Prospect Profile: Cleanthony Early

April 23 at 10:56pm CDT By Alex Lee

As far as mid-major NBA hopefuls go, there haven’t been many that enjoyed a college experience quite like that of Cleanthony Early. Transferring to Wichita State after two years of Division-III ball, Early led the Shockers to the 2013 Final Four, their first appearance since 1965. As an encore, he guided Wichita State to a one-seed this March by way of a spotless 34-0 record.

Early and the undefeated Shockers fell in spectacular fashion to eighth-seeded Kentucky in the second round. In what was an instant classic, Early put on a show in his final college game against an opponent loaded with future NBAers, including a head-to-head matchup with lottery pick to be Julius Randle. He totaled 31 points on 12 of 17 shooting against the Wildcats, adding seven rebounds for good measure in what was an unforgettable performance that undoubtedly boosted his draft stock.

Even so, Early is already 23 years old which puts a serious cap on his upside. In a recent chat with his readers, ESPN’s Chad Ford indicates that Early is likely a mid-to-late first round pick, with his age being a potential red flag. Later in the chat, Ford referred to draft prospects turning 23 as “the kiss of death” in the NBA’s analytics world. However, Ford did mention that Early’s tournament performance did, in fact, help him.

Early averaged 16.4 points per game as a senior at Wichita State, though his scoring prowess was perhaps best measured by the 24.5 points he averaged per 40 minutes, as the Shockers played in plenty of lopsided affairs. He was also very efficient, shooting 48.6 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from three and knocking down 84 percent of his free throws. He pulled down just under six rebounds per night for the Shockers.

With his ceiling may be limited, there is plenty to like about the 6-foot-8 forward. His offensive game is polished, as he boasts the ability to score inside and on the perimeter. He predominantly played power forward in college, though he has an improving three-point shot. Most important, his game is NBA ready. Early is tough, skilled and physical enough to contribute right away. If he lands in the right spot in the back half of the first round, we could soon see Early playing meaningful minutes in meaningful games for a contender.

As Jonathan Givony of Draft Express points out, there is some position concern with Early, making his ceiling as a role player all but certain. He played power forward in college, but doesn’t have the size or wingspan to do so at the next level. He has some of the requisite skills to play the three, but his ball handling needs to improve as does the consistency and range of his jumper. He also needs to get better defensively. But the question remains, how much can he be expected to improve given his advanced age?

One thing Early has going for him is that he has shown an ability to rapidly progress his skill set, transforming from a Division-III standout to a surefire NBA draft pick in only a few years. That should not go unnoticed, though in today’s NBA when everyone but the elite teams are looking for upside, Early sure has the look of a late first round pick.

Poll: Which Underdog Will Win In Round One?

April 23 at 9:30pm CDT By Alex Lee

With the Mavericks blowing out the Spurs in San Antonio tonight, it looks like the defending champion Heat are the only one of the eight higher seeds that will hold home court advantage in the first two games of the NBA playoffs. And believe it or not, it’s really no surprise.

After all, the top seed in the East, the Pacers, went ice-cold down the stretch and face a Hawks team that is no stranger to postseason play. Meanwhile, the Thunder, owners of the NBA’s second-best record and the two-seed in the West, face a white-hot Grizzlies team that has been playing at an elite level since Marc Gasol‘s mid-January return. And those are just two of the riveting first round matchups.

We still have a long way to go in round one, but with a logjam of great teams out West and a whole lot of uncertainty in the East, this postseason is shaping up to be an unpredictable one. The question is, can teams like Atlanta and Memphis shock the world in round one? Or will they simply put a scare into a superior opponent before bowing out? And if not them, which lower-seeded team is most likely to pull off the upset?

