Dear Mr. Thomas: A response to Etan Thomas’ Op-Ed

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Etan Thomas published an op-ed on ESPN.com on the state of the labor talks, discussing 23… pause… questions surrounding the lockout. There’s a lot of quality things in there, but as always, there are two sides to every story. Except the story that Dan Gilbert, Paul Allen, Robert Sarver, and Michael Jordan should not have been involved in this process in any direct manner. That story’s pretty air-tight. Same for KG. But anyway, here’s some answers for Mr. Thomas and his questions. So I’m not block-quoting the entire material and stealing ESPN.com’s pageviews, I’d recommend opening it one tab and this in another.

1. Well, probably for players to stop commenting publicly on Twitter that they’d take it. Or stop telling the Washington Post that if they’re not going to get a better deal than 50/50 in the future that they should take it, like John Wall did. Or stop making it clear they’re not paying attention to the labor stuff by telling reporters “I’m not paying attention to the labor stuff.” And if you want the real answer to that question, maybe ask your agents why they think they can manipulate the union through the media the same way by putting in scare elements that don’t exist in the proposal like the D-League element. How’s about that?

2. Come on, now Mr. Thomas. If there’s one thing we’ve learned throughout the history of the NBA, there is always an owner overwilling to pay for a terrible player/team, much less a good one. Even with the restrictions, the big spender teams will still spend. And lots of smaller ones will too because they’ll think that championship is right there and that will make it worth it. Its’ a disincentive. Not a wall. The flex-cap? That’s a wall. They said they wanting to curtail spending. They came off the hard cap. It’s a ridiculous concession, I’ll agree. But let’s not act like the players or anyone else can predict how the owners will spend, especially when in the past it’s been “lots, in bad ways.”

3. I don’t think that’s what they think at all. Considering Adam Silver came out last time and said it was a hard pill to swallow, directly, in those words, they’re more than aware of how bad it is for you. That’s part of the power play. Let’s not act like they d think you’re too stupid to understand it’s a worse deal. They just don’t care. They’re being malicious, not short-sighted. That’s you guys. You’re the flip. Well-intentioned, not seeing the whole board.

4. Not for nothing, but I’m of the opinion that something described as an “exception” shouldn’t be used regularly. It should be used for certain circumstances. But I’m willing to bend there. The point with it only being for teams not in the tax (or cut in half as is currently reportedly proposed) would ring true here if you hadn’t just said no one would be in the tax. So which is it? No one will spend in the tax, or no one will use the MLE because they’re in the tax? Because otherwise, that MLE still exists as an option, just less of one. I’m not trying to tell you it’s great, or that it should have been cut as it has. I’m saying don’t spin that it’ll never be used. That’s rhetoric and everyone is sick of that from both sides.

5. Yes. And they were idiots for thinking that. Good for you guys for blasting the G.O.A.T. because he sold you out. It’s a disgraceful turn for someone there should have been no misconceptions about regarding his character off the floor. Great basketball player. But for that guy, who has been a part of a dozen horrible basketball business decisions to come in trying to bully you just because you had his posters on your wall when you were kids is an insult to your intelligence and conviction.

6. He expected you to take the deal because he’s exerting leverage. And considering the option of “bad deal nor or worse deal later” is still a choice, it’s reasonable for anyone to expect you to take the deal, opt-out in six years, and live to fight another day. It’s understandable you want to fight. But you’re making this personal from Stern, and it’s on that level that they’ve managed to get you on tilt throughout this process. The more you react emotionally as a union, the worse it’s gotten. If you want to get leverage back, raging at the machine is not the path.

7.  Again, because that makes logical sense. I likened it this week to people being upset that an innocent man wouldn’t take a plea bargain. Everyone thinks “if you’re going to be convicted anyway, you take the deal, spend less time, and go on with your life.” But the innocent man can’t accept that, because he’s innocent. The problem is that you’re not going to prison. You’re still getting paid a great wage for your work, still going to have another chance at changing things back in six years, still going to be some of the best paid entertainers in the world. It’s not fair. But it’s logical to take the deal. If you don’t, that’s fine, but don’t get indignant that fans and media want you to save that nose just because you hate the face.

