NBA Draft winners and losers: Good day for the Sixers, rough day for their fans

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Let’s just admit this up front: Projecting the draft winners and losers just hours after the draft is a fool’s errand. There is no way to know how these players are going to pan out long term — guys we think were steals will fade away, guys we shrugged at tonight will be the guys fans ask their GM “how did you pas on this guy?” a few years from how. An injury or two will change everything.

That said, I’m willing to play the fool tell you who won and lost. And do it fully expecting to be proven right in five years.

This was a quieter draft than expected, what was supposed to be a beehive of trades saw only a few. Teams were drafting for themselves and some did it better than others.

Winner, Denver Nuggets. They were my biggest winners on draft day. Over the course of Thursday they turned Evan Fournier, Doug McDermott and a second round pick into Arron Afflalo, Gary Harris — maybe the steal of the draft after he fell to 19 — and potential future big man Josef Nurkic (stashed in Europe for a couple years). Two guard was the Nuggets weak spot 24 hours ago, no more. The Nuggets got better without giving up much.

[MORE: Every trade involving a 2014 NBA draft pick]

Winner: Philadelphia 76ers. They took a smart gamble and got maybe the best player in the draft in Joel Embiid — when you’re rebuilding and you need elite talent you swing for the fences not play it safe. Put Embiid next to Nerlens Noel in a couple years and if they can stay healthy they can be a force in the paint. The Sixers got a good future point forward in Dario Saric (who will spend the next two years in Turkey, developing. They picked up the very athletic Jerami Grant out of Syracuse, who should make some plays and fits an up-tempo system like the Sixers run. They rolled the dice on a few Europeans as well who may pan out down the line.

Loser: Philadelphia 76ers fans. This team lost 26 games in a row late last year and isn’t going to be much if any better next season. Embiid could pan out to be a great pick (and is likely at least a good one) in a couple years, and when Dario Saric comes to the NBA in a couple years he could be a big boost. But neither of those guys is playing next season. It’s going to be the largely same tanktastic roster in Philly, and that sucks for fans asked to sit through another year of it. Intellectually Sixers fans get the building plan, but it’s hard to watch right now.

[MORE: Top five players passed over in the draft]

Winner: Charlotte Hornets. Two great picks… see what happens when Michael Jordan lets GM Rich Cho do his job. First they got Noah Vonleh. Indiana power forward slipped down the board on draft night, right to the Hornets. He is a great fit — they have Al Jefferson banging inside and needed a stretch four to space the floor, Vonleh is that guy (he shot 48.5 percent from three last season). Then later on they traded with the Heat and got one of the underrated studs of the draft in P.J. Hairston — the guy can flat out shoot the rock and after much of a D-League season he is more ready to step in and contribute from Day 1 then most of the other guys in the draft.

Winner: Adam Silver. The handling of the Isaiah Austin situation, selecting the Baylor star for the league and brining him on stage, was almost as masterful as how he handled the Donald Sterling situation. Classy act. Silver continues to just kill it as commissioner so far (except for the age limit thing).

Loser: Zach LaVine. The UCLA prospect did not exactly want to go to Minnesota. Way to endear yourself to a fan base already pissed their star player is trying to push his way out of town.

Winner: Andrew Wiggins. He’s the No. 1 overall pick and he’s going to have Kyrie Irving feeding him the rock. The owner is desperate to make the playoffs and if everyone can just stay heathy the roster as it is now can do that in the East.

[MORE: Wiggins goes No. 1 overall, just like he always planned]

Loser: Kevin Love. He and his agent pushed to get traded before the draft and to a destination he wanted, but he is still a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves as you read this. Wolves president Flip Saunders doesn’t feel the need to make a move until he is ready, and he’s willing to wait for a better deal. Even if that means Love has to come to Timberwolves training camp, which would be very awkward.

Winner: Boston Celtics. Marcus Smart fell to them at No. 6 and with Rajon Rondo potentially being on the move this is a brilliant pick. Smart defends, competes and is going to be a good PG in the Association for a decade. Then they got another guy with great potential in James Young down at 17. Two guys who can be part of the future Celtics.

