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Celtics seemingly between Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum at No. 3 in NBA draft

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NEW YORK (AP) — Markelle Fultz is still expected to be the No. 1 pick, though the destination has changed.

Lonzo Ball wants to stay home with the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2, and it seems surer than ever he will.

The intrigue, then, starts with the No. 3 pick in the NBA draft Thursday.

That’s where the Boston Celtics are scheduled to pick after moving down two spots in a trade with Philadelphia, giving the 76ers the right to select Fultz with their second No. 1 pick in two years.

Forwards Josh Jackson of Kansas and Jayson Tatum of Duke are two players frequently mentioned as possibilities at the No. 3 spot, and Celtics president Danny Ainge said Boston could get the player there they might have taken at No. 1.

Jackson never thought that would be him, so he said he didn’t work out for the Celtics.

“Me and my agent talked and we just didn’t feel like they had much interest in drafting me at No. 1, so we felt like it would be sort of a waste of time for me to go out and work out if they were really not considering drafting me,” Jackson said. “After they got the third pick, we tried to schedule something for me to get out there. But it was just scheduling issues and it was a little delayed for me to get out there.”

He said he had been open to working out for the Celtics and said it was possible they might draft him, anyway.

Tatum and the Celtics seem to have more familiarity, with the 6-foot-8 swingman believing he’d be a good fit on the roster of the team that had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

“I talked about that with coach Brad Stevens,” Tatum said. “He just said guys that are my size and are versatile offensively and defensively, it’s hard not to play those guys. That’s what we talked about.”

Other things to watch from Barclays Center:

IT’S GOT TO BE THE SHOES: When Fultz walks on stage to shake hands with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, he recommends you check out his feet.

“Pay attention to my footwear,” the Washington guard said. “I’m going to have some custom-made shoes that I think nobody ever had before.”

LOVING LONZO – AND LAVAR: Ball acknowledged that there might be a “target” on him entering the draft because of all his father’s comments. But if the Lakers want Lonzo – and it seems they do after trading point guard D'Angelo Russell to Brooklyn – they won’t be turned off by LaVar.

“They were just open arms,” Lonzo said of his Lakers workout. “They said they love my dad and left it at that.”

THEIR TIME TO SHINE: With so much trade speculation about All-Stars such as Paul George and Jimmy Butler, there hasn’t been as much focus as usual leading into Thursday on the players who are in the draft.

“We don’t need that attention,” Kentucky guard Malik Monk said. “We’re going to get ours tomorrow.”

FRESHMAN FUN: The record of 14 freshmen selected in the first round might last just one year. Of the 20 players expected to be in the green room, 13 were college one-and-dones.

DULL DRAFT: Neither Golden State nor Cleveland, who met in the NBA Finals, has a pick in the two-round draft. The Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies also are without a pick, while Houston, New Orleans and Washington don’t have one in the first round.

INTERNATIONAL INTRIGUE: A year after nearly half the draft – a record 27 of the 60 picks – were international players, French guard Frank Ntilikina and Finnish forward Lauri Markkanen, who played a year at Arizona, are two of the top international players. Both have met with the New York Knicks, who scored well two years ago when they went overseas with their pick of Latvian Kristaps Porzingis – to whom Markkanen has been compared as a 7-footer with perimeter shooting skills.

Markkanen was asked about potentially playing with or replacing Porzingis, who team president Phil Jackson told MSG Network on Wednesday the Knicks are taking calls about after he left New York without attending his exit interview.

“I try not to think about it too much,” Markkanen said. “I’ve been doing my work here and I’m just waiting for tomorrow night and whatever happens, happens.”

 

Draft is next up during NBA’s dizzying days of deals

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NEW YORK (AP) — Markelle Fultz is ready for the NBA draft. He’s already learned about life at the trade deadline.

During a dizzying few days of deals around the NBA, the presumed No. 1 pick had his Saturday plans – not to mention his future destination – change when the Philadelphia 76ers brought him in for a workout. They then completed a trade with the Boston Celtics and are expected to take the Washington guard to begin the action Thursday night.

And if the last few days are indication, what follows might be a wild night inside Barclays Center.

“It’s been a little crazy last couple days,” Duke forward Jayson Tatum said Wednesday.

Teams seem to have one eye on the draft and future stars like Fultz and Lonzo Ball, while the other is firmly focused on jockeying for proven veterans. Former and future No. 1 picks have already been dealt this week in what feels like the trade deadline, free agency and draft all rolled into one frenzy.

“It just shows you what the NBA is about. I mean, you can get traded in the blink of an eye, without knowing,” Fultz said. “It just shows you how this business is and like I said, I just go with the flow. I’ve got an opportunity to play basketball and that’s all I ask for.”

Though Fultz heads what’s widely regarded as a strong draft class, the young stars have had to share the spotlight this week with veterans who are – or could be – on the move. All-Stars and Olympic champions such as Paul George and Jimmy Butler are front and center in trade talk that usually isn’t this heavy until February. Dwight Howard was dealt and D'Angelo Russell – who just two years ago was on the same stage the players will walk Thursday as the No. 2 pick – was dealt by the Los Angeles Lakers, presumably to clear the point guard spot for Ball and salary cap space for the future.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of crazy things. They’ve been coming through my phone with the ESPN app,” Kentucky guard Malik Monk said.

