76ers will go as far in East as Bynum takes them

76ers will go as far in East as Bynum takes them

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Working together for NBC at the Olympics, 76ers coach Doug Collins and Boston coach Doc Rivers caught up over dinner, talking hoops and sizing up the best big men in the NBA.

Little did Rivers know, Collins was keeping a secret - a 7-foot sized one.

``He said, `Who do you struggle with?' I said, `Bynum,''' Rivers said with a smile. ``Doug almost choked on his soup. He knew the next day they were about to get him. It was pretty funny. I didn't appreciate it, but it was pretty funny.''

After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference semifinals allowed Philadelphia to shed a decade of mediocre basketball, the organization took a giant step in the summer, acquiring center Andrew Bynum from the Los Angeles Lakers, easily their most talented man in the middle since Moses Malone - and the best one in the East.

All of those accolades come with one crucial caveat. Bynum, who turns 25 on Saturday, has to avoid further issues with his knees and play at least 70-75 games if the Sixers are going to build off last year's run and compete for the Atlantic Division title.

If Bynum's knees can withstand the rigors of a full season, look out, the Sixers could be every bit as good as advertised. If he's sidelined for extended periods of time, though, the Sixers could return to that 40-win, fight-for-the-eighth-seed malaise of the last several seasons.

Bynum has been held out of all basketball activity this preseason as a precaution after receiving knee treatment in Germany. Bynum hopes to practice for the first time on Wednesday and the Sixers remain optimistic the All-Star will be ready for the Oct. 31 opener against former Sixers guard Andre Iguodala and Denver.

``I know how important the home opener is and I know all that kind of stuff,'' Collins said. ``But we're not going to do anything silly and have another setback to where now it costs you during the season.''

The Sixers got Bynum in a whopper of a four-team deal that sent Iguodala, their All-Star and Olympian, to the Nuggets, and saw Dwight Howard traded to the Lakers. Bynum is a New Jersey native and the Sixers feted him with a lavish homecoming in August that included a public press conference in Philadelphia's historic district. The setting for the bash was fitting because their last NBA title in 1983 seems like ancient history.

Bynum is coming off his best NBA season after averaging career highs with 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds while making his first All-Star team, starting for the West. He was the NBA's third-leading rebounder and 20th-leading scorer, while also ranking sixth in the league with 1.93 blocked shots per game.

``He's feared,'' forward Evan Turner said. ``He's a monster.''

But he won't win postseason games alone. Feeling the roster had maxed out its potential, the Sixers dumped expensive veterans Iguodala, Lou Williams and Elton Brand as part of an overhaul that included the acquisitions of Jason Richardson, Dorell Wright, Nick Young, Maalik Wayns and Kwame Brown.

Without Bynum, the Sixers went 6-1 in the preseason, a meaningless record as of today, though an encouraging sign the new pieces fit together.

Outside of Bynum, the Sixers are counting on fourth-year point guard Jrue Holiday to break though into the small group of game-changing point guards. After sharing ballhandling duties with Iguodala, Collins wants Holiday to push the ball and become the point person the other four play off of.

``I become more of a playmaker,'' Holiday said. ``I really have to set up my team, big men as well as shooters.''

The Sixers hope Turner, who never lived up to the expectations of a No. 2 overall pick, can thrive at small forward. Spencer Hawes may start alongside Bynum. Collins likes power forward Thaddeus Young and center Lavoy Allen in the starting lineup when Bynum can't play.

While he loves the idea of Bynum down low, Turner balked at the suggestion the Sixers tapped out the talent of the 2011-2012 team.

``They never really fully utilized myself, Jrue and Dre,'' Turner said. ``I think we maxed out the post situation. But we never went through me, Jrue and Dre. We did that for a couple of weeks and we scored, what, 115 points a game? We were running, rocking and rolling. I can say that for one part, but I can't say that for the guards. We were high-level guards.''

Maybe, but Iguodala has since acknowledged his discontent his last two years in Philadelphia and it was clear both sides needed a clean break. Now, the Sixers have a problem solver in the middle. In the past, if a player slashed his way past the guards, it was an automatic bucket in the paint.

This season, he has to get by Bynum.

Bynum will be worth the wait.

``He knows what's on his shoulders,'' Collins said. ``He wants to be out there.''

