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.

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.