Joevan Catron Kyle Irving Duke v Oregon

NCAA to NBA: Prospects to watch Friday

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Hope after one day your bracket is better than mine, which now should be used to line birdcages. The St. Johns and Louisville losses hurt me, got to stop picking teams from cities I like just because they’re from cities I like. And big favorites. Oh well….

We’re supposed to be watching for some NBA draft potential — and some big names are coming up on Friday. We spoke with our man Joe Treutlein, Assistant Director of Scouting for DraftExpress.com, leaned heavily on their great scouting (plus some of our observations on the guys we’ve seen) and put together a guide.

Here are some guys to watch Friday:

Kyrie Irving, 6’2” guard, Duke (DX No. 1): This may be your No. 1 pick (especially if the team that wins the lottery needs a point guard, think Cavs). He has been out due to torn ligaments in his toe since Dec. 4 and he will be on limited minutes. This guy is a classic pure point guard, the kind of player who has had success in the league in recent years. According to Draft Express, this is the one franchise changing guy in this draft. Other scouts disagree, thinking he’s good but not Wall/Rose good. We’d say watch for yourself and decide, but he likely will not be that guy, he’s got three months of rust to shake off.

Nolan Smith, 6’3” guard, Duke (DX No. 23): He’s had to step up with Irving down and his performance in that role has helped his draft stock. Good athlete with a quality shot, he can attack the rim, but there are questions about how he fit. He’s done a good job running a team, but can he do it at the next level? He may be too small for a two guard in the NBA. Tweener. But the guy can play.

Jared Sullinger, 6’8” power forward, Ohio State (DX No. 3): He could be a Paul Millsap kind of guy — a bit undersized, not terribly athletic but long and he just gets boards and scores points in the paint. He’s got a very polished game (sort of the way Kevin Love was so polished in college, way ahead of his peers). He’s got soft hands and is developing a midrange game. He’s got a real motor and is the reason Ohio State is a No. 1 seed. How will he do against better competition in the tournament?

Harrison Barnes, 6’8” small forward, North Carolina (DX No. 4): He was considered the likely top pick before the season, but he struggled early in the season (shooting 37 percent through 15 games) and his stock fell. In the ACC tournament, he dropped 40 on a good defensive team in Clemson. He has a lot of skills, although in the NBA he’s going to run into a lot of superior athletes at the three. He is a guy who can prove he deserves to move up during the tournament.

John Henson, 6’10” power forward, North Carolina (DX No. 11): He has been a very good defensive presence, shot blocker and rebounder at the college level. He however is thin and against the men in the NBA would get pushed around. His offensive game needs work. He’s a big man project who can impress scouts with his play gainst quality bigs as the Tar Heels move through this tournament.

Marcus Morris, 6’9” power forward, Kansas (DX No. 19): There are two Morris twins on Kansas, his brother Markieff plays as well. To use the easy and obvious comparison, Marcus is more the Brook Lopez, Markieff the Robin. Marcus can score inside and out (he has a good jumper), face up or back-to-the-basket, and is simply just very efficient on the offensive end The question is how well he can defend more athletic fours at the next level.

Derrick Williams, 6’8” forward, Arizona (DX No. 6): This may be the guy you want your team to take a risk on — he’s a smart player and can play on the wing or in the paint. A real versatile forward who can fit a lot of systems. Most importantly, he’s a very efficient scorer. He can put up points on the next level. He’s the one guy I saw who really blew my doors off this season (I did not get a good look at Irving). A lot of people out east have not seen him, you should.

Report: Thunder almost definitely won’t trade Russell Westbrook this season

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook negotiated himself a raise of more than $8 million and chalked it up to loyalty.

Is the feeling mutual?

The Thunder can trade Westbrook six months after he signed his contract extension, which make him eligible to be dealt Feb. 4. The trade deadline will be a few weeks later.

Would Oklahoma City trade its franchise player during that narrow window?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year.

Building around Westbrook is certainly the Thunders City’s first choice. According to this report, they’ll give that route at least a full season to work.

But is there truly no worst-case scenario for the season’s first few months that would convince Oklahoma City to abort the plan early?

The Thunder became accustomed to winning big with Kevin Durant. It’s one thing to know they’ll take a step back after his departure to the Warriors. It’s another to live it every day.

Oklahoma City doesn’t want to lose Westbrook in 2018, when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. One reported plan is trying to sign Blake Griffin next summer, and that would certainly require Westbrook’s continued presence.

It’d also likely require the Thunder winning at a reasonable clip next season. Griffin probably isn’t leaving the Clippers for a crummy team, even if it’s to his native Oklahoma.

Winning will also be a key ingredient in persuading Westbrook to stay. Absent that, the other way to get value from him is trading him, and he’ll be more valuable if traded in February. Teams will covet the extra half season and playoffs with him on the roster.

Of course, that also applies to the Thunder. If Westbrook can help them reach the postseason and maybe even make some noise in it, they’ll gladly ride him.

But if the playoffs become a far-fetched dream by the trade deadline… I’m curious just how devoted Oklahoma City remains to Westbrook in that scenario.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.

76ers butt of Daily Show joke about Donald Trump’s plan

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 31:  Donald Trump sits courtside at the New Jersey Nets and the Chicago Bulls game at the Izod Center on October 31, 2007 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the term and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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This is why the 76ers fired Sam Hinkie.

They’ve become a national laughingstock, even beyond NBA circles.

Philadelphia’s younger players developing and the addition of a couple veterans should help the team become regularly, rather than historically, bad. But the 76ers haven’t yet escaped the dismal reputation that became an embarrassment to ownership (which will still reap the rewards of Hinkie’s Process).

See this clip from The Daily Show on Donald Trump’s policing plan for the latest example (hat tip: CSN Philly).

 

Report: Lakers signing Zach Auguste

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 27:  Zach Auguste #30 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a basket in the second half against the North Carolina Tar Heels during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional Final at Wells Fargo Center on March 27, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The Lakers have given 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – a guaranteed salary for next season.

But they could open a roster spot by trading (ha!) or waiving Nick Young.

Who could fill it? One candidate: Undrafted Notre Dame big man Zach Auguste.

Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders:

Auguste is probably getting a partial guarantee, but I wouldn’t pencil him in for the regular-season roster just yet – even if the Lakers waive Young. I expect the Lakers to sign multiple players to partially guaranteed deals and bring them to camp to compete.

If they waive Auguste, the Lakers could assign his D-League rights to their affiliate, the D-Fenders. Ideally, though, he’d make the regular-season roster – but that outlook will probably be true for multiple Lakers by the time training camp begins.

Auguste is a skilled interior scorer who excels in the pick-and-roll and can also post up. He improved greatly as a rebounder last season, but how much of that is due to outgrowing his competition as a senior? He’s already 23. Auguste has shown no range on his jumper, and he’s not a rim protector. Despite his mobility, his pick-and-roll defense is also lacking.

Good for the Lakers getting him in their pipeline, but don’t expect too much.