The T-Mac In Winter

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SAN ANTONIO — Tracy McGrady is a shockingly young man. He will not turn 34 until May. He’s younger than, among others, Adrian Beltre, Tom Brady, Bradley Cooper and Kate Hudson. He’s too young to be President (not that this seems an especially viable career option) and he’s younger than all but one of the Backstreet Boys.

Still, everything about Tracy McGrady screams oldness.  I think this is probably because he was drafted by Toronto right out of high school, so we have known him for a long, long time. His started in the NBA in 1997 – that year he was teammates with Tim Kempton, who was once teammates with Cedric Maxwell, who was once teammates with John Havlicek who was once teammates with Bob Cousy. When you can be connected to Bob Cousy through only three teammates, you have been around a while.

Also, athletes – and particularly brilliant young athletes like McGrady – age differently from the rest. There was a time when Tracy McGrady seemed limitless. He could absolutely fly – who could forget the time he dunked over 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley (“He just sucked the gravity right out of the building!”). He was an unstoppable scorer, twice leading the league in points-per-game (since 2000, his 32.1 points per game in 2002-03 is third behind Kobe Bryant and Allen Iverson in 2005-06). T-Mac was a breathtaking player who could do ridiculous superhero things.

Now, well, he can’t. He knows that. He’s still amazing when you compare him to, say, the best basketball player you know. But he’s not THAT player, not even close to THAT player – he’s aged, he’s been hurt, he’s grown tired, he hasn’t been an NBA regular in a long while. This season, he played his basketball in China. When asked how the basketball is played there, he breathed the deep sigh of a man who has seen pretty much everything. “Physical, man,” he said. “Physical.”

McGrady was at the San Antonio Spurs shoot-around Wednesday, working out for the first time for his new team. Nobody – not coach Gregg Popovich, not the Spurs players, not even McGrady himself – has any expectations about this relationship. He’s a wildcard. He might work his way into a certain role — maybe as an emergency point guard. He might play in certain situations like when the Spurs need an energy burst. He might not play at all. The Spurs signed him because Stephen Jackson was cut and they figured, hey, why not? Maybe the Spurs remember when he scored 13 points in the final 35 seconds to lead the Yao Ming Rockets to a shocking win over San Antonio in 2004.

“I don’t know if they remember that … I do know my Asian fans remember that,” McGrady says. “Every year, they have like a day to remember it.” Everybody laughs, but McGrady doesn’t. “I’m serious. They do.”

Wednesday, McGrady goes through a basic workout – lots of weaving, a few shots off screens, some basic education on the Spurs Way. There’s no way to catch him up on nearly everything the Spurs do, not this late in the season, but there’s also no reason for that. McGrady knows how to play basketball. He is a seven-time All-Star, and this is his eighth pro team if you include the Qingdao Eagles in China. Whatever the Spurs need from him, sure, he will find his way.

What is striking is how much the workout takes out of him. He admits that he got back from China two months ago, and he spent the bulk of those two months playing with his kids and sitting on the couch. All around him, Spurs players run around and barely sweat. But after a few sprints, McGrady breathes heavy. After a few more, his shot begins to fall off the front rim. He talks to the basketball (“C’mon girl, get in there!”).

If there is a knock on McGrady’s great career, it is that his teams never once won a playoff series. It is a sensitive point with him (“I can’t do it myself,” he says softly). He know that here in San Antonio, at the end, after he thought his NBA days were over, he gets a chance to be part of one of the best teams in the league. He gets to play with Hall of Famers and a Hall of Fame coach. Sure, he would like to taste victory, even as a role player, even if he never gets off the bench.

So, he’s pumped up about it. He works through the rust and the pain. The Spurs coaches put him in a baseline drill … basically, he is to set a screen, then sprint full speed to the corner, catch the ball and drain a three-point shot. The drill will go on until he makes three three-pointers.

And so, McGrady takes a step, a skip, runs into the drill. He sets the screen, sprints to the right corner, catches, fires, swishes the shot.

“Great shot,” the assistant coach yells. “Go!”

And Tracy McGrady runs out again, sets another screen and sprints full speed to the other corner, catches the ball and shoots the three. This one too, swishes.

Before the coach can say another word, he’s in motion again, back to the screen spot, a pause, and then all out to the corner, he catches, he jumps, and he fades away from the basket as he lets it go. This one swishes as well. Three shots, three swishes, just like old times.

“Terrific Tracy,” the coach yells. “Great job. Go shoot some free throws.”

Tracy McGrady smiles a little bit. He still can put the ball in the basket. Then he bends over, grabs his shorts, inhales and exhales and holds on for dear life.

Philadelphia 76ers select Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall in 2017 NBA Draft

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The Philadelphia 76ers have selected Markelle Fultz No. 1 overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

We’ve known this was coming for some time after the Sixers moved up in the draft and swapped picks with the Boston Celtics. Philadelphia originally had the No. 3 overall pick, but traded rights to their selection in order to take the Washington Huskies point guard.

Philadelphia would now appear to have a solid core in place after stockpiling young players for years under former GM Sam Hinkie’s leadership. Hinkie is no longer with the team, but the results of his process have created one of the strongest young teams in the Eastern Conference.

Fultz joins a core of Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, and Jahlil Okafor in Philadelphia. At 6-foot-5, Fultz is a tall young guard who can bring not only a pick-and-roll game to the Sixers, but some shooting as well. That bodes well given how much ball-handling duties we expect to see from Simmons, who is an elite passing talent but has not shown the ability to shoot the ball just yet.

