Blue chipper Will Barton may not be eligible to go to Memphis, but Europe, D-League beckon

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Latavious Williams isn’t the best player to ever waltz through the D-League, but could be among the most influential. After being declared academically ineligible to play for Memphis prior to last season, Williams opted to still pursue a domestic route to the NBA. Rather than follow the Brandon Jennings model and grab a quick paycheck before making his NBA debut, Williams blazed a trail of his own, and declared for the D-League draft with absolutely no college or professional experience.

Now, Memphis recruit Will Barton is running into similar eligibility issues. He has a much higher profile than Williams ever did as a prospect (Barton was ranked the 11th best recruit in his class by Rivals, and the 2nd best shooting guard prospect), but the doors to the our nation’s most prestigious academic institution will remain closed to him. Bummer.

But they say that every time the basketball gods close the door to Memphis, they open a window into the officiall NBA minor league affiliate. Barton has a chance to follow either Williams or Jennings, should the concerns over his eligibility not be cleared up, and a path through the D would likely be best for both Barton and, more obviously, the league.

The problem, as Scott Schroeder noted at Ridiculous Upside, isn’t that a trip through Europe would necessarily harm Barton’s NBA stock or even his development. If he chose to go overseas rather than play in the D-League, it’s very unlikely that his career would be suffer any kind of significant negative impact. Yet as the competition in the D continues to get better and better, Barton would get a head start working with NBA-style coaches and talent evaluators.

Barton could impress league scouts without having to worry about a language barrier, culture shock, or getting a consistent paycheck. There are definitely European leagues out there better than the D-League in terms of competition and talent, but if Barton wants a place where he can really showcase his skills (Jennings was hardly allowed such a luxury) while working to get better under the watchful eyes of NBA decision-makers, the D is an obvious choice.

Whether Barton goes to Memphis, the D-League, or overseas, he looks like a potential lottery pick in 2011 or beyond. Yet if you’ll allow me to dip into my bag of cliché, the journey matters here far more than the destination. Barton’s pre-NBA career could hold a significant impact on the paths lottery level talents take to the big leagues, and if he manages to improve the reputation and the audience of the D-League in the process, NBA teams across the board stand to benefit.

TNT to cover NBA games with only former players, no traditional play-by-play men

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Grant Hill #33 of the Phoenix Suns looks to move the ball as Derek Fisher #2 of the Los Angeles Lakers defends in the first quarter of Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — TNT will use broadcast teams featuring only former players and no traditional play-by-play men during five NBA doubleheaders later this season.

The “Players Only” schedule runs Monday nights from Feb. 27 to March 27 and includes matchups such as Golden State-Oklahoma City on March 20 and Cleveland-San Antonio a week later.

Brent Barry will serve as the primary host of one team with Derek Fisher and Grant Hill, while Greg Anthony partners with Kevin McHale and Richard Hamilton on the other.

Lisa Leslie and Dennis Scott will serve as reporters.

Turner Sports says Thursday that Chris Webber will anchor the studio coverage with Isiah Thomas and Baron Davis, and that additional NBA players will contribute to the five-week program.

James Harden presents fan with game ball on her 100th birthday (video)

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden took some time out after the Houston Rockets’ win over the visiting Milwaukee Bucks to give a fan a present on a her 100th birthday.

Video shows Harden signing a ball for the woman and spending a few moments sitting next to her in her courtside seat and posing for pictures Wednesday night.

Harden told ESPN’s Doris Burke in an interview that he told the woman how “blessed” he was to be able to have a chance to meet her.

The Houston guard also put on a good show for the fan during the game, scoring 38 points in a 111-92 victory over the Bucks.

Paul George dunks on DeMarcus Cousins while getting whacked in the face (video)

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Kings center DeMarcus Couins appears set to become the first player to sign as a veteran designated player. The Pacers hope Paul George will follow.

But in the Pacers’ win over the Kings yesterday, George beat Cousins.

Not even Cousins thwacking George in the face could stop this dunk.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.