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Combine still has value even if top NBA prospects skip it

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CHICAGO (AP) Creighton forward Justin Patton has been fielding all kinds of questions at the NBA draft combine.

For example, does he slow down or speed up at a yellow light? The Minnesota Timberwolves wanted to know.

“I said, `It depends on where I’m going,”‘ he said.

That’s a big unknown for a 7-footer who went from having one Division I scholarship offer to turning pro after his redshirt freshman season. He’s projected as a middle or late first-round pick, and the combine sure is a big deal for him as he tries to boost his draft stock.

It just doesn’t have quite the shine it did in the past, with the stars skipping it altogether, participating on a limited basis or showing up only to interview with teams.

Eight-time All-Star and 2014 MVP Kevin Durant even told ESPN on Wednesday that the top prospects should take a pass on the combine. He recalled a rough experience in 2007 when he was 19 and turning pro after one year at Texas.

Durant remembered strength coaches laughing when he couldn’t bench press 185 pounds. He didn’t do great in the vertical leap or sprint even though he was known for his superior athleticism. Durant told ESPN all he wanted to do was pick up a basketball and show his skills on the court.

If the combine hurt his stock, it didn’t drop too far. Durant was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics with the No. 2 pick after Portland took Greg Oden and went on to become one of his generation’s best players.

But the combine isn’t quite the star-studded showcase it used to be. Likely lottery picks Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Malik Monk are not attending.

“The league has done everything it can to try promote all the players to be here, but the agents have control over the player,” said John Paxson, the Chicago Bulls’ executive vice president of basketball operations. “As long as that’s the situation, they can dictate what the player does or doesn’t do in these settings.”

Top players need to weigh the risks and rewards, of course. And along those lines, Kentucky coach John Calipari believes Durant has a point.

“If you think there’s anything here that would hurt you, don’t come,” he said. “If you think there’s anything here that would help you, come. If you have to play to help yourself, come. If it doesn’t help you – playing- then don’t play. This is for these kids. My job is to protect my guys. The job of these NBA teams is to get as much information as they can to make a great pick. They would like to see every one of them play five-on-five, do all the (drills). It’s not the way it is for these kids.”

Calipari said he has never advised a player to skip the event. But he has told them not to play, for example, if they have nothing to gain.

Paxson said he can understand top prospects skipping certain aspects of the combine. But he doesn’t understand missing it entirely.

“To not go through medical and some of the athletic testing, you don’t have that in football,” he said.

Even so, there still is value in the combine even if the top prospects are skipping it. Teams get to see players in an intense setting that can’t necessarily be replicated in workouts at their practice facilities. They’re getting face time with prospects. And players looking to move up in the draft or into it are getting a showcase.

“I know that the league does a good job of evaluating (the combine),” Paxson said. “Every time we have a combine, they look at ways to improve it. They want it to be a valuable tool for us as well.”

North Carolina’s Justin Jackson isn’t playing. But he’s getting a chance to convey just who he is, to make connections and show just how important basketball is to him. He ranks it right behind his faith and family.

“I’m able to show myself, show who I really am and kind of start building relationships around the league,” he said. “You walk into the lobby and you have no idea who might be in there.”

UCLA’s TJ Leaf felt he had some things to prove through the tests. And some teams had a big question for him – a $495 question. Would he buy Ball’s basketball shoes?

“I’m not going to be buying one,” he said. “If Lonzo would send me one, I’d definitely try it on and I’d wear it a little bit. But I’m not gonna be buying one.”

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.