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2018 NBA Mock Draft of entire first round

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The ping-pong balls have bounced and the basketball gods have shined on the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings, and Atlanta Hawks.

Will the Suns take Deandre Ayton No. 1? Will Luka Doncic slip down the board? Where will Trae Young land?

Rob Dauster of NBC’s College Basketball Talk and myself spent hours after the lottery ended putting together a full first-round mock draft. You can listen to the two-part podcast here and see how we argued and reasoned our way into these picks. Dauster brings incredible knowledge of these college players (and an international), and I tried to think like these teams and what they will prioritize in the draft (usually just the best player on the board, but still).

Here’s how we see the first round shaking out.

Suns small icon 1. Phoenix Suns: Deandre Ayton, 7’0” center (Arizona). The consensus No. 1 pick could be a franchise-changing player with unlimited skills on the offensive end — he can finish at the rim, face up, hit threes or midrange jumpers, is mobile and can play in transition, and just generally looks like a modern NBA five. The only knocks are consistent effort questions, which show mostly on the defensive end (he can block shots but is not consistent there). If he lives up to his potential, he will be a dominant force who will make many All-NBA teams and more. He can be the inside to Devin Booker’s outside in Phoenix.

Kings small icon 2. Sacramento Kings: Luka Doncic, 6’8” point/forward (Serbia). He put up good numbers against men in the EuroLeague and ABC League last year, leading powerhouse Real Madrid at age 19. He’s a gifted passer and playmaker who is at his best in transition or coming off the pick and reading the play. He’s the most NBA-ready player in this draft. The only question is his ceiling, he’s not al elite NBA-level athlete and struggled some when defended by NBA-level athletes in Europe (the NBA’s speed and length will be an adjustment). Will make a strong playmaking combo with D’Aaron Fox.

Hawks small icon 3. Atlanta Hawks:. Marvin Bagley III, 6’11” forward/center (Duke). Just a pure scorer who is an elite athlete and may have the fastest second jump in this draft. He has the full bag of tricks on offense — can shoot the three and is strong around the rim — and is going to be able to score at the NBA level right away. There are real questions about his defense (Duke went to a zone last season in part because of how he got torched in pick-and-rolls). Bagley and John Collins can be Atlanta’s front line of the future.

Grizzlies small icon 4. Memphis Grizzlies: Jaren Jackson Jr., 6’11” forward/center (Michigan St.). The Grizzlies have a center (Marc Gasol) but can’t pass up the best guy on the board right now and a prototypical center for the direction the NBA is going — 7’5” wingspan, a good rim protector who can block shots but also can switch on the perimeter and stay in front of smaller players, can finish around the rim with either hand, and can shoot the three (despite a slightly odd shot). He’ll need to get stronger and prove he can be consistent (and stay out of foul trouble) on defense, but he’s young and some scouts think he could be the best player in the draft eventually.

Mavericks small icon 5: Dallas Mavericks: Mohamed Bamba, 7’0” center (Texas) The Mavericks have been looking for a center ever since the DeAndre Jordan debacle, this can be there answer. Bamba has the potential to be an elite rim protecting center with his 7’9.5” wingspan and instincts, plus he moves well enough to cover on the perimeter on pick-and-rolls. A lot of comparisons to Rudy Gobert here, and like Gobert he’s got a lot of work to do to get strong enough to make this work.

Magic small icon 6. Orlando Magic: . Trae Young, 6’2” point guard (Oklahoma). The Elfrid Payton era is over, the Magic are in the midst of another rebuild, and whoever the new coach ends up being he is going to need a point guard to lead the squad (and the Magic need a name to help them sell tickets). Young has shooting range out to 30 feet and isn’t afraid to show it off, he also sees the court well and makes entertaining passes — he also commits a lot of turnovers by not making the simple pass. There are questions about his defense. A lot of fans want to compare him to Stephen Curry, but if he doesn’t put in a lot of work and accept his role there is Jimmer Fredette potential here.

Bulls small icon 7. Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr., 6’10” center (Duke). Long term, Carter can be the more traditional big man the Bulls play next to Lauri Markkanen on the front line. He has an NBA body and a varied offensive game — he can post up back-to-basket, has a variety of moves, can face up, and can hit a three. Carter is strong on the glass, too. The big concern is defense, where he’s slow footed and (along with Bagley) struggled so much on that end Coach K was forced to play zone at Duke. What happens when he gets dragged into NBA pick-and-rolls?

