Posts Tagged ‘2014 draft’

Rating the rookies, position by position


VIDEO: The Starters grade the rookies after Summer League action

This is going to be a unique rookie class no matter what, with the No. 1 pick having already been traded and three of the top prospects from outside the 2014 draft, so a position-by-position ranking of first-year players less than a week before all training camps open is likewise a challenge to pin down.

The No. 1 point guard was the third point guard taken in June, if it turns out Dante Exum actually plays there, a TBA in Utah with Trey Burke in place but also after Exum insisted throughout the draft process that’s his position (and the absence of a perimeter game agrees he can’t handle shooting guard yet). It is possible, and even likely, that all of two centers will spend at least most of 2014-15 in the NBA or avoid getting cut altogether. And only one of the shooting guards, Nik Stauskas in Sacramento, can be in a conversation about potentially starting early.

The true impact of the newcomers will take years to determine. For now, before the Rookie Ladder returns closer to the regular season for the overall rankings, there are the position ratings heading into camp to gauge the greatest first-year impact, not predict the best careers.

Point Guard

1. Elfrid Payton, Magic

2. Exum

3. Marcus Smart, Celtics

4. Russ Smith, Pelicans

5. Shabazz Napier, Heat

Summary: Easy call. Payton has the clearest path, by far, to a starting job, under the assumption Victor Oladipo moves to become the full-time shooting guard, and having an opportunity is an obvious edge over others fighting for backup minutes. Smart would similarly greatly benefit if the usual Rajon Rondo trade speculation finally becomes reality now that a successor is in place. Smith could go from No. 47 directly into the New Orleans rotation. (more…)

Kings say they are still behind McLemore


VIDEO: Ben McLemore scored 11 points as the Kings beat the Bulls

LAS VEGAS – Here’s a statement. Two of them actually, packaged into one big picture: Ben McLemore, the shooting guard the Kings drafted in the lottery in 2013, insisted he didn’t read too much into it when the Kings used another lottery pick on another shooting guard in the 2014 draft, and team officials, naturally, say they remain committed as ever to McLemore’s future in Sacramento.

It’s all good, right? McLemore came to summer league with the proper attitude, if pressing at first, and followed that up by playing well, making 52.2 percent of his attempts and averaging 14.6 points in five games as a major part of the Kings reaching the Sunday evening semifinals of the tournament format at Thomas & Mack Center, which concludes Monday. He is doing a lot of the right things and saying all the right things.

But, look. There’s Nik Stauskas.

The Kings just drafted someone who plays the same position, a year after being overjoyed to get McLemore in 2013, complete with the emotional bends of trying hard to trade up to get him, finding no deal, and then having the Kansas product fall to their laps at No. 7.

The Kings made it a priority this offseason to add perimeter shooting, and that is Stauskas’ specialty, the primary appeal to taking him at No. 8 as part of a portfolio that also includes being able to handle the ball well enough to project as a secondary playmaker and the experience in pressure situations of one run to the national-title game at Michigan and another to the Elite Eight.

In the singular moment, with Stauskas surrounded in positives, the Kings had a good 2014 draft. It’s just that it may also become a new perspective on the direction of their 2013 draft. That is the other statement.

“I told him,” coach Michael Malone said of McLemore, ” ‘Listen, we drafted Nik Stauskas. That’s not any slight on you. We still believe in you. You’re still our guy and we still expect great things from you from Year 1 to Year 2.’ I think he came out to Summer League after one year in the NBA thinking he had to score 20 points a game. It’s not about that. It’s playing the right way as we try to instill more ball movement.”

Playing the first couple games like someone hearing footsteps, although saying he didn’t have a problem with the Stauskas pick, McLemore responded by scoring 18, 22 and 11 points the next three outings while shooting 64.3 percent and adding six rebounds on two occasions. Stauskas has also had a good summer, at 48.6 percent from the field in five outings, 57.1 percent from behind the arc, and 10.4 points.

Their play has been a key factor in the Kings reaching the semifinals against the Wizards. The winner of that game faces the winner of Hornets-Rockets on Monday night for the title.

Glen Robinson III fighting his college reputation

No. 40 pick Glen Robinson III looks to disprove doubters who say he coasts on the court.

No. 40 pick Glen Robinson III looks to disprove doubters who say he is too passive on the court.

LAS VEGAS – He should start a fight.

