Jack Cooley left NBA money on the table for lucrative offer in Turkey

7 Comments

Jack Cooley looked to have a hard road ahead of him coming out of Notre Dame as an undrafted and undersized big man that didn’t seem to have much pro potential, according to the majority of NBA scouts. After a standout performance at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament followed by solid showings with both the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies in the Summer Leagues, though, Cooley earned an honest look when NBA training camps start in the fall.

That opportunity apparently presented itself with quite a few teams offering him guaranteed money, but the 6-foot-9 post has instead decided to start his professional career overseas with Trabzonspor in the Turkish Basketball League.

Why would a player that seemed like he’d never get one legitimate NBA opportunity turn down training camp invites from ⅓ of the best league in the world — especially considering some teams offered more than the standard minimum $25,000 for Cooley to show up and try and make their regular season roster, according to Cooley’s agent, Adam Pensack of Pensack Sports?

“The NBA guarantees were more than $25,000, but the deal in Turkey is unusually lucrative, especially for a rookie,” Pensack told Pro Basketball Talk on Saturday night. “Turkey is also arguably the best league in Europe, especially for bigs, so the opportunity to play real minutes against top-flight competition was too good to pass up.”

Some of the bigs in Turkey’s top division last year that might be familiar to our American readers included Joey Dorsey, Chinemelu Elonu, Artsiom Parakhouski, Alade Aminu and J.P Prince — none of which, aside from possibly Dorsey, are knocking down NBA doors — but the league’s crop of bigs look like they’ve improved this year. According to Mark Porcaro, one of the most underrated basketball researchers around, bigs playing in Turkey this year already include Boston Celtics draft pick Colton Iverson, Drew Gordon, Nate Jawai, Damir Markota, Furkan Aldemir, Semih Erden, Milan Macvan and Chuck Davis.

That list makes it difficult to confirm  whether Turkey is indeed one of the best leagues in Europe when it comes to its crop of big men, but the above-listed players have been legitimate NBA prospects at some point in the basketball careers. Regardless, Pensack believing that Cooley’s opportunity to play good minutes against top-flight competition was too good to pass up certainly makes sense.

That opens up a different question, though, because — after working as a director of basketball operations in the NBA Development League last season — I can attest that the bigs who end up making their way through the D-League are quite talented as well. Knowing that, and realizing Cooley would be a focal piece of his D-League team after competing in an NBA training camp, why wouldn’t Pensack instead place his client in a league where it’d be easier for NBA teams to keep an eye on his him throughout the upcoming season?

Essentially, it came down to money. Cooley would’ve earned, at most, $25,500, insurance and a place to stay if he chose to play in the D-League this year. Considering he turned down more than that from the NBA to just attend a team’s training camp to instead play in Turkey, it makes sense that he’d once again look at the higher-paying option overseas.

“As for the D-League? If Jack didn’t make a roster out of camp, we certainly discussed the possibility,” Pensack said, “But from a business perspective, this move made the most sense. Most players just never have an option like this, especially in their first year.”

It’s hard to blame Cooley for passing up on the financial security a season overseas can provide, but it also speaks volumes when wondering how close the NBA truly is to achieving success with the D-League. If players such as Cooley — a guy on the cusp of the NBA with 10 teams offering training camp opportunities — are going overseas to cash in bigger paychecks, when will the Development League begin to make staying stateside worth a good player’s while? Regardless of that, though, taking the overseas opportunity makes sense when knowing that his handlers have high hopes for what Cooley can accomplish during his season abroad.

“Jack will take full advantage of the opportunity and will come back next year as a better player,” Pensack assured me. “He made one three in his entire college career but he can really shoot the ball — as he showed in summer league — so a full year of doing it in games against top-level competition will do wonders for him.”

If the ferocious rebounder and is able to add a reliable three-point shot to his repertoire, the NBA better watch out next season. For now, though, Cooley’s decided to take the  guaranteed money and run.

Celtics GM Danny Ainge: “Who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team?”

Leave a comment

Isaiah Thomas is the best and most popular Celtics player, leading his team to the No. 1 seed in the East and the Eastern Conference Finals — both significant steps forward for an up-and-coming team.

Yet, from the moment the Warriors landed the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the talk about Thomas has been about his future with the Celtics: If/when they draft Markelle Fultz, will the Celtics want to pay Thomas max or near max money next summer? Do they want to be locked into four or five years with an undersized guard who will start that contract at age 29? Do they extend him this summer at a likely better price? Trade him?

Celtics GM Danny Ainge doesn’t understand all the talk. He certainly didn’t sound like someone looking to trade Thomas this summer speaking to Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald.

“All I’m saying is those are things I have to worry about that even I don’t like to think about. And I know that those are going to be difficult decisions at some point. But we want to keep Isaiah.

“All I know is that he’s had an amazing year, and who doesn’t want Isaiah Thomas on their team? Like, you’ve got to be kidding me…

“Why do the fans need to worry about how much money he makes?” he said. “I can understand if Isaiah and his wife and his agent are worried about that, but I don’t understand why that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the media.”

