2012 adidas Eurocamp: Day 2 recap

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Evan Fournier is the top international prospect in attendance at adidas Eurocamp, and after skipping the first day of action, Fournier was a full participant in Day Two’s activities. Projected as a mid-to-late first round pick before playing at Eurocamp, if anything, his play on Monday solidified his draft position, and perhaps even made his stock rise.

Fournier is listed as a forward on the camp’s roster, but spends plenty of time handling the ball, and is comfortable at the two as well, where he has no trouble showcasing a smooth shooting stroke, even from deep three-point distance. His value as both a playmaker and a legitimate wing who can competently play three positions is undoubtedly going to be of interest to plenty of NBA teams.

Fournier played in the first game of the day, and wasted no time delivering the highlights.

On the game’s first possession, Fournier was defending the ball-handler as he crossed halfcourt. When the high screen came, Fournier went under as his opponent got by him, but only until he was in position to rip the ball from behind, which he did flawlessly before taking it untouched the other way for a breakaway slam.

The consensus was that his overall level of talent was simply a step above the rest of the players at camp, and he has a polish to his game that may have him ready to contribute immediate, meaningful minutes for an NBA team in the right situation. Other highlights from his first Eurocamp game included a one-handed bounce pass from just inside halfcourt on a fast break that led to an easy two, a steal out top that came by defending the passing lanes, a perfect pass off of a pick and roll where he was the ball handler that found his big man right at the rim, and precise entry passes to the post from the wing position.

After playing 29 minutes and scoring 12 points in the Eurocamp exhibition, Fournier then suited up for team France in the very next game, and contributed another 14 points in 28 minutes in their win against the U20 team from Russia.  He combined to go 11-19 from the field in the two games, including 4-7 from three-point range.

Fournier seemed like the real deal in his first day of action, and it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see him drafted near the end of the lottery or just after, considering his versatility and NBA-ready skill set.

*****

Donatas Motiejūnas made an appearance at Eurocamp on Sunday, and was there clearly at the request of the Houston Rockets. Head coach Kevin McHale and general manager Daryl Morey are among the members of team’s brain trust in attendance, and they were seen exchanging pleasantries with the seven-footer from Lithuania who was the 20th overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft.

Houston traded for Montiejunas on draft night, but the big man elected to play in Europe last season instead of beginning his career in the NBA. The Rockets hope to have him on the roster next season, and McHale put the player he calls D-Mo through a private workout at the camp on Monday afternoon.

*****

Restricted Portland Trail Blazers’ free agent Nicolas Batum was at Eurocamp on Monday, in advance of the Q&A session he and Danilo Gallinari are scheduled to hold with the players on Tuesday. He told me he was disappointed by the way things unfolded in Portland last season, and that many factors would weigh into his upcoming free agency,

“For this team, we always have high expectations,” he said. “And from the first day, when your go-to guy retires, that’s tough. That’s tough to replace; you can’t replace a guy like Brandon Roy, on and off the court.  We were maybe the unluckiest team in the league, but we kept playing and we didn’t make excuses. We had a very good start, and then we started to lose some games and we started thinking too much. Then we had a bad series of losing games, and then we cut the coach, and we trade two veteran guys — (Marcus Camby) was the voice of the locker room. We tried to do something, we kept battling until the end, but that was a tough season for us.”

Batum also mentioned that the team’s choices — in terms of whether it wants to try to compete now or build for the future — will be a factor in his free agent decision.

“I want to be sure which way we want to go,” he said. “What they want to do, and when they want to do it. That’s going to be huge for me. I don’t know yet, we’ll see July 1 what happens. I’m going to check every situation to see which one is the best for me. I don’t have cities or teams in mind right now, but I just want the best situation.”

Keep in mind that Portland can match any offer that Batum receives from another team, so ultimately, the decision to stay or go isn’t his to make.

Meanwhile, Batum had plenty to say about fellow Frenchman Evan Fournier.

“I played against him during the lockout,” Batum said. “I’ve known him for four or five years now, and he’s a great player. He’s very confident about himself, trust me. He’s a little bit like Tony Parker (in that regard). Tony said he wanted to be the best point guard in the NBA, and he almost did it. Evan is the same way. He said ‘I’m going to get drafted in the first round, maybe a lottery pick.’ And he’s almost there.”

*****

Kevin McHale gave an informative and inspiring clinic on post play to the players in attendance during his guest speaker spot after the morning session. He also talked about the state of post play in today’s NBA, and the reasons why he believes players and teams have gone away from it over time.

*****

A couple of other quick notes as we put Day Two in the books:

– Tomas Satoransky, the clear-cut star of Day One, bowed out of the second day’s activities. Satoransky was around; I saw him at lunch in street clothes. But word had it he was pleased with his opening day performance in the camp, and was preparing to head to the states for individual workouts with various NBA teams.

– Riccardo Moraschini (Italy) definitely showed some signs. As a 6’5″ wing, he goes hard to the basket and takes the contact, while still delivering results. He was good off the dribble, has explosive hops, and was physical in trying to score the basketball inside.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.

Can Kemba Walker save the sinking Hornets? He doesn’t want to jump the ship he’s (barely) keeping afloat

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DETROIT – Around this time last year, Kemba Walker‘s reputation peaked.