Cavaliers small icon 8. Cleveland Cavaliers (via Brooklyn): Miles Bridges, 6’6” forward (Michigan St.). Koby Altman and the Cavs front office is not going to know LeBron James’ plan when they pick, which puts them in a very tough spot. Bridges is a guy who can help on the wing now if LeBron returns. He’s very athletic, can knock down threes, can guard either wing spot, and knows how to play a role. He could step right into a “3&D” role. If LeBron leaves Bridges can be part of the future, but he’s not a franchise cornerstone guy (there are none left on the board at this point).

Knicks small icon 9. New York Knicks: Michael Porter Jr., 6’10” forward (Missouri). This would be a roll of the dice by the new Knicks front office, but a good one at this point in the draft. Coming into this season Porter Jr. was projected as a top-three — potentially No. 1 — pick but a back injury sidelined him for most of the season, and he didn’t look 100% upon his return. The medical reports on him will play a key role in where he goes. He’s also rumored to have a real ego. That said, the man when healthy is an elite athlete who can score inside and out and will just get buckets on the NBA level. Potentially a good pairing with Kristaps Porzingis on the front line.

Sixers small icon 10. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). Mikal Bridges, 6’7” forward (Villanova) The Sixers need shooting from the wings — Marco Belinelli, Ehsan Ilyasova, and J.J. Redick are free agents and not the long-term answer — so they will take the guy already beloved in Philly who is a perfect fit. Bridges shot 43.5% from three last season, although he needs to improve his defense he has the athleticism and length (7’2” wingspan) to do it.

Hornets small icon 11.Charlotte Hornets: Collin Sexton, 6’2” point guard (Alabama). Whether new GM Mitch Kupchak decides to keep Kemba Walker or trade him and start a rebuild, they still could use depth and playmaking at the point (the Hornets fall apart with Walker off the floor). Sexton is a hard-working, exceptional athlete who loves to drive the lane (but needs to work on his decision making) and could be an elite defensive point guard in the NBA. Fans are going to love his aggressive style of play that borders on reckless, new coach James Borrego maybe not as much.

Clippers small icon 12. Los Angeles Clippers (via Pistons): Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, 6’6” guard (Kentucky). While Los Angeles has a lot of guys at the point — Patrick Beverley, Milos Teodosic — none of them are the future for the franchise at that position (unless you’re a much bigger Austin Rivers fan than the rest of us). With Gilgeous-Alexander Los Angeles gets a big point guard who has a nice jump shot and can hit threes, and who is crafty and slithery more than classically explosive, and he knows how to manage a game. He will fit in well with this team (whatever DeAndre Jordan decides and what direction the franchise goes).

Clippers small icon 13. Los Angeles Clippers: Robert Williams, 6’10” power forward/center (Texas A&M). If DeAndre Jordan leaves in free agency the Clippers will want a new big man, if he stays they could use some depth behind him (or next to him at the four if Doc Rivers wants to play big). Williams is an elite athlete, long and can jump out of the building, and he should become a strong rim-protecting center. He’s also a bit of a development project, particularly on the offensive ends. Will Williams put in the work to get where he needs to? If so, this becomes a good pick.

Nuggets small icon 14. Denver Nuggets:. Kevin Knox, 6’9” forward (Kentucky). He has the potential to be the kind of switchable forward NBA teams covet these days, with good shot mechanics (despite hitting just 34% of threes in college) and good athleticism. His defense needs to improve to cover smaller wings at the NBA level. One of the youngest players in this draft, so a lot of room to grow.

Wizards small icon 15. Washington Wizards: Aaron Holiday, 6’1” point guard (UCLA). When John Wall sat last season, the Wizards were 4.7 points per 100 possessions worse, and coach Scott Brooks doesn’t seem to fully trust Tomas Satoransky in the backup PG role (hence too much Ty Lawson in the playoffs). Enter Holiday (the younger brother of Jrue Holiday), he is a very smart game manager who can light it up and averaged 20.3 points per game and shot 42.9 percent from three last season. Can play well off the ball, too (as he had to next to Lonzo Ball the season before). Not a high ceiling, but will be a quality backup PG in the NBA for a long time.

