Five NBA Draft sleepers to watch


Admit it, this is one of your favorite parts of the NBA draft — picking out the guy nobody is watching because you think he’s got that special something. You want to find the next Isaiah Thomas. You know he can help your team. And you pull for him because you want to be right, even if he turns out to just be guy number eight on the bench. He’s your guy.

Here are five guys that might be your guy. Five sleepers. Five guys out of the lottery and down the draft board who could contribute, now or in a few years.

Scott Machado (6’2” point guard, Iona): In an up-tempo offense (or as a change-of-pace guy off the bench) he can do damage. He plays fast and fans will love him. The Brazilian is a pure point guard with fantastic court vision, some scouts say second best in this draft (behind Kendall Marshall of North Carolina). He knows how to make plays, especially in transition. He’s not a great athlete by NBA standards but he scored at a pretty good clip in college (13.6 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting). Put him in the right situation and he can thrive.

Terrence Ross (6’7” shooting guard/small forward, Washington): A sleeper because nobody watched the dreadful Pac-12 last year. He’s an excellent athlete who lives and dies by the jump shot (40 percent of his shots last season were threes) but if you close out he can blow by you. He can finish at the rim. He needs some handles, he needs some midrange game, but he has the athletic tools and could put it together. He could be at least solid and maybe special in a few years.

Darius Johnson-Odom (6’2” shooting guard, Marquette): He can flat out shoot the rock, and at the end of the day that is still the name of the game. He showed pretty well at the Nets combine workout, according to reports. He’s undersized for the two in the NBA (and he’s not a point guard) but he is strong and defends hard. He’ll be a catch-and-shoot guy in the league, but he can do a lot of damage that way.

Royce White (6’8” power forward, Iowa State): On paper he seems perfect. He has an NBA power forward’s body plus has excellent handles and passing skills. In college he played a point-forward where he led the team in points, assists and rebounds. He can score inside or out. But there are red flags — first his shot is very inconsistent. Plus, there are off-the-court legal issues, and on top of that he also has an anxiety disorder with a fear of flying. Lots of risk, could be high reward.

Tony Wroten (6’6” combo guard, Washington): Yes, another guy from the Huskies. He comes with more risk than Ross because his problem is style of play — he tends to just be out of control. He certainly has an NBA body — he’s got good size for a guard and is very athletic. He can drive the lane and finish through contact (but only with his left hand, he needs to get a right fast). He’s a good passer. But he takes bad shots and his jump shot is not at all reliable right now. He’s a project. But he has the tools to be a quality guard in this league if he can learn to make better decisions and get a steady jumper.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.

Rumor: Magic expected to fire Frank Vogel

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Magic president Jeff Weltman inherited an expensive and bad roster, limiting his options to shape it.

He also inherited coach Frank Vogel, and maybe there’s something Weltman will do about that.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

Orlando’s ongoing malaise, especially after the promise of an unexpected 8-4 start, make it a widely held assumption in coaching circles that Vogel will be dismissed after the franchise’s sixth successive season out of the playoffs.

Perhaps, these people in coaching circles are doing nothing more than connecting dots. Many coaches with poor records – only the Suns and Nets have been worse during Vogel’s two-year tenure – inherited by a new front office get fired.

Or it could be something more concrete, like Orlando putting out feelers for potential replacements. That possibility gives juice to this report.

Vogel has one more guaranteed year left on his contract, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel. Will ownership pay to oust Vogel? That seems likely. The alternative is paying Weltman to sit on his hands.

This would be a tough break for Vogel, who coached well with the Pacers. The Magic’s roster is just so lacking. Vogel hasn’t impressed in Orlando, but his opportunity to do so has been narrow.

At least it’d be more understandable if he got fired by a losing team. Last time, he got fired by a winning team.

Rumor: Bucks, Jabari Parker could part after season

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Jabari Parker is a confounding fit on the Bucks now and in the future.

Could he and Milwaukee part ways this summer, when he’ll be a restricted free agent?

Gery Woelfel on 105.7 The Fan:

At this very moment, I’d say the odds are slim to none it’s going to happen … that he’ll be on this team next year.

I just don’t see a good fit there. I didn’t bring this up, and I’ve been meaning to do so, but I haven’t. He came very, very close to being traded at the deadline. And I think that spoke volumes of they think of Jabari Parker and whether he’s a part of their future plans.

Bucks executive Alex Lasry denied it:

So did general manager Jon Horst. Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Horst made it clear both on the radio and in a separate interview with the Journal Sentinel on Wednesday that the Bucks never had any intention of trading Parker

Teams often discuss trading players then deny it to avoid offending the player. Whether or not they nearly traded Parker, the Bucks would probably respond now similarly.

As far as Parker’s future in Milwaukee, it’s unclear where the well-connected Woelfel’s reporting ends and his analysis begins. There’s a huge difference between trading Parker for value and letting him walk for nothing. Just because the Bucks came close to trading Parker wouldn’t mean they won’t re-sign him.

Shedding Parker would not open cap space without additional moves. It would probably allow Milwaukee to use the full mid-level exception and stay beneath the luxury-tax line. But that’s unlikely to land a player who combines Parker’s age and talent.

Because Parker will be a restricted free agent, the Bucks hold the cards. If he’s upset about trade talks or anything else, he can’t unilaterally leave.

Milwaukee must determine how much to pay Parker and how to utilize him with Giannis Antetokounmpo. Those are hard questions. But the Bucks throwing up their hands and letting Parker walk in free agency isn’t the answer.

Tony Parker: My quad injury 100 times worse than Kawhi Leonard’s

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Tony Parker reportedly led a players-only meeting in which Spurs implored Kawhi Leonard to return.

Leonard injured his quad last season, has played just nine games this season and remains sidelined. The Spurs have reportedly cleared him, but he got second opinions and is waiting for his medical team to clear him.

Parker injured his quad last May then returned in November – and said at the time Leonard would return in 2-3 weeks.

Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News:

It’s not hard to read between these lines.

Though some Spurs reportedly told Leonard to return only once he feels ready, Parker is clearly applying pressure. It’s not working, but he’s apparently not stopping.

These comments don’t befit a healthy organization, which is just so stunning for the Spurs, whose excellent culture has been exalted for year.

Maybe Parker will get his wish, and a shamed-into-playing Leonard will lead San Antonio deep into the playoffs. But it seems more likely these quotes will just increase tension.