8. Woah, woah, woah, there, Mr. Thomas. This has made me nuts all week. The sports media has never  been as friendly to you as they have been throughout this process. You don’t want people questioning why it is that you’re paid as much as you are to play a game? How about you not question the hard work that has proven to be responsible on the part of a group of journalists who wanted to cover you guys actually dribbling and shooting instead of wandering in and out of meetings in sweaters and hoodies? (Not you, Mr. Thomas, your taste in suits has been impeccable. Speaking of which, where’d you get that vest last week?) The NBA media has repeatedly pointed out to the public you’re not the ones who started this, you’re not the ones being unreasonable. So why do you insist on repeatedly coming after them just because it’s convenient? It’s cheap, easy, and reeks of hypocrisy after your comments about not coming after athletes in labor talks just because they’re paid well.

9. But you won the last labor deal, according to anyone who considers such things. And the 2005 showdown. Your point is valid, but that speaks more to the nature of business than anything. Also, if you knew this was how it would be from so far back, why are you so woefully unprepared each time it happens?

10. Done. Great idea. No kidding. If they’re so bad at making money with the NBA, they should get out of the “making money with the NBA” business.

11. Mostly because that’s a drop in the bucket and most of those contracts aren’t negotiated by agents who (very successfully) blow up the costs. If you want to aim for cutting costs instead of player salaries, you should have gone with “how about not overspending on our buffet meals,” or “how about we ride coach,” or “quit giving the media pre-game meals.” Are you happy, Mr. Thomas? I’m now going to get the crap beat out of me by beat writers everywhere.

12. Not a bad idea. Unfortunately not enough media will cover it, rendering it without power. You need an icon, and sadly, you guys are it and you make too much to curry the public’s favor. It’s unfortunate, but it’s how it is.

13. Um, well, yes, that’s how that would work, there, Mr. Thomas. It’s not exactly rocket science.

14. There are quite a few who think the players also make up that 1 percent and that’s not helped by some of the political statements of your colleagues, or the lack thereof, despite the massive amount of charity work and funds you and your colleagues have raised. Speaking of, you are aware of how much charitable work and funds are lost every day the lockout continues, right? You didn’t start it, but if you want a reason to end it, I’d implore you to consider that as one. Greater good, sir.

15. There are, and not to try and speak for the Occupy Wall Street Movement (the only thing I occupy is my couch with my kid when “Sesame Street” is on), but the reality is that the Occupy Wall Street Movement is at least on its surface fighting a perceived oppression and corruption. It’s hard to ague the NBA players face either when the worst case scenario here is that you still make hundreds of thousands of dollars per month. It’s just a rough comparison. It’s not without merit, though, at least on an intellectual level.

16. If this was Nike being occupied, how would you and the players feel?

17. There have been studies that say that won’t happen. They’ll always come back. The economic terrors that face us don’t make people turn on sports, it makes them turn to it as a distraction. Considering the socio-economic background of the vast majority of the NBA (Spencer Hawes as an obvious example of an exception), players don’t need to be educated on how bad it is under the poverty line, obviously. But shouldn’t that serve to grant them perspective on the minor gap they’re fighting over?

18. Their response is obviously that if higher competition (which, let’s be clear, I think is a sham in the context of their demands, but we’re going to humor them for a moment) will lead to more fan participation, which will drive revenues and popularity, which leads to higher ratings which leads to stronger revenues overall and more money for the players despite a 57 percent cut. It’s easy to argue the league is being unreasonable. Arguing this will make the league demonstrably worse is a bit trickier. If you want to go that route? Aim for the “fans like trades and flexibility” swing. That will go over much better than “their proposal makes the league worse!” That won’t fly well with most.

19. No. They don’t care. And I’m not saying the media does a better job. We do worse, because we just get used by both sides. Nothing will impact the owners. They’re hiding behind limousine windows and will do what they want. The only threat is a legal one, and if you’re truly as educated as I believe you are, Mr. Thomas, you know that’s not a viable strategy.

20. Kudos to you for wanting to take race out of it. I’m not an expert on races so I can’t speak to it. But there certainly is a perception issue to the fact that so many of the owners are white and so many of the players and their leadership are black. It’s an uncomfortable subject for everyone but probably one that needs to be discussed, especially since so many of the owners’ positions seem to be reactions to LeBron James’ and Carmelo Anthony’s exertion of power over the past year. They don’t like that the players have exerted power and control over their lives. And that position has a number of ugly side-effects.

