D-League Showcase’s top prospects included Blake Ahearn And Greg Ostertag

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The NBA Development League Showcase wrapped up on Thursday night following 16 teams playing a total of 16 games over the course of four days in lovely Reno, Nev. Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey told Pro Basketball Talk that the talent at the annual event was at an all-time high so it seems to make sense to give everyone that didn’t make the trek — unlike representatives from all 30 NBA teams — a quick glance at the top players in attendance by position.

Guards:

Blake Ahearn of the Reno Bighorns was often overlooked when scouts were asked to name the best prospects in the D-League this week, but that might be because Ahearn’s no longer a prospect … he’s a proven commodity. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 23.5 points and nine assists while shooting 50 percent from the field as the Bighorns racked up a pair of blowout victories as the hometown team at the Showcase. Ahearn’s spending his fifth season in the D-League this year and has little left to prove considering he can shoot the lights out, get to the foul line (and convert, considering he’s the NCAA’s all-time leader in free-throw percentage and a lifetime 96-percent from the charity stripe in the D-League) and be a positive influence to his teammates on and off the court. NBA teams seem to overlook the positives and instead try to find the negatives, but as soon as their attitude improves on that front, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Ahearn get another look in the Association.

Justin Dentmon was a man on a mission at the Showcase this week as the 6-foot guard for the Austin Toros set out to prove he was a point guard. That mission may not have worked out quite as planned considering he picked up nine turnovers on 13 assists, but the quick guard showed he’s easily able to be a force on the offensive end with his play in Reno. Dentmon averaged 26.5 points while shooting 62 percent from the field. It’s going to be interesting to see what NBA teams think of his performance in Reno, but there’s no doubt he has NBA skills — even if he doesn’t have the prototypical NBA body for a scoring guard.

Forwards:

Gerald Green is a well-known player considering he was a former first round pick and competed in the NBA Slam Dunk contest a few years ago, bu he’s had to toil in the D-League this season as he works toward a comeback at the ripe old age of 25. Green’s first game at the Showcase didn’t go as planned as he scored just four points off the bench in a 15-point victory for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, but his second game was outstanding. Green scored 34 points on 13-of-17 shooting on Wednesday to show that his NBA comeback attempt is all for naught as his skillset tries to catch up with his athleticism.

Marcus Lewis might not look like an NBA prospect and he certainly doesn’t have the pedigree, but the former Oral Roberts standout has consistently improved while playing the past few seasons with the Tulsa 66ers in the NBA Development League. Lewis, a 6-foot-8 power forward listed at 245 pounds, is the D-League’s leading rebounder this season with 13.8 per game, meaning his 23 total boards at the Showcase might have been a bit of a disappointment. He certainly opened eyes this week, though, and could be in line for a good gig down the line.

Center:

Greg Ostertag wasn’t expected to do much in the D-League this season considering he’s been out of basketball for five seasons, but the former starting center for the Utah Jazz looked great this week in limited minutes. Ostertag averaged nine points and 5.5 rebounds in a pair of games while showing that he’s capable of being an NBA back-up big man by playing the same role — minutes included — in the D-League this week. Ostertag talked to Pro Basketball Talk about his comeback earlier this week and, judging by the opinions of those in attendance, it wouldn’t be crazy to see him back on an NBA roster this year.

Honorable mention awards should have also been handed out to Dakota Wizards swingman Edwin Ubiles, former NBA Draft picks JamesOn Curry and Andre Emmett along with Los Angeles D-Fenders big man Brandon Costner. Quite a few players were impressive in one game of the Showcase, but that’s the reason a lot of guys are in the D-League — because they can’t play at an NBA level on a consistent basis.

Russell Westbrook trade to Houston official, Thunder praise him on way out door

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Whatever their long-term intentions, after Paul George was traded the Oklahoma City Thunder changed focus. General Manager Sam Presti sat down with Russell Westbrook and his agent, talked about the future, what the former MVP wanted, then worked on trading him where he wanted to go.

