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Combine still has value even if top NBA prospects skip it

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CHICAGO (AP) Creighton forward Justin Patton has been fielding all kinds of questions at the NBA draft combine.

For example, does he slow down or speed up at a yellow light? The Minnesota Timberwolves wanted to know.

“I said, `It depends on where I’m going,”‘ he said.

That’s a big unknown for a 7-footer who went from having one Division I scholarship offer to turning pro after his redshirt freshman season. He’s projected as a middle or late first-round pick, and the combine sure is a big deal for him as he tries to boost his draft stock.

It just doesn’t have quite the shine it did in the past, with the stars skipping it altogether, participating on a limited basis or showing up only to interview with teams.

Eight-time All-Star and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant even told ESPN on Wednesday that the top prospects should take a pass on the combine. He recalled a rough experience in 2007 when he was 19 and turning pro after one year at Texas.

Durant remembered strength coaches laughing when he couldn’t bench press 185 pounds. He didn’t do great in the vertical leap or sprint even though he was known for his superior athleticism. Durant told ESPN all he wanted to do was pick up a basketball and show his skills on the court.

If the combine hurt his stock, it didn’t drop too far. Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick after Portland took Greg Oden and went on to become one of his generation’s best players.

But the combine isn’t quite the star-studded showcase it used to be. Likely lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Malik Monk are not attending.

“The league has done everything it can to try promote all the players to be here, but the agents have control over the player,” said John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “As long as that’s the situation, they can dictate what the player does or doesn’t do in these settings.”

Top players need to weigh the risks and rewards, of course. And along those lines, Kentucky coach John Calipari believes Durant has a point.

“If you think there’s anything here that would hurt you, don’t come,” he said. “If you think there’s anything here that would help you, come. If you have to play to help yourself, come. If it doesn’t help you – playing- then don’t play. This is for these kids. My job is to protect my guys. The job of these NBA teams is to get as much information as they can to make a great pick. They would like to see every one of them play five-on-five, do all the (drills). It’s not the way it is for these kids.”

Calipari said he has never advised a player to skip the event. But he has told them not to play, for example, if they have nothing to gain.

Paxson said he can understand top prospects skipping certain aspects of the combine. But he doesn’t understand missing it entirely.

“To not go through medical and some of the athletic testing, you don’t have that in football,” he said.

Even so, there still is value in the combine even if the top prospects are skipping it. Teams get to see players in an intense setting that can’t necessarily be replicated in workouts at their practice facilities. They’re getting face time with prospects. And players looking to move up in the draft or into it are getting a showcase.

“I know that the league does a good job of evaluating (the combine),” Paxson said. “Every time we have a combine, they look at ways to improve it. They want it to be a valuable tool for us as well.”

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson isn’t playing. But he’s getting a chance to convey just who he is, to make connections and show just how important basketball is to him. He ranks it right behind his faith and family.

“I’m able to show myself, show who I really am and kind of start building relationships around the league,” he said. “You walk into the lobby and you have no idea who might be in there.”

UCLA’s TJ Leaf felt he had some things to prove through the tests. And some teams had a big question for him – a $495 question. Would he buy Ball’s basketball shoes?

“I’m not going to be buying one,” he said. “If Lonzo would send me one, I’d definitely try it on and I’d wear it a little bit. But I’m not gonna be buying one.”

Adam Silver on sports gambling: “My sense is the law will change in the next few years”

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This isn’t new ground for NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. He has called legalized sports gambling in the United States “inevitable” and advocated in the New York Times for the federal government to put in a framework to control it. He’s not been shy about telling the heads of the other major sports leagues what he sees coming. Mark Cuban has Silver’s back on this one.

The commissioners of the four major sports were all on hand for a panel called “GameChangers: Creating the Future of Sports” in New York on Wednesday, and Silver’s position hasn’t changed, reports ESPN.

“My sense is the law will change in the next few years in the United States,” Silver said when asked about gambling.

He also stressed the importance of in-game wagering to fan engagement, noting, “People want to bet throughout the game … It results in enormous additional engagement with the fans.”

I’m not sure about “the next few years” timeline. I would rather be forced to watch The Emoji Movie than try to predict what the current Congress will do, but with its current conservative makeup legalizing sports betting seems unlikely.

But in the next decade or two… it feels like Silver may be right. The Supreme Court is taking up the case of whether the federal government can block states — in this case, New Jersey specifically — from allowing sports gambling. That could open the door for other states to follow.  Governments state and federal will not see it as a moral issue so much as a new revenue generator — they can tax it. So it will happen. Eventually.

With that Silver is right, professional sports leagues need to be prepared for that reality. The NBA seems to be out in front of that, ready to ride the wave when it crests. For now, they are just paddling around waiting for the right wave to ride.

Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis: “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension”

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John Wall is one of the handful of NBA players who qualifies for the new designated veteran “super max” contract extension — and the Wizards want to give it to him. A four-year, $170 million extension of his current deal is on the table (it would kick in after the two years, $37 million on his current contract).

