Mitch McGary’s options: Accept one-year NCAA marijuana suspension or declare for NBA draft. What do you think he did?

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I will never criticize college players for turning pro, and this is why.

Far too much analysis focuses on whether players will be a first-round pick and get a guaranteed contracts, and while that should be a factor, it becomes the factor because it’s something we can evaluate from afar. That’s not a good reason to criticize an unlikely first rounder for entering the NBA draft.

We just can’t know everything happening in players’ lives, and there are so many elements to the decision. How are their grades? How much do they enjoy campus life? How much do they and their family need the money?

Are they facing a year-long suspension for a draconian NCAA policy?

In the case of Mitch McGary, the answer to that question is yes, and he will enter the 2014 NBA draft.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports broke the news and wrote an incredibly detailed story, speaking to McGary, who admitted failing a single marijuana test that resulted in a one-year suspension:

One night in mid-March, with the NCAA tournament about to begin without him, McGary was hanging out with a group of friends at Michigan. He had a few drinks. Someone offered some marijuana – a common occurrence, he said, on campus.

“I always turned it down,” McGary told Yahoo Sports. “But that night I didn’t.”

McGary, who hadn’t played since December, was suspended by the NCAA for the entire 2014-15 season after failing an NCAA test.

The rules are confusing, arbitrary and misguided. Had he failed an NCAA test anytime after Aug. 1, he would have been suspended a half season instead of a full one. Had he failed a Michigan test instead of an NCAA test, he would have been suspended three games.

Apparently, the wickedness of smoking pot depends on the exact date you do it and who catches you.

And that’s not to mention the elephant in the room: Should there even be a penalty at all? Ann Arbor has decriminalized marijuana, and McGary was out injured. Larry Sanders has made the case for medical marijuana, and it’s plausible to see how it could have benefited McGary, who was suffering from a back injury and the mental anguish of not playing. Wetzel:

The Chesterton, Ind., native could’ve just turned pro and not mentioned the failed drug test publicly or privately. It stands to reason other players have done just that.

Instead, McGary believed being honest would be best for himself, his family, the Michigan program and his pro future, where he won’t have to worry about news leaking out and NBA teams believing he was hiding something.

While he doesn’t agree with the length of the NCAA’s punishment, he wants to be clear he isn’t blaming anyone but himself. He sat across a table here Thursday seeking a chance to give an explanation, not an excuse.

“I was just really stressed out,” he said of the frustration of not being able to play. “I was at a bad point, just coming off back surgery. I just wasn’t really thinking it through. I have definitely learned from it.

“I am just disappointed in myself overall because this is not me, this is not who I am overall.”

I really recommend you read Wetzel’s full article, as it gives the near-complete look at McGary’s decision we rarely see. Context is everything, and Wetzel provides a stunning amount.

Last year, McGary could have been a lottery pick and had probably played himself into a first-round lock. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound power forward/center is nimble for his size, possesses excellent touch, doesn’t shy from contact and plays with non-stop energy.

In six 2013 NCAA tournament games, McGary averaged 14.3 points on 68 percent shooting, 10.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks. When Michigan needed his passing against Syracuse’s zone defense in the Final Four, he even had six assists.

Maybe he got hot at just the right moment. I saw a player who improved throughout the season and continued to do so until the moment it concluded.

Instead of parlaying that success into an NBA contract, McGary returned to Michigan. He suffered a back injury, had surgery and missed most of the entire season. Then, he got hit with this marijuana suspension. He will, and should, face questions from NBA teams about drug use. So far, he’s answered them all splendidly, and if he continues to do so, he shouldn’t fall in the draft.

But he’ll also turn 22 before the draft. He hasn’t played in months, and back injuries are always concerning. See Joel Embiid.

McGary is most-likely a high second-round pick, and though there’s plenty of leeway for him to move either direction from that projection, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he works himself into the late first round. Still, it’s unlikely McGary gets drafted higher than he would have last year.

Just as I won’t criticize players for turning pro, I won’t criticize players for staying in college. If they want to extend that experience, more power to them.

I just hope they do so with a full understanding of how the process works, and this case serves as a valuable teaching point. The longer you hang around school, the more opportunities the NCAA has to do you wrong.

Knicks evaluating players based on triangle fit

Phil Jackson
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It was never clear whether Knicks president Phil Jackson was forcing/would force coach Jeff Hornacek to run the triangle offense.

It’s still not.

Jackson insisted he was fine with Hornacek deviating from the famed scheme Jackson used as a coach with the Bulls and Lakers. But now it appears the triangle is back, and Hornacek — whose Suns teams used more of an up-tempo, pick-and-roll attack — is expressing a long-term commitment to it.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Jeff Hornacek confirmed Tuesday that management is using the remaining months to evaluate who fits the system, which has been re-emphasized as more of a traditional triangle since the All-Star break. Hornacek even made it sound like they were placing players in two different hats: the triangle yays, and the triangle nays.

“As times goes on, you say can they get it? Are they getting better at it? If they’re not, you go, OK,” Hornacek said. “End of the year comes and we’re having our discussions and you say, ‘Can this guy play this offense? We’ll say either yay or nay or he’s getting it, he’s getting better. So I’m sure that’s part of evaluations this summer.”

Yaron Weitzman of Bleacher Report:

It’s difficult to believe Jackson’s fingerprints aren’t all over this, especially with Jackson-favorite Kurt Rambis heavily involved.

What does that mean for Hornacek, who’s in his first season with New York? He can try to appease his boss, but this doesn’t bode well for the coach’s job security.

It also doesn’t bode well for the Knicks.

