Highest-paid rookie in NBA history, Bogdan Bogdanovic proving himself with Kings

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LOS ANGELES – Kings rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic insists he wanted to get to the NBA much more quickly than he did.

He declared for the 2013 NBA draft.

“That’s how I put myself on radar here,” said Bogdanovic, who was playing in his native Serbia.

He garnered some attention, but not enough, so he withdrew. He declared again in 2014, and the Suns picked him No. 27.

“Honestly, I wanted to come right over that year,” Bogdanovic said.

But Phoenix told him he’d likely spend significant time with its minor-league affiliate, so he returned to Europe.

“The plan was one only,” Bogdanovic said of how many more seasons he’d spend overseas.

He signed with Turkish power Fenerbahçe and helped the club reach its first-ever EuroLeague Final Four. Bogdanovic again considered coming stateside, but a prohibitive buyout and desire to win a EuroLeague title pushed him back to Fenerbahçe another year. That season, he helped the team reached the EuroLeague championship game. Fenerbahçe fell behind big early, made a thrilling comeback to force overtime, but still fell to CSKA Moscow.

“I learned to be ready to pay every single game – like it’s the last one in life,” Bogdanovic said in what sounded like a nod to that devastating result or the time a previous coach choked him during a game.

The Suns dealt Bogdanovic’s rights to Sacramento on draft night 2016 (trading up for the No. 8 pick to get Marquese Chriss), delaying Bogdanovic’s NBA debut yet another year.

Finally, just more than three years after getting drafted, Bogdanovic signed with the Kings.

The wait meant Bogdanovic was no longer restricted by the NBA’s rookie scale for first-round picks. That, his major improvement in Europe and Sacramento’s ample salary-cap space meant he got a three-year, $27 million contract. His rookie salary is $9,470,614 – the highest in NBA history – and Bogdanovic visibly beams about the deal, the upside of deferring his NBA dream so long.

He also keeps perspective.

“Money doesn’t play,” Bogdanovic said. “You’ve still got to go there and show out what you got paid for.”

So far, Bogdanovic is doing that.

He’s a strong contender for an All-Rookie team in this loaded class, and he won MVP of the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend. Bogdanovic is outperforming No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz and arguably No. 2 pick Lonzo Ball, which makes some sense, considering Bogdanovic is also out-earning them – and every other rookie in NBA history.

Here are the highest-paid rookies with where they were drafted and the team for which they debuted:

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Bogdanovic – who’s averaging 11.5 points, 3.2 assists, 2.7 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game – is a good shooter with a decent all-around game. He’s one of just 10 qualifying players* shooting 50% on 2-pointers and 40% on 3-pointers. Most of them are All-Stars.

*The other nine: Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Karl-Anthony Towns, Al Horford, Kevin Love, Otto Porter, E'Twaun Moore and Darren Collison

A peer group comprised mostly of All-Stars is probably overly ambitious, but perhaps Bogdanovic shouldn’t be compared to other rookies, either. He’s already 25 and a veteran of professional basketball.

In fact, the Kings don’t treat him like a rookie at all.

“We’ve got four rookies on the team,” said De'Aaron Fox, the No. 5 pick in the most recent draft. Himself, No. 15 pick Justin Jackson, No. 20 pick Harry Giles and No. 34 pick Frank Mason. Older than most of his teammates, Bogdanovic doesn’t have to do typical rookie duties like picking up food or carrying bags.

“They respect me,” Bogdanovic said.

So does Buddy Hield, the crown jewel of the DeMarcus Cousins trade and Sacramento’s incumbent starting shooting guard.

The 6-foot-6 Bogdanovic and 6-foot-4 Hield can share the wing in some matchups, but some small forwards are too big for either. So, the two have alternated stints in the starting lineup.

“It’s competition, but you don’t want it to be easy for you,” said Hield, who also played in the Rising Stars game. “You want to work for your own and work for your spot. And me and Bogi have a great relationship. Whether he starts or I start, it doesn’t matter.”

