NBA Draft Grades: Yes, New Orleans gets an A+

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Yes, this is very premature. I know that, you know that. But neither of us like to wait.

So here are my draft grades from 2012. We can look back on this together in three years and have a good laugh.

Atlanta Hawks: B
They got the best pure shooter in the draft in John Jenkins out of Vanderbilt, and Mike Scott is good value in the second round. There are a whole lot of big questions in Atlanta — like why didn’t you trade Josh Smith? —but these guys are solid picks.

Boston Celtics: B+
Jared Sullinger is a great value pick at 21, a guy whose high hoops IQ and game around the basket will be a fantastic fit with a veteran team. Fab Melo is a good gamble as a shot blocker.

Brooklyn Nets: F
The grade is not for their picks — I like getting Tyshawn Taylor and Tornike Shengelia in the second round — but for trading away a first rounder at the deadline rent Gerald Wallace who is leaving as a free agent. That No. 6 pick would have helped more.

Charlotte Bobcats: B+
Surprised they kept the pick after all the rumors (although I wouldn’t have moved it for Derrick Williams either). I like this pick because this is a team that needs to change the culture on the court and the hustle and leadership of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is a step in that direction.

Chicago Bulls: C
They get a nice backup point guard in Marquis Teague out of Kentucky. Not thrilling, but nice. They played an iron shot off the tee into the middle of the fairway.

Cleveland Cavaliers: D
I don’t love the reach for Waiters (could they not have moved down to No. 7 and got the same guy?). To be fair it comes down to this — how good is Dion Waiters in a three years? A lot of scouts were high on him, and if he pans out it’s good pick. I’m not sold. I think they picked for need over the best player available. Adding Tyler Zeller via trade a solid move, but could they have used those picks better to round out the roster?

Dallas Mavericks: B-
They trade down, they sold off a late pick for cash to the Lakers. They got a few nice picks who may give them some minutes, but I like getting Bernard James out of Florida State. Everyone is rooting for him to succeed.

Denver Nuggets: B
I like the pick of Evan Fournier from France, he’s pretty athletic, has handles and does a lot of things well. Which is a good fit on that roster.

Detroit Pistons: A
They get an “A” not because I think Andre Drummond pans out — I hope I’m wrong but I think he ends up pretty average, or worse — but because it was a good gamble at No. 9. I also like the Khris Middleton roll of the dice.

Golden State Warriors: B+
Harrison Barnes falls to them and that is a great fit, he can be the three that they really need to round out the starting lineup — if he lives up to potential. Like the Draymond Green pick also.

Houston Rockets: C
GM Daryl Morey dreamed big but couldn’t pull it all off, so they are still stuck in the middle. I like the Jeremy Lamb and Royce White picks, one may really pan out for them.

Indiana Pacers: C
Meh. If they are lucky Miles Plumlee is the Jeff Foster for a new generation.

LA Clippers: C
Drafting Furkan Aldemir then trading him is neither here nor there. Big move was getting Lamar Odom back… we’ll see if they keep him or buy him out.

LA Lakers C+
Didn’t have many picks, but made a decent gamble buying Darius Johnson-Odom from Dallas. Not a game changer, may not pan out, but a decent gamble at that spot.

Memphis Grizzlies: B
Picked up one of the better sleepers in the draft in Tony Wroten. It may take a couple years but could develop into good rotation player in Memphis.

Miami Heat: B-
They traded their only pick, Arnett Moultrie, to the 76ers for potential backup big Justin Hamilton and a future No. 1. It’s moot, they don’t need rookies they need guys who can help now.

Milwaukee Bucks: B
They made a couple of quality picks. I’m higher on John Henson than most, and he can give them some defensive presence inside lost when Andrew Bogut was traded. Lamb can shot the rock, which is always handy.

Minnesota Timberwolves: C
They only had one pick at 58 at and Robbie Hummel is a feel good story who will barely if ever see the court.

New Orleans Hornets: A+
It was a no-brainer but they are still the night’s big winner. Taking Anthony Davis gives them the franchise player they need to build around. Austin Rivers is more of a gamble, I’m not convinced he’s the point guard you put next to Eric Gordon, but they could form nice backcourt for the future.

New York Knicks: C
The Knicks get an average grade for their “stash” pick of Kostas Papanikolaou who will stay in Europe a few years at least. Knicks fans at the draft get an A+ for their freak out reaction to the pick.

