Kurt Helin

Willie Cauley-Stein

Who will fall down draft board tonight? Watch injured Kevin Looney, also Willie Cauley-Stein

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Injuries scare teams off players they like in the NBA Draft. Well, not the Sixers but the other 29 teams. Guys fall annually because of injury or health concerns.

Who is dropping like a rock now that we are just hours away from the start of the NBA Draft?

Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein and UCLA’s Kevin Looney. This has been reported by Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times, among others.

A few weeks ago Cauley-Stein was seen as a potential Top 5 pick because of his defense — he’s 7’0″ and can protect the rim but also is athletic enough to show out or switch onto smaller guards on the perimeter.

But a foot issue — concerns about how a surgery from more than a year ago has healed — that may require another surgery has teams backing away. Foot issues with big men can linger. Cauley-Stein has fallen to the late lottery and could drop into the mid to high teens by the time teams make their picks.

Looney is a power forward with potential — he can shoot the three and has the tools to be a good defender — but he has slipped from the late lottery down to the late first round in recent days. The reason is a hip injury that some teams think would require surgery and would cause him to miss the upcoming season. Looney’s agent denied to CBSSports.com his player would miss significant time, noting this injury existed last season, and he played in every UCLA game.

When guys drop down the board like this, it becomes a matter of risk vs. reward/potential. At what point is the talent of the player and what he could develop into outweigh the injury risk?

With Cauley-Stein that potential as a defender means he’s not going to drop too far, likely not out of the lottery. With Looney, we’ll see if he hangs on in the first round.

Hornets’ coach says Lance Stephenson much better fit in Clippers offense

Lance Stephenson
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Lance Stephenson’s season in Charlotte was a disaster. There’s no other good word for it (at least that we can publish here). He shot just 37.6 percent overall and 17 percent from three (yet he took more threes as a percentage of his shots than he had in his career), and he never fit in with the Hornets offense. He spent more and more time riding the bench as the season wore on.

The Clippers acquired Stephenson in a trade (for Matt Barnes and Spencer Hawes), hoping that a change of scenery — plus the leadership of Chris Paul and Doc Rivers — could find the Indiana version of Stephenson. The one that was a difference maker on both ends of the court.

Steve Clifford, the Hornets coach, told Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated Stephenson will fit in much better with what the Clippers run than what the Hornets did.

And that’s where I think that playing with the Clippers, who have more perimeter shooting than we do, will help him. I mean, his game is pick-and-roll. He can drive it, and he can make all the passes, he can hit the screener, whether the screener is rolling or flaring. And he can hit all of the perimeter options, and he has great size and a great knack for making the right decision. And with us, again, because we weren’t able to find ways where he was on the floor with a lot of perimeter shooting, he didn’t always have the room he was accustomed to to turn the corner, get in the paint and get the ball going to the basket. And if you look at it statistically, the biggest difference in his game really was the number of layups he was able to attempt here versus the year before in Indiana, and those turned into pull-up jumpers, which is not his strength.

Clifford is right, the last two years he was in Indiana 37 percent of Stephenson’s shots came at the rim, but that fell to 29 percent in Charlotte. Teams packed the paint against the Hornets, who had the worst three-point shooting percentage in the league. That said, with the Clippers the ball is usually in the hands of Chris Paul or Jamal Crawford, can Stephenson adjust to being off the ball for long stretches?

The larger questions and concerns with Stephenson are in the mental aspects of the game — two teams in a row were happy to move Stephenson and get him out of their locker rooms. The Clipper locker room is unlike most any other in the league, where players’ children have the run of the locker room after games, and the atmosphere can be pretty light. But it’s also a team with legitimate title aspirations. Rivers and Paul treat players like adults and expect them to respond accordingly, to be mature and professional. Can Stephenson do that?

If so, and if what Clifford said about Stephenson on the court pans out, this could be a good move for Los Angeles.

Report: Lakers climbing fast on LaMarcus Aldridge’s list of preferred destinations

Memphis Grizzlies v Portland Trail Blazers - Game Three
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The Trail Blazers quickly denied it, but it sure felt like the team trading Nicolas Batum to Charlotte for Noah Vonleh and Gerald Henderson felt like the first move a franchise realizing their star player was about to bolt and they needed to adjust the roster.

That star is LaMarcus Aldridge, and if there is a top 15 player in the NBA most likely on the move this summer, it’s him. More and more the sense around the league is he’s gone.

