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Bucks unprecedentedly squander value of a No. 2 pick (Jabari Parker)

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I rated Jabari Parker No. 1 on my 2014 NBA draft board – which obviously turned out wrong.

I was wrong about Parker’s position. I thought he’d be a small forward, but he’s clearly more of a power forward in the modern NBA.

I was wrong about his fit with the Bucks, who drafted him No. 2 (behind Andrew Wiggins, the other player in my top tier that year). Giannis Antetokounmpo has blossomed into a star worth building around, and his pairing with Parker has been unfulfilling at best.

I mainly just wrong about Parker’s ability to produce in the NBA. He has twice torn his ACL. He’s a high-usage offensive player who has improved his 3-pointer and passing (at least when healthy). His defense has been lousy, save one game in last year’s playoffs.

But that doesn’t mean pre-draft evaluations should be completely discarded.

Parker is just 23. He’s still trying to find himself in the NBA. The work ethic that helped build him into the No. 2 pick hasn’t necessarily vanished. (By some accounts, it has only hardened.) The perimeter skills that made me see a small forward could be waiting to emerge in full force once he gets healthy and improves his feel.

The last four years should count more than anything else. But completely ignoring his time at Duke and even prior would be foolish. Assessing Parker’s entire record is the optimal way to evaluate him.

And Parker’s entire record makes him a clear candidate for the “second draft,” a term popularized by John Hollinger. Second-draft players were selected high in the actual draft, didn’t pan out with their original team and maybe could use a change of scenery.

Parker will get that with the Bulls, who signed him to a two-year, $40 million contract.

And the Bucks will get nothing.

That’s unprecedented for a No. 2 pick in this draft era.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement gives teams massive control over players drafted in the first round.

A first-round pick, unless he waits three years to sign, is bound to a rookie scale with relatively low salaries. The contract is four years with two team options. The team gets exclusive negotiating rights on an extension after the third year. If no extension is struck and the player completes the four-year deal, the team can make him a restricted free agent, which often chills his market.

Essentially, the drafting team gets first crack of the player panning out on the court. If he doesn’t, the drafting team often holds enough leverage to get value from him another way.

That’s especially true with high first-round picks.

The higher-picked a player was, the more likely other teams also coveted him, the more suitors likely in a “second draft.” A team with a highly picked bust still on his rookie-scale contract can often still trade him.

The Cavaliers traded Anthony Bennett in the Kevin Love deal. Though that was probably mostly about using Bennett’s salary for matching, the Timberwolves certainly didn’t mind getting someone only one year removed from being the No. 1 pick. And, at minimum, Bennett’s salary was useful.

The Pistons traded Darko Milicic to the Magic for the first-round pick that became Rodney Stuckey. Even after two-plus seasons of Milicic struggling, Orlando still had hope the former No. 2 pick would realize his potential.

The Wizards and former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown were so fed up with each other in 2005, Washington suspended him in the playoffs and described it as mutual. But the Wizards still extended Brown’s qualifying offer that summer and used the threat of matching to land Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins in a sign-and-trade with the Lakers.

It is not hard to get something for a high draft pick before his fifth season. But Milwaukee failed in that regard.

The former No. 2 pick, Parker is the highest-drafted player to leave his original team high and dry in free agency at the conclusion of his rookie-scale contract since 1998, when the NBA instituted four-year rookie-scale contracts.

Just five other top-five picks have left their original team via free agency that quickly in that span:

Mario Hezonja (No. 5 pick in 2015)

The Magic declined Hezonja’s fourth-year option, and he signed with the Knicks in unrestricted free agency this summer.

O.J. Mayo (No. 3 pick in 2008)

After four up-and-down seasons with the Grizzlies, Mayo didn’t receive a qualifying offer. He signed with the Mavericks then spent three years with the Bucks. He’s currently banned from the NBA.

Shaun Livingston (No. 4 pick in 2004)

Livingston blew out his knee in his third season, missed his entire fourth season then didn’t even receive his qualifying offer from the Clippers. He bounced around a few years before finding a niche on the Warriors.

Marcus Fizer (No. 4 pick in 2000)

Fizer underwhelmed in four seasons with the Bulls, to the point they left him unprotected in the 2004 expansion draft. Charlotte selected him, which made him an unrestricted free agent, and he signed with Milwaukee. After a season with the Bucks then a couple 10-day contracts the following year, Fizer fell out of the league.

Lamar Odom (No. 4 pick in 1999)

Odom signed a six-year, $65 million offer sheet with the Heat in restricted free agency. The Clippers declined to match. Odom spent a season in Miami then was the centerpiece of the Heat’s trade for Shaquille O’Neal. Odom stuck in Los Angeles and helped the Lakers win a couple titles.