Oklahoma City Thunder: A
Baylor’s Perry Jones fell all the way to 28 and he is a great pick there. He’s got fantastic talent and this is a locker room that will make sure his head is screwed on right.

Orlando Magic: C
Don’t read anything into the Dwight Howard situation with the Andrew Nicholson pick. Nicholson may develop into a nice backup center, very different thing.

Philadelphia 76ers C+
A small gamble on St. John’s Maurice Harkless, but if he pans out he would be another athletic wing who fits their system well as a role player.

Phoenix Suns: B
Kendall Marshall is a solid pick as the point guard of the future — whether that future is next year or a couple years from now after Steve Nash retires.

Portland Trail Blazers: B+
I like the Damian Lillard pick a lot as a point guard of the future and Meyers Leonard will be solid. Not a bold stroke but some good picks.

Sacramento Kings: A
Thomas Robinson fell into their laps but they get a guy some GMs picking above them will regret not taking in a couple years. Robinson and DeMarcus Cousins form a formidable front line.

San Antonio Spurs: C
They picked Marcus Denmon at 59. I’d say a guy picked that late never makes the team but this is the Spurs so, who knows?

Toronto Raptors: B-
I like the Terrence Ross pick, he was one of the real sleepers in this draft and a great athlete. But could they have traded down a few spots and still gotten him?

Utah Jazz: C+
They took a gamble on small-school Kevin Murphy at 47, but that’s what you should do at 47. It’s a place for risks.

Washington Wizards: A
They get Bradley Beal, the shooting guard a lot of scouts thought was the second best player in this draft. He’s a great fit next to John Wall. I like the Tomas Satoransky pick as well.

Russell Westbrook sneak-snacking steals show on NBA’s opening night

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NBA’s opening night was quite tame. The Celtics and Warriors won as expected, neither the 76ers nor Thunder mounting much of a challenge.

That allowed Russell Westbrookout with an injury — to have the most fun moment when he looked around deviously, turned to his side and ate something.

What did did Westbrook eat? Was he not supposed to be eating? Did he not want to share? Big questions remain unanswered surrounding this important incident.

Joel Embiid on 76ers-Celtics: ‘This is not a rivalry … They always kick our ass’

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The 76ers-Celtics rivalry is being renewed.

But it’s not there yet, according to Philadelphia center Joel Embiid.

The 76ers are 3-19 against Boston since drafting Embiid, and though that includes multiple tanking years, Philadelphia hasn’t fared much better since getting good. The 76ers went 2-7 against the Celtics last season, including 1-4 in their second-round playoff series. Philadephia followed that with a season-opening loss to the Celtics last night.

Embiid, via Matt Haughton of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“JJ (Redick) mentioned it earlier, this is not a rivalry,” Embiid said to reporters after the Sixers’ 105-87 season-opening loss to the Boston Celtics (see observations). “I don’t know our record against them but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.”

I appreciate Embiid’s directness. We can all see the problem. There’s no point denying it.

The subtext is Embiid’s motivation to change this status quo, and a lot of it does fall in Embiid. Al Horford has given him fits. Even Aron Baynes worked him at times last night. Embiid is talented and far younger than those two. He’ll eventually get there.

In the meantime, he’s not mincing words.

Vinsanity grinds into a 21st season, rare company in the NBA

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ATLANTA (AP) — Vince Carter feels like a 20-something again.

Always does when this time of year rolls around.

Never mind the specks of gray in his beard, all the wear and tear on his body, a resume that shows he entered the NBA the same year teammate Trae Young was born.

Carter has made it to another opening night. The thrill of a new season flows through those creaky ol’ bones. Once again, it all seems worthwhile: the monotonous practices, the tedious film sessions, the long plane flights, the grind of 82 games.

“If I had that old `heck, here we go again’ feeling, then I wouldn’t play,” Carter said Tuesday, having finished up practice with a few extra jumpers. “This is like I’m in my third, fourth, fifth year. I’m excited about the opportunity. I’m excited about playing. I still love playing. I still love competing. I still enjoy the traveling, the ups and downs of the league. That’s what it’s all about. It’s hard to let go.”

The league’s oldest player – Carter is 41 and will turn another year older in January – is back for his 21st season. That puts him on the cusp of some very exclusive company: Robert Parrish, Kevin Willis and Kevin Garnett are the only players to last that long in the NBA (Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki also has a chance to join the 21 Club this year).

