Nov 03 2015

Will Dario Saric Join the Sixers in 2016? Hinkie Can Only Hope

This week in Dario Watch, we received an update from the man himself about his NBA future. Speaking with a Croatian newspaper, Saric revealed his plans to join the Sixers in the summer of 2016, per Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media.

“I’m in constant contact with the Sixers,” Saric told Croatia’s Vecernji list, via Lombardo. “They wanted me to come this summer, but I couldn’t get out of the contract. Next summer I have a way out, and I’m gonna take it. I’ll try to go out as the Euroleague champion. That’s the dream.”

If true—and it remains an elephantine “if”—this would be an undeniable coup for the prospects of Sam Hinkie’s long-term rebuild. With Joel Embiid’s rehab reportedly ahead of schedule, per Sixers CEO Scott O’Neil (via CSN Philly), the Sixers could be one year away from having their frontcourt of the future fully in place. Throw in upwards of four first-round picks in this coming draft (and maybe even a capable free agent!), and the Sixers’ talent deficit would be considerably smaller next season.

The real victory, though, would be on the financial side. If Saric does join the Sixers next summer, he’d be bound under the rookie scale for the first four years of his career. The scale amount for a No. 12 overall pick in 2016-17 is $1,931,900—a slight raise over the $1,803,400 he would have received had he signed in 2014-15, but decidedly below his market value. (The Sixers can, and almost assuredly will, sign him to 120 percent of that scale amount, or $2,318,280.)

If Saric decides to stay in Europe through the 2016-17 season, however, he’d be eligible for a contract that exceeds the rookie scale. He’d only be allowed to negotiate with the Sixers—there’s no fear of another team swooping in and poaching him in free agency—but there’s also little chance of him signing for anywhere below $8 million per year, especially with the cap likely to soar above $100 million prior to the 2017-18 campaign. Further complicating matters is the potential of either the NBA or the players’ union opting out of the current collective bargaining agreement, as the league could be operating under a different fiscal climate right as Saric is ready to join the team.

With Nerlens Noel eligible for an extension this coming summer and Embiid and Nik Stauskas eligible in the summer of 2017, cap space could soon be at a premium for the Sixers, regardless of what happens with the CBA. Locking in Saric at a significantly discounted rate for his first four seasons could help Hinkie and Co. avoid an Oklahoma City-esque situation, where they’re coerced to trade a young, high-upside prospect before he hits restricted free agency.

Given the financial ramifications of Saric coming to the NBA next offseason vs. the summer of 2017, there’s legitimate reason to be skeptical of his plans until he puts pen to paper. No matter how frustrated he may be with Efes—”I can’t say I’m happy with the situation,” he told Vecernji list—he could be costing himself millions of dollars by joining the Sixers next summer and signing a rookie-scale contract.

If Saric decides money isn’t as important as joining the NBA as soon as he’s contractually allowed, it’d be an undeniable boon to the Sixers. It’s just too early to say whether that’s actually going to happen, despite his recent comments to the contrary.

Oct 28 2015

5-on-5: Preparing For Another 60-loss Season

1. Grade the Sixers’ offseason.

Eric Goldwein: C/INC. They didn’t eff up. At least, it’s not clear that they did quite yet. It’s possible that Jahlil Okafor wasn’t the right pick — we won’t know for a few years. But it’s not as if there was a guaranteed star at No. 3 that they could’ve taken instead. The trade for Stauskas + a 1st + two pick swaps was a heist, and Sam Hinkie ought to get some credit for understanding the market and taking full advantage of Vivek. What he did with the rest of their cap space (Christian Wood! Kendall Marshall! Warriors pick swap!) was less impressive. Oh, and he probably could’ve handled the Joel Embiid situation a little better.

Bryan Toporek: C-. If not for the Sacramento Kings, this grade would be far lower. Luckily, they shelled out Nik Stauskas and the rights to swap first-round picks in each of the next two years for salary relief, which Sam Hinkie wisely exploited. Beyond that, though, not much went right for our loveable losers, starting with the Lakers’ decision to bypass Jahlil Okafor in favor of D’Angelo Russell. The Sixers completely struck out in free agency once again, while Joel Embiid underwent a second surgery on his right foot, casting legitimate doubt over his long-term chances of becoming a productive NBA player. It was rarely sunny in Philadelphia this summer.

