Kurt Helin

Report: Cavaliers players started telling Jimmy Butler to stay away from Cleveland

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First came the reports that LeBron James and other Cavaliers players were calling Jimmy Butler to recruit him, and he wanted to push his way to Chicago.

Then came the report Butler told the Cavaliers he wants to stay in Chicago.

What changed? Did Butler remember his love of deep dish pizzas and Millennium Park and have a change of heart?

No, more likely is that Cavaliers players actually called him up and said “you don’t want to come here right now,” reports Joe Crowly at the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to a Cleveland source close to the situation, several of the Cavaliers who had been prodding Butler to push for a trade from the Bulls the last five days were now warning him to stay away from a suddenly volatile situation.

That change? Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert decided to let go of GM David Griffin. It was a stupid move on multiple levels, primarily that Griffin had done an amazing job in the role, and that LeBron James trusted him and was not happy Griffin was cut loose.

As an aside: Gilbert just gave LeBron a legitimate reason to leave in 2018. LeBron can say Gilbert showed he was not serious about keeping a contender together, he was able to bring one title to Cleveland but Gilbert stands in the way of future ones, and it is time to move on so he can keep chasing greatness and the ghost of Jordan. Outside of Cleveland, fans would look at the incompetence and nod.

Cleveland doesn’t have a GM — and may be about to hire one with no front office experience — heading into a key offseason where they need to revamp their roster to better compete with the Warriors, or risk losing LeBron. Does Butler want to walk into that situation? No.

And it’s the Cavs who are telling him so.

Report: Hawks exploring sign-and-trade options for Paul Millsap

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This may be too little, too late.

A year after losing Al Horford for nothing, the Atlanta Hawks are on the verge of losing Paul Millsap the same way in free agency. Then GM Mike Budenholzer traded Kyle Korver and was moving toward a Millsap trade at the deadline when that rug was pulled out from under him by ownership. Now the Hawks have traded Dwight Howard and seem committed to the rebuild, but now they would like to get something back for Millsap after ownership killed plans to trade him at the deadline.

They are trying to find a sign-and-trade that works, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN on SportsCenter (hat tip SLAM).

There are three or four teams out there that are willing to give Millsap a max contract, and sources have told me that the Hawks have begun getting some feelers on sign-and-trades.

Teams like the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets are interested in Paul Millsap.

Under the rules of the CBA, Millsap cannot make more money with a sign and trade (the days of a team signing a guy to a five-year max in a sign-and-trade are gone, now that contract can only be for the four-year deal another team could offer as a free agent). Which means the only motivation for these other teams is to clear out some cap space needed to sign Millsap, or to get other value.

The Hawks don’t have much leverage here. If he wants to go to Denver and they work it to sign him outright, Atlanta has no leverage. However, if the Nuggets want to clear out space or move someone like Wilson Chandler, they can do it through a sign-and-trade. It’s more up to the Nuggets than the Hawks.

It’s something to watch as the Hawks try to salvage something from their two biggest stars leaving.

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.”

 

Aron Baynes declining option with Pistons, will be free agent

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Detroit backup center Aron Baynes is declining his player option for next season and becoming a free agent.

Stan Van Gundy, the Pistons’ coach and team president, confirmed the move Tuesday. The 30-year-old Baynes averaged 4.9 points in 75 games last season and has been a capable backup to Detroit star Andre Drummond over the past two years. Baynes has had to play crucial minutes at times, when Drummond was limited late in games because of his poor foul shooting.

Detroit also has 7-foot-3 Boban Marjanovic, who can play a bigger role backing up Drummond if the Pistons lose Baynes. Marjanovic appeared in 35 games last season.

Another move we did not expect this summer: Kawhi Leonard got rid of his braids

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I don’t know that I’d call it Kawhi Leonard‘ signature look, it’s just the only look we’ve ever seen him with: his braided hair. He’s had that look since we first saw him at San Diego State, then kept it all through his Spurs career.

Those days appear to be over.

A social media picture of Leonard sans braids was first posted to the Chinese social media network Weibo by Chinese basketball player Xuewen Cheng, and this week it has filtered through to the United States. Here’s a copy of the picture (hat tip Eric Freeman at Ball Don’t Lie).

Leonard will be confused how this is a story and will not discuss it. Gregg Popovich will make some clever quip. Then next season Leonard will go back to dominating and playing like an MVP. On a more important note, Leonard is said to be recovering well from the sprained ankle that ended his season in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals (robbing all of us of a more interesting series).

Still, this change is kind of shocking. According to Molly Podlesny of SB Nation, Leonard had this look in his eighth-grade ID card, so this is a big change. I’m the last person in the world that gets to comment on hairstyles, you can decide without comment from me what you think of the look.

It’s just another change is what has been a summer of change recently around the NBA.