76ers

Sixers among teams to attend pro day for prospects and free agents in Miami

Sixers among teams to attend pro day for prospects and free agents in Miami

Talent evaluation is a never-ending top priority of an NBA organization. Whether a team is adding to its current roster, looking at potential draft picks, constructing a summer league squad or eyeing talent for its D-League affiliate, there are numerous avenues for in-person analysis.

On Saturday, the Sixers were one of 20 teams that sent a representative to the Elite Skills Training pro day held at Chaminade-Madonna prep school north of Miami. Vince Rozman, Sixers director of basketball operations/scouting innovation, was in attendance. The Sixers hold the first, 24th and 26 picks in the first round of this year's draft.

The event, organized by trainer Tony Falce, included 35 players. Among those were Baylor forward Taurean Prince and LSU guard Tim Quarterman, both of whom have already worked out for the Sixers.

The majority of the players were draft prospects who, with the exception of Prince, are projected to go in the second round or go undrafted. There also were a handful of free agents, such as Michael Qualls who worked out for the Sixers last offseason.

The complete list of participants included Willie Atwood, Gracin Bakumanya, Cat Barber, Jordan Barham, Rion Brown, Michael Carrera, Quinton Chievous, Farad Cobb, Raphael Davis, Brandon Dean, Adrian Diaz, Danilo Fuzaro, Dustin Hogue, Reginald Johnson, Chris Jones, Derrick Jones Jr., Jalen Jones, Brandan Kearney, James Kelly, Markus Kennedy (who transferred to SMU from Villanova), Trey Lewis, Jordan Loyd, Jameel McKay, Nic Moore, Abdel Nader, Chris Obekpa, Prince, Qualls, Quarterman, Jevoni Robinson, Skyler Spencer, Terry Tarpey, Kevin Tumba, AJ West, and Devin Williams.

Which NBA playoff format should Sixers prefer?

Which NBA playoff format should Sixers prefer?

In a normal year, the NBA would be nearing the conclusion of a 16-team postseason organized by conferences. This is not a normal year.

As the league considers how it might restart the 2019-20 season, a handful of unorthodox options are on the table. Which of these possibilities would be best for the Sixers?

Let’s take a look:

No conference affiliation? Straight to the playoffs?  

According to The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor, about half of NBA general managers voted for a 16-team playoff format with no conference affiliation. The Athletic's Shams Charania reported that 53 percent of GMs voted to go straight to the postseason instead of playing any further regular-season games. In such a scenario, the Sixers would hold on to Oklahoma City’s top-20 protected first round pick (currently No. 22), while any additional regular-season games would jeopardize that selection conveying. 

The Sixers’ path looks a bit more difficult without a traditional conference setup. They’d be seeded No. 6 in the Eastern Conference and play the Celtics in the first round, whom they hold a 3-1 advantage over this season. In a no-conferences format, the Sixers would also play Boston, in a 12 vs. 5 matchup. If they advanced, they’d potentially have to get through the following teams to win the NBA Finals: Clippers, Bucks, Lakers. Their most challenging path in a traditional format, on paper, would be facing the Celtics, Raptors, Bucks and winner of the West. 

Neither path is easy, but the no-conferences model would possibly force the Sixers to face better teams at earlier stages. The Sixers do, however, have regular-season wins over both Los Angeles teams, Milwaukee and Toronto. While they’ve been searching for consistency and continuity all season, they have shown they can beat the league’s elite teams. 

Play-in tournament? Group stage? 

Per O'Connor, about 75 percent of teams voted for a play-in tournament, while 25 percent of teams voted for a group stage model. 

A play-in tournament wouldn’t directly impact the Sixers, who aren’t on the playoff bubble. This is one method of widening the playoff field, which NBC Sports NBA insider Tom Haberstroh reports would be “partially motivated” by a desire to include star names like Zion Williamson and Damian Lillard. Perhaps a bubble team winning the play-in tournament, gaining momentum and then upsetting a top seed would eventually help the Sixers, but that’s a stretch. The toll of earning a playoff spot could be depleting, too. We haven’t seen it before, so there aren’t any safe assumptions. 