Xylon Dimoff: C: I like the smaller moves — most notably adding Kendall Marshall and Christian Wood for essentially zilch, and acquiring Nik Stauskas and picks from Sacramento for a turkey sandwich. But this grade mostly focuses on drafting Okafor, whose relic of a skillset drastically sets back the franchise in a philosophical sense — a move that may ultimately force the team to choose between Okafor and Nerlens Noel.

Marc Nemcik: C. I’ve gone on record with my feelings regarding the draft. I also predicted on draft night that the Sixers weren’t going to be very active in free agency, which ultimately turned out to be true. It’s not fair to blame them for not wanting to overpay considering the current status of the franchise. Kendall Marshall could be a really sneaky addition that fits the Philly mold. Ultimately it is a little discouraging to see no drastic progress, but the Sacramento trade and addition of Jahlil Okafor should certainly be enough to remain positive.

Drew Stone: A+. Sure, they didn’t grab any notable free agents. There are questions about whether Okafor is a good fit in the offense and, already, his long-term future with the team. The injuries were depressing, even if Embiid seems to be the only player completely left for dead. Hell, you could make a strong argument that the roster has regressed from where it was even at the end of last year. But I called that Kings trade one of the best I’ve ever seen, and I stand by it. They got Sauce effing Castillo and a respectable amount of draft flexibility for dead cap space. Sure, there’s a chance that trade could manifest into nothing, but it’s a risk-free move that could also become EVERYTHING. So let’s ignore all that pesky other stuff – especially since this is a team not currently designed to go after big-name free agents anyway.

2. The Sixers will win ___ games.

Goldwein: 24. They have shooters. They have athletes. They might even have a point guard in Kendall Marshall. Add it all up and, well, this is still a bad basketball team. But one that could maybe get out of the Eastern Conference cellar. 

What’s happened in the last few weeks is cause for concern. Robert Covington is hurt, and that could cost the Sixers big time early on. If preseason is any indication, Jahlil Okafor will have some major growing pains. And there’s not a starter-quality point guard on the roster. That said, the Sixers might have an all-star in Nerlens Noel. If he progresses at half the rate he did a year ago, he could be one of the Eastern Conference’s best players. If that happens, look out — for a 30-win season.  

Toporek: 24. The Sixers have more talent on the roster than they began the year with in 2014-15, but that isn’t saying much. While I don’t expect another 0-17 start to the season, 0-10 isn’t outside the realm of possibility. Until Kendall Marshall and Tony Wroten return from their respective injuries, the Sixers’ lack of point guard depth is likely to decimate their chances of staying competitive on a nightly basis. A few meaningless late-season wins will help them just barely surpass their 21.5 over/under.

Dimoff: 19. It’s only a one-game bump, but I don’t feel this team is much better in the larger context of the league. Many of last year’s shamed lower class — the Knicks, Lakers, and Wolves — will improve this season via roster additions and/or health. Other teams will surely meet the Sixers at the bottom once again, but my major worry is the adjusting to a new style surrounding Okafor, the defense taking a step back, and the Sixers being the league’s youngest team by a mile.

Nemcik: 22. Despite the frustrating lack of point guard depth, this team can’t be worse than last year. The Sixers will improve, in particular due to Okafor and the continued progress of Nerlens Noel. Philadelphia should be satisfied for at least another season as long as the young guys continue to get better, regardless of record.

Stone: 24, and that’s being damn optimistic. The start of this season, before the guards and wings get healthy, is going to be ugly. The lack of any true veterans to serve as glue guys in their stead, much as Jason Richardon and Luc Mbah a Moute did the past two years, means they are going to lose a lot at the start against a brutal schedule. But if and when Marshall, Stauskas, Covington, and the bigs all get on the floor together at the same time, this team could be explosive enough on offense to make things fun, and potentially go on a bit of a winning streak.

3. When will the Sixers get their first win?

Goldwein: Tonight at Boston — a game where the Sixers are 11.5 underdogs.

Toporek: Nov. 16 vs. Dallas. The schedule-makers weren’t kind to the Sixers, with eight of their first 10 games coming against 2015 playoff teams, and the other two have them pitted against plucky upstarts (the Utah Jazz and Orlando Magic). Their best chance of an early-season win will come on Nov. 16, as the injury-ravaged Dallas Mavericks come to town. Wes Matthews and Chandler Parsons may be playing by then, but both could still be on minutes limits. Dallas’ frontcourt depth, meanwhile, doesn’t inspire much confidence. Nerlens Noel will go off for 22 points, 14 rebounds and four blocks to lead the Sixers to their first win of the year.

