Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Report: UNLV’s Stephen Zimmerman to declare for draft

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Late in the first round, if teams select a big man they are looking at a project they hope can develop into a quality rotation player down the line.

Meet UNLV’s seven-foot center Stephen Zimmerman.

He fits that category, and he is entering the draft, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Zimmerman, 19, plans to sign with an agent and eliminate the opportunity to withdraw and return to college basketball before the NCAA’s May 25 deadline, sources said.

A formal announcement is expected early this week….

NBA executives told The Vertical that Zimmerman, mobile, skilled and a good shot-blocker, has the potential to move into the top half of the draft with some strong performances in predraft workouts.

One of our college basketball experts, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk, agrees that workouts are going to matter, because he is a raw player but one who may fit better in the NBA than college.

Zimmerman is an intriguing prospect in the sense that he is a mystery man for those that don’t follow high school hoops. A consensus top ten recruit, Zimm opted to stay home and play for UNLV, a team that was so bad their head coach was fired three games into league play. His numbers (10.5 points, 8.7 boards, 2.0 blocks) are decent enough, if not overly impressive, but he was a bad fit at UNLV. He’s not a dominant one-on-one scorer at this point in his development, but the 7-footer is a very capable passer out of the post that should be able to thrive in pick-and-pop and pick-and-roll NBA actions. There are tools there to build on. I think once teams get him in workouts — and out of UNLV — he’ll end up being selected higher than the late first round, which is where he’s currently projected.

Big men always climb in the draft. Don’t be surprised if he is picked just after the lottery.

Clippers beat Nuggets 105-90, clinch playoff spot

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — DeAndre Jordan had 16 points and 16 rebounds and the Los Angeles Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 105-90 on Sunday to become the fourth Western Conference team to clinch a playoff spot.

Chris Paul added 14 points, six rebounds and nine assists, Jamal Crawford also had 14 points, Jeff Green and Wesley Johnson each added 13, and J.J. Redick had 12. The Clippers had a 25-8 edge in fast-break points.

Jusuf Nurkic had 19 points, and D.J. Augustin added 18 for Denver. Gary Harris finished with 11 points, Joffrey Lauvergne had 10, and Darrell Arthur grabbed 12 rebounds.

The Nuggets, 10th in the West with eight games remaining, fell 5 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets in the race for the conference’s eighth and final playoff berth.

The Clippers never trailed and broke it open in the third quarter, outscoring Denver 25-12 to take a 77-60 lead into the fourth quarter.

The Nuggets made just 6 of 25 shots in the period, were outrebounded 15-9, while committing five turnovers.

Leading 56-52, the Clippers scored 15 of the game’s next 19 points, taking a 71-56 lead on Johnson’s layup with 3:03 left in the third quarter.

THRILL AT BOTH ENDS

Jordan brought out the loudest roar out of the Staples Center crowd in the third quarter, blocking a shot at the defensive end, then running the floor, taking a fast-break, over-the-shoulder, alley-oop pass from Paul and slamming it home with 9:14 left.

NEW WRINKLE

Jeff Green, playing with the first unit in the second quarter, scored seven consecutive points for the Clippers, and grabbed three rebounds, including two offensive, over a 2:36 span. Green was acquired from Memphis for Lance Stephenson on Feb. 18.

LATE ARRIVALS

The game’s 12:30 p.m. start time apparently did not appeal to the Nuggets, who missed their first six shots, with a pair of turnovers thrown in, needed 3:47 seconds to get on the scoreboard.

TIPINS

Denver: Six of Denver’s 10 first-quarter baskets were 3-pointers. Kenneth Faried, who missed four games with lower back stiffness, and did not play Friday night against the Lakers (coach’s decision) was a game-time decision, according to Nuggets Coach Michael Malone. Faried did not play. The Nuggets defeated the Clippers 87-81 in their previous trip to Staples Center, a game that saw the Clippers shoot a season-high 46 3-pointers.

Los Angeles: The Clippers activated Blake Griffin prior to the game, and he began serving a four-game, team-imposed suspension for punching an assistant equipment manager in January.

 

Heat interested in keeping Hassan Whiteside, but at $22 million a year?

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If you want to ask front offices around the league a divisive question right now, you’d be hard pressed to do better than:

How much will Hassan Whiteside get paid this summer?

Although, the majority are coming around to a max (likely around $23 million a year to start) or near max contract. Since the All-Star break he has averaged 18 points and 13.7 rebounds per game, shooting better than 60 percent from the floor. While the stats love him, there are flaws in the 27-year-old’s game — and questions about how focused he will be once he gets paid — but as one front office person told me about paying him the max, “it only takes one.”

Could the Heat be that one?

They want to keep him, but they want to see what the market will be, reports Barry Jackson at the Miami Herald.

