Markelle Fultz

Kawhi Leonard in Orlando
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Report: Kawhi Leonard didn’t travel with Clippers to Disney World, expected to arrive in a few days

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A Clippers-Lakers Western Conference finals – featuring Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James – is one of the most anticipated potential attractions of the NBA’s resumption at Disney World.

But Leonard must get there first.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Los Angeles Clippers star Kawhi Leonard did not travel with the team on Wednesday to Walt Disney World for the resumption of the NBA season, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Leonard was given permission by the organization to tend to a family matter and the two-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time NBA Finals MVP is expected to join the team on campus in a few days, sources said.

Hopefully, everything is alright with Leonard and his family and he arrives as smoothly as this report indicates. The NBA has protocols for players who travel to Orlando after their teams. Leonard isn’t unique in having a personal issue delay his arrival.

But this situation bears especially close watching for two reasons:

1.  Kawhi Leonard might be the NBA’s best player. The Clippers are a top-tier championship contender. Leonard’s whereabouts hold more significance for the season than, say, Magic guard Markelle Fultz‘s.

2. The Clippers have misled to protect Leonard before. Though it was easy to see their logic, it leaves them with less credibility here.

Again, hopefully this is only a minor snag. We’ll know more within a few days.

Magic player tests positive for coronavirus

Orlando Magic
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The race for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference keeps getting sadder. Somehow.

The Nets are decimated. The Wizards are missing their best players. And the Magic – who already have Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu sidelined – have complications with Markelle Fultz and another unnamed player.

Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel:

The Orlando Magic entered the NBA bubble Tuesday without an unidentified player who tested positive for COVID-19 and guard Markelle Fultz, whose entry was delayed due to a personal issue.

Magic president of basketball operations Jeff Weltman said during a videoconference with reporters on Tuesday that Fultz is dealing with a personal matter unrelated to the virus. His absence is excused and the league is aware of his situation, according to Weltman. He said Fultz is following all safety protocols and expects a “seamless transition” for the guard’s return, although Weltman did not have a specific timetable for when that will be.

It’s unclear whether the unnamed player was among the 25 players the NBA announced tested positive.

Fultz and the other player will have to follow protocols for players travelling to Disney World after their teams arrive.

The Magic have D.J. Augustin and Michael Carter-Williams at point guard if Fultz is unavailable. But I’ll take Weltman at his word that Fultz will return to the team smoothly.

Kevin Durant and beyond, Prince George’s County’s basketball shines

Prince George's County
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The DeMatha Catholic High School basketball program has been renowned for decades. Longtime coach Morgan Wootten won so much, he made the Basketball Hall of Fame. His most famous victory came in 1965, when DeMatha snapped the 71-game winning streak of Lew Alcindor and Power Memorial (N.Y). DeMatha has produced several NBA players, including Adrian Dantley and Danny Ferry.

Victor Oladipo grew up near DeMatha, attending elementary school just down the street.

Yet, he never even heard of DeMatha until eighth grade.

“Growing up, I was a little anti-social,” Oladipo said. “My parents didn’t really let me go anywhere, go out, hang out with friends. That’s not really our forte. That wasn’t really our speed.”

After attending a DeMatha game with someone, Oladipo was intrigued. He researched the school, became impressed with its pedigree and wanted to enroll. He went to the office to get a registration form and bumped into current DeMatha coach Mike Jones. Jones asked whether Oladipo was signing up for summer league.

“What’s summer league?” Oladipo replied.

Oladipo learned quickly about the basketball scene in Prince George’s County, Md. – the elite talent, year-round infrastructure and deep passion. For anyone else unfamiliar with PG, a new documentary (“Basketball County: In The Water,” 9 p.m. Eastern on Friday, Showtime) showcases the county’s rich basketball legacy.

PG boasts eight current NBA players:

With a population of about 900,000, Prince George’s County sits just east of Washington D.C. PG is one of America’s wealthiest majority-black areas. Though the wealth tends to be concentrated outside the Beltway (a highway that encircles D.C. and cuts through Prince’s George’s), there’s plenty of socioeconomic diversity throughout the county.

A common link: Basketball.

The documentary explores several key reasons basketball thrives in PG – including a population shift from D.C. (which took to basketball from the early days of the sport), a robust parks-and-rec system and a strong network of support.

Writing for ESPN in 2008, Chris Palmer described PG as a place where “a new status symbol has gained traction: a son who is a big-time prospect.” Beyond parents, there are legions of coaches willing to help (and share in the glory).