Dimoff: Monday, November 2nd vs. Cleveland. Don’t ask me why.

Nemcik: Nov. 4 at Milwaukee. Beating Michael Carter-Williams should be enough motivation.

Stone: Saturday, November 14 at San Antonio, a.k.a. the first night Popovich rests everyone.

4. What has to happen for this season to be considered a success?

Goldwein: It’ll be a success if seven of the following 10 things happen:

1. Nerlens Noel remains healthy.
2. Noel’s jumper and foul shooting improve.
3. Joel Embiid has no setbacks.
4. Jahlil Okafor’s defense improves.
5. Jahlil Okafor’s foul shooting improves.
6. Lakers’s pick falls between 4 and 10.
7. Kings pick is swapped.
8. Sixers win 25+ games.
9. A starter-level player is acquired, without surrendering own 1sts, Lakers 1st, SAC 1st, Noel, Okafor, Saric, Covington or Embiid.
10. Kendall Marshall, Tony Wroten, Isaiah Canaan .. or some other low-cost player develops into a top 25 PG..

Toporek: Noel and Okafor need to learn how to complement each other on both ends of the court. Given the long-term concerns about Embiid, these two may very well be the Sixers’ frontcourt of the future, but their fit alongside one another remains questionable. Nerlens needs to continue developing a mid-range jumper to help draw opponents away from double-teaming Big Jah, while the Duke product must become a far better defender than he was during his college days. Creating a complementary frontcourt rotation will be Brett Brown’s greatest challenge this year, but it’s the one that may make or break the Sixers’ ongoing rebuild.

Dimoff: Jahilil Okafor either a) shows some semblance of being an unforced fit with Nerlens or b) is dealt at the deadline for an asset of equivalent or higher quality than 2015 Draft’s third pick — a la MCW’s departure last February; Noel receives DPOY consideration; Bobby Covington is this year’s Khris Middleton; Kendall Marshall and Okafor successfully stop a pick-and-roll action; T.J. McConnell is sacrificed to the basketball gods for a new foot for Embiid; Philadelphia gets the first pick in the 2016 Draft.

Nemcik: There needs to be steady improvement in all of the young players. Sports Illustrated mentioned that Brett Brown’s standing with the Sixers might not be as solid as most pundits believe. I personally don’t care how many games this team wins as long as there is clear progress in most players. For that to happen everyone needs to stay healthy, obviously. It also just wouldn’t be fun if Hinkie didn’t make a bunch of roster moves.

Stone: “Success” is such a loosely-defined term nowadays. I think you simply need to see some more wins this year. My prediction of 24 wins, a five-game improvement over last year, would be the bare minimum needed to make fans and increasingly discouraged management continue to believe that this team is moving in the right direction. At some point, the development for players like Noel and Covington has to become less the result of individual stats and more the product of actually learning how to win together. Another sub-20 win season simply wouldn’t sit well for anyone involved.

5. My bold prediction is ___.

Goldwein: Nerlens Noel will be an all-star, Nik Stauskas will be in the 3-point shootout, and Furkan Aldemir will be an NBA champion.

Toporek: The Sixers will trade Okafor on draft night next June. He’s going to fall just short of Rookie of the Year honors, losing out to Emmanuel Mudiay, but his pace-inflated stats will intrigue some big man-needy team. With Embiid’s rehab going according to plan this time around, the Sixers will decide they’re best suited to build around a Noel-Embiid-Dario Saric frontcourt. They’ll thus package Okafor with one of their four first-round draft picks to either move up in the draft or acquire a perimeter player to complement their young frontcourt.

Dimoff: Dario Saric, Jahlil Okafor, and one of the Lakers’ or Sixers’ 2016 first round picks are all dealt at some point by Draft Night.

Nemcik: The Sixers will not trade Jahlil Okafor. Noel and Okafor will gel better than expected, leaving no desire to move either unless the offer is too enticing.

Stone: Hollis Thompson will be named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. I’m not sure whether to drop the mic or commit myself.

