Kurt Helin

Associated Press

As expected, Kentucky freshman Skal Labissiere declares for NBA draft

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A year ago this time, Skal Labissiere was mentioned with Ben Simmons as the top prospects likely to enter the 2016 draft.

Both men are entering that draft. Simmons expected to go in the top two (mostly likely No. 1), while a rough start to the season at Kentucky saw Labissiere — projected as a four or five at the next level — slide down draft boards to the 10-15 range, and he is another big in this draft considered a bit of a project.

That didn’t change the big picture, Labissiere is coming out, something he announced Tuesday officially. He plans to sign with an agent, which means no changing his mind and returning to Kentucky.

“I want to thank my family, my coaches, teammates and most importantly I want to thank God for the opportunity that he gave me to represent and play for the University of Kentucky,” Labissiere said in a released statement. “I also want to thank the fans for their support through everything this season. I am excited to announce that I am entering the 2016 NBA Draft.”

As he does with all his guys going pro, coach John Calipari tried to pump up Labissiere on Twitter.

It’s not hard to see what scouts like in Labissiere — he’s long, with a good shooting stroke, and he can score inside. But the season at Kentucky raised some questions as  PBT’s NBA Draft expert — and Rotoworld writer — Ed Isaacson explains.

“At 6’11”, with a 7’2” wingspan, Labissiere is long and lanky, and he does possess a nice shooting touch out to 20 feet. Around the basket, his touch can be evident, but his moves are slow to develop, and he shows little aggression or determination to get to the basket. Labissiere is awkward in the pick-and-roll, though his shooting ability allows him to be a good “pop” option. His size and length should give him some advantages on the offensive glass, but he has been too timid this year and gets pushed around easily. On defense, Labissiere has a lot of potential, but he is nowhere close to realizing it yet. It was expected that Labissiere was going to be very raw coming into college, and even with it being worse than expected, NBA teams will still be intrigued by his raw talent.

Report: Ernie Grunfeld will return as Wizards GM for at least another year

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The conventional wisdom around the league is that Randy Wittman will be out as coach once the Wizards’ season ends, an end that will not include the playoffs. Also coming is a major shakeup in the Washington roster, which will have John Wall, almost certainly Bradley Beal (a restricted free agent likely to get a max contract), Marcus Morris, Marcin Gortat, and little else that is familiar.

However, don’t expect a shakeup higher up the ladder — Ernie Grunfeld is expected to return as GM. J. Michael of CSNWashington said as much a while back in the PBT Podcast, and Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post confirmed as much with contract details in a new story.

Coach Randy Wittman’s future is uncertain because next season — the final year of his three-year contract — is only partially guaranteed, but President Ernie Grunfeld is under contract for next season, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation, which strongly suggests that he will return for his 14th season as the franchise’s general manger. It is not known when owner Ted Leonsis and Grunfeld agreed to the extension.

Leonsis isn’t the kind of owner willing to eat a lot of money in dead contracts.

Grunfeld is experienced but the television contract driven massive spike in the salary cap by more than $20 million makes this summer uncharted waters for everyone. There is a lot more money than talent available on the market this year, which is going to lead to some inflated prices and tough decisions for teams.

We will see how Grunfeld manages that — and who he brings in to coach the team.

Byron Scott says Nick Young “not here with us mentally”

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Nick Young was at Staples Center Sunday night when the Lakers took on the Boston Celtics, but he chose to watch the game on the monitors in the team’s locker room rather than from the bench.

He was inactive for that game, following the D'Angelo Russell video incident that is rumored to have caused friction between Young and his fiancée Iggy Azalea. Young has not had his usual smile and playful attitude of late.

To hear coach Byron Scott tell it, Young may be away from the team for a while. From Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Instead, Scott believed Young is “not here with us mentally.”

“It was strictly a basketball decision,” Scott said. “I know how he’s feeling right now. He’s not really here with us.”

Young took part in Monday’s Laker practice. However, the guard has not been part of the Lakers rotation for a while — the last time he got in a game was March 8. The issue is simple: Young is a fearless shooter, a high-volume gunner who can’t throw a pea in the ocean right now. He is shooting just 33.9 percent on the season.