Acquiring more productive players should take priority over scheme. Committing too deeply to the triangle will narrow New York’s pool of available talent.

And it’s not as if Hornacek has done a bad job with his offense. Despite Jackson building a team with just three quality offensive players* — Carmelo Anthony, Kristaps Porzingis and Courtney Lee — the Knicks still have a middling offense.

Their defense, guided by Rambis, is lousy. That should be the bigger emphasis.

But Jackson keeps doing his own thing, no matter how little anyone else understands it.

*Derrick Rose, who scores well as a driver, doesn’t qualify due to his shaky perimeter shooting and lackluster ball distribution.

GM: Re-signing Paul Millsap is Hawks’ priority

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 27: Paul Millsap #4 of the Atlanta Hawks drives against Amir Johnson #90 of the Boston Celtics during the third quarter at TD Garden on February 27, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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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The Hawks have gone multiple directions in the last year.

Thinking long-term, they traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for first-round picks and refused to offer Al Horford a full max contract.

Thinking short-term, they signed Dwight Howard and kept Paul Millsap through the trade deadline – and even added Ersan Ilyasova on an expiring contract.

What direction is Atlanta going, and where does Millsap — who was shopped earlier in the season — fit?

Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Paul Millsap is absolutely our priority this offseason, in re-signing him with the Atlanta Hawks. We’ve communicated that to Paul, his team, and we feel great about our position there. We also don’t want to hide from the fact that, yeah, we took a long, hard look at it earlier in the season, during a period of time where our team was struggling, and ultimately decided that Paul is far too valuable to us. And through that period of time and that exercise, we made that decision to absolutely keep Paul. And he is certainly our priority.

It seemed Horford was the Hawks’ priority once they kept him past last year’s trade deadline. Then, they facilitated his exit to the Celtics by not offering him his full max.

Will Atlanta pay whatever it takes to keep Millsap?

A full max contract projects to pay Millsap about $207 million over five years (about $41 million annually). He’s extremely helpful right now, and losing him would sink the Hawks in the standings. But do they really want to pay him more than $47 million in a season where he turns 37?

Perhaps it won’t take quite that much. Other teams project to be able to offer Millsap only up to about $154 million over four years (about $38 million annually). Maybe Atlanta can get him for something in between — or maybe even less than the max if other teams are leery of his age. But the Hawks are basically pot-committed.

The time for the Hawks to choose a direction was before the trade deadline, and they chose to build with Millsap. We’ll see whether they stay on that track when it comes time to pay.

Report: Jimmer Fredette, playing in China, engaging NBA teams on March return

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 22:  Jimmer Fredette #32 of the New York Knicks in action against the Toronto Raptors during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 22, 2016 in New York City.  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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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It has been six years since Jimmer Fredette entered the NBA with a cult following out of BYU. After five lackluster NBA seasons, will he get a sixth?

His play in China has generated buzz among those already inclined to support him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Errick McCollum is averaging more points per game in the Chinese Basketball Association and taking fewer shots than Fredette. Also averaging 30 points per game in China: MarShon Brooks, Jared Cunningham, Jabari Brown, Jamaal Franklin, Lester Hudson, Darius Adams and Dominique Jones.

In other words, a bunch of borderline NBA players who most likely belong outside the top league.

That includes Fredette, whose selfish style doesn’t lend itself to the smaller role he’d likely have to fill in the NBA.

It takes only one team to take a chance on Fredette, but I wouldn’t bank on immediate help or upside from the 28-year-old.

Report: Jim Buss initially promised to fix Lakers in only one year before being talked into three-year pledge

Los Angeles Lakers part-owner Jim Buss attends a news conference held to introduce the team's new draft picks, Monday, June 29, 2015, in El Segundo, Calif.  (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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The Lakers mercifully ended Jim Buss’ lousy tenure as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, promoting Magic Johnson to run the front office.

Maybe it could have happened sooner if his siblings just listened to him in the first place.

After the 2013-14 season, Jim pledged to re-sign if the Lakers weren’t “contending for the Western Conference, contending for a championship … in three to four years.”

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

Jim’s much-publicized promise to step down within three years—meaning this year—if the Lakers weren’t “in contention” was not what he originally said, according to sources close to the family.

When Jeanie asked Jim what they could do to hold him accountable, what Jim actually said first was:

“I only need one year.”

The others, knowing their brother so well, chuckled a bit and gave him a chance to amend his statement. He then made it “three years.”

The Lakers went 21-61 in 2014-15 and 17-65 in 2015-16. Jim was wholly incapable of engineering a quick turnaround.

But I understand Jeanie’s hesitancy to oust Jim. Their late father, Jerry, wanted Jim to run the front office. I’m sure Jeanie wanted Jim to have a fair shot at that opportunity.

However, she also should have realized that giving Jim three years meant setting back the franchise for far longer. The Lakers owe Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov $102 million over the next three years — a substantial burden.

Paul George joining a blossoming Lakers team in 2018 is all the buzz, but Los Angeles doesn’t project to have enough cap space to sign him outright. It’d require dropping at least one positive asset, either directly or attached to Deng and/or Mozgov in a salary-dump trade.

That’s a reasonable tradeoff to land a star like George, but if Jim weren’t chasing wins late in his tenure, the maybe the Lakers could have had George and their full complement of recent draft picks.

Again, there was no simple answer here. The Busses wanted to let Jim try, and maybe family should have come first.

But Jim was too big of a dreamer, and even with his pledge extended to three years, he was still angling to keep his job after clearly failing in his stated mission. One way or another, this was bound to become a problem.

The Lakers just took a route where they’ll still feel the problem for years, even if Jim is now ousted from the front office.