Oct 27 2015

The Sixers’ Ongoing Chemistry Challenge

Entering Year Three of the Brett Brown-Sam Hinkie era, the time has come for the Sixers to begin showing progress in their long-term rebuild. Key to that mission will be the development of a team-wide identity and culture, which, given the realities of the roster, could be a considerable challenge.’s David Aldridge touched upon the difficulties Brown faces in that mission back in April:

Yet, as Noel does more and more on the court, the reality of the 76ers’ plan makes developing chemistry with his teammates difficult. Brown will certainly be a part of the team’s future. Noel will certainly be part of the team’s future. (Well, probably; you never know with Hinkie.) But almost no one else currently wearing the home white will be. They know it. Noel knows it. It is very hard to ask people to sacrifice for a goal which they won’t be a part of enjoying when it comes to fruition.

Noel, to his credit, deflected the idea of uncertain futures wearing on the young Sixers roster.

“It is a little different at times, but Coach Brown does such a great job,” Noel told Aldridge. “Nobody acts a certain way. Nobody acts like they’re not (going to be there). Nobody has an attitude that they’ve got their shot to be on the team and build a niche for themselves in this league. Regardless of how things go, they’re always able to be a part of us going forward.”

Over the past two years, the Sixers have been a revolving door of end-of-the-bench player movement, frequently inking young players to multi-year non-guaranteed or 10-day “prove it” contracts. The former, in particular, have proven somewhat controversial, as players who do wind up looking like legitimate rotation players—see: Covington, Robert—significantly limit their earning potential in the near future.

Brown, meanwhile, must confront the prospect of his rotation being shaken up at any time. From marquee members like Michael Carter-Williams to fringe guys such as Brandon Davies, no player’s long-term future is etched in stone under Hinkie, which presents a unique challenge for Brown. How can he elicit buy-in from players who likely aren’t part of the team’s long-term future?

It ultimately comes down to the players themselves, most of whom wouldn’t sniff another NBA roster. Take a guy like Henry Sims, who started 57 games for Philadelphia over the past two seasons but only earned a training camp invite from the Phoenix Suns upon becoming a free agent this summer. (He ultimately failed to make Phoenix’s final roster.) Given the Sixers’ glut of lottery-pick big men, Sims had to know he wasn’t a long-term piece of the puzzle in Philadelphia, but in the interim, he had a chance to show 29 other NBA teams what he’s capable of. Would he have earned that training camp invite from Phoenix without the years he spent in Philadelphia? Seeing as he went undrafted in 2012, it’s highly doubtful.

Thomas Robinson was in a similar situation upon (begrudgingly) joining the Sixers midway through the 2014-15 season. Though he wanted his choice of destination after reaching a buyout with the Portland Trail Blazers, Hinkie claimed him off waivers, preventing T-Rob from having that chance. To Robinson’s credit, after shaking off the frustration of Hinkie’s maneuver, he went out and averaged 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in just 18.5 minutes per game, piquing the interest of other NBA franchises in the process. This offseason, he parlayed his success in a Philadelphia uniform into a two-year, $2 million contract with the Brooklyn Nets.

Establishing a team-wide identity and culture is unquestionably yeoman’s work for Brown, who can’t be sure which players will be walking through the doors at PCOM on any given day thanks to Hinkie’s frequent wheeling and dealing. Hinkie and the Sixers ownership undoubtedly recognize the near-insurmountable challenge they’re handing to their head coach, which is likely why they’ve all spoken glowingly of Brown whenever the topic of a potential contract extension for him comes up. It’s difficult enough molding a roster of young, inexperienced players into a legitimate NBA team, much less a squad with a defensive rating in the top half of the league. Doing so despite frequent roster changes makes Brown’s work that much more impressive.

Luckily for the head coach, a degree of roster stability appears to be in the Sixers’ future this coming campaign.

“I think that you’re going to see more of our own,” Brown told reporters during training camp. “I think that you’re going to see less turnover of the roster.”

Reducing the churn of rotation players will make Brown’s life easier, as he can devote less time to particular fundamentals and more time to his overall team concepts. The young Sixers needed to master things like isolation defense and jump shot form before getting to help defense, ball rotation and entry passes. This year, we’ll begin to get a true sense of Brown’s ability not just in terms of player development, but strategy-wise, too.

In all likelihood, the 2015-16 campaign promises to be yet another long, trying effort for the Sixers faithful. Thirty wins is all anyone can optimisically hope for, with the understanding the squad will likely wind up somewhere in the low to mid-20s. (The Las Vegas Superbook at the Westgate set the Sixers’ over/under at 21.5.)