21. Because of your own union’s position that they are fighting not just for themselves, but for the rights of future players. The union has long made this into a moral fight, not just an economic one. I won’t pretend to say I know which of the two it truly is, it’s probably a mix of both. But for Jordan to have fought that fight and then completely bailed when it was convenient for him speaks of a betrayal of values, of as selfish, self-centered approach most people don’t like. Jordan doesn’t have to care they don’t like it, but it would be irresponsible of the media, the players, and fans to paint an excuse for Jordan just because he’s popular.

22. I just got done talking about that, so I won’t follow-up, except to say that if the players really believe that the owners are being greedy and that greed is bad, they need to keep that in mind the next time their agent goes into a negotiation to pull in more than that player is worth. You can argue against selfishness and greed, but you need to hold to it. Otherwise, admit everyone’s greedy and move on. That’s what most people do.

23. My dad raised me to believe that you can’t let people bully you. You have to stand up for yourself, and you have to draw the line for yourself. But let’s be clear. Most people in this country really would be happy to just be able to earn the wage you and your colleagues can. They don’t need as much money as you make to live the lives they want to lead. It’s unreasonable for the owners to have asked what they have, it’s in my non-legal opinion that the league has failed to bargain in good faith, from the length between negotiating sessions to their intractable approach, and it’s clear that you’re going to get screwed when this process is over, regardless. But you need to acknowledge that not everyone would fight for this, that is a choice you’re making as a union. If you explain those reasons better, without stupid hashtags or off-the-cuff statements (hint: insulting the work of MA students is not the way), and manage to keep JaVale McGee locked in a closet (or at least in the Philippines), you’ll do better. Your position is reasonable, if not always sympathetic, but don’t forget that the customers who feel you should take the deal aren’t always being selfish or ignorant, they just have a different perspective.

And seriously, someone buy Matt Bonner a suit.

Thanks your time you likely did not grant me, Mr. Thomas.

Sincerely,

Matthew R. Moore

NBC Sports’ ProBasketballTalk.com

NBA Mock Draft 7.0: The final mock before the draft starts

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We’re now less than 48 hours removed from the start of the NBA draft, so here is the latest NBC Sports projections for who will be the best fit for the teams drafting them.

1. New Orleans — Zion Williamson, Duke

2. Memphis — Ja Morant, Murray State

3. New York — R.J. Barrett, Duke

I’m not really breaking new ground with any of these picks. Frankly, I would be shocked if this went any other way on Thursday night. We all know that Zion is the top prospect in this draft. We also all know that Morant and Barrett are, depending on who you ask, the second and third best prospects in this draft. They are closer than the consensus would have you believe, but Memphis looking to replace Mike Conley longterm with the impact that an all-NBA point guard can have on an organization makes Morant the obvious fit.

Either way, here is a full scouting report for each of those three players:

4. New Orleans — Darius Garland, Vanderbilt

This is the flash point for the 2019 NBA Draft, and it is the case for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which is the presence of Garland.

There are some teams out there that believe Garland is the player with the highest ceiling that is not among the top three picks. He’s a terrific shooter that can play on or off the ball, knows how to operate a ball-screen and has the ability to create shots for himself in isolation. It’s not a perfect comparison — comparisons never are and ignore anyone that tells you otherwise — but if Garland maxes out his ability, he’ll could end up being C.J. McCollum-esque. Garland also plays the point, and there are a number of teams that are looking to add a point guard in this draft, and with the point guard crop falling off after Coby White, there is an incentive for those teams to try and move up, especially if they are one of the teams that believes Garland will be the best of the rest.

And New Orleans has an incentive to move the pick, too. Not only do they already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday on the roster, but if they can drop down a few spots in the draft while adding picks — either later in this draft or in future drafts — it makes more sense. They’ll be able to draft in a position of need without really seeing the quality of the prospect they end up with being affected; the difference between whoever gets picked fourth and the players at the back end of the lottery is not all that great.

So I’m leaving Garland slotted as the No. 4 pick for now.

I just don’t know who is actually going to be drafting him.

5. Cleveland — Jarrett Culver, Texas Tech

There are a couple of reasons why I think it makes the most sense for the Cavs to pick Culver. For starters, I think that he fits nicely alongside Collin Sexton, as I believe his future is as a secondary playmaker. Sexton is more of a scorer at heart, and adding the shot-creation and pick-and-roll ability of Culver would give John Beilein more options to initiate offense.