And-Ones: Pacers, Izzo, Donovan, Kings

April 23 at 7:59pm CDT By Alex Lee

With a trio of Game Threes on the schedule, let’s take a look at what is going on around the league on Wednesday night:

  • With Frank Vogel‘s job reportedly on the line in Indiana, Sean Deveney of Sporting News examines the caveats of the recent NBA trend of hiring younger, cheaper and less experienced head coaches in the mold of the Pacers’ front man. Speaking with several veteran coaches, Deveney writes that policing an NBA locker room is all the more difficult without extensive NBA experience, be it as a coach or a player.
  • There has never been more NBA-centric buzz about Tom Izzo, though the Michigan State head coach remains a long shot to leave East Lansing for a gig in the professional ranks. However should the Michigan-born Izzo need to hire an agent, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN tweets that it would likely be Minneapolis-based Gary O’Hagan. Wolfson confirms reports we’ve heard that the Timberwolves would love to land Izzo as their next head coach.
  • We know the Wolves are also interested in Florida’s Billy Donovan, who flirted with the NBA seven years ago before eventually backing out. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who coached Donovan at Providence, said Wednesday morning on ESPN’s Mike & Mike that Donovan would make an excellent NBA head coach, though Pitino suspects his protege might again get cold feet before making the leap to the next level, writes Adam Zagoria of SNY.
  • Heading into an important offseason in Sacramento, Ailene Voison of the Bee puts the microscope on the Kings‘ front office hierarchy, led by first-year general manager Pete D’Alessandro. As Voison opines, D’Alessandro is challenged with employing an effective small- to mid-market approach in the mold of the Spurs and Pacers, something the previous regime in Sacramento failed to do.

Draft Notes: Exum, Wiggins, College Returnees

April 23 at 6:09pm CDT By Alex Lee

There has been plenty of talk about the top of June’s draft and that it sure to continue. For instance, the Magic, Jazz, Bucks, in addition to Lakers, are high on Dante Exum, Chad Ford of ESPN.com writes in his latest chat with readers. Ford has linked the Magic to Exum in the past, and he says this time around that the team is indeed looking for a point guard in spite of its experiment with Victor Oladipo at the position. Meanwhile, Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal Times tweets that the Sixers are targeting Andrew Wiggins with their selection, a report that echoes what we heard a few months ago out of Philadelphia.

However, as Sunday’s Early Entry Eligibility Deadline approaches, we are also sure to hear a lot about the players on the other end of the draft spectrum. Let’s take a look at some of the college players who have chosen not to partake in June’s NBA Draft.

  • LSU freshman Jordan Mickey will return to school instead of entering the draft, the Tigers announced (Twitter link). Chad Ford of ESPN.com has Mickey as the 23rd-best prospect for next year and Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, who’s listed him as the 55th-best prospect for 2014, puts him 36th in his 2015 mock draft.
  • Sophomore Alex Poythress and freshman Dakari Johnson will both return to Kentucky next year, the Wildcats announced in separate releases. Poythress kicked the tires on entering the draft a year ago as well before ultimately deciding to return. They will join teammates Willie Cauley-Stein and Marcus Lee in Lexington next year, both of whom also chose to stay in school. Johnson could flirt with the lottery next year, according to Givony, who has Poythress squarely in the second round.
  • Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant will not enter the draft, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com. Grant was averaging 19 points per game before withdrawing from school for academic reasons in December. His brother, Syracuse’s Jerami Grant, announced last week that he would enter the draft. Givony has the 6’4″ shooting guard pegged as the 57th pick next June.

Atlantic Notes: Green, Lowry, Knicks, ‘Melo

April 23 at 5:00pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The lone Atlantic Division representatives in the playoffs are duking it out in what’s become a compelling series, with the Raptors saving themselves from an 0-2 hole in Tuesday’s night’s victory against the Nets.  While we wait for Friday’s Game 3, here’s the latest from around the Atlantic:

  • No one on the Celtics is guaranteed to return next season, writes Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald, who takes stock of each player’s chances of coming back. Jeff Green is “eminently available” for a trade, according to Murphy.
  • Kyle Lowry will surely have plenty of offers to leave the Raptors in free agency this summer, but he’s enjoying Toronto’s revival this season, telling reporters, including Fred Kerber of the New York Post, “I love my team and I’ll tell anybody that.” (Twitter link).
  • Phil Jackson is surprised that so many have expressed interest in the Knicks head coaching job even though he wants to institute the triangle, as he said today to reporters, including Chris Herring of The Wall Street Journal (Twitter link).
  • Jackson appears comfortable with the idea of watching Carmelo Anthony leave this summer, Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv believes, judging by the Zen Master’s willingness to make Anthony follow through on his idea of playing for less than the max.
  • Connecticut point guard and Massachusetts native Shabazz Napier spoke about his dreams of playing for the Celtics, but it’s unlikely that the Celtics will be in position to draft him in June, observes Brian Robb of Boston.com.

