President Obama picks the Lakers, and if you play with him avoid the hard foul

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Thumbnail image for obama.jpgBarack Obama still watches a lot of basketball, although it tends to be the West Coast games, because those are the games that are on when he is finally getting back to the residence. Makes sense, he’s got a job with some brutally long hours.

In his sit down interview with Marv Albert shown on TNT last night — which Obama made time for despite not having done a full, all issue press conference in over a year — it was clear he still follows the game he loves. As he said, it just tends to be late at night, with the West Coast games on in the background as he reads some paper you don’t have clearance for.

And he still picks the Lakers (although, that was before last night).

“Boston surprised me. They gelled in the playoffs in a way that they hadn’t all through the season. (Rajon) Rondo’s become one of the best point guards in the league in no time. I mean, when he gets a real jump shot, he’s going to be unstoppable.  But I’ve got to go with the Lakers again. I think (Pau) Gasol may be the best big man in the league right now. He’s different from Dwight Howard, but he’s (got) unbelievable footwork, speed, savvy, he’s playing magnificently. Kobe (Bryant) is the fiercest competitor in the league and they’ve got what I continue to believe is the best coach in the NBA right now in Phil Jackson, so their going to be formidable and I think it’ll be a tough series. Boston’s a veteran club, but the Lakers are looking pretty good.”

Of course, as seemingly is required by law, all basketball related interviews must include a question about LeBron James and what he should do.

“I think that the most important thing for LeBron (James) right now is actually to find a structure where he’s got a coach that he respects and is working hard with teammates who care about him and if that’s in Cleveland, then he should stay in Cleveland. If he doesn’t feel like he can get it there, then someplace else. The one thing I remember about the Bulls was it wasn’t until Michael (Jordan) had confidence in Phil Jackson, Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant, it wasn’t until you got that framework around you that you could be a champion. Same thing happened with Kobe (Bryant), first with Shaq (O’Neal) then later with (Pau) Gasol. He’s gotten that sense of a team around him and I think LeBron hasn’t quite been able to get that yet. That’s what he needs to find.”

Albert: “Could you, on behalf of the Bulls, throw in perhaps a night in the Lincoln Bedroom or a ride on Air Force One?”

Obama: “You know, like I said, I don’t want to meddle. I will say this, (Derrick) Rose, (Joakim) Noah…it’s a pretty good core. You know, you could see LeBron fitting in pretty well.”

Does the president still get time to play, now that the White House has a built in basketball court?

“Well, these days I probably play once every two to three weeks, not as often as I’d like. But during, say, the health care debate, when things are just going crazy over on Capitol Hill, a lot of times I’ll just come out here and shoot or I’ll play a game of HORSE and it takes an edge off things.”

Is it different playing as president?

“Well, it is true I usually have guys with guns around, so if somebody takes a real hard foul, they could get in trouble. Nobody ever lets me win because if you let me win, you’ll never hear the end of it. I’ll talk a little trash about you. I’ll make you feel bad about yourself if we beat you real bad.”

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.

PUMA signs likely No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton, hires Jay-Z

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When it was announced that likely top-three pick Marvin Bagley III signed a shoe endorsement deal with PUMA, we noted that they were going all in and spending big (Bagley’s contract is about three times the average high draft pick first shoe deal).

We didn’t know the half of it.

On Monday word came the German-based shoe manufacturer had also inked a deal with likely No. 1 pick DeAndre Ayton, had signed their original endorser Walt “Clyde” Frazier to a lifetime deal, and hired Jay-Z to help with the branding and on the business side.

That’s a heck of a day. And a massive commitment to the market.

Winning over people to buy PUMA basketball shoes is going to take a few things (including making great shoes), but getting high-profile endorsers is part of it. Ayton can potentially be that for them, a global brand ambassador.

Nick DePaula of ESPN broke the Ayton news and had details from the player himself.

For Ayton, there was plenty of interest in pursuing a shoe deal with Puma, although the brand has been out of the basketball landscape for 20 years since signing Vince Carter in 1998. Ayton shares a connection to two of its biggest ambassadors, Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica and pop star Rihanna of Barbados, after growing up in the Caribbean.

“Puma is pretty popular in the Bahamas,” Ayton said. “I’ve always seen the brand growing up. [Bolt] is one of the first people I saw with the brand. It’s important to me that someone I identify with and admire as an athlete is with the same brand.”

PUMA also reached an endorsement deal with NBA rookie to be Zhaire Smith.

Going old-school with Frazier was a classy touch.

But the surprise news was the partnership with Jay-Z and his Roc Nation organization. Complex had the story.

On top of that, JAY-Z has joined as the company’s president of basketball operations. “We’ve been working with Roc Nation for quite some time. They’ve been great partners to us for several years. We’ve done many different deals with many different ambassadors,” Adam Petrick, Puma’s global director of brand and marketing, told Complex. When Puma approached him about this opportunity, JAY-Z felt it “was something he wanted to be a part of,” according to Petrick.

Hov will have a hand in the players selected to join Puma’s basketball division, as well as assist in the art design and overall concept and direction of the brand.

Will this work?

Maybe, despite Nike’s stranglehold on the basketball shoe market (through the Jordan brand as well as endorsers such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant), there is room to get a foothold in the space. However, this needs to be a long-term commitment from PUMA where they not only design quality products but keep doing it for years and years. It’s one thing to maybe buy a pair of retro low-top Clydes to wear around, it’s another to get people to change the shoes the play in. People trust Nike and their products (and, to a lesser extent, Adidas and UnderArmor). PUMA has a lot of work to do to earn that level of respect.

But you can’t fault them for coming back with a big splash.

PBT Podcast: Risers. Sleepers. Who should go No. 2? Final full draft breakdown.

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Luka Doncic? Marvin Bagley III? Jaren Jackson Jr.?

If you were in the shoes of Vlade Divac and the Sacramento Kings, who would you draft No. 2?

In this latest PBT Podcast, Kurt Helin and Rob Dauster (who has been writing the in-depth prospect profiles such as Trae Young, Michael Porter Jr., Deandre Ayton, and others — of NBC Sports try on those shoes — and go an unexpected direction with it — as well as breaking down the rest of the draft such as the risers, the sleepers, and is Michael Porter Jr. worth the risk?

Also, in the bigger picture, are we focused too much on the bigs at the top of this draft — the majority of guys who will go in the top six — when we just saw in the last two rounds of the NBA playoffs that a lot of bigs can’t stay on the court in those situations? Which of these draftees can?

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.