Unlike the Clippers with Odom, the Bucks never officially declined to match an offer sheet for Parker. Milwaukee actually rescinded Parker’s qualifying offer, allowing him to sign directly with Chicago.

That was mostly a favor to Parker, whom the Bucks seemed content to part with. Hard-capped after signing Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee would have had to dump salary to match and almost certainly wasn’t going to.

But rescinding the qualifying offer also allowed the Bulls to include a team option in the second year of Parker’s contract. Offer sheets must be for at least two seasons (not counting options). If forced to sign an offer sheet, Chicago and Parker could have made the second season unguaranteed, and it would have been mostly similar. But a team option – which doesn’t require Parker to clear waivers if declined – was preferable to both him and the Bulls.

That Milwaukee allowed a division rival to get Parker on more-favorable terms speaks volumes. That’s how little the Bucks value Parker at this point. They’d rather be nice to him than hinder a nearby foe’s acquisition of him.

What if the Bucks kept Parker’s qualifying offer in place? Would the Bulls have just signed him to an offer sheet with an unguaranteed second season with the expectation Milwaukee wouldn’t match? Would Chicago have engaged the Bucks on a sign-and-trade to ensure getting Parker (though players signed-and-traded must get at least a three-year contract)?

What if the Bucks hadn’t hard-capped themselves by rushing to sign Ilyasova? How much more leverage would have held?

Perhaps, most significantly, what if Milwaukee just traded Parker last season? It was easy to see this situation coming.

Parker played just a few games before the trade deadline, but he at least proved he could get back on the court. And his performance since then was totally in line with projections – and led to a contract that pays $20 million next season. No team would have sent the Bucks a small asset for Parker last February?

The optics would have been bad, Milwaukee dealing a former No. 2 pick for peanuts. But that’s better than losing him for nothing now. The Bucks don’t even gain cap space, as they’re already well over.

Maybe Milwaukee didn’t get any offers before the trade deadline that were better than keeping Parker for the rest of the season and hoping – even against the odds – everything would work out. Maybe pleasing Parker’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, carries more importance than getting value from Parker directly. Maybe the Bucks will be better off with Ilyasova.

But it’s worth recognizing this is a unique way to turn a No. 2 pick into nothing in just four years.

Report: Raptors president Masai Ujiri would be intrigued by Knicks

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The Knicks are reportedly “obsessed” with Raptors president Masai Ujiri.

Would he actually leave Toronto?

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Sources also say Ujiri would be intrigued by the challenge of fixing the Knicks, the chance to build something from scratch and, not insignificantly, by the opportunity to elevate his Giants of Africa philanthropy by working in the New York market.

Influential voices in the NBA have strongly advised Ujiri not to take the job, if it’s ever offered, sources say. But those same sources say Ujiri might do it anyway, if the money is right, if he’s granted the necessary autonomy and if Dolan funds Giants of Africa as generously as the Raptors ownership group has.

Ujiri’s contract is believed to run through 2021 but with an out clause under certain circumstances. He turned down a lucrative extension last summer, sources said, leaving the impression that he wants to keep his options open.

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

contrary to a report that Ujiri turned down an extension – there has never been one been offered, according to sources

There’s no good reason to believe one reporter’s unnamed sources over another reporter’s unnamed sources in this case. Maybe the Raptors offered an extension. Maybe they didn’t.

Without knowing the terms, it doesn’t matter much for predicting Ujiri’s future, anyway. If it were truly a “lucrative” offer, that’d indicate Ujiri values flexibility more than staying in Toronto. But if it were a lower offer considering how much time is left on his current deal, that could mean Ujiri is just trying to negotiate more from the Raptors.

Still, even Grange wrote extensively on way Ujiri might go to New York. There’s smoke here.

The upside of running the Knicks is higher than the upside of running the Raptors. That’s just the reality of market, ownership spending and team prestige.

The Knicks also have owner James Dolan and all the complications he brings. He will be New York’s biggest obstacle in any attempt to lure Ujiri. Past dismissive comments can easily get written off to Ujiri having a competitive streak. Dolan – particularly his temperament and insistence on keeping unproductive employees around – is the real challenge.

Ujiri has a good thing going in Toronto. I doubt he’s rushing to leave. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if he’s at least willing to hear out the Knicks.

It’s not Showtime 2, but Lakers fast break surprising, running past teams

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LOS ANGELES — Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers ran past the Timberwolves.

Literally.

The Lakers got their first bucket when Anthony Davis got a rebound, pushed the ball up the court himself, and went coast-to-coast for an and-1 lay-up. Soon after LeBron James was throwing look-aheads to a sprinting Davis.