Carter is hardly chasing a championship, signing on with a rebuilding Atlanta Hawks team that is years away from having a realistic shot at competing for a title. He’s here to mentor to a bunch of young players and serve as a virtual player-coach on a first-year staff led by Lloyd Pierce.

“When we have our locker room and on-the-bus debates and conversations, he’s on our side,” quipped Pierce, a rookie head coach who is only about eight months older than Carter. “He can relate a little closer to the coaching staff than he can with the players.”

Kent Bazemore, the last holdover from a 60-win team that reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2015, lost most of his golfing buddies – including Paul Millsap and Kyle Korver – when the Hawks embarked on a rebuilding plan that send them tumbling to 24-58 last season.

With Carter on the roster, Bazemore again has someone to tee it up with on off days.

“I’ve got a new golfing buddy,” said Bazemore, who at 29 is one of the oldest players on the roster not named Vince Carter. “I’m excited about that. (The younger players) haven’t gotten into it yet.”

As expected, Carter takes some good-natured ribbing from his teammates, a grandpa joke here, an “ain’t it past your bedtime” there.

But all in all, he seems to fit it quite nicely with all these kids.

“We have a lot in common, believe it or not,” Carter said, breaking into a smile. “I make it my business to know what’s going on in the millennial world.”

While expected to fill a largely backup role for the Hawks, Carter will be in the starting lineup when they open the season Wednesday night against the New York Knicks. He’s subbing for power forward John Collins, a first-round pick in 2017 and one of those building blocks for Atlanta’s future, who is sidelined by an ankle injury.

Never mind that Carter is only 6-foot-6 and has spent his entire career at shooting guard and small forward.

Wherever he’s needed, he’s ready to give it a shot.

“I prepare myself in the summer for any situation,” Carter said. “I tell the coach first thing: `I’m willing to do whatever it takes.”‘

Young, the No. 5 overall pick and cornerstone of the Hawks’ makeover, looks forward to gleaning all he can from a player who was once one of the league’s brightest stars, a guy who threw down sick jams and averaged more than 20 points a game in 10 of his first 12 seasons.

Carter’s above-the-rim antics earned him a variety of nicknames – from “Vinsanity” to “Half-Man, Half-Amazing” – and a likely spot one day in the Basketball Hall of Fame, even though he’s never won a championship and there was griping early in his career about whether he was giving it his all.

These days, he’s a respected senior citizen, a player who draws nothing but awe for hanging on as long as he has, even though he’s bounced around to six teams in the past decade and hasn’t been a regular starter since 2012.

“He’s experienced so many things,” Young said. “I can go to him about anything and just ask him questions. He’s a future Hall of Famer. I’m just blessed to be around him and get advice from him.”

Carter hasn’t decided how long this ride will last.

Twenty-one years might be enough.

Then again, if he still feels that same sort of excitement that he’s feeling right now, he might go where no one has gone before in the NBA.

A 22nd season.

“At year 18, 19, I just said I’ll assess how I feel and the situation at the end of each year,” Carter said. “Just because I’m close to a bunch of different accomplishments, I don’t want to change my routine. I’ve had a lot of success doing it this way.”

With that, Carter hustled off to the locker room, the last guy to leave the court.

There was another flight to catch.

Another opening night to get to.

 

Nuggets agree to contract extension with coach Mike Malone

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Mike Malone was one of the names on the coaching hot seat lists this season. Not that his seat was warm just yet, a lot of pundits were high on his Nuggets (I predicted them to be fourth in the West), but after just missing the playoffs the past two years, if Denver got off to a slow start this season….

Cross Malone off your list, he just got a contract extension from the Nuggets.

This reportedly adds two years to his existing contract, so it now runs through 2021, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Expectations are high in Denver with a return to the playoffs the only acceptable outcome. The Nuggets have improved each season under Malone and won 46 games last season (that gets you in the dance most years). The Nuggets have a deep and impressive roster led by a top 20 NBA player in Nikola Jokic, a point guard in Jamal Murray who is poised to break out in his third season, plus quality rotation players such as Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

Malone can earn that new contract — and get the team into the postseason — just by finally improving the Denver defense, which was 26th in the NBA last season. If they move up to the middle of the pack, with the Nuggets’ elite offense, they are in.

Whatever happens, Denver is a team to watch this season. And Malone isn’t going anywhere.