It doesn’t matter who it’s with, it doesn’t matter what it’s about. A cheap shot under the basket. The temperature on the team bus to the arena. Who should be first in line at the breakfast buffet. Anything.

Just start a fight.

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” Glenn Robinson III said through a smile, getting the point but disagreeing with it. “It might happen in practice or something. I need to keep my head, keep my cool.”

He needs to show a fire. Robinson fell to the Timberwolves at No. 40 in the draft on June 26 because a lot of teams saw him as too passive in a 2013-14 at Michigan that was set up for success with the departures of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. but ended with questions about GRIII lacking intensity. They were frustrated that he didn’t seem more frustrated.

This summer league and the rookie season in Minnesota that follows is about proving he won’t cruise through games, that his attitude will match his billing as a small forward with the talent to be in the lottery conversation six or eight months ago. That talk faded, obviously, but the skill set did not, so Robinson begins the transition to the NBA needing to take on an image as well as every human opponent.

“Something that really helps me is just talking on the court, whether that’s smack talking or joking around,” he said. “It’s talking and keeping that motor up.”

It’s trash talking more than before.

“Oh, yeah,” Robinson said. “Definitely…. Whoever’s guarding me. Everybody talks out there. That’s something that’s a little trick that I’ve found to keep my motor up.”

The son of Big Dog Glenn Robinson, a two-time All-Star with the Bucks in the early-2000s as part of an 11-year career with four teams, is that conscious of wanting to appear locked in. Last season, he re-watched a lot of games the same night, sometimes with Michigan coaches and sometimes when he got home or back to the hotel room, not agreeing with the assessment that he was cruising but that there were “a couple possessions maybe I could sprint my lane a little faster or maybe try to grab some offensive rebounds.”  Also, that “a lot of people tell me the game seems to come easy to me. I think that’s more what it is. I have the same facial expression or am relaxed all the time.”

Wanting to be much more than a what-could-have-been, GRIII is using the same level of self-analysis at the start of his NBA career. Because not agreeing with the assessment is different than not taking the comments to heart as a way to get better.

“I never felt like I was drifting or I never felt like I wasn’t playing 100 percent,” he said. “But if it’s there, you have to make adjustments. You have to change that.”

So, he trash talks. He jokes on the court. Anything to get a reaction. No fights, though.

Even if he should.

Caboclo gets another new experience


VIDEO: Brazilian Bruno Caboclo scores 12 points in his Summer League debut

LAS VEGAS – The big surprise is giving way to the little moments.

Bruno Caboclo spent another 90 minutes with an English tutor at the team hotel on Friday, just as the Brazilian has been doing regularly for about three weeks, even before the Raptors pulled the shock of this and many other drafts by taking Caboclo at No. 20. The same Caboclo who was not in the top 60 on the draft board in a lot of war rooms. The same Caboclo who was as stunned as anyone when he got a call while riding in the back seat of a taxi in New York that, yes, he actually had just become an NBA first-round pick.

He spent much of last week in Los Angeles, working out with new teammates DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Amir Johnson and others, trying to accelerate the growing pains and get ready for 2014-15 in Toronto, not another season in Brazil. The Raptors wanted him to learn about life on the road in North America, and basketball too.

“He saw a lot of stuff,” general manager Masai Ujiri said. “It hit him in the face a little bit. It’s a learning process.”

Friday afternoon, Caboclo played for the Raptors for the first time. Another little thing. It was only Summer League, only the opening day of Summer League at that, but something of an unveiling, a name and a face almost no NBA fan would have recognized before the night of June 26 facing the Lakers at Cox Pavilion.

He logged 24 minutes, made five of seven shots, contributed 12 points and two rebounds to the 88-78 victory as part of the transition that will surely include stints, and possibly long stints, in the D-League. As with the other progress reports, the experience matters to the Raptors more than what happened in the moment.

There are more games here and the fresh milestone of interpreter Eduardo Resende returning home to Brazil on Sunday, a big step for an 18 year old seeing a lot of new places before he has a chance to get settled in Toronto. Some veteran Raptors have been more than glad to help him pick up a few words and phrases in particular, of course.

“They teach me all kind of things,” Caboclo said through Resende.

People around them laughed, getting the point in any language.

“He’s learning pretty quick, that part,” the translator said.

Those helpful teammates.