Winner: Los Angeles Lakers. Julius Randle is a guy who can step right in and play for them now and can be part of whatever the post-Kobe future is for the Lakers. He was long projected to fall all the way to 7 but this was a guy the Lakers liked and is a guy that may well pan out better than a number of guys taken ahead of him.

[MORE: Julius Randle hopes to learn plenty from Kobe Bryant]

Are plans for a play-in tournament just to get Zion Williamson in the bubble?

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The cleanest, most straightforward, fewest extra people in the “bubble” way for the NBA to return to play is to invite the 16 teams already in the playoffs — eight from each conference — and skip right to the postseason.

However, there is a lot of momentum around the league for a play-in tournament with 20 teams (or more). Specifically, one that brings in the four teams in the West clumped three-and-a-half to four games behind Memphis for the last playoff spot (Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, and San Antonio).

Why those teams? Because they had a real chance to catch the Grizzlies if play had not stopped?

Or, is it because the league wants Zion Williamson — its bright young star who spiked ratings and interest when he returned from injury mid-season — in the bubble? On ESPN’s Hoop Collective podcast, Brian Windhorst said some other teams seem to think the play-in plan is all about Williamson.

“Let me just say how do you get to 20 [teams in the bubble] though? Because if you just go by the straight records, because to me, this is what I’ve already heard, alright. I’ve already heard people in this league say this is an elaborate game to get Zion Williamson into this bubble…

“I’m not saying the NBA is going this route, I’m just saying I’ve already heard this scenario that no matter what happens, the cutoff line will be the Pelicans. They’ll be in.”

Windhorst is very well connected and I don’t know who his sources were for this, but if you’re with the Wizards or Hornets (or maybe even Bulls and Knicks), you would push for the nine and 10 seed in each conference to be in the bubble, not the next four best records (which are all in the West).

The NBA is a star-based league, of course getting its hottest new property into more televised games is a discussion taking place. You’d be naive to think otherwise. Whether Zion and the Pelicans end up in Orlando ultimately is another question.

All the lobbying and leaking of restart plans to the media — and even the pronouncements of Damian Lillard saying he will play if there’s no shot at the postseason — are spin. This is teams lobbying for what is best for them and their chances. Elite teams like the Lakers and Bucks want no part of a soccer-style group stage that is more likely to produce upsets, they want something more traditional. The Bucks are no fans of 1-16 seedings because then they would have to go through both the Clippers and Lakers to win it all (while the Lakers should love that plan, it sets up perfectly for LeBron James and company). Teams back different play-in plans that better lineup for them. It’s all politicking.

This Friday, in a conference call with owners, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is going to lay out a series of return-to-play options. A week or two after that, the owners will get on a conference call again and vote. Until then, everyone is going to lobby for their own self-interest.

That restart likely has teams reporting to Orlando for training camps in mid-July with games starting in late July or early August. How long the season runs depends on the format chosen. Next season almost certainly will start around Christmas (or maybe a week or two earlier, at most).

When a retired Michael Jordan showed up, dominated a Warriors practice

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It was the winter of 1995, major league baseball was on strike and Michael Jordan — at that time still a member of the Chicago White Sox organization — refused to be a scab and cross the picket lines.

“Mike was thinking about coming back (to the NBA), he was getting that itch again, it was a lockout in baseball, and he just wanted to play some basketball,” NBA legend Tim Hardaway told NBC Sports.

The Last Dance documentary covered how Jordan was secretly taking part in Bulls’ practices at that time. What it didn’t cover was the time Jordan flew out to California to see his friend, Rod Higgins (a Warriors assistant coach), and absolutely dominated a Warriors practice.

“It was kind of embarrassing for a guy to take that many months off then to come into our practice and dominate the way he did,” Hardaway said. “But of course, he’s MJ.”

Warriors players tell the story on The Sports Uncovered podcast, which launched today by NBC and takes a unique look at some of the most significant moments in sports. Like Jordan saying, “I’m back.” You can listen to the podcast below or download it at Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your pods.