Suns small icon 16. Phoenix Suns (via Heat): Lonnie Walker IV, 6-‘4” shooting guard, (Miami). The Suns have wings, but for a team looking for high-upside players to develop this is their guy at this point in the draft. One of the best athletes in the draft, he’s a good shot creator who can get to the rim and finish. He has the skills to be a very good NBA defender, but he needs to put them to use. To thrive at the NBA level, his jumper has to be more consistent and his handles need to improve. He may not have been used properly in Miami and could thrive in an NBA setting, but he needs to put in the off-season work.

Bucks small icon 17. Milwaukee Bucks. Zhaire Smith, 6’5” small forward (Texas Tech). The Bucks love to draft long, high-upside projects, and Smith is all of that. 6’11” wingspan, crazy athletic, and he has show the potential to be a very good defender. He needs to show consistency with his shooting (he hit threes at a 45% clip but didn’t take many) and his handles need to improve. He’s a project but could develop into a steal and another long athlete for the Bucks.

Spurs small icon 18. San Antonio Spurs: Keita Bates-Diop, 6-7 forward (Ohio St.). The guy is a shooter, although his three-point percentage in college may not show it. Not an explosive athlete but smart, still he’s going to have to become a better defender to earn regular minutes at the NBA level.

Hawks small icon 19. Atlanta Hawks (via Timberwolves):. Troy Brown, 6-7, wing (Oregon). A top high school prospect who didn’t blow people away in college, he is a valued NBA commodity — a shot creator on the wing who can play and guard multiple positions. He’s not an elite athlete and his shooting has to improve, but he’s young and can develop into a quality wing.

20:Minnesota Timberwolves: Chandler Hutchison, 6’7” wing (Boise St.) Minnesota has Jimmy Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wing, but Hutchinson can bring scoring off the bench behind them. He’s a fluid athlete whose shot needs to get better, but he’s got the potential. A four-year college guy he can likely help right away, he just needs to add some range to his shot.

Jazz small icon 21. Utah Jazz: Melvin Frazier, 6’6” small forward (Tulane). This may be a little high for Frazier (most teams have him later first or early second), but we’re a little higher on him than most. With a 7’2” wingspan he has the potential to be a very good NBA defender. The question is his shooting — he hit a respectable 38.5% on threes, but a lot of people are convinced he’s not that good a shooter (which is why he could fall to the second). If the Jazz can develop that shot they will have a player who will fit what they do on the wing.

Bulls small icon 22. Chicago Bulls (via Pelicans): Khyri Thomas, 6’3” shooting guard (Creighton). He’s going to be kind of a “3&D” two guard who can cover both wing spots (thanks to a 6’11” wingspan) and he can hit spot up jumpers. This is not a high ceiling player, but is a high-floor one — he’s not going to be a bust, he will be part of an NBA rotation.

Pacers small icon 23. Indiana Pacers: Jacob Evans, 6’6” wing, (Cincinnati). In an NBA where versatility on the wing is what all 30 teams are seeking, Evans will fit right in. He’s a good defender at multiple positions and can hit the three. He’s an NBA role player, coming off the bench at first, but has real value for the Pacers.

Blazers small icon 24. Portland Trail Blazers: Mitchell Robinson, 6’11” center (Western Kentucky) An elite recruit coming out of high school who never played at Western Kentucky because he wanted to transfer but would have had to sit out under NCAA rules, he’s still got the size and physical tools NBA teams want in a center. He can be a shot-blocking rim-runner with a couple of years of development. It’s a good risk at this point in the draft.

Lakers small icon 25. Los Angeles Lakers (via Cavaliers): Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard (IMG Academy). A top-10 prospect who decided not to go to college and headed to prep school instead (ala Thon Maker). He is a project who is going to take a couple of years to come around, but could be worth the wait. He’s a versatile combo guard who should play off the ball mostly (which is fine next to Lonzo Ball). This is a good spot in the draft to roll the dice, and the Lakers did just that.

Sixers small icon 26. Philadelphia 76ers (via Lakers). De’Anthony Melton, 6’3” guard (USC). He sat out this season with Southern California due to being at the heart of the FBI investigation into college basketball, which means workouts will be huge for his standing. He needed to improve as a shooter with the season off, but he was a very good defensive guard who could do some playmaking when called upon.

Celtics small icon 27. Boston Celtics: Bruce Brown, 6’3” shooting guard (Miami)He has the versatile skills set that Brad Stevens likes and could fit into the Celtics’ rotation. He’s a very strong defender who is physically gifted, but he needs to work a lot on his shot and handles to really impact the NBA game.

