The 76ers could have continued their meticulous growth after pushing the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals. If Philadelphia had stood pat, it would have been one of the top 4-5 teams in the East, with enough athleticism and defensive prowess to push the Celtics in the Atlantic Division.
With the Heat adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the Celtics bringing in Courtney Lee and Jason Terry, bringing back Jeff Green, and re-signing Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett, and the Bulls expected to contend with a healthy Derrick Rose, the 76ers believed status quo wasn’t good enough.
Team president Rod Thorn and coach Doug Collins overhauled the roster, dumping Elton Brand, Lou Williams, and Jodie Meeks, and adding Nick Young, Dorell Wright, and Kwame Brown, as well as re-signing effective center Lavoy Allen to a two-year contract, a byproduct of his breakout series against the Celtics.
The 76ers remain a second-tier club in the East but they had to enhance their offensive attack in order to compete. Philadelphia was a rather erratic team offensively that won games with defense.
“At the end of the year when Doug and I sat with our basketball people and talked about the things that we needed, one of the things that we needed was to get bigger, we needed to get stronger, and we needed to get some better shooting,” Thorn said. “With some of the moves that we’ve done so far, we think we really helped in those areas.”
While Brand had his moments in the playoffs, it was apparent that he was slowing down, the effect of injuries and age. He was scheduled to earn $18 million in the final season of the five-year, $90 million deal he signed in 2008. The 76ers seized the opportunity for salary-cap space by waiving Brand using the amnesty clause. He was claimed by the Mavericks.
“We knew that if we tried to come back with the same team, we didn’t think we’d be as good,” Collins said. “That’s not to take anything away from what our team was, but we thought we had to try to do some things. Had we re-signed Spencer [Hawes] and re-signed and kept our team together with [Brand], we would have been a luxury-tax team. You might look out there [at us] and say they didn’t hit any home runs. But we have addressed some of the needs, but to do that, we had to amnesty EB or we would have had absolutely no flexibility at all.”
The most surprising move was allowing Williams to sign with the Hawks. Williams was Philadelphia’s leading scorer and top offensive threat, one of the league’s top sixth men.
“Every scenario that we had was with Lou being here, but with that said, we offered him a three-year contract, four-year contract, five-year contract,” Collins said. “Our intent was for Lou to be back, but when the [asking] number got to a certain point . . . ”
The 76ers built a younger, talented core over the past few years with the drafting of Thaddeus Young, Jrue Holiday, Allen, and Evan Turner to join Olympian Andre Iguodala. The problem is none of those players is yet All-Star caliber, separating the 76ers from the Heat, Celtics, and Bulls.
Unless one of those players turns into a superstar, the 76ers will have to rely on winning by committee. It was apparent that Thorn and Collins were emotionally attached to Williams, a former second-round pick who blossomed into a frontline scorer, and Brand, who brought leadership and respectability to the franchise.
But they were expendable.
“When I was with the 76ers, I was a four-time All-Star. I hurt my knee and they put me on the expansion list, hoping Dallas would take my contract, so I’ve been through this, too,’’ said Collins. “Hey, if I don’t get the job done in March, they wanted to fire me. Believe me, I have been around 40 years, I understand it.”
MAKING HIS MARK
White gives Rockets edge
It was an eventful summer league week for Rockets rookie Royce White, one of three Houston first-round picks making their professional debuts in Las Vegas. White was a target of the Celtics before the Rockets selected him 16th overall.
White said he did not know about a reported draft promise from the Celtics, but agent Andy Miller canceled all workouts for the week before the draft. White got off to a slow start in Las Vegas, but his intensity picked up as well as his bravado. He averaged 8.4 points and 7.2 rebounds in five games, his high-scoring game 15 and high-rebounding game 12. Also, White displayed the mean streak that attracted teams during the pre-draft process. White got into two interesting exchanges, the first against Portland when he was fouled hard by rookie center Meyers Leonard but appeared unfazed.
“I’m 270, get your weight up,” he told Leonard following the foul, drawing a technical for his comment.
An unfortunate moment occurred in the final minute of the game when Portland’s Nolan Smith was hit on the left side of his head by Rockets guard Zoran Dragic on a drive to the basket. Smith took two steps after the foul and then collapsed behind the basket. He was diagnosed with a concussion and was held out of the final three games.
When Smith was being placed on a stretcher, White got into an exchange with Portland free agent forward Ekene Ibekwe and the two nearly came to blows near where Smith was being attended. White was pulled away, but his intensity is apparent, especially after he slipped in the draft because of a diagnosed anxiety disorder. White said the draft process was difficult because he felt teams turned his anxiety disorder into an attitude issue.
“It was personally tough for me because of my anxiety, people tried to attack my character,” he said. “I think I worked over the years to put myself in a place where I have a high character. No matter what I did in the past, my character is pretty high now and I’m proud of who I am as a person also. That was pretty upsetting because nobody ever really had a gripe about my game. My gripe was more about trying to correlate my anxiety with character issues, so that was tough for me. If you don’t know too much about it, you should probably lay off on the comments.”
When asked if he used that as motivation, White’s response was profound: “No, it makes me scared for the future, actually. It doesn’t help fuel me at all. I just worry about other people who are suffering from the same thing and people don’t take the time to figure out the things that they need to.”
