Mitch McGary’s options: Accept one-year NCAA marijuana suspension or declare for NBA draft. What do you think he did?

36 Comments

I will never criticize college players for turning pro, and this is why.

Far too much analysis focuses on whether players will be a first-round pick and get a guaranteed contracts, and while that should be a factor, it becomes the factor because it’s something we can evaluate from afar. That’s not a good reason to criticize an unlikely first rounder for entering the NBA draft.

We just can’t know everything happening in players’ lives, and there are so many elements to the decision. How are their grades? How much do they enjoy campus life? How much do they and their family need the money?

Are they facing a year-long suspension for a draconian NCAA policy?

In the case of Mitch McGary, the answer to that question is yes, and he will enter the 2014 NBA draft.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports broke the news and wrote an incredibly detailed story, speaking to McGary, who admitted failing a single marijuana test that resulted in a one-year suspension:

One night in mid-March, with the NCAA tournament about to begin without him, McGary was hanging out with a group of friends at Michigan. He had a few drinks. Someone offered some marijuana – a common occurrence, he said, on campus.

“I always turned it down,” McGary told Yahoo Sports. “But that night I didn’t.”

McGary, who hadn’t played since December, was suspended by the NCAA for the entire 2014-15 season after failing an NCAA test.

The rules are confusing, arbitrary and misguided. Had he failed an NCAA test anytime after Aug. 1, he would have been suspended a half season instead of a full one. Had he failed a Michigan test instead of an NCAA test, he would have been suspended three games.

Apparently, the wickedness of smoking pot depends on the exact date you do it and who catches you.

And that’s not to mention the elephant in the room: Should there even be a penalty at all? Ann Arbor has decriminalized marijuana, and McGary was out injured. Larry Sanders has made the case for medical marijuana, and it’s plausible to see how it could have benefited McGary, who was suffering from a back injury and the mental anguish of not playing. Wetzel:

The Chesterton, Ind., native could’ve just turned pro and not mentioned the failed drug test publicly or privately. It stands to reason other players have done just that.

Instead, McGary believed being honest would be best for himself, his family, the Michigan program and his pro future, where he won’t have to worry about news leaking out and NBA teams believing he was hiding something.

While he doesn’t agree with the length of the NCAA’s punishment, he wants to be clear he isn’t blaming anyone but himself. He sat across a table here Thursday seeking a chance to give an explanation, not an excuse.

“I was just really stressed out,” he said of the frustration of not being able to play. “I was at a bad point, just coming off back surgery. I just wasn’t really thinking it through. I have definitely learned from it.

“I am just disappointed in myself overall because this is not me, this is not who I am overall.”

I really recommend you read Wetzel’s full article, as it gives the near-complete look at McGary’s decision we rarely see. Context is everything, and Wetzel provides a stunning amount.

Last year, McGary could have been a lottery pick and had probably played himself into a first-round lock. The 6-foot-10, 225-pound power forward/center is nimble for his size, possesses excellent touch, doesn’t shy from contact and plays with non-stop energy.

In six 2013 NCAA tournament games, McGary averaged 14.3 points on 68 percent shooting, 10.7 rebounds, 2.0 steals and 1.2 blocks. When Michigan needed his passing against Syracuse’s zone defense in the Final Four, he even had six assists.

Maybe he got hot at just the right moment. I saw a player who improved throughout the season and continued to do so until the moment it concluded.

Instead of parlaying that success into an NBA contract, McGary returned to Michigan. He suffered a back injury, had surgery and missed most of the entire season. Then, he got hit with this marijuana suspension. He will, and should, face questions from NBA teams about drug use. So far, he’s answered them all splendidly, and if he continues to do so, he shouldn’t fall in the draft.

But he’ll also turn 22 before the draft. He hasn’t played in months, and back injuries are always concerning. See Joel Embiid.

McGary is most-likely a high second-round pick, and though there’s plenty of leeway for him to move either direction from that projection, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he works himself into the late first round. Still, it’s unlikely McGary gets drafted higher than he would have last year.

Just as I won’t criticize players for turning pro, I won’t criticize players for staying in college. If they want to extend that experience, more power to them.

I just hope they do so with a full understanding of how the process works, and this case serves as a valuable teaching point. The longer you hang around school, the more opportunities the NCAA has to do you wrong.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

0 Comments

Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

0 Comments

There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.