76ers

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

In tough preseason opener, Markelle Fultz sees early taste of 'everybody's best shot'

Happily for Markelle Fultz, his preseason debut with the 76ers not only doesn’t count; it was barely counted.

A glitch with the stat system delayed delivery of the official box score. But in time, it appeared, in all its ugliness. In time there was confirmation that Fultz shot 2 for 13 and scored four points as the Sixers, minus Joel Embiid, lost to the Grizzlies, minus Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, by a 110-89 score Wednesday (see observations).

Nobody seemed too concerned about that, least of all Fultz himself.

“Everybody has a night like that,” the rookie guard said. “It’s a long season. There’s going to be times when your shot’s not falling.”

Fultz made his first attempt, a backdoor lefty layup from Ben Simmons (more on him here), and his next-to-last try, an uncontested dunk off a feed from T.J. McConnell. In between, he missed 10 straight — three of them three-pointers, but most of the others within 10 feet of the rim.

Twice he was blocked by 6-foot-10 Deyonta Davis. Other times he couldn’t quite coax his shots home. As Brett Brown said, “He’s going into a whole different treeline.”

Bigger and more athletic than the ones the No. 1 overall pick saw in his lone collegiate season at Washington. Takes some getting used to.

Conley, one of the league’s finest point guards, knows all about it.

“We all go through it,” he said, having rested and looked on from the bench. “It’s just a stage.”

Finishing is just part of the learning process for Fultz. There is also the adjustment to playing off the ball, playing alongside Simmons and facing down all the old heads who will surely test him.

And doing all that at age 19.

“He’s raw right now,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said, “and everybody is going to go after him because he is the No. 1 pick. That’s to be expected.”

Before the game, Fizdale praised Fultz’s maturity, extolled the virtues of his “grown-up game.” That, the coach added, will carry him through.

“He’ll settle in and his talent will pick up,” Fizdale said, “but there are a lot of guys where their first few games in this league, people are hunting for them just to test them out. He’ll go through his bumps and bruises, but you can't deny that level of talent that’s there. … I expect him to be a heck of a player in this league. It’s just a matter of time.”

A process, as it were.

“He’s set himself up for this,” Conley said. “He’s built for this. He’s trained for this. And I’m sure he’s just going to be going through it the first couple games of preseason. After that, it’s sit down, look at the film and learn from it, get better and be the guy that I know he believes he is.”

Conley was the fourth overall pick in 2007, so he knows something about the pressure high draft picks face. (Not to mention those faced by well-compensated veterans. He signed a five-year, $153 million contract in 2016, which at that point was the richest in league history.)

“It’s a lot of pressure (to be taken early), because you’ve got a lot of guys who know who you are, even though you haven’t played a game yet,” Conley said. “He’s definitely going to get everybody’s best shot. He’s got to know that. You’ve got to be prepared for it.”

But Conley also sees Fultz as a level-headed kid, as a guy who will weather the storm. 

“He’s got all the tools,” he said. “Obviously one preseason game, you can’t really judge anything. But his game, I think, is just going to continue to get better. Out there tonight, it looked like he’s still trying to find his way — find his way through the offense.”

Fultz believes he and Simmons can thrive together, that they have already made strides. He further believes that on nights when his shot isn’t falling, he must seek out other ways to contribute.

And finally, he believes he is ready for the challenges ahead — like the one coming up Friday, when the Kyrie Irving-led Celtics come to town.

“I’m actually very, very excited just to test myself against somebody I grew up watching just last year in the Finals,” Fultz said. “Getting the chance to go against one of the best point guards in the NBA right now, I think, will be a good challenge for myself.”

No, that one won’t count, either. Soon enough, though.

LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes tanking jab at Sixers

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LA Clippers owner Steve Ballmer takes tanking jab at Sixers

The Sixers have been minding their own business this summer.

We touched on that earlier this week as players from one Eastern Conference contender after another opened up about how their respective teams were going to reach the NBA Finals (see story).

That’s fine. You would expect those squads to feel confident in their ability, especially now that the conference’s boogie man, LeBron James, has moved on to Hollywood.

