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Rumor: After spurning Celtics, Lonzo Ball is considering working out for 76ers

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UCLA guard Lonzo Ball is expected to be a Top 2 pick in June’s 2017 NBA Draft, but he won’t be working out for the Boston Celtics. If Danny Ainge wants to select Ball No. 1 overall, he will have to do so without seeing him up close and 1-on-1.

But if the Philadelphia 76ers (owners of the No. 3 pick) want to see Ball … well that could be arranged. Maybe.

According to a report from ESPN, Ball’s camp is considering a workout with the Sixers if they can get more information about the team situation.

Via ESPN:

A final decision will be made once Ball’s agent, Harrison Gaines, and Sixers general manager Bryan Colangelo have had an extensive conversation centered on the identity of the team, sources told ESPN.

That dialogue is expected within the coming weeks. Most expect Ball to be off the board after the first two selections.

Of course, the situation in Philadelphia for Ball is excellent. The thing they need is backcourt help, which is why a move up for Markelle Fultz might make sense for them, or drafting one of the two if either fall to No. 3. The Sixers have also been linked to Kyle Lowry, who is a free agent this summer. The Sixers have talked for a year about using Ben Simmons as their point guard, so they’ll need some amalgam to get a working situation put together.

In short, Philadelphia’s plan is to:

  • Sign / draft a guard
  • Win a lot of games

Where Ball doesn’t fit into that is a mystery, even if the 76ers end up grabbing another guard.

If you can’t read between the lines — or read the giant sign LaVar Ball might as well be holding up behind his son everywhere he goes — this seems mostly like a hilariously transparent way to add pressure on the Los Angeles Lakers to select Ball at No. 2.

Will this strategy work? No. Is this necessary? Probably not! Magic Johnson already said he thinks Ball is the player that most resembles him in this draft, an equally transparent signal.

The Lakers are going to select Ball at No. 2. Or they won’t.

If they don’t it will be for reasons outside what Ball’s camp can influence, the potential for workouts with the team directly below them (but not the team above them) in the draft notwithstanding. He certainly won’t slide beyond No. 3. But the combination of both not working out for the Celtics and offering the idea that Ball might work out for the Sixers is extremely clumsy — and unnecessary — media work.

And to think we have a whole career of this to go. Strap in! I’m here for it if you are.

Westbrook, Harden, Leonard MVP top three as NBA announces award finalists

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We are not going to know who is MVP — or any other NBA award winner, outside of the All-NBA Team — before the June 26 award ceremony. That’s after the Finals, and after the Draft.

But we do know who the top three finalists are in the major individual categories, those were announced on Friday on TNT. Here are all the finalists (listed in no particular order).

Most Valuable Player
Kawhi Leonard
James Harden
Russell Westbrook

Defensive Player of the Year
Draymond Green
Kawhi Leonard
Rudy Gobert

Rookie of the Year
Joel Embiid
Dario Saric
Malcolm Brogdon

Sixth Man of the Year
Andre Iguodala
Eric Gordon
Lou Williams

Coach of the Year
Erik Spoelstra
Mike D’Antoni
Gregg Popovich

Most Improved Player
Rudy Gobert
Giannis Antetokounmpo
Nikola Jokic

Remember, the votes were turned in before the playoffs started.

I don’t see any real surprises in there. Certainly not with MVP where Westbrook/Harden/Leonard will be the top three vote getters, with LeBron James fourth, then a pretty wide open race for fifth. Some people will argue LeBron was snubbed, but while he had a strong regular season his Cavaliers took the month of March basically off, particularly on defense, and in a close race that matters.

On down the list, those likely are the top three vote-getters in each category, and while you can try to make a case for people outside this group to be included (was Isaiah Thomas one of the most improved? Scotty Brooks for Coach of the Year?) there are no shockers in there.

Drake will host the NBA’s first ever awards ceremony on June 26, shown live on TNT from New York City. I doubt they do it, but the NBA should treat this like the Golden Globes, with big round tables and flowing alcohol for the nominees and others in the audience. It would make a more lively show.

Brandon Austin working out in Philly, but after two reported sexual assaults in college will NBA teams have interest?

