TrueHoop: Philadelphia 76ers

Sixers too good at losing for NBA's liking?

July, 30, 2014
Jul 30
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss
Is the NBA cracking down on the Philadelphia 76ers' brash flaunting of awfulness? As the 2010-11 Miami Heat learned, a team can be only so subversive before the league starts changing rules on them. Miami felt the brunt of new CBA rules aimed to hinder "super teams" like the league-warping one they'd just created.

Now the Sixers are feeling the NBA pinch at their super terrible teams. In a report by Brian Windhorst, a recent league plan to overhaul the draft has rankled Philadelphia officials.

“The rough draft of this plan was met with opposition by 76ers management, which is in the midst of a multiseason rebuilding project that is dependent on a high pick next year," Windhorst writes. "The 76ers, sources said, are hoping to get the NBA to delay the plan's implementation for at least a year because it would act as a de facto punishment while just playing by the rules that have been in place.”

Sometimes, even while playing by the rules in place, you can break unwritten rules, deviating from social norms to the point where the majority fights back. This looks to be what’s happening here. Owners created a system where, should their teams fall hard, they land softly on a pile of valuable high draft picks. The system of giving handouts to bad teams was all well and good so long as a team didn’t overtly strategize around getting those handouts.

The Sixers took the rules to their logical extension, and made the system's absurdity obvious. They blew up a playoff-contending team to draft someone too injured to play that season (Nerlens Noel), then followed it up the next draft with picks of Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, players who might not see the court this season. All of these moves are understandable, if not savvy. In a vacuum, none of these moves looks especially brash. But as a collection of decisions, they reveal a bold scheme, one in which being bad is as much the point as it is a natural consequence of rebuilding.

Obviously, Philadelphia didn't plan on being bad forever. It just figured that there's little to be gained in the middle ground between "bad" and "great." And so long as the league is heaping massive rewards on terrible teams, the Sixers might as well keep being terrible until they have the assets to reach greatness.

Now that the league is looking to more evenly balance the lottery odds among the teams with the lowest win totals, the Sixers' strategy might be compromised. They've been playing the long game, which leaves them vulnerable if the league suddenly changes course.

It's hard to blame the Sixers for their strategy, but they may have been too obvious and intentional in its employment. Their 26-game losing streak by a roster replete with unrecognizables might have sounded the alarm for change. The Sixers tanked to such a planned degree that they represented a rebellious shift from the old way of losing hard for Duncan, Durant or whichever prodigy. They were too confident and competent about being incompetent.

The Fresh Prince of ... Las Vegas?

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
By Adam Reisinger

Now this is a story all about how the Phoenix Suns and Philadelphia 76ers had some fun on social media at the Las Vegas Summer League on Tuesday.

The two teams met in one of the final games of the day, with Sixers rookie Nerlens Noel sitting out as a precaution. But the Suns Twitter account was more focused on another Philly prospect who had his life turned upside down.

Will Smith, aka The Fresh Prince, is a 76ers minority owner, though he no longer sports the high-top fade and we don't expect to see him shootin' some b-ball outside of the school any time soon.

While the Suns won the game 97-88, it's safe to say both teams won Twitter for the day.

The back of the envelope guide to Las Vegas Summer League: The East

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
By D.J. Foster
Special to
Jabari Parker and Andrew WigginsGetty ImagesJabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, the draft's top two, will get their first taste of NBA ball in Vegas.
There’s something for everyone at Las Vegas Summer League. For the prized rookies in the 2014 draft class, it’s a chance to get their feet wet. For the prospects who haven’t found luck in the league yet, it’s an opportunity to jump-start a career. For others, it’s simply a shot at getting on the radar.

The following is our annual "back of the envelope" guide to the Las Vegas Summer League teams, highlighting some of the more promising and intriguing prospects who will take the floor. The East guide is below, and the West guide is here.

Atlanta Hawks

Adreian Payne: Stretch big men are here to stay, and the Hawks continued to hoard them by drafting Payne, a dangerous pick-and-pop threat with legitimate 3-point range. It’s rare to see this kind of size, skill and athleticism in one player, but Payne might be limited to a smaller role because of a lung condition that affects his ability to play long stretches and big minutes.

Dennis Schroder: Watching Schroder run the point is an adventure. He applies legitimate full-court pressure on ball handlers nearly every time up the court, and he’s not bashful about trying to thread the needle through traffic for perfect dimes on the other end. There’s no fear here, and there’s rarely a dull moment, either.

Walter Tavares: It’s stranger than fiction, but Taveras was completely off the basketball radar until a German tourist in Cape Verde recruited him to try out. He had never even touched a basketball until 2010, but at 7-foot-3 with a reported 7-foot-9 wingspan and traffic signal-sized hands, he has what can't be taught.

Charlotte Hornets

Noah Vonleh: His draft-night fall was plenty fortuitous for Charlotte, as it would ultimately need a stretch 4 to pair with Al Jefferson, with Josh McRoberts now committed to the Miami Heat. Vonleh is a little reminiscent of Chris Bosh offensively, and his length and mobility defensively will cover up for mistakes while he learns the ropes. He could be the steal of the draft.

Cody Zeller: Last year’s fourth overall pick surprised a lot of folks by shooting jumpers and playing on the perimeter during last year’s summer league, but it didn’t pay dividends when the real games started. Zeller shot just 27 percent from 16 feet and out as a rookie, and it’s still unclear what his role will be at the NBA level. He’s a great athlete and very active, but Charlotte will need more than that justify his draft slot.

Roberto Nelson: The name might ring a bell if you’ve read George Dohrmann’s excellent book “Play Their Hearts Out." It’s a testament to Nelson’s drive that he’s made it to this point despite some well-documented efforts by AAU sharks to submarine his career. Here’s hoping he gets some minutes to show his stuff.

Chicago Bulls

Doug McDermott: In this strange setting where Anthony Randolph and Adam Morrison have looked unstoppable, McDermott might not quiet concerns of his ability to keep up in the NBA, regardless of how well he plays. That said, he made mincemeat of college competition for four straight years at Creighton, so he’s a strong bet to win MVP in Vegas. For your own sake, though, don’t bet on summer league.

Tony Snell: After an incredibly disappointing rookie campaign wherein Snell had a PER of 8.0 and shot 38.4 percent from the field, he’ll be looking for some redemption. You get the feeling Tom Thibodeau would have never played him if it wasn’t out of total necessity, but the scoring wing could earn some trust going forward with a more assertive offensive performance in Vegas.