Curtis Malone stood out.

Curtis Malone
Showtime

Co-founder of D.C. Assault, Malone built one of the nation’s strongest AAU programs. He helped numerous players, guiding some through rough childhoods, many to college and even some to the NBA. He was also a drug kingpin. His complicated tale is the most fascinating section of the documentary.

“Y’all can say whatever the f— y’all want about him. Y’all can talk dirt,” former Assault and NBA player Michael Beasley said in the documentary. “He always had the kids first, man. He always put the kids first. He always fed the kids before he ate.”

Not mentioned in the documentary: Beasley’s since-dropped 2011 lawsuit against Malone, alleging an agent bribed Malone to persuade Beasley to hire that agent.

The documentary has an issue similar to that of “The Last Dance,” ESPN’s 10-part series on Michael Jordan and the Bulls. The subjects hold creative control. Durant, Oladipo and Cook are executive producers.

The documentary also curiously includes Steve Francis, who sometimes trained in Prince George’s but can more accurately claimed by bordering Montgomery County. There’s no need to exaggerate PG’s legitimately extraordinary basketball output. The county’s NBA ranks were even stronger just a few years ago, before Beasley, Ty Lawson, Thomas Robinson, Dante Cunningham, Roy Hibbert and Chinanu Onuaku fell out of the league.

But, overall, the documentary presents a highly enjoyable look into a hoops hotbed that rivals any in the country.

In many ways, that’s thanks to Durant.

Kevin Durant
Showtime

Durant’s Thirty Five Ventures is behind the film directed by John Beckham and Jimmy Jenkins. More importantly, Durant carries the superstar draw that boosts a project like this.

Durant fulfilled his promise unlike else from PG. Many thought that’d be Len Bias, who tragically died of a cocaine overdose two days after the Celtics drafted him No. 2 in 1986. Other highly talented players like DerMarr Johnson and Beasley never optimized their potential for varying reasons.

But Durant became an NBA MVP behind a uniquely PG upbringing.

According to his business partner, Rich Kleiman (another “Basketball County” executive producer), Durant likes to tell a story. Durant would play all day in his local rec center. When the court was cleared to host bingo for senior citizens at night, Durant hid behind a curtain. After bingo, Durant emerged to shoot even more.

Durant wasn’t alone in his dedication. Many PG County kids grow up dreaming of playing at DeMatha or another area private-school power. That instills focus and determination from a young age. Well-organized teams and leagues offer opportunities for passionate players to advance.

“Basketball is, in our area, a way for us to separate ourselves,” Oladipo said. “People from our area, we’re very confident. We believe in ourselves.

“We believe in the game of basketball.”

Jayson Tatum almost skipped pre-draft workout in Boston because he liked Phoenix

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Jayson Tatum is part of one of the most dynamic young combinations in the league, paired with Jaylen Brown in Boston on one of the East’s best teams.

However, before the 2017 NBA Draft, Tatum wanted to go to Phoenix and then Suns coach Earl Watson really wanted Tatum to pair with Devin Booker — what would have been a dynamic combo in the West.

Tatum went on the All the Smoke podcast this week and said he wanted to play for the Suns.

“I called my fam, my mom, I’m like, ‘Yo, I think I want to go to Phoenix.’ Earl Watson, he’s like, ‘You come to Phoenix, you and D-Book, two light-skinned killers, I’ mma let y’all rock out.’ I’m sitting in the car, like, ‘This sounds good! I think I want to come here.'”

The feeling was mutual. The Suns were drafting No. 4 that year and Watson wanted Tatum, even if that meant trading up to get him, as Watson told Jay King of The Athletic.

Tatum warmed up with a ballhandling drill, Watson recalled during a phone call Monday afternoon, and then the wing went straight to the corner to shoot 3-pointers. Players normally work their way out to the arc slowly, taking closer shots first. Tatum did not bother. Even without any shots to loosen up, he was already hot.

“He drilled 40 straight off the first shot,” Watson said. “Forty straight. So I immediately turned to the owner and the GM. And I said, ‘What else do we need to see?’”

Two things conspired against Watson’s dream of pairing Tatum and Booker. The biggest one was that Suns owner Robert Sarver — one of the more meddling owners in the league — had fallen in love with Josh Jackson, who the Suns ended up selecting at No. 4. Watson wanted to trade up to make sure Phoenix landed Tatum, but that was not happening. Watson even Tweeted about it Monday.

