76ers

NBA Notes: Timberwolves sign Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague to finalize overhaul

NBA Notes: Timberwolves sign Taj Gibson, Jeff Teague to finalize overhaul

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Timberwolves have suddenly become one of the "it" destinations for NBA free agents.

Potential and reputation are beating out palm trees and postseason history.

After finalizing contracts Monday with power forward Taj Gibson and point guard Jeff Teague, two complementary additions to a roster that has undergone a significant enrichment and pruning over the last three weeks, the Wolves introduced the pair of 2009 first-round draft picks during an introductory news conference.

Gibson (two years, $28 million ) and Teague (three years, $57 million ) agreed to terms earlier this month before they were allowed to sign their deals.

"They look at the teams and the players that they have, and then they see how they fit into that, and I think it's very attractive to players in the league," said president and coach Tom Thibodeau.

When Gibson and Teague jumped at the chance to join them, they were driven by more than just the tantalizing trio of newcomer Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. They willingly sought the demanding and intense coaching they'll get from Thibodeau and his staff, too.

"He really helped turn my career. He believed in me when a lot of people really didn't," Gibson said (see full story).

Knicks: Hardaway ready for 2nd chance in New York
NEW YORK -- Tim Hardaway Jr. thought that with Phil Jackson gone, maybe there was a chance someday he could come back to New York.

Even he was surprised it was this soon.

With Jackson and his triangle offense gone, the Knicks reached back to their past to sign Hardaway, a former first-round pick who didn't fit under Jackson but they hope can flourish without him.

"I definitely left with a bad taste in my mouth and just to have that opportunity to come back here is very rare, so you've got to make the most of that," Hardaway said Monday.

Jackson and the Knicks parted ways last month after three dismal seasons and were quiet at the start of free agency until signing Hardaway to an offer sheet for a four-year, $71 contract. When the Atlanta Hawks decided not to match the offer for the restricted free agent, Hardaway was officially a Knick again on Saturday.

"You play here for two years and then you're gone and then two years after you get a phone call and it's like, `Wow, I wouldn't expect it coming from them,'" Hardaway said (see full story).

Kings: Team officially signs 40-year-old Carter
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Sacramento Kings have signed guard Vince Carter, the team announced Monday.

Carter, who entered the league with the Toronto Raptors in 1998, is joining his seventh team. He played the last three seasons in Memphis, where he averaged 8 points and 1.8 assists per game last season.

The 40-year-old Carter ranks 27th all-time in points scored (24,555), fifth in 3-pointers (2,049) and 13th in games played (1,347).

Carter set records for a player 40 and over last season, passing Michael Jordan as the oldest to score 20 points off the bench at 39 years and 287 days against Denver on Nov. 8, only to surpass the mark six days later with 20 points at Utah.

Bulls: Justin Holiday signs contract
CHICAGO -- The Chicago Bulls say they have signed guard Justin Holiday.

The team did not announce the terms of the deal on Monday, though the Associated Press reported last week he agreed to a $9 million, two-year contract.

Holiday averaged 6.5 points in 27 games for the Bulls two years ago. He played in all 82 games for the New York Knicks last season, averaging 7.7 points, Holiday has averaged 5.7 points over four seasons with Philadelphia, Golden State, Atlanta, Chicago and New York.

The Bulls made the playoffs on a tiebreaker and lost to Boston in the first round.

Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

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Joel Embiid credits partying in L.A. for torrid stretch

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Joel Embiid sometimes looks like he’s having a party on the basketball court. It’s no surprise, then, he credits some actual partying with turning around his season.

Yes, that’s right. After Sixers practice Friday afternoon, Embiid said hitting the town in Los Angeles on the team's recent road trip helped him out of a funk.

“All my close friends live in L.A., so before that, I wasn’t really doing anything, I was frustrated because I wasn’t in basketball shape and I wasn’t having fun on the court,” Embiid said. “So I won’t lie, I decided to go out, have fun a little bit. And that just kind of gave me the energy back, and the next game against the Clippers, I had more than 30 points [32], and then the following game I had more than 40 [46], so I think it’s just about having fun and making sure I can control what I can.”

For what it’s worth, Embiid is averaging 25.3 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks since the Sixers arrived in Los Angeles. The Sixers are 5-1 in those six games.