Cameron Bairstow: A former teammate of Snell’s at New Mexico, Bairstow exploded on to the draft scene after Snell’s touches started to go his way. Bairstow is a serious inside-outside threat offensively, and if he expands his range on his jumper out to the 3-point line, he’ll be a nice weapon for Thibodeau to utilize off the bench.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Anthony Bennett: After missing out on the opportunity to play in front of UNLV fans last year at summer league because of rotator cuff surgery, Bennett should draw a big crowd even if the hype balloon has deflated some after a rough rookie season. It’s about baby steps at this point with Bennett, though, and showing that he’s at least in shape and playing fast will calm some nerves in Cleveland.

Andrew Wiggins: Another year, another first overall pick from Canada. Wiggins is the wing defender Cleveland desperately needs now, and perhaps he’ll be much more than that down the line. He’s not a stranger to big expectations, but the first days on the job always leave you under the microscope. If his college career foretold anything, no one in Vegas will have his performances more closely scrutinized.

Matthew Dellavedova: He was one of the only players Mike Brown could get consistent effort from last season, which led to more playing time than expected in his rookie season. With Jarrett Jack off to Brooklyn and Kyrie Irving’s shaky injury history, Dellavedova might be thrust into serious action again next season. These could be important reps.

Miami Heat

Shabazz Napier: Kobe Bryant isn’t even following poor Kendall Marshall on Twitter, but LeBron James wasn’t bashful about giving Napier his stamp of approval even before the two were teammates. While that confidence from the best player in the world is great to have, it also puts a big, red bull's-eye on his back. LeBron called him the best point guard in the draft, after all, so now it’s on the former UConn guard to start proving it.

James Ennis: This is just what Miami needs, right? Ennis is an athletic, 3-and-D wing who opted to play professionally in Australia after being drafted in the second round by Miami last season. He has glue guy written all over him, and with Shane Battier stepping away, Ennis could potentially have a role in Miami next season.

Justin Hamilton: He received plenty of burn in the Orlando Summer League (Miami is double-dipping this year along with the Houston Rockets and Philadelphia 76ers), and after playing very well in the D-League last season, the former LSU big man could win a roster spot, particularly if he continues to shoot the ball well from distance. If you haven’t caught on yet, that’s a niche every team wants to fill.

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo: The “Greek Freak” was Cirque De Soleil on a basketball court last season, and now he’s reportedly 2 inches taller and presumably even more capable of ridiculous feats. Few players in this setting will illicit this level of reaction -- you’ll drop your jaw, you’ll yell, you’ll jump out of your seat. He’s big fun.

Jabari Parker: The Bucks might be the hottest ticket in Vegas. Parker, the second overall pick of this year's draft, was touted as being the most "NBA-ready” prospect out there, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show why that is. Milwaukee doesn’t have to get too cute offensively –- just get Parker the ball and get the heck out of the way.

Nate Wolters: It never hurts to have a steady hand at point guard, especially since summer league is basketball’s Wild West. Shots fly everywhere and guys scramble all over the place, but Wolters has shown he’ll stay cool in less-than-ideal circumstances. In 58 played games in hi3s rookie season, Wolters had more than one turnover only 13 times. He’ll be a sight for sore eyes.

New York Knicks

Shane Larkin: The speed merchant might end up being the key to the Tyson Chandler trade despite the fact that he’s coming off a shaky rookie season. Triangle point guards are typically bigger and more physical than Larkin, but he should provide a drastic change of pace to Jose Calderon when he comes off the bench, at the least.

Cleanthony Early: Is he a 3, a small-ball 4, both or neither? Tweener forwards rarely have it easy in the early stages of their careers, but Early is an impressive athlete with a nice stroke that caught a lot of eyeballs during Wichita State’s superb season. His lack of ballhandling skills and ability to score off the dribble probably limit him to being a role player for now, but that’s not the worst thing.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo: He’s one of the few siblings of an NBA player who actually belong here. Nepotism runs wild at summer league, but Giannis' older brother earned his spot by playing very well in the D-League last season as a defensive specialist capable of wreaking havoc in transition. He’s a legitimate prospect, even if he needs more seasoning offensively.

Philadelphia 76ers

Nerlens Noel: There’s some debate over whether Noel will play in Vegas after performing well in Orlando, but maybe that’s just Philadelphia keeping its best-kept secret under wraps a little longer. Don’t forget about the shot-blocking big man in the rookie of the year race this season -- he’s got a leg up on knowing Brett Brown’s playbook (hint: run!), and he’ll get plenty of playing time and opportunities throughout the season.

Jordan McRae: Be still, Jay Bilas' heart. McRae has a 7-foot wingspan despite being just 6-foot-5. Although the Tennessee grad and second-round pick isn’t an insane athlete, those long arms and his decent burst allow him to sneak up on opponents at the rim on drives. He’ll need to hone in on one transferable skill and bulk up that lanky frame, but he’s a whole lot of limbs coming right at you.

Scottie Wilbekin: Being one of the best college players doesn’t always translate to NBA success, and Wilbekin’s lack of size will have him fighting an uphill battle. System-less basketball isn’t always kind to guys who excel at getting their team into sets and managing the game, so it will be interesting to see how the Florida point guard can perform in the chaos.

Toronto Raptors

Bruno Caboclo: He should start a support group with Mickael Pietrus (the “French Michael Jordan”) after being dubbed the “Brazilian Kevin Durant” by Fran Fraschilla on draft night. Caboclo has a 7-foot-7 wingspan and a prayer at ever getting anywhere close to Durant’s level, but performing well against legitimate competition right away could help justify the boldest pick of the draft.

Lucas Nogueira: The Bebe and Bruno show should give Brazilians a nice distraction from their World Cup hangover, as there should be plenty of highlight moments to go around. Nogueira won a lot of fans last year in summer league with his energy and amazing hair, and opposing guards should proceed with caution while he’s patrolling the paint.

Dwight Buycks: Lots of players are fighting just for a camp invite, but Buycks has a little more on the line. If he’s not waived before July 22, which is right after the end of summer league, the point guard’s contract for next season becomes guaranteed. After a performance last season that really put him on the radar, he’ll be scrapping to keep his status this time around.

Washington Wizards

Otto Porter Jr.: It’s been a rough 365 days for last year’s third overall pick, as his awful debut in summer league led right into a completely unproductive rookie season. Truthfully, it would have been a bigger deal had Anthony Bennett not absorbed all the ire, but Porter has to put it all behind him. The Wizards might need the jack-of-all-trades forward to play a big role next season with Martell Webster out three to five months for another back surgery and Trevor Ariza still an unrestricted free agent.

