Jack Cooley left NBA money on the table for lucrative offer in Turkey

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Jack Cooley looked to have a hard road ahead of him coming out of Notre Dame as an undrafted and undersized big man that didn’t seem to have much pro potential, according to the majority of NBA scouts. After a standout performance at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament followed by solid showings with both the Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies in the Summer Leagues, though, Cooley earned an honest look when NBA training camps start in the fall.

That opportunity apparently presented itself with quite a few teams offering him guaranteed money, but the 6-foot-9 post has instead decided to start his professional career overseas with Trabzonspor in the Turkish Basketball League.

Why would a player that seemed like he’d never get one legitimate NBA opportunity turn down training camp invites from ⅓ of the best league in the world — especially considering some teams offered more than the standard minimum $25,000 for Cooley to show up and try and make their regular season roster, according to Cooley’s agent, Adam Pensack of Pensack Sports?

“The NBA guarantees were more than $25,000, but the deal in Turkey is unusually lucrative, especially for a rookie,” Pensack told Pro Basketball Talk on Saturday night. “Turkey is also arguably the best league in Europe, especially for bigs, so the opportunity to play real minutes against top-flight competition was too good to pass up.”

Some of the bigs in Turkey’s top division last year that might be familiar to our American readers included Joey Dorsey, Chinemelu Elonu, Artsiom Parakhouski, Alade Aminu and J.P Prince — none of which, aside from possibly Dorsey, are knocking down NBA doors — but the league’s crop of bigs look like they’ve improved this year. According to Mark Porcaro, one of the most underrated basketball researchers around, bigs playing in Turkey this year already include Boston Celtics draft pick Colton Iverson, Drew Gordon, Nate Jawai, Damir Markota, Furkan Aldemir, Semih Erden, Milan Macvan and Chuck Davis.

That list makes it difficult to confirm  whether Turkey is indeed one of the best leagues in Europe when it comes to its crop of big men, but the above-listed players have been legitimate NBA prospects at some point in the basketball careers. Regardless, Pensack believing that Cooley’s opportunity to play good minutes against top-flight competition was too good to pass up certainly makes sense.

That opens up a different question, though, because — after working as a director of basketball operations in the NBA Development League last season — I can attest that the bigs who end up making their way through the D-League are quite talented as well. Knowing that, and realizing Cooley would be a focal piece of his D-League team after competing in an NBA training camp, why wouldn’t Pensack instead place his client in a league where it’d be easier for NBA teams to keep an eye on his him throughout the upcoming season?

Essentially, it came down to money. Cooley would’ve earned, at most, $25,500, insurance and a place to stay if he chose to play in the D-League this year. Considering he turned down more than that from the NBA to just attend a team’s training camp to instead play in Turkey, it makes sense that he’d once again look at the higher-paying option overseas.

“As for the D-League? If Jack didn’t make a roster out of camp, we certainly discussed the possibility,” Pensack said, “But from a business perspective, this move made the most sense. Most players just never have an option like this, especially in their first year.”

It’s hard to blame Cooley for passing up on the financial security a season overseas can provide, but it also speaks volumes when wondering how close the NBA truly is to achieving success with the D-League. If players such as Cooley — a guy on the cusp of the NBA with 10 teams offering training camp opportunities — are going overseas to cash in bigger paychecks, when will the Development League begin to make staying stateside worth a good player’s while? Regardless of that, though, taking the overseas opportunity makes sense when knowing that his handlers have high hopes for what Cooley can accomplish during his season abroad.

“Jack will take full advantage of the opportunity and will come back next year as a better player,” Pensack assured me. “He made one three in his entire college career but he can really shoot the ball — as he showed in summer league — so a full year of doing it in games against top-level competition will do wonders for him.”

If the ferocious rebounder and is able to add a reliable three-point shot to his repertoire, the NBA better watch out next season. For now, though, Cooley’s decided to take the  guaranteed money and run.

Report: CJ McCollum has been playing through fractured lower back

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CJ McCollum hit two critical free throws late Tuesday to put Portland up three late on Dallas and secure the win.

But he had a rough night overall, shooting 2-of-14 overall. His shooting numbers are down across the board through this restart, not terrible but down from the level the world has seen from one of the games most feared scorers.

Now we know why: A fractured lower back. Dwight Jaynes of NBC Sports Northwest broke the news.

Sources told NBC Sports Northwest prior to the game that McCollum has been playing with a L3 vertebral transverse process fracture (non-displaced) since last Thursday. In layman’s terms, he has a fracture in his lower back. He has played three games since the injury.