Jordan was always looking for a test, and the Warriors at the time provided one: Hardaway was one of the game’s great scorers (but was still coming off a torn ACL) and trash talkers, and Golden State had the game’s “it” up-and-coming player in Latrell Sprewell.

Hardaway takes the story from there.

“[Jordan] and [then Warriors assistant coach] Rod Higgins are really good friends, he just came to visit Rod and said, ‘Hey, Rod, you think [Don Nelson] would let me just come to practice and with y’all?’ And Rod asked him and coach was like, ‘s ***, why not, of course.’

“He just wanted to see where he was at, where his skills was at — and of course they was still there. The same skills, without much rust, that he left with. He was practicing with us, and I came up and was egging him on, ‘Let’s see what you got, s***, let’s see it.’ He said, ‘Alright, now, I’m still MJ.’ And I was like, ‘You had guys throwing balls at you, you been out two years, I heard you been shooting around but this here, this is the real deal now, you got to come and lace your s*** up.”

“It was him, Rony Seikaly, Chris Mullin, some other point guard, against me, Sprewell, some other guys, and man, we was playing for like two hours, and I wanted to go some more because he was bustin’ our a**. He wouldn’t let Sprewell dribble the ball at all — he kinda knew exactly what Sprewell could do, what he couldn’t do, his weaknesses and his strengths.

“It was like he never missed a beat, man. He was out there shooting fadeaways, dunking, playing defense, getting through screens, denying, jumping through passing lanes. It was a little rust, of course, but once he got going each game he got stronger and stronger, his timing got better, you could just tell. He was kinda tired at the end, but it was something to see.”

Hardaway, always the competitor, didn’t want to stop.

“I was kinda upset because I think his team took it more seriously than our team,” Hardaway said. “But he came in and put on a show in practice…

“He said ‘I can play all night, but you all have a game tomorrow and I don’t want to wear you out.’ I was not playing that much anyway so I wanted to get as much run as I can.”

Find out more about that legendary practice, and Jordan’s return, on The Sports Uncovered podcast.

 

NBA veteran Jason Terry takes job as assistant coach at Arizona

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Jason Terry played four years for the legendary Lute Olsen at Arizona, winning a national championship in 1997 and averaging 21.9 points a game his senior year. The Jet went on from there to play 19 years in the NBA, winning a Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009, and he was part of the 2011 Dallas Mavericks championship team.

Terry had moved into the front office side of the business and was serving as the assistant GM of the Texas Legends, Dallas’ G-League affiliate. Now, however, he is jumping back to his alma mater, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

This is a smart hire by Arizona and head coach Sean Miller. High schoolers going to a major D-1 school all have NBA dreams and having a respected NBA veteran who can say “this is what it takes” on staff is a big plus. Besides, Terry was a smart player who knows the game and had a mentality suited to coaching.

For Terry, he’s back in a place he likes, he’s young (42) and has a world of options ahead of him.

Scott Foster says it’s going to be different officiating without fans in building

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The noise from 18,000 people can cover up a lot of sounds in an NBA arena. So when a back-bench assistant coach yells “bulls****” after a call he doesn’t like, the official never hears it and the game moves on.

Not when NBA games restart in fan-less facilities in Orlando in a couple of months. Without those fans, referees are going to get to hear that coach. And a whole lot more.

It’s going to be weird for referees in Orlando, just like for players, veteran official Scott Foster said recently on NBA TV.

I know I don’t want everything that we normally say to each other going out. But normally we’re all in a professional manner out there. But it is going to be different. There’s going to be some assistant coaches that we haven’t really heard from before sitting in the second row that we’ll be able to hear now, so there’s going to be some adjustment there. And then I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.

But it’s definitely going to be a different thing. I’m definitely looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be a really unique experience for the referees, players, coaches, everybody who’s going to go through this.”

It is going to be unique. Everybody is going to hear everything, and that is going to be very different from most nights when coaches have to go to hand signals because it’s too loud just to call out a play. It’s going to lead to some awkward and tense moments.

Everyone is going to have to adjust to the new reality, and that includes the referees, too.