“He’s a young player, he’s going to grow,” Ujiri said. “He’s a very young player. We just want him to experience the NBA practices, the NBA game itself when we can, the D-League, get stronger. All that stuff. He’s going to go through the process.”

He’s going to go through all the little things.

Not all second-rounders are long shots

VIDEO: The Starters pick the best all time second-rounders

Summer League begins Saturday in Orlando, and so does the climb for many of its players.

Most of the second-rounders drafted last Thursday will play at the Magic facility or the larger Las Vegas gathering next week at two UNLV sites, except for prospects nursing injuries or staying overseas. Many of the 30 picked without the certainty of a guaranteed contract will stick on opening-night rosters in the fall, even if most of their real action will come in the D-League. And some will even build full careers as real contributors, more than riding the bubble from season to season.

The buildup was true and the 2014 draft turned out to have the kind of depth that could produce legit players, not just sparring partners for practice, in the second round. It was the draft where several prospects being mentioned beforehand by front offices as first-round possibilities fell into the bottom 30, making those players sleepers to make an impact.

The five with the best chance to last:

1. K.J. McDaniels, 32nd pick, 76ers

The concern is that he is slightly undersized for a small forward at 6-foot-6 and 200 pounds. The counter is, though, what an athlete. He’s a player being able to jump over an opponent — any opponent. Beyond the physical gifts, the Clemson product can be, as SMU coach Larry Brown suggested, a human stat sheet — not putting up flashy numbers any one place but piling up points, rebounds and blocks in a way that means a contribution in several different areas. Some teams believe he can develop into a defensive presence against small forwards, shooting guards and even some point guards.

2. Glenn Robinson III, 40th pick, Timberwolves

It’s about the attitude. If Big Dog’s son has the same passive approach that cost him the chance to take over at Michigan following the departure of Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr., his ceiling is role player at best. If GRIII learns to play with intensity, though. the small forward will have a better career than a lot of players picked 15 or 20 spots higher. Especially if he also adds range to his shot.

3. Jarnell Stokes, 35th pick, Grizzlies

Drafted by Utah and traded to Memphis, Stokes can become an inside presence, a power forward who will generate rebounds, especially offensive boards, with strength and also make passes from the post. He is coming off a leading role on Tennessee’s run to the Sweet 16 and as a member of the U.S. team that won the gold medal at the under-19 world championships, part of a trajectory that indicates a player that continues to improve.

4. Cameron Bairstow, 49th pick, Bulls

The other Australian in the Dante Exum draft. Bairstow will be dependable and solid on several fronts, a power forward-center with a nice mid-range shot, an improving post game and a drive to get better. And he will do it with a motor constantly running in the red. That’s a lot of possibilities. If he proves he can defend NBA bigs, he has a nice future.

5. Walter Tavares, 43rd pick, Hawks

Tavares is a project — a 22-year-old, 7-foot-3 center who has only been playing since 2009 — worth the ride to the end. A 7-9 wingspan and some teams rating him in low-to-mid 30s is convincing like that. He has already progressed to being a shot blocker and general defensive presence. Imagine if he becomes more comfortable on offense. Imagine what even a single season of NBA practices and conditioning program will do. Just imagine.

A few others: Semaj Christon, 55th pick, Thunder. A wild card, emphasis on wild, who can be something if he harnesses the great speed and cut down on ball-handling mistakes. … Thanasis Antetokounmpo, 51st pick, Knicks. Not the level of prospect of younger brother Giannis, but a possible versatile defender. … Spencer Dinwiddie, 38th pick, Pistons. It’s tough to get a read on where he is after knee surgery kept him from workouts and will sideline him from Summer League, but the Colorado guard would have been a strong candidate for the first round if healthy.

Shots drop with McDermott, but Bulls waiting for other shoe, too


VIDEO: Bulls land McDermott in Draft night trade with Nuggets

CHICAGO – Doug McDermott plays basketball, an exhaustive Sports Illustrated article told us in March, in a “state of posthypnotic calm.”

The Chicago Bulls and their fans, however, conduct their pebble-grained business these day in a state of near-hysteria.

It would be nice if McDermott’s psychologist-induced sense of well-being and positive visualizations rubbed off on his new NBA team and its supporters. But it’s no small order. They would have to do like Doug – relax, count backward from five to one, then picture themselves at a beach. There, they would unburden themselves of all their anxieties – fears about Derrick Rose‘s long-term health, impatience over the newfound vulnerability of the Miami Heat, doubts about the Bulls’ front office and management’s commitment not just verbally but financially to chasing a championship with this core. Finally, as McDermott’s guru Jack Stark reportedly instructs him, they would pack that stuff in a box, place it on a raft and give it a push out to sea.