Warriors small icon 28. Golden State Warriors: Jalen Brunson, 6’2” point guard (Villanova). The point guard who led Villanova to a national title, he’s a high IQ player who is polished, can manage the game, and is a good facilitator of the offense. He’s not going to be elite (not athletic enough) and could struggle some defensively, but coming off the bench for the Warriors and feeding their shooters is something he can do. Brunson will stick in the NBA a long time.

Nets small icon 29. Brooklyn Nets (via Raptors): Tyus Battle, 6’7” wing (Syracuse). He had to carry the Syracuse attack last season as their only good shot creator, so his efficiency should go up in the NBA. He has NBA size, can play with the ball in his hands, and he has the potential to be a good NBA defender.

Hawks small icon 30. Atlanta Hawks (via Raptors:. Shake Milton, 6’6” guard (SMU). A tall point guard who can play the two as well, he’s got a good shooing stroke. He battled injuries last season, which kept his production down. This guy could be a steal this deep in the draft.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant had grown closer in last couple months

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James
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For years, the LeBron James-Kobe Bryant relationship had been defined by not meeting in the NBA Finals.

One played in the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Finals. But the other fell short each year. It was just incredible missed timing between LeBron’s Cavaliers then Heat and LeBron’s Lakers for a whole decade.

LeBron and Kobe played together on Team USA, and they admired each other. But they didn’t share the deepest bond. LeBron had his close friends – Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Bryant was more of a loner.

When LeBron signed with the Lakers in 2018, that offered more opportunity for him and Bryant to connect. But that was amidst an iciness from some Lakers fans who’d grown accustomed to denigrating LeBron in support of Kobe (a sentiment Bryant tried to thwart). When the Lakers disappointed last season, Bryant also didn’t rush to associate himself with that team.

LeBron’s and Bryant’s relationship had changed by the time Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

LeBron James as absolutely devastated by this on Sunday. I’m told he didn’t sleep at all on Sunday. He was just in a really bad place all day Monday. Just what I think the hardest part for LeBron is that he and Kobe had started to develop the relationship that both of them had always wanted to have. They started to get much closer this year. Even last year, when LeBron came here, Kobe reached out to welcome him to the franchise. But he didn’t come to any games. There wasn’t much back and forth between them. And the back and forth actually started this year, when Kobe came to the game with Gianna. She actually wanted to see Trae Young. So, they came to the game. And LeBron came over, embraced Kobe, and that’s actually what started the dialogue between both of them. It’s been described to me as the relationship that they always wanted to have.

LeBron’s heartache was evident when he left the Lakers’ team flight Sunday:

LeBron also expressed his sadness on Instagram:

View this post on Instagram

I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life❤️🙏🏾 #Gigi4Life❤️🙏🏾

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

The Lakers, whose game was postponed, gathered yesterday.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

When James redirected his focus to what lies ahead for the grieving franchise, James said he could handle the burden of playing through grief in pursuit of the Lakers’ 17th championship.

“God gave me wide shoulders for a reason,” James said, according to multiple people who were present.

LeBron had just passed Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list. They spoke after that achievement.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Bryant’s final tweet has become sadly poetic:

NBA Power Rankings: From Paris to Milwaukee Giannis Antetokounmpo keeps on winning

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Kobe Bryant’s untimely death has cast a pall over the NBA, a dark cloud blocking the light for both players and fans. But the league grinds on, and so do our NBA power rankings, which now have Kobe’s Lakers back up to No. 2.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (41-6, Last Week No. 1). Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of the many elite players in the league who credit Kobe Bryant for helping him reach that level: “I grew up with Kobe. Kobe influenced my life. Looking up to him, one of the reasons I started playing basketball. One of the reasons that I am here today.”Milwaukee picked up a win last week the NBA’s first-ever game in Paris.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (36-10, LW No. 3). Postponing the Tuesday night game against the Clippers was the right move by the league. It’s not just the Lakers’ players who are grieving, Kobe was a 20-year Laker employee who had deep ties outside the locker room with people in game operations, the marketing team, season ticket sales, and so much more. The organization is grieving, and will undoubtedly have a tremendous tribute for Kobe on Friday night against Portland. It’s a crazy coincidence that Kobe died just a day after LeBron James passed him on the all-time scoring list.

