Posts Tagged ‘Jeff Caplan’

Plenty of time for Bledsoe to earn max

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe talks with the Phoenix media during last season’s exit interviews

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Electric point guard Eric Bledsoe one day might command an NBA max deal. It just doesn’t appear that day is today.

The Phoenix Suns want to pay Bledsoe, a restricted free agent, the same as what the Toronto Raptors paid Kyle Lowry earlier this month ($48 million over four years). It’s a pretty fair deal for a player like Bledsoe, who is entering his fifth season and spent three seasons as Chris Paul‘s backup. Plus, he missed half of last season, his first in Phoenix, with a knee injury.

The fearless, 6-foot-1 Bledsoe — when healthy — formed a dynamic backcourt with Goran Dragic and is seeing much bigger dollar figures for himself: max dollars over five years (reportedly $80 million).

He’s seen fellow point guards Kyrie Irving and John Wall break the bank when eligible for extensions (Bright Side of the Sun does a good job here of comparing Bledsoe to his contemporaries). This summer fellow restricted free agents Chandler Parsons and Gordon Hayward rode the market to max deals. Of course, they received the necessary help from other teams — the Dallas Mavericks and the Charlotte Hornets, respectively — making aggressive plays for their services (Parsons landed in Dallas for $46 million over three years when Houston declined to match; Hayward stayed with Utah when the Jazz matched the Hornets’ four-year, $63-million offer).

Sometimes the market embraces you. Sometimes it betrays you.

Bledsoe was counting on another team making him that max offer. In that case, the Suns were thought to be prepared to match. And if they decided otherwise, well, Bledsoe would happily cash his checks in another state.

But as is the case with Detroit big man Greg Monroe, a fellow restricted free agent, an offer sheet has not materialized. And at this late stage where most teams have shopped to their limit, it appears an offer sheet won’t walk through that door.

Bledsoe, 24, has been quiet throughout his free agency, but he did give a brief interview the other day to WVTM during a street-ball hoops event in his hometown of Birmingham, Ala.

“First off, I’m going to let my agent handle it,” Bledsoe said. “I can understand the Phoenix Suns are using restricted free agency against me. But I understand that.”

The Suns aren’t using restricted free agency against Bledsoe. They’re playing by the rules of the collective bargaining agreement. They’ve made a good offer for a player who has started 78 games in his career, and are now sitting back and letting the market work. So far, no team has forced the Suns to increase their offer.

If no offer sheet comes, Bledsoe’s most likely path is to accept the Suns’ $48 million offer, grow with a team on the rise, play at an All-Star worthy level (as Dragic did last season) and and shoot for a max deal in four years.

Or he can take a riskier approach and accept the one-year, $3.7 million qualifying offer the Suns extended him at the start of free agency (making him restricted), and go for that max deal next summer as an unrestricted free agent.

Suns general manager Ryan McDonough is playing this just as he should. He has to be mindful of his club’s salary cap situation this year and beyond.

Dragic, a bargain at $7.5 million this season, will surely decline his player option next summer for 2015-16. With another big year like he had last season, Dragic could double his annual salary. McDonough also traded for Sacramento Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas this summer and will pay him $27 million over the next four seasons.

This obviously isn’t the way Bledsoe envisioned the summer unfolding.

Eventually he will have to make a decision, and it should be an easy one. He should happily accept the Suns’ $48-million offer. From there he can create his own value by evolving into a team leader and helping the Suns become bona fide Western Conference contenders over the next four seasons.

If he does that, then come four years from now, Bledsoe will have the max offer of his choosing.

Love’s knuckle pushups, twist of fate

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: News on Kevin Love

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Love‘s passive-aggressive ploy to leave the Minnesota Timberwolves and get to “a place that I can win,” will happen, although likely not until at least Aug. 23 when the Cleveland Cavaliers can, under NBA rules, trade their newly signed No. 1 pick Andrew Wiggins.

Wiggins can’t be traded for 30 days after signing his contract, which he did Thursday. It instantly put a halt on a Minnesota-Cleveland trade (at least in terms of making one official before then). It also compelled Love, a three-time All-Star, to pull out of Team USA — on grounds of injury risk and scuttling a potential trade — which is now gathered in Las Vegas and will compete in the World Cup in Spain.

Other than missing out on the trip abroad, this does feel like a fortuitous Summer of Love in the making. LeBron James‘ surprise return to Cleveland opened the door for Love to walk in as a supporting star rather than a leading man somewhere else. Nobody imagined a LeBron-Love coupling before James’ announcement on July 11, and what could be more attractive to Love, who had already, it seemed, mentally checked out of Minnesota?