Glen Rice Jr.: They’ll be teammates here, but they might be battling for the same playing time. Rice Jr. barely played last season, but his 3-point stroke could come in handy for the Wizards. He’s been pretty solid as a shooter and scorer in the D-League, so he’ll get plenty of chances, especially if Porter looks out of place once again.

Khem Birch: We’ll see how the UNLV faithful treat him; he was very productive and won Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year two seasons in a row, but he also left after his junior year only to go undrafted. Birch should win neutral fans and general managers over anyway, as he’s a good hustle player and an active athlete at the 4.

D.J. Foster is an NBA contributor for, ClipperBlog and others. Follow him, @fosterdj.

Sixers' tank machine strikes again

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
Strauss By Ethan Sherwood Strauss

The Philadelphia 76ers aren’t just a part of the NBA draft. They’re an agent of chaos within it. Like Heath Ledger’s Joker character, they gleefully expose the absurdities of the system while flouting its laws.

Last year they blew up their team to select a player who was too injured to help. Jrue Holiday was sent to the New Orleans Pelicans for a rehabbing Nerlens Noel and another first-round pick.

Sam Hinkie took a team that was on the precipice of the playoffs, and plunged them off that cliff. It was quite intentional. Commissioner Adam Silver claims there has never been tanking in the NBA, but it’s difficult to call what Philadelphia did anything but that.

That feat was followed up by yet another selection of a player too injured to help immediately. Joel Embiid has a long road back from his broken navicular bone, but the Sixers can wait. Philadelphia can also wait on their second lottery selection of Dario Saric (acquired through a trade with Orlando, along with a 2017 pick), who’s stashed away in Europe for what could be perpetuity.

Actually, the waiting might be the point. So long as the Sixers aren’t close to great, they might as well be horrible. They might as well keep taking valued players who can’t demonstrate value on the court. They might as well keep doing this for a while because the NBA’s incentive structure is a little nuts. The worst of the losers get rewarded with the best of young talent.

In the NBA, there’s so much focus from owners, fans and media on winning a championship. Being merely good isn’t enough. GMs and coaches who make the playoffs are not assured of job security. The guiding goal is to win a title, not just to win more games than you lose.

That’s an unrealistic goal for a few teams with less talented rosters. And yet, a lot of those teams will try to win as many games as possible, as quickly as possible, because winning is a drug. The afterglow of a regular-season win is one of happiness. The fans cheer. Players and coaches are more relaxed, more liable to crack a smile. It’s easy to feel like things are on the right track.

The 76ers have chosen to deny themselves many of those moments. They’ve opted for low attendance, bad ratings and an aesthetically awful product. They’ve embraced all this bad not because they see it as a route to being good, but because they see it as a route to being great.

Philadelphia is the team of extremes. They’re seeking extreme badness as a means of ultimately achieving the other extreme of title contending greatness.

And a funny thing happened on Thursday night at Barclays Center. Philadelphia fans owned the arena, showing up for this draft in droves and chanting throughout. There even was a brief, “Hinkie” chant during the proceedings. It was an unexpected outburst of positivity and celebration for a team that accumulated 63 losses last season.

A lot of Sixers fans seem to be on board with this absurd-though-sound scheme, even if they aren’t showing up to the arena just yet. Philadelphia might be currently awful, but they’re awful with a defined plan in a league in which many teams are aimless. This awful team needs all the help it can get -- it just doesn’t want it, not yet. Because right now, the Sixers are happy to exchange pride for assets.

Waiting for Wiggins

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
By Tom Sunnergren
Special to
Andrew WigginsAP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Sixers spent a year waiting to bring Andrew Wiggins to Philly. Now they may miss their shot.
"The mantra here has been very clear, which is to compete for championships. History, for the most part, especially recently, especially in the current environment, with the current rules and the current collective bargaining agreement, history has been reasonably clear that superstar players matter." -- Sam Hinkie

Andrew Wiggins loomed over the Philadelphia 76ers’ broken season like a ghost.

Through the astonishing 3-0 start, the deadline fire sale, the 26 straight losses, the Michael Carter-Williams experience -- through it all, from a thousand miles away, the Kansas wing was the most electric presence in the Wells Fargo Center. He filled every room he wasn’t in, the way an unborn child permeates and rearranges its parents’ lives long before its arrival. The city was expecting.

As the fan base understood it, Wiggins was the promise implicit in the draft-night trade, a year ago this week, of point guard Jrue Holiday. In return for the All-Star, the team received a center who hasn’t yet played and what became the No. 10 overall selection in Thursday’s draft. For a marginal talent, this was a tremendous haul. But it wasn’t the point of the deal. Not the entirety of it, anyway. Through this deliberate, self-inflicted wound, the Sixers also stumbled, tripped themselves really, into the inside track in the race for the generational talent, franchise savior and prize of the 2014 class -- or so Wiggins was billed at the time. It was about getting a superstar.

[+] EnlargeMichael Carter-Williams
AP Photo/Matt SlocumMichael Carter-Williams rose to rookie of the year for the 19-63 Sixers, but Philly needs a true star.
Philadelphia fell for the Canadian the instant it grasped it would be awful enough to actually land him. It was love at first blight. The whole miserable season that followed was bearable, in this way. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. The losing, the losses, were purposeful. The purpose was Wiggins.

During the pre-draft process, the momentum behind a Wiggins/Philadelphia pairing swelled. It took on a feel of inevitability. Joel Embiid was widely mocked to the Cavs at No. 1, and given the Bucks’ infatuation with Jabari Parker, a consensus gradually formed that Wiggins would fall to the Sixers at No. 3, where the organization would have happily snapped him up. The forward’s camp even signaled a preference for Philly. Among the three cities at the top of the draft, his advisors determined it was the locale where he was most likely to thrive. The feeling was mutual.

On Thursday, however, a physician in Cleveland unearthed a crack in the plan. During a physical, the Cavs’ medical staff found a stress fracture in the navicular bone of Embiid’s right foot. With the grim prognosis the injury carries, especially for big men, the discovery and surgical correction of the break did to the prospect’s draft stock roughly what soda does to baby teeth. A previously sturdy thing disintegrated with bewildering speed. And, with the reorientation of draft boards the injury precipitated, the likelihood of Wiggins sliding to the Sixers at No. 3 reportedly dissolved right along with it.