 
Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (32-14, LW 2). Utah should have two players in the All-Star Game next month, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. There seems to be momentum behind the Gobert candidacy, talking to people around the league (although the coaches make that vote). Mitchell, while deserving, is battling for a spot on the reserves with other guards who also can make good cases (Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, etc.), and the coaches have some tough choices. Utah slips one spot this week because of the loss to a very shorthanded Rockets team.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (33-14, LW 4). Against Miami over the weekend, Doc Rivers rolled out his 21st different starting lineup of the season — the most in the NBA. Last season the Clippers had 14 starting lineups total, but roster changes and injuries have made this season exceptional. It speaks to why there has yet to be real cohesion with this Clippers roster, and also why — while they are actively looking at the trade market — they are in no way panicking. This team, as is, remains a serious title contender.

 
Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (33-14, LW 8). Pascal Siakam was voted in an All-Star starter and he earned it. Not just with his 23.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, but also with the fact the Raptors outscore opponents by 8.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the court (and look like maybe the second best team in the East). The Raptors are winners of eight in a row (and rolling into a soft part of the schedule, so expect that number to climb).

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (31-15, LW 6). Statistically, Boston is playing some of its best basketball of the season, having won 4-of-5 (with victories over the Lakers and Heat in there). That has come with Jayson Tatum missing three of those games (groin injury, but he seems close to a return) and players such as Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart picking up the offensive slack. The Celtics can get healthy against a bit of a soft spot in the schedule, just one of their next five games is against teams over .500.

 
Heat small icon 7. Heat (32-15, LW 7). We mentioned it in this space a week ago but will do so again: Bam Adebayo deserves to be named an NBA All-Star. The East coaches unquestionably will vote in Jimmy Butler as a reserve (I thought he should have started) but Adebayo is in a tight mix with Tatum, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis and others, and someone is going to get left out. Miami needs to force every game to overtime, they are 8-0 in the extra frame this season (some of that is luck, some of that is how hard they play).

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (31-17, LW 9). Joel Embiid is back from his hand surgery, and Philly needed him. Yes, the Sixers went 6-3 without him and Ben Simmons stepped up, he averaged 24 points a game on better than 70 percent shooting in his last 5 without Embiid. However, in those nine Embiid-less games the 76ers offensive rating was just 104.9, 29th in the NBA in that stretch. Even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league. Embiid is critical to making the offense elite.

 
Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (32-15, LW 5). That Denver is keeping its head above water — 6-4 in their last 10 — despite the rash of injuries is impressive. They got Gary Harris back this week, but it has been an impressive run by Nikola Jokic and some good nights from Michael Porter Jr. that has kept Denver as a team that would have home court in the first round through all of this. Big tests this week against Utah and Milwaukee.

 
Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (30-17, LW 11). Victor Oladipo makes his return to the court this Wednesday after missing nearly a year with a right quad tendon rupture, and this could be a huge boost to the Pacers. Eventually. He’s going to come off the bench and have a minutes limit at first. Nate McMillan needs to blend Oladipo’s All-NBA skills (if he can get back to that level) with the scoring and passing of Malcolm Brogdon, plus the secondary playmaking that Domantas Sabonis has provided. It will take some time but the Pacers could be taking a big step forward in the coming weeks.

 
Rockets small icon 11. Rockets (29-17, LW 12). James Harden has missed two games, and likely will miss at least one more, due to a bruised thigh. That forced rest may be a good thing, Harden has struggled in games running up to the injury and looked worn down — in his last five games he’s averaging 23 points a game (13.1 below his season average), shooting 33.3 percent overall and 13.6 percent from three. While Russell Westbrook’s numbers went up, Houston needs Harden’s scoring, the team is 3-5 in its last 8.

 
Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (29-18, LW 10). Dallas has gone 2-2 since center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles, and while the offense has been off a little without him it’s the defensive end that has been the bigger issue (surprisingly). Smart trade by Dallas to get Willie Cauley-Stein, who can provide some depth and athleticism behind Maxi Kleber at the five. Clearly, Dallas is still adjusting to its new reality.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (28-20, LW 13). The most underrated, fun lineup in the NBA is OKC’s three-guard grouping of Dennis Schroder, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — they are +29.3 points per 100 possessions when they share the floor. Chris Paul missed his first game of the season mourning his good friend Kobe. CP3 deserves to be an All-Star this year and expect the coaches to give the veteran the nod over some young (but also deserving) players around the league.

