The Extra Pass: Seven NBA Draft prospects to watch Thursday in NCAA Tournament

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For NBA scouts and general managers, they have pretty strong opinions formed about players long before the NCAA Tournament tips off. A monster tournament is still just a handful of games and is not going to move the needle much. If it does that team’s decision makers are doing it wrong (*cough* Michael Jordan *cough*).

But for us fans, this is a rare chance to see all these future NBA players really get tested against top talent. This is when we make our big impressions.

With the help of Ed Isaacson of Rotoworld and NBADraftBlog.com (check out his regional previews of the East, South, Midwest and West) we give you seven guys to keep an eye on this Thursday as the NCAA Tournament tips off (we will have another group for Friday, so check back… also check out the PBT Podcast coming soon with Isaacson talking guys to watch).

• Tyler Ennis, point guard, Syracuse. We are drawn to guards with poise and this guy has it — he took over for Michael Carter-Williams and the Syracuse offense didn’t miss a beat. More than that, late in games Ennis makes big plays. A lot of teams have come around to him and he is likely to go in the teens — Isaacson isn’t as sold as most, however. “He’s everything you want in a backup point guard.” Is he a playmaker really worthy of a lottery pick? Like all Syracuse players it’s hard to read how good he is on defense, he gets to play center field in their zone and jump passing lanes. Where he can really make a mark is not Thursday (vs. Western Michigan) but Saturday when they likely face Ohio State and Aaron Craft. Look good in that game and Ennis can win over some detractors.

• Nik Stauskas, guard, Michigan. You remember him going bombs away last tournament, saving or blowing up your bracket with threes. He’s back and he’s more than that now.

Here is Isaacson on Stauskas: “This year with Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. in the NBA, he has stepped up his offensive game, showing a much more versatile player. Still a deadly shooter from 3 (45% on 183 attempts), but has also shown that he can attack the basket and is a pretty good playmaker as the ballhandler in high screen situations. He has good size (6’6) at the 2, but his defense is still a work-in-progress.

• T.J. Warren, Forward, North Carolina State. Nobody doubts he can flat out score the rock — he was the reason NC State beat Xavier the other night. He can score in transition, he works well off the ball, plus he hustles on defense. What worries teams is that he doesn’t create his own shot all that well and he gets a large chunk of his buckets from the midrange, shooting just 27 percent from three this past season. NBA teams are not looking for guys to shoot from the midrange much (unless you hit 50 percent or better) so he needs to extend his range as a shooter. Still, a good tournament can help his stock a little.

• Patric Young, center, Florida. He caught scouts’ eyes early because he entered college with a man’s body, an NBA body. What he’s done with that body has been less impressive — good but not dominant — and he is now considered a second round pick.

From Isaacson: “Young has spent 4 years as the post player in an offense that is perimeter-oriented. He has one or two go-to moves in the post, but his offensive game is all about being physical, creating lanes and crashing the boards. He has an NBA body and strength, and 4 years under Billy Donovan has turned him into a good defender in the post and on the perimeter.”

• Adreian Payne, power forward, Michigan State. If you want to bet on one thing draft night, it is that someone on the broadcast will say, “Payne has a great motor.” Fans love guys like that and scouts have come around to him.

Isaacson: “A great combination of size, athleticism and skill, Payne finally put all of those together to have a great final season. He is a skilled enough post player to play with his back to the basket, but also has the ability to face up and knock down jumpers or drive by his man to the basket. Payne has the shooting ability to used in pick-and-pop situations. No one would call him a great defender, but he has worked hard over the past 4 seasons to be a good one.”

• Gary Harris, Michigan State. This is the guy everybody has been watching for the Spartans — he is the leader of the team the President picked to win it all (no pressure). In an injury riddled season for the Spartans he has been the one guy who was solid and there for them nightly. He’s athletic but doesn’t always use that to his best advantage. The guy can shoot the rock and he’s a strong defender. But there are questions about how he will do against the longer, better athletes of the NBA. Still, you watch him and know there is a place for him in the NBA (he is projected to be drafted in the middle of the first round.

• Montrezl Harrell, power forward, Louisville. I’m picking Louisville to win it all this year so you know I am counting on him to have a big tournament. He’s got plenty of physical tools and he plays hard on both ends (he can switch picks onto guards because he is fast and mobile). He’s going to have a couple big dunks in the tournament — very possibly in transition as he loves to run — and do it through contact (he’s a finisher). He’s still a bit raw but if he goes to a team that can develop players in a few years they may have a guy they like a lot in their rotation.

Report: Lakers unwilling to give up youth in exchange for Trevor Ariza

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The Los Angeles Lakers would like to have Trevor Ariza back in the Forum blue and gold. However, it might not be that easy.