While attending a video game conference in Los Angeles on June 11, Love, who played at UCLA and has long been thought to want to play for the Lakers, was asked about joining the purple and gold. Above all, he said, he wants to go to where he can win. In the same interview with Fox Sports, Love was asked the Wolves’ chances for making the playoffs next season. His answer, whether conscious of his wording or not, clued everybody into his state of mind: “If they’re healthy,” Love said, “they can do a lot of damage.”

The omission of “we’re and “we” was easily interpretable as Love viewing himself as a free agent and not a player under contract next season with the Wolves for $15.7 million. Imagine the firestorm had Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard committed such a gaffe.

And what of Love suggesting the Wolves, if healthy of course, “can do a lot of damage?” If it’s true without him, what’s their potential with him? Seems exactly the situation Mr. Double-Double desires.

Since that interview, Love has gone silent. His representatives, citing a scheduling conflict, pulled him out of a July 13 celebrity softball game prior to Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game at Target Field. The likelier conflict had more to do with a questioning Minneapolis-St. Paul media and a predictably hostile hometown greeting.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for this mess, starting with the franchise’s bungling of Love’s contract extension in January 2012. Owner Glen Taylor and former general manager David Kahn refused to give Love the maximum five years he wanted and offered four, adding a player option after Year 3. Management’s unwillingness to commit angered and offended Love.

Love, meanwhile, has gone diva. Some fans sympathize with his dealing of years of organizational dysfunction. Mostly, the Minnesota fans have soured on him and his tactics. If current team president and coach Flip Saunders somehow doesn’t do a deal prior to the start of the season, there’ll be some awkward moments at Target Center.

History will show that Love’s botched contract to his now distancing from the franchise are only the bookends in a string of unfortunate events that truly sabotaged an era centered around Love and point guard Ricky Rubio before it could begin in earnest.

The year 2012 will go down as a debilitating one. Six weeks after Love’s contentious contract, Rubio tore the ACL in his left knee. He played just 41 games in the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season, a promising rookie start in which he averaged 10.6 points and 8.2 assists. He wouldn’t return until Dec. 15 of the 2012-13 season, but the injury, admittedly, rattled Rubio and severely curtailed his progress.

The death knell for the anticipated 2012-13 season, however, occurred well before Rubio’s return. In October, Love broke his right hand while away from the team’s facility. How did it happen? The team announced he broke it doing knuckle pushups at home. As odd as it may seem for a basketball player to include knuckle pushups as part of his workout routine, Love claimed he had always done them.

He missed three weeks of the season, less time than anticipated. But in his 18th game back, Love broke the hand again. The Wolves were only 9-9 with him, but Rubio had just come back and there was optimism. Now Love’s season and the Wolves’ playoff hopes were done.

Team dynamics became more complicated when then-coach Rick Adelman left a team besieged by injury for stretches starting in January 2013 to tend to his wife, who was seeking medical answers related to unexplained seizures. Adelman contemplated retirement after the season, but returned. Minnesota continually lost close games and numerous times failed frustratingly to scratch above .500.

We’ll never know what might have been if Love had gotten a five-year deal, or if he had never taken up knuckle pushups, or if Rubio had never torn his ACL.

And now Love seems determined not to explore what still could be in Minnesota.

Hot jersey, but LeBron needs a number

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – LeBron James‘ new Cleveland Cavaliers jersey is flying off the shelves.

Only that’s not completely accurate. For the time being, LeBron jerseys are still kind of on the tarmac, awaiting takeoff.

lebron6The NBA Store’s website and phone lines are ablaze with demand for LeBron goods. The NBA doesn’t release sales figures outside of its regularly scheduled reports, but a league source provided this glimpse into recent demand for all things LBJ: Since James announced his return to Cleveland on July 11, his Cavs replica jerseys (all three color versions: home, road and alternate) are the top three best-selling items on NBAStore.com. Eight of the top 10 items sold overall since then are LeBron Cavs items.

The store initially sold out of all LeBron jerseys, but it’s now restocked in just about every size. The problem: When shoppers buy their LeBron jerseys, they get this message in red type:

“This item will ship within 2-4 weeks after the player has officially signed his contract and is assigned a number by the NBA.”

Ah, yes. LeBron picked his city. But he has yet to pick a number.

Of course, the NBA won’t assign the King a jersey number, like he’s some 7-year-old at the YMCA.

COACH: “Here you go son, got No. 18 for you.”

LeBRON: Hmm … Got 23?

COACH: “I got 18. Youth medium.”

A week ago, James summoned the aid of his 13.75 million Twitter followers:

lebron23James wore 23 during his first seven seasons in Cleveland, the number he picked as a prodigy at Akron, Ohio’s Saint Mary’s-Saint Vincent’s in honor of his hero Michael Jordan. When James took his talents to South Beach in 2010, he ditched 23 for 6, the number he wore in the 2008 Olympics.

