browns blanked Baltimore 27-0 to win the NFL championship in 1964.

"This city has been craving a championship," Lue said. "We have the right team and we have the right talent."

Kyle Lowry scored 35 points and DeMar DeRozan had 20 as the deepest playoff run in Raptors team history ended, much to the disappointment of a sellout crowd of 20,605 dressed in red and white T-shirts that formed a maple leaf pattern on either side of the court. Fans stood and cheered "Let's go, Raptors! Let's go, Raptors!" throughout most of the final three minutes.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey said reaching the conference finals was "a tremendous learning experience" for his young team, one that's "a step ahead" in its process of becoming a championship contender.

"We're learning," Casey said. "We're not where (the Cavaliers) are right now. We're going to be."

A dejected Lowry said it was hard to see the positive side of Toronto's best season ever.

"Of course you're going to look back at some point but right now I'm disappointed," he said. "Simple as that, I'm disappointed."

Toronto prolonged the series with back-to-back home wins in Games 3 and 4 but never mounted much of a challenge to the conference champions in Game 6, falling behind by 21 in the third quarter.

The Cavaliers came in 0-4 at Air Canada Centre counting the regular season and playoffs, but looked much more like the team that handed the Raptors a trio of lopsided losses in Cleveland this series.

The Raptors trailed 88-78 on a jumper by DeRozan with 10:23 remaining but James scored six points in a 14-3 run that gave the Cavs a 102-81 lead with about 6 minutes left.

James scored 14 in the first and five of Cleveland's nine field goals were from long range as the Cavaliers led 31-25 after one.

After video review, the officials waved off a basket by Biyombo with 3:18 left in the period and gave him a flagrant foul for knocking down Love.

Tempers flared again early in the second when Richard Jefferson reacted angrily to catching an elbow from Jonas Valanciunas as the two battled for a rebound. Patrick Patterson came over and shoved Jefferson out of the way. Both Patterson and Jefferson were given technical fouls.

Cleveland made five more 3-pointers in the second and outscored Toronto 9-3 over the final 71 seconds to lead 55-41 at halftime. The Cavaliers made 10 of 15 3-point attempts in the first half, while Toronto was 2 of 12.

The Cavs led 78-57 after a 3 by Love at 3:53 of the third but Lowry scored 15 points as Toronto closed the quarter with a 17-8 run, cutting it to 86-74.

Tip-ins
Cavaliers: Shot 17 for 31 from 3-point range. ... Outscored Toronto 17-5 in fast break points.

Raptors: Finished their playoff run by playing every other day from April 29 onward, a 15-game run that started with Game 6 of the first round against Indiana.

NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

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NBA draft profile: F Dragan Bender

Dragan Bender

Position: Power forward
Height: 7-1
Weight: 225
Team: Maccabi Tel Aviv

Croatia’s latest basketball export is just 18 years old. He won’t turn 19 until November. Like a lot of teenagers, he’s hardly a fully finished product. The kid is raw, but his obvious potential figures to make him a high lottery pick in the upcoming draft.

Through 38 games with Maccabi Tel Aviv this season, Bender averaged just 12.9 minutes. He took 3.7 shots per game. He shot 42.3 percent from the floor, 33.8 percent from deep (on 2.0 attempts per game) and 71.9 percent from the line. He didn’t get to the line very often, by the way. In fact, he hardly got there at all, taking less than one attempt per game from the stripe.

But Bender’s appeal isn’t about what he is right now; it’s rooted in what he could become with time. There’s a reason why all 30 NBA teams sent someone to watch him play this year, according to DraftExpress. Investing in him could yield a significant return. Also, dude’s name is Dragan Bender. He was destined to become a pro athlete or conquer King’s Landing. Either way, good things ahead.

Strengths
Bender has been on the NBA’s projection radar for a while now. He’s worked hard to develop his shooting. Initially thought of as a non-shooter with wonky mechanics, Bender changed his stroke. It’s more compact and efficient now. Despite the small sample size, Bender had a 54.1 true shooting percentage and a 51.4 effective field goal percentage through 38 games this season.