The Sixers still need to add some kind of shooting element to their roster, but having Fultz not only as a lead ball handler but as an off-the-ball option might just take some of the pressure off of Bryan and Jerry Colangelo when it comes to finding another shooter on the wing.

Fultz Played just one season for Washington, scoring 23.2 points and dishing out six assists per-game. He shot 41% from 3-point range and even averaged 8.8 rebounds per 100 possessions. Fultz was named to the PAC 12 all-freshman team and all-conference team for 2017.

The real question for Philadelphia moving forward of course is the health of their previously drafted hopeful stars. Yes, That the Sixers have eight seemingly embarrassing amount of riches on their roster is a great thing for fans who have watch a team continue loosely lose for nearly half a decade. But Embiid Has been plagued with leg injuries, and Simmons missed his entire first season with a foot injury.

Fultz perhaps caps this incredible run in the NBA draft for the Sixers given his draft position and the needs of the roster. Philadelphia is in an excellent position to succeed in the Eastern Conference, which still doesn’t have a true challenger to LeBron James. But Fultz, Simmons, Embiid, and the Sixers will need to not only advanced together on the floor, but stay on the floor in order to make that happen.

Drafting Fultz is a great step for the Sixers. After years of trusting the process, fans in Philadelphia won’t be the only ones hoping to see them succeed now that their faith has been verified.

2017 NBA Draft pick-by-pick tracker with analysis of each move

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Already the 2017 NBA Draft has been crazy — the No. 1 pick was traded for only the seventh time in NBA history. The No. 2 pick from a couple years ago has already been moved to make way for the next No. 2 pick coming to Los Angeles.

Now it is likely to get even wilder.

This is the best place to follow all of it. Just keep hitting refresh all night.

We will constantly be updating this post throughout the course of the night — it will be live with a quick analysis of every pick and how they fit in with the team that took them. We’ll also be on top of trades and everything else happening around the NBA tonight. About the only thing we know is what’s happening now with the No. 1 pick, so let’s put the Sixers on the clock.

 

 
Sixers small icon 1. Philadephia 76ers: Markelle Fultz, 6’4” point guard (Washington). The Sixers hope they have their big three rounded out with Fultz. One scout I trust told me this was a one-player draft at the top — Fultz was clear and away the best guy available. What doesn’t he do well offensively? He can score off the pick-and-roll from all three levels: He makes threes, can hit mid-range pull-ups, or attack and finish above the rim. He can make plays in transition, makes good decisions off the pick-and-roll, uses both hands, and had great body control and footwork. The concerns are he can be passive, lets the game come to him a little too much, and can be a lazy defender (despite elite physical tools). Stlll, he was the clear No. 1 for a reason.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball, 6’6” point guard (UCLA). You can’t teach his court vision and passing skills, which remind one of a LeBron/Ricky Rubio level of passer. With those skills, he is amazing in the open court. Yes, his shot is awkward (because of it he can’t pull up going to his right well), but in catch-and-shoots the ball goes in. Concerns about his shot – and his father — are overblown. The real questions are how he defends at the next level (he was disinterested for long stretches in college), and can he create in the halfcourt (he didn’t do a lot of pick-and-rolls, and on them 75 percent of his drives ended with a pass, he has to be more of a scoring threat).

 
Celtics small icon 3. Boston Celtics:

Report: Suns discussing trade of Eric Bledsoe to Nuggets

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The Phoenix Suns are rebuilding and they have one good trade chip in their hands — Eric Bledsoe. He remains a very good point guard who could help a lot of teams, and the Suns want young players and/or picks back in any potential deal.

Enter the Denver Nuggets, reports Chris Haynes of ESPN.

That has potential, depending on what the Suns thing of Emanuel Mudiay. They might prefer Jamal Muray, and also is there someone they like in the 13th pick area.

Of all the wild rumors flying around on draft day, this one makes some of the most sense. For the Suns, they could land a couple of quality young players to go with their No. 4 pick, all of whom can be paired with Devin Booker, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender, Alex Len and the rest. For the Nuggets, they get a veteran point guard that helps them look more like a playoff team next season.

That said, teams are talking to everyone about almost everything right now. Whether this one goes through remains to be seen.

Rumor: Add Denver Nuggets to list of teams talking to Bulls about Jimmy Butler

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The Denver Nuggets are starting to build something. Mike Malone has brought a needed new culture to the locker room, they have found a franchise cornerstone in Nikola Jokic and running the offense through him, and they have quality young pieces around him such as Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. The Nuggets just missed the playoffs last year, and they — and hopefully their defense — are poised to take a step forward next season.

Jimmy Butler would fit in well with that.

Denver is part of the long list of teams that have reached out to the Bulls about the star wing, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.

Denver has spoken to the Bulls about Jimmy Butler, source told ESPN. Would include multiple young players, not Nikola Jokic, and picks.

Jokic is about as close to untradable as it gets in the NBA.

Would a pick or two with Harris, Emanual Mudiay, and a veteran that can help now such as Wilson Chandler get the job done? Maybe not, the Bulls have been asking a lot for Butler which is why deals have withered. However, Denver has the assets to make this potentially work so the conversation should move forward.

Smart money is on Butler in a Bulls uniform to start next season, but the rumors are not going to stop.