The Lakers will test the market and try to trade him around the draft and the start of free agency, but the more likely outcome is they waive and stretch his contract this summer.

The race for eight: A look at the NBA’s playoff picture with eight days left

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A week from Wednesday, April 13, is the final day of the NBA season.

With just eight days left, there’s a lot to be decided still in the NBA playoff chase. Here is an update on where things stand.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1-2 seeds set, Cavaliers and Raptors. Cleveland will finish with the best record in the East and the top seed through the playoffs; Toronto will finish in second place. (In theory Toronto could catch Cleveland if the Cavaliers lose out, but come on now.)

3-6 seeds could land in any order of Hawks, Hornets, Celtics, Heat. Just half a game separates the four teams bunched up in the middle of the Eastern Conference, and while they are all in the playoffs these teams still have a lot to play for. First, both Charlotte and Miami are far better at home than on the road, so getting the 3/4 seed and home court in the first round would be huge. Second, in an ideal world, teams would rather end up as the three seed or six seed — stay out of the Cleveland side of the bracket, making it easier to have a deep run in the playoffs. Some big games are coming up for this group, including Pistons vs. Heat Tuesday, Boston vs. Atlanta on Saturday.

7-8 seeds find Bulls trying to catch Pistons, Pacers. So maybe Thibodeau wasn’t the problem, because the Chicago Bulls are unexpectedly on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Chicago is two games back of Indiana and Detroit, who are tied for the 7/8 seeds. The Bulls need wins — including against Miami and Cleveland later this week — and some help. Looking at their remaining schedules, Fivethirtyeight.com gives the Pacers a 98 percent chance of making the playoffs, the Pistons an 87 percent chance, and the Bulls just an eight percent chance of catching one of them. Sorry Wizards, but you’re toast.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1-4 seeds set, basically locked in place with Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, Clippers. While mathematically there could be shifts if the Warriors or Thunder lost every remaining game, in practice the top of the Western Conference is set. Golden State will finish first, San Antonio second, Oklahoma City third, and the L.A. Clippers fourth. That also lets you look forward to the second round because those four teams likely advance in a stratified Western Conference.

5-8 seeds much more wide open, with the big question how far do Grizzlies fall? Memphis is the current five seed in the West, but injuries have made that team a shell of itself, and it has lost six straight games (with a tough schedule ahead). How far they fall determines a lot. Portland is just half a game back of Memphis and seems poised to grab the five seed. Dallas and Utah are tied for the 7/8 seed, two games back of Memphis and just one ahead of Houston. Most likely one team of the Mavericks/Jazz/Rockets will be on the outside looking in, and fivethirtyeight.com suggests it will be Dallas (a 46 percent chance to make the playoffs, well back of Houston at 69 percent and Utah at 90 percent). Houston has a soft schedule the final four games and should make it. The question becomes:, If Memphis loses its final five games can Dallas/Utah/Houston win enough games to pass it and all make the playoffs while Memphis falls out? It may not be likely, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility. Dallas plays both Houston (Wednesday, April 5) and Utah (April 11). Those games may well decide who gets in and who is out of the Western Conference playoffs.

Could Villanova’s Jay Wright be next college-to-NBA coach?

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If an NBA team is looking for a coach calm under pressure, and one who knows how to develop players, then Villanova’s Jay Wright has put on quite a display — not just in winning the NCAA championship Monday, but over the past few years in building up the program.

Could Wright be the next in line behind Brad Stevens, Fred Hoiberg, and Billy Donovan to jump from college to the NBA?

Jeff Goodman of ESPN asked some NBA decision-makers.

“Sure,” one NBA general manager said when asked if Wright could be the next college-to-NBA guy. “He has a great demeanor, communicates, has a terrific knowledge of the game. He just gets it.”

“I think he could be — if he wanted to be,” another GM added.

That last line is key: If he wanted to be.

There is a sense that Wright isn’t looking to make the leap, or, at least, is not right now. He’s a Philadelphia guy who just led that city’s college power to a national title. Another NBA official told Goodman he doesn’t think Wright is looking to move on from the college game.

At least right now. Maybe down the line he decides to give it a shot.

But for right now, you can blame a man who wants to bask in the glow of an NCAA title for a while.