For the third straight season, wins and losses won’t help gauge the team’s success. Instead, development of an identity and culture on both ends of the court will be the No. 1 storyline to watch this year, as the Sixers continue to build toward a foundation that they hope will ultimately deliver a Larry O’Brien Trophy to Philadelphia for the first time in over 30 years.

Sep 24 2015

Ranking the Names of Every Sixer on the 20-Man Roster

With the season finally in sight, we had to take the time to perform at least one more pointless exercise. Without further ado, an official ranking of every 76er based on their name. Note that performance on the court isn’t a factor here whatsoever; we’re merely looking at each name for uniqueness, cadence, how effortlessly it glides off the tongue, and whether or not it sounds like the name of a potentially great basketball player. Without further ado:

20 – 18. Gerald Wallace, Carl Landry, Kendall Marshall – All violate the “no two first names” rule. Immediate disqualification.

17. Hollis Thompson – A good example of a unique first name covering up for a painfully generic last name. Too bad Hollis Thomas already covered the same territory a decade ago on the Eagles.

16. Richaun Holmes – I feel like this name should do more for me than it does. I hope we nickname him “The Detective.” Or, when he nails a three, “The True Detective.”

15. Nik Stauskas – Speaking of nicknames, here’s a healthy reminder that nicknames don’t count in this exercise, because Sauce Castillo would clearly take the top spot. Nik Stauskas itself is a bit of an awkward mouthful in actuality. Something about Nicks who can’t take the time to spell their names with both a “C” and “K” irks me. I blame Canada.

14. Ish Smith – Like Ish himself, a name so slight you nearly have to do a double-take before you realize it’s actually pretty cool.

13. Scottie Wilbekin – Such a basketball name. Sounds like the name of the generic bro who’s hanging from the all-time scoring banners of every high school gym. Granted, I’m sure Scottie is somewhere.

12. Jerami Grant – Such a strange name, probably the hardest to rank. There’s something almost mystical about this variation of “Jeremy.” Brings to mind Gemini, which is an aesthetically beautiful word. Just not sure if the entire name is wholly satisfying or not. I’m stumped here.

11. Jahlil Okafor – I’ve never heard of a person with the surname Okafor unless they played professional basketball. It’s like that old Jerry Seinfeld joke: if you’re named Jeeves, you’re pretty much predestined to be a butler. The name in full is just slightly awkward to say out loud (though that might be because I’m not great with rolling my “L’s” in general), and shortening Jahlil to “Jah” just brings up memories of Ja Rule, which is more awkward.

10. Tony Wroten – Gets points if only because “Wroten!” is a fun thing to say after Tony scores a basket. Not sure why we don’t call him To-Wro. Can’t help but wonder if he should have gone by Anthony though.

9. Pierre Jackson – You can never go wrong with a little French flavor, and then you get the Michael Jackson-inspired effortless cool of the Jackson surname to go along with it. I’m already thinking this is too low. This should be higher, right?

8. JaKarr Sampson – JaKarr won me over after a bit of internal debate. A unique first name with double-capitalization is always something I always appreciate. “Sampson” always reminds me of the famously durable Samsonite suitcase that served as the title of the best Mad Men episode. Yet another example of JaKarr somehow exceeding expectations.

7. Christian Wood – The Sixers’ porn star player. At least he’ll have a career one way or the other next month.

6. Furkan Aldemir – Furkan’ Aldemir, man.

5. Isaiah Canaan – A biblical first name that’s simultaneously synonymous with a basketball legend. A surname that alters the vowels of an already badass word, canon, and somehow makes it better. An easy gateway to a nickname, The Canaanball, that’s as fun as it is obvious. No-brainer for the top five.

4. Robert Covington – Like the majority of the Eagles’ secondary this season – Malcolm Jenkins, Bryon Maxwell, and Walter Thurmond III (!) – Robert Covington sounds more like a member of British parliament than a professional athlete. Ask anyone on the street if Robert Covington is the Prime Minister or a professional basketball player and I honestly think you’ll have more people guessing the former.

3. Joel Embiid – Embiiiiiiiiid. Always love the pronunciation of Joel as Jo-El as opposed to Jole. A near-perfect basketball name. A name that could instantly belong to a legend of the game. …Yeah, let’s just move on from this one.

