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


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.

Breaking news: Leandro Barbosa dunked

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The Warriors became the first team in NBA history to start 16-0.

In the process of getting that record-breaking win over the Lakers, something nearly as historic happened.

Leandro Barbosa dunked.

The 32-year-old Golden State guard last jammed in January 2011.

For a little more perspective, look how Barbosa handled a breakaway layup earlier in the fourth quarter:

You think that man can still slam?

Yes. Yes, he can.

Magic benching Victor Oladipo, starting Channing Frye

Stephen Curry, Victor Oladipo, Channing Frye
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Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo, Evan Fournier, Tobias Harris and Nikola Vucevic have started eight of the Magic’s 14 games, including the last three.

But after Orlando dropped two straight, Scott Skiles hinted at lineup changes.

The Magic coach will deliver against the Knicks tonight, swapping Channing Frye for Oladipo.

Skiles, via Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

“It’s nothing punitive,” Skiles said after the Magic’s shootaround.

“It’s just we feel like we’ve got to try to find a little bit better balance. I’d like Victor to have some more opportunities like he’s had a little bit in the past where he can be on top of the floor and attack and get a little bit more vertical and not only get to the rim but just be a little bit more on the attack but not necessarily start the game that way.”

Here are the offensive/defensive/net ratings for the

  • Former starting lineup: 94.7/111.2/-16.5
  • New starting lineup: 117.2/90.3/+26.8

The new unit has played just 33 minutes in two games, so major sample-size caveats apply. But I like idea of seeing more of what has worked.

I suspect Skiles also wants to keep his players from becoming content. At 6-8 and coming off three straight seasons outside the playoffs, they should have no reason to feel satisfied, but the hard-driving Skiles will be proactive.

If Oladipo – whose defense Skiles values – can get sent to the bench, anyone can.

At some point, the Magic must determine whether Oladipo and Payton – both below-average 3-point shooters – can share a backcourt. But it’s also worth knowing whether Oladipo can excel as a super sub leading bench players.

This switch might help the Magic win now, but at worse, it’ll give them more information for evaluating their young roster. Seems smart all around.

Dwight Howard says he’s cleared to play back-to-backs

Dwight Howard
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The 5-9 Houston Rockets need some wins.

The Houston Rockets have a back-to-back coming up, Sunday against the Knicks then Monday against the Pistons (both on the road). Two teams with quality big men.

Combine those things and you end up with Dwight Howard being re-evaluated by team doctors and getting the training wheels taken off, via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.

This, plus a mini training camp the past few days, is part of new coach J.B. Bickerstaff’s effort to turn Houston’s season around.

Houston’s defense is 1.9 points per 100 possessions better this season when Howard is on the court and the Rockets are stronger on the glass. The problem is the offense is 7.8 points per 100 worse with Howard on the court. How much of that can be changed with some roster tweaks — like limiting the time James Harden and Ty Lawson share the court — and how much is due to Howard demanding touches and not doing enough with them we will find out quickly.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth


The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.