Julius Randle

The Extra Pass: Six NCAA Sweet 16 match-ups NBA fans should pay attention to

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Your bracket has gone the way of the Dodo, so now you can just watch the NCAA Tournament to root for teams trying on the glass slipper… and to see players your team may try to draft this June.

There are a few match ups in the Sweet 16 that should interest NBA fans — interesting showdowns of players who names Adam Silver (or Mark Tatum) will call in June.

Here are six to watch.

Julius Randle (Kentucky) vs. Montrezl Harrell (Louisville). This is the matchup everyone will be talking about — it could be one of the best of the weekend (in a rivalry game, just to add to the fun). Randle played well for Kentucky opening weekend and was the one guy in the predicted top four picks to perform up to expectations (unreasonable though they are). Harrell (projected mid to late first round) is a high energy defensive guy who has a lot of physical tools — length, quickness, strength — enough to really challenge Randle. They are separated in the draft because Randle is the far more polished offensive player with a higher ceiling, but right now Harrell has the fast first step on offense to make this a great matchup. Harrell could force the turnover-prone Randle into mistakes that could swing the game, or at least make Randle really work for his points.

Kentucky’s backcourt vs. Louisville’s backcourt. This is what will determine the outcome of the best game in the round of 16 and it’s a matchup PBT’s NBA Draft expert — Scott Isaacson of NBADraftblog.com and Rotoworld — will be watching closely. Here is what Isaacson said:

“When these two teams played in December, the Harrisons and James Young turned the ball over 9 times against the Louisville guards, namely Russ Smith and Chris Jones, and it was a pretty good performance. None of the Kentucky guards are great ballhandlers and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pitino set Smith loose to harass Andrew Harrison as far out as Smith is comfortable. With real point guard, any disruption to the Kentucky offense can cause a lot of problems. On the flip side, the Harrisons and Young’s size could cause problems for Louisville if they are able to consistently get into their half-court offense, and their size can also hamper Smith’s ability to get good perimeter looks on offense.”

Nik Stauskas (Michigan) vs. Jordan McRae (Tennessee). If you like buckets, this is the matchup to watch — both of these guys may well lead their teams in scoring. Our man Isaacson brakes down the matchup, and thinks it could favor Stauskas and Michigan.

“Here’s a matchup where each player will have trouble guarding the other. Stauskas is a threat to knock down long jumpers or act as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. He is a strong passer, so McRae will need to have a strong plan to defend the high screens. McRae loves to attack the basket, but if he sees Stauskas giving him room, he’ll start shooting jumpers. Stauskas best chance to win this matchup is to have McRae shooting jumpers.”

Aaron Gordon vs. San Diego State defense. Gordon turned a lot of heads of people who didn’t watch much (or any) Arizona this year — he is a freak athlete. Watch him and where you often see that athleticism on display is defensively (guys at the college level just don’t know how to handle that). However Gordon has no steady jumper and no reliable offense that isn’t dunks — San Diego State was seventh in the nation in defense (adjusted points per possession, via Ken Pomeroy). Can Gordon score on them, enough to lead his team to victory? This will be entertaining.

Florida backcourt vs. UCLA Backcourt. Kyle Anderson looked good opening weekend (as did everyone on UCLA) as he used that 6’9” frame to get off shots over the top of his defenders. UCLA and Anderson were just physically superior to everyone they faced. That will not be the case Thursday night. Which makes this a contest Isaacson said he is looking forward to in particular in the round of 16.

“The size of the UCLA guards vs. the speed of the Florida guards. Kyle Anderson has a reputation for being very steady under pressure, but Scotty Wilbekin and Michael Frazier, are both capable of extending the defense out where Anderson will have a tough time making plays. Jordan Adams will be pressured on the perimeter all game, so Anderson will need to find a way to break down the Florida defense. When Florida has the ball, expect UCLA to play plenty of zone if they can get away with it. The guards will have trouble containing Wilbekin, which in turn opens up the floor for everyone else. If UCLA goes zone, Frazier and Wilbekin are the only thing close to consistent perimeter shooters for Florida and if they aren’t hitting, Florida’s offense can be in some trouble.”

Shabazz Napier (UConn) vs. DeAndre Kane (Iowa State). From the NBA Draft perspective, this is a battle of two guys trying to get picked later in the second round — these are the kinds of games that can help that cause, can help a GM think “this guy is worth the gamble.” Isaacson talks about this one as well.

“Two of the most exciting point guards in college basketball this year, bot Napier and Kane are comfortable looking to get into the lane or shooting threes. Kane is stronger and he likes to get physical with smaller guards on both ends of the floor. Guarding Napier is a team chore and Kane will need all the help he can get. Napier’s speed and body control allow him to create space pretty much whenever he needs it. The winner of this battle will likely be the one who gets his teammates better touches.”

Jazz guarantee more than $1 million to No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy, a rare commitment to someone drafted so low

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18:  Joel Bolomboy #21 of the Weber State Wildcats handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In the first five years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, two players drafted in the 50s received a $1 million guarantee the same offseason they were selected.

This year, the list has doubled.

The Cavaliers guaranteed $1 million to No. 54 pick Kay Felder, and No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboyjust signed by the Jazz – will get even more.

Bolomboy’s $600,000 salary this season is fully guaranteed, and $452,625 of his salary next season is guaranteed, according to Basketball Insiders. That’s a grand total of $1,052,625 guaranteed on a three-year contract.

Only Tornike Shengelia (No. 54 pick in 2012 from Nets) and Kris Joseph (No. 51 pick in 2012 from Celtics) got more as players picked in the 50s who signed the same offseason under the current CBA. Both received two fully guaranteed seasons.

