USA Basketball

For some rookies, NBA draft isn’t the start of a pro career

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MIAMI (AP) — Isaiah Hartenstein’s NBA odyssey will start at the draft.

His pro career started years ago.

Unlike Markelle Fultz, Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and most everyone else who will get their names called at Thursday’s NBA draft – the true start of their pro lives – Hartenstein already knows what playing for a living is like. His pro career started in Germany in 2015, and he helped Zalgiris grab the Lithuanian Basketball League title earlier this month.

And now the NBA awaits the 19-year-old.

“First of all, me playing professional already helps a lot,” Hartenstein said. “My body is fit for the league right now. I still have to work on it a lot, but there are skills I couldn’t show this year because of the system we played. I have a good shot, I’m very versatile on defense and offense. I think I can help teams out a lot.”

His story is not typical.

Born in Eugene, Oregon, where his father played college ball, Hartenstein and his family moved about a decade ago to Germany. They went because his father, Flo, was playing pro ball there. Colleges made their recruiting pitches as Hartenstein got older and taller – he’s now 7-foot-1 and about 225 pounds – but he opted to stay in Europe and start practicing and playing against pros when he was 15.

Skipping college was a risk.

It might now be paying off.

“He’s a 19-year-old kid with a unique background,” said Wasserman agent B.J. Armstrong, who represents Hartenstein. “His maturity level is well beyond 19 and I think he has an opportunity to be a very good player here. I commend him for choosing what he thought was the best way for him to develop, and he’s now willing to take the next step.”

There won’t be as much international flavor in this draft as there was a year ago, when a record 27 players from outside the U.S. were selected. But there’s been at least 10 international draft picks in each of the last 17 years, and that streak is likely to continue.

French point guard Frank Ntilikina – 6-foot-5 with a massive wingspan and who doesn’t even turn 19 until July – has been playing pro ball in Europe, like Hartenstein. Ntilikina is projected as a lottery pick, and has had the NBA on his radar for years.

“I work every day to be the best player I can be,” Ntilikina said. “And I hope that I’ve done enough to be a good player in the NBA.”

Jonah Bolden is another foreign player with an intriguing back story. The Australian-born forward played one season at UCLA, then left and has since been playing in pro leagues in Australia and Serbia. And guard Terrance Ferguson, born in Oklahoma, decided against college ball and spent this past season playing in an Australian league.

So Hartenstein’s isn’t the only non-traditional path to the draft. But he’s convinced the path he took was the right one.

“The learning experience being overseas, learning from older people, playing with professionals every day, being in the professional lifestyle on and off the court, you learn you have to mature fast,” Hartenstein said. “You’re not just representing yourself, you’re representing the organization. So you learn from the good experiences and bad experiences others have had, and I think that really helps me out.”

The NBA was part of Hartenstein’s daily routine while playing in Lithuania: practice in the morning, eat, watch NBA League Pass, practice again in the evening, eat again, watch more NBA League Pass. And when he wanted to talk about NBA life, a great resource was always nearby – his coach with Zalgiris was Sarunas Jasikevicius, who played for Indiana and Golden State.

Being 7-foot-1 with German ties – Hartenstein holds dual German and American citizenship – and a jump shot, the comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki are unavoidable. Even his father sees some parallels between their games.

For now, Hartenstein shrugs off comparisons.

He’s just ready to take on whatever challenge the NBA brings.

“Everyone will have their own opinion on how they see me,” Hartenstein said. “I’m my own player. At the end of the day, no one can be like Dirk. He’s done a lot for the game and I definitely appreciate what he’s done for the game in Germany and for European basketball. So comparisons are nice, but at the end of the day I’m my own player and have to show what I can do.”


Stan Van Gundy goes off on officials: “We got absolutely screwed all night”

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The Pistons were likely to lose to the red-hot Trail Blazers on the road, and that came to be Saturday night 100-87, Portland 12th straight win. The Pistons shot 38.8 percent for the game and had a dreadful offensive rating of 93.8 (points per 100 possessions).

Portland is one the top five defensive teams in the NBA this season, but that’s not what Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy thought was the problem — he laid the blame on the officiating.

That’s going to be a fine.

Van Gundy is frustrated — with this game and with this season. So are Pistons fans, and seemingly so is Detroit owner Tom Gores after his lukewarm vote of confidence in Van Gundy recently. They should be, this team is a disappointment and the Blake Griffin trade was a big swing that has yet to work out. The Pistons are going to miss the playoffs. Around the league, the sense is that Van Gundy will lose his GM job to former super agent Arn Tellem, who was brought in to guide the Pistons into their new building but now whose talents would better serve the basketball side of the operation. The only question is will Van Gundy still be coaching in Detroit next season — just coaching, like Doc Rivers with the Clippers — or of the change will be more sweeping than that.