Neither number seems like a proper fit for The Return. His first number, 23, still invites all those insufferable comparisons to Jordan. And 6 would just feel weird in Cleveland after all that’s gone down since the original Decision. It should stay in Miami.

With James winding down a Nike-sponsored tour of China, maybe picking a number will soon become top priority. Right behind getting Kevin Love. (For the record, Love wears 42, in honor of the uniquely gifted former NBA star Connie Hawkins. In Cleveland, Nate Thurmond‘s 42 is retired in the rafters.)

All this number talk shouldn’t be shrugged off. A player’s number is a key part of his identity. It typically holds a special meaning.

So we’ve been busy mulling a third number for Phase Three of James’ career. We want his fans to get their jerseys sooner rather than later.

The old flip-flop

32: Obviously it’s the reverse of his original 23, which wasn’t an original at all. James wore No. 32 as a freshman in high school apparently because 23 was already taken by an older kid who didn’t quite yet recognize James as the King. There’s a larger hook here. The player James is most compared to stylistically is not Jordan but Magic Johnson. There’s been a lot of big names to wear 32, which might or might not motivate James to pick the number: Bill WaltonShaquille O’NealKevin McHaleKarl Malone, Julius Erving with the Virginia Squires and New York Nets and one of my personal favorites, Seattle’s “Downtown” Freddie Brown.

The old flip-a-roo

9: Flip the 6 and what do you get? Yep, 9. Makes sense. Plus, James already has done 9, so it makes even more sense. He wore the number for a season as an all-state receiver in high school before giving up football to focus on hoops. Last summer James purchased new Nike uniforms for his alma mater’s football team. For the arrival of the new gear, James actually showed up in full uniform, pads and all, and surprised the gathered crowd. The number he chose for his jersey? Yep, 9. There’s some standout players currently wearing 9; Tony Parker and Rajon Rondo. Old-time great Bob Pettit wore it, too.

Honoring the Big O

14: Forgive me for bringing up Mount Rushmore, but it was LeBron who started the whole thing when he said Oscar Robertson would be on his personal NBA Mount Rushmore (along with Magic, Michael and Larry Bird). LeBron’s game can also be favorably compared to Robertson, the original triple-double machine. Robertson wore 14 with the Cincinnati Royals for a decade. He averaged a triple-double in his second season and darn near did it three other times. Bob Cousy, Sam Perkins and LeBron’s Cavs teammate on the 2007 Finals team, Ira Newble, also wore No. 14. This would be an intriguing choice and would once again shine a worthy spotlight on the Big O’s amazing career.

1: When Cincinnati traded Robertson to the Milwaukee Bucks for Charlie Paulk and Flynn Robinson, the Big O traded in his 14 for 1. LeBron choosing 1 could have dual meaning, paying respect to Robertson while proclaiming to world, “I’m No. 1.” A lot of No. 1s have come and gone in the league, but the list is short in terms of all-time greats. Tiny Archibald wore it before he got to Boston, then there’s Tracy McGrady, Chauncey Billups and, of course, Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks.

King Football

84: It seems every year we hear fantasy stories about LeBron joining an NFL team and instantly becoming an All-Pro receiver. Hey, at 6-foot-9, 260 pounds, who’s gonna get in his way? So why not buck traditional NBA numbers for a traditional NFL one? Since James was an All-State receiver in Ohio (we covered his No. 9 above) it makes sense that he pick a traditional NFL receiver’s number (between 80 and 89 and 10 and 19). My first inclination is to pick 88 because of LeBron’s love for the Dallas Cowboys and the lineage of players — Drew Pearson, Michael Irvin and now Dez Bryant — who made the number famous. Only three NBA players have ever worn 88 and one currently does: Portland forward Nicolas Batum. So, scratch that. If we narrow the numbers to tight ends, the position LeBron would likely play in the NFL, he’d probably choose between two Cowboys greats, No. 84 Jay Novacek and No. 82 Jason Witten. One has more titles than LeBron. Go with Novacek. Only one NBA player, Chris Webber, has ever worn 84 and for only one season (2007 with Detroit). No NBA player has ever put on 82 (according to basketball-reference.com).

Alternatives:

29: It’s the sum of LeBron’s first two numbers, and it’s a pretty rare one in the history of the NBA with Paul Silas being the most famous 29.

33: It’s just a great basketball number worn by such luminaries as Kareem Abdul-Jabber, Bird, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Scottie Pippen and the underappreciated Alvan Adams.

40: This comes with an eye toward some serious goal-setting, as in 40K, as in 40,000 career points. No player has ever reached it. Abdul-Jabbar remains the league’s all-time scoring leader with 38,387 points. James, 29, has scored 23,170 points in 11 seasons. It is doable.

