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Tony Bradley becoming North Carolina’s first one-and-done in nearly a decade

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North Carolina hasn’t had a one-and-done player in eight years.

Since Brandan Wright declared for the 2008 NBA draft after his freshman year, the Tar Heels have emphasized player development over multiple years. That practice has yielded two national titles, including this year’s, in that span.

It also limited freshman center Tony Bradley’s playing time this season, as he was stuck behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

But Bradley shined enough in 15 minutes per game to follow Wright as one-and-done from Chapel Hill.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Bradley is a borderline first-round pick, though this late decision when many expected him to return to school indicates he believes he’ll go in the first round. There’s certainly logic in turning pro before scouts pick apart his game over a larger sample.

Bradley is huge – 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan – but he’s not explosive. The hope is someone in the Rudy Gobert mold.

Whomever drafts Bradley will hope his elite offensive rebounding is a harbinger. But why is his defensive rebounding and rim protection so forgettable?

He moves and passes fairly well for his size, but considering he’s so big, those aren’t necessarily skills for him to hang his hat on. If a teammate sets him up, he uses his size to finish well at the rim.

Beyond his size and offensive rebounding, Bradley doesn’t set himself apart one way or the other. Whether that’s good or bad depends how deep in the draft it is.

Cavaliers embarrass Celtics 130-86, take dominant 2-0 lead in series

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Are we sure the Cavaliers are not the Monstars?

Boston switched up their starting lineup, putting Gerald Green in the mix. The Celtics gang rebounding a focus and switched up their defensive coverages. They played with more energy.

It didn’t matter. Boston started the game shooting 0-of-7 from the floor, trailed by 14 after one quarter as the Cavaliers went on a 28-6 run spanning the first and second, and by halftime Boston had scored just 31 points and trailed by 41 (an NBA record for largest halftime deficit in a playoff game).

“It was honestly just embarassing,” Avery Bradley said after the game. “They came out not only playing harder, they knocked down shots, and I think that made it that much worse.”

Actually, things still got worse: Boston’s Isaiah Thomas strained his right hip late in the first half and missed all of the second half. His status going forward is unknown, but the injury is considered “significant” according to Chris Mannix of The Vertical (he also works for Comcast Sports Net which broadcasts Celtics games). Thomas was 0-of-6 shooting for two points in this game and was again completely smothered by the Cavaliers defense.

The Cavaliers won 130-86 to take a commanding 2-0 series lead as the series now heads to Cleveland for Game 3 on Sunday.

LeBron James had 30 points, his 18th career and eighth straight 30-point playoff game (the latter of those tying Michael Jordan for the most all time). And he didn’t even play the fourth quarter. Kyrie Irving added 23, Kevin Love had 21 points and 12 rebounds.

“We’re very focused,” Irving said in a televised interview after the game, and maybe understating things a bit. “We have a lot of confidence in what we have as a team and when we come out and play like this, anything’s possible.”

This loss had to devastate Boston’s confidence. It’s hard not to imagine this ending in a sweep. Right now the Cavaliers are 10-0 so far this postseason.

In Game 2, we could talk about how Boston had no answer for the LeBron at center lineups, or how Cleveland’s passing was crisp while Boston was slow to recover, or a host of other things, but the real issue for Boston is they just cannot find a way to score on a suddenly-focused Cavaliers defense. They had no flow to their sets, everything they tried they got taken out of by the Cavaliers. The Celtics had an offensive rating of 75 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, and the second quarter was worse. Things like this kept happening.

There has been a lot of talk this week about the Celtics future, especially with them now holding the No. 1 pick in the draft. As ugly as the losses have been for Boston in this series, they validate GM Danny Ainge’s decision to not to trade that pick and other players at the deadline for Paul George or Jimmy Butler — they would have not changed the outcome of this series. Made it closer, maybe gotten Boston a win, but that’s it for what would have been a high price. Boston has been patient and now you can see why, and you can see the path forward: Draft Markelle Fultz, make a hard run at Gordon Hayward in free agency, but if he decides to stay in Utah then make a run at someone else in 2018. Make sure the fits are right, find some guys who can be stronger inside and on the glass, and continue to improve. Boston made a step forward this season to get the No. 1 seed and reach the conference finals, just continue to build off that. Don’t panic and rush things.

