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Sunday basketball notes

With James Harden out of the picture, Nick Nurse focusing on getting 76ers to next level

Nick Nurse was criticized for not developing the Raptors' younger players last season.Tim Nwachukwu/Getty

Nick Nurse looks the same, wearing a baseball cap to his pregame interview. This time, the cap features a 76ers logo. He’s now the coach of this star-crossed franchise, hired to lead it to the next level.

So far, with James Harden shuttled off to the Clippers, results have been positive. The 76ers, with their revived lineup, recently beat the Celtics and have the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Harden essentially was the reason Doc Rivers was fired as coach. In the auxiliary interview room at TD Garden following the Celtics’ runaway Game 7 win over the 76ers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, league MVP Joel Embiid said he wanted Rivers to return.

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At approximately the same time, Harden was giving a tepid response when asked about his relationship with Rivers. The two didn’t get along. Rivers was fired a few days later, partially because Rivers wanted to give Tyrese Maxey more responsibility and ballhandling duties with the offense.

The summer included Harden opting into his contract, which apparently shocked 76ers officials. Harden then demanded a trade and called general manager Daryl Morey a “liar” for not facilitating a trade soon enough. Harden’s situation became uncomfortable as he entered training camp without a trade and with zero intention of playing for Philadelphia.

While he was in shape, Harden sat out the first few preseason games because of conditioning and then prepared to play in the season opener at Milwaukee, but the 76ers told Harden his services would not be required. Eventually, Morey worked out a trade with the Clippers, bringing in draft picks and veterans Robert Covington, Nicolas Batum, and Philadelphia native Marcus Morris.

Now that Harden is gone, the 76ers can move forward with a veteran lineup, Maxey turning into an All-Star-caliber point guard, and Embiid continuing to dominate opponents with his feathery shooting touch and physicality.

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Nurse said his goal to make the 76ers a faster-paced offense has been effective.

“We’re doing a lot of things we’re trying to do,” he said. “We’re trying to get more transition baskets. We’re trying to get to the rim more. We’re trying to get the open man and show the ball. We’re trying to get a little bit more ball movement. We’re trying to be a little bit more unpredictable. It still needs a lot of polish, but it’s what we’ve been working on.”

Rivers wanted Maxey to run the offense last season, but Harden wanted to dominate the ball. Maxey, and the entire team for that matter, is playing with a freedom unseen last season. The 76ers had played tense, with Harden either shooting or passing, Maxey trying to adjust to shooting guard, and Embiid carrying most of the load.

Nurse said he’s emphasized allowing Maxey to play to his strengths and take more chances offensively. Maxey was 12th in the NBA in scoring at 25.4 points per game, an increase of 5.3 from last season.

“I think he’s trying to find his way here,” Nurse said. “He’s got the ball as the point guard a lot more. He’s certainly making more plays for others than he has been in the past. The numbers would say that. I’ve said this a lot, I want him to be more aggressive than he’s being. I think he’s a prolific scorer, he’s got burner speed going to the basket. He’s got the deep three-ball and he needs to take those chances more often.

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“But he’s kind of running a pretty good floor game right now. He’s going to what’s open and that’s what is everybody’s question: Can he create for anybody else? So far he’s doing a decent job of it. I think we’ve got a long way to go. The only thing I can do really good is to continue to encourage it.”

An underrated aspect of the Harden deal was the acquisition of Covington and Batum. Covington played for Philadelphia from 2014-19, developing into a solid defender and 3-point shooter, while Batum can defend and hit the occasional long-range shot. The 76ers lost some bench strength with Georges Niang and Shake Milton leaving via free agency. They’ve recovered that strength.

“The vibe was really good during [the Harden situation],” Nurse said. “I kept saying the guys have unbelievable focus on the practice floor, during the game, very good spirit. But I think there was a little bit of a sense of, ‘OK, now we don’t have to deal with any of that anymore.’ And we like the new guys. We think the new guys all bring something.

“From not having a guy play to having at least three guys that we think could probably play [nightly] gives us some depth, versatility, and toughness. I guess we’re doing a bit more moving on and the spirit remains.”

Nurse’s departure from Toronto was a mutual decision. There had been differences in philosophy, with Nurse being criticized for not developing younger players while the Raptors were one of the worst shooting teams from the 3-point arc last season. But Philadelphia has star power with Embiid and is built to win.

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“It’s always difficult taking over a new team from a sheer work standpoint,” Nurse said. “I’m glad I’ve been through it once before because there’s a lot of getting to know people, trying to develop some type of relationship, see where they are with their lives and with their game. There’s a lot of people to hire and a whole lot of people to get to know in the organization. There’s a whole lot to the job. Mostly it’s just been busy, trying to continue to handle the workload. But from our first meetings, the guys have been ready to work and ready to work really hard. I’ve been really happy about that. It makes it a lot easier.”

Nick Nurse said he’s emphasized allowing Tyrese Maxey to play to his strengths and take more chances offensively. Duane Burleson/Associated Press
FOCUSING ON THE FANS

All-Star Game

returns to format

The NBA decided on the Chase Center for the 2025 All-Star Game and the league is intent on making it a more competitive game and more enriching weekend for fans with the on-court product. Warriors owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber included Oakland in the festivities. Oakland, which lost the Warriors to San Francisco in 2019, will host the Celebrity Game and All-Star practice.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has let the Players Association know he expects a higher level of competition in future All-Star Games. The league also has returned to the East-West format and eliminated the Elam Ending.

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“I think as much as we love the entertainment side of this that we’ve heard loud and clearly from the fans,” Silver said this past week. “They want to see a basketball game. So while there will be all of these parties and celebrations, I think it ultimately is important that we turn this back into more of a traditional game.

