Nuggets may have something in France’s Evan Fournier

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LAS VEGAS — Denver has its starting two guard/swingman set for the next few years in Arron Afflalo, who can shoot the three and is one of the better wing defenders in the league. He turns 27 just before next season and they have him locked up through 2016.

But if you’re an NBA GM like Masai Ujiri in Denver, you have to be already thinking about who is next? Who can be an affordable backup now that we can groom into a future starter?

Jordan Hamilton looked like he might be that guy last season, but now Evan Fournier enters into the discussion.

Fournier was the best player hands down at adidas EuroCamp and the Nuggets picked him up at No. 20 last month in the NBA Draft. Saturday he got his first taste of pseudo-NBA action at Summer League in Las Vegas, and showed some promise.

Early in the first half he popped out off a screen, caught and showed a sweet stroke from three. A couple plays later he put the ball on the floor, got into the lane and drew the defense, absorbed the contact then found the open man for a jumper (he did that a few times). At the other end, he was tasked with guarding Klay Thompson most of the time. And Thompson is best player at Summer League this year. Fournier finished the afternoon with 10 points on 3-of-8 shooting (1-5 from three).

“What I did today wasn’t bad, but I know I can do a lot better,” Fournier said. “That’s a new game for me I have to get used to, but I’ll be better.”

What he said he has to get used to is the athleticism of the NBA game — while France (where he played last year) is a quality league it doesn’t have the depth of athleticism the NBA does.

But you could see the potential. At least David Thorpe — the Executive Director of the Pro Training Center (where a number of guys at Summer League prepared for their pro debuts) and an ESPN analyst — sees it.

“I think he can score,” Thorpe said. “He’s got a great feel. He’s very thin, but he plays with toughness. You can tell he doesn’t really get knocked off the ball… Fournier looks to me like a guy who’s going to be able to take punishment (on his dribble drives).”

But it’s a matter of development. He’s skinny right now, and Fournier said after the game he knows he needs to get stronger. It’s about getting used to all the athletes at this level.

“I don’t think he’ll play much for the Nuggets next year,” Thorpe said. “I would guess he’ll see a lot of D-League action, try to get used to playing against quicker guys on a daily basis, get used to playing against very athletic players, and be part of the Nuggets culture on strength training, their strength training coach is as good as there is in the league, maybe the best.”

But back to what Masai Ujiri is thinking — he needs to have a backup for Afflalo and someone who maybe can step into that role as a starter. Jordan Hamilton could be that guy, he was with the team last year and had 18 points to lead the Nuggets in their Summer League opener (although it was not a jaw-dropping performance). But you can’t just have one plan.

“(Fournier) has got an upside as a scorer…” Thorpe said. “I think he’s a better basketball player than Hamilton. I think Hamilton is a naturally better shooter and maybe a better scorer. But long term he’s got Arron Afflalo who is still a young player, and he’s got two more wings behind Afflalo, and one of those two guys probably ends up being the guy. Masai has kind of increased the chances he’s got one future starter. Maybe it will be both, but they’ll compete against each other starting now.”

Starting at Summer League.

Kobe Bryant in Big3 next year? One league co-founder says yes.

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Ice Cube — the hip-hop legend, actor, and co-founder of the Big3 — knows Kobe Bryant, because he’s Ice Cube and everyone wants to know him. Cube has said every time he sees Kobe he tries to get the former Laker to join the Big3, and every time Kobe shoots him down.

But Friday, Big3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz said he expects Kobe will play in the league next year.

It was during a conference call to promote the Big3 title game (this Friday night in Brooklyn, and broadcast on Fox at 8p.m.). Myself and other media on that call did a double take (if you can do that on a phone call). Everyone else on the call from the Big3 let it die.

This came after last weekend when a reporter asked Stephen Jackson if Kobe could handle the Big3, to which Jackson offered to slap the reporter then basically begged Bryant to join the league

.Don’t bet on it happening.

First, Kwatinetz says a lot of things and has grand ambitions for the league, as he should, but what he says also should be taken with plenty of salt. This year more name stars did jump in — Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, Metta World Peace — but Kobe would be another level (or three). The league would love to land him (or Kevin Garnett, or Paul Pierce) but so far that level of recent star has eluded the Big3. Someday that likely will change.

But not with Kobe.

Kobe was as well prepared for life after basketball as any NBA player ever can be. He’s got other interests and threw himself into those — he won an Oscar — plus has kept his toes in the NBA waters talking to and working out with young players such as Jaylen Brown. Also, he’s done a film breakdown series for ESPN. He’s spent more time with his family. All of which is to say, he may miss basketball but he’s got a full plate.

Ice Cube will keep asking Kobe, and one should never say never. But until Kobe comes out and says he’s in, don’t bet on seeing this happen.

 

Marcus Morris smoked marijuana to deal with anxiety while with Pistons

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When the Suns traded Marcus Morris to the Pistons, he called it “betrayal.”

It wasn’t that, but it’s also worth understanding why he felt that way – and what it means in a greater context.

Marcus signed a below-market contract extension to stay with his twin brother Markieff Morris in Phoenix. That was foolish, because it made Marcus more tradable – and the Suns dealt him. Marcus just didn’t understand enough about how the NBA operated.

Why did he make that error? At least in part because he was blinded by a very understandable loyalty to Markieff.