But the amount the Heat is willing to pay won’t be decided until after the playoffs, and no contract discussions have even begun, because an extension with Whiteside isn’t permitted until the summer, in accordance with league rules prohibiting extensions for players on two-year contracts.

Not only are teammates much happier with Whiteside than ever before, but Pat Riley approached him recently “and told me how proud he was of me and to keep building on that,” Whiteside said. Heat executive Alonzo Mourning expressed similar sentiments….

“They haven’t talked about [free agency],” he said. “They want to see how far we get this season with this team. Playoffs will speak a lot.I hope [there’s interest]. I like the organization. Pat Riley is always going to do a great job of adding people that are going to help you win. It’s not hard to sell to come to Miami. You can always recruit great talent.”

That sounds great, but we all know at the end of the day money will win out. The Heat do not have his Bird rights; they cannot offer more than other teams. And make no mistake, whichever team offers Whiteside the most guaranteed money will almost certainly win. This is a business, don’t pretend it’s ever anything else.

That may be the Heat, although they need to ask how Whiteside and Chris Bosh can play together (Bosh has been out since the All-Star break).

Athletic rim protectors are increasingly valuable in a small-ball NBA, and Whiteside is hitting the market at the right time. He is about to be a very rich man. That may be in Miami, but if the Heat have a ceiling another team may clear it.

Blake Griffin medically cleared for basketball, begins four-game suspension Sunday

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Blake Griffin is back. Almost.

Griffin — who has been out since Christmas with first a quadriceps injury and then a broken hand that required surgery after punching a team employee — has been cleared for basketball activities, the team announced Sunday. That means he now starts serving a four-game suspension for that punch (he’s being docked five games’ pay).

That means Griffin will return next Sunday when the Clipper host the Washington Wizards. He can play in up to seven games before the playoffs begin, trying to get into a rhythm before the playoffs tip-off.

The Clippers have played well without Griffin, running a more spread pick-and-roll offense with much better ball movement. That ball movement needs to continue with Griffin in the lineup if the Clippers are going to be a threat in the second round or beyond.

Los Angeles is pretty locked into the four seed, which means (barring an unforeseen dramatic change of events) they will face a depleted Grizzlies team in the first round, followed by the juggernaut Golden State Warriors in the second. On paper the Clippers like their chances with the Warriors — when Golden State goes small the athleticism of Griffin and DeAndre Jordan allows L.A. to stay big, but so far this season the Warriors have had little trouble with the Clippers.

And if the Clippers get bounced in the second round again, Doc Rivers and the Clippers staff have some thinking to do about roster construction.

Report: Sixers almost traded Ish Smith at deadline, may draft Kris Dunn

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Ish Smith‘s return to Philadelphia has been a relative boon — they went from laughing stock to “at least they make you work for it,” and won a few more games (they are still 9-64 on the season). He knew how to run an NBA offense, be a threat to score (14 points per game average) and just make them better.

Ish Smith is not the long-term answer at the point, either.

Smith can be a solid backup point guard in the NBA, and the Sixers might want to have him in that role beyond this season (Smith is a free agent this summer), but Philadelphia needs a long-term answer at the point. Which is why they almost traded Smith at the deadline and could look hard at drafting a point guard come June, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Despite that, the Sixers (9-63 through Friday) offered Smith, shooting guard Nik Stauskas, and a protected first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks for point guard Dennis Schroder at the Feb. 18 trade deadline, according to sources.

The uncertainty surrounding the re-signing of Smith this summer was a holdup for the Hawks, according to one source. Smith, whose stock has risen, is expected to have plenty of suitors when he becomes a free agent….

Sources have said the team is interested in drafting Providence point guard Kris Dunn in June, assuming the draft pick they get calls for that.

A few quick thoughts here.

I know Sixers fans love Ish Smith, as they should after the way he has balled for them, but Schroder would have been an upgrade. Schroder is younger (22), he’s got work to do on his shot but he’s still better than Smith, he’s a better defender, and he could be part of the long-term future in Philly. That would have been a smart move for the Sixers.

Dunn out of Providence is the top point guard in the draft, but if the Sixers have the No. 1 or 2 pick (as you would expect with the highest lottery odds thanks to being the worst record in the NBA) then they need to draft Ben Simmons or Brandon Ingram (the two guys on the top of everyone’s draft board). Dunn is expected to go in the 4-7 range. If the lottery gods favor the Sixers and the Lakers’ pick falls to four so that the Sixers get it (the pick is top three protected), then maybe with that pick take him, but not their likely higher pick.

The Sixers would be wise to make up for their mistake of not re-signing Smith last summer and offer him a fair contract this summer. However, with the market awash with cash thanks to the spike in the salary cap (thanks new TV deal!) some other team could come in over the top with an offer the Sixers don’t want to match. It’s not going to be that simple to keep him in this market.