Problem is, for Bulls fans, that moment of serenity only would last if they envisioned Carmelo Anthony rowing ashore, right past the driftting box of toxins, flashing a big smile, waving a diminished contract and wearing a red-and-black Bulls uniform.

Or LeBron James. Or Kevin Love.

McDermott’s arrival Thursday night in the 2014 Draft – in a swap-o-rama move in which Chicago turned its Nos. 16 and 19 first-round picks into Denver’s No. 11, the Bulls landing Creighton’s irrepressible scorer and the Nuggets opting for Croatian center Jusuf Nurkic and Michigan State guard Gary Harris – immediately got judged for how it might lead to the Bulls fans’ free-agent imaginings.

If that happens, it will cast McDermott, the Draft, VP John Paxson and GM Gar Forman and everything else leading up to the 2014-15 season in a warm, fuzzy light.

If it doesn’t, the switch will flip quickly to overhead fluorescence, the decision judged starkly for what it is and what it isn’t.

But then, why wait? Better to know the floor for how this might or might not help Chicago splice a different ending on the plucky overachievers-turned-early eliminatees movie that’s been playing on a loop in The Loop.

McDermott is a scorer who did so constantly and resourcefully at Creighton, shaking off top-priority game-planning by opposing defenses to amass 3,150 points in his four NCAA seasons. He averaged 26.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting as a senior, including 45 percent from the college 3-point line. He’ll bring his nose for the net to a Bulls club that was offensively challenged, desperate for points in Rose’s absence and determined to spread the floor for their point guard if he does return healthy.

Both Forman and coach Tom Thibodeau all but wagged fingers at media folks who characterized McDermott strictly as a shooter – “He’s a lot more than that,” said Thibodeau, who will find out soon enough at the floor’s other end. But as far as judging McDermott’s addition on the court as a rookie, he likely will look like that deep-threat mischaracterization.

That’s not bad. But it only scratches the surface for why Chicago made this move.

McDermott’s strengths overlap enough with Mike Dunleavy that, now, the 12-year veteran and his $3.3 million salary are in play. Possibly in a sign-and-trade for Anthony, the scorer many Bulls fans believe will complement Rose, solve the team’s biggest problem and propel them back to the Eastern Conference finals.

It’s not just Dunleavy’s salary. It’s the money Chicago saved by turning two guaranteed first-round contracts into one. It’s the cap space it will free up once the Bulls invoke their long-anticipated amnesty cleanse of forward Carlos Boozer‘s $16.8 million.

Rolled together, those and a few minor tweaks could give Chicago about $12 million to $13 million to offer Anthony – or theoretically James, a real long shot – as the starting salary of a four-year contract. Without going backward – shedding key players such as Taj Gibson or Jimmy Butler – in a stab at going forward.

Might it happen? Might Anthony choose to kiss buh-bye a far more lucrative offer from his most recent team, the Knicks (who can pay him $129 million over five seasons)? Might he bank $30 million or $40 million on Rose’s prognosis and, let’s face it, luck, choosing that over new N.Y. boss Phil Jackson‘s proven jewelry box?

Sure. He might. James might go back to Cleveland, too. Love might run off and join his uncle’s band.

But without a big play in free agency, what the Bulls did on draft night won’t rise beyond a modest play for shooting and spacing. Nothing wrong with that, just as there was nothing really wrong four years ago in landing Boozer and a more experienced sharpshooter from Creighton. If McDermott can learn to defend and pass at the NBA level like Kyle Korver, while shooting as well or better, it’s a solid move.

It just won’t induce any state of calm and well-being around United Center, not without pharmaceuticals.

Milwaukee gets its night to shine


VIDEO: The Bucks nab arguably the 2014 Draft’s best player

ST. FRANCIS, Wis. – October belongs to everybody – no one’s lost a game yet, every team’s roster seems shiny and full. Springtime is owned by the big dogs, the contenders and the wannabes, established teams already or on their way up.

July is for the glamour markets and the legacy franchises, the destinations with tradition, night life or both. That’s where free agents want to play, those are the places media folks love to talk about and, maybe, even live.