2. J.P. Tokoto – Something about this just works for me on so many levels. “Tokoto” brings to mind badass images of a neon-lit Tokyo skyline at night… and the movie Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift as a result. The initials in place of a first name do their part to get out of the way and let “Tokoto” go to work. Love the somewhat sinister sharp edges of the “K” and “T” in Tokoto. Right, so I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who sees it like this. I’ll just enjoy it while it lasts.

Update: According to his official Twitter handle, @AirPierreTokoto, it would seem Tokoto prefers to go by his full birth name, Jean-Pierre, rather than J.P. If true, this would not affect his ranking. If anything, it would solidify it.

1. Nerlens Noel – Simply perfection. First, you have a completely unique first name that begs to become synonymous with basketball the same way Kobe and Lebron are. Then there’s the religious connotation of the last name, perfect for a team that has been searching for a savior for years. The alliteration that makes it effortlessly roll off the tongue is just the cherry on top. Nerlens takes home the top prize, and it was never really close.

Aug 28 2015

Five Things You Learn From the New Allen Iverson Book

As part of a wholescale dedication to improve myself, I’ve made a concentrated effort to read more this year. So when my birthday came along the other week, you can imagine how thrilled I was to get the new Allen Iverson book alongside the latest volume of Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga. What could go wrong?, I thought at the time. A biography about my absolute favorite athlete ever, the six-foot-zero man who cared greatly about the outcome of every regular season he played, making a sports fan out of 12-year-old me through sheer passion for the game? This will be a great, happy read indeed.

Yeah, not quite.

In Kent Babb’s take on Iverson’s life, Not a Game, the Washington Post writer alternates chapters between the Philly icon’s young playing career and his present-day struggles. Throughout, Babb paints a cautionary portrait of a man consumed by depression, substance abuse, and fits of violence, who changed the game of basketball on a cultural level but never fully lived up to his potential due to an inability to mature until it was too late. Upon finishing the book, here were five things that stuck out:

1. It’s Not a Pretty Picture.

Babb himself admits in the acknowledgements section of his book that, without Iverson’s side of the story, Not a Game is an incomplete work. (He reached out to Iverson  but never heard back, which sounds about right given Iverson’s pattern of behavior outlined throughout the book.) And Iverson is certainly given his humanizing moments, particularly through his relationship with a member of the Georgetown training staff. Even so, the anecdotes from former teammates and coaches, associates like Reebok employee Que Gaskins, and – most devastating of all – the official testimony of Iverson’s ex-wife, Tawanna, throughout their divorce proceedings, are damning enough on their own. Though Babb himself admits on the final page that he found himself disappointed in Iverson throughout his research, mostly due to the way he treated Tawanna, the narrative he constructs here depicts a man broken enough to earn sympathy, yet stubborn enough to warrant criticism in equal measure.

2. Drunk or not, the “practice” rant isn’t nearly as fun anymore.

Babb heavily alludes to Iverson being drunk during his infamous “practice” rant in 2002, thanks in large part to the testimony of Larry Brown, though Iverson has disputed this since the book was released. Such behavior certainly falls into place with the rest of Babb’s narrative, but drunk or not, it’s hard to watch the press conference again in the same light. It’s just disheartening, knowing the discomfort and mortification that close friends, teammates, and Pat Croce experienced during the event, and you feel for Iverson having to (albeit, in good humor) recite his instantly synonymous line for the entertainment of others for pretty much the rest of his career. Amusing as it was, it was also a fairly vicious example of the media making light of the very real and troubling struggles of a depressed human being.

3. The Sixers could have been good for a lot longer if Allen Iverson was a different person.

The way Babb tells it, aside from maybe his rookie season and his first year in Denver, 2000-’01 was pretty much the only time that saw Iverson focused and determined throughout the course of an entire NBA season. Brown, Croce, and others lament what could have been if Iverson had only been able to change a few things about his lifestyle and attitude. But he couldn’t. “What could have been” scenarios are simply symptoms for any depressed individual, especially one with substance problems. Rather than lament a successful, multi-year Sixers’ playoff run that could have been, it would be better for Iverson to take those hard memories and use them to motivate any treatment he may or may not need.