The season prior, he led Charlotte to its first playoff-game wins since the franchise reemerged as the Bobcats. The Hornets were on pace to make the playoff again, which would have been their first back-to-back postseason appearances in the second Charlotte era. And Walker made his first All-Star team.

While basking in his personal and team success, Walker found one downer: The NBA moved the All-Star game from his home arena to New Orleans due to North Carolina’s anti-gay law.

“It would have been really special if this had been in Charlotte,” Walker said.

The Hornets have gone south since.

They stumbled in the second half and missed the playoffs last season. They’re even worse this season, 18-25 and 11th in the Eastern Conference. As a result, Walker’s stock has tanked. He’s treated as a fringe All-Star candidate at best.

Yet – as trade speculation emerges – Walker has come to a conclusion similar to his a year ago: His experience would be more special in Charlotte.

“I would definitely be devastated if I was to get traded,” Walker said. “I do want to be here.”

Walker is one of the most intriguing cases as the trade deadline approaches. The 27-year-old is earning $12 million this season and is due the same salary next season before his contract expires. It’s not clear the Hornets would trade him. It’s not clear they should trade him.

Charlotte is bad around Walker, not because of him. The Hornets have played better with Walker on the floor (+5.2 points per 100 possessions) than the Cavaliers have with LeBron James (+0.3), Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo (+3.7) and Pelicans with Anthony Davis (+5.1).

Put another way, using Pythagorean win percentage, Charlotte has played like 55-win team when Walker plays and a 12-win team when he doesn’t. That 43-win-pace drop is the fourth largest league-wide (minimum: 20 games):

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The Hornets have struggled with Michael Carter-Williams at backup point guard and even more with rookie Malik Monk (a natural shooting guard) in the role while Carter-Williams was hurt. Backup point guard was a glaring weak spot last season, too, and Charlotte signed Carter-Williams to stop the bleeding.

But he was a budget choice. The Hornets’ mid-level exception sits mostly unused as they duck the luxury tax.

Using starting shooting guard Nicolas Batum as the primary playmaker when Walker sits has worked better than most alternatives. Staggering those two more often could right Charlotte.

However, even if Batum is the solution to the micro problem, he’s central to the macro problem.

The Hornets’ payroll has become bloated with prohibitive long-term deals. Several players are owed major money after this season:

With those constraints, it will be difficult to build a winner around Walker without paying the luxury tax, which Charlotte has never paid.

Walker is the Hornets’ most valuable asset, and trading him could make their second-most valuable asset – their upcoming first-round pick – even more valuable. Charlotte also use Walker as enticement to unload a bad contract, a tactic Adrian Wojnarowski reports is being explored. Still, the Hornets are in so deep, it’d be difficult to escape salary-cap purgatory, even while shedding Walker.

Because he signed his rookie-scale extension before the national TV deals carried the salary cap into the stratosphere and before he rose into stardom, Walker has a low salary for his status. That could open the door for trades not possible with other stars, especially if the Hornets want to attach an albatross.

Only Isaiah Thomas has a lower salary among reigning All-Stars:

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Of course, teams looking to upgrade at point guard for the stretch run – Pistons? Pacers? Jazz? Nuggets? Cavaliers? Spurs? – would be interested in Walker. But because he has an another season left on his contract, other teams – Knicks? Magic? Suns? – could trade for him as a head start on next year. The best analogue: The Jazz getting out ahead by trading Deron Williams to the Nets before his contract entered its final year.

A team must also prepare to pay Walker in 2019, when he’ll be 30 years old. Though the $48 million over four years he’s earning now is nothing to sneeze at, free agency will be his first opportunity to really cash in on the new TV money. In the extremely likely event he doesn’t make an All-NBA team next season, the largest extension he could sign (starting July 1) would be four years, $64,512,000. That probably won’t cut it. So, Walker’s team – unless it has cap space to renegotiate-and-extend his deal – will likely have to ride out his unrestricted free agency.

“Of course, it would be nice to get a big contract like a lot of the guys around the league are getting,” Walker said. “But, at the same time, I just try to take it one day at a time.”

All these discussions have thrown Walker for a loss. Charlotte drafted him and built around him. He’s not quite sure how to handle this.

“I’ve never really been in trade rumors like that, like I’ve been hearing lately about myself,” Walker said. “But I mean, I don’t know. I don’t even know. I don’t know.

“This is very new, and I really just don’t know.”

Walker said management hasn’t told him anything, and he won’t ask. It’s easy to read the writing on the wall: Walker is a good player on a losing team, and those players are always ripe to get dealt. On the other hand, a team owned by Michael Jordan is probably less inclined to enter rebuilding voluntarily.

“I’m here,” Walker said, “and I’m just trying to play and trying to win and trying to do what I can for this organization and try to get back in the playoff hunt. That’s the main priority.”

The Hornets have won two in a row, and head coach Steve Clifford is back. A surge into playoff contention isn’t out of the question.

If it happens, it’ll probably be on Walker’s shouldeers.

“We put so much pressure on Kemba to do so much,” said assistant coach Stephen Silas, who served as acting head coach in Clifford’s absence.

Too much pressure?

“At times, it can be,” Silas said. “But that’s what he signed up for, and that’s how we’re built.”

For now, at least.

Joel Embiid whacks Jaylen Brown in face while celebrating basket (video)

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Joel Embiid‘s antics – the Instagram victory laps, trash-talking and taunting – can rub people the wrong way.

With Jaylen Brown last night, literally.