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Report: Probable lottery pick Collin Sexton declaring for NBA draft

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Collin Sexton had Dwyane Wade jumping out of his seat while still a high schooler.

After a stellar freshman season at Alabama, Sexton will try to elicit similar reactions from NBA teams picking high in the draft.

Tony Tsoukalas of BamaInsider.com:

Collin Sexton’s time at Alabama appears to be coming to an end. The freshman point guard will announce his decision to forgo the rest of his college career and enter the NBA Draft during a Friday news conference, sources have told BamaInsider.com.

Sexton will very likely be a lottery pick. How high might depend on how the draft order shakes out. He’s a somewhat polarizing prospect – within the top range, at least.

Above all, Sexton is a ferocious attacker with the ball in his hands. From when he gets it in the backcourt until he gets to the basket, he’s pressuring the defense. He can get out of control, but he changes speed and direction well. He can also finish above the rim once he gets there.

For a player of that style, Sexton shoots well enough from outside, though it’d help if he improved there (and he appears capable of doing so). He definitely must continue to develop as a passer to take advantage of the attention his drives draw.

At 6-foot-2 with a 6-foot-7 wingspan, Sexton has the lateral quickness to defend well. He didn’t assert himself enough on that end at Alabama, but that can be chalked up to his huge offensive load – made even more challenging by a lack of floor spacing around him.

Sexton should look even better in an NBA system. There are concerns about habits developed at Alabama – focus on offense over defense, shot selection – but he can get past those.

Report: Hornets close to hiring Mitch Kupchak as president, general manager

AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The Hornets reportedly offered their general-manager job to Mitch Kupchak.

Unsurprisingly, the man whose last major moves were signing Luol Deng (four years, $72 million), Timofey Mozgov (four years, $64 million) and Jordan Clarkson (four years, $50 million) hasn’t found a better offer elsewhere.

Somewhat surprisingly, Kupchak is apparently getting a loftier title than he had with the Lakers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Charlotte Hornets have made significant progress in contract talks with Mitch Kupchak to become president of basketball operations and general manager, and a formal agreement is expected to be reached soon, league sources told ESPN.

Kupchak will keep assistant general manager Buzz Peterson in a front-office role, and Kupchak ultimately will add his own personnel changes to the team’s management and scouting structure, league sources said.

All along, Kupchak was expected to keep Peterson. Hornets owner Michael Jordan, Kupchak and Peterson all played at North Carolina. This is yet another indicator Jordan overvalued the Tar Heel connection when choosing Kupchak.

Maybe Kupchak is up for the daunting task in Charlotte. He built multiple Lakers title teams. But if he hadn’t gone to North Carolina, would Jordan have hired him? Will Kupchak’s college choice make him any better in this role than if he played at, say, Kansas?

It won’t matter now. The Hornets are full steam ahead with Kupchak.

Lakers C Ivica Zubac dunks on, turns around Davis Bertans (video)

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It’s that time of year when Ivica Zubac plays 28 minutes.

Those big minutes for the second-year center produced this big dunk on Davis Bertans in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs last night.

Three Things to Know: Raptors stave off creeping doubt

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) The Raptors got a much-needed win over the Celtics. Toronto had lost five of eight, including two straight – to the Celtics and Cavaliers, its chief competition in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors had been the East’s best team throughout the season. A “reset” offense and a deep bench seemingly had them poised for playoff success. But this late skid instilled plenty of doubt in a team that has disappointed annually in the postseason.

A 96-78 win over Boston ought to calm panic in Toronto.

This wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Raptors played with more purpose. They defended more aggressively, kept the ball moving and relied on balanced contributions. Kyle Lowry made a positive impact the day after his dud against Cleveland, which followed him going to San Antonio to watch Villanova win the national championship. The reserves came up big.

These weren’t necessarily the Celtics that Toronto would face in the postseason. Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Shane Larkin were out. Boston used 11 players through three quarters.

But that only increased the impetus for the Raptors to win.

They didn’t prove anything last night. This team can’t do that until the playoffs, anyway. But at least Toronto stopped the bleeding (of a boo-boo that probably looked worse than it actually was).

2) The Mavericks out-tanked the Magic. Dallas’ 105-100 loss to Orlando might wind up last night’s most significant game on the NBA’s long-term landscape. The defeat dropped the Mavericks (24-55) ahead of the Magic (24-54) in the tight tank race.

Dallas pulled out all the stops. Dennis Smith Jr., Harrison Barnes, Dwight Powell and Dirk Nowitzki – who all started the previous game – sat last night. Two-way player Johnathan Motley started and played 41 minutes. Aaron Harrison started and played 42 minutes. Kyle Collinsworth and Dorian Finney-Smith each played 35 minutes. Another two-way player, Jalen Jones, played 27 minutes. It’s as if the Mavericks were trying to overwhelm their already-overmatched players.