 
Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (23-24, LW 14). 2020 has been good to Memphis so far, they are 10-3 since the calendar flipped to the new year and the key to that has been transition buckets. In January 18.2% of the Grizzlies offense has come in transition (up from 16.6% before that) and, more importantly, in January they are getting 1.36 points per possession when they run (up from 1.22 earlier in the season). Ja Morant has become and open court beast. Memphis now has a 2.5 game cushion for the eighth seed in the West, but they need to be ready for a run by one of the teams behind them.

 
Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (20-26, LW 16). Before a stinker of a game against the Bulls, Derrick White had been playing some of the best basketball of his career — five straight games scoring in double figures, including dropping 25 on the Suns. With LaMarcus Aldridge spending more time at the arc spacing the floor, White had more room to drive and make plays (the same reason DeMar DeRozan saw a scoring spike. The Spurs have lost three close games in a row and next Monday head out on the Rodeo Road trip that has them outside of Texas for eight straight games.

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (20-27, LW 17). Damian Lillard is on a tear, scoring at least 47 points in three straight games and at least 34 in his last five games. He is trying to will this team back into the playoff chase (they are 3 games behind Memphis) but they will need more than his magic against the coming stretch of games: Rockets, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Spurs, Jazz (again).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (19-29, LW 20). It’s just four games, but Zion Williamson is averaging 18 points in 63.3% shooting plus 8.3 rebounds a game, and the Pelicans are 14.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (with most of the improvement coming on the defensive end). It’s small sample size theater, but it’s also very impressive. Even with him the Pelicans are 2-2 in those four games and if they are going to make a playoff run they need to start racking up wins.

 
Suns small icon 18. Suns (20-27, LW 19). Phoenix has not had an All-Star since Steve Nash, Devin Booker has put up the kind of numbers that have him in the mix — 27.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game — but he’s still on the bubble. Lillard is a lock to be a West guard reserve, but after that Booker is battling Westbrook, CP3, Donovan Mitchell and others for the final guard slots in the West. He’s deserving, but some deserving players will get snubbed this year.

 
Bulls small icon 19. Bulls (19-30, LW 21). Lauri Markkanen, already not having the breakout season many in Chicago hoped to see, will now miss 4-to-6 weeks with stress reaction of his right pelvis. Chicago can offer Markkanen an extension to his rookie contract after this season, but this injury and all the others will make them hesitant. Chicago may come in with a lower number and Markkanen may choose to bet on himself and see if a good season can boost his value in the market.

 
Magic small icon 20. Magic (21-27, LW 15). No team in the NBA seems to have a divide on how they play against teams under or over .500 like Orlando. The Magic are 4-21 against teams over .500 but 17-6 against the ones under that mark. Orlando has lost four in a row and has Miami up next, then they head on the road for three games.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (19-26, LW 20). It’s one thing to lose five in a row against the toughest stretch of your schedule all season, but it’s something else to need overtime to beat the Pistons, then to lose to the Knicks. The Nets are now 1-1 in a run of seven straight against struggling, below .550 teams — a chance for them to lock down a playoff spot. Brooklyn continues to hang on to the eighth seed in the East, but mostly because the teams chasing them (Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte) are worse, not because Kyrie Irving has the Nets playing well.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (17-29, LW 23). The Kings continue to look for Dewayne Dedmon trades and he likely gets moved before the deadline (he has been fined for publicly requesting a trade), but will he be the only King traded? There has been a lot of Bogdan Bogdanovic chatter around the league, but the price to land him will be steep. The Kings have to seriously consider it, however. With Sacramento 5.5 games out of the playoffs (and a lot of teams to jump to get in), becoming sellers at the deadline makes sense.

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (17-31, LW 22). Losers of three in a row, now 3.5 games out of the playoffs, and with Blake Griffin done for the season, the question becomes how serious of sellers will the Pistons be at the trade deadline. While there was a lot of buzz early about Andre Drummond trades (a sign the Pistons may not want to pay what the market will this summer when the big man is a free agent), the real push from contenders is for the resurgent Derrick Rose. The question is, can any of them put together a trade that actually interests and helps Detroit?

 
Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (15-31, LW 25). Rookie Rui Hachimura, who has missed 21 games with a strained groin has gone through full practices with the Wizards and is close to a return (but not Wednesday in Miami). Another note on the rookie, he is not giving up his No. 8 jersey in honor or Kobe Bryant, and with good reason:

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (12-36, LW 27). Trae Young is an All-Star starter (the first Hawk voted to start since Dikembe Mutombo in 1998), but it was his backup Brandon Goodwin — along with John Collins — helped spark the comeback of the year for Atlanta, from 19 down to beat the Clippers. Atlanta went 2-2 in their last four, and Young’s skill as a pick-and-roll ball handler continues to improve.