While it has been assumed he’d want to go home to Texas (he played his high school ball in Dallas) the ever-present Lakers are lurking, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

ESPN.com reported in May that both the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks strongly believe they’ll have a great shot to lure Aldridge back to his home state of Texas next month. But sources said this week that Aldridge is actually thinking more and more about a free-agent jump to the Los Angeles Lakers….

The Spurs, sources say, continue to be Aldridge’s most likely destination if he goes through with the idea of leaving the Blazers to start anew. But sources also say there is a rising sentiment that the Lakers have edged past the Mavericks on Aldridge’s wish list despite the fact that he was a high school star in Dallas.

Remember this when you hear the Lakers’ name come up in seemingly every free agent rumor this summer: Every smart agent is using them as leverage. This is not to say the Lakers will not land somebody (this summer or next), maybe even Aldridge. But much like the NFL used the LA market to force other cities to build new stadiums, agents will use the threat of the Lakers to get other teams to up their offers.

This isn’t a question about money, Aldridge is going to get the max. He’d actually take home more in Texas, a place without state income tax.

The question is who is he would playing next to in Los Angeles… well, besides Kobe for a year. Is it Jahlil Okafor, Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson, or is it DeMarcus Cousins after a trade? (I wouldn’t bet on that trade happening, but that’s another story.)

With either of those options, is he closer to a title than he would be in Texas? Certainly not if the Spurs can free up the cap space to get him (it depends on what happens with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili). And Dallas has Chandler Parsons, Dirk Nowitzki and a roster that won 50 games last season. Both of those options are further along on the court

But the Lakers are a draw with cash to spend. And they are leverage. And they are going to be coming up in a lot of rumors this summer.

Report: Utah Jazz looking to move up in draft

Jazz logo
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The second half of last season, the Utah Jazz found an identity, going 19-10 after the All-Star break. With Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert up front, with Gordon Hayward on the wing, they became a force defensively that scored enough points to win.

But they need more talent — and they want to get it through the draft.

Utah has the No. 12 pick plus a couple second rounders, but they are looking to move up in the draft, according to Jabari Davis of Basketball Insiders.

With rumors about a potential mutual interest between the team and soon-to-be free agent Paul Millsap beginning to circulate, we now have a source confirming the organization not only intends to move up in tomorrow’s draft, but could be willing to package assets and players to do so if necessary.

“They have enough depth and have assets on the roster,” said David Locke, the radio voice of the Utah Jazz. “I am certain they are trying to couple those assets, picks and players to move up.”

How real the Millsap thing is can be debated — the Hawks want (actually, need) to retain him, and he has said he liked the family atmosphere in the ATL. But, a free agent needs leverage, and Utah could provide just that.

Still, there are some quality pieces Utah might want in this draft, the problem with moving up is you have to find a partner willing to move down. This is not the NFL with its war of attrition, where trading down for multiple picks makes sense. In the NBA the talent drops off quickly as you move down the board, and the Jazz would have to offer something of more quality than a couple second round picks to interest a team above them to move.

That said, it’s something to watch. Boston, Denver, and a host of other teams are expected to be active on draft night, a one a lot of people around the league expect to be a crazy night of trades and moves. Utah wants to get in on the action.

Report: Nuggets continue to try and reshape roster, put Danilo Gallinari on trade block

Danilo Gallinari
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If you see a name on the Nuggets’ roster, he’s available in a trade.

Ty Lawson. Wilson Chandler. Kenneth Faried (after July 1 anyway).

And now you can add Danilo Gallinari to that list, according to Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

This shouldn’t be a surprise. There is nobody on the Denver roster who is safe as the franchise tries to reshape its locker room and its culture under new coach Mike Malone.

Gallinari could be a good pickup, when healthy he is a dangerous scoring big who has three point range, can put the ball on the floor, and plays well in transition. He was the leading scorer for George Karl’s 57-win Nugget team, until he went down with a knee injury late in the season. That was followed by a botched surgery that kept him out the entire 2013-14 campaign.

But by the end of this past season Gallinari was starting to look like his old self — he averaged 19 points a game and shot 39.1 percent from three, plus grabbed almost five rebounds a game.

Gallinari has one season left on his contract at $11.6 million.

He’s not going to come cheaply — the Nuggets are looking to move Lawson and others, but with Gallinari the offer will have to be more substantial. But Denver will at least listen.