For Cleveland, just stay healthy. The biggest test is yet to come.

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.

Utah GM Dennis Lindsey focused on Jazz retaining their own, including Gordon Hayward

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The Utah Jazz took the long stride from lottery team to the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference playoffs this season but general manager Dennis Lindsey knows significant hurdles remain before the team becomes a true contender.

His first priority is making sure the Jazz are able to retain key players.

“Player retention would be the next step,” Lindsey said Thursday. “Player development. A strategic add that can complement the group where there’s just a really good fit. Whether that fit is mentality, experience or skill-set.”

The Jazz rose to this moment with a patient rebuild that included allowing a young core to develop and not adding outside pieces too soon that would stunt that growth. This is a draft and develop program and that is most visible in Gordon Hayward and Rudy Gobert.

Hayward was named a first-time All-Star and had the best season of his career while Gobert has gone from the Development League to second-team All-NBA. Gobert signed a four-year, $102 million extension in the fall.

The addition of George Hill, Joe Johnson and Boris Diaw helped get the Jazz get over the playoff hump, but internal growth was the biggest difference and Lindsey is banking on more of the same.

And when the Jazz talk retention, Hayward is at the top of that list.

Hayward has a player option for next season on the contract he signed in 2014 but is expected to forgo that and become an unrestricted free agent. He’s likely to receive a maximum contract wherever he signs, and the Celtics are rumored to be in the mix with his college coach Brad Stevens now leading the East’s No. 1 playoff seed.

Next is point guard George Hill, who also had a career year, but will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

The Jazz want to keep both and hope some internal growth can help in a few other areas.

The Jazz ranked No. 28 in points per game (100.7) this season, but that could improve from the development, and health, of Rodney Hood, Derrick Favors, Dante Exum and Trey Lyles.

Lindsey is guarding against expectations of seeing players make the same kind of leaps that Hayward and Gobert made in the last two years. The team is confident in its offseason development program, but Lindsey’s not sure if he’s ever seen a better offseason improvement than Hayward made last year, and that includes leaps made in the past by the likes of Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan and Clyde Drexler.

That’s why retaining Hayward and others is such a priority.

“I don’t want to see him leave because he’s a big part of what we’ve been building,” Gobert said after being eliminated in the playoffs. “We’ve been through a lot. … I’m excited about the team we became and the team we’ll become.”

More NBA basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Celtics’ top priority in free agency will be Jazz forward Gordon Hayward

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Gordon Hayward didn’t make an All-NBA team on Thursday, much to the dismay of Utah Jazz fans. Our own Dan Feldman broke down what that means for Hayward’s potential earnings given his options in free agency this season earlier today, which is important context. With no designated player extension available to him this year, it’s very likely Hayward will exercise his player option to become a free agent in the summer of 2017.

Meanwhile, speculation has now turned on leverage lost for Utah without the ability to sign Hayward to a designated player extension. Specifically, murmurs about Hayward potentially skipping Salt Lake City for Boston have become increasingly audible.

As Yahoo! Sports reports, the Celtics GM Danny Ainge will now make Hayward his No. 1 priority during the offseason.

Via Yahoo! Sports:

Boston is really focused on trying to get Gordon Hayward from Utah in free agency, so why trade assets to get Jimmy Butler when you think you might have a chance at Hayward in the summer where they have the cap space to sign him and you don’t have to trade anything. Boston could possibly know closer to the draft where they stand with Gordon Hayward.

Does Hayward get Boston over the LeBron James hump in the playoffs? The makeup of the Celtics roster, a team playing in the Eastern Conference Finals, could look very different in the near future.