Neither Hield nor Bogdanovic is a can’t-miss prospect. Bogdanovic is having a nice season, but his age creates major questions about his upside. The Kings gain value by hedging bets.

Bogdanovic sounds determined to prove himself, not fall back on his current contract, which already guarantees life-changing money.

“If you don’t use that chance,” Bogdanovic said, “it might be your last one.”

Lillard poised to pass Drexler as Trail Blazers all-time leading scorer

2022-23 Portland Trail Blazers Media Day
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Damian Lillard could have done what a lot of NBA stars have done — what a lot of them told him to do while recruiting him — and has chosen to stay in Portland. He wants to be remembered as the greatest Trail Blazer ever.

One good way to do that: Become the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Sometime around Thanksgiving or a little after, Lillard will do just that, passing Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler and his 18,040 points (Lillard is 531 back).

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports spoke to Lillard about when he knew the record was within reach, during Trail Blazers training camp in Santa Barbara, California (go Gauchos!). It was when Lillard got to 10,000 points.

“I was like, ‘Damn, I got 10,000 already?’ ” Lillard told Yahoo Sports he recalled at the time. “It was my sixth season in the league. That’s when I started thinking, if I could be consistent, I could score into the high 20,000-point range. As a scorer, 20,000 points is always looked at as a special mark. From that moment, I knew it was possible, but it’s also when I first researched Clyde Drexler’s [scoring] record with the team.”

Drexler is good with being passed by Lillard.

“You and I know records are made to be broken, but I can’t think of a better player or person to break the record than Dame,” Drexler told Yahoo Sports. “He exemplifies being a team player and going about his business in a professional way. I have nothing but admiration and respect for him. When he comes close to getting the record, and if our schedules align, I would love to be there to help out in any way I can. That’s a nice milestone to achieve. I am looking forward to him accomplishing that.”

Lillard is on a lot of front office people’s watch list this season, as in “how long before he is unhappy and asks for a trade?” The thing is, Lillard has been on that list for years and he keeps choosing Portland — he isn’t looking to leave. Of course, the $120 million extension and a retooling of the roster around him helped with that decision, but Lillard always had other options if he wanted them (and at times it felt like he would take them).

The Trail Blazers brought in Jerami Grant, re-signed Anfrenee Simons, and will put them with a solid core of others such as (a finally healthy) Jusuf Nurkic, Josh Hart, Gary Payton II and others. It’s a good roster, the question is how good in a deep West?

There are a lot of questions about how this season shakes out in Portland, but the one seeming sure thing is Lillard becoming the Trail Blazers’ all-time leading scorer. And that seems fitting.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

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Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

Highlights from Japan Game: Hachimura and Wiseman put on show, plus Suga and Curry

Golden State Warriors v Washington Wizards - NBA Japan Games
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The NBA preseason is officially here — and it started in Japan. The Golden State Warriors faced the Washington Wizards in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. In case you didn’t wake up at 6 am Eastern to watch a meaningless preseason NBA game (and if you did, we’re worried about you), here are a few highlights and notes from the night.

• The Wizards were there because they have the biggest Japanese star in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, and he was given a chance to shine. The crowd erupted when he did anything.

• The leading scorer on the night was the Warriors James Wiseman with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus nine boards.

• Dunk of the game goes to Kyle Kuzma.

Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things.

• Stephen Curry also met Suga of BTS and gave him some game-worn kicks. This will win Twitter for the day.

• Oh, by the way, the Warriors won 96-87. As for the level of basketball, it looked like the first preseason game after a flight halfway around the world. The teams combined to shoot 11-of-47 in the first quarter (23.4%) and both were under 40% for the game.

Klay Thompson is sitting out both Warriors games in Japan.

TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the other two players currently in the NBA born in Japan?

Cam Thomas (Yokosuka) and Yuta Watanabe (Yokohama), both of the Brooklyn Nets (Watanabe is on a training camp deal and is not expected to make the roster). Both were raised much of their lives and went to high school and college in the United States.