76ers

Markelle Fultz gains some NBA knowledge on 1st day of Sixers minicamp

Markelle Fultz gains some NBA knowledge on 1st day of Sixers minicamp

CAMDEN, N.J. — Before Markelle Fultz can succeed in the NBA, he has to learn about the NBA. He did that on the first day of Sixers minicamp on Thursday in preparation for summer league.

“What he really has is a humility to want to learn,” said Billy Lange, the Sixers' assistant coach and director of player development who also coaches in summer league. “He asks a lot of questions.”

Fultz’s basketball knowledge is deep. A player doesn’t become the No. 1 overall pick without a strong understanding of the game, especially not a point guard. Still, college — and only one year of it — is literally a whole different ballgame than the NBA.

“I just want to be the best player I can be,” Fultz said. “In order to do that, I’ve got to learn the plays to the best of my ability. If I don’t know something, I’m not hesitating to ask a question.”

The Sixers cited Fultz’s humility as a strong character trait during the draft process. The 19-year-old’s willingness to learn is key on a young team.

“A lot of times when guys come in and they’ve got his pedigree or his reputation, they’re afraid to ask what they might think are real simple and basic questions,” Lange said. “But regardless of who the coach was, he was eager to want to learn, come up and make sure he could find a way to fit in. It’s going to be exciting to coach him over the next few weeks.”

Lange said Fultz inquired about plays, where he should be on the court after a pass and what he should be looking for from his teammates. Lange also praised Fultz’s ability to translate plays drawn up on the whiteboard into the scrimmages.

Fultz will put this knowledge to use over the next two weeks in summer league action. He said he wants to improve all areas of his game during this first taste of NBA competition.

“Everything,” Fultz said. “From the fundamentals all the way up to learning the defense, how we’re going to play defense. Offensively, learning the players and their scoring areas.”

Fultz shot around with Joel Embiid, Robert Covington and Nik Stauskas at the end of minicamp. (The current Sixers players except for Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Alex Poythress watched the scrimmages but did not participate in them.) Fultz is looking forward to building a chemistry with his teammates before the start of the season. 

“I like his game,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot, who is ready to lead the Sixers' summer league squad. “He’s crafty. He can handle the ball, run the court, pass the ball, finish at the rim, shoot the ball. I look forward to playing with him.”

Fultz played 5-on-5 on Thursday for the first time in what felt like "forever" to him. Whether it is this week in minicamp or next month in summer league, later this year in training camp or the regular season, Fultz could be a target of opponents who want to prove themselves against the No. 1 pick. Fultz is ready and welcomes it.

"Everybody in here is competitive," Fultz said. "No matter if I was the first pick or the last pick in the draft, everybody’s going to come out and compete. I would hope that everybody would give me their best shot because I want to get better myself and I’m going to give my best shot to everybody else."

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

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USA Today Images

Winless Suns fire head coach Earl Watson

PHOENIX — The Phoenix Suns have fired coach Earl Watson just three games in to the NBA season.

The Suns announced the firing Sunday night after hours of meetings at the team's headquarters.

Assistant coach Jay Triano, a former head coach of the Toronto Raptors, was named interim coach. Triano was an assistant at Portland before coming to Phoenix last year.

Watson was promoted from assistant to interim coach of the Suns after Jeff Hornacek was fired Feb. 1, 2016. The interim tag was removed on April 19 of that year. With an extremely young team, the Suns struggled under Watson. He compiled a 33-85 record. Watson's only full season was 2016-17, when the team went 24-58.

The 38-year-old Watson played collegiately at UCLA and in the NBA for 10 seasons. He often spoke of his long talks with John Wooden, emphasized togetherness and a family atmosphere to nurture the young squad but wins were hard to come by.

And owner Robert Sarver apparently didn't like what he saw. Phoenix is 0-3 and two of the losses were especially ugly. The Suns were blown out 124-76 by the Portland in their season opener Wednesday night, the most one-sided loss in franchise history and the most one-sided season opener for any NBA team.

Phoenix was routed by the Clippers in Los Angeles 130-88 on Saturday night.

"I Dont wanna be here," point guard Eric Bledsoe tweeted Sunday, just as the news of Watson's firing surfaced in an ESPN report. The tweet by Bledsoe, a former Clipper, was followed by one from the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan saying "Come back home bro."

Bledsoe has been rumored in possible trades for months.

Watson's dismissal is the first NBA coaching change in well over a year. Hornacek's hiring by the New York Knicks, which was finalized in June 2016, had been the most recent change -- and the irony there is that Watson got the job in Phoenix with 33 games left in the 2015-16 season, after the Suns fired Hornacek.

Watson was the league's second-youngest active coach behind the Lakers' Luke Walton, and the Suns were tied with the Chicago Bulls as having the youngest opening-night roster in the NBA this season.

"I'd like to see the fight be a little bit more," Watson said after the blowout loss to the Clippers. "Or a lot more, until you know they're just fatigued."

The Suns came into this season with only four losses by 40 or more points in franchise history. They've had two in the first three games of this season. Phoenix has not made the playoffs in seven years, the longest drought in the franchise's 49-year history.

Watson was the 17th Suns coach in the franchise's history.

This was the first NBA season where every coach who started one year had the same job to begin the next.

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for inappropriate comments toward fan during Sixers game

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AP Images

Kyrie Irving fined $25,000 for inappropriate comments toward fan during Sixers game

NEW YORK — The NBA has fined Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving $25,000 for responding to a fan with inappropriate language.

Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA' executive vice president of basketball operations, announced the fine Sunday.

Irving spoke to a fan at halftime of Boston's 102-92 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night (see story). 

The NBA fined Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins $25,000 for language he used toward a fan late in a loss to Memphis on Wednesday night in the season opener.