But for one night in June, it was about – first and second, first and foremost – Cleveland and Milwaukee. A pair of small, largely unloved NBA towns were in no-lose situations early Thursday evening – it was going to be Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker, Parker or Wiggins, one or the other – and there was nothing the rest of the league or its followers could do about it.

That feeling was palpable at the Bucks’ draft headquarters in the moments after general manager John Hammond grabbed Parker with the No. 2 pick overall. And given how thick with emotion Hammond’s voice sounded as he talked about the pick, the player and the person, it was a feeling Milwaukee desperately wants to last.

Parker likes the Bucks. He likes Milwaukee. He really, really likes them.

“We’re really excited about the fact that he wants to be here,” Hammond said of the Duke forward, a 1-2, flip-a-coin certainty to wind up with the Cavaliers or the Bucks according to most draft projections. “I talked to him a couple moments ago and he’s thanking us for the opportunity. That’s something you really appreciate.

“I think he has a chance to be a great long-term fit for us.”

Lots of teams say that about lots of guys on Draft night, but it resonates a little more with Milwaukee. This is a team that spends most of the year, particularly during free agency, hearing all the snide stuff about Podunkville.

No one wants to play there. No one would choose to live there.  Even as the TV panelists coughed up a few kudos in the Bucks’ direction for the talented young man they’d just corralled, folks in Milwaukee were wise to them; given the chance, those suits would slit the franchise’s throat if a relocation could have gotten them a few business trips each year to Seattle.

But things are changing, whether the national media like it or not. The league’s collective bargaining agreement was remade in 2011 to spread talent around. The Bucks just got sold to a pair of hedge-fund impresarios, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who pledged to keep them right where they are – eventually in a new arena. And now they have a prized young player thanking them and saying he wants to have a one-team career.

“They gave me the say-so right [away], and I didn’t get any conclusions from any other teams,” Parker said of the Bucks’ pledge they would take him if the Cavs didn’t. “I’m just so glad they were men of their words.”

As for being happy going to a place so many NBA veterans snub or scoff or sneer at, Parker – a Chicago native who gave a shout-out to Lake Michigan immediately after being selected – said: “That’s up to the player.”

Said Hammond: “You look at this and think, ‘Is there a perfect storm, a perfect synergy, where this all works together?’ [Lasry and Edens] purchase the team, a few months later we get the second pick in the draft and we get the chance to draft a guy like Jabari Parker.”

Everyone knows about Parker the player, the NBA-ready scorer who can bookend with last year’s precocious prospect, Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are thrilled to have that guy, regardless of his preferred ZIP or area code.

“You hate to go with ‘comps,’ but we do that,” Hammond said. “We talk about a Paul Pierce comparison and a Carmelo [Anthony] comparison.”

The Bucks GM said he caught some SportsCenter the other day when the topic was Anthony’s opt-out from New York, and the stock footage they ran of Melo had Hammond thinking about Parker.

“The way he moved with the ball, the kinds of things he was doing, the way he was scoring,” he said. “We had a chance to spend part of the time with Jabari and watch him work out individually, and I’ve got to say there were some real similarities there as far as how he looked on the floor and the kind of things Melo was doing.”

That’s quite a comparison for any young player, Hammond conceded. But then he launched into another one, equally lofty, that fits the person he’d just drafted.

“You hope the next comp, as a person, might be a Kevin Durant going to a small-market team like Oklahoma City and obviously his feelings about being there,” Hammond said. “Those guys are special people. But [that organization has] done a special job, too, of putting [him] in position where [he] can be successful.

“Now it’s our job to put him in a position where he continues to feel good about this city and this organization.”


VIDEO: Relive Jabari Parker’s selection slow-mo style

Night for Pacers, Pistons to watch, plot

The Cleveland Cavaliers again have everyone else in the NBA breathlessly waiting while they decide which domino shall topple first.

The Milwaukee Bucks are next, happy to sit at No. 2, hoping for more Durant-after-Oden, less Bowie-after-Olajuwon.

The Chicago Bulls sit further back but hold two picks, Nos. 16 and 19, in the first round of what’s considered to be a deep draft (and even loftier ambitions for free agency).

And then there are the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Pistons, poor little Central Division teams on the outside looking in – on the first round, anyway – of the 2014 Draft Thursday night.