A group stage format would be similar to the FIFA World Cup, where teams are drawn into pool play and those who perform best among their pool advance to the next round. It wouldn’t be a random draw — the league would presumably distribute teams based on regular-season performance — but the chance for more chaos and more top seeds falling in that setting would be a positive for the Sixers. 

Picking opponents? 

As a means to mitigate the loss of home-court advantage — Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida is reportedly the frontrunner single location if/when the season resumes — Haberstroh suggests the idea of having higher-seeded teams pick their opponents in every round.

For those who feel the Sixers are better than their 39-26 record, that wouldn’t be an advantageous model, since higher-seeded teams could "avoid" the Sixers. In Round 1 of a no-conference 16-team playoffs, Haberstroh projects the No. 5 seed Celtics would decide to play the Mavericks. He thinks the No. 7 Jazz would choose to play the Sixers, who have split their two matchups with Utah. 

Commissioner Adam Silver is set to talk with the NBA’s board of governors on Friday and will discuss various formats, according to multiple reports. In the event that the season resumes, the Sixers’ route to a title will be a tough one — regardless of which format the league might ultimately settle on. 

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The greatness and reclusiveness of Andrew Toney

The greatness and reclusiveness of Andrew Toney

Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got all the headlines for the “Showtime” Lakers, but Michael Cooper was their defensive stalwart. An eight-time All-Defensive Team pick, he was to L.A. what Bobby Jones was to the Sixers.

Most opponents wanted no part of Cooper. Andrew Toney wasn’t most players.

On March 7, 1982, in a game that featured six Hall of Famers, Toney owned the Spectrum floor.

“I always remember them saying Michael Cooper was a defensive specialist,” former Sixer Earl Cureton told NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Marc Zumoff. “Andrew used to ask me, what was that. They say they got a guy that’s a stopper. And he went out on national TV and scored 46 on him one night. After the game he said, ‘Who’s the guy that’s supposed to be the defensive specialist? Who was he?’”

Toney was fearless. He didn’t sweat his opponents, even if they were All-Stars or Hall of Famers. He wasn’t afraid to give it to his teammates in practice or defy his head coach from time to time.

While we reflect back on the greatness of the last Sixers team to capture a championship, it’s impossible not to think about Toney and the complicated legacy and relationship he has with Philadelphia.

To hear those that saw Toney at the peak of his powers, he was almost a mythical figure — and was on a path to something special.

‘Andrew!’

The eighth overall pick in 1980 out of Louisiana-Lafayette, Toney joined a team that was loaded with talent and coming off a loss in the Finals to the Lakers.

He was about to share the practice floor with larger-than-life figures like Julius Erving and Darryl Dawkins. That didn’t phase the rookie one bit.

“The initial day at practice over at Widener [University],” Erving said to Zumoff, “he literally came over half court — about four feet past the half court line — and he pulled up and shot a jump shot. Everybody in the gym was just like, ‘Woah.’ And [head coach] Billy [Cunningham] was saying, ‘Andrew!’ and we heard that all six years that we were together.”

That fearless approach may have caused his head coach to yell his name from time to time, but Cunningham gladly took the trade off because of how special Toney was on the court.

“I remember a game, we’re playing the Lakers during the season,” Cunningham said to Zumoff, “in the Spectrum, I think it’s overtime. I call a play to inbound the ball to Maurice Cheeks and then get the ball to Andrew. Andrew just kinda runs and grabs the ball. …

“I’m going, ‘Andrew!’ and he just kind of waves me off. He takes the ball, and two or three Lakers come at him and he shoots the ball over them, banks it in and there I am as the coach, saying, ‘What are you gonna do?’”

Unlike the understated Erving or Cheeks, Toney was brash. With the equal amounts of fear and respect he garnered, he seemed to have a right to be.