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (16-31, LW 30). Apparently the few days of croissants and crepes of France did Charlotte some good. The Hornets returned from the NBA’s first ever game in Paris (where they lost to the Bucks) and proceeded to snap their eight game losing streak with a win over the Knicks. Malik Monk dropped 31 points on the Bucks in Paris and now James Borego is hoping he can do more of that stateside.

 
Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (13-35, LW 26). From friend of this site Tommy Beer: Since Mitchell Robinson’s 11-of-11 shooting night and 22 points on Jan. 1 (in a win over Portland), he hasn’t attempted more than 7 shots in a game, and is averaging just 4.3 shots a night. If the Knicks are grooming Robinson to be part of the future then RJ Barrett and the other ball handlers need to get him more touches.

 
Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (13-35, LW 28). Strangely, this ranking almost feels like it’s too high. It’s not just that Cleveland has lost 8-of-9, it’s who they lost to in that stretch — the Bulls (twice), Wizards, and Knicks. While the offense is bottom 10 in the league during this nine-game stretch, the real problem has been a 29th ranked defense with a 118 net rating in those games. Ouch.

 
29. Timberwolves (15-32, LW 24). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to put up numbers that could make him an All-Star, he’s been back from injury for seven games now, and in his last five is averaging 31.6 points per game on 53.3 percent shooting, plus grabbing 8.4 rebounds a game. It’s not enough, the Timberwolves have lost 10 straight. A lot of trade buzz around this team, particularly contenders with interest in Robert Covington.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (10-38 LW 29). Here’s all you need to know about the Warriors’ roster depth right now: Earlier this month the Warriors waived Marquese Chriss because they wanted to convert Damion Lee’s two-way contract to a regular one, but they needed the roster spot. Then, when they traded Willie Cauley-Stein to Dallas, opening up a roster spot again, the Warriors re-signed Chriss — and almost instantly Chriss was starting at center again.

Report: NBA not changing logo to Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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Kobe Bryant’s death is unique tragedy.

No NBA player anywhere near that great has ever died anywhere near that young. So, people are struggling to find the proper reaction. Every tribute seems too small, not grand enough to honor Bryant’s monumental legacy.

An idea gaining traction among fans: Change the NBA logo to Kobe Bryant.

Currently, Jerry West’s silhouette graces the logo. I know that. You know that. The logo’s designer, Alan Sigel, has explained that.

But the NBA doesn’t formally recognize – and, importantly, doesn’t pay – West to be that symbol.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:

Sources familiar with the league’s thinking said there is no interest in having an individual player as its logo because there are so many who have been instrumental in the growth of the game and the NBA. Generic is better.

Again, follow the money. West, who has said he prefers no longer to be on the logo, hasn’t pressed for compensation. Keeping the current logo is safe financially.

But for any of us not earning an income from the NBA, who cares how much it costs the league to put the “right” person on the logo? That’s the NBA’s issue, not ours. We can base our logo preference on how it makes us feel.

That said, I don’t think putting Bryant on the logo is the appropriate response. At the very minimum, let the emotion of this moment subside before making decisions that could last decades. If putting Bryant on the logo is fitting, that’ll still be the case next year.

Jerry West: Kobe Bryant committed to Clippers until I told him he couldn’t play for Donald Sterling

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Jerry West recognized Kobe Bryant’s potential before anyone else did. In 1996, West – then Lakers general manager – traded for Bryant, whom the Hornets drafted No. 13 for Los Angeles.

By 2004, West had left to run the Grizzlies. Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had won three championships together but were feuding. Bryant was a free agent and even said, “I could see myself playing for the Clippers.”

Of course, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers and spent the rest of his 20-year career with them.

But only after talking to West, with whom he shared a special relationship.

West on TNT:

I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers, and I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone. He was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I’m now involved with as a consultant. And I told him, “Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.” And he was mad at everyone at the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said, “Kobe you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner. Period.” We had two conversations about. And he supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers. And after the last one, we talked the last time. But there’s so many things that we talked about as he was just seeking information. His parents were with him for a while. And, honestly, I felt like his father for two years. I don’t know if I can get over this. I really don’t.

Amid the Donald Sterling scandal, Bryant declared, “I couldn’t play for him.”