Latest On Jazz Coaching Search

April 23 at 4:21pm CDT By Chuck Myron

WEDNESDAY, 4:21pm: Hawks assistant Quin Snyder is also a candidate, Stein hears (Twitter link). Snyder worked with Lindsey in San Antonio, as Stein points out via Twitter, noting that he also spent time in Russia as an assistant under Messina.

TUESDAY, 1:59pm: Current Jazz assistant Brad Jones has also drawn mention as a potential candidate, Stein writes, though the ESPN scribe casts Boylen and Messina as the favorites. Still, neither Boylen nor Messina is likely to become available until June as their respective teams play on in the postseason. If Lindsey decides Boylen is the right choice, he wouldn’t allow the sentiment of locals turned off by Boylen’s poor performance at the University of Utah to dissuade him, according to Stein.

9:30am: Rumored candidate Jim Boylen is indeed in the running for the Jazz head coaching job, tweets Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, and the Spurs assistant is at the top of the list, a source tells Mike Monroe of the San Antonio-Express News. The Jazz will also consider longtime European coach and former Lakers assistant Ettore Messina, according to Marc Stein of ESPN.com (on Twitter). The Jazz are perhaps more open to hiring a European coach than any other NBA team, a source tells Jody Genessy of the Deseret News (Twitter link). The name of Bulls lead assistant coach Adrian Griffin has come up in regard to the Jazz as well as other teams of late, Genessy tweets. Griffin was a candidate for the Sixers and Pistons last year and the Blazers in 2012.

Utah GM Dennis Lindsey and assistant GM Justin Zanik are well-known fans of Messina, who’s apparently itching to come to the NBA, Stein says in a pair of tweets. Messina is the coach of CSKA Moscow, though his roots are in Italy, where he coached for more than a decade and a half and established himself as one of Europe’s top sideline bosses. Critics say he’s too tough on players to succeed as an NBA coach, though proponents point to his year of experience as an assistant in the NBA with the Lakers 2011/12, when the team had plenty of title-winning veterans, to suggest that he can succeed, Stein tweets. Messina was a candidate for the Hawks head coaching job last year.

Boylen’s connection to Lindsey dates back to their time together in the Rockets organization. They share the same agent and have a close relationship, Jones tweets, though Boylen’s time as coach of the University of Utah, a tenure marked by back-to-back losing seasons in his final two years, would be viewed as a negative, according to Jones, as well as Stein (Twitter link).

It’s unlikely that the Jazz’s next coach will be a retread, Jones says via Twitter. Lindsey insisted that the team hadn’t considered any candidates before announcing Monday that Tyrone Corbin wouldn’t be back, as fellow Tribune scribe Aaron Falk observes. Lindsey didn’t rule out the idea of Corbin remaining with the organization in a different capacity, Jones tweets.

Pau Gasol Calls For Major Changes To Lakers

April 23 at 4:08pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Pau Gasol wrote on his personal blog that there would have to be significant changes to the Lakers if they’re to re-sign him this summer, as Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News translates from Gasol’s native Spanish. He said that Kobe Bryant is the only person who could make him stay, and reiterated his desire to be on a winning team.

Gasol once more expressed that he doesn’t feel coach Mike D’Antoni‘s style is a match for his, and the 33-year-old said he’s unsure if the team’s decision about whether to keep the coach for next season will influence his own choice on whether to come back. Gasol insisted that he won’t simply go to the highest bidder, and he said that he’s looking for a long-term deal.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak heaped praise on the 7-footer last week, even making the specious claim that there will be no better free agents available this summer. Still, it appears likely that Gasol will have to take a significant cut in pay from the nearly $19.3MM he made this past season.  The Bulls, Cavs, Bobcats are likely to pursue Gasol, and the Grizzlies will probably get involved, too, once Zach Randolph‘s potential free agency is resolved.