I also think that Culver fits in nicely with the kind of player that Beilein has had the most success with in recent years. Nik Stauskas, Caris LeVert, Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, even a guy like Jordan Poole. They’re wings that were capable of creating in isolation while also thriving in ball-screens, which is where Culver does his best work. If Garland ends up going fourth, the smart play for the Cavs to make is to pick Culver.

(Here is the full scouting report on Culver.)

6. Phoenix — COBY WHITE, North Carolina

What Phoenix needs is obvious: A primary ball-handler that can be used alongside Devin Booker. The ideal pick, then, is probably Garland, but White wouldn’t be a bad consolation prize. He’s lightening quick in transition, he has three-point range and he is deadly off of the dribble. His shooting ability would also allow him to play off the ball, which fits with Booker, who has developed into more of a lead guard than many expected him to be. The concern here is that White is not known for his playmaking ability and can, at times, be ball-dominant. That is not ideal, and it would make some sense for the Suns to trade down if they can find someone willing to part with a veteran guard that fills their needs.

7. Chicago — De'Andre Hunter, Virginia

Chicago, like Phoenix, needs a point guard, as neither Zach LaVine nor Kris Dunn appear to be the longterm answer at the position. With Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. already on the roster, they certainly don’t need to target big men in this draft. So Chicago will have some choices to make. They can trade up to get a guard they want to target. They can trade down to add assets if they believe they can land a free agent to bolster their backcourt. Or they can take the best available player, which, in this case, would be Hunter.

He’s the best two-way wing available, he will be able to contribute immediately and there’s a chance that his ceiling as a scorer is higher than some believe. I think that he’ll likely end up being somewhere between DeMarre Carroll and Trevor Ariza, with a real chance of developing into an all-star down the line.

(Here is the full scouting report on Hunter.)

8. Atlanta — Cam Reddish, Duke

This is yet another pick that could every well end up being involved in a trade, as the Hawks have three picks between 8-17 and six picks in the top 44. Packaging two of their first rounders to jump up into the top five to snag Culver or Hunter seems like a very real possibility. Whatever ends up happening, eight seems like the floor for Reddish, who has a world of potential but spent his one-and-done season at Duke finding myriad ways to make people question it.

(Here is the full scouting report on Reddish.)

9. Washington — Sekou Doumbouya, France

Who knows.

The Wizards still are in front office limbo, as interim GM Tommy Sheppard will be running the draft this year. They have a thin roster loaded with aging veterans, a star in Bradley Beal that could end up being shipped out and an ailing John Wall, who is recovering from a torn Achilles. The position of need for them is on the wing, and Doumbouya is probably the guy with the highest ceiling in that spot, but there are plenty of options for them in this range — Nassir Little, Rui Hachimura, P.J. Washington, etc.

10. Atlanta — Jaxson Hayes, Texas

Hayes is a project. He’s big, he’s athletic, he has great hands, he’s mobile and he’s in theory a guy that will be a terrific rim-running, lob-catching, rim-protecting five to pair with Trae Young. He fits alongside John Collins, too. But he’s raw, he’s super-young in basketball years (he didn’t even start in high school until his senior season) and he has yet to prove himself a quality rebounder. This also could end up being a pick that is traded by the Hawks, but for now, let’s send Hayes to the A.

11. Minnesota — Brandon Clarke, Gonzaga

I understand why there will be some hesitancy when it comes to drafting Clarke. His jumper is not something that can be trusted. He’s 6-foot-8 and 220 pounds and more or less limited to playing the five in the NBA. He’s not a great passer. His efficiency, elite athleticism, shot-blocking feel and basketball savvy should make him a useful player in the NBA, but he needs the right fit.

Minnesota is that fit. He can be slotted alongside Karl Anthony-Towns, who will have the size to allow Clarke to guard opposing four and has the perimeter ability to keep the paint from getting too crowded. Clarke will also provide the Wolves with defensive cover, as KAT is not exactly known for his desire to play on that end of the floor. He can step into the league right away and contribute, and for a team that really isn’t that far away from being in the playoffs, there’s value there.

