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Ten future NBA players to watch Friday in NCAA Tournament

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Zion Williamson is something special.

However, there is talent is this upcoming NBA Draft class beyond him. Not “franchise cornerstone” talent, maybe not even the kind of talent usually seen in slots two through six in most drafts, but there are quality future NBA players who will spend this weekend — and they hope the next couple of weekends — playing in the NCAA Tournament. Players NBA fans may want to get a glimpse of now.

Here are 10 future NBA players to watch on Friday, starting with the big three from Duke (because you’re going to watch them anyway).

• Zion Williamson, 6’7” forward, Duke. Multiple NBA front office people have told me he is their highest rated prospect since Anthony Davis (some put Karl-Anthony Towns in there, too).

Williamson is an insane athlete, strong (lots of Larry Johnson build comparisons), can leap out of the building, but also shows a point guard’s feel for the game and he defends very well. His shot is improved but needs to get to an NBA level, however, with his work ethic it should come along. What some scouts like best: He plays hard, he doesn’t just coast on all that natural talent.

Cam Reddish, 6’8” wing, Duke. His stock has slipped a little lately, but he’s still a top-five selection. When Williamson was out a lot of watchers expected Reddish to thrive, instead he was inconsistent. He shows flashes that has coaching thinking “if he just…” because he’s an explosive but fluid athlete, he can space the floor as a shooter, he’s long and can defend, and he can create a little off the dribble (although his handle needs work). There are backers that think he’ll be better in an NBA system where there is better floor spacing, and once he gets stronger.

R.J. Barrett, 6’7” wing, Duke. With all the talent on this roster, Barrett is the guy Coach K runs the offense through, which should tell you a lot. He was incredibly efficient this season: He averaged better than 22 points, seven rebounds and four assists in a game, and as Sam Vecenie of the Athletic said, the last guy with those numbers in college was Penny Hardaway. How his game fits in the NBA, where he will play more of a role, will be the test. Barrett likely goes No. 2 or 3 in this draft, but as NBC’s own Rob Dauster said if he was in last year’s draft he might be 7 or 8. How will he handle those raised expectations?

• De’Andre Hunter, 6’8” wing, Virginia. He has been shooting up draft boards all season long because he is one of the best defensive players in this draft, he’s got good athleticism, he’s physical and long at 6’8” with a 7’2” wingspan. He’s not going to be a future superstar, but what he can be is a quality starter/rotation player who is a defensive stopper and can knock down threes (better than 45 percent from deep this season) and score some as needed on the offensive end. He is a willing role player, and likely a top 5 pick.

Jarrett Culver, 6’6” wing, Texas Tech. He passes the eye test for an NBA wing, he can shoot from the outside (that has improved), he can put the ball on the floor and get inside, and he plays a high IQ game. You’re not going to find a guy with a better feel for the game in this draft, and he likely shows that off in the tournament. The primary concern is he’s not an explosive, elite athlete and on the wing in the NBA that’s what he’s going to be up against nightly.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, 6’5” guard, Virginia Tech. He’s a guard who over a couple of years has learned to let the game come to him a little, something he needs to do because he’s not an explosive athlete. However, he can shoot the rock (nearly 40 percent from three), is an improved playmaker off the pick-and-roll, gets boards, and is just a steady player. Scouts will be watching his defense during the tournament, it’s been an issue although he has improved. There is an NBA rotation swingman in his game if he keeps working.

Cameron Johnson 6’9” forward, North Carolina. In every draft, one of the best shooters falls farther than they should because teams fall in love with the potential of other players and overlook the guys who can just put the ball in the hole. Johnson also is a senior, often a strike against guys in the draft. But watch him this weekend — he’s a forward who is one of the best pure shooters in the draft (46.5 percent from three) who knows how to get in position and hit shots in big games (23 against Duke in the ACC Tournament). There are questions about his defense, something scouts will be watching as the Tar Heels move through the tournament.

Coby White, 6’5” guard, North Carolina. The more scouts and GMs have watched UNC play this season, the more Nassir Little has fallen down draft boards and White has climbed up them. White is lightning quick and used that and a good jumper to get a lot of points, but as the season has moved along he’s become an improved playmaker (his decision making still needs to improve, but he’s on the right track). He’s impressive in transition and loves to push the ball, but in any setting when he gets playing downhill he’s hard to stop. Can play the one or the two. There’s a lot to like here.

Grant Williams, 6’7” power forward, Tennessee. He’s a physical, nasty player, something that certain NBA franchises are drawn to in prospect. He can hit the three well enough that defenders have to respect it (he hits about a third of his threes, although that percentage needs to go up) but his game is really playing some bully ball around the rim. He is strong and plays smart angles down on the block. How he fits in the NBA game is a question worth asking, but he plays hard and those kinds of guys tend to find a way.

