Kurt Helin

NBA Draft Prospect Jahlil Okafor Workout

Jahlil Okafor tells PBT he’s ready to learn from Kobe, prove he can play defense

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LOS ANGELES — Not everybody wants to play with Kobe Bryant. Some players see him dominate the ball for long stretches of the game, followed by overcompensation with overpassing — followed by frustration from him if this strategy doesn’t work. He’s demanding of his teammates and himself. That has worked to the tune of five titles, but it can wear guys down. So some choose to play elsewhere.

Jahlil Okafor is not going to have a choice — he is a borderline lock to be selected by Kobe’s Los Angeles Lakers with the No.2 pick in Thursday night’s NBA Draft. (He’s their guy, unless the unlikely happens and the Lakers trade the pick.)

Okafor is pumped at the idea of spending a season (or two, or…) learning from one of the game’s greats.

“I think I can learn a ton,” Okafor told NBCSports’ ProBasketballTalk. “He’s been in the NBA a while, he came into the league early — I think he was younger than me when he came into the league — so I want to pick his brain and learn as much as I can….

“It’s all about he wants to win. So do I.”

Okafor has had two pre-draft workouts with the Lakers, and both reportedly went well.

“I like the staff, I like the coaches, I like Mitch Kupchak, it was a great vibe…” Okafor said of the workouts. “I saw a fit (with the Lakers), but I saw a fit with all the teams in the top five, the top six.”

The one thing that came out of workouts, both with the Lakers and other teams, is that Okafor has slimmed down and looks more mobile and lighter on his feet. Okafor confirmed he’s dropped some pounds.

“When my ankle got 100 percent healed — throughout the college season I was not 100 percent … I was playing on a bad ankle — when that healed, I was able to pick up my workout regimen more than when I got hurt,” Okafor said “I was able to work out three times a day, and, as a result, my weight went down.”

Okafor is sharing his story heading into the draft as part of the American Express Home Court Advantage Rookie Draft Desk Series. That is done in partnership with the NBA and includes Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and Frank Kaminsky. The best part of the page is the roundtable, where all four sit around and talk about their stories and how they got to the cusp of the NBA Draft.

“It was a great opportunity for myself and with the three other guys I was with — Frank, D’Angelo, Karl — it’s great to share our stories and really let the fans see us, and present us as we really want to presented,” Okafor said. “I really enjoyed it and the other guys did as well.”

The one knock on Okafor heading into the draft has been his defense at Duke. This has morphed online for some fans who now think he’s terrible on that end, which is not the case. He does need work, but there are mitigating factors. Besides the ankle injury, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski wanted to run the offense through Okafor, so at the top of his list of instructions was to stay out of foul trouble. That does not lead to aggression.

Okafor isn’t worried about his defense.

“I thought I played well on both ends of the floor,” Okafor said. “My coaches did as well, they didn’t have any complaints and we won a national championship. I was so a bad defensive player, Duke was a bad defensive team too — that one was put out there — but somehow we win a national championship.”

As PBT’s Draft Expert Ed Isaacson noted during our draft podcast, if you have someone with the footwork of Okafor there is no reason to think he will not be able to defend. It’s just a matter of focus and practice, but the work ethic and fundamentals are there.

“That’s something Coach K said, I move my feet so well that I could definitely handle the defensive end,” Okafor said. “As the season progressed I improved, and Coach K was happy with me.”

And the Lakers and their fans will likely be very happy with him, too.

The one constant in Sacramento: Dysfunction

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
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There was once a time when the Maloof brothers were seen as model owners — mostly because they inherited a good team and GM — and the Sacramento Kings were title contenders. Those were the glory days when Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac had the team within a lucky bounce of the NBA Finals. Everyone just ignored the fact George Maloof was thinking of moving the team to Anaheim, winning cures all ills in this league.

Now that time seems eons ago.