But Philadelphia’s interest in the forward -- on the level of the organization as well as the fanbase -- has proved resilient. Even before the Embiid injury, there were reports the Sixers were willing to trade up to No. 1 to take Wiggins -- packaging their No. 3 pick with either Thaddeus Young or the the No. 10 selection to make the deal -- and those have persisted. Wiggins was, and remains, their top target.

Everybody loves Wiggins, but nobody loves him quite like the Sixers do. There’s a logic to this attraction that’s at once both sentimental and rational. Wiggins is, in many ways, a perfect fit in Philly. A marriage of left- and right-brained thinking.

It goes without saying, but it bears repeating, that the NBA is a superstars’ league. Championships, more often than not, are determined by the rare handful of genetic mutants who can dominate the game on both ends of the floor. LeBron James. Tim Duncan. Shaquille O’Neal. For a franchise that defines success in binary terms -- you either win the title or don’t -- and is absent a star, the only way to build a roster is to select the prospects who have the best chance of developing into this kind of force. By most reckonings, there are two players in this draft class with that possibility. One is Andrew Wiggins. The other just suffered the same injury that derailed the careers of Bill Walton and Yao Ming.

Granted, Wiggins isn’t a sure thing, but his odds of success seem higher in the hands of the crack staff the Sixers have assembled. Head coach Brett Brown cut his teeth as the Spurs’ director of player development at a time when Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker were coming of age. His resume speaks for itself. And while the logic is circular, the presence of general manager Sam Hinkie, and the confidence and goodwill his first year at the helm of the Sixers has engendered, further amplifies Wiggins’ appeal. He is the player in the draft who’s arguably possessed of the most promise. Hinkie selecting him would be read as an endorsement, if not an outright guarantee, that he’ll fulfill it.

The pairing also makes sense for more concrete reasons. The Sixers’ up-tempo attack would accentuate the forward’s strengths -- defense and athleticism -- and camouflage his weaknesses while Brown and company ameliorate them. And although the Sixers are still too early in the rebuilding process to fixate on finer points like roles, Wiggins solidifies a wing position in Philadelphia that’s farcically thin.

Even the forward’s flaws -- his reticence to take over games, his shaky handle, his occasional impassivity; basically, his rawness -- look more like features than bugs through the prism of the Sixers’ near-term goals. Given the gulf between Philly and contention, it’s likely comfortable letting Wiggins go through his growing pains along with the rest of the young roster. If he struggles mightily as a rookie, it’s hard to escape the sense the Sixers would happily choose in the lottery again a year from now. This is an organization that’s still, firmly, in asset collection mode. There’s an urgency to win, but not right now.

[+] EnlargeDr J/Wiggins
David Dow/NBAE/Getty ImagesPhiladelphia had high hopes that Wiggins would join a long lineage of superstars to play for the 76ers.
But none of this quite gets to the nub of Wiggins’ allure, which is rooted in emotion as much as X's and O's. Production aside, the teen is capable of a kind of stardom that’s simply beyond the capabilities of the other top prospects. Or so it feels. Of the three players who comprise what was regarded as the top tier of the class of 2014, he’s the one who shines the brightest; who carries the holiday in his eye. Parker, for all his polish, is too limited athletically to ever become a two-way presence. Though Embiid shares his college teammate’s Sistine Chapel-sized ceiling, even if his foot recovers, he projects as a more muted sort of force. While Wiggins could take over games in the maximally entertaining way of a LeBron James, a Kobe Bryant, or a Kevin Durant, the center -- Hakeem comparisons aside -- is a rim-protector who never broke 20 points in his brief college career. This matters. Philadelphia, remember, is a city that lionized Allen Iverson and held Andre Iguodala at arm’s length. It’s hungry for a sort of star that only Wiggins can become.

And it’s been hungry for some time now. This is a staggering fact to confront, given the long stretch of mediocrity the organization has endured, but in the NBA’s long history, only the Lakers and Celtics have made more Finals appearances than the Sixers. This is the team that Wilt Chamberlain once suited up for. Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, Iverson -- each spent prime years playing in Philadelphia. There’s a proud history here that’s been forgotten, brushed aside, buried under losses and indifference; relegated to NBA Classic and the halls of an old museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. It’s a tradition that’s become past-tensed.

The Sixers last won an NBA title in 1983. In the past 24 seasons, the franchise has won more than 50 games once. Philadelphia became acquainted with Andrew Wiggins a year ago, but it’s been waiting for him decades.

Tom Sunnergren writes for Hoop76, part of the TrueHoop Network.

Gift of Love: 29 trades for 29 teams

May, 21, 2014
May 21
Harper By Zach Harper
Special to
Kevin LoveBrad Rempel/USA TODAY Sports
The end is nigh. Or so it seems. Reports about Kevin Love’s uncertain future with the Minnesota Timberwolves are coming out left and right. Every team in the league is positioning itself to capture the star power on the market right now.

With the draft a little more than a month away, it would behoove the Timberwolves to maximize the trade market now while cap flexibility, draft picks and crushed lottery night dreams are fresh in the minds of the potential suitors.

The Wolves don’t have the upper hand in this situation, but they do have the ability to leverage ravenous front offices against one another and create a trade-market bidding war. As team president Flip Saunders and owner Glen Taylor face a gut-check moment of whether to risk Love leaving for nothing in summer 2015, here are the deals I would blow up their phones with if I were in charge of one of the 29 teams in the league.

Atlanta Hawks

The deal: Trade Machine

Hawks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Paul Millsap, Dennis Schroder, the rights to Lucas Nogueira, No. 15 pick in 2014

This is a big haul for the Hawks to give up, with three rotation guys plus the pick going to Minnesota. But pairing Love and Al Horford together in Mike Budenholzer’s offense would be an alien invasion without Bill Pullman and Will Smith to fight it off. For the Wolves, Millsap is a nice option you can win with now and flip if he isn’t happy; Schroder is the backup point guard they crave; and Nogueira would give the Wolves a tandem with Gorgui Dieng that makes Nikola Pekovic and his contract expendable.

Boston Celtics

The deal: Trade Machine

Celtics receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Kelly Olynyk, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Phil Pressey, Vitor Faverani, Nos. 6 and 17 picks in 2014, Celtics’ first-round pick in 2016

Here, the Wolves are basically getting the picks and then a bunch of cap filler and former first-rounders. There’s no reason to pretend Olynyk and Sullinger would be pieces for the Wolves at all. Being a Wolves fan since they've come into the NBA, I am pretty good at recognizing overvalued first-round picks who won’t be as good as you hope they are. This is about the picks, and with Nos. 6, 13 and 17 in this draft, they could load up or move up.