Orlando didn’t idly watch Dallas tank. The Magic rested Nikola Vucevic. Three starters – Aaron Gordon, D.J. Augustin and Bismack Biyombo – sat the entire fourth quarter. Jamel Artis played 32 minutes.

But Gordon (20 points in 26 minutes) did too much in his limited playing time and got the Magic the unneeded win.

3) The Spurs fell to the Lakers, but at least remain in playoff position. Last night’s games otherwise featured chalk between a team in the playoff race and a team not – 76ers over Pistons, Heat over Hawks, Pelicans over Grizzlies. But San Antonio fell to Los Angeles, 122-112, in overtime.

The Lakers, without their own draft picks this year, are still feisty. They’ve got nothing to tank for. Kyle Kuzma scored 30 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (21 points on nine shots) and Channing Frye (19 points on nine shots) were remarkably efficient.

The Spurs still haven’t clinched a playoff berth, so a loss to an eliminated team is a real letdown.

The Western Conference playoff-race standings now:

4. Utah Jazz (45-33)

5. Oklahoma City Thunder (45-34)

5. San Antonio Spurs (45-34)

7. Minnesota Timberwolves  (44-34)

7. New Orleans Pelicans (44-34)

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9. Denver Nuggets (43-35)

10. Los Angeles Clippers (42-36)

Tonight will feature a couple big games – Clippers at Jazz and Timberwolves at Nuggets.

New game in town: NBA tips off NBA 2K League with draft

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NEW YORK (AP) — Dimez slipped on his draft hat, shook hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and began life as the No. 1 pick in the draft.

The video game draft.

Dimez is Artreyo Boyd’s gamer tag and no he doesn’t run or jump like LeBron James or shoot like Stephen Curry. But he is a star at NBA 2K, and on Wednesday he was the first player chosen in the draft for the NBA 2K League, the first official esports league operated by a U.S. professional sports league.

The NBA is serious about its latest venture, having seen how esports has grown from a hobby among youth to an activity that sells out arenas, one that financial analysts say could grow into a billion dollar industry in the next few years.

So the NBA 2K League joined the WNBA and NBA G League as the fourth league in the NBA family.

“We view this in the same way as those other leagues as something that we’re going to develop over a very long time, and we’re building this as a league that’s going to be around forever,” Silver said.

The league will pay gamers $35,000 for six months, with housing and benefits paid. That’s comparable salary to a new player in the WNBA or G League.

Dimez, a 23-year-old from Cleveland, emerged from a field of 72,000 players to get the call from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban that he was the choice of Mavs Gaming, one of 17 teams in the league .

The inaugural season opens in May, and Silver hopes all 30 NBA teams could have entries in three years. He even talked of having overseas teams, figuring the popularity of NBA 2K, the highest-selling and top-rated game in North America, with nearly 10 million copies of NBA 2K18 already sold this year, combined with the NBA’s ability to make stars of its players – athletes, as Silver stressed – should ensure the league is successful.

Dimez sits in a chair playing video games almost all day long, the kind of activity that gets kids yelled at by their parents.

He plays the game well – his gamer tag comes from his point guard’s flair in dishing out assists, known in basketball as dimes – and the Dallas Mavericks organization took him with the first choice in the draft at Madison Square Garden.

“Everybody always asks me how much I play,” Dimez said. “I don’t really have a specific time but I play every day, all day. Almost literally 24 hours, maybe 16 hours. I play every day as much as possible, and that’s not going to stop now.”

To be eligible for the league, players had to win 50 games in January. The NBA expected that would yield around 10,000 candidates and instead there were 72,000. The gamers then went through a combine-style format of competition and interviews to eventually reduce the pool to 102 players for Wednesday’s draft, which consisted of six rounds.

Teams had to draft each of the five positions – point guard, shooting guard, center, power forward and small forward – and one player of their choice for what will be 5-on-5 games.

It was set up like the actual NBA draft, starting with a lottery last month, a full evaluation process by teams, and a media circuit the players had to walk through after exiting the stage. The Philadelphia 76ers, who know something about the draft process after owning the last two No. 1 picks, had a war room set up in their Camden, New Jersey headquarters, where they had been watching tape of players and applying the use of analytics to weigh them.

There are partnerships with Dell and Intel to make them the official equipment of the league – though like a player choosing his own sneakers, gamers are allowed to use the controller of their preference.

Games will be played at a couple of central locations in the first season, though the NBA hopes of eventually having esports teams compete in NBA arenas in front of their home fans.

Dr. Matthew H. Zimmerman, an assistant professor of Sports Studies at Mississippi State University, believes that kind of growth is possible, with the number of gamers and esports fans who are already paying to watch games in person and online.

“Staples Center has hosted sold-out esports events, for instance,” he said. “The NBA has seen people pay money to watch video games in one of their venues. And they want to be involved in esports as it looks like it will continue to gain in popularity. Think it’s easy to conclude that other professional sports leagues are interested in what happens next.”