Ariza is due a significant amount of money from the Phoenix Suns this season, and in order to make a trade work the Lakers would need to get rid of some players of their own. Their preferred current roster member would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, although several teams are reluctant to take him. Of course, teams want something in return if they are going to help facilitate any deal between the Lakers and the Suns, which has helped put a stop on any movement.

According to a recent report, the Lakers are unwilling to include any of their young core in a trade for a reason. That apparently means Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram are unavailable in a deal with Ariza as currently constructed.

Via LA Times:

The Lakers have informed teams that have called about trade proposals that they will not give up any of their young core unless it’s for a superstar player, one person said.

The Suns were turned down when they sought to get one of the Lakers’ young players in exchange for Ariza, and Phoenix also rejected a three-team deal that was discussed with the Lakers.

The Lakers and Suns have continued to pursue trade scenarios that make sense for both teams.

Phoenix and Los Angeles are still reportedly trying to get a deal done for Ariza, but nothing is imminent. It does make sense that LA wouldn’t want to give up some of their younger players for an aging Ariza, who would fit well next to LeBron James but whose value has declined as we’ve seen the variance in his play between last season with the Houston Rockets and this year with the Suns.

I would still put my money on Ariza playing as a member of the home team at Staples Center this season. Typically when LeBron wants to add a veteran he likes around him, a deal gets done. For right now, we don’t know what a potential trade might look like, unless someone decides to relent in their asking price.

Phoenix woman roasts Suns owner Robert Sarver at city council meeting, calls him “so tight he squeaks” (VIDEO)

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The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to move. Owner Robert Sarver made a poorly-calculated threat to relocate the team to either Seattle or Las Vegas this week, something that was quickly walked back.

On Wednesday the Phoenix city council decided to postpone a vote on whether to help renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena, where the Suns play. Sarver has been lobbying for the renovations for some time, and wants public funding to do it.

But this is 2018, and people are wary of that sort of thing. The public is less likely to fork over the kind of unfettered public funds that most owners want, and people want a better return for their tax dollar these days.

Greta Rogers, a local area resident, voiced her concerns Wednesday night to the city council about them dealing with and potentially bending to Sarver’s will. Rogers’ comments to the council quickly became the thing of legend, with her calling Sarver “so tight he squeaks when he walks”.

Via Twitter:

That’s the right call in today’s day and age. Owners have far too much sway, and their stewardship of a public trust like a sports team shouldn’t allow them to influence taxpayers in the manner Sarver is attempting. In fact, it should be much the opposite.

Thanks to TV deals, Big 4 sports franchises are basically a license to print money. People don’t even need to show up to the stadium anymore — just look at most MLB parks. Owner-favorable tax deals, at least on the scale most cities hand out, are just bad business at this point.

On Thursday Sarver issued a video via the team Twitter account that didn’t say much of anything, despite the intention. In it, Sarver said he was committed to keeping the Suns in downtown Phoenix, building a new practice facility, and renovating the stadium. He didn’t mention anything about paying for it himself, which you would think he could do with a rumored net worth of $400 million. Or the team could just do it, since it’s a billion-dollar enterprise that can take out loans like any other business. Because, you know, that’s how capital expenditures work.

Sarver’s clumsy attempt to bully money out of the city of Phoenix in a post-SuperSonics NBA was pretty laughable. Hopefully more folks like Greta Rogers keep the council’s feet to the fire.

Ex-Sacramento Kings executive to plead guilty to siphoning $13.4 million from the team

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Court records show a former Sacramento Kings top executive has agreed to plead guilty to siphoning $13.4 million from the team to buy Southern California beachfront properties.

Federal prosecutors in Sacramento, California, on Wednesday filed charges and a plea agreement signed by former chief revenue officer Jeffrey David admitting to forging the team president’s signature to divert sponsorship payments to a bank account he controlled. Court records show the properties have been sold for $14.8 million, and the team is expected to recoup the stolen funds.

David is expected to plead guilty to wire fraud and identity theft in January and faces at least two years in prison, court records show.

David’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, didn’t return a call for comment.

The Sacramento Bee first reported the plea deal Wednesday.

Report: Dirk Nowitzki will make season debut Thursday against Suns

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Dirk Nowitzki is coming back for the Dallas Mavericks.

The veteran forward has been nursing a return from ankle surgery all season long, and has yet to make his debut in 2018-19. Despite not having Nowitzki on the floor, the Mavericks have jumped out to an impressive 15-11 record with Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic, and DeAndre Jordan leading the way.

The news was announced on social media on Thursday before the Mavericks got set to take on the Phoenix Suns.

Via Twitter:

Of course, sending Nowitzki back onto an NBA floor against Phoenix is perhaps the easiest test he could have as he comes back from an injury. The Suns are god-awful, and Nowitzki will need some time to readjust to playing at full speed (or at least at whatever speed he normally plays at).

The 40-year-old German star should be able to help the Mavericks as a bench contributor this season. Hopefully with Nowitzki on the floor Dallas can solidify their potential playoff berth.