New Overtime Elite league chips away at traditional college path to NBA

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“To me, options are a good thing…” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said over the weekend about a new league proposing to pay high school players. “I think it’s generally good for the community to have optionality, especially when very solid people, which appears to be the case in this league that’s just been announced, are backing it and behind it. That’s one thing we will pay a lot of attention to because those young players are potentially the future of our league. We want to make sure that both on the court and off the court they’re getting the right mentoring and guidance.

“But overall, I think it’s good for the game. It’s more focus on the game. Especially all that’s happening now in digital media, social media, new streaming services, there’s definitely interest in this content.”

That league is the Overtime Elite league, proposed by the Overtime company, a social media powerhouse (particularly high school players and people under 30). You may not be familiar with Overtime, but young players certainly are and know that Overtime helped make stars out of people like Zion Williamson long before he was at Duke or an NBA All-Star starter.

The Overtime Elite league would pay approximately 30 players ages 16-19 salaries starting at $100,000, provide medical and disability insurance, plus give them an education and a $100,000 scholarship should a player decide not to go professional in basketball.

It is the latest direct challenge to the traditional path through college to the NBA.

Already some players — LaMelo Ball being the most notable — have chosen to play overseas before being drafted in the NBA. Then this season the NBA announced its G-League Ignite team, where the league is paying 18-year-old players who want to skip college and compete in the NBA’s minor-league system under the tutelage of former NBA coach Brian Shaw. The G-League Ignite team attracted two potential top-five picks in the next draft in Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga and has gone 8-7 in the G-League bubble.

Silver added that the NBA and players union plan to discuss doing away with the one-and-done rule during the next collective bargaining agreement.

Throw in the lawsuits challenging the NCAA’s antiquated rules on amateurism and it’s clear the landscape is changing. The path for young players to the NBA could be very different a decade from now, and the days of the NCAA profiting off essentially free labor are changing.

The new Overtime Elite league may be the most serious challenge to the AAU/high school/NCAA path to the NBA there has been — and the owners of it want to be, they told Kevin Draper of the New York Times.

“People have been saying things need to change, and we are the ones changing it,” said Dan Porter, the chief executive of Overtime.

The new league would offer high-level competition and coaching, money (this company is well funded through its social media and apparel arms, plus investors), but mostly it provides options for players. Overtime is closer to the European model (for both basketball and soccer), where top players go to team academies at age 14-16 and, hopefully, play their way up to the main squad someday.

However, if they go this route, players would give up their college eligibility. That may not bother a lot of them.

The players that sign up to join Overtime Elite would move to one yet-to-be-chosen city, and the company will hire educators and set up housing. Of course, it also will have a basketball arm headed up by experienced people — Brandon Williams, a former NBA player who was in the front office for the 76ers and Kings, heads basketball operations. Aaron Ryan jumped from the NBA league office to be commissioner for Overtime Elite.

There are plenty of questions about whether this league will come together and succeed — and how fans can watch games (and how many fans will there be?). Plenty of start-up leagues struggle and fail. It’s both expensive and difficult to get one off the ground.

What is clear is that the landscape for young players is shifting. Overtime Elite is part of that change, but even if it doesn’t thrive, something else will. The old model has been disrupted, and soon nothing will be quite the same.

 

 

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

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Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.