Dan Feldman

AMES, IA - FEBRUARY 13: Jameel McKay #1 of the Iowa State Cyclones celebrates with teammate Abdel Nader #2 of the Iowa State Cyclones at mid court in the final minutes of play. The Iowa State Cyclones won 85-75 over the Texas Longhorns at Hilton Coliseum on February 13, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa State Cyclones won 85-75 over the Texas Longhorns. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Report: Celtics draftee Abdel Nader to sign with D-League

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Abdel Nader faced a dilemma.

Reading between the lines, Nader – whom the Celtics drafted No. 58 and then impressed at summer league – had two choices:

  • Reject Boston’s required tender (a one-year contract, surely unguaranteed at the minimum, a team must extend to keep a players draft rights) and join the D-League. It seemed Nader pledged to go this route contingent on the Celtics drafting him, allowing them to keep his rights another year.
  • Accept Boston’s required tender. He would’ve gone to training camp, almost definitely gotten waived and then become a free agent. He still could’ve gone to the D-League, but the Celtics no longer would’ve held exclusive negotiating rights.

Nader apparently chose the former.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Nader’s mistake was agreeing to this arrangement in the first place. It allowed the Celtics to hold undue power over his career in exchange for… what? The honor of being drafted? Professional sports leagues have so successfully marketed the draft, labor celebrates this anti-labor system. It’s absurd.

Yet, if Nader promised to do something, he promised to do it. Should it matter that he later realized he shouldn’t have made the promise? His word matters, too.

I don’t envy Nader’s situation. The only hope is that fewer players put themselves in it in the future.

D-League salaries rise, remain low

2015 NBA D League Showcase
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At last check, D-League salaries were:

  • Tier A: $25,500
  • Tier B: $19,000
  • Tier C: $13,000

Good news for anyone in the NBA’s minor league next season, especially those on the fringe.

Chris Reichert of Upside & Motor (hat tip: Cody Taylor of Basketball Insiders):

A league source has told Upside & Motor the structure will be altered for the 2016/17 season. Now there will only be two tiers for salaries as the “C” has been eliminated. The new salary levels will be $19,500 (B-Level) and $26,000 (A-Level) and the salary cap will rise to $209,000 also.

To be clear, this is for players on D-League contracts. Players on NBA contracts who are assigned to the D-League continue receiving their NBA salary (minimum: $543,471).

Yes, these salaries are still low. But everyone on a D-League contract is an NBA free agent. NBA teams won’t pay a premium for someone without gaining exclusive control of his rights.

Expect a major shakeup in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. As the D-League grows to 30 teams and a one-to-one affiliate for each NBA team, it’ll be feasible for NBA teams to hold the NBA rights of D-League players. Then, D-League salaries will really take off.

LeBron James says Kawhi Leonard defends him best

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 19: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives against Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on November 19, 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio. User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Joe Dumars’ reputation was boosted significantly when Michael Jordan said the Pistons guard defended him better than anyone. Ruben Patterson labeled himself the Kobe Stopper and is still known for it.

Guarding a generational scorer better than anyone else is a ticket to lasting recognition.

Asked who defends him best, LeBron James anointed Kawhi Leonard.

LeBron, via the Open Run podcast:

Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard, he’s solid. He’s solid, solid at that end of the floor. He’s very, very solid. I like him. I like the kid.

This seems like the right choice. The Spurs’ forward has won the last two Defensive Player of the Year awards. His superior length, strength, athleticism and intelligence gives him a chance against LeBron.

But it’s just a chance.

LeBron excelled against Leonard in the 2013 Finals. Leonard slowed LeBron enough the following year for San Antonio to win the title, though LeBron still thrived for most of the series.

Still, that’s a far higher success rate than most against LeBron.

Report: Wizards sign Casper Ware

PORTLAND, OR - MARCH 15:  Casper Ware #22 of the Long Beach State 49ers drives to the basket against the New Mexico Lobos in the second round of the 2012 NCAA men's basketball tournament at Rose Garden Arena on March 15, 2012 in Portland, Oregon.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)
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Do the Wizards need a third point guard?

