Draft notes from NCAA Tournament: NC State’s Brown, Leslie expected to go pro

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As we’ve said before, players performance in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t move the needle on their NBA draft position as much as fans tend to think. It’s one part of the mosaic that includes regular season games, interviews and workouts, among other things.

But it is part of the picture and guys can help and hurt their cause with their performance on the biggest stage. So with that, here are a few draft news and notes out of those games from a variety of sources.

• Two North Carolina State stars look ready to head pro: Lorenzo Brown (according to CBSSports.com) and C.J. Leslie (according to the well connected Adam Zagoria).

Brown is a 6’4” point guard with great handles and good vision, he needs a steadier shot and to show he can defend at the NBA level. He likely goes late first round. Leslie is going late first or early second, a 6’9” forward who is an incredible athlete but whose game is raw and needs work at both ends.

• Not playing may have been the best thing for Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel. There is no lock consensus No. 1 pick in this draft (no Anthony Davis or Derrick Rose type), and a few people had been touting Ben McLemore out of Kansas. Who between the Big 12 championship game and the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament has gone 4-of-21 shooting (and he’s hit one three in three games). Which might move Kentucky big man Nerlens Noel back to the top of the board despite being out for ACL surgery, reports Chad Ford at ESPN.

While most of the other top prospects have stumbled — some mightily — multiple NBA scouts and GMs remember Noel’s increasing productivity at Kentucky and say, essentially, if every player in the draft this year is going to be a major risk, why not gamble with the ultra-athletic big man and hope his knee and his offensive game both get better?

• Adreian Payne of Michigan State has long been on the radar because of his athleticism at 6’9”, but his performance against Memphis likely helped his cause. This guy was highly recruited out of high school but needed a few years of college to really bring it together, now it looks like he has. Still likely a second round pick, however.

• What about the guys from Florida Gulf Coast that everyone loves? The problem was they were on nobody’s radar before this tournament, now Sherwood Brown and Bernard Thompson are going to get some looks. The underclassmen on this team need to go back to college for a year and show how they can develop. Most likely they all end up playing in Europe some day, but now at least teams are taking a second look at them. That’s all you can really ask.

Russell Westbrook calls Oklahoma City “the place where I want to be”

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has yet to sign an extension, but the reigning league MVP says Oklahoma City is where he wants to be and he is “happy” about the offseason additions of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

Westbrook complimented Thunder management for making the deals.

The unsigned deal has tempered some of the excitement building around the team. He has until Oct. 16 to ink a contract that would be worth more than $200 million. Westbrook says he hasn’t signed because of the birth of his son and a busy travel schedule.

Westbrook’s former teammate Enes Kanter, who was sent to New York as part of the deal that brought Anthony to Oklahoma City, also says he expects Westbrook to sign the deal.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Paul George says OKC feels like “Somewhere I can call home for years”

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All we have heard about all summer is that Paul George is definitely going to the Los Angeles Lakers. Heck, we’ve heard about it earlier than that.

That’s what forced the Indiana Pacers to make the trade to send George to the Oklahoma City Thunder where he is now teammate of both Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

But NBA Media Day was on Monday, and with it brought not only first interviews of new players but the platitudes that fans want to hear as well.

Speaking to reporters in Oklahoma City, George said that he thought the Thunder had done much that they had needed to do to show him they were a place that he could stay.

Via USA Today:

“Honestly, I’m happy,” he said. “The only thing I wanted out of Indiana was a chance to win my whole career there…That’s really what I want out of this, out of the league. I’m not looking for money. I’m not looking for stats. I want to win, and (to) be able to win at a high level.

“It’s Year One, and (the Thunder have) proven – and I haven’t even gone through a season yet – and they’ve already proven everything on my check list (that) I can check off. That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me, and somewhere I can call home for years.’”

George also told USA Today that winning was above anything else, including joining his hometown team in the Lakers. We’ve heard this from players before, so take it with a grain of salt, but it does appear that the Thunder have a shot of keeping the former Pacers star if George is to be believed.

Of course, Oklahoma City still has some work to do in terms of winning games. There are some serious doubts about the roster they have now with three high usage players that will struggle to find a way to share the ball efficiently.

The Western Conference got a lot tougher this offseason, and both Anthony and George were a part of that. But the other teams have stiffened and appear to have better roster fit at the moment. Thats before we even get to the 2017 NBA Finals champion Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James says that he is going to be finishing his career in Cleveland. George says that the Thunder have a real shot at keeping him. We will have to play out this season to see if either of those things come true.

LeBron James says he still plans on finishing his career with Cleveland

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There has been significant talk around the NBA about the possibility of LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers this summer.

Specifically, there has been in a lot of chatter about James leaving his home state and heading to be in Los Angeles with the Lakers.

But during NBA media day on Monday, LeBron said that he still plans on finishing his career with Cleveland. What wasn’t explicit is whether that means he will take his next contract elsewhere, or if he simply means to return at a later date.

Via Cleveland.com:

“It hasn’t changed,” James said, when asked. He also nodded when asked, directly, if he intended to finish his career in Cleveland.

“And that’s why I sit up here today, still in this uniform, still ready to lead this franchise to a championship, put us in a position where we can be successful.”

“Anytime I’m able to be free agent or my contract ends, I’ll approach that when the summer comes,” he said. “At the end of the day I have a contract and I will fill out that obligation, which I’ve always done.

“And if you guys know me, I don’t know if you know me as much, but I’ve always handled it in the most businesslike way. And I will do that with my team, and we’ll handle that in the summertime, as we always have.”

So you there you have it. He is definitely planning on staying. Although he isn’t going to make that plan until the summer.

Should be an interesting one in Cleveland this year.

LeBron, Gregg Popovich among NBA heavyweights to comment on Trump at Media Day

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Monday was NBA Media Day and it could not get here soon enough. Yes, the offseason has been an incredible one with many players changing places. But the start of football season always means something important for the NBA diehard: basketball is coming.

Media Day comes with new questions for new players, along with hope that franchises will be able to right the wrongs of seasons past. Plus, we get to see new jerseys on stars. Yet as it always seems these days, the story of the afternoon was gathering how players had reacted to Donald Trump’s recent comments.

Specifically, Trump mentioned that he thought that players who knelt for the national anthem in the NFL were “sons of bitches”. Trump also rescinded a potential offer for a visit to the White House for the Golden State Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote “no” on going during a team meeting.

NBA reporters could not help but ask about the comments by Trump and the impact it had on the players, coaches, and executives during their first full scale opportunity to see players in a team setting.

Everyone from LeBron James to John Wall and Gregg Popovich had something to say.

We will be entering our first full season of the NBA with Trump and given how the first eight months of his tenure have gone, it will be interesting to see how the most socially conscious league in America responds moving forward.