Monday NBA grades: Pacers don’t even play and still get good marks

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while thinking the French don’t really get the point of the smartphone…

source:  Indiana Pacers. They had the night off and are still winners. Early in the season their focus was getting the top seed in the East and make everyone come to them in the playoffs. Now with Miami’s loss to the Wizards Monday night the Pacers got their wish. They will have the best record in the East. Indiana has home court through the conference playoffs, which is huge for a Pacers team that is 35-6 at home but 20-20 on the road this season.

source:  Milwaukee Bucks. With their loss they have locked up the worst record in the NBA and with it they will have more ping pong balls (really random number combinations, but that’s not exciting to say) than any other team. Maybe the best news is they can’t fall farther than fourth in the lottery — no matter what happens they are going to add a quality player to a young core of Giannis Antetokounmpo, John Henson and Larry Sanders. The Bucks may be building something for the new owners coming to Milwaukee this summer.

source:  Tyreke Evans, New Orleans Pelicans. Coach Monty Williams didn’t want him to play because of a balky knee, even pulled him out of shootaround. Tyreke begged and it worked out pretty well — Evans took over the second half scoring 32 of his 41 on the night. He sparked the Pelicans to an upset win over the Thunder Monday. Evans also had 9 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals, and only one turnover. The Pelicans need more of that Evans next season.

source:  Zach Randolph, Memphis Grizzlies. When he is scoring like this, and Memphis is grinding on defense like they did Monday night against the Suns, the Grizzlies are very hard to beat. Which is why nobody wants to face them in the first round. Randolph had 32 points on 15-of-25 shooting and he was doing his damage in close — he was 12-of-18 inside 8 feet. He was scoring around the rim because that is what Randolph does.

source:  Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves. He had 22 points… in the first quarter. He finished with 40 points and 14 rebounds. And the Timberwolves lost in spite of it. Again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

source:  Nick Young, Los Angeles Lakers. I don’t know where Swaggy P will be playing next season (he is expected to opt out of his contract), but the guy has carved a niche out for himself with the Lakers. He has become vintage sixth man material, in sort of the same way J.R. Smith has been for the Knicks — he will come in off the bench firing. He’s going to miss more than he makes some nights, but on the nights he has got it going — as he did dropping 41 on the Jazz Monday — he is fun to watch. Even if his outbursts are hurting the Lakers’ lottery odds.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.