• Matisse Thybulle, 6’5” wing, Washington. He’s a potential defensive stopper, the guy you throw on the best perimeter player of the other team and know the job will get done. The kind of player coaches love. Thybulle gets steals, he blocks shots well for a guard, and he’s not just good on ball he’s a smart help defender. That we know. On offense, he can shoot fairly well but doesn’t really seek out his own shot. It’s the offensive end scouts will be watching, because if he can be good enough you just have to be careful helping off him then Thybulle is an NBA rotation player.

Chris Paul says he wants to play at least 20 seasons

Thunder star Chris Paul
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CHICAGO – Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta was bellyaching about Chris Paul‘s contract (three years, $124,076,442 remaining). Houston traded two first-round picks and two first-round pick swaps just to go from Paul to Russell Westbrook. The Thunder appeared to prioritize the picks far more than Paul, whom they were reportedly willing to flip to his preferred destination.

A few months later, Paul was making big plays and berating officials in the All-Star game.

It’s quite the resurgence for the 34-year-old who’d missed the last three All-Star games.

Here are the oldest players ever to make an All-Star team after not being an All-Star the prior three seasons:

Chris Paul

Of the players older than Paul on that list, Dirk Nowitzki was placed into the All-Star game by the commissioner, and Michael Jordan came out of retirement after missing three seasons. Only Johnny Green kept grinding before breaking back through.

Feeling revitalized, Paul – in his 15th season – doesn’t sound anywhere near retirement.

“Especially the way that my body feels now, I definitely probably at least want to play at least 20 years,” Paul said.

That’s ambitious. Just seven players have played at least 20 NBA seasons:

  • Vince Carter (22)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (21)
  • Kevin Garnett (21)
  • Kevin Willis (21)
  • Robert Parish (21)
  • Kobe Bryant (20)
  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (20)

So much can go wrong this late into a player’s career.

But by raising his game, Paul gives himself more runway to decline and remain a viable NBA player. He at least has a chance, which is far more than most players can say at his age.

Kevin Garnett says first choice for 2007 trade was Kobe Bryant and Lakers

Celtics great Kevin Garnett and Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
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Kevin Garnett didn’t have a no-trade clause when the Timberwolves were shopping him in 2007. But because he could either sign an extension with his new team or opt out in 2008, Garnett had massive leverage over where he went. Effectively, he could swing whether it was worth a team’s while to deal for him.

Four primary suitors emerged: Celtics, Lakers, Suns and Warriors.

Garnett’s initial top choice? Joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles.

Garnett on All The Smoke:

I’m just being honest with everybody. I wanted to link with Kobe.

Kobe and I had a different connect. When Kobe-Shaq went on their little thing, a lot of people went with Shaq. A lot of people didn’t even f— with Kob. You know, Kob, whatever. One of the very few to just stay with him. I was a neutral guy, anyway. I show everybody love.

I tried to link with him, and I couldn’t get him on the line.

Garnett was working out at the time with Tyronn Lue, who was close with Bryant and encouraged Garnett to call back. Garnett did, but Bryant still didn’t return the call.

This only reinforces the notation that Bryant cost the Lakers stars. As singularly great as he was, Bryant just wasn’t about recruiting.

Bryant and Garnett would have been a fascinating pairing. They definitely had the talent to compete. Maybe the two notoriously intense stars would have meshed over a shared approach. Or maybe they would’ve driven each other crazy, a lack of balance between them.

The Lakers even had a trade framework in place involving Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom.

But Bryant’s unavailability created an opening for Boston.

Garnett:

Danny Ainge flew in, and he just got right to it and showed the vision, the vision he was seeing. You ever have somebody talk to you and as they’re talking to you, you can see what they’re seeing, so much that you’re not even looking at them no more but you see it? That’s how he was painting it. And he was a Picasso. And this is Danny Ainge’s greatness, in him being able to lure you in, his charming ass. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t even know he was finessing me.

Garnett told the Celtics to keep Rajon Rondo, who was apparently initially part of the package going to Minnesota. They did, and it worked out extremely well. Boston won the 2008 title – over Bryant’s Lakers. (The Lakers won the next two championships, including over the Celtics in the 2010 NBA Finals.)

What about Phoenix, which – featuring Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire and Shawn Marion – was the best of the four teams at the time?

Garnett:

I actually called Steve Nash just as a courtesy, and I guess the call he hit me back with was, “Yo, if you come down here, we need you to take a major pay cut.” And I was like, “OK, if I come down there, I’m playing with you and Amar’e right?” He’s like, “Yeah, I think they’re going to give Amar’e up for you and Shawn.” And I said, “So, who is it going to be? Just me and you?”

As for Golden State, which – featuring All The Smoke hosts Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes – had just pulled a historic upset of the top-seeded Mavericks:

I was seeing how y’all was, but I needed a superstar.

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.