That was Houston.

The Westbrook to the Rockets trade for Chris Paul — with Oklahoma City picking up two first-round picks and two pick swaps — is now official.

In announcing the trade, the Thunder praised the greatest player in their franchise history on his way out the door.

“Russell Westbrook is the most important player in the brief history of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has left an indelible mark on this team, city and state,” Presti said in a statement. “None of us could have anticipated the player he has become, and we are all deeply proud of what he has contributed to the success of the franchise and to our community. Russell and his wife Nina, their three children, his brother and his parents will always remain part of the Thunder family. We wish them nothing but happiness and success in the future.”

“I have a great deal of respect for Russell and there is no way to adequately describe our appreciation for what he has meant to Oklahomans,” said Thunder Chairman Clayton I. Bennett. “His legacy here is immense, and he will be honored by the team for all he has done. We wish he and Nina and their family all the best. While this era of Thunder basketball now comes to an end, I’m confident our talented team of people will once again position the Thunder for success in the future.”

While Presti and the OKC front office are still working on a CP3 trade, they are entering a rebuilding phase.

The Rockets are banking on Westbrook and James Harden being able to work out any fit issues — and finding a way to defend with both of them on the court — to keep them as title contenders.

Anthony Davis dances around question about re-signing with Lakers

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After the drama around his push to get to Los Angeles, league executives and other sources around the NBA expect Anthony Davis to re-sign with the Lakers on a max contract next summer.

However, Davis has paired up with LeBron James, and rule one of the LeBron contract playbook (and agent Rich Paul’s, too) is to keep the pressure on a franchise. Make the team improve and keep itself in title contention.

So it’s not a surprise that when ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Davis about re-signing with the Lakers, he didn’t answer the question directly.

Nichols: You’re only signed through this season. Do you think you will be a pillar of the Lakers for years and years to come?

Davis: Honestly, Rachel, I’m just focused on this season. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I have one year here, so I’m going make the best of this year. And when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season’s over — hopefully, around, you know, mid-June, after we just had a parade, and I need a couple days to think — then we can talk about that. But until then, I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year.”

That a well-handled scripted answer hitting all the talking points.

After the NBA summer we have just gone through (and continue to see with Chris Paul), nobody sane will say Davis would never leave the Lakers after one season. Cut to Kevin Garnett screaming “Anything Is Possible.”

However, he came to the Lakers to win rings (now and in the future), to take over as the face of the franchise when LeBron steps away in a few years, to get the kind of recognition and endorsements he felt were not coming his way in New Orleans, and ultimately to have his jersey up in the rafters with Wilt and Kareem and Shaq. That’s the plan. Which means AD will re-sign with the Lakers next summer.

He’s just not going to say that right now.

Kendrick Perkins: ‘Pelicans better lock Zion in the House’ because of great New Orleans food

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Zion Williamson‘s weight became a discussion point during Summer League.

The general consensus going into the draft was that Williamson would ultimately want to play a little lighter in the NBA than he did in college (but without losing his strength). Since then Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski came out and said the No. 1 pick was not in Summer League shape and should not have played. Some broadcast analysts said he looked heavy. In the hallways and behind-the-basket defacto meeting space of Summer League there was a lot of talk among league watchers about the Pelicans needing to get Zion with their trainers and dietitians to prepare him for the 82 game grind.

Kendrick Perkins warns that’s not going to be all that easy in the Big Easy.

As a wannabe foodie, let me just say that Perkins is spot on about the food in New Orleans. It may be my favorite food city in America, it is home to the ultimate comfort foods, and the portions are not small. From muffulettas to gumbo to po’ boys to fried every-kind-of-protein-you-can-name, New Orleans cuisine is both undeniably delicious and not the foundation of a healthy diet.

It’s going to take some discipline from Williamson, who also can afford his own chef now to keep the meals at home healthy and tasty. Then gumbo can be a splurge-day treat.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.