The Pacers traded away their first-round pick to Phoenix last summer, packaging it with Gerald Green and Miles Plumlee for veteran forward Luis Scola. The Suns hold it at No. 27, leaving Indiana with only the No. 57 pick – three from the bottom – as a long-shot stab at talent near the end of the night.

The Pistons would have picked No. 9, a pivotal point similar to last year (No. 8), if not for its desperation two years ago to unload Ben Gordon, sweetening a deal for Charlotte’s Corey Maggette by including a protected future first-rounder. That future turned into the present when Detroit slipped one spot in the lottery drawing, stripping the protection, transferring the pick to the Hornets and leaving new basketball poobah Stan Van Gundy only with the No. 38 pick.

Technically, Nos. 38 and 57 aren’t wastelands when it comes to finding (more like discovering months later) occasional talent. Eighteen of the past 20 players drafted 38th earned jobs in the league, however briefly; Andy Rautins (2010) and DeMarco Johnson (1998) lasted five games each, while Michael Wright (2001) and Rashard Griffith (1995) were the only washouts. Over the past 20 years, the top players to emerge from No. 38 probably have been Chandler Parsons (2011), Steve Blake (2003), Eduardo Najera (2000), Chris Duhon (2004) and Nate Wolters (2013).

Meanwhile, San Antonio sixth man Manu Ginobili classed up the No. 57 slot when the Spurs grabbed him there in 1999. Washington center Marcin Gortat was picked at the spot in 2005. Since Gortat, however, the eight players selected at No. 57 have played a combined five games – all by Florida State forward Ryan Reid (2010), who logged 17 minutes total for the Thunder in 2011-12.

All of which is a long and historically broken down way of saying Indiana and Detroit aren’t banking on the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to deliver their offseason improvements.

The Pacers have internal chores atop their to-do list. Shooting guard Lance Stephenson has reached free agency before full maturity, forcing a tough call on president Larry Bird and the rest of the organization: Pay Stephenson and risk even greater antics fueled by a fat, guaranteed-and-validating contract in the mid-eight figures, or let him leave and scramble to replace his scoring, playmaking, defense and energy. Backup Evan Turner was a dud after arriving via trade in February and also will be a free agent, but for now he is Indiana’s Lance insurance.

Coach Frank Vogel also has to resuscitate Roy Hibbert as the team’s centerpiece, weighing the big man’s defensive presence against his offensive quirks and alarming unreliability late last season and postseason.

The Pistons feel as if their work already is underway, with Van Gundy in place and speculation swirling about a Josh Smith-to-Sacramento trade. They also have done their homework in gauging restricted free agent Greg Monroe‘s value, possible offer sheets (which often aren’t in synch with the first calculation) and their match-or-trade decision tree. Detroit also figures to have between an estimated $13 million to $14 million in salary cap space, pending other moves.

Van Gundy, a baseball fan, used an analogy from that sport when updating Detroit media recently on the team’s expected maneuvers. “We’re not gonna hit a home run,” he said, “but if we can get three singles or two singles and a double, and drive in a couple runs, we’ll be OK.”

Assuming they’ve got Verlander or Scherzer on the mound, of course.

Morning Shootaround — June 25


VIDEO: Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel discusses LeBron James’ opt out

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Are Clips willing to deal Griffin to get James? | Boeheim thinks Anthony would thrive in Chicago | Cavs still torn on who to take No. 1 | Report: Kings, Pistons talk J-Smoove swap | Report: Pelicans looking to move into first round

No. 1: Report: Clips interested in Anthony, James, but won’t trade Griffinor would they?LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, both of whom are on the free-agent market after their recent decisions to opt out of their contracts, are both close on a personal level with L.A. Clippers point guard Chris Paul. James and Paul have been close friends for years, while Anthony and Paul are also tight (anyone remember Paul famously toasting a future with Anthony during ‘Melo’s wedding?). The Clips are interested — like every other team in the league — in trying to nab Anthony and/or James this summer, but they won’t move Blake Griffin to make either transaction happen. Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com has more:

The Los Angeles Clippers have strong interest in pursuing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony if they can clear the requisite salary cap space to make a maximum-level offer to the superstars, who have both elected to become free agents starting July 1.

One player they have no interest in moving, however, is forward Blake Griffin. While the Clippers would need to move significant players and money to make a run at either James or Anthony, sources told ESPN that Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers has told Griffin on numerous occasions that he considers him “untouchable” in any trade.

