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LeBron James: ‘NCAA is corrupt, we know that’

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The self-serving, laughable facade of the NCAA’s amateurism is crumbling.

The FBI investigation (which included a raid on the office of prominent agent Andy Miller) has exposed what everyone in the game already knew — money has been changing hands to line the pockets players/families/influencers for a long time. Coaches are in on it, agents are in on it, shoe companies are in on it, but it’s all done within a “pay no attention to that man behind the curtain” system. Universities rake in the cash on the free labor of players in revenue sports — a college with a good basketball team sees alumni donations go up, the number of applicants to the school increase, there is a prestige factor, and it all more than pays for the seven-figure salary for the coach (which is not counting his shoe deal). Much of what the FBI has uncovered is not a federal crime, but the NCAA looks foolish. And this is far from over.

It leaves parents of athletes who could play major college sports with serious questions. LeBron James is one of those parents (LeBron James Jr., age 13, reportedly has standing offers at Duke and Kentucky.) Asked about it Tuesday at shootaround, LeBron — who skipped college to go to the NBA — ripped the NCAA. Via Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I don’t know if there’s any fixing the NCAA. I don’t think there is,” James said Tuesday. “It’s what’s been going on for many, many, many, many years. I don’t know how you can fix it. I don’t see how you can fix it….

“I’m not a fan of the NCAA,” James said. “I love watching March Madness. I think that’s incredible. I’m not a fan of how the kids don’t benefit from none of this, so it’s kind of a fine line and I’ve got a couple boys that could be headed in that direction, so there’s going to be some decisions that we as a family have to make. But I know, as the NBA, we have to figure out a way that we can shore up our farm league, and if kids feel like they don’t want to be a part of that NCAA program, then we have something here for them to be able to jump back on and not have to worry about going overseas all the time, I guess.

“We have to figure that out, but kids getting paid is nothing new under the sun. You all seen ‘Blue Chips’? It’s a real movie, seriously. … The NCAA is corrupt, we know that. Sorry, it’s going to make headlines, but it’s corrupt.”

LeBron went on to discuss another truth in this — the NBA plays a role in all of it.

The one-and-done rule is part of the reason the money flows the way it does: It’s of great value to shoe companies and colleges to get the five-star recruits to go to a specific school, so the benefits flow under the table. Sometimes it goes to the player, more often it goes to a family member or influential AAU coach or someone else who can help steer the player to a school. Think of it this way (and I use this example not because I have publishable evidence of specific wrongdoing, it’s just because I know the numbers): Under Armour signed a 15-year, $280 million shoe and apparel deal with UCLA in 2016, that’s $18.7 million a year to the university — and you can be sure the company expects to make a profit on top of that. So if you’re Under Armour, a $100,000 payout to steer an elite player to UCLA — where he will raise the school’s profile and sell jerseys/gear/shoes — is a minor additional investment.

In talks with the players union and consulting with colleges, the NBA apparently is moving (slowly) toward a system that allows teams to draft a player straight out of high school (if he goes to college he has to stay at least two years). Teams now have a better focus on developing players, and they have an expanded G-League, that can help players make the leap to the NBA better than a year in college, for the elite guys. It’s not for everyone, but for guys such as Ben Simmons what is the point of a season at LSU if you’re already looking ahead?

Maverick Carter, the right-hand business agent, and friend of LeBron James, put it this way in a fantastic roundtable at USA Today.

“I think the NBA and the teams have to really roll up their sleeves, put together a team, a task force, a committee, and really figure this out because it’s a very complex issue. You have young players, lots of them African Americans, but also not African Americans, who come up through the system as it is today and don’t get paid until they maybe make it to the NBA. But everybody else is getting paid along the way. AAU coaches, AAU teams, college coaches, college teams, colleges. So when they do take money, it’s only a story because the NCAA has these stupid-ass rules that are so archaic, so you have to fix that whole thing and figure out a way to do it. I own a piece of Liverpool football club, in European soccer, because the clubs have systems all the way down to the youth. They’ve figured out a way where they don’t have to deal with it.”

 

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.