Jackie MacMullan of ESPN:

When the twins were in high school, their house burned down with their family cat trapped inside. Their mother, Angel, moved them and their brother Blake into a small home in Hunting Park with their maternal grandparents, a tight squeeze for teenage boys who would grow to be nearly 6-foot-10. They lived in the basement and slept on a mattress, with no heat and a ceiling that was only 6½ feet high, which made it impossible for them to fully stand up. Yet they were grateful, because at least they had family who cared. Only one in 20 of their friends had a father around — the twins’ dad was nowhere to be seen, either — and their mother worked long hours so she could pay for their basketball shoes and something to eat at supper. The twins leaned on each other for companionship, solace and courage.

“We were just trying to survive every day,” Marcus says. “As a kid, it’s fun for a minute. You don’t see yourself in any danger. Once you become a teenager, you’re unprotected. Now you’re a target. If you’re wearing some Jordans, they’re coming for you. There were plenty of times I had to protect myself. You walk out the door every day looking around, watching your back, just trying to stay out of the line of fire.

“You see shootings, pistol whippings. One wrong decision, one wrong word, and it escalates so quickly into a full-blown war. It’s like that in Philly. You’re trapped in a box. Your opportunity is so small, so once a person gets ahold of something, they protect it with their life. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t lived it.

“We just walked out stressed all the time. I said to my brother once, ‘You know, this is no way to live.'”

The Morris’ situation is unique, but it’s not totally atypical. The black experience in America has always been subject to large amounts of violence. Redlining continues to keep black people in more violent neighborhoods with more poverty, worse schools and harsher policing – elements that continue the cycle.

Those stressors contribute to mental-health issues, and if the NBA – whose players are predominantly black – is concerned about mental health, it can’t ignore this greater context.

The Suns didn’t sound like they empathized. Marcus began his pro career in Houston, and it didn’t sound like Rockets general manager Daryl Morey – who doesn’t have the best track record of discussing mental health – knew how to relate to Marcus, either. MacMullan:

That summer, he refused to go to Houston for offseason workouts and wouldn’t answer calls from the Rockets’ staff. “[Rockets general manager] Daryl Morey is telling me, ‘You’re hurting your career,’ but I was thinking, ‘Well, you guys are hurting my career,'” Morris recalls. “I didn’t trust them. I didn’t trust anybody.”

The results weren’t better in Detroit, either. MacMullan:

Morris couldn’t sleep because his mind was racing all the time. The Pistons tried to make him feel welcome, but he wasn’t very responsive. He was often up all night replaying a missed shot or a mistake on the floor, and his play was suffering. He seriously considered quitting, but what would he do? Go back to Philly? That notion led to more anxiety, more stress. He tried sleeping pills. He smoked marijuana. Nothing granted him peace.

I’m very curious how this will be received. White coaches Steve Kerr and Phil Jackson admitted to smoking marijuana to help with pain after back surgeries, and people were generally understanding. Black player Larry Sanders – trying to cope with anxiety, depression and mood disorders – essentially got run out of the league for using marijuana and espousing its benefits.

White people get more benefit of the doubt on drug use. Physical pain is taken more seriously than mental pain.

Marijuana isn’t the answer for everyone dealing with anxiety and stress, because there is no single answer for everyone. But criminalizing marijuana – banned legally in many places and by the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement – isn’t the answer. The appropriateness of marijuana for NBA players should be explored.

Perhaps it will be as we remove the stigma around mental health. Players like Marcus Morris opening up about their issues is a huge step forward – and especially important one considering the NBA’s majority-black demographics.

It sounds as if Morris is getting far better help from the Celtics. I highly recommend reading MacMullan’s full article for more on that and how mental health and race intersect as it pertains to the NBA.

NBA rookies agree on little, but Trae Young’s shooting and playmaking supremacy comes closest

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You might see stories today about Bulls center Wendell Carter Jr.‘s peers picking him to have the best career among this rookie class. After all, he was the top vote-getter in that category in the NBA’s annual rookie survey.

But 87% of polled rookies chose someone else. That Carter’s 13% of votes led means only so much.

That was the story throughout the survey.

The leaders for predicted Rookie of the Year (tie between Suns’ Deandre Ayton and Cavaliers’ Collin Sexton), biggest steal based on where he was drafted (Timberwolves’ Keita Bates-Diop), most athletic (76ers’ Zhaire Smith) and best defender (Grizzlies’ Jevon Carter) each received less than 30% of the vote in their category. In other words, more than two-thirds of polled players picked a rookie other than the leader in each category.

The exceptions: best shooter (Hawks’ Trae Young at 47%) and best playmaker (Young at 35%). But even he didn’t get a majority of votes. Still, I appreciate many of his peers recognizing his passing ability. That’s his best skill, not the deep shooting that draws so much attention.

Report: Mavericks awaiting potential NBA punishment due to predatory work environment

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The Mavericks’ investigation into their predatory work environment is progressing more slowly than some expected.

The latest holdup?

Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News:

The investigation into the Mavericks’ front-office scandal remains in idle, awaiting input and possible sanctions from the NBA as well as ensuring that details in the investigators’ report are double-checked, sources said Monday.

The hope is that the results can be made public next week. But there is no firm timetable.

Hopefully, the Mavericks identify and fix problems in their organization. No employees should be subject to sexual harassment. That’s most important.

But there will also be a close eye on how the league responds, specifically whether penalties affect the team on the court. NBA fans won’t see the most significant changes in Dallas. Most Mavericks employees are out of sight, out of mind. But fans will watch the players perform, and forfeited draft picks or anything like that will draw more attention.