Brooklyn Nets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: The 2003 Kevin Garnett

Look, I don’t know how owner Mikhail Prokhorov got his hands on a time machine, either, but billionaires have access to things we don’t. Let’s just take advantage of the opportunity to grab 2003 Kevin Garnett and get this team back into the playoffs.

Charlotte Hornets

The deal: Trade Machine

Hornets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller, Gary Neal, Nos. 9 and 24 picks in 2014

The Wolves never got to truly test out the Al Jefferson-Love big man tandem because Love wasn’t that great yet and Jefferson hurt his knee. They get a redo in Charlotte in this scenario, and with coach Steve Clifford’s defensive stylings, it could actually work.

Wolves would get a former No. 2 pick with potential; Zeller, whom they were enamored with before last year’s draft; and two first-round picks. The Pistons conceding the No. 9 pick to the Bobcats makes this a very attractive deal.

Chicago Bulls

The deal: Trade Machine

Bulls receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Carlos Boozer, Jimmy Butler, the rights to Nikola Mirotic, Ronnie Brewer, Nos. 16 and 19 picks in 2014

Of the most realistic trade scenarios for the Wolves in unloading Love for assets, cap relief and picks, this is probably the best move they could make, unless Phoenix is willing to be bold. You could also swap out Boozer for Taj Gibson, but his long-term money isn’t ideal for a rebuilding team. The Wolves could flip him to a contender later. The Bulls would be giving up a lot, but a big three of Joakim Noah, Love and Derrick Rose (assuming he's healthy) is an amazing way to battle whatever the Heat end up being after this season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

The deal: Trade Machine

Cavaliers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Alonzo Gee, No. 1 pick in 2014

Why would the Cavaliers possibly trade the No. 1 pick in a loaded class, plus three rotation players, for Love? Because they seem to have a pipe dream of bringing LeBron James back to Cleveland this summer and this is the way to do it. It’s not stockpiling a bunch of young role players for James to play alongside. He wants to play with stars, and having Love and Kyrie Irving in tow would go a long way.

Dallas Mavericks

Mavericks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: 2011 NBA championship banner and one free pass for a business idea on “Shark Tank”

I’ve always had a problem with teams hanging up “division title” banners in an arena because it seems like a lower-level franchise thing to do. Considering the Wolves are about to lose their best player and potentially miss the playoffs for an 11th straight season, it’s safe to consider them on that lower level right now.

It would be nice to take down the 2003-04 division title banner and replace it with a championship banner. And the extra revenue from getting a business idea funded through “Shark Tank” could give this organization a little extra money to play around with during the next few years. The Wolves are renovating their arena, so they could use the cash.

Denver Nuggets

The deal: Trade Machine

Nuggets receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Kenneth Faried, Danilo Gallinari, Darrell Arthur, Randy Foye, No. 11 pick in 2014

Coach Brian Shaw gets his coveted big-time power forward and a nice offensive complement to Ty Lawson in the backcourt. While Martin isn't even close to being a defender, he at least has some size to utilize on offense.

The Wolves get a lot of quality players and a couple of veterans (Arthur and Foye) they can flip. They could even add a lottery pick here in this draft, although this sort of feels like a lot in return. Oh, who cares? The Wolves get to be greedy here.

Detroit Pistons

Pistons receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Stan Van Gundy

I don't want your horrible Josh Smith contract and shot selection that makes most government agencies look like well-oiled machines. I don’t want an improbable sign-and-trade deal with Greg Monroe. I don’t want any of the young players. I don’t even want the pick. I want SVG in all of his coaching glory and I’m willing to relinquish this fake GM power to him when the trade is completed. I’m going full-on Veruca Salt on this one. I want Stan Van Gundy to coach the Wolves and I want it now!

Golden State Warriors

The deal: Trade Machine

Warriors receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson, right to swap picks in 2015 and 2016

I don’t actually think this is a good trade, but it allows me to bring up a point. I get the mindset of wanting to maximize the value you receive in a trade versus what you’re sending out. But there are Warriors fans worried about giving up Thompson and Barnes in a deal for Love, while ridding themselves of Lee’s contract. Back when the Clippers were trading for Chris Paul, there were fans and writers who thought it was a bad idea to include Eric Gordon. Think about that now. Sometimes it can get out of hand for players who probably won’t be All-Stars.

Houston Rockets

The deal: Trade Machine

Rockets receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jeremy Lin, Donatas Motiejunas, Chandler Parsons, Jordan Hamilton, first-round picks in 2015 and 2017

This is an incredibly tricky situation because while the Rockets have lots of assets to move, the inclusion of Parsons makes the deal really difficult. The Wolves would need to pick up his team option for next season, but that means he’s an unrestricted free agent in 2015. How likely is it that he will want to stay in Minnesota?

Lin’s contract will cost more than owner Glen Taylor wants to pay for a non-winning team. Motiejunas would be the best prospect in the deal and you’re taking late first-round picks in the future. Can we just forget this deal and ask Hakeem Olajuwon to be an adviser to the Wolves instead?

Indiana Pacers

The deal: Trade Machine

Pacers receive: Kevin Love, Nikola Pekovic
Wolves receive: Roy Hibbert, David West

I want to see just how good of a coach Frank Vogel is. The Wolves were 29th in defending the restricted area this season, and I would guess the only reason they weren’t the worst is because of Dieng’s late-season rim defense. The Pacers were the best at defending the rim this season. Can Vogel keep that defensive prowess with these non-shot-blockers? Can the Wolves defend the rim with these two big men? These two teams don’t match up at all in the trade department, so we might as well experiment.

Los Angeles Clippers

The deal: Trade Machine

Clippers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Blake Griffin, Jamal Crawford

I don’t know why the Clippers would ever do this trade, but it’s unfair for other fan bases to have all of the fun and none of the depression. Griffin gets to receive alley-oop passes from Ricky Rubio while Crawford dazzles the media members with his dribbling and charm.

The Clippers get another shooter to stretch the floor to allow DeAndre Jordan to further develop. Martin wouldn’t exactly add anything to what the Clippers do now, but again, I’m sick of all the depression in these scenarios, so just take one for the team, please.

