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.

Details leak on life inside Orlando bubble: Daily testing, 1,600 people, 2K crowd noise at games

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Players do not report to the Walt Dinsey World campus in Orlando for another month to restart the NBA season — and it will be weeks after that before games start on July 31 — but we’re beginning to learn more about life inside that bubble.

A bubble the players from a couple of teams could be in for more than three months.

On a Friday conference call, representatives of the National Basketball Players Association backed the 22-team return-to-play format.  Out of that call, we learned some more details about what life will be like in the bubble, courtesy Shams Charania of The Athletic. Among his notes:

– 1,600 maximum people on campus
– Coronavirus testing every day; minimum seven days of quarantine for a player who tests positive
– There could be crowd noise via NBA 2K video game sounds, but the NBA and NBPA is still discussing creative opportunities

That 1,600 people in the bubble/campus includes players and staffs from teams (about 770 people) plus referees, league personnel, broadcasters, and more. It fills up quickly, which is why family members — likely just three per player — will not be allowed until after at least the second round of the playoffs when a number of teams have cleared out (an issue for players).

Players were asked once in the bubble not to leave, and the same applied to their families when they arrive. This is not a summer vacation at Disney World. While there are no armed guards or security to keep players and staff on the campus, the goal was to create a safe environment and people heading out into greater Orlando, for whatever reason, sets that goal back.

The daily testing will be done by the NBPA and will involve mouth or light nasal swabs, not the invasive ones. Also, there will be no antibody testing, and no blood tests.

Teams will get a three-hour practice window during training camp and on off-days, which will include time in the provided wight room. After that, the equipment will be sanitized before the next team uses the courts.

Crowd noise — as seen on the Bundesliga soccer broadcasts from Germany seen here in the USA — is controversial. While the league is talking to the makers of the NBA 2K video game about piped-in crowd noise, that is definitely a topic still up for discussion.

As Keith Smith discussed on the ProBasketballTalk Podcast this week, games in Orlando are expected to be played sort of like at Summer League, with some starting at noon (or early afternoon) and alternating on courts all day. East Coast teams will likely have the earlier slots while there could be some 10 p.m. Eastern start times for a couple of West Coast teams (where it would still be just 7 p.m.).

We previously knew players would be allowed to golf and eat at outdoor restaurants at the Disney resort, so long as they followed social distancing guidelines.

For everything we know about life in the bubble, there are far more questions left unanswered. In the next month we will learn a lot more.

 

NBA players’ union approves 22-team format restart of season

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It’s not perfect and there are still details to be worked out — including exactly when next season will start — but the NBA players are on board with 22-team restart plan for the NBA season in Orlando.

Friday the National Basketball Players Association, with 28 team representatives on the conference call, voted to approve the 22-team plan. Here is the official statement from the union:

“The Board of Player Representatives of the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA) has approved further negotiations with the NBA on a 22-team return to play scenario to restart the 2019-20 NBA season. Various details remain to be negotiated and the acceptance of the scenario would still require that all parties reach agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.”

This was expected. NBA Commissioner has worked closely with players union president Chris Paul of the Thunder and executive director Michelle Roberts throughout the process. There were no big surprises in the plan by the time it came up for a vote. Nobody got everything they wanted but everyone got a plan they could live with.

The issues still to be negotiated include some of the health and safety procedures — although players were informed on Friday’s call there will be daily testing and were asked not to leave the Orlando bubble — as well as the timing of the off-season and the start date of next season.

The biggest issue to be figured out still, of course, will be money.

It’s money that ultimately got owners and players to come together behind the 22-team format. It plays regular-season games — called “seeding games” — that can be broadcast on regional sports networks (helping those teams) plus a full playoffs with seven-game series broadcast on ESPN/ABC and TNT. Exactly what the financial picture for the league will be next season is still murky, but the sides are talking.

In terms of pure player safety, the league could have done better going straight to the 16-game postseason, but this was the balance of risk and financial reward the league settled upon.

The details of the format continue to leak out, and some of that is still to be negotiated, but with the player vote all sides have come together behind a plan.

The question becomes, can they pull it off?

Michael Jordan, Jordan Brand pledge $100 million to racial equality

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Black lives matter. This isn’t a controversial statement.

It isn’t. But for the legendarily apolitical Michael Jordan, it is a departure.

Jordan and the Jordan Brand jumped into the ongoing and intense national discussion of race and systemic racism Friday by announcing a $100 million donation over the next 10 years to racial equality and social justice causes. And Jordan linked himself to the black lives matter movement.

Jordan, during his playing career and after, has been cautious politically, rarely commenting on social issues. The “Republicans buy shoes, too” comment stuck to him, but as Roland Lazenby points out in his biography “Michael Jordan: The Life,” Jordan’s “keep your head down and don’t draw attention” political outlook was passed down as a family demeanor used to survive in rural North Carolina. It was how his parents, grandparents, and great grandparents viewed the world.

Jordan had already made a personal statement in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota.

Now Jordan has put his money where his mouth is.

Tim Hardaway on mindset to win in Orlando: “You got to get the clutter out your brain”

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NBA players are creatures of routine — and this season has been anything but routine.

Coaches inevitably will say “it’s still basketball” as 22 teams converge on the Walt Disney World property in Orlando for the restart of the NBA season, but we all know this format is different. A three-month lay-off in the middle of the season, no fans at games, everyone from 22 teams living in one hotel/area, “seeding games,” and a condensed schedule. No player has been through anything like this before.

It’s going to take a unique mindset to win in that environment, according to 1990s Warriors and Heat star Tim Hardaway.

“It would definitely be tough, but I love to play basketball,” Hardaway told NBC Sports. “I think the guys that love to play basketball and not thinking about the fans and not thinking about what’s going on, that’s the team that’s going to win.

“You got to get the clutter out your brain as soon as you get there. You got to get that clutter out. When it’s time to practice, all this is over: the speculating this, what if that, if we didn’t go here, or if we not doing that. All that has to be out your mind….

“We can’t go in there with a clouded mind. You can’t go in there with other things on your mind, this has to be the sole thing. If you love to play basketball, it will be quick. If you don’t love to play basketball… if you have doubts, you’re not going to be ready to play, you’re not going to help your team.”

Players have been working out at home — with varying quality of equipment — and many players didn’t have a hoop at home. However, with a month of getting up shots in team facilities, followed by weeks of training camp both in their home market and in Orlando, expect players to be in shape. Their shots, their handles will come back. That is muscle memory, Hardaway said as part of a wide-ranging discussion that included how Michael Jordan dominated a Warriors practice before his comeback.

For the teams with title dreams — the Lakers, Bucks, and Clippers in particular — the mental side will be more important, Hardaway emphasized.

He added that players are used to playing games without fans in the building, just not with these kinds of stakes.

“Without fans? Yes, it’s going to be hard, no question,” the former All-Star and All-NBA player said. “But, to me, it’s just like pickup basketball—real pickup basketball, like we did in the ‘90s. We don’t care who is out there on the court, we gonna play, and there was no fans in the seats then, so if you lost you off the court, but if you won you stayed on the court. That’s the way this is.”

In the end, it’s about a clear mind and the ability to focus.

“Who can get the clutter out of their mind the quickest? That’s what they have to do, get the clutter out of their mind…

“It could be anybody, it could be a young guy, it could be a veteran, it could be a five-year guy. Whoever is like. ‘let’s go ball, let’s try to win a championship… Time to play. We can’t control nothing else but this right here on this basketball court.’”

That’s the team that will hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.