Expect Perry Jones to join shallow draft class

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No one’s really excited about the 2011 NBA Draft. It’s not a great class at its best, especially when compared to what the 2012 class of freshmen will look like, but the lockout is the real issue. Though there’s a small chance the drafted class may fall under the current rookie scale versus a revamped, further reduced version in the new CBA, there’s a lockout coming, which means those players could be stranded without pay for quite a while.  The result is that several top picks could elect to return to their respective universities for their sophomore seasons, enjoy the college pay life for another year, then enter the 2012 draft. But one top pick is reportedly going to go ahead and enter the draft, even under a cloud of investigation.

Perry Jones of Baylor was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for improper benefits earlier this week, keeping him out of the Big 12 tournament and likely for any postseason tournament. (The Bears seem to be a lock for the NIT after getting blasted by Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament without Jones.) Yahoo! Sports reported Friday that Jones is likely to go ahead and declare for the 2011 draft, where he’s considered a top-5 pick by most sites and scouts.

It’s not like getting nailed by the NCAA is any sort of problem for NBA scouts. Most are either involved in similar situations of improper benefits, or don’t care, because, let’s face it, the whole system is patently ridiculous. Jones, for example, had his biggest violation be three mortgage payments provided by, you guessed it, an AAU coach to his mother when he was in high school, which Jones’ mother repaid. That plus a trip to see an NFL game was enough to get Jones tagged by this absurd system that simultaneously exploits and chastises players for threatening to gain any benefit from their status as players. The NBA, on the other hand, will simply look at Jones’ game, and make their evaluation from there. It won’t affect his draft status one way or another.

Jones has nice touch around the basket, a solid righty hook, and decent footwork. He needs to work on his footwork, defensive awareness, and all the other things most rookie bigmen need to, but at 6-11, 225 lbs., he’s got the tangibles to keep him in the top five. For so many teams looking to upgrade in size in the top of the draft, Jones could be a huge catch. The NCAA just cemented his availability.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.

Sixers hire Elton Brand as new General Manager

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Filling the 76ers vacant general manager position dragged out all summer for one main reason:

They liked what they already had in-house. The Sixers were an especially collegial and collaborative group with their decision making, and if they brought in a big name from the outside — former Cavaliers’ GM David Griffin, or the two guys who went deep into the interview process Utah assistant GM Justin Zanik on Rockets VP Gersson Rosas — it would change that dynamic.

Which is why they have decided to keep this in the family, and will promote Elton Brand from vice president of basketball operations to general manager. It’s a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and confirmed by NBC Sports Philadelphia’s John Clark.

Brand, a former Philadelphia player, was the general manager of their G-League team, the Delaware Blue Coats, before becoming the VP of basketball operations. He will replace Bryan Colangelo, who was forced out following a Twitter scandal involving his wife.

There were other title changes within the organization as well.

What this means on the ground is don’t expect any significant changes with the Sixers’ plans — nor should there be. They are banking on Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and Markelle Fultz — now with a functional jump shot, they hope — to be at the core of a contending team, then next summer they will go big game hunting again for an elite free agent. (There is more pressure to get a deal done this summer before the big extensions for those young stars start to really kick in.) That said, this is a team poised on the brink of a great run.

And if things are going well, why make a dramatic change? Brand can help them on the course already set.

Pat Riley: Dion Waiters not recovered for start of training camp, “unlikely” for start of season

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This is a setback.

When Dion Waiters had ankle surgery 30 games into last season, the hope was that he would be healthy for the start of this season and return to the post All-Star form of 2017, when his hot play (15.6 points per game, 41 percent from three and carrying a heavy offensive load) led the Heat to offer him a four-year contract.

Turns out, that’s not going to happen.

It was Pat Riley who made the announcement, speaking to the media.

Waiters was not healthy last season, and while he averaged 14.3 points a game he was not nearly as efficient — 30.6 percent from three, shooting 39.8 percent overall, a PER of 10.5.

This could move Dwyane Wade into the starting lineup to open the season. Beyond that, the Heat have the guard depth to survive this with Wade and Wayne Ellington at the two, plus Goran Dragic, Tyler Johnson, Malik Newman, and Briante Weber heading into camp.

Waiters being out also is bad news for the player but could save the franchise money on another front: Waiters receives a $1.1 million bonus if he plays in 70 games this season. If he misses the start of the season, he becomes far less likely to make that threshold.