Nerlens Noel meets with Wizards and talks draft, hair style

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WASHINGTON — When it comes to Nerlens Noel, the simplest pre-NBA draft storylines involve the following: the distinctive hair, his injured knee and – based on planned team meetings – whether the University of Kentucky center will be selected one, two or three.

Noel’s high-fade flattop, inspired by Will Smith’s iconic 1990’s look, won’t influence any kind of draft stock rise or fall. Actually, the 7-foot shot blocker who ran the court with a guard’s grace before suffering a torn left ACL in February has remained the presumptive front-runner for the first pick even after suffering a torn left ACL in February.

Of course, as anybody that has followed this year’s draft knows, there is little certain about the high-end prospects or how the top selections will unfold on June 27.

Those advising Noel apparently have the sense that the player who led Division I with 4.4 blocks per game won’t have a long wait in the green room. Only the teams owning the first three picks, the Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic and Washington Wizards, have or will meet with Noel before the draft. Though still unable to work out, Noel spent Friday and Saturday in the Nation’s Capital being acquainted with Wizards team officials.

“It’s a possibility,” Noel said of landing in Washington before accurately describing the current overall draft board. “Anything can happen.”

Noel, 19, previously visited with the Magic and he has meeting scheduled for June 20 in Cleveland. The teams obviously want a closer look at his knee, which he favored slightly walking the halls of the Verizon Center.

“I’m feeling great. It’s really coming along,” said Noel, who sported a blue Wizards t-shirt when speaking with a contingent of media members outside the team’s locker room on Saturday morning.

How great any of the top three teams, including the playoff-pushing Wizards, would feel about drafting a player unlikely to contribute much as a rookie is a question. Noel said current medical projections have him sidelined until possibly December.

That timeframe also gives the Boston native opportunity to pack on the pounds, a sincere goal especially after weighing a mere 206 pounds at last month’s combine. Noel, who claims a playing weight of 215 at Kentucky, said he’s now 218 and plans on being in the 225-230 range whenever he makes his debut.

The Wizards, owners of not only the third pick but expectations for a playoff appearance next season after a five-year drought, also met with Anthony Bennett from UNLV and Georgetown’s Otto Porter Jr. this week. They won’t be the last of the possible top-3 selections.

Noel would initially serve as a rim-protecting apprentice to Emeka Okafor, who is entering the final year of his contract, while providing the franchise another building block with the rising backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.

With limited free agent salary cap available and a roster that tied for last in scoring this past season, the Wizards ideally add more offense through the draft. That’s not Noel’s strength; he shot only 53 percent from the free throw line at Kentucky with most of his offense coming on dunks and offensive rebounds. However, his board work and underrated passing skills can help with the point producing.

Scoring challenged or not, the Wizards might not be able to pass on Noel, assuming he’s available. That’s because his defensive future appears significant, assuming he checks out physically.

As for the flattop, it’s not about to exit as Noel enters the league.

“It’s special to me,” Noel said. “Growing up, I watched Fresh Prince of Bel Air every night before I went to bed, so I’m gonna keep it.”

At least that much is certain.

Dennis Schroder insists reeling Hawks OK despite seven-game skid

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ATLANTA (AP) — Dennis Schroder insists the Atlanta Hawks will be fine when their three injures starters return.

The point guard also believes the Eastern Conference playoff standings are too tight for the Hawks to wait for Paul Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha to return from their injuries.

Schroder said the Hawks must snap their seven-game losing streak with their current limited roster, which will be without the three starters for at least one more game.

“I’m saying now we have to change something,” Schroder said Monday. “We can’t wait until they come back. Maybe it’s too late then.”

The Hawks are in a three-way tie for fifth in the Eastern Conference playoff standings. They are only 2 games ahead of eighth-place Miami, which currently has the final playoff spot, and 2 + ahead of ninth-place Chicago.

The Hawks see they could drop out of the playoff standings if they don’t quickly end the losing streak.

“The NBA isn’t easy,” Schroder said. “You’ve got to win games to make it in the playoffs.”

Coach Mike Budenholzer said Millsap, the four-time All-Star who has missed five straight games with left knee tightness, and the other two injured starters will not play in Tuesday night’s home game against Phoenix.

Bazemore, who has missed four straight games with a right knee bone bruise, said he hopes to return for Wednesday’s game at Philadelphia.

