NBA teams press on with player evaluations despite draft date being in flux

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There are many unknowns about the NBA draft, though some elements are proceeding as usual and one deadline is looming this week.

The NBA – as per usual – has been sending evaluations to players who are considering leaving college early and entering the draft and will continue doing so to all underclassmen who ask for them before Thursday’s deadline. That task falls to the league’s Undergraduate Advisory Committee, which understands that what it says in these uncertain times may carry even more weight than usual.

“This is a process that’s important, maybe more important this year than ever,” said Kiki VanDeWeghe, the NBA’s Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations and UAC committee chair. “We’re trying to get the athletes and the schools as much information as we possibly can. It’s important that they have the clearest picture.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has shut down the sports world, including the NBA, nobody knows when the draft will be held, who will have the No. 1 overall pick or how that will be decided. Nobody even knows when or if the draft combine, which is scheduled for mid-May and technically has not yet been changed, will take place.

When underclassmen ask, the NBA sends evaluations with a percentage of likelihood that they will fall into one of five draft-night categories – lottery (picks 1-14), first-round non-lottery (picks 15-30), first half of second round (picks 31-45), second half of second round (picks 46-60), and undrafted.

It’s not an exact science, but the league has pretty good success with it: Since 2016, based on its own evaluation and feedback that the 30 NBA teams share as part of the process, the league has told 66 candidates that they are first-round material and 49 others that they wouldn’t be drafted. They hit on 89% of those first-round projections and 96% of the undrafted projections.

“It is unprecedented times and difficult times for everybody and we try to do our best to make that easier for student athletes as far as navigating that process and understanding that process,” VanDeWeghe said. “This is a time of uncertainty. Even in a normal year, student athletes are very nervous about applying of the draft. But our role in this is to try to give as much information as we possibly can.”

The UAC will continue sending evaluations through April 26, which is also the league’s deadline for players to officially decide if they will enter the draft. Typically, they could start setting up workouts almost immediately after that date but the league’s shutdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic has all that on indefinite hold.

So far, about 200 college early entry and international players have tested the waters for this draft. Most will withdraw, and that number is consistent with last year – when the league saw 219 hopefuls. Those applicants are not just getting their potential draft slot, but the league is taking the additional step this year of offering mental health resources under the advice of Dr. Kensa Gunter and Dr. Vic Schwartz – an extra and necessary part of the puzzle, the NBA thinks, given the unprecedented nature of these times.

The evaluation-request and early entry deadlines aren’t changing, as of now anyway, VanDeWeghe said. Everything else is on a very fluid timetable.

“The in-person workouts and the combine and all of that type of stuff looks like it will be significantly impacted by COVID-19, but it doesn’t mean that the work stops,” Los Angeles Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said. “Our scouts are doing tons of film study. I’m doing tons of synergy, watching, studying guys overseas, studying guys here, and that work has to continue. We have to be as well-prepared as we can for when the draft occurs.”

The draft was supposed to be June 25. That now seems highly unlikely, and plenty of teams have asked the NBA for a delay that looks inevitable. The NBA is looking at several options, just as it is when it comes to possibilities for resuming the season when public health officials say that would be appropriate.

Not having NCAA Tournament games is not hurting the process, VanDeWeghe said, noting that the players who are most likely to come out early – especially the likely lottery and first-round picks – have been well-known to teams and scouts for many years.

“We’ll get through this,” VanDeWeghe said. “We’ll get through it together and hopefully come out the other side a little better, a little stronger, a little wiser.”

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets, LeBron is still questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). He and the medical staff will get together on Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Three things to Know: Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

Toronto Raptors v Sacramento Kings
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Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Latest NBA trade rumors roundup

We are officially nine days away from the NBA trade deadline, and the rumors and transactions tend to pick up speed when the calendar flips to February. Let’s round up the latest trade talk around the league, starting with the fact that this trade deadline may be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

• This is shaping up to be a dud trade deadline. Trade chatter has picked up in the past couple of weeks, but those talks do not seem to be gaining traction in most cases. Blame the play-in tournament and compact standings — teams that see a path to the postseason are less likely to be sellers. And, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on Monday on NBA Countdown, “I also think there’s more of a reluctance than ever to put 1st round picks for players.”

• If you want an action-packed deadline, you are begging the Toronto Raptors to become sellers (if not, the best player traded could be Jae Crowder). The Raptors change that in an instant if they make a player such as Fred VanVleet, or especially someone like Pascal Siakam, available. However, right now when teams call they are being told Toronto is going to make its decision on how to approach the deadline — sell, stand pat or buy — closer to the Feb. 9 date. (The Raptor most likely to be traded, whatever they decide, is Gary Trent Jr.)

• If the Raptors do jump in and decide to trade multiple players, the Knicks will be at the front of the line for O.G. Anunoby (a very Thibodeau-style player). That said, there will be a lot of interest in the defensive wing, and the price to get him will start at a couple of first-round picks.

