LOS ANGELES -- Kevin Durants prowess on the New York City playground circuit was well documented earlier this summer. The same can be said for the game held in Washington D.C., where basketball players from that area took on a group of players from Los Angeles to see which coast reigns supreme. Nine NBA players participated in that game.
But has one team gathered under one roof to play together for consecutive days in an effort to keep its skills sharp and camaraderie strong during the NBA lockout?
Yes: the Philadelphia 76ers.
For those of you familiar with destination weddings, consider the Sixers' weekend in Los Angeles, where eight current team members met to practice at UCLA, a destination basketball workshop for family only. These pickup games were not about having as many NBA players participate as possible, rather about having as many Sixers be in attendance as possible.
The guys came out. We are having a great time together, bonding together. Thats what it is about, said Elton Brand who, along with Lou Williams, organized the gathering.
I think that creates a winning environment, having each others back out there. So you have to care, you have to grow, you have to know where someone likes the ball. When a guy cant play defense or cant show as well on a pick you have to know that. You have to know that. You have to be there to help your guy and have their back.
In attendance along with Brand and Williams were Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Jodie Meeks, Spencer Hawes and Craig Brackins. That list includes last years starting five, their sixth man and a rookie who will likely earn a starting spot whenever the upcoming season does get underway.
Getting together in a gym with no coaches can never mimic a real NBA practice -- it lacks the drills and discipline that makes for a coach being a coach. But the pickup games are intense and, in this case, believe it or not, there was defense being played. The Jrue-Lou matchup was particularly feisty, and watching Brand and Hawes battle in the post was intriguing.
The most we get out of it is being together, Williams said. Pickup is pickup. But I think the most we can get out of it is being in the gym with each other and seeing what guys have been working on and continue to build a camaraderie.
It was clear that guys definitely have not ignored their commitment to their real job despite the work stoppage that is 59 days old with no end in sight.
I see a lot of improvement in Jodie, Evan and Spencer, Brand acknowledged. Evan is looking more athletic. Spencer is running the floor better and Jodie, believe it or not, is even shooting better. Guys are really growing.
Spencer does look a lot more lean. Evan looks more fit too and stronger, Holiday said, echoing Brand's comments. A lot of guys just do what they do like Lou who came out here and just lit it up. But it really is good that we could meet in one place. Our team just has such good chemistry.
Williams hit two game winners straight on from three, reminiscent of Game 4 in the series against Miami. Williams had no problem showing a little swagger as he headed to the sideline for a water break.
And Hawes, the lone restricted free agent participating in the weekend, is running the floor better because he could be this summers poster child for P90X -- that is how in shape he looks.
Everyone looks good, Iguodala added. No one looks like they have added any weight. When you have a lockout situation that tends to be a problem and we havent been bit by that bug which is a really good thing. Hopefully the season starts on time because we would have an advantage. Other guys didnt think the season would be starting and kind of relaxed whereas we are still preparing for any situation.
Iguodala is heading into his eighth season, all of which have been played in a Sixers uniform. Williams came to the organization a year after Iguodala, and Brand is entering is fourth year of his five-year max contract in Philly. Moreover, Holiday, Turner, Meeks, Hawes and Brackins are all 24-years old or younger. That group is the core of a team that went 41-41 last season.
They are staunch believers that if given the opportunity to stay together they can absolutely improve on that record.
You look at teams that have had some success. Dallas (the defending champs), they have been together for a number of years, Williams remarked. Obviously, the Spurs have had the core of their team together for God knows how long and I think with this group we are going to have the same opportunity with guys building together and having that camaraderie to try and build something special.
Once you have trust in one another you want to do anything on the court for each other, Turner added. It is all about teamwork. I think the biggest thing is team -- caring about one another and not caring who gets the credit.
Noticeably missing were Thaddeus Young and Marreese Speights. Young, like Hawes, is a restricted free agent. Speights has one year remaining on his deal. Brand did make a point to say that guys who were not in attendance had previous commitments.
Everyone involved said if the lockout stretches on they would reconvene for more workshops throughout the fall.
Doug Collins would be impressed. The passion he imparted not just to the fans last year but to his players has rubbed off and remained. Or maybe like Collins, his players had it in them all along.
Said Iguodala: I think they know we have a good group of guys.