Sefolosha, held out against the Nets with a right groin strain, was seen working on an elliptical machine at the portion of Monday’s practice open to media. There is no timetable on Millsap’s return.

Before the losing streak, which matches the team’s longest of the season, the Hawks were competing with Toronto for the fourth seed in the East and home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Home-court advantage is now a distant dream.

Atlanta is tied with Milwaukee and Indiana for fifth following Sunday’s 107-92 loss to New Jersey, which owns the NBA’s worst record.

The latest ugly loss left Atlanta in what Bazemore described as “a dark time.” Even so, he insists the players’ spirit is not broken.

Bazemore pointed to players taking extra shots after practice and said “My teammates are still laughing. … We’re still alive and kicking.”

Budenholzer’s message is for players to avoid trying to do too much to fill the void left by the injured starters.

“I think to some degree we’re all pressing,” Budenholzer said. “Coaches pressing, each guy individually. It comes from actually a good place. They want to win. They want to have success and it’s just remembering that the best way for us to have success is to do it as a group and do it together.”

Budenholzer said rookie Taurean Price, who had 17 points, six rebounds and three steals in his first start against the Nets, likely will remain in the lineup against Phoenix.

Ersan Ilyasova and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to make only 8 of 30 shots against the Nets. Atlanta’s depleted bench was outscored 46-7 by the Nets’ backups.

Budenholzer said Bazemore is “very close” to playing and could be cleared after “another good day.”

Bazemore said has done “pretty much everything” on the court in testing his knee, including change-of-direction drills.

“I’m starting to feel good,” Bazemore said. “… Things are trending in the right direction.”

Sixers’ Ben Simmons throws down impressive dunk in pregame workout (VIDEO)

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Consider this a look at what might have been this past season. Or a look into what will be next season.

Philadelphia has shut No. 1 pick Ben Simmons down for the season as they wait for the Jones fracture in his foot to heal properly, but he is traveling with the team and working out on its current road trip. Before the game in Indianapolis, Simmons got in a workout on the court.

Then casually threw down a between-the-legs, off the backboard self alley-oop.

What does that mean? Nothing. Other than next season in Philadelphia could be a lot of fun.

Serge Ibaka says he asked Magic to play more small ball with him at center

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The Magic traded Victor Oladipo and the rights to Domantas Sabonis for Serge Ibaka then, after a failed half season in Orlando, flipped an unhappy Ibaka for a lesser shooting guard (Terrence Ross) and a lesser draft pick (the lower of the Raptors’ and Clippers’ first-rounders).

What went wrong in Orlando?

The Magic built a roster overloaded on big men, forcing Ibaka to play power forward nearly exclusively, next to Bismack Biyombo or Nikola Vucevic. It a bad plan that worked predictably poorly.

And Ibaka indicates he knew it would, asking Orlando coach Frank Vogel to play more center.

Ibaka, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“At some point, I spoke with Coach about playing small ball,” Ibaka said. “At some point, he agreed with me. But we never did it. We never did it.”

The Magic used Ibaka just 88 minutes with neither Biyombo nor Vucevic on the court, per nbawoy!. Orlando played opponents even in that span — not bad for a team that has been for a team that been outscored by 6.3 points per 100 possessions, better than only the Nets and Lakers, this season.

But reducing minutes of Biyombo and Vucevic would have created its own complications. They wouldn’t have been happy to sit.

One way or another, this roster was going to cause problems. That’s why Orlando general manager Rob Hennigan is on the hot seat.

Report: Becky Hammon rejects offer to become Florida women’s head coach, stays with Spurs

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Becky Hammon, the NBA’s first female full-time coach, faced an intriguing choice: Remain a Spurs assistant or become the head coach of Florida’s women’s basketball team.

She apparently chose the former.

Mike Robinson of Swish Appeal:

Hammon has decided she will not take the coaching position at Florida. Instead, she will remain an assistant coach with the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich.

The Florida job would’ve offered a higher salary and full charge of a program.

It also would’ve taken her further from her goal of becoming the NBA’s first female head coach.

Perhaps unfairly, it would have been too easy for NBA teams to forget about Hammon if she returned to women’s basketball. Her road is already difficulty enough. An opportunity for teams to typecast her as only a women’s-basketball coach could’ve debilitated her NBA-coaching prospects

Hammon still faces a long road, but the more time she spends coaching men, the more barriers she erases. Her staying in San Antonio goes a long way toward normalizing the idea of women coaching in the NBA.