‘He definitely had a Hall of Fame career’

The 1982-83 Sixers were loaded. They featured four Hall of Famers — Erving, Moses Malone, Cheeks and Jones. They were led by a Hall of Fame player and coach in Cunningham.

But ask anyone around that time and they have to bring up the name Andrew Toney. “The Boston Strangler” was a two-time All-Star in his own right. 

“Hall of Fame. There’s no question about it,” Cunningham said.

“He definitely had a Hall of Fame career,” Erving said.

“He’d have been a Hall of Famer. Hands down,” Cureton said.

Charles Barkley on more than one occasion has said Toney is the best player he ever played with. Larry Bird said Toney “was one of the best guys I ever played against.

Unfortunately, during the 1984-85 season, Toney began experiencing pain in his feet. This led to conflict with then-Sixers owner Harold Katz, who questioned whether Toney was actually hurt. The team had just awarded Toney with a lucrative contract after his second straight All-Star season in 1983-84.

After an ugly public dispute, it was found that Toney had stress fractures in the navicular bones in both his feet. He played just 87 games his last three seasons.

And just like that, a career that seemed destined to end with Hall of Fame enshrinement ended not long after his 30th birthday.

“I remember Andrew telling me after he [retired],” Cunningham said, “and he’s down in Atlanta and he went to a YMCA or some place to play a little pick-up basketball, and he couldn’t walk after trying to play. He was in such pain with his feet.”

If not for the injuries, there seems to be a consensus from those that watched Toney closely that he’d be right there with his enshrined teammates from 1982-83.

“Andrew dominated,” Cureton said. “If no injuries or nothing happened to him, he was going to be a Hall of Famer. Look where everybody [from that team] is at. Bobby’s in the Hall of Fame, Moses in the Hall of Fame, Doc in the Hall of Fame, Maurice just went into the Hall of Fame. Andrew Toney, rightfully, should be right there with them.”

Giving Toney his due

These days, Toney lives down in Atlanta. Erving also lives in the area and the two play golf from time to time. Erving said Toney takes his golf game just as seriously as he once did his game on the court.

During the 1982-83 season, Erving was 32 years old and still looking for his first NBA championship after capturing two titles in the ABA. He wasn’t in his prime but was still a star. As the playoffs came around, Erving took on a lesser offensive role.

While Malone, who was the league’s MVP for a second straight season, was the focal point, Toney was just as important to the team’s offense.

“[In the Finals against L.A.], it was Moses inside, Andrew outside,” Erving said. “You look at the footage of those plays, we were probably calling as many plays for him as we did for Moses. ... You could never tell how many plays were called for him based on his statistics because he just created his own statistics. Coming down and trying to set something up you’re always looking for some type of advantage, and Andrew was the main guy in that regard.”

Though Toney had bravado — and the scoring ability to back it up — he was by no means a selfish player. He wanted to win.

And he proved that, often taking a backseat to other stars on the team and backing up Cheeks as the team’s point guard throughout their time together.

“He just had unlimited abilities,” Cunningham said. “Of all the players on that team, Andrew Toney sacrificed more than anyone. Winning was the most important thing to him so therefore he would do whatever was necessary.”

But what about his relationship with the organization?

Toney and Katz have made up after all these years. Toney was even at a game a few years ago when the Sixers were celebrating the anniversary of the 1982-83 team — though he didn’t speak to reporters or take part in a pregame ceremony.

“Andrew was a tremendous player,” former Sixer Clint Richardson told Zumoff, “and I’m just praying that at some point Andrew will get his recognition in the organization that he deserves. I’m not sure how it’s going to happen. 

“I’m trying to facilitate some things with him, but he definitely needs to be recognized as one of the top players in the Sixers organization. I think it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of the right time and the right connection with Andrew and him feeling comfortable. I think it’s gonna happen.”

Should No. 22 hang in the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center next to Nos. 2, 6, 10 and 24? Maybe then we’d get to see “The Boston Strangler” ring the bell before a key matchup against the Celtics.

If you ask those that watched him play, the answer would seem to be yes.

For those of us that didn’t, he still feels like a mythical character.

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