In a coincidental twist, Iguodala will return to Philadelphia for the season opener. He was in London playing for the star-studded U.S. men's basketball team when rumors of a deal broke. Iguodala texted Turner with the message, ``It's been a pleasure playing with you.''

Turner asked him what he meant and Iguodala told him he was about to be traded for Bynum. Bummed to lose his friend, Turner also knew it was worth the gamble.

``It's rare to get the best big in the league,'' Turner said. ``It's great for our organization.''

And it could spell trouble for the rest of the East.

Quick Links

Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

USA TODAY Sports Images

Report suggests Barack Obama is trying to recruit Masai Ujiri to Wizards

The Wizards are reportedly preparing to make Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri a massive offer to run Washington's NBA franchise. And they may have some big-time help recruiting him to D.C. 

Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, is trying to persuade Ujiri to leave the NBA champions to join the Wizards, according to The Athletic's Ethan Strauss. 

"I hear Barack Obama's a part of that whole Masai recruitment to D.C.," Strauss said on a recent episode of the "Back To Back" podcast. "I've heard Obama wants Masai in D.C. Obama wants to do something with basketball."

Obama and Ujiri are close friends. Obama was in attendance at Game 2 of the NBA Finals in Toronto, while Ujiri attended the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2015 when Obama was in office. 

The Wizards' potential offer for Ujiri is reportedly for six years, $60 million, and could possibly include an ownership stake in Monumental Sports & Entertainment and other responsibilities within the company, sources have told NBC Sports Washington. 

And hey, it doesn't hurt to have the former Commander in Chief making your sales pitch.


Quick Links

Sekou Doumbouya visits Wizards hoping to sell them on his defense

Sekou Doumbouya visits Wizards hoping to sell them on his defense

WASHINGTON -- The Wizards hosted one of their final prospect workouts in anticipation of the June 20 NBA Draft on Friday, as six players battled in three-on-three drills with every member of Washington's front office and coaching staff in sight. But behind the glass wall of the dining lounge at the Wizards' practice facility at St. Elizabeth's was the player everyone wanted to see.

Sekou Doumbouya, who is projected to land in the lottery on draft night, made a visit to Washington to speak with Wizards personnel. He did not participate in the workout, but through face-to-face interviews gave the Wizards an up-close look at a player who may or may not be on the board when they are on the clock with the ninth overall pick.

Doumbouya is the youngest player in the draft at just 18 years old, with his birthday not until late December. He is originally from Guinea but played professional basketball in France. Given his age and the fact he played in a second-tier league before making the leap to the NBA, Doumbouya holds some mystery as a prospect.

In his meetings with teams, Doumbouya has tried to hammer home one point in particular.

"My defense," he said. "I can play everywhere [because] if you play defense, you can play everywhere in the league."

Defense certainly stands out when it comes to Doumbouya's potential. He is 6-foot-9 with a reported 7-foot-2 wingspan. At his age, he could keep growing. And at that size, he has the mobility to guard multiple positions, force turnovers and maybe even block some shots.

The Wizards need help with just about every area of their defense. They were 27th in defensive rating last season and 29th in points allowed. They couldn't defend the perimeter or the lane, allowing the fourth-highest three-point percentage (37%) and the fifth-most three-point makes (12.1/g), while also allowing more field goals within five feet of the rim than any team (22.1/g) and the third-highest percentage (64.2%) in that range. 

Doumbouya projects as the type of defensive anchor who could help in a variety of ways. He could step out to guard three-point shooters while also clogging lanes to the basket with his length.

The questions for Doumbouya center around how NBA-ready he is at his age and experience, and what his ceiling will ultimately be on the offensive end. Doumbouya, though, believes he can be especially effective in transition.

"Fastbreak," he said when listing his strengths. "I love running [the floor]."

Whether Doumbouya will be available at the ninth pick depends on who you ask. Most mock drafts have him at nine or lower, but his athleticism and versatility could entice a team that picks before the Wizards.

The Hawks, whom Doumbouya met with the day after seeing the Wizards, are a team to watch. They have the eighth, 10th and 17th picks in the first round, so they can afford to take a risk. They could snag Doumbouya at No. 8, then go with a safer pick or two with their other selections.

But there is a very good chance Doumbouya is the best player available when the Wizards get set to make their pick. If he does, defense will be his biggest selling point.