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.

Kobe Bryant went from DeMar DeRozan’s idol to his friend

Kobe Bryant, DeMar DeRozan
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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan was 16 when he was invited to Kobe Bryant‘s camp for the top 25 American high school shooting guards.

A friendship grew between the youngster who would become an All-Star for the Toronto Raptors and the player who would become the third-leading scorer in NBA history.

DeRozan talked at length Sunday night about Bryant, who announced on The Players’ Tribune that he’ll retire after the season, capping a 20-year NBA career.

“The knowledge that he tended to give me every time I got the chance to be around him, especially at a young age, carrying over to the league, it was definitely an honor,” DeRozan said after the Raptors’ 107-102 loss Sunday night to Phoenix. “I tried to listen as much as possible, soak in as much as I could all of the time. It’s crazy how much time flies.”

Bryant was DeRozan’s favorite player while growing up in Compton, Calif.

“I’ve tried to emulate and learn so much from him ever since I was a kid, watching every single game growing up in Los Angeles, having a chance to get with him and learn from him, from conversations even when I was in high school from playing against him, completing against him, being in big games with him,” said DeRozan, who scored 29 points in Sunday’s loss. “It’s definitely a sad, sad day, but he’s been in the game a long time.”

Bryant’s announcement came just before the Lakers’ game against the visiting Indiana Pacers. Fans at the game received a letter of thanks from the 37-year-old player in a black envelope embossed with gold.

Bryant has struggled mightily with injuries the past several years, and is shooting a career-worst 32 percent this season.

“It don’t matter. That man has five rings, 17 all-stars, MVP,” DeRozan said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t done. It’s just father time catching up with him, injuries catching up with him this past year. People will appreciate it when he’s away from the game.”

DeRozan has his favorite Kobe memory – Bryant scoring 81 points against Toronto in 2006. DeRozan, who would join the Raptors as a rookie three years later, said he felt as if he was playing a video game watching the high-scoring spectacle unfold on TV.

DeRozan is in his seventh season with Toronto. He can’t imagine playing 20 years.

“Especially playing at a high level, doing the things he was doing … people don’t understand how hard that is,” DeRozan said. “Even now, a lot of us find ourselves tired (on) back-to-backs. It’s tough. It’s really tough. To do it 20 years at a high level, you have to give that man every credit in the world.”

Hornets’ Al Jefferson out 2-3 weeks with strained calf

Al Jefferson
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The Hornets have been playing well of late, going 7-3 in their last 10 and outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. They are solidly in the playoff picture out East, in the six slot right now.

This is not going to help matters.

The team announced that an MRI confirmed center Al Jefferson will be out two to three weeks with a strained left calf muscle, suffered during Charlotte’s 87-82 win over Milwaukee on Sunday.

Jefferson missing a few weeks due to injury at some point during the season is an annual event, like the Rose Parade or the Head of the Charles Regatta — but this year the Hornets are better prepared to deal with it. This is the deepest Charlotte team in recent memory.

Tyler Hansbrough, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky will get more run — plus Spencer Hawes may be back in the rotation — and if they can step up the Hornets will not slow down much.

This season the Hornets defense has been downright stingy when Jefferson is on the bench, giving up 94.2 points per 100 possessions (which is 10 better than when he is on the court). However, the Hornet offense and rebounding efforts are stronger when he plays.

PBT Extra: How did Thunder, Pacers move up in PBT Power Rankings?

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As they do every Monday during the season, the PBT Power Rankings came out and while the top three remained the same there were some climbers.

Specifically, the Thunder at No. 4 and the Pacers at No. 5.

Why they are there is the latest PBT Extra topic with Jenna Corrado. The simple answer is they are both excellent teams. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Paul George are all playing like Top 10 players.

PBT Podcast: We’re back talking Kobe, 76ers, Warriors, Pistons, more

Kobe Bryant
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The ProBasketballTalk NBA podcast is back.

Sure we’re a month into the season, but we’re going to get this podcast rolling again and you can expect us on each Monday and Thursday, with a variety of guests talking everything around the NBA.

Today NBC’s own Dan Feldman joins Kurt Helin to talk Kobe Bryant‘s retirement announcement, and what that means both for the Lakers going forward this season and beyond, but also what that could mean for Byron Scott’s future as the Lakers’ coach.

We also delve into the “showdown” between the Lakers and Sixers on Thursday, talk about the job Brett Brown is doing there as coach (a good one), we talk some Warriors, some Draymond Green, Pistons, Spurs and Pacers to round it all out.

Listen to the podcast below or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.