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.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.