“I knew right before the draft something crazy was going to happen. It happens almost every year, so I wasn’t shocked about it.”

Things are expected to settle down a bit for at least the first two picks. The 76ers, selecting first for the second straight year, should take Fultz before Magic Johnson takes Ball with the Lakers again in the No. 2 spot, which is exactly what the UCLA guard and his father, LaVar, want.

“It would mean a lot to play for my hometown and learn from the best point guard ever,” Ball said.

From there it could be Tatum, Josh Jackson of Kansas, Kentucky’s De'Aaron Fox or some other player in the mix at No. 3, where the Celtics will now pick after the deal with the 76ers. Celtics President Danny Ainge said after making the trade he thought he could get the player he wanted two spots lower.

“It’s a very loaded class and I feel like especially whichever guys go at the top four, five, there may not be that much separation between (them) because everybody’s just so talented,” Tatum said.

Many of them, as usual lately, are freshmen. A record 14 were taken in the first round of last year’s draft and that number should be threatened Thursday. The Sacramento Kings have two top-10 picks, while NBA champion Golden State and runner-up Cleveland have none in the first round.

Teams chasing those two squads may make up ground quickest with a veteran player they can only get through free agency or a trade, so that may have to wait until July.

But they should be able to find someone good Thursday.

“This, I think, has a chance to be a historic draft,” Minnesota Timberwolves general manager Scott Layden said. “You look at the top end of the draft and I think there’s a chance that there’s going to be a lot of very good players, but it also runs deep into the late first round. I think that’s why there will be a lot of activity at this draft, because I think teams see potential to get a great player.”

 

Hornets’ coach Steve Clifford: Dwight Howard can return to All-Star level

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Charlotte coach Steve Clifford is confident he can help newly acquired Hornets center Dwight Howard become a dominant force and an NBA All-Star again.

Clifford is familiar with Howard, having coached him for six seasons as an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles.

“I know what he has to do to play well,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He understands that I know him. I know his game. Being around him in different settings I have a feel for what he likes to do… There is no reason he can’t get back to playing at a really high level.”

General manager Rich Cho said Clifford’s familiarity with Howard is a major reason the Hornets pulled the trigger on a trade that sent guard Marco Belinelli, center Miles Plumlee and the No. 41 overall pick in the NBA draft to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Howard and the No. 31 overall pick. It meant taking on Howard’s contract, which will pay him $47 million over the next two seasons.

Now the question becomes if Howard can bounce back from two tumultuous seasons in Atlanta and Houston, and also fit in in Charlotte.

Howard was an NBA All-Star eight straight seasons from 2007-14. But Howard didn’t play in the fourth quarter two of Atlanta’s first-round playoff games last season, something that irked the 13-year NBA veteran. Atlanta dealt Howard to Charlotte just one year into a three-year, $74 million contract.

While Clifford acknowledges that the 31-year-old Howard isn’t as athletic as he once was, he said the 6-foot-11, 265-pound center will bring defensive toughness and physicality – something the Hornets woefully lacked last season while finishing 36-46.

Howard is the NBA’s leading active leader in shots blocked and rebounds.

He’s also a three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and has been selected to the NBA All-Defensive team five times.

“For three years when people looked on the schedule and saw we’re playing Charlotte on Wednesday it was like, `Oh man that’s not going to be easy,”‘ Clifford said. “But last year, in the last 25 games, it was easier. And we’re not going to win that way. Dwight can go a long way toward changing that back to the way it was.”

Howard was not present at the news conference Wednesday at the Hornets arena and has not commented on the trade.

However, Howard spoke with team owner Michael Jordan on Tuesday night and indicated that he was “pumped up” about joining the Hornets, Cho said.

Howard wasted little time Tuesday night changing his photo on his Twitter page to the Hornets logo.

Clifford doesn’t buy into the notion that Howard is a locker room cancer who can be a disruption to his teammates. Having coached him for six seasons, Clifford said he thinks Howard will be welcomed in Charlotte and fit in nicely.

“Listen, this is an easy guy to like,” Clifford said. “This isn’t some guy who is hard to deal with. He’s bright, he’s fun-loving and has a great sense of humor and great wit. … I think he will fit in very well.”

Howard, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004, has averaged 17.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2 blocks in 954 career games played. Howard’s 58.5 shooting percentage ranks fourth all-time in NBA history and he is coming off a season in which he made a career-high 63.3 percent of his shots.

Howard has appeared in 95 postseason games, averaging 18.4 points, 13.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

 

2-year, $192 million renovation begins for Hawks’ home arena

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ATLANTA (AP) A $192.5 million renovation of Philips Arena, home of the Atlanta Hawks, has begun a day after funding was approved by the Atlanta City Council.

About $110 million for the renovation will be generated from the car rental tax collected at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and other sites. An additional $32.5 million will come from the city’s sale of Turner Field, the former home of MLB’s Braves, to Georgia State University.

The City Council voted Monday to extend the car rental tax.

The Hawks will contribute $50 million. As part of the deal, the team’s lease was extended through the 2047-2048 season.

The renovation includes removing a wall of suites on one side of the arena, which is closed for four months before re-opening for the 2017-18 season. Work is scheduled to be complete before the 2018-19 season.

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.”