“I think it’s a little bit almost symbolic to return to East vs. West. I think it made sense. Again, we’re going to be in Indiana this season for our All-Star Game, also a fantastic basketball market.”

The NBA hopes February’s game in Indianapolis will be the beginning of the return to tradition. It’s not that the league expects the All-Stars to play four rugged quarters with staunch defense, but it does expect a second half with each side trying to win instead of just trying to stay healthy.

“I think to return to that traditional All-Star Game and frankly change some of our approach to the game itself, so it feels for the players more like a typical game, we recognize that nobody wants to get hurt out there,” Silver said. “It’s not necessarily a playoff game, but the fans expect something more than they’ve seen maybe in the past couple years.

“Maybe we’ll think of some other fun things to do around the game. But at its heart, at its core, this is about the sport of basketball, and we know our fans want to see real basketball played, even in an All-Star Game.”

The NBA has been pleased with the amount of All-Star applications, especially one from Boston for the 2026 game. Golden State last hosted the All-Star Game in 2000, when Vince Carter set the weekend ablaze by winning the dunk contest with acrobatic slams. Golden State’s ownership group had been interested in returning the game to the Bay Area, but a new arena was required. Chase Center is one of the league’s premier venues.

“I think so much of it has been touched on, but I think as Peter noted from the beginning of this process, of building this new arena, there was always an expectation that once we got this world-class facility done that an All-Star Game would follow,” Silver said. “There was some issues around the pandemic. Things didn’t exactly happen on the timing that we had hoped. But to me there was never a doubt we were going to be here for a game.

“But even beyond that, this beautiful facility they’ve built here, as I said earlier, there’s a great tradition of basketball, not just professional basketball but basketball at all levels played here in the Bay Area, a number of great players that have come from this market, I think very knowledgeable fans out here, and on top of that this has increasingly become an epicenter for all sports. You’ve got a Super Bowl coming, you’ve got a World Cup of football, soccer coming. I think all those things frankly made it a pretty easy decision to come here.”

Silver said he realizes the potential for the All-Star Game to remain a lackadaisical session is great unless players are reminded of the new philosophy and there is more incentive. The NBA, including head of basketball operations Joe Dumars, will remind players about the importance of an entertaining product and the possibility of a more lucrative television contract because of an improved All-Star Game.

“I think what we can do is do a better job honestly communicating directly with our players and teams about the importance for our fans of putting on a real basketball game, and I think that I’ll take responsibility for that, that I think there was so much focus on all the entertainment aspects, as there should be,” Silver said. “But I think at the end of the day, it’s about the game of basketball, and I think you can see all the wonderful things that we do around the game, the day of service, our technology summit, great other opportunities, you could see how the basketball game itself since it comes at the very end of multiple days of activities, it became a bit of an afterthought.

“I think the most important thing we can do is communicate directly with our players, the All-Star coaches, our teams, just to reinforce how important it is because fans love this game. At root, they want to see a basketball game. I think it’s not more complicated than that.”

“Maybe we’ll think of some other fun things to do around the game. But at its heart, at its core, this is about the sport of basketball, and we know our fans want to see real basketball played, even in an All-Star Game," said NBA commissioner Adam Silver.Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
ETC.

Iguodala assumes

union leadership

The National Basketball Players Association had an organizational shakeup this past week when executive director Tamika Tremaglio stepped down and recently retired player Andre Iguodala replaced her on an interim basis.

It’s stunning because Tremaglio just helped negotiate the collective bargaining agreement after less than a year on the job. She received rave reviews from players and formed a strong relationship with commissioner Adam Silver. Iguodala’s appointment is unprecedented because the executive director is generally a lawyer specializing in negotiation. Iguodala was a longtime member of the Players Association and is familiar with union issues.

“I don’t know what it will mean long term,” Silver said. “I’ve known Andre for a long time. Of course, he was a championship NBA player. He had a very long and successful NBA career. He was on the executive committee for many years of the Players Association. In addition to a personal relationship with him, I had that more formal relationship sitting across from him at the bargaining table, and he’s a very passionate player and a very knowledgeable player.

“I don’t know any more about the internal workings of the Players Association other than, of course, I will work directly with whoever comes forward over the long term as the executive director of that Players Association. We had an excellent working relationship with Tamika Tremaglio. We concluded a successful collective bargaining relationship. I don’t know anything more about the internal dynamics, but I look forward to working with Andre.”

Layups

NBA officials are causing controversy with an increased number of technical fouls for hanging on the rim and taunting. Boston’s Kristaps Porzingis was called for a tech for hanging on the rim after a dunk to avoid a Philadelphia defender. It’s the second tech for a Celtic for hanging on the rim, which has become a point of emphasis. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was ejected for a second technical after taunting Detroit’s Isaiah Stewart after a vicious dunk. In past years, taunting technicals had to be egregious. Officials are cracking down on player behavior, but the hope is they eventually will relent on such unnecessary technicals that could mean the ejection of some of the game’s stars. What has been reduced after the first week are flopping technicals. Players appear to have caught on about overreacting to contact . . . The Heat will have to play the next month without high-scoring guard Tyler Herro, who sprained his ankle in a win over the Grizzlies. Herro was off to a great start as the team’s leading scorer (22.9 points per game). Miami has played the first couple weeks without standout swingman Caleb Martin while Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo have been slowed by injuries . . . The Trail Blazers are likely to be without former Celtic Robert Williams III for the rest of the season after he injured his right knee in a loss to the Grizzlies last weekend. It’s believed the injury is not related to the knee injuries Williams sustained in five seasons with the Celtics. The Blazers do not believe Williams was injured when he was acquired in the deal for Jrue Holiday and they won’t pursue any case against the Celtics seeking more compensation.


Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him @GwashburnGlobe.