4. There are a strange number of simple basketball facts that Babb gets wrong.

Babb never bothers to explain what the extent of his basketball fandom is, and you can argue that, given the larger story he’s trying to tell about Iverson’s personal life, extensive knowledge of the game isn’t a requirement as pertains to this biography at all. But when you’re trying to construct such a critical narrative about an athlete, it’s not helping your case when you’re clearly not doing simple fact-checking about details of the game itself. Babb rarely goes into great depth about Iverson’s games themselves – appropriately spending more time on behind-the-scenes practices – but he does open Chapter 13 by setting the stage for overtime of Game 1 of the 2001 Finals. The pass that will eventually lead to Iverson’s infamous step-over of Tyronn Lue is delivered to him, but in Babb’s version of the play, Iverson “caught a pass from Vernon Maxwell, the Sixers’ point guard.” Maxwell wasn’t even on the roster that post-season, having been put on waivers and signing with Dallas in December 2000. The Lue pass was delivered by Raja Bell.

Later, when detailing the 2006 trade that sent Iverson to Denver, Babb describes Andre Miller, one of the pieces the Sixers received in the trade, as “a talented young point guard.” Miller was certainly talented, but by December 2006 he was 29 years old, soon to turn 30, and an eight-year NBA veteran. If by “young” Babb meant “less than a year younger than Iverson himself,” he was accurate, but despite Miller’s career longevity, an outlier in itself, a 30-year-old point guard should never be described as “young” when evaluating a trade. Finally, when recounting the exit interviews Larry Brown conducted after the 2001-’02 season, Babb lists George Lynch as one of the exit interviewees, even though the Sixers traded Lynch to Charlotte at the beginning of that season. Speaking of George Lynch…

5. George Lynch was a long-time forward for the 76ers.

Lynch, “a long-time forward for the 76ers,” was re-introduced that exact same way at least the first three times he was mentioned. I kept finding this amusing. (Though this, also, isn’t entirely accurate. Lynch was only on the team for three seasons.) By the end of the book, you may or may not think of Allen Iverson differently, but you’ll definitely know who George Lynch is.


In the end, it’s easy to see why Iverson took so long to officially announce his retirement. Though Babb’s book is decidedly not about basketball itself, he makes it clear that the basketball court was the one place where Iverson was at peace with himself. You can’t come out of the reading experience without hoping he finds some way to stay connected to the game that fuels him. Babb’s story ends on a cliffhanger, on a life in transition, and one hopes that Iverson is able to write his own, happy ending.

I hope some can see past the alleged behavior depicted here, even though some of it is undoubtedly disgusting. But I’m rooting for A.I. now more than ever; as Babb frequently reminds us, the Allen Iverson Sixers fans fondly recall from his glory years was simply an overgrown kid who loved drinking at TGI Friday’s after games, playing monopoly with friends, and reminding Tyrone Hill how much he looked like Skeletor. Not A Game will almost certainly be remembered as a cautionary tale for young athletes, but it’s also a healthy reminder to fans how human each athlete they admire truly is.

Jul 30 2015

Time Is Running Out … Sort Of

Jordan Clarkson is as good a second-round pick as you’ll find. The Lakers guard had an impressive debut season — he was named to the All-Rookie First Team — and his strong play continued into Summer League. Sure, he just turned 23; he’s older and more developed physically than most of his Las Vegas competition. But at 6-foot-5, he possesses the size, skill and athleticism to excel as a combo guard for the better part of the next decade.

Jordan Clarkson is also on the last year of his contract, diminishing some of his value and making him a potential liability after this season. After being selected 46th overall, the Missouri guard inked a two-year deal totaling $1.35M that expires this offseason. If he continues to progress, he’ll be one of the most sought after free agents next summer, demanding a salary 10 times the size of his current six-figure deal. As ESPN Insider’s Kevin Pelton ($$) noted, the first two years won’t exceed the mid-level exception due to the “Arenas provision.” The third year, though, could see an Omer Asik/Jeremy Lin-esque jump to $20-plus million. Even with a salary cap expected to surpass $100 million, that’s a massive price tag.

Right now, Clarkson is a solid rotation player with a borderline all-star ceiling, but his value is less in his production than his $845,059 salary that takes up 1 percent of Los Angeles’ salary cap. Though his impending raise shouldn’t impact his on-court value, it could limit the Lakers’ flexibility, pushing them that much closer to the salary cap as they look to bring in other high-profile players through trade or free agency.