12. Charlotte — RUI HACHIMURA, Gonzaga

Charlotte needs to fill a hole at the four, and there are plenty of options in this range. Clarke and Doumbouya could both drop while Nassir Little and P.J. Washington are still on our board. But Rui makes sense to me here. He fits the Charlotte profile of drafting players that have had a ton of success at the collegiate level — he was an All-American this past year — while also having A) elite physical tools and B) plenty of room to grow. Remember, he grew up in Japan playing against totally outmatched competition. His first year at Gonzaga was spent trying to learn to speak English. He needs to continue to develop his shooting, and learn how to play defense, but he has the stroke and the athleticism to, in theory, do both.

13. Miami — P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky

Washington makes sense in Miami. He can compliment Bam Adebayo in the frontcourt, and he has the length and defensive ability to guard multiple positions. He’s continued to develop as a shooter and he is more athletic than he looks at first glance. His ceiling is limited, but I do think that he is the kind of player that will be a solid rotation piece for a decade in the NBA. Sam Vecenie of The Athletic called him the next Patrick Patterson, and I’m going to steal that comparison because I love it. Getting P-Patt at 13 is solid value in this draft.

14. Boston — NASSIR LITTLE, North Carolina

With the news that Al Horford is going to opt out of his contract, the Celtics will be in the market for bigs that can defend and space the floor. There are a number of them in this range — Mfiondu Kabengele, Goga Bitazde, Bol Bol, even someone like a Nic Claxton. But the Celtics also have picks at No. 20 and No. 22, and it’s likely that at least one of those four will still be on the board then. So I’m going with Little here, who is the kind of hard-nosed wing that Brad Stevens seems to love. He was a top three prospect in the class before an up-and-down season with North Carolina, but some of that was due to simply being a weird fit with Roy Williams’ system. He’s worth the risk.

15. Detroit — Tyler Herro, Kentucky

The Pistons have Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson. They need a wing, and there are plenty to choose from in this range — Romeo Langford, Keldon Johnson, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Kevin Porter Jr. For my money, Herro is the best of the group. He’s a big-time shooter with a developing off-the-dribble game, he’s wired to be a shot-maker and he’s tougher defensively than he gets credit for. I also think he has a higher ceiling than the rest of that group, save Porter.

16. Orlando — NICKEIL ALEXANDER-WALKER, Virginia Tech

The Magic need shooting, they need backcourt help and they need someone that can help take some of the playmaking load off of Markelle Fultz, as the former No. 1 pick looks to restart his career in Orlando. Alexander-Walker makes perfect sense, as he has the size and length to defend multiple positions, thrived in ball-screens under Buzz Williams this past season and has proven to me as adept as a spot-up shooter as he is as a creator.

17. Atlanta — MFIONDU KABENGELE, Florida State

If Atlanta ends up making a trade in this trade, there’s a real chance that the No. 17 pick is the one they move. At that point, all bets are off, so I’ll slot Kabengele in here, because I think that he is underrated in terms of his longterm potential, he is developed enough that he can play a role immediately and he fits with the teams that the Hawks would likely be trading with to move up in the draft — New Orleans and Cleveland.

If Atlanta ends up shipping off the No. 10 pick and Minnesota picks someone other than Clarke at No. 11, then I can see the Hawks ending up with Clarke here. He’d fit well alongside John Collins, he’d boost their defense and he would be a terrific lob target for Trae Young.

18. Indiana — ROMEO LANGFORD, Indiana

An Indiana schoolboy legend turned Hoosier that goes to play for the Pacers is just too good of a story, isn’t it? There are some very real reasons to be concerned about Langford’s upside — namely the poor perimeter shooting and the fact that he is right-hand dominant — but he spent the season playing through a thumb injury that required surgery. He’s a risk, but at No. 18, it’s a low-cost risk that could return value, both on the court and in ticket sales, if he maximizes his upside.

19. San Antonio — GOGA BITADZE, Georgia

The Spurs have some solid pieces on their perimeter, but with an again LaMarcus Aldridge anchoring their frontline, it’s time for a rebuild there. Enter Bitadze, who was impressively productive in the Euroleague and whose combination of shot-blocking and floor-spacing is intriguing.