Cavs need to give LeBron what he demands and Wiggins what he deserves


VIDEO: GameTime discusses latest Love rumors

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Let’s stop referring to Andrew Wiggins as the No. 1 Draft pick. He is the No. 1 trade chip, and until further notice, it is all he can be.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 6-foot-8 rookie swingman wrapped up the Las Vegas Summer League last Friday with rumors swirling of his inclusion in a potential deal for Minnesota’s Kevin Love – a disturbingly silent figure in all this — Wiggins was asked if LeBron James, the re-crowned King of Cleveland, had hit him up with a phone call, connected via Skype, through text, a follow on Twitter, liked him on Facebook or perhaps sent him a selfie on Instagram.

After all, a full week had passed since the King penned his love letter to Northeast Ohio and, ostensibly, became the wide-eyed Wiggins’ dreamy teammate.

Wiggins only smiled and said he’s been busy and surely LeBron’s been busy, too, before telling how awesome it would be to grow up beside the King. Apparently James has been busy working in the shadows. Last week he reportedly reached out to Love to extol the virtues of Rust Belt living. But there was no reach-out to Wiggins, no welcoming him into the Cavs’ booming No. 1 Draft Pick Club, no welcoming him to his hometown — “hey, check out the cribs in Shaker Heights” — no “get to work fellow prodigy, see you soon.”

LeBron’s first-person essay in Sports Illustrated was certainly warm and heartfelt and, it was assumed, sincere. But less than two weeks since it exploded on the Internet, the shine of his sentimentality has worn thin. LeBron’s strategy off the court is becoming as calculating and cutthroat as it is on the basketball court.

He signed only a two-year contract, a business decision we are told he smartly made in order to reap maximum annual earning power in line with the league’s projected salary cap increases with each season. In two years the league’s television contracts expire and the NBA is expected to land monstrously lucrative new network deals. That’s in two years, which makes James’ opt-out after next season — the leagues first revolving free-agent superstar? — just a bit curious.

In his essay, LeBron stated his affinity for becoming a mentor, for the time-honored process of growing a championship team, unlike the ready-made one he joined four years ago in Miami: “We’re not ready right now. No way,” James wrote of his current Cleveland cast. “Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that.”

In actuality, Love’s trade demands had the alarm bells blaring on LeBron’s patience the moment he committed to Cleveland. He’s made it clear to owner Dan Gilbert what he expects. He expects Love.

This is all about James’ expectations, if not his demands. It’s his show now. Four years after he bolted town as the villain through a trail of flaming No. 23 jerseys, he valiantly returned home a hero again. This time he’s ensuring that if the ship doesn’t sail it will be Gilbert left holding the wheel.

James’ behind-the-scenes power play for Love, plus his short-term contract — interpret it as you wish — are the first shots fired as he seizes control as CEO. The King knows his return to the Cavs has already generated millions in new revenue for the fortuitous owner, both within the organization and for Gilbert’s private ventures. As a perennial free agent, James darn well knows he can shut off that spigot at any time, and this time the fans’ ire will point sharply in Gilbert’s direction.

After all, what more could James do?

The Cavs will reportedly sign Wiggins to a contract this week. That doesn’t mean the 19-year-old will be off the table. It only means he can’t be traded for 30 days. It doesn’t put a moratorium on front-office negotiating.

If James wants Love, as it appears he staunchly does, Cleveland needs to do the deal already and avoid the risk of Golden State reconsidering its stance to include Klay Thompson or another team making a run at the three-time All-Star and double-double maestro (as Chicago is reportedly doing).

That wouldn’t be a good start with James as he wields the mightiest hammer in all the league.

So give James what he demands. And give Wiggins, left twisting now nearly one month since Draft night, what the No. 1 Draft pick deserves — a team to call his own.

Needing surgery, Lewis out in Dallas

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Rashard Lewis, felled by a right knee in need of surgical repair, is back on the market.

The Dallas Mavericks confirmed Wednesday that the Texas native did not pass his physical and will require surgery. The Mavs opted to void the one-year contract for the veteran’s minimum they signed Lewis to on Saturday. Lewis, 34, becomes an unrestricted free agent.

“It came to our attention during Rashard Lewis’ physical that he is in need of a medical procedure on his right knee,” Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson said in a statement. “We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery and continued success in his remarkable career.”

The 6-foot-10 Lewis finished up a two-year run with the Miami Heat, winning the lone championship of his career in 2013. Although Lewis was called upon late in the 2014 postseason after Chris “Birdman” Andersen was injured, Lewis as mostly a non-rotation player during his time with the Heat.

His upcoming 17th season in the league with Dallas was expected to be much the same, filling a role as an end-of-bench insurance policy. The re-made Mavs signed Chandler Parsons and Richard Jefferson at the small forward positions, and have plans to use Brandan Wright more at power forward behind Dirk Nowitzki.

