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.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.