20. Boston — BOL BOL, Oregon

I have my doubts about Bol’s future as a pro, but it’s not because I don’t see the potential there. He has a ton of red flags, as detailed in this scouting report, but he is also a 7-foot-2 center that is a lights-out three-point shooter and an elite rim-protector when he is engaged. This is also the kind of organization that will A) take a risk on a guy with red flags and B) has proven to be a place where players can develop. He needs their culture more than any other prospect in this draft.

21. Oklahoma City — Cam Johnson, North Carolina

Oklahoma City badly needs to add shooting, and Johnson may just be the best shooter in this draft. He’s a finished product, as he is already 23 years old, but he stands 6-foot-9 and can will immediately contribute to a team that needs all the floor-spacing they can get. This is also a pick that has been rumored to be on the market.

22. Boston — KEVIN PORTER JR., USC

Like Bol Bol, Porter is an extremely high-upside player that has myriad red flags. He missed six weeks with a mysterious thigh injury. He was suspended on a road trip due to what sources close to the program said was a long list of relatively small problems that kept building up. He’s immature, but that doesn’t mean that he is a bad person. With the right infrastructure and influence around him, he could thrive, and if that happens, his ceiling is as the best scorer in this draft. He is that talented.

I don’t expect Boston to end up with both Bol Bol and Porter, partly due to the fact that I can see the Celtics being active on the trade market, but both players would make perfect sense on that roster.

23. Memphis — KELDON JOHNSON, Kentucky

Johnson doesn’t have one elite skill, but there are plenty of things that he does well: He’s a willing defender if not an elite athlete. He’s a good-not-great shooter. He’s a capable straight-line driver. He’s tough. He’s versatile. He may not be the kind of a player with a super-high ceiling, but he has a floor because of how well-rounded he is. He’s good value this late in the draft.

24. Philadelphia — Ty Jerome, Virginia

I love Jerome’s toughness, shot-making ability and savvy in running ball-screens. He’s not a great athlete, but he makes up for it because of how smart he is, and it’s hard to imagine a guy that spent three years playing under Tony Bennett being a liability defensively. More importantly, he’s excellent at running off of screens and knocking down jumpers. He can be everything that Landry Shamet was for the 76ers before getting traded.

25. Portland — K.Z. Okpala, Stanford

Okpala plays a position of need for the Blazers, and while he struggled late in the season, he’s has the size, length and fluidity to project as an effective big wing down the road. Drafting him here means that you trust in his jumper, which fell off of a cliff in the last six weeks of the college hoops season.

26. Cleveland — NIC CLAXTON, Georgia

Claxton has quite a bit of upside, as he’s something of a late-bloomer that has been the biggest riser throughout the draft process. Outside of SEC nerds, I’m not sure how many people actually knew about this guy before February. He’s going to need to add some weight and continue to develop his perimeter ability, but his athleticism and versatility makes him easily projectable as a forward down the road, not just a center. Drafting Claxton is like chasing the next Pascal Siakam, and if he pans out, he could end up being the best value pick in this draft.

27. Brooklyn — Grant Williams, Tennessee

I love Grant Williams. He’s only 6-foot-6, but he has the strength and the length to guard up. He’s a very good rebounder and a super-smart passer that allowed Tennessee to run their offense through him. He’s also effective in the post and the kind of guy that is going to step up and make big plays in big moments. But I think the most important thing to note here is that his role needs context: He was not really allowed or encouraged to shoot at Tennessee, and I do believe he is going to be better in that area at the next level. I think you’re getting a 10-year pro with the potential to be a starter in the mid-to-late first round, and that is great value in my mind.

He’s precisely the kind of player that would be ideal to get into this Brooklyn organization.

28. Golden State — Dylan Windler, Belmont

I think Windler is super-interesting as a role player in the modern NBA. He can really, really shoot it, and while that’s more or less where his bread is going to be buttered, I do believe that he is better at doing the little things that he gets credit for. He can rebound, he can jump passing lanes, he makes the right reads. He was a superstar for Belmont in the OVC, but at his heart he’s built to be a complimentary. I can see him latching on for a number of years as a role player coming off the bench for a playoff team, and the Warriors have had a lot of success finding college guys that can fill a specific role for them in the late-first and second round.

29. San Antonio — LUKE SAMANIC, Serbia

For all the reasons that Bitadze makes sense in San Antonio, Samanic does as well.