While this injury is not as bad as “a fractured back” sounds, it has slowed other players who had it, including Utah’s Mike Conley.

Portland has had success despite a slowed McCollum, in part because Gary Trent Jr. has stepped up and taken on a larger role on both ends of the court (including drawing a charge on Kristaps Porzingis that sealed the Blazers win over the Mavericks).

That win put Portland in as the eighth seed in the West, a spot they can hold with a win against Brooklyn on Thursday. That would put them in a play-in series — where if they won the reward would be LeBron James and the Lakers. To reach that point and threaten Los Angeles, Portland is going to need a lot out of McCollum. The question is how much does he have to give with this injury?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo ejected after headbutting Moe Wagner

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The Milwaukee Bucks are lucky they have another seeding game remaining because there is a good chance Giannis Antetokounmpo gets suspended a game for this.

The reigning (and soon-to-be two time) MVP let Washington’s Moe Wagner get under his skin. After Wagner took a charge from Antetokounmpo the two had to be separated. They kept jawing, and when they came together again, Antetokounmpo headbutted Wagner.

Wagner may have sold that a little, but that is unquestionably a headbutt. Antetokounmpo deserved the Flagrant II and ejection that came with it.

The one-game suspension that is coming will not cost the Bucks anything, they have the No. 1 seed in the East locked up. However, that one game is aginst the Grizzlies and if Memphis wins it gets the nine seed in the West at worst (eighth of Portland were to lose Thursday).

Wagner has a gift for getting under an opponent’s skin. Antetokounmpo has to do better keeping his emotions in check, because come the playoffs they will get tested like never before.

 

Damian Lillard scores 61 points, win vaults Portland to eight seed

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The Portland Trail Blazers control their own postseason destiny — and they can thank Damian Lillard for that.

Lillard got all the respect he wanted when he tied his career-high of 61 points Tuesday, and the Portland Trail Blazers needed every one of them to beat the Dallas Mavericks 134-131.

Lillard was 9-of-17 from three, plus got to the line 18 times and hit every free throw.

Portland’s win combined with Memphis’ loss to Boston puts the Trail Blazers into the eighth seed in the West — win on Thursday against Brooklyn and Portland is the eighth seed. That is a massive advantage heading into the two-game play-in series, the eighth seed just needs to win one of those two games to advance to the playoffs (and a first-round date with LeBron James). The ninth-seeded team needs to sweep the two games to advance.

Memphis can maintain the nine seed with a win Thursday. Should the Grizzlies lose again (to the Bucks, who have nothing to play for) it opens the door for the Suns or the Spurs to get the nine seed. Or maybe higher.

Portland is not safe just because of the win Tuesday: If it loses to Brooklyn on Thursday and two of Memphis, Phoenix, and San Antonio win, the Trail Blazers will be watching the first round of the playoffs on television like the rest of us. The race in the West is that tight.

It’s hard to imagine Portland losing a critical game, however, with the way Lillard is playing. He said he wants some respect on his f ****** name – and he’s more than earned it.

Watch Devin Booker score 35, keep Phoenix perfect 7-0 and in play-in hunt

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Devin Booker scored 35 points and the Phoenix Suns protected their playoff hopes by beating the Philadelphia 76ers 130-117 on Tuesday to remain undefeated in the NBA restart.

Booker became the Suns’ career leader with his 91st 30-point game, breaking a tie with Walter Davis.

Mikal Bridges added 24 points and Ricky Rubio had 16 points with 10 assists for the Suns, who began the day only one game behind eighth-place Memphis in the Western Conference playoff race.

Phoenix is 7-0 as the only undefeated team in the restart and an unlikely factor in the tight race for a spot in this weekend’s play-in for the final playoff spot.

Phoenix pulled away late after leading only 105-102 following back-to-back baskets by Alec Burks, who led the 76ers with 23 points.

A dunk by Cameron Johnson capped a 10-3 run that stretched the lead to 115-105.

The Suns continued their high-scoring play in the bubble after averaging 120 points in the first six games.

Philadelphia, No. 6 in the East and already assured of a playoff spot, is attempting to prepare for the postseason after losing Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

Shake Milton was Philadelphia’s only healthy starter against the Suns. The 76ers also were without Joel Embiid (left ankle), Tobias Harris (sore right ankle) and Al Horford (sore left knee). Josh Richardson was rested.