Now Lewis’ future is unclear. His agent, Colin Bryant told Yahoo! Sports: “Rashard discovered he needs a medical procedure on his right knee to ensure he functions at a high level this season. We look forward to [Lewis] getting this behind him as soon as possible so he can continue his stellar NBA career.”

Lewis entered the NBA in 1998 straight of out of high school in suburban Houston. The 32nd pick overall played nine seasons in Seattle before being traded to Orlando as the Magic pursued a championship with Dwight Howard. In 2008-09, Lewis averaged 17.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg and shot 39.7 percent on 3-pointers as the Magic lost in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lewis’ production has tailed off every season since as he’s journeyed from Orlando to Washington and Miami. With his deal in Dallas dead, Lewis will have to show he’s physically ready post-surgery to resume his career.

Blogtable: Summer’s most intriguing team

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: Glen Rice Jr. impressed for the Wizards at Summer League

> You’ve seen the Draft. You’ve seen some Summer League. Outside of the Cavs, what team most intrigues you now? Why’s that?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’m intrigued by Charlotte, with its addition of Lance Stephenson, along with pick-up Marvin Williams. There’s talent there, especially if Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh can rev up their frontline contributions, and it’s possible the Hornets push for a top-4 spot in the East playoffs. Steve Clifford should be able to prevent them from becoming The Lance Show (in the event Stephenson decides to start playing for his next contract right away). And let’s face it, if an NBA team can’t find a way to move on from the loss of Josh McRoberts, well, then Charlotte becomes watchable in an odd, case-study sort of way.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In the East, and thank the basketball gods for this, there’s actually several teams of intrigue. Toronto kept its momentum going by re-signing so many of its own starting with Kyle Lowry. Washington is on the come and adding a big-brother figure in Paul Pierce should be great for John Wall and Bradley Beal. And, of course, Chicago with Pau Gasol in the mix and Derrick Rose coming back should be great fun to watch (yes, and post-LeBron Miami). In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are my choice. They missed out on Gasol, who would have been an absolute game-changer for that squad, and instead only came away with Sebastian Telfair, an end-of-bench addition, and Anthony Morrow, a 3-point specialist who could fit in quite well. I’m really curious to see how Russell Westbrook‘s game continues to evolve after his powerful postseason, how Kevin Durant comes off his first MVP season (but a bit of an individually disappointing postseason) and if Scott Brooks can add some new wrinkles to one of the most efficient (yet also most criticized) offenses over the last several years. If healthy the last two postseasons, this conversation could be totally different.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Washington Wizards, mostly because they have put together a quality offseason and have a clear path up the Eastern Conference food chain now that the entire field has been thinned out by LeBron’s departure for Cleveland. The Wizards will have an ideal blend of youthful energy and athleticism to go along with a seasoned supporting cast capable of pushing this team over the top a year after making that surprise run to the Eastern Conference semifinals. For whatever was lost in free agency (Trevor Ariza and Trevor Booker), the Wizards more than made up for it by keeping Marcin Gortat and adding Paul Pierce, Kris Humphries and DeJaun Blair. Toss in a ready-to-go Otto Porter Jr. and the Samsung Summer League MVP Glen Rice Jr., and the Wizards have every reason to believe that John Wall and Bradley Beal have a legitimate shot to lead this crew to the top of the Southeast Division and perhaps beyond.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: The Wizards have a chance to be one of the top two or three teams in the East. John Wall and Bradley Beal are getting better every season and could be the clear No. 1 backcourt in the conference by the start of 2015. Marcin Gortat has great pick-and-roll chemistry with Wall, Paul Pierce brings another element to the offense, and they have a ton of depth on their frontline. The only question is if they can maintain a top-10 defense with Pierce (who’s a better defender at the four than the three) replacing Trevor Ariza.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: Washington. They kept Gortat, they did not overpay for Ariza, and then they managed to add Paul Pierce to that mix. Plus, after watching them in Summer League, it seemed clear that Otto Porter and Glen Rice Jr (who was terrific in Vegas) are ready to add perimeter depth off the bench and give them the athleticism that Pierce lacks. Is Randy Wittman the right guy to take them to the next level? To me that’s the bigger question. But after a second-round run last season, all the pieces are in place for the Wiz to continue to grow what they’ve already started.