Los Angeles Lakers

The deal: Trade Machine

Lakers receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Steve Nash, Robert Sacre, Nick Young, MarShon Brooks, No. 7 pick in 2014, future first-round pick, Flip Saunders gets a statue outside Staples Center, Minneapolis Lakers’ title banners

In this scenario, I suffered a head injury when I tried to pull off one of those 360 layups Swaggy P loves to do so much and I fell into the celebrating elbows of Sacre. It left me a little woozy, but I think I came up with a good deal to finally get Love to Los Angeles. Nash's deal is expiring, Sacre and Ronny Turiaf form the greatest bench-cheering duo ever, Young gets to teach me that layup and Brooks is cap filler. Those Minneapolis Lakers banners will look great at Target Center, too.

Memphis Grizzlies

The deal: Trade Machine

Grizzlies receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Zach Randolph, James Johnson, Jon Leuer, Jamaal Franklin, first-round pick in 2017

This does one thing that’s pretty cool: It gives a Grizzlies team that struggled to score in the half court two very good half-court scorers. They lose some toughness but they can actually round out their overall game quite a bit. For the Wolves, it gives them the potential for a Pekovic-Randolph-Johnson frontcourt, which, if Randolph opts in this summer, will protect Minnesota when the zombie apocalypse happens. Nobody is taking out that frontcourt.

Miami Heat

The deal: Trade Machine

Heat receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Chris Bosh, Norris Cole, right to swap first-round picks in 2016 and 2018

The Wolves are torn between a full-on rebuild (try selling that to the fans again during this decade-long playoff drought) and trying to still find a way to sneak into the playoffs. Granted, Bosh has to agree to this deal by not opting out of his contract this summer, but the Wolves would at least remain hyper-competitive on the playoff bubble. They’d also grab a backup point guard who isn’t as erratic as the incumbent, J.J. Barea.

The Heat get younger and give LeBron the chance to really have a great second scorer with him in his next deal in Miami.

Milwaukee Bucks

The deal: Trade Machine

Bucks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Larry Sanders, O.J. Mayo, No. 2 pick in 2014, Wisconsin has to pretend the Vikings are the best team in the league

Sure, Sanders has the potential to be a nice defender in this league for a long time, Mayo would be a possible cap-relief trade chip in a year and the No. 2 pick, whoever it ends up being, could be a major star in this league. But the win here for Minnesota is Wisconsin having to pretend the Vikings are the best. A fan base that was 27th in attendance in the NBA and 13th in attendance in the NFL doesn't really care how they make out in any Love deal. They just want the football win. Vikings fans aren't used to getting a lot of those.

New Orleans Pelicans

The deal: Trade Machine

Pelicans receive: Kevin Love, Chase Budinger
Wolves receive: Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon

Sure, you guys are laughing at me and how ridiculous this is, but in my head the deal has been made and I’m doing a little dance of celebration. Have your laughter, and I’ll have my delusional mind, and never the twain shall meet.

New York Knicks

The deal: Trade Machine

Knicks receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: [processing ...]

The Knicks gave up a first-round pick to get Andrea Bargnani. Comparable value means they’d have to give up the entire Wall Street district for Love. I can’t even pretend there is a combination here that works for the Wolves. Maybe they could do a double sign-and-trade and swap Love for Carmelo Anthony? Someone ask cap guru Larry Coon if this is allowed. Can we get a reality show just recording La La’s face when Melo has to tell her they’re moving to Minneapolis?

Oklahoma City Thunder

The deal: Trade Machine

Thunder receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, Hasheem Thabeet, Mavericks’ first-round pick in 2014, Thunder’s first-round pick in 2017

I’m not going to be unrealistic and pretend Kevin Durant or Russell Westbrook are in play here, but there’s no reason the Wolves can’t ask for Ibaka, while also unloading Martin’s deal (three years, $20 million left) and picking up young talent in Lamb and Jones, a first-round pick this year and an unprotected pick in 2017. Why 2017? Let’s pretend this Thunder thing doesn’t work out and Love and Durant both leave in 2016. In this scenario, the Wolves position themselves to take advantage of a team falling apart. It’s like what every team does to Minnesota every single time it trades a draft pick.

Orlando Magic

The deal: Trade Machine

Magic receive: Kevin Love, No. 13 pick in 2014
Wolves receive: Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson, Jameer Nelson, No. 4 pick in 2014

I recognize that the Wolves getting the No. 2 pick from last year’s draft plus the No. 4 pick in this draft seems like a lot, but Love is a lot better than Oladipo and it’s not all that close. Even if Oladipo maximizes his potential, he’s probably not reaching Love’s status. Flip was enamored with Oladipo heading into the 2013 draft and would probably be willing to swap firsts with the Magic this year in order to complete this trade.

Philadelphia 76ers

The deal: Trade Machine

76ers receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Thaddeus Young, Jason Richardson, Nos. 3 and 10 picks in 2014

The Wolves get a young asset, cap relief and two lottery picks in this draft in exchange for Love and getting rid of Martin’s deal. It sounds like the Sixers are giving up a lot here, but they have assets to spare. You’re teaming Love with a defensive-minded center in Nerlens Noel and a pass-first point guard in Michael Carter-Williams. Plus, the Sixers still have room to add another major player.

Phoenix Suns

The deal: Trade Machine

Suns receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Eric Bledsoe, Timberwolves' first-round pick in 2015

This is the dream scenario. The Wolves would have to convince Bledsoe to want to play in Minnesota, and then execute a sign-and-trade. Most likely, they’d have to max out Bledsoe in the process. The Suns do it because of the knee concern for Bledsoe, and Love is a much better player who fits coach Jeff Hornacek’s style of play. Getting their top-12 protected pick back for dumping Wes Johnson in Phoenix helps, too. It’s a risk by the Suns and a concession by the Wolves, but this is the “fingers crossed” scenario.

Portland Trail Blazers

The deal: Trade Machine

Trail Blazers receive: Kevin Love, medium-quality bike lanes from Minneapolis
Wolves receive: LaMarcus Aldridge, second-best bike lanes from Portland

This needs to happen and it doesn’t have anything to do with basketball. I just want to see both fan bases reverse course on the vitriol thrown each other’s way when discussing which power forward is better. The Blazers fans would have to embrace Love as the top PF while the Wolves fans pretend they never meant the things they said about Aldridge’s rebounding.

The bike lane aspect of this trade would really help Portland take back its title as top cycling city in the country.

