Arizona v Duke

Are Cavaliers taking a risk with taking a Duke player No. 1?

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For the last couple decades, Duke has been the best, most consistent college basketball program in the nation. They have the Final Fours, the NCAA titles to prove it. And they have sent a lot of players on to the NBA.

But Duke players have not thrived at the next level. In fact they have often underwhelmed. There certainly have been good players — Grant Hill and Elton Brand (both especially before they got injured) to name a couple — but Duke has not sent on the percentage of superstar NBA players that other elite programs have. They have had more than their share of bad breaks and flameouts.

Is Cleveland taking a risk drafting a Duke player? Some in Cleveland are wondering.

I say no. They are taking the best player on the board. Which in the end is all a team can do.

But in a decade that may not be the perception. Irving is not expected to be a Derrick Rose or Chris Paul by NBA personnel, but because he is going to go No. 1 — to Cleveland after the loss of LeBron James — there will be a lot of pressure and hopes heaped upon him.

A lot of the perception of Duke’s struggles in the NBA go back to Danny Ferry, who was selected No. 2 overall by the Clippers in 1989, and he then promptly bolted for Italy for a year rather than play for that franchise. He ended up with a 13 year NBA career (10 of it in Cleveland) and he never came close to living up to the hype that followed him into the league.

For fun, let’s look back at some of the other top 20 picks out of Duke (by year they were drafted).

1992: Christian Laettner (No. 3 overall): He played 13 years in the NBA, made one All-Star team and frankly was a good player for much of that. But he also did not live up to the hype coming out of Duke.
1993: Bobby Hurley (No. 7): A car accident ruined his career before it really got started.
1994: Grant Hill (No. 3): Maybe the best NBA player ever to come out of Duke, he was a dynamic pro until ankle injuries did him in. He has bounced back some late in his career.
1995: Cherokee Parks (No. 12): Played parts of nine NBA seasons but was a journeyman. At best.
1999: Elton Brand (No. 1): Duke’s only No. 1 overall (over Steve Francis and Baron Davis). He was the Rookie of the Year for the Bulls, a two-time All-Star and has had a good career that injuries have slowed in recent years.
1999: Trajan Langdon (No. 11): He was out of the league after three years as he struggled to adapt to defenses.
2001: Shane Battier (No. 6): Not a superstar, but he has carved out a very nice career as an NBA role player and one of the best wing defenders in the league.
2002: Jason Williams (No. 2): A motorcycle accident robbed all of us of what may have been a very fun career to watch.
2002: Carlos Boozer (No. 34 overall): We found one Duke player who outperformed his draft status. Nobody was terribly high on Boozer coming out of Duke but the Cavaliers drafted him in the second round and he is a two-time All-Star and a key cog previously in Utah and now in Chicago.
2004: Luol Deng (No. 7): Maybe the vintage example of a Duke player to their critics — incredibly athletic but has had a good-but-not great career for the Bulls.
2006: J.J. Redick (11): To his credit, he is not the star he was in college but he has worked hard to make himself a defender and adapt his game to fit the league. Again, not a superstar but a solid pro.

Evan Fournier “hated” being left off the French national team

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic sets up the offense during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center on November 11, 2015 in Orlando, Florida.  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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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One of the most surprising developments of the summer came when Evan Fournier, coming off an excellent year with the Magic, was left off the French national team that went to Rio to compete in the Olympics. Fournier himself doesn’t have a good answer for why he wasn’t included, according to an interview with the French magazine L’Equipe (translation via EuroHoops.net).

“I hated not being in the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had suspected that I won’t make the cut a week before I was informed about it. I was reading interviews where only Rudy (Gobert) was mentioned among the players who didn’t play in the OQT but would go to Rio. In the end, I received a voicemail by Vincent Collet that briefly explained the reasons I was left out.”

Fournier said he didn’t have much communication with the national team, except for when head coach Vincent Collet asked him for tickets to a Magic game.

“The only time I’ve heard from the Federation this year was during a visit from Patrick Beesley (French NT technical director) in Orlando where he told me the dates of the qualifying tournament and Olympics. He didn’t tell me ‘If you do not come in Manila, then you do not come in Rio’. The second time was from an sms by Vincent Collet. It was our only contact outside competitions in the last three years. He was asking me for tickets to a game for his friends. I never closed the door to the French national team but these events sent me a clear message. That i’m not in the project. It’s that simple and it hurts.”

It’s a little bizarre that Fournier, at 23 years old and one of the better basketball players from France, isn’t on the team and a clear reason hasn’t been given. But it sounds like that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Jamal Crawford rocks Seattle pro-am defender with fake behind-the-back dribble (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Jamal Crawford #11 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts to a foul called on his team in a 108-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2016 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 condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Seattle pro-am always produces great highlights.

Here’s another.

Jamal Crawford pretends to go behind his back with his dribble, leaving his defender off balance and whining about a carry. In a pro-am. However you can try to preserve your dignity, I guess.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.