Blogtable: Rookie on the rise

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: All-Access at Summer League with Zach LaVine

> And, now that Summer League has finished, do you have a new favorite rookie you expect to be a sleeper this season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Philadelphia’s Nerlens Noel doesn’t count, right? He’ll be sneaking up on no one after his redshirt season. Phoenix’s T.J. Warren is no sleeper either, in my opinion, after all the buzz he generated this month. So I’ll keep an eye on Minnesota’s Zach LaVine, partly based on the versatility he demonstrated in Las Vegas and even more so on the opportunities he’ll get to shine as coach Flip Saunders proves how astutely POBO Flip Saunders drafted.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I came away really impressed with Doug McDermott, but I’m going with a guy I wrote about Tuesday, Minnesota’s brash, super-confident combo guard Zach LaVine out of UCLA. He’s 19 and has a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton. He quickly gained attention in Vegas for an array of acrobatic dunks, by he left Vegas revealing a high IQ, promising point guard skills and a fierce competitiveness.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comZach LaVine. Maybe it has something to do with seeing LaVine’s final game in Las Vegas from courtside, where all of his athleticism and raw skill was on display. I talked to several NBA decision-makers who are worried that LaVine is all hype and just a superior physical marvel and not polished enough to be an impact player. I disagree. I think he’ll shock some people with his versatility and readiness to step in and play quality minutes for the Timberwolves, who’ll need someone and something to get excited about if Kevin Love ends up leaving town before the trade deadline. LaVine struck me as much more than just a highlight waiting to happen on a fast break. There’s much more meat to his game than I realized. He’s not only my pick as a potential sleeper in this rookie class, he could wind up being the steal of this Draft.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: There aren’t too many guys who were picked outside of the top 11 and will have a clear opportunity to play regular rotation minutes as rookies (well, except the Sixers’ second rounders, because the Sixers have only a few real players on their roster). Noah Vonleh could be a really good fit in Charlotte, sharing the power forward position with Marvin Williams on a playoff team. He shot just 28 percent in Summer League, but did so in Al Jefferson‘s role (posting up as the focal point of their offense). He’ll have an easier time playing off Jefferson, Kemba Walker and Lance Stephenson.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogThe best rookie I saw in person at Summer League was Minnesota’s Zach LaVine. His skills as a decision-maker weren’t anything special, but they won’t have to be if he’s playing alongside Ricky Rubio. His athleticism, however, was phenomenal, and I’d expect that to quickly set him apart from other players on the floor and give him an early advantage. If Love stays for a few months, perhaps LaVine will give the T-Wolves the jolt of energy/excitement they need to convince Love that they’re headed in the right direction and get him to opt-in for the long haul.

Blogtable: Giving it all up for Love

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: The price of Love | New most intriguing team | Sleeper rookie



VIDEO: What’s the going price for Kevin Love these days? The GameTime guys have ideas.

> You’re David Griffin, GM of the Cavs. What’s the absolute most that you’re willing to give up to get Kevin Love? Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins? Why? Now, or wait?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: To get Kevin Love to Cleveland, I would give up Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and a future pick or two. Too much? Not for one or more championships, which I think would be the Cavs’ harvest from the deal. Two reasons to include Bennett: First, Love would play his position essentially, rendering him less important. And second, the Cavs didn’t “have” him last year anyway, given his disappointing rookie season, so it’s not a tangible loss. One huge reason to give up Wiggins: The trade doesn’t happen without him and Love heads to the Bay Area or Chicago soon or to Los Angeles later. Waiters is a high-maintenance guy neither team really covets and LeBron James-Kyrie Irving-Love should render lousy most future Cavs draft picks. As for timing, sooner is better. You’d hate to wait and then realize in May or June, rats, if only this group had had more time together …

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: I’ll answer the last part first. Wait. There’s no reason to trade for Kevin Love today when you haven’t seen what Andrew Wiggins can do or be alongside LeBron James. I understand the tug to go get Love now, but unless the Cavs feel the Warriors are about to pull the trigger, Love isn’t going anywhere and will be available throughout the season right up to the deadline. What if Wiggins just blows everybody away? What if he proves to be a very good defender from the jump? If you wait, the Wolves might get desperate, not wanting to lose love for nothing. So eventually it might, or might not, take Wiggins to pry Love. Three months into the season, the Cavs should have a good read on Wiggins, and if LeBron still wants Love, then, yes, I trade the No. 1 picks in 2013 and 2014.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comIf I’m David Griffin, I’m willing to give up Wiggins, Bennett and anyone else not named Kyrie if it makes LeBron James happy. I do it now (before Chicago undercuts me) and I do it without hesitation or regret, since my time on this job could be limited if championships aren’t chased immediately. This is a win now league and, on paper, that’s the logical stance to take if I’m Griffin. He’s not handing off sure thing No. 1 picks in this deal (courtesy of his predecessor, Chris Grant). There is no guarantee that Wiggins becomes the All-Star caliber player Love is right now by his sixth season in the league. And there’s no guarantee that Bennett becomes a bona fide starter six seasons in. But the fact is, whatever I do, I’m gambling on guys who have the same amount of playoff experience in the league. Love, as stellar a player as he’s been in a dreadful situation year after year in Minnesota, has just as much hype to live up to if he joins the Cavaliers as Wiggins ever would. And I’m not completely convinced that Love is the missing piece in Cleveland.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m not crazy about the idea of trading so much for Love. LeBron James and Love complement each other offensively, and Love is one of the league’s best players on that end of the floor. But Wiggins has the potential to be one of the league’s best two-way players, and defense is more important than offense. James is only 29 years old, so the Cavs’ window will be open for at least five more years. Love doesn’t guarantee them anything in the next year or two, and their ceiling could be higher three years from now with Wiggins & Co. than with Love. I doubt this happens, but I’d wait it out, see what Wiggins can do for three months, see how much Bennett benefits from playing with the best player in the world, and put pressure on Minnesota to make a decision closer to the trade deadline or risk losing Love to free agency next summer. If they send him somewhere else, there will be another All-Star you can trade the young guys for within the next year or two.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: What does Minnesota want for Kevin Love? Whatever it is, outside of Kyrie Irving and/or LeBron James, I’m ready to move them for Kevin Love. Hey, I understand that Wiggins could turn into a primo NBA player who could be a perfect third pillar in the James/Irving alliance. But how long are you willing to wait for that to happen? LeBron did a nice job lowering expectations in his Sports Illustrated piece, even noting that they shouldn’t be expected to win right away. Which is great, but it ignores the fact that after 11 seasons in the NBA, the clock is ticking on LeBron’s prime. And if you can go get a guy who is a two-time All-Star and all-world rebounder RIGHT NOW, I don’t think you pass on that opportunity.