After their financial fortunes had turned off the court (they doubled-down on Las Vegas at the wrong time), the quality of ownership from the Maloof family faded fast. In-fighting within the family and looking to save money became the modus operandi. By the last couple years, the franchise was a mess off and on the court, and almost was sold and moved to Seattle.

Vivek Ranadive and his partners swooped in to buy the team and put together a stadium deal that will keep the Kings in the California capital. For that he should be lauded by the team’s fans. But he is a hands-on owner who has made some very curious decisions over time — firing Mike Malone mid-season, the 4-on-5 basketball experiment, and hiring the inexperienced Vlade Divac as GM without telling anyone in the organization.

The Kings had deep pockets again, but dysfunction is still the franchise’s calling card.

That dysfunction was on full display Monday.

First came the report that the Los Angeles Lakers were trying to put together a three-team trade, involving the Orlando Magic, which would bring DeMarcus Cousins to Los Angeles.

Those rumors that would not die about Cousins being available brought a response directly from Kings’ owner Ranadive himself, speaking to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“We have zero interest in moving Cousins, so I don’t know where that’s coming from,” Ranadive said when asked about an ESPN.com report in which a Kings-Los Angeles Lakers-Orlando Magic trade scenario was discussed. “But if you like, you should talk to (Kings vice president of basketball and franchise operations) Vlade (Divac), because I know Vlade feels exactly the same way. And I’m deferring to Vlade on everything. We have no interest in moving him. From my perspective, it’s really simple: we feel that he’s a one-of-a-kind player, and we have a group of players right now and we’re going to build on it.”

Usually, if an owner says no, the answer is no.

But not in Sacramento. George Karl — the up-tempo coach Ranadive wanted, but a guy with a reputation for trying to push around the front office wherever he’s been — has forced the Kings’ hand. He wants Cousins out. From Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Karl has been recruiting Kings vice president of basketball operations Vlade Divac and multiple players on the Kings’ roster to unite with him in making the case to owner Vivek Ranadive that Cousins needs to be traded, league sources said.

Karl and members of the Kings front office have made it clear to opposing team executives and coaches that they hope to soon have a formal ownership authorization to actively shop Cousins, sources said. Kings officials, including Karl, have discussed potential deals informally with other teams, but no other front office has felt comfortable that any deal can happen until Ranadive is fully on board.”

How does Cousins feel about Karl?

Now come reports that before Divac came was given the wheel, former GM Pete D’Alessandro had been polling people in the organization “Karl or Cousins.” They saw it coming, just not the owner.

All this leaves the Kings in a tough spot. Again.

They have a just hired, big name coach and a 24-year-old franchise player who would be combustible if forced to work together come training camp. Which most likely means Ranadive will come around to Karl’s way of thinking and trade the center — a deal that will be put together by a raw GM in Divac with limited front office experience.

The faces change, but dysfunction remains the Kings’ calling card.

Report: Willie Cauley-Stein slides down draft boards due to concerns about old foot injury

Willie Cauley-Stein
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Foot injuries with big men scares teams — these can be lingering, chronic things that limit players in some cases. The concerns about Joel Embiid with Philadelphia is just the latest in a long line of issues.

Which is why concerns about a foot issue with Kentucky big man Willie Cauley-Stein may have him sliding down draft boards, at least a few slots. Maybe even out of the Top 10 altogether.

The well connected Jonathan Givony broke it down at Draft Express.

Cauley-Stein suffered a stress fracture in his ankle on March 28th of 2014 in Kentucky’s NCAA Tournament victory over Louisville, and had a pin inserted via surgery to repair what Cauley-Stein described then as a “cracked bone or a stress fracture.”…

Five separate NBA teams we spoke with all indicated varying degrees of concern after consulting with their team doctors this week, with some saying it may cost the Kentucky big man a few spots on draft night. “There is some maintenance that needs to be done there, as it’s not completely clear whether the injury healed in a proper way. The pin that was inserted is supposed to be sitting at a 90 degree angle, but instead it’s at 45 degrees. That, plus some question marks about his background that came up could cause him to drop a few slots.”