Sacramento Kings

The deal: Trade Machine

Kings receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Williams, Jason Terry

This one doesn't even involve a draft pick because Cousins has so much potential. The Kings can take a big man with the No. 8 pick this year and pair him next to Love. Martin returns to Sacramento and doesn't have Tyreke Evans to hog the ball and make him want to get out of town. Terry is salary-cap relief for the Wolves, and they can to try a do-over with Williams. This trade can’t happen until after July 1, so that and reality are the only two hang-ups right now.

San Antonio Spurs

Spurs receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Gregg Popovich

This works out perfectly in a couple of ways. Let’s say the Spurs win the title this year and we see Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili ride off into the sunset. Love would immediately be the replacement for Duncan and give the Spurs a bridge from this era into the next successful one.

For the Wolves, I don’t even want to subject Popovich to coaching the team. He should just be a consultant for a month and let the organization know all of the awful ways in which they do things and the way the Spurs “would never consider something like this.” He’d essentially be The Wolf in "Pulp Fiction" for Minnesota.

Toronto Raptors

The deal: Trade Machine

Raptors receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Jonas Valanciunas, Terrence Ross, John Salmons, No. 20 pick in 2014, Knicks’ first-round pick in 2016

It would leave the Raptors searching for a big man to protect the paint, but in today’s NBA, you could get away with a Love-Amir Johnson frontcourt against a lot of teams. The Wolves get the young assets they crave, the draft picks they need and the cap relief necessary to keep their options open. They’d have to move Pekovic next, and they don’t get rid of Martin's contract in this scenario, but it’s a good start to the rebuilding plan. This might be a lot for the Raptors to give up, but general manager Masai Ujiri can just fleece the next four trades he makes and even it all out.

Utah Jazz

The deal: Trade Machine

Jazz receive: Kevin Love
Wolves receive: Derrick Favors, Jeremy Evans, John Lucas III, Rudy Gobert, No. 5 pick in 2014

Requesting the Jazz’s top big man and the fifth pick is asking Utah to do the Wolves quite the ... Favor(s) ... you know? No? Wait, where are you guys going? I still have one more team to poach players from!

Washington Wizards

The deal: Trade Machine

Wizards receive: Kevin Love, Kevin Martin
Wolves receive: Bradley Beal, Nene

This would be an incredibly tough decision for the Wizards to make. They have one of the best young shooting guards in the NBA, and pairing him with John Wall would produce an awesome tandem for a decade. And yet, they could upgrade for Love while still keeping a scorer at the shooting guard position. In the process, they’d rid themselves of the long-term money owed to Nene. They would owe long-term money to Martin, though.

It’s not an ideal scenario in a few ways, but you’d be making this team a big threat. Plus, it would give coach Randy Wittman a chance to apologize for telling a young Love that he should abandon the 3-point shot.

The 76ers' long-term plan, Part I

May, 5, 2014
May 5
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown says despite the abysmal record, there was plenty to like this season in Philadelphia.


Brett Brown's playoff preview

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
Abbott By Henry Abbott
The head coach of the 76ers expects a rematch of last year's finalists.

Who broke the Philadelphia 76ers?

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
Abbott By Henry Abbott
They're unwatchably bad, and yet also very well run. Who's to blame for this mess? Let's ask Kate Fagan.

ESPN Insider David Thorpe has been keeping an eye on the entire rookie class all season. As a learning exercise, he suggests the rooks study some of the top veterans in the NBA. With that in mind, we asked some of the top rookies who they watch in the NBA. Here are their answers:

Quotes were gathered by writers Israel Gutierrez and Michael Wallace, ESPN Dallas contributor Bryan Gutierrez, and TrueHoop Network bloggers Jovan Buha, James Ham, Andy Larsen, Andrew McNeill, Brian Robb and Kyle Weidie.

Solve the puzzle, Sixers

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
Serrano By Shea Serrano
Special to
Writer and illustrator Shea Serrano and his collaborator, Sean Mack, put their spin on the NBA.

SixersShea Serrano and Sean Mack
Previously: The many faces of LeBron »

The great blight hope

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
By Tom Sunnergren
Special to
Henry SimsAP Photo/Eric GayBehind those 25 consecutive losses and that 15-56 record, there's still a ray of hope in Philadelphia.
On Dec. 15, 1968, during halftime of the final game of a 2-12 season, a group of Philadelphia Eagles fans threw snowballs at a 19-year-old kid who was dressed as Santa Claus. There’s a longer version of this story with some quasi-exonerating context, but that’s the upshot. A gang of angry men pelted a teenager with snow because they were frustrated with the local football team.

Sports media figures in Philadelphia hate to be asked about this incident. Partly because they maintain it’s a cartoonish and grotesque distortion of the values of the city’s fan base -- which it sort of is -- but largely because it forces them to confront a pathology that, although maybe on the wane, still survives and thrives in pockets of their constituency.

Which is to say: It hurts because it exposes an uncomfortable truth.

There’s an angst, a deep-seated dissatisfaction, that pervades Philadelphia sports culture. It’s so ambient and consuming, so normalized, that it’s difficult to really see or feel while you’re inside of it -- to cut to the punch line of an old joke, "What the hell is water?"

“Passion” is what some Delaware Valley partisans attribute this cantankerousness to -- “love” and “loyalty” are also frequently cited -- but it’s probably best understood as a highly developed palate for unhappiness.

All of which makes it strange and noteworthy that, with the 76ers poised to tie an NBA record for consecutive losses Thursday, the modal attitude in this angsty, angry city isn't frustration, despair or apathy, but something that, if you squint just a little, looks suspiciously like optimism. Maybe even hope.

Consider the Sixers’ March 19 loss to the Chicago Bulls -- Chapter 68 in the tragicomic novel Brett Brown & Co. have been authoring since October. (Working title: “The 2013-14 Philadelphia 76ers.”) The fans, the 13,322 paying customers scattered throughout the Wells Fargo Center that night, weren’t so much entertained as riveted by the scrappy, hopeless bunch. They roared when Thaddeus Young buried a 3-point shot to cut the (relatively) mighty Bulls’ lead to 64-61. They cheered raucously on the next possession when Henry Sims scored off a Tony Wroten assist to narrow the Chicago advantage to a single point. The rafters shook when Byron Mullens hit consecutive trifectas to make it 81-80 Bulls with nine minutes remaining.

When the game ended with the Sixers’ 22nd consecutive loss, the crowd was buoyant, even affectionate. It was like an arena full of besotted parents had just finished watching their snotty, uncoordinated, beautiful infants take their first clumsy steps. A few stumbles and scrapes, sure, but what do you expect? The kid’s skull hasn’t even fused yet.