30. Milwaukee — Eric Paschall, Villanova

Like many Villanova products before him, Paschall seems like he’ll fit seamlessly onto the roster of a playoff and contribute. He’s spent the last four years in a system that preaches positionless offense and switchability on defense, and with his size, athleticism and ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, he’s exactly what NBA teams are currently looking for. He’s almost 23 years old, so he’s more or less a finished product, but he’s good enough right now to play in an NBA rotation.

Report: Mavericks, Pacers among teams interested in Suns’ T.J. Warren

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Phoenix traded for Kelly Oubre Jr. during last season, and for half a season he fit beautifully with Devin Booker at the two and Deandre Ayton at center. There was natural chemistry with potential to build upon.

That made T.J. Warren expendable, especially for a Phoenix team looking to clear cap space for a point guard and more talent on the roster. Warren, as well as Josh Jackson, have been available. Warren averaged 18 points a game last season before a bone bruise sidelined him for half a season, and he is owed a reasonable (by NBA standards) $35 million over the next three seasons.

Dallas and Indiana have interest in Warren, something first reported by Ian Begley of SNY and confirmed by others.

Warren is a solid rotation NBA wing, especially on a team that likes to play uptempo. He can knock down the three (42 percent last season, a massive jump from where he was earlier in his career) and is a guy who can get buckets (and explode for 25 or more a few times a season). His liability is on the other end, he’s not much of a defender.

There’s value in Warren, and he’s the kind of player who could be moved on Draft night. Or, maybe early in July. Something to watch as there is a lot of buzz around him right now.

Pelicans pick up team option for Jahlil Okafor

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — A person familiar with the situation says the New Orleans Pelicans have picked up a team option on center Jahlil Okafor‘s contract through next season.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Thursday because the team did not announce the transaction.

It was a story broken by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

The 6-foot-11 Okafor, drafted third overall by Philadelphia in 2015, averaged 8.2 points and 4.7 rebounds in largely a reserve role for New Orleans last season, but he often thrived when he started or played significant minutes. He scored 10 or more points 21 times last season – including in five of his final six games – and finished with 30 points in regular-season finale.

His productivity in New Orleans represented a turnaround from two seasons ago, when he says he struggled with depression and averaged 6.3 points in a season split between Philadelphia and Brooklyn.

 

Rumor: Warriors may offer to sign Kevin Durant to delayed sign-and-trade

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While Kevin Durant has made no decision on his future, there seems to be a growing buzz in league circles that he will be moving on from the Warriors this summer. That was the expected outcome all season long — with the Knicks as the frontrunners to land him — but his ruptured Achilles in Game 5 of the Finals threw everything into doubt for a while.

If he is going to leave, the Warriors are offering to get him some more cash on the way out the door — and make sure they get some compensation — with a delayed sign-and-trade deal. ESPN’s Brian Windhorst brought that possibility up Thursday morning on “Get Up!” (Hat tip Hoops Rumors)

“Let him rehab and then work with him to be traded. Potentially to New York, potentially to somewhere else. Be their way to sort of take care of him monetarily after what he just went through and also protect the franchise to get some assets. If that happens, the Knicks would be in tremendous position to get back into it because they’re going to have these young assets plus cap space…

“For lack of a better term, it would be a delayed sign and trade. It’s the only way Durant could get five years and play elsewhere… The Warriors go into this as a bit of a last-ditch effort to not lose Kevin Durant for nothing. And what he would get out of it would be an extra $57 million come off of a devastating injury.”

The Warriors can sign Durant to a five-year, $221 million contract that no other team can offer. The NBA changed the sign-and-trade rules in the latest CBA, teams cannot do a sign-and-trade for more than the max the team that would ultimately acquiring the player could have offered anyway. It took the financial incentive to do a sign-and-trade off the table.

However, an implicit agreement to trade Durant at the trade deadline in February, or next summer, to a place he wants to go sidesteps that NBA rule. Coming off an Achilles injury at age 31, that guaranteed cash may matter.

To do this means Durant is putting a lot of trust in the Warriors front office to live up to the bargain, and for that matter in the Knicks/Nets/whoever front office not try to lowball an offer for Durant to the point the Warriors don’t want to do it. Everyone will have to play nice. Does Durant want to bet on that?

Teams would prefer to just sign Durant outright rather than give up assets to get him, but the ball is in Durant’s court. Whatever he decides, teams will still chase him.