LaVine delivers more than dunks in Vegas

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Rookie Zach LaVine from UCLA tore up the Samsung Summer League in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS – Zach LaVine jumps really high and talks really fast. He exudes a brash confidence like Russell Westbrook and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of Bill Walton.

This latest UCLA product is headed either for a stunning rookie season with the Minnesota Timberwolves or cold, hard NBA reality.

“I’m a very confident person, I always hold myself to high standards,” LaVine said Friday after scoring 22 points with four assists in the Wolves’ sixth and final Summer League game. “You know, there’s a lot of doubters on me. I feel  always like changing peoples’ minds, you know, ‘He’s not NBA-ready, why’d he come out?’ and different things like that. So I just come out here and always try to prove my point. I think I fared well for myself.”

There was little not to like about the 6-foot-5, 19-year-old’s debut in the Las Vegas Summer League. Everybody was aware of his athleticism coming in, but many were skeptical about his decision-making and the durability of his 180-pound frame..

“I definitely have to get in the weight room and let my body mature. But if they can’t touch you, you know, strength really isn’t a factor,” LaVine said. “I feel I’m a pretty physical person, just not the strongest yet, so I definitely have to get into the weight room. But I use my speed to my advantage.”

He averaged 15.7 points a game and more than five free-throw attempts per game in the Summer league. Twice he got to the line 10 times.

Fans mostly will remember a dazzling array of dunks. He’s already nominated himself for the dunk contest when February’s All-Star weekend props up its big tent in New York City.

“I’m definitely going to be in the dunk contest, know that,” LaVine said  “I haven’t lost a dunk contest for a long time, maybe since I first started dunking. So I have some dunks in my package.”

The Wolves are more intrigued by the 13th overall pick’s size at the shooting-guard position, his ball-handling and his higher-than-expected court IQ at point guard. He bounced between the two positions during Summer League.

He scored in double figures in all six games. In the final three games he averaged 19.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. He had two games with five turnovers, but averaged just 3.6 turnovers in 32.2 minutes a game, a good rate considering he was playing with little practice time and with unfamiliar teammates, most of whom won’t sniff the NBA.

“We knew he had talent, we knew he was good, but he exceeded all our expectations thus far,” Wolves assistant coach Sam Mitchell said. “He’s smart, he’s athletic, he can handle the ball, he can shoot the ball, he’s a sponge, he learns. We threw a lot at him. We’ve run a lot of NBA sets, we’re doing a lot of things defensively and he just picks it all up.”

The Wolves could have playing time available. Behind point guard Ricky Rubio is the diminutive J.J. Barea, who is in the final year of his contract and has seen his shooting percentages drop the last two seasons. Behind shooting guard Kevin Martin is young Russian Alexey Shved, who took a step back last season after a promising rookie campaign.

“I feel like I’m player,” LaVine said. “Wherever he [team president and coach Flip Saunders] needs to play me at; if that’s the 1, I feel like I can handle the ball and run the team, to a point where I’m still learning the position, but I feel like I can handle it. I like scoring the ball as well, so whatever he needs me to do, facilitate, shoot, defend, anything he needs me to do.”

There’s a chance LaVine could be one of two 19-year-old talents in Minnesota. If the Wolves deal Kevin Love to Cleveland for Andrew Wiggins, Minnesota could be set up with two tremendously gifted athletic wings for years to come.