He could pass more, but when he does he’s pretty savvy — particularly with the full-court outlet pass. Defensively, he’s not a rim protector, but he has a long wingspan (7-2) that should help him be a good pick-and-roll defender with time. In the increasingly switch-everything NBA, that’s a plus.

Also, did we mention his name is Dragan Bender? Donald Bender works in Croatian finance. Dave Bender has a nice B&B on Hvar Island. Dragan Bender is a potential NBA star.

Weaknesses
He’s reportedly put on some weight recently and worked hard to develop a better base, but he’s 7-1 and 225 pounds. Someone needs to feed him lots of sandwiches and protein shakes. Adding muscle for the long-slog NBA season will be important.

In addition to having a still-developing body and skill set, he hasn’t faced top-level international competition yet on a regular basis. He needs minutes against the best in the world, and in order to get those minutes he’ll have to refine his game – particularly his ball-handling and driving, which are still works in progress.

Unlike some other recent NBA imports (Nikola Mirotic and Kristaps Porzingis among them), it’s probably going to take a while before Bender can be a consistent contributor in the league. Any team that takes him has to acknowledge the inherent time commitment.

How he’d fit with the Sixers 
If we’re talking about how he’d fit with the Sixers, who had a long-term plan and weren’t in a hurry to rush anything, the Sixers who embarked on an open-ended journey with no fixed timetable or end point, you could make a case for Bender (but not with the first overall pick). Five or seven years from now, Bender could be a polished product – an outside shooting threat with, perhaps, an expanded offensive game that allows him to put the ball on the floor and optimize his passing and scoring. You could imagine him growing defensively and creating mismatch problems. You could envision it – over time.

The question is whether these Sixers, who keep talking about transitioning from the rebuild into whatever comes next, are about to scrap the slow-and-low approach to cooking their roster in favor of adding on-court heat and off-court PR sizzle. If that’s the case, Bender wouldn’t fit well at all. Not to mention that taking Bender means adding another body to an already clogged frontcourt.

NBA comparison
Lots of people have drawn a parallel between Bender and Porzingis. That’s the easy, reflexive comparison. Both are tall, lanky stretch fours from a not dissimilar region of the world. But really that’s unfair to Bender. Porzingis declared for the NBA draft back in 2014, only to withdraw his name and wait until last year. The wait helped elevate him to more of a known commodity. At that point, he had played three seasons for Sevilla of Liga ACB in Spain, one of the best leagues in Europe that features some of the premiere international talent. Bender isn’t there yet in terms of experience, and their games aren’t one-to-one equivelants anyway. Bender might ultimately shake out as something closer to Andrei Kirilenko (if he can improve his handle) or Nikola Mirotic.

Draft projection
Top five. If he lasts any longer, it will be a surprise.

Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

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Report: Sixers in California for NBA draft workouts

As the Western Conference Finals are taking place in Oakland, the Sixers are looking for new talent of their own in California.

This week, members of the Sixers' front office are attending pre-draft workouts organized through multiple agencies, including BDA Sports Management, CAA Sports, Landmark Sports Agency, Octagon and Wasserman Media Group.

While the Sixers hold the No. 1 pick, these workouts are opportunities for them to evaluate players that could be fits for their 24th and 26th selections.

On Thursday, the list of workout participants included projected first-rounders Deyonta Davis (Michigan State) and Cheik Diallo (Kansas), according to the Philadelphia Inquirer

The scouting process takes NBA teams coast to coast. Earlier this week, the Sixers reportedly attended a private workout with Excel Sports Management in New York City, in which Brandon Ingram and Jamal Murray participated.

The Sixers have held two workouts at their own practice facility, bringing in a total of 12 prospects thus far.

As the draft nears, 57 early-entry candidates withdrew their names from the 2016 draft.