76ers

Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

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Five Sixers storylines to watch for this season

There are no secrets about what is likely to happen this season for the Philadelphia 76ers. More often than not, they are going to lose ballgames.

Vegas has the over/under on victories for the Sixers this season set at 16½. In team history, the Sixers famously went 9-73 in 1972-73 to set the NBA record for futility. The Sixers also went 18-64 in 1995-96 and followed that up with a 22-60 record in Allen Iverson’s rookie season in 1996-97.

No, the Sixers don’t have an Iverson-type on this team. They have some pieces to the puzzle, but the others haven’t materialized yet. For coach Brett Brown, in his first season at the helm of an NBA team, there haven’t been any surprises. New president/general manager Sam Hinkie blew up the roster and pushed the team into a rebuild, doing what many of his predecessors could have done, but just didn’t have the stomach for.

Very easily the 2013-14 Sixers could have been transformed into an eight-seed playoff team with an aggressive approach to free agency. However, in the modern NBA, just making the playoffs doesn’t get a team anywhere.

That’s a clear flaw in the system, but that’s a story for another day. For now, Brown understands what Hinkie is doing with the franchise.

“He’s backed it up,” Brown said about Hinkie’s plan. “It’s a deliberate thing, it’s a patient thing. It’s a strategy that when he designed it, I was aware of it when I signed up with him to come here and it’s playing out as told.”

But it doesn’t necessarily make it fun-to-watch basketball. Losing is no fun and the danger of a rebuild is that losing can sometimes get stuck in the fabric of what is trying to be created. That’s the slippery slope Brown, Hinkie and the rest of the Sixers have to watch carefully.

In the meantime, since losing ballgames is supposed to be the course de rigueur, here are a few things to keep fans focused on the good times that could come down the road.

Michael Carter-Williams’ development
There is no more interesting player on the Sixers’ roster than MCW. At first glance, he doesn’t look like much -- tall, thin and baby-faced, Carter-Williams looks like he started shaving just last week.

Carter-Williams could be the young guard that the veteran point guards in the league will light up. Sure, Carter-Williams is a taller point guard, but that’s not unique anymore. And without a grizzled veteran on the roster to help guide Carter-Williams through the league, it could be a long season for the rookie.

Can he handle the likes of Dwyane Wade or Russell Westbrook? Can he stand up to taking the brunt of the opposition’s pick-and-roll? What are his mind and legs going to be like at the end of March when the Sixers are closing in on 60 losses?

That’s what we’ll learn this season. It’s also worth pointing out that on closer inspection, MCW isn’t only tall, thin and baby-faced, but also mature, thoughtful and measured. In fact, Carter-Williams is a lot like the guy he replaced, Jrue Holiday, in that regard. No one expected much out of Holiday when he left UCLA early to jump to the NBA, and he was an All-Star by his fourth season.

Evan Turner and his future
By all accounts, this is a big season for the former No. 2 overall pick (see story). Headed into his fourth NBA season, Turner will learn by the Sixers' Thursday deadline whether he'll be extended or able to test free agency next summer.

And after a summer spent trying to deal Turner, the Sixers seem poised to allow him to dip his toe into the free-agency waters.

Before that happens, Turner has numbers to produce. Three seasons have come and gone and Turner hasn’t had that magical breakthrough yet. He’s been close and had some pretty epic ballgames, but consistency over a season has been an issue.

Turner should have something to prove this season. Seemingly focused on the season rather than future free agency and contract extensions, a big season could be at hand for Turner.

That is, if he’s still with the team past the trade deadline.

The offense?
His players have described Brown’s offense as “vanilla.” The thing about that bland and boring flavor is it often can be enhanced. What the players call vanilla is something very basic. The idea is for the young Sixers to run, run and then run some more.

And then after that, Brown wants the Sixers to keep on running.

If that’s vanilla, it might have a few sprinkles on top. An All-Star Game or playground-like style could supplant the lack of complexity in the playbook. In that regard, count on the Sixers to score some points ...

The defense?
... And expect them to give up a bunch, too.

While youthful exuberance can spark a run-and-gun offense, it can cause problems on defense, where the nuances of the game are more pronounced. Certainly, defensive issues have shown up during the Sixers’ exhibition games when the opposition averaged 108 points.

Add in the facts that the Sixers have one 7-footer in Spencer Hawes and that rookie defensive whiz Nerlens Noel might not play this season, and rebounds are going to be few and far between.

Expect to see the Sixers dabble with some zone defense to help them protect the paint. Also expect the Sixers to get whistled for a bunch of defensive three-seconds calls, too.

Is a 9-73 season a possibility?
Doubtful. Though the Sixers will rank near the bottom of the standings in the NBA, there are a lot of bad teams in the league. The Sixers will get four chances to get wins against Charlotte, Orlando, Atlanta and Boston. They also face Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah twice apiece.

Of those 24 games, the Sixers ought to put together at least 10 wins and still be able to have a crack at the top pick in next summer’s NBA draft.

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.