The Clippers have $76 million committed in salaries for next season. That figure will decrease to $71.7 million after Darren Collison, Glen Davis and Danny Granger opt out of their contracts for next season, meaning the Clippers likely would have to trade some combination of prized young center DeAndre Jordan (one year, $11.4 million), Jared Dudley (three years, $12.1 million), Matt Barnes (three years, $10.1 million), Jamal Crawford (three years, $16.3 million) or J.J. Redick (four years, $27.7 million) to facilitate a deal.

The Clippers’ discussions about making a run at James or Anthony have been internal thus far; however, sources said the team has engaged in trade discussions this spring with the Orlando Magic regarding shooting guard Arron Afflalo.

Paul is one of James’ best friends and the two have talked about playing with each other since they were in high school, when they met on the AAU and prep all-star circuits. Paul is godfather to James’ son Bryce and they were in each other’s weddings.

The Clippers have a similar interest in Anthony, who is close with both Paul and Griffin, but it would be too difficult to clear enough salary cap space to pursue both James and Anthony in tandem.

While Shelburne makes it pretty clear the Clips won’t deal Griffin for James or Anthony, that may or may not be the truth in L.A. Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times echoes that the Clips are indeed interested in LeBron and that they’d be willing to move Griffin to make a deal for him happen.

Here’s more from Turner:

Doc Rivers, the Clippers’ president of basketball operations and coach, and his staff are doing their due diligence to make the team better and would consider moving All-Star power forward Blake Griffin along with others in a sign-and-trade deal to get James, according to the officials.

The Clippers could consider sending Griffin and Jared Dudley or Griffin and Matt Barnes to Miami to get James.

The Clippers wouldn’t mind trading DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford and either Barnes or Dudley to the Heat for James, but the team knows that would most likely be hard to do.

One official said James really liked Rivers and was good friends with Clippers point guard Chris Paul.

Another official said James’ wife, Savannah, really loved Los Angeles, and that her preference would be for her husband to play for the Clippers rather than the Lakers if he decided to leave.

“The Miami Heat does not think he’s leaving,” one official said. “Miami thinks it’s a ploy by James to make the team better.”

The Clippers also haven’t ruled out making a run at Carmelo Anthony, who opted out of his contract with the New York Knicks and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, the officials said.

Another NBA official said that Steve Ballmer, who has agreed to pay $2 billion to buy the Clippers from Donald and Shelly Sterling in a deal that isn’t official yet, would be willing to “pay the luxury tax” if he was able to acquire James or Anthony.


VIDEO: Sekou Smith talks on GameTime about which team might land LeBron James

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Saric’s signing in Turkey may alter plans at top of Draft


VIDEO:Dario Saric is a top-flight overseas prospect in the 2014 Draft

The top of the 2014 Draft took another likely turn when possible lottery pick Dario Saric, a versatile forward from Croatia, reached an agreement on a contract with a team in Turkey that will likely keep him in Europe at least two more seasons, ESPN.com reported Monday.

Saric, No. 11 to the Nuggets in the NBA.com mock Draft, reportedly has a three-year deal in place that includes a player option for the final season, giving him a lot of flexibility. By the end of his third season in Turkey, Saric would come to the NBA with the team that drafted him, but not be constrained by the rookie scale.

A rising prospect in Europe for years, Saric is inefficient on offense, sometimes taking bad shots and sometimes forcing turnovers. But, the 6-foot-10, 235-pounder has impressed front offices with a multi-skilled game that includes being able to handle the ball in half court or transition while being compared, at times, to ex-Chicago Bulls standout Toni Kukoc.

Also Monday, new co-owner Marc Lasry ruled out the possibility the Bucks will take injured center Joel Embiid with the second pick, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported. Speaking to the Milwaukee Press and Rotary Club, Lasry strongly indicated the decision Thursday night would come down to the player the Cavaliers do not take at No. 1, Jabari Parker or Andrew Wiggins.

Parker is projected to go first in the NBA.com mock, Wiggins second.

Lasry’s comments were not a surprise in that the Bucks were a longshot to take Embiid anyway. But teams generally don’t like to offer such strong hints leading to the Draft unless it is meant to stir the trade waters, and saying they would pass on Embiid won’t do that. The possibility still exists Milwaukee was trying to force a better offer if someone wanted to move to No. 2 to get Wiggins.