John Wall will obviously start, and Washington traded for Trey Burke to serve as its primary backup. Marcus Thornton and Tomas Satoransky are combo guards, and they might provide enough depth.

But if the Wizards want more of a true third point guard – at least by height – they’re bringing one to camp: Casper Ware.

Tim Bontemps of The Washington Post:

The Wizards have just 12 players – three below the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. That’ll create a riveting training-camp competition between Jarell Eddie, Danuel House, Daniel Ochefu, Sheldon McClellan and Ware.

The 5-foot-10 Ware, who signed a couple 10-day contracts with the 76ers in 2014, was a pesky defender and decent outside shooter at Long Beach State. Can he prove those skills translate to the NBA after honing them overseas for a few years? That, or improved distributing, will be his ticket to sticking.

Croatia asserts itself among Team USA’s biggest threat in 2020 Olympics

Croatia's Dario Saric (9) celebrates a score against Brazil during a men's basketball game at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Team USA was the team to beat in Olympic men’s basketball. Team USA is the team to beat in Olympic men’s basketball. Team USA will be the team to beat in Olympic men’s basketball.

The Americans have won 14 of 18 gold medals in the sport, half the misses coming in controversy – the stolen 1972 finish and a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games. The U.S. has won the last two golds and carries a 23-game winning streak.

The United States’ biggest competition is the field. Play enough games in what becomes a single-elimination tournament, and you’re bound to slip somewhere.

But there are always another nations that presents bigger tests than others. Right now, Spain leads the pack. The Spaniards have won the last two silver medals, looked darned good against top competition in Rio and spooked Team USA more than anyone else.

By the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. could have a new top challenger. Keep an eye on Croatia.

Croatia was narrowly eliminated by Serbia in a quarterfinal yesterday, but the Croatians impressed prior. They beat Spain, Brazil and Lithuania to win Group B. A loss to Nigeria is inexplicable, but it can probably be attributed to another reason I’m so high on Croatia: its youth.

The Croatians – led by Bojan Bogdanovic (27), Dario Saric (22) and Mario Hezonja (20) – are the youngest team to win a game in Rio.

Here’s every team in the 2016 Olympics sorted by average age, weighted by playing time:

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China went 0-5, losing by nearly 30 points per game. It’ll take far more than typical player development for the Chinese to make an impact in Tokyo

Serbia is nearly as young as Croatia, and 21-year-old Nikola Jokic remains underrated. The Serbs aren’t going anywhere, either.

But it’s also about who’s missing. While Serbia is playing without Boban Marjanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, Croatia could add three 2016 draft picks: No. 4 pick Dragan Bender (Suns), No. 23 pick Ante Zizic (Celtics) and No. 32 Ivica Zubac (Lakers).

Of course, Croatia isn’t the only team with talent that didn’t reach Rio.

Australia – which beat Serbia, which beat Croatia – has Ben Simmons, Dante Exum and Thon Maker in the wings. But don’t count on Patty Mills (28), Andrew Bogut (31), Aron Baynes (29), David Anderson (36) and even Matthew Dellavedova (25) to be as good four years from now.

France could reload with Evan Fournier, Ian Mahinmi, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Petr Cornelie and maybe even Joakim Noah. (The Knicks think the 31-year-old Noah will be fine in four years.)

Canada, which didn’t even qualify for the 2016 Olympics, might be able to build a roster full of NBA talent. Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Trey Lyles, Jamal Murray and Kelly Olynyk look formidable.

But, aside from Team USA, nobody in Tokyo will match Croatia’s Olympic success, youth and incoming talent – at least if all goes to plan. Four years is a long time, and a lot can change between now and 2020.

Still, Croatia entered the 2016 Games looking to be an Olympiad away from seriously threatening for a medal. The Rio results should only lift expectations for Croatia in Tokyo.