This is unusual, especially in the context of Philadelphia, but there’s some precedent for it. When academia first saw fit to make a serious inquiry into the nature and cause of human happiness a few years back -- further evidence that progress comes in fits and starts, we started rigorously studying happiness 30 years after inventing Pop Rocks -- researchers were struck by something: The Danes were really happy. Thirty years of survey data all pointed one way. The cold, tiny, dark, hard-drinking, deeply pessimistic nation of Denmark was the happiest on the planet.

What these bewildered researchers soon came to understand was that the Danes were satisfied not despite their pessimism but because of it. Every year the citizens of Denmark braced for disaster, and when it never came, they were pleasantly surprised. Recently, economists Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells added to the picture, distilling happiness to a tidy equation: Happiness = Reality – Expectations. The Danes simply enjoyed a reality surplus. Imagine the feeling when your dermatologist tells you that mole on your back is just a mole on your back. That’s Denmark, 24/7.

And now it’s Philadelphia. This is a city, a fan base, that was girded for calamity in 2013-14. The team was supposed to be historically bad, so the fact that it is has been a nonissue. Happiness = Reality – Expectations. With zero expectation of success, the mounting losses are nothing to mourn. And so they haven’t been.

But this isn’t the end of the story. Sixers fans aren’t merely not miserable. In the absence of dread, something else entirely has cropped up from the once-fallow imagination of Philly hoops boosters: faith. Tucked into every loss, present in every missed shot and sloppy live-ball turnover, is a good reason to think things will someday, maybe not too long from now, get better.

Consider Michael Carter-Williams, the 6-foot-6 point guard whose combination of potential and puerility makes him the quintessential 2013-14 Sixer. Carter-Williams leads all rookies in points, rebounds, assists, steals and double-doubles, but shoots 39.6 percent from the floor and is ninth in win shares on a 15-56 team.

Carter-Williams isn't a Philadelphia 76er, he is the Philadelphia 76ers: a fresh-faced, uncomplicated, blank canvas upon which a city can project its hopes and dreams. And with Nerlens Noel still recovering from a torn ACL, MCW might not be the most gifted rookie on the team. Help, too, is on the way. With each passing loss, the team brings itself closer, if only in degrees of probability, to a potential difference-maker like Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker.

Meanwhile, the painful reminders of past failures have been flensed from the franchise. Andrew Bynum and Evan Turner are in Indiana. Spencer Hawes in Cleveland. Doug Collins is in my living room, talking about something on TV.

In Philadelphia, even the losses themselves are encouraging, suggestive of an ability to build a thing that works the way it’s supposed to. The Sixers aren’t merely tanking -- half the league is -- they’re tanking better than anyone else. They’re the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls of deliberate losing. This thing is a work of art.

General manager Sam Hinkie traded his best player, Jrue Holiday, on draft night (and received, in return, Noel and a top-five-protected pick in the loaded 2014 draft), flipped every player on the roster with immediate value and questionable long-term appeal, and resisted the chorus urging him to use the team’s ample war chest to add a veteran or two (just to keep up appearances).

The machine Hinkie built is doing precisely the thing it was designed to do: teeter over and explode. If an organization can succeed at failure so spectacularly, imagine how wildly it can succeed at success.

This is the other side of tanking, what gets lost in the hand-wringing over the great moral failure the NBA is supposedly guilty of by incentivizing teams to lose: For many impoverished franchises and fan bases, purposeful losing doesn’t smite out hope but breathes life into it. Giving up is the only way to hang on.

Tom Sunnergren writes for Hoop76, part of the TrueHoop Network.

In their dreams

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
Abbott By Henry Abbott
Who do the Sixers dream of drafting? What about the Bucks, Magic and Celtics? And have the Lakers already identified their man? We ask Chad Ford.

Pacers couldn't afford to wait on Granger

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
Wade By Jared Wade
Special to

Just a few short years ago, Danny Granger was the face of a franchise whose goal was, above all else, reconnecting with a fan base. The locals had grown disgusted by the Indiana Pacers’ collection of brawlers and guys who too often wound up in the police report. Granger, though, was the hope amidst all the chaos.

In time, the front office washed the bile from the decks, and the franchise was ready to begin anew. But to ensure the past stayed buried, the Pacers’ brass rode the mediocrity treadmill for years, choosing clean-cut, middling talent over building a contender in earnest. The team became Danny and the Milk Drinkers.

Granger hit game-winners, won awards and went to an All-Star Game. As his status and confidence grew, he increasingly seemed to fit into the Pacers’ lineage of sharpshooters who knew exactly how good they were. He became easy to cheer for.

But with the franchise sitting on its best chance to win its first NBA title since it lost in the 2000 NBA Finals, there is the possibility that Granger will be sitting at his home, in a different city, while the Pacers throw a championship parade in Indianapolis.

For good reason.

Through Christmas, the Pacers looked like the best team in the NBA. They don't now, not after losing six of their past 14 matchups (after losing only seven times in their first 40 games). A once-historically stingy defense is taking nights off. Paul George is mired in a shooting slump.

You can’t single out Granger for the slide. But he certainly hasn't helped, scoring just 7.7 points per game over this stretch on 35.4 percent shooting. This from one of the league's deadliest deep threats just a few years ago.

By a long shot, today's Granger isn't the Granger whom many Pacers fans grew to adore. Since going down with a knee injury before the 2012-13 season, Granger has been forced to sit around and watch George become the team's new version of himself. It couldn't have been easy, but while rehabbing, he seemed to accept that he would be returning with a diminished role. Then Lance Stephenson barnstormed the league, erasing any chance Granger had at returning to the starting lineup.

While Granger is back on the court consistently for the first time in two years, team president Larry Bird clearly didn't want to wait around hoping that Granger would get healthy enough to become a serviceable scoring threat again. Indiana's season will be a failure if it doesn't win the title, and with Stephenson set for free agency this summer and David West's biological clock ticking, Bird had to make this move.

The deal is a no-brainer in terms of guaranteeing bench production during the playoffs, and it becomes even rosier when you realize that re-signing the newly acquired Evan Turner in the offseason could be a good consolation prize if there isn’t enough money to re-sign Stephenson.

Turner is just better than Granger. This version, anyway.

While that may be true now, it’s tough to distance yourself from what used to be. Granger was the Pacers’ longest-tenured player, the one guy who could look down at his finger and know how much work, how much heartbreak goes into building a team that could win a ring.

If he didn’t before, he certainly does now.

Monday Buzz Bullets

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
By Staff