It would seem that the Philadelphia 76ers and Minnesota Timberwolves would be perfect trade partners given events of the past week.
The Timberwolves unexpectedly fired general manager Gersson Rosas just days before training camp. The organization said it was for basketball reasons, but according to reports Rosas’s tenure had been filled with unhappy employees and allegedly an inappropriate relationship between the married Rosas and a team employee.
That move came months after Minnesota surrendered its first- and second-round picks to Golden State to acquire D’Angelo Russell, who did little to help the team.
Meanwhile, weeks after the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons was not going to report to training camp and wanted to be traded, coach Doc Rivers told ESPN he wanted Simmons back and hoped they would work things out.
Minnesota had been considered one of Philadelphia’s potential trade partners for Simmons and it would seem like a perfect opportunity for both teams to improve chemistry.
Simmons wants out after feeling as if he was the scapegoat for the 76ers’ collapse in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Hawks. Simmons has never been offensively proficient, but his sinking free throw percentage and lack of a consistent jump shot have contributed to his timidity. He looks as if he’s afraid to shoot from the field and at the line.
The pivotal play that turned both the organization and fans against Simmons was late in the fourth quarter of Game 7 when he declined an open dunk to tie the game and passed the ball to Matisse Thybulle, who was fouled. He made just 1 of 2 free throws, and the 76ers never recovered.
Simmons is a gifted player who needs a change of address, but his holdout will be difficult to maintain because he has four years left on his contract and would cost himself a portion of his $39 million salary for each game he misses.
The 76ers have second-year guard Tyrese Maxey to play the point, but GM Daryl Morey still wants an All-Star and draft picks in return for the troubled Simmons.
The Timberwolves could offer Russell and perhaps another prospect and future picks, giving the team a jolt with a defense-first playmaker. But Russell, a former second overall pick whose stock has dropped considerably, likely wouldn’t be a big enough headliner for Philadelphia.
In addition to Russell, the Timberwolves would have to offer multiple players such as Josh Okogie and Jaden McDaniels along with multiple draft picks. Interim GM Sachin Gupta needs to make a splash after the controversy surrounding the organization, while also appeasing former All-Star Karl-Anthony Towns, who is becoming increasingly unhappy after years of losing and organizational dysfunction.
Each team needs to make a change. Simmons, who is represented by super agent Rich Paul, is determined to continue his career with another team. He has moved to Los Angeles and has not had contact with 76ers officials in weeks.
Rivers is considered one of the most congenial coaches in the NBA, but it’s unlikely even he can talk Simmons into coming back.
There aren’t many other teams clamoring for Simmons or willing to meet Morey’s steep price. The Trail Blazers could offer CJ McCollum and draft picks, but would that be enough? Morey has to lower his demands and the Timberwolves need to respond to a situation begging for their attention.
Kings look to end long playoff drought
Perhaps no other organization has more pressure to make the playoffs this season than the Kings, who have the longest playoff drought in the NBA (their last postseason appearance came in 2006), and Luke Walton was fortunate to get another year to coach the team.
The Kings drafted guard Davion Mitchell ninth overall and then won the summer league championship, offering hope that they can make a legitimate playoff run. De’Aaron Fox is on the verge of becoming an All-Star, while Tyrese Haliburton impressed as a rookie last season.
Their major offseason addition was former Celtic Tristan Thompson. The hope is that the Kings will have enough experience from last season’s meltdown and enough young talent to become a playoff contender.
The Kings lost nine games in a row twice and finished two games out of the play-in tournament.
“Last year we had a chance,” Fox said. “There were too many stretches last year where we fell apart.”
And there are expectations this season, especially with such a potentially strong backcourt, a healthy Marvin Bagley, a reliable Harrison Barnes, and the potential leadership of Thompson.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say pressure; last year, we let a few stretches get out of hand and that ultimately cost us,” Fox said. “Last year, we got too low and we had to dig ourselves out of the hole. We can’t let three- or four-game losing streaks turn into nine or 10.”
The Kings have a long tradition of botching drafts, overspending on underproducing free agents, and going through a litany of coaches. Owner Vivek Ranadive showed faith in Walton, but there is no question the coach is on the hot seat following identical 31-41 records in his first two seasons.
“You don’t want to be a part of that,” Fox said. “I can’t worry about the five years that I’ve been here, you’ve just got to go out there and play.”
The hope is that Mitchell will contribute immediately, especially to a defense that was one of the league’s worst. He was dominant in summer league, frustrating players such as Boston’s Payton Pritchard with his ferocious on-ball skills.
“He’s good at anticipating things,” Fox said. “He’s quick, strong. He just has really good instincts. We talked about playing three guards, but what you give up is size. We have to figure it out. If we can’t, us three won’t play together. It’s going to be great for everybody who has to be guarded by him in practice. He’s a strong guy. I think it’s ready to contribute to the team now. I’ve played against them, he’s an [established] NBA player. We’re not worried about him being a rookie.”
Said Haliburton: “The pressure is on more ourselves. We want to bring the Kings back to the playoffs and no one wants that more than us. Guys are holding themselves accountable.”
Lakers got older, but are they better?
After an abrupt playoff elimination at the hands of the Suns, the Lakers spent this offseason looking to reshape their roster for another championship run centered around LeBron James and Anthony Davis, who are both healthy, unlike last season.
GM Rob Pelinka made some bold moves, acquiring Russell Westbrook from the Wizards for Montrezl Harrell, Kyle Kuzma, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and then signing Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Trevor Ariza, Kent Bazemore, Malik Monk, and Kendrick Nunn.