Two things I want to unpack from all that. First, that’s a “get off my lawn” take from Ainge that completely misses the mark with where sports fandom online has shifted. It’s not that he’s wrong at the core of his argument — we all should appreciate the season Thomas just had, Celtics’ fans in particular. Thomas is a joy to watch play and one of the good guys in the league on top of it. Name anyone in the NBA who has gotten more out of his natural abilities than Thomas — the man has put in the work to rise way past expectations. He needs to be appreciated and lauded for that.

But here’s the thing: Fans more than ever like to play GM, and they now have the tools to understand the tough financial decisions that fall on Ainge and others in his shoes. Let me explain it this way: The NBA Finals start June 1, but as a website, the NBC NBA page will draw way more traffic around the NBA Draft at the end of the month, then free agency in July will blow that away. Always does. Player movement — including both rumors of trades and talk of free agents and moves teams should make — is a much bigger draw than the games themselves. That’s not just the NBA, it’s true of the NFL and MLB and NHL and the Barclays’ English Premiere League and on down the line.

Second, Ainge may not like the speculation, but the questions are valid — he and the Celtics have some hard decisions coming up. At the core of them is the question of patience: Push their assets into the middle of the table now, get a couple of players ready to win next season, and make a run at LeBron James and the Cavaliers, or be patient and build to be better than Cleveland in three years (then sustain that for five or more years beyond that)? Ainge has been on the patient side of that equation from the start, and likely will be again — don’t expect him to trade that No. 1 pick or do anything but bring Thomas back. He can be a decision for the summer of 2018.

Then again, he has shopped Thomas before. Ainge is as good or better than any GM in the league of keeping his cards close to his vest, he’s impossible to read.

That said, the smart money is on him being patient. There’s no need to trade Thomas now, that’s the kind of rash overreaction that got the Knicks where they are over the last decade plus. Ainge can wait things out.

 

Adding Durant and thinking dynasty, it’s championship or bust for Warriors’ legacy

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Golden State Warriors have been the best team in the NBA for three seasons now. That’s not my opinion, that’s LeBron James‘ — here is what he said after advancing to his seventh straight NBA Finals.

“That’s been the best team in our league the last three years, and they added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year, so that makes it even more difficult.”

Adding Durant did make them more difficult to beat, but it also added to the Warriors’ burden — after a 67-win season and a historic 12-0 sweep into the Finals, the series that their season will be judged on is the one still to be played. They may as well be 0-0 because the second they added Durant it was championship or bust in terms of how they want to be seen.

Win and a pattern of dominance over years starts to come into focus, they will have a couple rings and beaten LeBron — who will go down as one of the all-time greats in his own right — to get them. Lose and this season will be viewed as another failure.

The Warriors want us to look back on them in 10-15 years and see a dynasty. They talked quietly about it last season during their chase for 73 wins — they saw that as a part of their resume as one of the greatest teams of all time. That’s part of the reason for the push last year. They, like LeBron, are chasing the ghosts of greatness at this point, and the Warriors had a Jordan record in their sights.

Regular season marks are nice, but in the NBA the great teams’ legacies are built around championships. Plural. If you’re going to go down as one of the dominant teams of an era — like the Shaq/Kobe Lakers, or Jordan’s Bulls, or the Celtics and Lakers of the ’80s, etc. — there needs to multiple rings on fingers. The Warriors have one, but their historic season unraveled last year when a combination of LeBron’s utter dominance, Draymond Green‘s suspension, Andrew Bogut’s injury (that one was underrated as an issue) all came together to snatch victory from their hands (and help cement LeBron’sa legacy).

The Warriors need the 2017 title for their legacy.

Not just the team, but the legacies of Warriors players will be impacted by this series. Injured or worn down or just in a shooting slump (or, most likely, a combination of the three), Stephen Curry struggled defensively and was outplayed by LeBron last Finals when the Warriors needed him. Curry has been fantastic through these playoffs, but like the team he will be judged as much or more for the games to come than the ones already played. Fair or not.  Can Green keep his head about him when LeBron pushes his buttons? Durant is back on the Finals stage, will he rise to that moment?

The championship or bust mentality is too often the prism through which fans — and media — view sports. It’s unfortunate because it clouds the joy of the game itself, the growth of players, of guys doing the unexpected and rising to heights we did not expect from them. Isaiah Thomas‘ brilliant season in Boston is not diminished because it didn’t end in a ring, to use one easy example. But there are hundreds more like that around the league. Championship or bust blinds people to the little things that can make the game joyous.

However, the Warriors have put themselves in a different place. They are chasing legends. They have the wins and the statistics to make a case, more importantly, they also have a style of play being copied (even by college teams) and is changing how the game is played. That is a hallmark greatness.

Now they need the rings to go with it. They need more than one, but it starts with this year’s title — it is championship or bust for them. Fair or not. If the Warriors want to be mentioned in the pantheon of all-time greats, it will take the 2017 title to be part of it.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

1 Comment

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

Leave a comment

Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.