Hornets’ coach gives savage, frank assessment of Willy Hernangomez

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When Willy Hernangomez was not getting much run with the Knicks this season, especially as injuries opened up space in the front line rotation, there were questions as to why. Then the #freeWillyHernangomez movement popped up.

Eventually, Hernangomez was traded to the Hornets where… he barely plays. He’s gotten more than 10 minutes just once since coming to Charlotte.

What gives? Hornet’s coach Steve Clifford didn’t hold back when answering that question to Marc Berman of the New York Post.

“If you were in one place and didn’t play much, if you want to play more in the next place, I’d say work harder and kill myself,” Clifford said at the Hornets shootaround at the Players Association’s midtown headquarters. “The reality is he wasn’t playing here for a reason. He’s got to change things…

“He’s not up to speed on what we’re doing to play a lot,” Clifford said. “It’s been a little bit of a struggle for him. He’s smart, but he’s not this high-flier, phenomenal, natural athlete able to make up ground. He’s got to be on top of things, especially on the defensive end. If he’s not detailed defensively, he’s not that [athletic] guy…

“To be an every-night player, and I’ve told him this, he’s got to improve his shooting,” Clifford said. “He is right now, in my opinion, a back-to-the-basket player who can pass. But the reality is his passing doesn’t come into play until they have to get close to him and know he’s not going to knock down a shot. And he’s not a knockdown shooter.”

Well then.

Just to be clear he’s got to put in a lot more effort, become smarter on the defensive end, and improve his shooting. That’s a healthy off-season checklist.

Hernangomez has another year on his contract at a very reasonable $1.5 million before the Hornets have to make any kind of decision on him, which means whoever is the new GM in Charlotte he will choose to keep Hernangomez around. For now. He flashed potential his rookie season with the Knicks, when asked to play strictly to his strengths, but Clifford and the Hornets — and basically every other team in the NBA — is going to ask more of him.

Clifford was clear, as no doubt he has been clear to Hernangomez (Clifford is as straight a shooter as the league has). The ball is in Hernangomez’s court.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis denies drug charges while eating Popeyes on a charter plane

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Best. Denial. Ever.

Last month, former NBA player Glen “Big Baby” Davis was arrested last month at a hotel in a suburb of Baltimore by Jimmy McNulty and Lt. Daniels with 126 grams of marijuana and more than $96,000 in cash, according to a police report. He has been charged with possession and intent to distribute.

Davis has declared his innocence in the best denial video ever — eating Popeyes chicken and flashing cash and a championship ring.

I have no idea whether Davis is guilty or not, I was not at a Hampton’s Inn outside Baltimore last month. The court system will sort that out, that is what it’s there for.

But I know a brilliant video when I see one. This is it.

Report: Michele Roberts to seek second contract as players’ union head

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Michele Roberts entered the NBA’s player union in a tumultuous time — long-time union president Billy Hunter had been ousted in a rancorous fight, the union felt adrift, and negotiations with the NBA on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement were looming (and players felt they had been screwed in the last CBA, following the lockout).

Roberts, the first female head of a professional sports labor union, settled things down. She cleaned up the union finances and made them more transparent to players, she worked hard to establish relationships with the players, and while she rattled some sabers with the NBA in negotiations, she also worked in a non-combative way with Adam Silver and team (unlike the Billy Hunter/David Stern relationship) and got a deal done the players liked without a lockout or labor mess.

Roberts’ contract with the union is up, but she is going to ask for a new deal — one she likely gets — reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

With an original four-year agreement set to expire in September, Michele Roberts plans to seek a new contract as the executive director of the National Basketball Players Association, sources tell ESPN…

Roberts had strongly considered staying in the NBPA’s executive director role for only the length of her original contract — and expressed that to the union’s senior membership — but has recently decided to pursue a longer tenure, sources said.

NBPA president Chris Paul played a significant part in Roberts’ hiring in July 2014 and he has built a strong working relationship with Roberts.

Roberts also has a good relationship with the star-heavy executive committee of the union — CP3, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and others — making it likely she gets a new deal.

As for what’s next, at the front of that list Roberts is working with Silver and others on reforming the NBA’s one-and-done rule (it was supposed to be part of the CBA negotiations but was too big and complex an issue to fold into that timeline).

Neither the owners or players can opt out of the CBA for four more years (and if neither side does it runs a couple more beyond that) so labor peace will continue in the NBA for a while.