With many on the roster having few years left to play, all these veterans know they are here to help James win his fifth title and prove to the rest of the NBA that last season was an aberration.
First, Davis has to stay healthy. Second, he needs to reassert himself as one of the top players in the game. He is still in his prime, but health has always been an issue.
“When you get into AD’s mind-set, there’s two primary goals: to win a championship … and the best two way two-way player in the game,” Pelinka said. “I think you’ll see him accomplish those two things this season.”
James will be 37 in December and is coming off a season in which he was an early candidate for his fifth MVP award before a high ankle sprain derailed his season, and the lingering pain carried into the playoffs. James arrived at offseason training noticeably slimmer. He picked up muscle weight over the years to combat the constant pounding but has deduced playing lighter will put less pressure on his limbs and help extend his career.
It’s also safe to assume James is determined to prove he remains the league’s best player. Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo have perhaps nudged James aside for that title. As watching Tom Brady has proven, aging greats cannot be overlooked.
“The thing that stands out is his fitness level, and he’s slimmed up,” Pelinka said. “Going into this stage of his career he’s making the decision to come back a little leaner. He’s been locked in with his training. He has confidence in his teammates. The word will be mind-set. It just feels like this group realizes that everyone is going to have to set a personal thing aside to come together and have the mind-set of how do I make the guy in the locker room next to me great. It seems like that’s LeBron’s mind-set.”
After years discussing possibly playing together, James and Anthony are finally teammates, and perhaps at the perfect time. Anthony, 37, is seeking his first title and warmed to a bench role where he can provide offense. In previous years, Anthony resisted embracing anything less than a prominent role. That mentality chased some teams off before he signed with Portland two years ago.
Anthony could play a key role for the Lakers because of his ability to score off the post and hit the 3-pointer.
“If you go back to the Olympics to see when Melo played such an incredible role on the team with his ability to make open shots,” Pelinka said. “One of the greatest catch-and-shoot guys that has played during this time. There’s some players when you play with Russell or LeBron, when that open ball is kicked to you, it’s a little heavier. Melo, I don’t think he’s paying attention to who’s throwing him the ball. He’s locked in to convert.
“He’s still so physically strong and imposing. When he puts his body on players in the post, he can continue to have his way.”
Pelinka said the club attempted to bring back Alex Caruso, the former undrafted player who turned into a key rotational piece and defensive stalwart. Caruso signed with the Bulls, but the Lakers are hoping third-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker can develop into a consistent scorer and playmaker.
“Talen has to establish himself as a dominant defensive player,” Pelinka said. “There’s nothing that Talen doesn’t have to keep from being an elite player. He makes a choice to dominate you on the defensive end with his body and his athleticism and his length, that could be a nightmare for opponents. We want to see him grow as a playmaker.”
With a blend of mostly veterans and hungry young players such as Monk, whose contract was not renewed in Charlotte, the Lakers are one of the favorites to win the title. There appears to be a sense of retribution with this club, especially after last season’s first-round elimination where they lost the deciding game at home in a blowout.
“There is a really firm belief in each of these guys and their ability to have the right mind-set,” Pelinka said. “This is about getting the 18th title and I think there’s a palpable feeling when this group of guys are around each other, there is a respect. We have a chance to do something special this year. And we all have to make sacrifices to get there. This group shares that common belief. This is a serious group of guys, you can feel it. We all feel that way about this group.”
The Grizzlies didn’t even take a look at Carsen Edwards, waiving the former Celtic to create space on their training camp roster. Edwards, unless claimed, is an unrestricted free agent, but his options may be limited. Edwards may have to seek a two-way contract with a chance to prove himself. Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Stevens parted ways with Edwards, Semi Ojeleye, Tacko Fall, and Tremont Waters after last season. Ojeleye signed with the Bucks, while Fall accepted a nonguaranteed deal with the Cavaliers … Former lottery pick Dennis Smith Jr. signed a training camp contract with the Trail Blazers as he attempts to resurrect his career. Portland will be Smith’s fourth team since being drafted ninth overall by the Mavericks in 2017. Since then, Smith has seemingly lost his confidence and ability to be a frontline point guard. Smith’s last stop was the Pistons, but they have young guards in Killian Hayes and 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham … Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins’s status for this season is uncertain because he has not been vaccinated and California passed a law where anyone attending indoor sporting events much must be vaccinated. The NBA has vigorously attempted to convince players to get vaccinated and the numbers are increasing but still shy of 100 percent. The NBA would prefer not to levy heavier restrictions on unvaccinated players but will as some cities mandate that every employee inside arenas be vaccinated, including players. Will players be willing to miss games to remain unvaccinated? We will find out in the coming weeks. The NBA responded to Wiggins’s refusal to get vaccinated because of religious reasons: “The NBA has reviewed and denied Andrew Wiggins’s request for religious exemption from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s order requiring COVID-19 vaccination for all participants age 12 and older at large indoor events. Wiggins will not be able to play in Warriors home games until he fulfills the city’s vaccination requirements.” … Former Celtics Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley have been working out with the Warriors in hopes of landing the backup point guard spot behind Stephen Curry. Bradley played well in stretches with the Rockets last season after being acquired from the Heat but injuries have always been his downfall. Thomas has been seeking another opportunity for a standard contract after a 10-day contract last season with the Pelicans. Opinions vary on whether Thomas can regain the form — or even come close — that made him an All-Star in Boston. He said he is completely healthy after another hip procedure.