Courtesy Providence College
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A few years back, Brandon Austin was the kind of player NBA scouts and teams had their eyes on has he worked through high school toward college, he was considered a top 50 recruit in his class. But after being accused of sexual assaults at both his first college, Providence, and his second one, Oregon, he hasn’t played major college ball and he slid some off the NBA radar.

He is currently working out at the Philadelphia 76ers facility — with the team not for them, as reported by Jessica Camerato at CSNPhilly.com — and thanks to an arbitration ruling any NBA team can sign him without fear of fines or suspensions for the player, reports Zach Lowe at ESPN.

Austin’s effort to begin his NBA career has been facilitated by a secret arbitration ruling, meted out in October and pertaining to two players — Austin and one unnamed player — who have faced sex assault or domestic violence allegations, according to sources familiar with the ruling….

Last summer, the league sent a memo to all 30 teams instructing any team interested in signing either player to call the NBA office, sources say. Teams that called were told about the allegations, and that the players could face discipline — including suspensions or fines — in the event any team signed them, sources say. No NBA or D-League team did.

The National Basketball Players Association filed an arbitration claim arguing that the memo had a chilling effect, and that the league had overstepped its bounds by telling teams it could discipline players for past allegations, sources say. The arbitrator agreed with the union that the league could not fine or suspend the players going forward based on prior allegations, sources say. The league sent teams a follow-up memo clarifying that after the ruling.

This is not a simple case for the league.

Austin was banned from playing on two campuses for sexual assault charges, and considering how many colleges sweep athletes committing sexual assault under the rug that is very concerning. However, in neither case was he charged with a crime by police in that city, in both cases officials cited a lack of evidence. I’ll just say, as a former court/crime/police reporter, sexual assault charges can be tough to get a conviction on — because it’s often he said/she said, and the trial can become about victim blaming — so prosecutors are slow to take them on. It’s a crime far too many people get away with because of the challenges in landing a conviction.

The NBA has had its own issues about looking soft on domestic violence, so this is a situation where it tried to be proactive. But again, no conviction, and everything happened prior to Austin being considered for the NBA, so how much can the NBA really do in this case?

As is the case in all pro sports, talent can win out over morality for teams — if Austin shows real potential as an NBA player, some team will take a chance on him. Is he that good? Should he play in Europe/China for a year or two to prove he’s ready? Those are questions only teams can answer.

What the arbitrator did is clear a path for Austin if he has the talent.

 

 

PBT Extra: Breaking down NBA Draft Lottery winners (Joel Embiid) and losers

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The NBA Draft Lottery brings a lot of drama to the stage, and as teams move up and down the board there are winners and losers.

I talk about them in this latest PBT Extra. We know who the winners were with the top picks — the Celtics and Lakers — but my favorite winner was Joel Embiid, who was the highlight of an often tedious broadcast. His face as they explained the Sixers/Kings pick swap was awesome.

Not many losers in this draft, but sorry Orlando.

Joel Embiid’s goal next season? “I intend to play every game”

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Yes, but will the doctors and Sixers management let him?

Joel Embiid was unquestionably the best rookie last season when he was on the court. Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction, and he was efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2. When he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions (for comparison, that’s right at the full season number of the Celtics).

But Embiid only played in 31 games, which likely will cost him the Rookie of the Year award. At the NBA Draft Lottery Tuesday (where the Sixers got the third pick), he told Jessica Camerato of CSNPhilly.com that his goal next season is simply to be available.

“[My offseason goal is to] make sure my body’s ready because I think next year I’ll be able to play almost every game,” Embiid said. “Just make sure my body’s ready to take on the toll of the NBA schedule, back-to-backs, but I intend to play every game and we’re going to see how it goes. It’s about getting strong and getting my legs strong and making sure I’m ready for next year.”

That’s a quality offseason plan. He’s not playing in every game, not a chance, but it’s a good goal.

Embiid needed surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. While that is a different injury than the foot problems that kept him out his first two seasons, it’s safe to say the Sixers are going to approach using him with an abundance of caution again. I’d be shocked if he’s not on some restrictions to start the season — last season it was a 28-minute limit at the end and no back-to-backs, that could happen again. Maybe that loosens up as the season wears on.

He’s not playing in 82 games, but if he can at least double last year’s total or get closer to 70, that’s a huge win for Philly. Especially considering owner wants to see contending for a playoff slot next season.