For now, LaVine is headed back home to Seattle to train. The league will have to wait to see if he builds on his Summer League success. But Timberwolves fans should know that they will hear from their newest addition.

Countdown is on for optimistic Noel


VIDEO: Noel discusses his play during Summer League

LAS VEGAS – Nerlens Noel gets an “A” for perseverance and patience and for somehow maintaining optimism throughout the most physically and psychologically challenging 17-month stretch of his young life. NBA schedules have yet to be released, but there’s roughly 100 days until the Philadelphia 76ers open the 2014-15 season and Noel is counting down every last one them.

The 76ers’ 6-foot-11 center (more like 7-foot-3, seriously, with his trademark flat top now elevating ever higher) sat out all of last season to rehabilitate the left knee he damaged late in his one-and-done campaign at Kentucky. The injury dropped him from the consensus No. 1 pick into Philadelphia’s lap at No. 6. He finally made it back on the floor earlier this month, playing three games at the Orlando Summer League, and he wrapped up an encouraging July tour playing two of five games at the Las Vegas Summer League where paint penetrators were quickly put on notice.

Though still months away, visions of how Opening Night will go down dance in his mind on almost a daily basis.

“It’s going to be something special,” Noel, 20, told NBA.com Friday after watching the Sixers’ final game in Vegas. “I know how passionate those fans are so I really can’t wait to step on the floor.”

Game 1 will be a milestone for sure, but the unanswerable question is how Noel will fare through 82 of them. His conditioning will take time and he acknowledged it “wasn’t great” early in Orlando, but built up as the games came and went. Before the start of Summer League, Noel had not played in an actual game since the night of the injury in February 2013.

“It’s been a process the whole time,” Noel said. “I’ve had to really have patience, not being able to play this past year, and finally being able to play and show what I’ve been working on. I didn’t get to show everything, but I’m going to continue working on my body and be able to come back in the regular season and be better.”

The Boston native will split the rest of the offseason between his hometown and Philly, where he’s stayed since the regular season ended in mid-April to continue working with the team’s coaches and training staff. Noel remains a thin, 228-pound pogo stick, still not strong enough to command the low block offensively, though in four of five games he scored in double figures and overall shot 49 percent (24-for-49).

That side of his game remains raw, even as it pokes through with parts of a multi-dimensional attack — including lefty hooks in the lane, a perimeter jumper that he spent countless pregame workouts with coach Brett Brown reconstructing his release, plus a quick first-step dribble-drive from the elbow. Still his offensive capabilities remain miles behind the type of force he delivers on the defensive end.

In his five summer games, Noel swatted 13 shots and altered dozens more. His quickness to elevate in the paint and meet shots at the rim can be astonishing. He’s so long and nimble that he glides almost effortlessly as a help-side defender. The 76ers, who surrendered more baskets from within five feet last season than only the Los Angeles Lakers, should see a major boost in that category next season.

He also showed he’s going to be difficult to deal with on the boards. In four games, he grabbed at least a half-dozen rebounds. Through it all, Noel said his rebuilt and cautiously monitored knee has passed every test with flying colors.

“I have no problems with it all,” said Noel, who has claimed he can actually jump higher now than before the surgery to repair the torn ACL.

It still likely won’t help the Sixers contend for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It will be months into the season before Noel will team with No. 3 overall pick Joel Embiid, who has his own rehabilitation to endure following foot surgery. It’s a frontline pairing in which optimists crow about the possibilities and pessimists fret about durability.

“I talked to him a few times briefly over texts, he’s a great kid, great personality,” Noel said. “I’m really looking forward to getting on the court with him and really starting that relationship we’re going to need if we are going to be one of the best tandems in the future.”

Rookie of the Year point guard Michael Carter-Williams, a former AAU teammate of Noel’s, returns with veteran and consummate pro Thaddeus Young. From there, the roster remains perilously thin in Year 2 of general manager Sam Hinkie‘s ground-up reconstruction. It’s a plan that again came under scrutiny on Draft night when Hinkie selected the injured Embiid and then Dario Saric at No. 12. While Embiid hopes to play at some point next season, the 6-foot-10 Croatian will play in Turkey.

Philadelphia won just 19 game last season and Noel watched helplessly through a 26-game losing skid. But again, the optimism of youth sees past these facts that could be depressing and believes the program is in good hands and pointed in a positive direction.

“We have a great vision,” Noel said. “Me and Mike [Carter-Williams] are very close, we’ve known each other for years now, from high school playing with each other on the AAU circuit. “I think with me, Joel and Mike, that would be a great three-person core, and then it’s adding pieces that we need. I think Sam is going to make it all happen for us. We have a lot of faith in him and I think we’ll be fine.”

At least now the countdown is really on.