• Pacers coach Rick Carlisle was crystal clear Monday: Myles Turner is off the trade market. (His two-year contract extension made that kind of obvious, although technically he could be traded.)

• The Milwaukee Bucks may be the frontrunner in the Jae Crowder sweepstakes, they are the only team given permission by the Suns to talk to the disgruntled forward, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic. The sides are still working out the parameters of a deal, but it will not include Grayson Allen, Phoenix isn’t interested.

• The Sacramento Kings — who sit third in the West and look sure to break their 16-year playoff slump, but don’t have the defense to be a serious threat in the postseason — are monitoring to see if Philadelphia makes defensive wing Matisse Thybulle available in a trade, according to Marc Stein.

Dallas is all in on finding a second star to go with Luka Dončić. Good luck with that, as noted above there is not a star on the market. However, the Mavericks are open to throwing in Dorian Finney-Smith in the right package to get a star, something they rebuffed when teams called before.

• There is increasing buzz that neither the Hawks’ John Collins nor the Pistons’ Bojan Bogdanovic will be traded. The new front office in Atlanta led by Landry Fields is higher on Collins as a long-term fit in Atlanta (even if Collins doesn’t feel that way) and is more likely to keep him than trade him. The Pistons are keeping their price high on Bogdanovic — an unprotected first-round pick — because they would be happy to keep him for next season, and have told the player precisely that.

Denver is very open to trading second-year point guard Bones Hyland for some defensive help, to the point Stein said he’s one of the most likely players to be traded now (clashing with your coach over playing time will speed your trip out the door).

• There are a lot of teams watching the Timberwolves waiting to see if Jaden McDaniels becomes available. The Pacers, Spurs, Raptors and Jazz are among the interested teams.

2) Luka Dončić returns to court, drops 53 on Pistons in win

Don’t make Luka Dončić angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry.

The Pistons bench, led by assistant coach Jerome Allen, started chirping at Dončić from the opening tip, Dončić chirped back and admitted after the game the trash talk got him going. The result was a 53-point night in his return after missing a game with a tweaked ankle.

The list of players who have had five or more 50+ point games in their first five seasons in the league now consists of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and Luka Dončić (with four of Luka’s coming this season).

For Dallas, the win moves them up to sixth in the crowded West right now and out of the play-in (a place they expected to be all season). For Detroit, trade target Bogdanovic scored 29 points while Saddiq Bey added 18.

3) Kings’ De'Aaron Fox is clutch again, leads team to OT win

De’Aaron Fox is unquestionably one of the frontrunners to win the NBA’s new NBA Clutch Player of the Year Award (which the NBA league office not-so-helpfully defined as the player who “best comes through for his teammates in the clutch”). Fox leads the NBA in total clutch points scored (in the last five minutes of a game within five points) with 119, and is shooting an impressive 60% in those minutes. (If you’re curious, the Bulls’ DeMar DeRozan is second in points scored in the clutch and Dončić is third.)

That was evident on Monday night when Fox took control of the Kings’ offense late, started getting to the rim and creating out of that, scoring 12 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, leading the Kings to an overtime win on the road against the Timberwolves.

In the overtime it was a lot of Trey Lyles for Sacramento, he scored eight of his 11 points in OT, playing because Domantas Sabonis had fouled out.

Anthony Edwards has been making a leap in recent weeks and scored 33 on Monday, the fifth time in the last six games he has scored 30+. However, he is still learning hard lessons and had six turnovers, mostly when facing double teams down the stretch.

“He’s drawing a big crowd,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch said, via the Associated Press. “For the most part, he’s trying to make the right play. Maybe he needs to see it a little earlier.”

Celtics interim coach Mazzulla to coach Team Giannis in All-Star Game

New York Knicks (120) Vs. Boston Celtics (117) At TD Garden (OT)
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One way to remove the “interim” tag from your coaching resume is to earn the right to coach in the All-Star Game.

Boston Celtics interim coach Joe Mazzula and his staff will coach Team Giannis in the All-Star Game this season. It became official when the 76ers fell to the Magic on Tuesday night, ensuring the Celtics would have the best record in the East by the cut-off date this Sunday.

The Celtics are 36-15 and in first place in the Eastern Conference, even though they have lost 3-of-4 (and needed overtime and a bad no-call on a LeBron James potential game-winner to get that victory). They have a top-five offense and defense in the league and have looked like the team to beat since the start of the season, even if they have had a few injuries and looked bored with the regular season of late.

Mazzulla deserves credit for helping the team move past former coach Ime Udoka was suspended due to an improper affair with a franchise employee. It could have been a distraction that blew up the Boston season, but he got them focused beyond that, and with that could get some Coach of the Year votes (in a crowded field).

First, however, he has to coach the All-Star Game.