Wall has yet to sign it. He said at the time it was offered he wanted to talk about it with his family and see what the Wizards did this offseason. He’s not unhappy, he just wants to be sure before he locks himself in with Washington through his prime.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post he thinks Wall will sign.

Maybe, but there’s not a lot of motivation for Wall to sign right now. Wall can bet on himself that he will make the All-NBA team again next year — there’s a deep class of guards but if he stays healthy he stands a good chance — at which time he’s still eligible for a designated veteran “super max” contract extension that would be five-years, roughly $200 million (and would kick in after the one year on his current deal).

That delay would also keep pressure on the Wizards to find ways to improve the roster. Washington is largely capped out and didn’t make any major moves this summer other than re-signing Otto Porter to a max extension (they matched a Brooklyn offer sheet). Washington is good, likely the third or fourth best team in the East, but a notch below Cleveland and Boston right now. Wall wants to push them to get another star and help Washington move up into contender status — he pushed for the Wizards to chase Paul George and have him replace Porter (a deal that was never going to happen, but you can see what Wall is thinking about being one star player short).

Ultimately, I think Leonsis is right, Wall will sign. It’s just a matter of when. Does he take this deal now, or wait until next summer and do it?

Chicago billboard calls for Bulls to fire Gar Forman, John Paxson

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Gar Forman split Executive of the Year with Pat Riley the same year Riley lured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to the Heat.

Forman’s stock has fallen quite a bit since.

The Bulls general manager – who works with executive vice President of basketball operations John Paxson in a duo (once affectionately) called GarPax – is facing increased scrutiny. The latest: A Chicago billboard organized by Bulls fans and paid for by GoFundMe donators.

GarPax’s recent missteps have been troubling. The breakup with Tom Thibodeau was messy and felt personal, especially with Fred Hoiberg succeeding him. First-round picks – Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott and Marquis Teague – have yielded little dividend. The Jimmy Butler trade was almost unbelievably lousy, even after the Three Alphas plan with Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fell flat.

But it’s also worth taking a step back. The Bulls have won 59% of their games, made the playoffs seven of eight years and never had a losing season under Forman. This somewhat feels like Chicago fans having unrealistic expectations.

The most important question owners should ask when weighing whether to retain management: Who will best guide the team forward? Prior results should matter only to inform that question.

Based on overall body of work GarPax has a case for staying on the job. The tandem built a 62-win conference finalist around Derrick Rose then saw his injuries sabotage the run. But GarPax has also trended the wrong direction, failing too often (and too often predictably) since Rose declined.

Would the Bulls hire someone who will do better than Forman and Paxson if they fired those two? Maybe, and it’s a discussion worth having. But the answer isn’t as simple as I suspect the people behind this billboard would believe.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks on Otto Porter: ‘He’s a max person in my mind’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Otto Porter is a quiet, complementary piece to the Wizards’ talented young core. He is also now Washington’s highest-paid player.

At least temporarily.

Guards John Wall and Bradley Beal garner most of the attention as Washington has made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs three of the last four seasons. But for now, Porter makes the most money after the Wizards matched a four-year, $106.5 million max-contract offer sheet the forward signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

There might be questions if the 24-year-old Porter is worth that money. But the Wizards believe he is a good fit alongside Wall, 26, a four-time All-Star, and Beal, 24, one of the league’s top shooting guards.

“You just use that as motivation just like John and Brad did,” Porter said at a news conference Wednesday. “They set the bar high. I’m going to set my bar, high, too.”

Porter entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, and when agent David Falk couldn’t agree to terms with Washington on July 1, he chose to shop his client’s services. The Sacramento Kings showed interest, but the Nets were the most serious and made a run at Porter.

“They felt like they wanted to test the market to see if there was something more out there, and they did,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. “But it wasn’t a big decision because all along we said we wanted to keep our young core together.”

It probably won’t be long before Wall surpasses Porter as the Wizards highest-paid player. Wall was named third-team All-NBA this past season, and the point guard is eligible to sign a $160 million, four-year super max contract any time before the 2017-18 season begins. Wall will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2019.

Re-signing Porter was a top priority for Washington this summer. The No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft out of Georgetown, Porter had a breakthrough season. He ranked fourth in field goal percentage among small forwards (51.6 percent) and fifth among all NBA players in 3-point percentage (43.4 percent).

Porter’s ability to fit seamlessly with Wall and Beal without needing the ball in his hands is a huge plus, too, according to Grunfeld. At 6-foot-8, Porter’s length also plays a significant role in the Wizards’ defensive concepts. His skillset was so valuable to Washington the Wizards surpassed the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold by matching the offer sheet.

“I never look at Otto and judge him by the stat sheet,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He does so many little things that the stats don’t show. He dives on the floor for a loose ball, he sets screens. He makes the extra pass to the corner, offensive rebounds.

“You can never have enough high-character guys that are committed to each and that’s what he is,” Brooks said. “He’s a max person in my mind.”