So, what does this have to do with the Sixers? Yesterday, RealGM’s Shams Charania reported that Philly signed second-round pick Richaun Holmes to a multi-year deal, with the first two years “significantly guaranteed,” according to Jake Fischer of Liberty Ballers. It’s another Hinkie special¹; a fringe NBA player is offered about $1M annually usually over four seasons, with only a portion of the money guaranteed.

The Sixers have at least seven players on this type of contract, including Holmes, Robert Covington, Jerami Grant, Pierre Jackson, JaKarr Sampson, Hollis Thompson, and Scottie Wilbekin. (Full details on T.J. McConnell’s haven’t been reported). Each of those aforementioned players are cheap, potential contributors. They’ll earn less than $7M combined if they remain on the roster through the end of the 2015-16 season.

Contract information not exact.

Contract information not exact.

Not all of the Hinkie specials will turn out. In fact, there has already been a few that haven’t. Similar contracts were signed by including the since-waived/traded Jarvis Varnado, Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, and Brandon Davies. But the cost of bringing them in was minimal; just a temporary roster spot and a tiny fraction of the salary cap, as the contracts weren’t guaranteed.

The Hinkie specials that do work out, though, could turn into significant assets. Though some established veterans took discounts to play on winning teams (Gerald Green, David West), the market rate for rotations players like Jae Crowder (5/35M), Iman Shumpert (4/40M), Patrick Beverley (4/25M), Brandon Wright (3/18M), Kyle O’Quinn (4/16M) and Cory Joseph (4/30M) ranges from 4M-10M annually. Those salaries are likely to rise with the salary cap, which is $70M this season and projected to increase to $89M in 2016-17 and then $108M in 2017-18.

This makes it all the more imperative that the Sixers start spending soon. To date, Sam Hinkie has expressed no interest in putting a winning product on the floor, prioritizing draft picks and cap flexibility over wins. It’s an unorthodox, although totally reasonable team building strategy that’s netted the franchise a several high-upside prospects — Jahlil Okafor, Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric — along with a slew of future picks and young players locked into team-friendly contracts. But the advantage of the latter group — the Thompsons, the Covingtons, the Sampsons, the Holmeses — isn’t in their upside or production. Role players are always available through trades or free agency. Hell, the Sixers got a first-round pick, Nik Stauskas, and two pick swaps just to take on the contracts of Carl Landry and Jason Thompson.

The advantage, instead, is the cap flexibility they provide. Converting on a few of the second-round/undrafted rookie gambles could cut bench costs to about $10M, leaving more money for productive, high-upside players — the types that are plucked immediately in free agency.

But take another look at the Hinkie specials currently under contract. Thompson, signed prior to the 2013-14 season, is entering Year 3 of his four-year deal. He doesn’t do much, but he’s a versatile defender who can hit 3-pointers. At his current salary, $947K, his production far exceeds his cost, though that won’t be the case when he signs his next contract. While his on-court value might be on the rise, his off-court value is dropping as he approaches free agency.

The same goes for Covington, who signed early last season. He’s arguably the most productive Sixer, which is to say he might be an average NBA player. He too is outplaying his contract, but the margin becomes smaller as we get closer to 2018.

Jerami Grant, meanwhile, produced at replacement levels in his rookie season, as did JaKarr Sampson. But there’s a market for athletes with upside; K.J. McDaniels just signed a three-year, $10M deal (Year 3 team option) after putting together a rookie season not all that different from Grant’s and Sampson’s. It’s not clear how much these unproven sophomores would command if they reentered free agency, but it would likely exceed their current deals.

And yet, those contract “wins” will be all for naught if the Sixers don’t take advantage of them. They’ll add some on-court value and make the in-game experience a bit more palatable for the fans, but the players themselves won’t be any more productive than the ones readily available in free agency.

What the Sixers have going for them, though, that these players are signed to four-year deals, not two. The demand for four years of team control might be irritating some agents and limiting his free agent/second-round pick pool. (It cost the Sixers McDaniels). But it’s also extended the window for which they can capitalize on their cheap production. But now in Year 3 of the rebuild, time is running out on the first crop of Hinkie specials. While it’s not a disaster if their production-exceeding contracts go to waste, it wouldn’t be the asset maximization we’ve grown accustomed to.

(Really, though, this was all an excuse to post this).

1. No, the Hinkie special isn’t immoral. Nor is it some form of indentured servitude. As with any deal, there are pros and cons. Pros: an NBA roster spot, exposure, guaranteed money. Con: flexibility is limited, free agency is delayed.

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