Len from the University of Maryland hugs NBA Commissioner Stern after being selected by the Suns as the fifth overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft in Brooklyn

Suns get the player they wanted by drafting Alex Len


PHOENIX — When the Cleveland Cavaliers surprised everyone by selecting Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, a sense of excitement rushed through the Suns war room in Phoenix.

The pick by the Cavs was the beginning of a wild first round which defied mock draft boards everywhere, and ensured that plenty of top talent would still be available by the time it was the Suns’ turn to draft with the fifth selection.

While plenty of interesting players were still available, including Nerlens Noel and Ben McLemore, Phoenix didn’t need its full five minutes to make its selection.

The man they wanted all along was Alex Len.

“We feel like Alex was one of the top players in this draft,” Suns GM Ryan McDonough said late Thursday. “He’s a guy who just turned 20 years old, he’s seven-foot one, he’s extremely skilled, he’s had good success at the college level, but we think he’s just scratching the surface of his potential as a player. And we were thrilled to get him at five.”

As recently as the day before the draft, Len was rumored to be at the top of the Cavaliers’ board, just as he was at the top of the Suns’. But once Cleveland took Bennett and there were some additional early draft surprises, even with Noel and McLemore still around, there was no debate on who to select within the Phoenix front office.

“When Alex was there, the decision was clear,” McDonough said. “[The draft] was very unpredictable, and I think everybody, starting at number one with Cleveland, nobody seemed to be really sure what they were doing, even when they were on the clock. So it didn’t give us a whole lot of time to prepare — frankly, I thought Alex would be gone in the first four picks, because we did have him ranked higher than where he was picked at five.”

McDonough has known Len for quite some time, at least from a basketball perspective. He’s been scouting him all over the world since Len was 17 years old.

“I was in Vilnius, Lithuania to see the under-18 European championships in the summer of 2010,” McDonough said, recalling the first time he saw Len play. “The gym was about 117 degrees; I think there were 32 people there. I didn’t know Alex, and the kid came out blocking shots above the rim and rebounding. He’s improved a lot since then, but you could see the raw physical package.”

The Suns flew Len in for a pre-draft workout, though no working out took place due to the stress fracture he’s been dealing with for some time. The team met with Len and interviewed him, and had their medical staff check him out to make sure he would be fit for duty at some point this season.

Len said on a conference call with reporters that he expects to resume basketball activities in August, and should be ready for training camp in October — a timetable McDonough cautiously confirmed, while making it clear that the Suns medical staff will do a more complete evaluation of their top pick in the coming days.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.

Celtics draft pick Marcus Thornton gets beer dumped on head during Australian game (video)

Marcus Thornton, Will Cherry

The Celtics drafted Marcus Thornton with No. 45 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. That essentially entitled him to the required tender – a one-year contract offer, surely unguaranteed at the minimum.

Thornton rejected that, which is almost always a mistake.

Rejecting the tender is a favor to the drafting team, which gets to keep the player’s exclusive rights for a year. If Thornton tries to join the NBA now, he’s stuck negotiating with only the Celtics.

By accepting the tender, the player typically gets one of two outcomes. He either plays on that contract and draws an NBA salary or he gets waived. But even getting waived is better than rejecting the tender, because at least the player becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team.

Players who reject the tender go to another league and play for less money. In Thornton’s case, that mean Australia.

How’s that going?

(Almost) never reject the required tender as a second-round pick.