As the Sixers keep winning, the expectations keep growing. Is this a legit playoff team? Contenders in the near future? Embiid deals with the pressure that sort of attention can bring the same way he does just about everything else.

“Just be myself," Embiid said. "Have fun on the court. You know, just be myself, and I know it’s going to come, I know the guys are going to find me whenever they have to find me, I know coach is going to call plays for me. I think I kind of figured out if I’m not having fun on the court, I’m not going to play well, so I really need to have fun, and that’s the main thing for me. From there, I’m going to be dominant.”

A big part of having fun on the court for Embiid is trash talk. He insists he doesn’t initiate it, but he’s more than happy to give it back. He’ll be without Ben Simmons Saturday night against Orlando, but he’s eager for some banter with the Magic.

“Me talking trash, it doesn’t usually happen because I want to, it’s because the other guys start talking trash. So if any of the guys want to, I’m up for it. It elevates my game, it makes me play better because I know if you talk trash to me I’m going to talk back, and I’m going to back it up, and that’s going to make me play better. I can’t wait, I really hope they do [trash talk]. It’s going to be exciting.”

Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

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Ben Simmons to miss Saturday's game vs. Magic with left elbow injury

CAMDEN, N.J. -- The Sixers aren't the same team without Ben Simmons, and on Saturday, they'll see exactly what type of team they are this season without their 6-foot-10 point guard.

Simmons will miss Saturday night's game against Orlando because of left elbow soreness. Simmons, the early Rookie of the Year favorite, is averaging 18.5 points, 7.7 assists and 9.1 rebounds.

The Sixers said, after reviewing footage from Wednesday night’s 101-81 win over Portland, Simmons appears to have suffered the injury at the 6:22 mark of the fourth quarter. He was in treatment during practice Friday and will be reevaluated Sunday.

Backup point guard T.J. McConnell will slide into the starting spot for Simmons, though Sixers coach Brett Brown acknowledged the rookie is impossible to replace.

“It changes a lot of things without Ben Simmons,” Brown said. “T.J. will come in and assume the starting point guard role. Obviously, the points of emphasis change, but that’s why you have a team. The team has responded without Joel (Embiid), now we’ll get to see how the team responds without Ben.”

McConnell, averaging 6.5 points and 5.3 assists in 23.9 minutes, doesn’t plan to alter much about his approach.

“Obviously me and Ben are completely different players," McConnell said. "He’s very special. I just need to play defense, get people the ball and shoot when I’m open, so I’m not going to change how I play.”

Brown has been impressed with McConnell’s development this season, especially as a shooter. He knows McConnell’s passion and effort are always going to be there but is pleased to see McConnell making strides with his shot.

“I think he’s doing fantastically,” Brown said. “I think his perimeter shot and the comfort level he feels taking the occasional three is evident; he’s spent a lot of time and effort over the summer trying to grow that. So now is the time, he’ll come in and start out as point guard and there’s a lot of responsibility and opportunity given to him.”

A few small tweaks seem to have significantly improved McConnell’s shot. Brown noted he’s brought the ball closer to his body and has better pre-shot preparation. McConnell said his focus in the offseason was on getting more lift and shooting in one smooth motion.

The results aren’t staggering; McConnell has made seven of 13 three-point attempts this season. Compared to his hesitancy to fire and 20 percent three-point mark last year, however, and the improvement is clear.

McConnell hopes he can jumpstart the Sixers' offense, which Brown graded a C-minus after the win over the Trail Blazers. Brown, McConnell and Embiid all pointed to ball movement as the key.

“We just need to keep moving the ball,” Embiid said. We are going to miss [Simmons] a lot because the way he plays, he gets everybody else involved and everybody else open. But if we stick to what we’ve been taught, our system, I think we’ll be fine.”

“It’s just ball movement, getting people open shots, just fluid offense,” McConnell said. "You can’t really ask for much more than that. Get the defense moving from side to side, and just playing hard.”

The Sixers are averaging 25.9 assists, second-best in the NBA, which indicates the team generally does a good job of moving the ball. However, Ben Simmons is usually the one anchoring the offense. T.J. McConnell will step into the job Saturday night.