NBA drafts Isaiah Austin, who had been diagnosed with a career-ending medical condition (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK — Isaiah Austin was projected to be a second round pick in this year’s draft, before being diagnosed with a medical condition that forced him to end his basketball career before it could professionally get started.

Austin was invited to the draft as a guest of commissioner Adam Silver, which would have been enough of a classy gesture in and of itself.

But the league went over the top in the way it handled Austin’s situation, by calling his name and having him don a draft cap and come to the podium as if he had been actually selected.

It was an extremely touching moment, and Austin’s remarks in the interview room a few minutes later were every bit as heart-wrenching.

“It’s been a really tough week for me, and it’s been really rough,” Austin said. “I’ve had a tremendous amount of support from everybody around the world really, telling me that they’re praying for me and everything. I can’t thank everybody enough. very single person that has reached out, I really give my gratitude to them. It was one of the greatest moments of my life, something I’ll never forget. I love this game of basketball so much. It’s really changed my life.

“To be blessed to play this game for as long as I did, I’m just thankful. I’ve really had time to sit down and think a little bit, and God has truly blessed me because he could have continued to let me play basketball, but instead, he saved my life.”

Those were powerful words from Austin, but things got even more devastating when he detailed the process by which he found out about his diagnosis.

“My parents originally found out the information the night before,” Austin said. “As soon as they heard, they packed up their bags, and my family drove nine hours from Kansas City to Dallas where I was at. I remember that morning I woke up early and was in the gym working out. I got shots up, and then later that afternoon I was at Mo Williams’ house. He had a barbecue; I work I work out at his gym, so I’ve gotten to know him pretty well.

“I remember I was driving home with my high school coach, Coach Ray, and we’re doing the same thing that we do all the time, laughing and joking around. As soon as we pulled up to the house, I just noticed a variety of cars, and I noticed a couple of them that I recognized.

“I remember asking him what was up, and he couldn’t even look at me.I remember walking through the door, there was 10, 15 people there — my Baylor coaching staff, my pastor, a couple of my close friends and my family. The first person’s face who I saw was my mother’s. She was all the way in the back. I just remember seeing tears falling down her eyes, my dad’s arms around her. I knew right then exactly what it was because I remembered in Chicago they said I could have had this syndrome, and they did blood work on it. I just hadn’t gotten the results back.

“I wanted to break down and cry, but I didn’t because my little brother and sister were in the room. I wanted to show them that I could be strong for them and for my family because they look up to me. Later that night, I just remember I couldn’t sleep. It was devastating.”

Austin has a promising future that includes job offers from the NBA and his former schools; it’s just one that won’t include his dream of playing professionally, which was almost within reach. He’s keeping a remarkably positive attitude through it all, however, and hearing his name called on draft night was a dream come true nonetheless.

“When you’re playing basketball and growing up and you’re at a competitive high level, and you’re being recruited highly and everybody’s saying that you have such potential, that’s your dream to be able to walk across that stage and hear your name called,” Austin said.

“When he did it, my head just dropped, because, you know, it was almost too much for me to handle. Fortunately, he did, and I’m thankful for it.”

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Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

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In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

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Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

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You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.