Bolomboy successfully leveraged a salary-cap environment relatively more favorable to second-rounders than first-rounders. If Utah didn’t make him such a favorable offer, he could’ve accepted the required tender and become a free agent within a year – with numerous potentially offering him a contract. The Jazz, with more cap space than they know what do with, probably didn’t mind paying Bolomboy a little more to secure him at what’s still a low rate for the next three years.

This likely wraps up any preseason competition in Utah for a regular-season roster spot. Bolomboy becomes the 15th Jazz player with a guaranteed 2016-17 salary, so he’ll almost certainly stick beyond the preseason – another plus of this contract.

This gives him security as he tries to develop into a player worthy of a second – presumably higher-paying – NBA contract.

Report: Hawks told Paul Millsap they won’t trade him

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 06:  Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks is introduced prior to Game Three of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 6, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Hawks tried to trade Paul Millsap this summer, according to Zach Lowe of ESPN.

After agreeing to terms with center Dwight Howard, Atlanta wanted to put Al Horford – not Millsap – at power forward. But Horford was also a free agent, and he left for the Celtics. So, the Hawks settled for keeping Millsap.

Apparently, they’ll stick with him.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

according to sources near the situation, Millsap has been assured he’s not going anywhere.

Teams often tell a player he won’t be traded. They don’t always mean it.

Most players perform better when they’re not worried about being dealt, ironically, increasing their trade value. Of course, trading a player you told wouldn’t be traded could infuriate him – but that’s no longer your direct problem. He’s gone at that point.

Millsap can opt out next summer, when he’ll be 32. Does Atlanta want to pay him $149 million over the following four seasons? It might take his max to retain him. Millsap is a two-way star, and plenty of teams will covet him. But there’s major risk in paying someone that old.

It could be better to trade him preemptively, especially if the Hawks take a step back and want to continue their youth movement. They already traded starting point guard Jeff Teague for a first-round pick to elevate 22-year-old Dennis Schroder. Howard would be a curious fit, but exchanging Horford for him was already puzzling.

If Howard is providing the best-case scenario of help and Schroder is ready for his bigger role, sure, ride it out with Millsap. But if Atlanta’s season goes south before the trade deadline, I’m not so sure the Hawks will honor their reported commitment to Millsap.

Report: Thunder almost definitely won’t trade Russell Westbrook this season

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook negotiated himself a raise of more than $8 million and chalked it up to loyalty.

Is the feeling mutual?

The Thunder can trade Westbrook six months after he signed his contract extension, which make him eligible to be dealt Feb. 4. The trade deadline will be a few weeks later.

Would Oklahoma City trade its franchise player during that narrow window?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to the situation say the Thunder’s view on Westbrook is to see what he can do as the single focal point of the team and plan to keep the noise out of the equation until next summer.

sources close to the situation have said, there is almost no scenario in which the Thunder look at trades with Westbrook this year.

Building around Westbrook is certainly the Thunders City’s first choice. According to this report, they’ll give that route at least a full season to work.

But is there truly no worst-case scenario for the season’s first few months that would convince Oklahoma City to abort the plan early?

The Thunder became accustomed to winning big with Kevin Durant. It’s one thing to know they’ll take a step back after his departure to the Warriors. It’s another to live it every day.

Oklahoma City doesn’t want to lose Westbrook in 2018, when he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. One reported plan is trying to sign Blake Griffin next summer, and that would certainly require Westbrook’s continued presence.

It’d also likely require the Thunder winning at a reasonable clip next season. Griffin probably isn’t leaving the Clippers for a crummy team, even if it’s to his native Oklahoma.

Winning will also be a key ingredient in persuading Westbrook to stay. Absent that, the other way to get value from him is trading him, and he’ll be more valuable if traded in February. Teams will covet the extra half season and playoffs with him on the roster.

Of course, that also applies to the Thunder. If Westbrook can help them reach the postseason and maybe even make some noise in it, they’ll gladly ride him.

But if the playoffs become a far-fetched dream by the trade deadline… I’m curious just how devoted Oklahoma City remains to Westbrook in that scenario.

Did the Clippers change their name?

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 04:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers helps Chris Paul #3 get up from the court during their game against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on November 4, 2015 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The Clippers rebranded themselves with a new logo and uniforms last year.

Did they also give themselves a new name?

Mike Chamernik of Uni Watch:

The Los Angeles Clippers not only changed their name, but they did it a year ago. No one has seemed to notice. Yes, they are still known as the Clippers. The L.A. Clippers.

L.A.

As in, that’s their location name. Not just an abbreviation.

The proof is everywhere. The Clippers refer to themselves as the L.A. (or, sometimes LA) Clippers on their own website, and on their various social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. NBA.com refers to them as the L.A. Clippers in stories, transactions listings and site menus, even when mentioning the Los Angeles Lakers (who still go by the full city name). And now, ESPN.com has all references to the city name as LA, both on the team’s page and in standings and schedules.

One of my key pieces of evidence is the team’s media guide (PDF), which says copyright L.A. Clippers.

Chamernik presents a compelling list of evidence, but the Clippers’ silence on the issue – they didn’t return his requests for comment – is odd. Teams usually trumpet any rebranding with grandiose announcements and contrived rational.

Look at this line from the Clippers’ new-uniform announcement: “In addition, the silver lining seen in the Clippers wordmark signifies the renewed collective optimism of Clipper Nation.”

If they want to be L.A. rather than Los Angeles, why didn’t the Clippers tout their edgy and modern new name style? That’s more believable than silver lining representing the collective optimism of the fan base of one of the worst franchises in the history of professional sports.

Whatever peculiarities have accompanied the rollout of this apparent renaming, the proof is in the pudding – and that seems to say they’re the L.A., not Los Angeles, Clippers.