White plans to start a nonprofit organization that will aid younger people who deal with similar anxiety issues. Sometimes the harshness of draft evaluation goes a little too far, especially for White, who is barely 21 years old.
FUTURE IS NOW
Silver’s impact begins to ad up
While David Stern hinted last fall that this would be his last negotiation of the collective bargaining agreement, he hasn’t indicated how long he plans to remain league commissioner. But a definitive sign that deputy commissioner Adam Silver is having more influence on the major issues occurred last week with the league’s Board of Governors approving advertising on game uniforms, a first in major American sports.
Stern said during last month’s Finals that he’s a stickler for tradition and would prefer to leave uniforms unblemished, but Silver has been the driving force behind generating revenue from jersey ads. Last week was a major step toward having 2-inch by-2-inch patches on the shoulders of uniforms.
The NBADL and WNBA already have used ads on uniforms, and the WNBA has gone so far as to place company names on the front of jerseys, replacing the team nickname. The league has lost its identity because of this, with prominent teams such as the Los Angeles Sparks and Seattle Storm replacing their logos with advertisements. Silver doesn’t want to go nearly that far, but he does want the league’s owners to earn the additional revenue.
“We did not take a poll, but we had a meeting with our league presidents in town yesterday, and my sense is that every team is in favor of doing this in some form,” Silver said Thursday.
Silver estimated the league could earn approximately $100 million per season because of the ads, and now the league must determine what companies will be allowed to sponsor on uniforms and how adidas, which manufactures NBA game uniforms, will be involved in sponsoring, if at all. Players who are signed with Nike and other shoe companies besides adidas are already uncomfortable with wearing adidas-labeled gear.
Meanwhile, despite the lofty contracts being distributed over the past three weeks, Stern said the owners were “happy” during their conference call last week. The new collective bargaining agreement seemingly hasn’t stopped owners from offering above-market contracts for free agents. League officials believe the CBA will truly begin benefiting owners in years 2 and 3. For now, things appear eerily similar to before the agreement.
“I have been approached by more prospective owners who wanted to buy an NBA franchise than ever, in the 29 years that I’ve been commissioner,” Stern said. “So from a perspective of the outcome of collective bargaining and revenue sharing, and the general happiness of our fans with the performance of our players, this is a very good thing, because the higher revenue goes, the higher our players’ percentage; the higher 50 percent is, and to the extent there are owners looking to buy teams, spend money to market and promote them, etc., that’s good for the league and for the players.’’
But with the owners receiving more of a share of the basketball-related income and contracts shorter than the previous CBA, the owners are going to reap more money despite losing out on their quest for a hard salary cap. For example, because the Celtics used their midlevel exception on Jason Terry, they were not allowed to go above a $74.3 million spending limit, about $12 million less than last season.
“With all of the frenzy, which I’ve seen it said, it’s crazy, it’s this, it’s that, it’s devilish; but it’s very exciting. And it’s in a context where the players are going to come out with 50 percent of the basketball-related income, as opposed to 57 percent [in the previous CBA],” Stern said. “So there’s been a 12 percent improvement from the owners, and we have managed to reduce that dramatically. We have managed to reduce the exposure to long-term contracts by reducing to four years the length of a contract that a team can give to someone else’s free agent, and five that you can give to your own.’’
Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard was the talk of the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 27.7 points through the first three games, including a 31-point effort Thursday against the Hawks. Lillard was the sixth overall pick last month and there were questions about whether he could adapt to the NBA game coming from midmajor Weber State. The success of Pistons guard Rodney Stuckey, who played at Eastern Washington, may have helped Lillard’s draft status. He’ll need to improve on his 14-to-13 assist-to-turnover ratio, however, if he wants to succeed as an NBA point guard . . . Just-traded guard Raymond Felton appeared in Las Vegas looking considerably slimmer, and said he’s ready to make a significant contribution to the Knicks after a disappointing season in Portland. The Knicks completed a sign-and-trade with the Trail Blazers for Felton to replace Jeremy Lin just a year and a half after the Knicks traded him to the Nuggets in the Carmelo Anthony deal . . . Baron Davis is wearing a large brace after blowing out his right knee during the Knicks’ first-round playoff loss to the Heat, but said he wants to return to the NBA. Davis is going to miss the 2012-13 season after tearing his anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments . . . Jacque Vaughn is picking up momentum in the Magic’s coaching search after Brian Shaw withdrew from consideration and Mike Malone was eliminated as a candidate. Vaughn is coaching the Spurs’ summer league entry in Las Vegas and was tight-lipped about his prospects, but the 37-year-old has risen from lower-level assistant after his playing career ended in 2009 to a prime coaching candidate. With Don Newman headed to the Wizards, Vaughn could emerge as Gregg Popovich’s No. 2 assistant . . . A player primed for a breakout season is former first-round pick Jimmy Butler, who torched the Celtics for 25 points in the Bulls’ opening summer league game. Chicago is looking for a dependable small forward to back up Luol Deng with the trade of Kyle Korver to the Hawks. Butler, drafted 30th overall, played in 42 games as a rookie last season, but his role is almost certain to expand this season.
Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.