Gorgui Dieng is making leaps in Summer League, Timberwolves want that to translate to winter games

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LAS VEGAS — Summer League can be a great measuring stick.

A year ago Gorgui Dieng looked a little confused by the speed and style of the NBA/Summer League game. He was thinking and not just playing, and with that he looked like a lost rookie.

A year later he is owning it — Dieng had 13 points and 19 rebounds in Minnesota’s win over the Suns Wednesday.

“I feel more comfortable but I’ll let you guys judge,” Dieng said after the game.

It doesn’t take much of a judge to see the leap he has made.

It all started in the regular season. Minnesota’s Rick Adelman isn’t a fan of giving rookies a lot of run (especially when coaching to rack up wins and keep his job), but when Nikola Pekovic went down he had no choice and Dieng got some burn — and looked good. After the All-Star break last year he averaged 8.9 points (with a .569 true shooting percentage) and 8.4 rebounds a game. Plus, he blocked better than a shot a game. He moved himself into the Rookie of the Year conversation.

You can really see the leap he’s made both in confidence and feel for the game in his second Summer League.

You can see it on the glass where he put a body on his man then used his athleticism and strength to pull down 37 percent of his team’s rebounds Wednesday. You can see it in his footwork. You can see it in how he finds good spacing on offense and is willing to cut hard off the ball. He moves very well on defense and knows how to use his athleticism to his advantage to protect the rim. He sets a good screen (well, when the guard lets him, this is Summer League) and has a nice couple first steps on the roll.

He also showed off a Duncan-esque mid-range bank shot, hitting the only one he took.

“I’ve been working a lot on that this summer,” Dieng said. “I’m always looking out for something to improve my game and I think something like that added to my game will really help me.”

He’s just fun to watch play.

“He’s going to be a work in progress but every day he gets better,” said David Adelman, who coached the Timberwolves at Summer League. “We’re trying to teach him a lot of little nuances, just playing off the ball, scoring on the block, things like that. …

“The main thing with him is keeping his ear on things and letting him know he’s got to run front rim to front rim every time down the court. He’s got to be the first big down the court, with his athleticism and how he moves his feet, that should be the thing. And just playing off the ball, like if a big guy like (Kyrylo) Fesenko has the ball on the block he should be up at the free throw line where he can see him. Just kind of playing in a tandem.”

His teammates like playing with him.

“You just throw it up to him and he’ll get it,” Zach LaVine, who ran the Minnesota offense for much of the game Wednesday, said of Deing. “He’ll battle you, his teammate for a rebound.”

Dieng is saying exactly what you want a player to say, spouting the cliches of working one day at a time, just trying to get better. But he means it; the coaches love the way he listens and absorbs information.

“What (the coaches and I) discussed is that in the summer is the time the players got better, so I’ve been in the gym working with them a lot,” Dieng said. “Just learning the game overall. They cannot tell you what to do exactly, but you’ve got to have a good feeling for yourself, to learn the game.”

He’s learning. And it shows.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).