Los Angeles had 17 fast-break points in the first quarter, on their way to 32 for the game. The Lakers kept getting easy buckets in transition, which kept a feisty Timberwolves team in the rear-view mirror.

That happens a lot. Talk to opposing the coaches about the Lakers and you hear about their length defensively, the activity of their big men, and how the LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll leaves defenders with impossible choices.

The fast break points sneak up on teams. These Lakers are not the second coming of Showtime, but the break has become a vital weapon for them.

“The transition game over the past couple of weeks has really picked up,” Lakers’ coach Frank Vogel said.

Los Angeles averages 18.4 fast break points per game, third most in the NBA, but that number doesn’t tell the entire story. The Lakers add as many points per game on transition plays as any team in the league, looking at the advanced stats at Cleaning the Glass (which filters out garbage time in its numbers). The Lakers start 16 percent of possessions in transition, eight highest percentage in the league, and they have a ridiculous 130.8 offensive rating when they do get out and run, third best in the NBA.

Maybe more importantly, the players love it. They want to run. Vogel praised Davis’ “old school, smash mouth” 50 points against Karl-Anthony Towns and the Timberwolves, but he did that in part by rim-running hard in transition and getting some easy dunks early.

“For me, I like to get out and run, get some easy buckets first, especially on the break get a lob or a lay-up, see the ball go through the basket and go from there,” Davis said of those early transition buckets Sunday.

Transition points have to start with a stop and a rebound, which has been the focal point of Vogel and the coaching staff. Once the break starts it’s much more straightforward —get LeBron the rock and just run.

“Prior to the Denver game (Dec. 3), we had not been rebounding the basketball very well,” Vogel said. “With a strong message delivered that we’re not going to reach our potential if we continue to be poor on the glass and rely on our athleticism to rebound rather than really committing to hitting people — and if we secure the rebound and hold people to one shot — then we’re dealing with live rebounds and we’re able to run.

“We always encourage our guys to run their patterns. LeBron James, he’s just unbelievable with his throw aheads. He’s putting the ball on target in narrow spaces and getting guys easy lay-ups.

“So I think it starts on the defensive end with the defensive glass and then LeBron running the action.”

Those easy transition buckets make it much harder to beat the Lakers and are a key reason they are a West-leading 21-3. Los Angeles is difficult to score against with all its length, and it has the sixth best defense in the NBA. Against teams like that, giving up easy transition buckets almost guarantees a loss. Teams can’t make up the ground.

Which sounds a lot like the Showtime Lakers.

This year’s Lakers’ edition may not be Magic to Worthy for the tomahawk dunk, but it’s closer to it than the Lakers have been in a long time. Even if it’s not what people notice first.

Keep the pace up and these Lakers may be able to run their way to some of the success — and the rings — of those Showtime Lakers.

Derrick Rose during on-court interview after game-winner: ‘Excuse my English, but I’m born to do this s—’ (video)

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Yesterday was a big night for hitting game-winners then cursing in walk-off interviews.

Nemanja Bjelica made the game-winning 3-pointer for the Kings against the Rockets then said, “F— it, we deserved this win, man.”

Derrick Rose also made a game-winning jumper for the Pistons against the Pelicans then said on Fox Sports Detroit:

Excuse my English, but I’m born to do this s—. Dead serious. This is what I do.

Rose spent a large portion of his life as an elite basketball player. Then, he had multiple lost years with the Bulls, slipped with the Knicks and was downright awful with the Cavaliers. It seemed he could fall out of the NBA entirely.

He’s clearly darned proud of persevering.

He also doesn’t always explain that in the most polite language.

Based on the Marc Gasol precedent of saying “f—” in an on-court interview, Bjelica will probably get fined. Is “s—” OK, though? What a fascinating question for the league office.

Nemanja Bjelica during on-court interview after game-winner: ‘F— it, we deserved this win’ (video)

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Teams down two points with one second left almost always lose.

The Kings beat the odds when Nemanja Bjelica hit the game-winning 3-pointer against the Rockets last night.

Run that last possession 100 times, and Sacramento would mostly lose. But credit the Kings for taking Houston, a good team, the distance on the road. Even having that final opportunity reflects well on Sacramento.

That was Bjelica’s message after the game – a point he felt quite strongly about.

Bjelica closed his on-court interview on NBC Sports California with:

F— it, we deserved this win, man.

I love it. This was genuine emotion of a big moment for him.

The NBA might not be as fond. Marc Gasol got fined $15,000 for closing an on-court interview a couple years ago with, “Overall, we won. F— it.”