The other thing in the way in Phoenix was Danny Ainge wanted Tatum in Celtics’ green. Boston had the No. 1 pick that year, but traded down to No. 3, moving Philadelphia up to No. 1 to select Markelle Fultz. Ainge wanted to workout Tatum — Jackson had just canceled his workout with Boston — and while Tatum was reluctant, it was his college coach Mike Krzyzewski who called up and convinced Tatum to workout for the Celtics right before the 2017 NBA Draft.

The rest is history.

Would Tatum be an All-Star and potential All-NBA player three seasons in if he played for the Suns? We’ll never know, Phoenix doesn’t have quite the same reputation for developing players that Boston does. Brad Stevens knows how to bring guys along. Also, Boston is a more stable, consistent organization that gives a player sound footing to take big steps forward, that’s not always the case in Phoenix.

For Tatum, things have worked out as well as he could hope.

 

Mock NBA expansion draft: Hawks, Hornets, Heat, Magic, Wizards

Mock NBA expansion draft
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
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The NBA season is on hiatus. NBC Sports is not – even if we have to venture into fantasy.

We’re holding a mock NBA expansion draft. Keith Smith is setting protected lists for existing teams. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman will run two new teams as this project culminates in an expansion draft.

Current teams can protect up to eight players. Each team must make at least one player available. If selected, restricted free agents become unrestricted free agents. Pending options can be decided before or after the expansion draft at the discretion of the option-holder. Anyone selected in the expansion draft can’t return to his prior team for one year. Players entering unrestricted free agency and players on two-way contracts are essentially ignored.

We’re unveiling protected/unprotected lists by division (here is the Atlantic Division, Central Division, Pacific Division and Northwest Division). Players are listed with their 2020-21 salary. Up now, the Southeast:

Atlanta Hawks

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 4

Ineligible – 3

Analysis: The Hawks protections are very straightforward. Every player they are protecting is either a rotation player, under team control for a while or both. No hard decisions here.

That means that Atlanta is leaving their restricted free agents and Brandon Goodwin unprotected. No major concerns over losing any of the four.

Charlotte Hornets

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Charlotte’s decisions were fairly easy. Terry Rozier, Devonte’ Graham, Miles Bridges and P.J. Washington are all core pieces. Despite his suspension, Malik Monk still has upside. And the three young forwards (Cody Martin, Caleb Martin and Jalen McDaniels) are locked in on low salaries for a while.

Keeping the three minimum salary forwards meant leaving Dwayne Bacon unprotected. Bacon had been out of the rotation and sent to the G-League, so he’s out of the plans for now. As for Nic Batum or Cody Zeller, the Hornets would welcome getting either big salary off the books.

Miami Heat

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 1

Ineligible – 6

Analysis: Miami was really helped by having six players ineligible because they are unrestricted free agents this summer. That left just this decision point: Andre Iguodala vs KZ Okpala vs Kelly Olynyk.

Okpala is a minimum salary player, so that means he stays. Iguodala was just added and given an extension. He stays. That means Olynyk and his $13 million salary are left exposed.

Orlando Magic

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 5

Ineligible – 2

Analysis: Orlando had seven fairly easy protections. Their five starters, sixth man, and their promising young big man in Mo Bamba.

That left Khem Birch vs Al-Farouq Aminu vs Wesley Iwundu. Aminu was left unprotected due to salary and coming off a knee injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be selected and the Magic will be happy to have him back. That means it came down to Birch vs Iwundu. It’s more likely Birch will be selected, given his low salary and skill as a big man, so Iwundu was left unprotected.

Washington Wizards

Protected – 8

Unprotected – 3

  • John Wall – $41,254,920
  • Isaac Bonga – $1,663,861 (Non-Guaranteed)
  • Anzejs Pasecnicks – $1,517,981 ($250,000 Guaranteed)

Ineligible – 4

Analysis: The Wizards are taking a gamble. Most of the protections were pretty easy. Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant are key players. Rui Hachimura, Troy Brown, Mo Wagner and Jerome Robinson are all on their rookie scale deals.

Then things get interesting. Leaving John Wall unprotected may seem crazy, given he’s a former All-Star. But Wall is coming off two lost seasons due to injury and will be 30 years old at the start of next season. He’s also owed $133 million over the next three seasons. Ish Smith and Admiral Schofield stay and the Wizards throw caution to the wind. It’s unlikely Wall will be selected, but just the chance of clearing that salary off the books is a gamble worth taking for Washington.