Of course, his agent played down the issue with the foot. Cauley-Stein did come back to Kentucky after the surgery and played a full season not missing a game, being a defensive force for one of the nation’s top teams.

Yet, NBA teams are cautious when it comes to investing their money in a player. One of Cauley-Stein’s best assets is his athleticism, something that could be limited if this is a chronic foot issue. He’s being drafted in the lottery because of his defense — he’s a 7-footer who can show out off a pick and switch onto a guard without losing a beat. That is valuable in today’s NBA. His offense is raw, but he can find ways to score with hustle points while he develops a jumper.

He has been reported to be taken everywhere from the Magic at No. 5 — which now seems unlikely — to the Pacers at No. 11 (that Indiana would consider speaks to how things have deteriorated between the team and Roy Hibbert). It now looks like that late lottery slot may be the more likely landing spot, in part due to teams above that not looking to fill the role Cauley-Stein would play.

Report: Suns shopping Eric Bledsoe, offered to Knicks in package for No. 4 pick

Phoenix Suns v Washington Wizards
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After a lengthy off-season contract dispute, the Phoenix Suns signed Eric Bledsoe last summer and he gave them a strong season — 17 points and 6.1 assists a game, he led the team in Win Shares (seven) and had the highest PER of any player on the roster at the end of the season.

However, the Suns are shopping him around as we head into the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Sean Deveney of The Sporting News — and that’s starting with trying to get the No. 4 pick from the Knicks.

The Suns had talks with the Knicks about dealing the fourth pick for point guard Eric Bledsoe and the No. 13 pick, but Phoenix has not been limited to the Knicks in that regard. The Suns have been dangling Bledsoe in trade offers this offseason and are likely to continue to do so after the draft if Bledsoe is not moved this week, sources confirmed.

Remember a year ago when the problem was the Suns had too many good point guards? They had Goran Dragic but traded him to Miami, and they sent fan favorite Isaiah Thomas to Boston. That left Bledsoe as the last man standing, but now he may be shipped off this summer as well. GM Ryan McDonough has decided to strip this thing down as part of his rebuild. He did acquire Brandon Knight as a point guard in all those trades, but Knight struggled after the trade.

The Suns may move Bledsoe, but I can’t see the Knicks as a good fit — a ball-dominant point guard is not what is needed in the triangle offense. Bledsoe is strong attacking off the dribble but he lacks a good enough outside shot (32.4 percent from three last season, not much better on longer twos) to space the floor the way the offense needs. If the Knicks remain committed to the triangle — and Phil Jackson says they are — then Bledsoe is not their guy.

That said, Bledsoe may well be somebody else’s guy this summer.

 

DeMarcus Cousins with not-so-cryptic tweet, shot at George Karl

Boston Celtics v Sacramento Kings
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DeMarcus Cousins isn’t looking to leave Sacramento. Make no mistake, he’s had his frustration with the organization— and with good reason. The last few years of their ownership, theMalloof brothers were a mess with focus elsewhere. Then under new owner Vivek Ranadive the Kings hired a coach Cousins liked in Mike Malone and picked a direction built around Cousin’s style — and in the middle of last season Ranadive fires Malone because he wants to run more. Through it all Cousins has remained loyal to the Kings.

Now comes new coach George Karl, who isn’t putting a system in around Cousins. Rather, he is pushing to trade Cousins. He’s trying to get Ranadive on board.

So how does Cousins feel about Karl?

Karl has had his run-ins before. Remember he said Andre Iguodala was a “mole” for Mark Jackson and the Warriors when Denver (then coached by Karl) and Golden State met in the playoffs.

It’s hard to see how Cousins and Karl could co-exist next season. One of them will have to go, and at this point it seems more likely to be Cousins.

What Karl wants is to revamp the roster and bring in quality veterans, a team that can win now rather than be a slow build. That is something that is not going to happen with the rumored Lakers offer (which is focused around the No. 2 pick in the draft). But there will be other teams that are interested.