Five NBA Draft prospects to watch in NCAA Final four

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Let’s be honest, you’re not watching the Final Four this weekend because you still have a shot in your office pool. The old lady who doesn’t watch college basketball but liked her visit to Wichita is going to win it. But if you’re the fan of an NBA lottery team watching the Final Four this weekend — hello Charlotte! — you will be watching with an eye toward guys you may want your team to draft.

Well, here are five guys to watch. Because we want to enhance your viewing experience. We’re nice that way. We got a lot of help on this from our man Rob Dauster at CollegeBasketballTalk.

1) Trey Burke, 6’0”, 20-year-old point guard, Michigan. He has had a monster year — he was the AP player of the year — and has followed it up with a big NCAA Tournament leading Michigan this far. We knew he could shoot, he had drive-and-kick skills, and he has shown to be a strong floor general. One of the questions about him was defense but in the NCAA Tournament he has looked good on that end of the floor and that has helped his cause — DraftExpress.com has him as the No. 7 overall pick now.

2) Michael Carter-Williams, 6’5”, 21-year-old point guard, Syracuse. No player has helped himself more during the tournament, Dauster said on the PBT Podcast. He’s big for a point guard, athletic, is a good ball handler, can shoot and pass, plus he’s got a great first step and can create. The question is would his decision making catch up with those skills, and in the tournament it has, Dauster told us. He’s moved up, DraftExpress has him at No. 14 at the bottom of the lottery.

3) Gorqui Dieng, 6’11”, 23-year-old center, Louisville. He’s known as a defensive stopper, an anchor in the middle of the Louisville defense, but in the NCAA Tournament he has hit 20-of-24 shots. He’ll make a solid rotation player in the NBA, a backup big who can give you solid minutes nightly. DraftExpress has him going No. 21.

4) Nik Stauskas, 6’6, 19-year-old small forward, Michigan. He’s a guy who has turned some heads in the tourney. He moves off the ball and has a great outside shot — something he will need to do consistently against the Syracuse zone on Saturday. He shot 6-of-6 from three against Florida, which is a good defensive team. All that said, expect him to hang out in college for another season after this one. But Dauster says he sees a solid pro here.

5) Cleanthony Early, 6’8” power forward, Wichita State. He had a monster game against Gonzaga and Dauster says not to ignore the Shocker’s star when thinking NBA. He’s a potential second round pick who is out to prove he belongs. He can rebound, and his versatility intrigues, he just needs to be more steady and develop a more solid jumper.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.