But then the Sixers had a grenade lobbed their way from an unlikely source.

Speaking at an event dubbed “The Playbook,” essentially a pep rally for LA Clippers fans to speak with members of the front office, owner Steve Ballmer assured supporters in the crowd that the franchise wasn’t going to adopt a tanking method to get back in contention like the Sixers.

“That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” Ballmer said, per the Los Angeles Times. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

Wow, OK.

Let’s look at the fact that the Sixers’ history, which includes three championships and a laundry list of some of the game's all-time greats, provided the organization with the leeway to undertake such a massive overhaul in a promise to reclaim the glory days. 

The Clippers, on the other hand, have just 13 playoff appearances in their 48-year history and zero titles. 

But this isn’t to beat up on the Clippers. They had to dig themselves out of the mess former owner Donald Sterling created and it can’t be easy always operating in the “Showtime” shadow cast by the Lakers.

This is more about what exactly Ballmer has accomplished — or hasn’t accomplished — in his brief time running a franchise to take a shot at the Sixers from across the country.

Since paying $2 billion for the Clippers prior to the start of the 2014-15 season (one year after the Sixers started “The Process”), the team has actually taken a wrong turn. In that ’14-15 campaign, they won 56 games and reached the Western Conference semifinals. The 2015-16 season produced 53 wins and a first-round exit. In 2016-17, LA registered 51 victories before bowing out in the first round again. Last season, the Clippers had a 42-40 record (two of those losses came to the Sixers) and missed the postseason.

Plus, in just the past calendar year under Ballmer’s watch, the Clips have lost their big three of Chris Paul (trade), Blake Griffin (trade) and DeAndre Jordan (free agent).

That doesn’t exactly scream team on the rise.

Ballmer may indeed have a plan to make sure the Clippers get back in the hunt. After all, he does have respected basketball minds Jerry West and Lawrence Frank handling front-office business and Doc Rivers still orchestrating things on the sidelines. And L.A., while now missing its star trio, does have some intriguing players on the roster that could surprise a few people.

Still, that collection was projected by ESPN to finish with a 35-47 record in 2018-19 and miss the playoffs again in the stacked Western Conference.

With the Clippers staring a decline right in the face and the Sixers boasting two franchise cornerstones in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons along with other solid pieces from Sam Hinkie’s process, it appears a bit misguided for Ballmer to take such a swipe.

Ballmer might not want the Clippers to tank under his leadership. The thing is, the organization might be forced into that method regardless.

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as 2nd female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

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Sixers hire Lindsey Harding as 2nd female full-time scout in NBA from WNBA

The Sixers have made a historic hire in their scouting department.

The team has hired former WNBA star Lindsey Harding as a full-time scout starting next season. 

"I think when you have this goal in mind, your gender shouldn't even matter," Harding told ESPN’s Ramona Shelbourne. "It should be about if you can do it, if you're good, you're experienced, if you know what you're doing and what you're talking about."

Harding, a Duke product and the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 WNBA draft, is just the second woman to be hired by an NBA team as a scout after a career in the WNBA. Jenny Boucek, who is now an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks, was the first former WNBA player to be hired as a scout back in 2006 by the Seattle SuperSonics. Becky Hammon, one of Harding's former opponents who urged Harding to pursue this path, was hired as an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014. Hammon has since been interviewed for the Milwaukee Bucks' GM job and been promoted to Gregg Popovich's top assistant.

Harding completed the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season after retiring in 2017. The 34-year-old guard spent nine seasons in the WNBA and represented Belarus in the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

"Lindsey has quickly become one of the game's bright young minds in basketball operations," Sixers head coach and interim GM Brett Brown said to Shelbourne. "Having graduated from the NBA's Basketball Operations Associates Program last season, Lindsey is applying the same grit and basketball IQ she used as a player in her move to the front office. We look forward to the work Lindsey will do to help grow our program and further solidify a culture of winning.

"It's no secret how much I value the culture we've built in Philadelphia and how much a family-like atmosphere means to our program. Lindsey is a leader, and she is a welcomed addition to the 76ers family. I look forward to working with her."

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