Teams With The Most 2014 Draft Picks

April 23 at 2:29pm CDT By Chuck Myron

The Sixers were not afraid to employ rookies this season, and they’re in line for another influx of NBA neophytes in 2014/15. Philadelphia will have a pair of first-round picks this year, barring a lucky bounce of a lottery ping-pong ball for the Pelicans, and five second-rounders, giving the Sixers a league-high seven draft choices in 2014.

Whenever a team is holding that many picks, there’s a strong chance it’ll trade one or more of them. The Sixers are in the midst of a rebuilding project, but even so, it’d be difficult for them to find room for seven rookies on next season’s opening-night roster. Likewise, Suns GM Ryan McDonough has spoken on multiple occasions about packaging his team’s slew of first-round picks in a trade. Most teams aren’t in Phoenix’s enviable position and are increasingly reluctant to part with first-round picks, so second-rounders are becoming valuable trade fodder, too.

The final draft order won’t be determined until the May 20th lottery, but you can check out the projected first-round landscape here, and teams are ranked below by the volume of 2014 picks they possess, showing which teams might be looking to deal. There’s a chance the lottery will take a few picks away from some teams and give them to others, so we’ve noted those potential scenarios here. The number of first round picks is in parentheses to the left of the slash, with the number of second-rounders to the right.

Seven picks

  • Sixers (2/5) — There a 4% chance they won’t receive the Pelicans’ first-round pick, which would leave them with six picks.

Four picks

  • Suns (3/1) — There’s a 2% chance they’ll receive the Timberwolves’ first-round pick, which would give them five picks.
  • Timberwolves (1/3) — There’s a 2% chance they’ll have to send their first-round pick to the Suns, which would leave them with three picks.
  • Bucks (1/3)

Three picks

  • Bulls (2/1)
  • Jazz (2/1)
  • Nuggets (1/2)
  • Raptors (1/2)
  • Spurs (1/2)

Two picks

  • Celtics (2/0)
  • Magic (2/0)
  • Thunder (2/0)
  • Bobcats (1/1) — There’s an 18% chance they’ll receive the Pistons’ first-round pick, which would give them three picks.
  • Cavs (1/1)
  • Hawks (1/1)
  • Heat (1/1)
  • Pistons (1/1) — There’s an 18% chance they’ll have to give their first-round pick to the Bobcats, which would leave them with one pick.
  • Rockets (1/1)
  • Mavericks (0/2)

One pick

  • Clippers (1/0)
  • Grizzlies (1/0)
  • Kings (1/0)
  • Lakers (1/0)
  • Pacers (0/1)
  • Wizards (0/1)

Zero picks

  • Pelicans — There’s a 4% chance they’ll get to keep their first-round pick from going to the Sixers, which would give them one pick.
  • Nets
  • Warriors
  • Knicks
  • Trail Blazers

Knicks Rumors: Jackson, ‘Melo, Kerr

April 23 at 1:11pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Knicks owner James Dolan isn’t allowing team president Phil Jackson to make peripheral changes to the organization, according to Frank Isola of the New York Daily News, but it’d be a stretch to call it the end of Jackson’s honeymoon with the Knicks, Isola cautions. The personnel that Jackson targeted for removal were likely members of the team’s front office, medical or media relations staff, Isola posits, though that’s unclear. Jackson addressed the report in a press conference today, saying that Dolan has “been very true to his word” about giving Jackson complete control over basketball decisions, as Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com documents. We’ll round up more from Jackson’s talk here:

  • Carmelo Anthony has spoken about a willingness to take a discount if he chooses to re-sign with the Knicks, and Jackson hopes he’s “true to his word” about that, notes Peter Botte of the New York Daily News. Jackson said he views the decision of Miami’s trio of stars to take less money as a precedent and believes it’s difficult to assemble a title-winning roster unless players make financial sacrifices.
  • If Anthony doesn’t re-sign, the Knicks are prepared to move forward, Jackson said, according to Botte.
  • Jackson said he plans to talk to Steve Kerr about the coaching job in the next week or two, observes Marc Berman of the New York Post, That conflicts with the report that they’re deep into discussions about the job.
  • There are other candidates in the mix for the job, Jackson said, but he wouldn’t name them, and he gave the impression that Kerr is indeed the front-runner, writes Adam Zagoria of SNY.tv. Jackson’s fiancee, Lakers co-owner Jeanie Buss, tried to encourage him to coach the team himself, but he reiterated today that he will not return to the bench. In any case, Jackson isn’t looking for a retread, Berman adds, but it does appear he wants his coach to run the triangle, writes Dave D’Alessandro of the Star-Ledger.
  • Jackson indicated that a new coach might be in place within the next month, but he said he just wants to make sure someone’s in the job before summer league action starts in July, Berman notes. The Zen Master said that while he’ll allow his new coach to pick a staff, he’ll exercise veto power if need be.
  • Hiring someone new for the front office is “not a priority,” Jackson said, as Zagoria tweets.

Latest On Wolves Coaching Candidates

April 23 at 12:41pm CDT By Chuck Myron

WEDNESDAY, 12:41pm: Saunders reiterated his “never say never” approach to the idea of coaching the team, but said he doesn’t envision that scenario playing out as he spoke on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” this morning (transcription via Marc Stein of ESPN.com). He did say his experience as a coach will allow the team to take its time with the search, since he’ll be able to oversee offseason training and development schedules for the players while the position remains open.

MONDAY, 2:58pm: Saunders poured cold water on the idea of Hoiberg’s candidacy for the job, telling Chad Hartman of WCCO-AM that, “He’s [Fred] not at a point where he’s ready to move to the NBA. That’s not happening,” as Wolfson notes via Twitter. Saunders also wouldn’t hire Frank Vogel were the Pacers coach to become available, Wolfson tweets.

1:21pm: Stein suggests that Donovan, Hoiberg and Izzo would all listen to entreaties from the Wolves, but the ESPN.com scribe acknowledges that it would be an uphill battle to convince any of them to take the job. There are mixed signals on whether Saunders wants to coach, and whether Taylor would allow him to, according to Stein, altering the narrative from previous reports about the idea. Stein also points to the lengthy search that Saunders is planning as reason that Van Gundy and brother Jeff Van Gundy may emerge as serious candidates.

1:03pm: A source close to Donovan tells Wolfson that while the Florida coach would consider the NBA, he doubts he’d go to Minnesota (Twitter link).

11:14am: University of Florida coach Billy Donovan is drawing interest from the Wolves as they search for a new head coach, tweets Marc Stein of ESPN.com, while Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports adds former Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins to the list of candidates. Sam Amick of USA Today suggests George Karl is also a candidate, though last season’s NBA Coach of the Year reportedly wouldn’t have interest.

President of basketball operations Flip Saunders suggested today that the team will conduct an extensive search that might not be complete in time for the June 26th draft, according to Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune (Twitter link). He mentioned experience and clout as criteria he’s looking for in a new sideline boss, observes Andy Greder of the St. Paul Pioneer Press (on Twitter). Saunders said “never say never” about the notion that he’d become the next coach of the team, or that the Wolves might trade for a coach, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Saunders reportedly would like to coach the team, but owner Glen Taylor doesn’t want anyone to have the top front office and coaching responsibilities at the same time. Fred Hoiberg, Tom Izzo and Stan Van Gundy have also drawn mention as potential Wolves targets, though all three appear to be longshots. Sam Amico of Fox Sports Ohio identified Suns assistant coach Jerry Sichting as a “name to really watch” in regard to the Wolves opening.

Donovan accepted the Magic’s head coaching job in 2007, but quickly backed out. He said in late 2012 that he wouldn’t rule out an eventual jump to the NBA. Hollins appeared to be a candidate for the Pistons coaching job after they fired Maurice Cheeks at midseason, and he had interest in that job. The team still hasn’t named a permanent head coach, with interim coach John Loyer having served as the team’s bench boss for the remainder of the season. It’s unclear if Hollins remains a candidate in Detroit.