Update On Prominent Draft-And-Stash Prospects

May 25 at 1:28pm CDT By Mark Porcaro

The NBA Finals are nearly upon us and full attention is soon to turn to the NBA draft.  There are sure to be many players drafted who will continue their careers overseas as they develop more with the hopes of joining an NBA team in the coming years.  Meanwhile, what about those past draft picks?  Who might be ready to come over next season and potentially lock down an NBA roster spot?  Let’s take a look at 10 recent first-round and high second-round picks, how their seasons are going and what kind of chance they have of being in the NBA next year.

Alex Abrines (G/F) — 2013 pick No. 32: Rights owned by the Thunder

Abrines dramatically improved his shooting this season for Barcelona of Spain. The 21-year old has put up 48-48-94 splits during ACB play.  He’s hit 52 of 109 three-point attempts this season over 26 games.  However, during Euroleague play, he was just 29 of 85 (34.1%) from deep.  He was named to the ACB All Young Players Team for the second consecutive season and is clearly a rising star in the top European domestic league.  It’s all great news for OKC except for one small problem:  Abrines signed a four-year contract extension last week that could keep him in Spain until 2019.  The silver lining is that his contract includes NBA buyouts after each season.  It’s likely we won’t see Abrines in the NBA for another season or two as he should get a much bigger role in Barcelona’s rotation next year, but rest assured he has a very bright future that will include the NBA at some point.

Nemanja Bjelica (F) — 2010 pick No. 35: Rights owned by the Timberwolves

Bjelica had a career year for Fenerbahce of Turkey, leading his team to the Euroleague Final 4 and being named Euroleague MVP.  At 27 years old, this might be the time for Bjelica to make the NBA jump after being rumored to do so over the past couple of seasons.  He’s a skilled combo forward who’s a solid rebounder (8.2 in 26 minutes per game across all leagues) with three-point range (46.4% in Turkish TBL play).  Bjelica has one more year on his contract but it’s hard to believe he could improve his stock any further, and he could very likely be a solid rotation piece on the rebuilding Timberwolves next year.  The timing is right, but it might come down to whether or not the price is right.

Bogdan Bogdanovic (SG) — 2014 pick No. 27: Rights owned by the Suns

Bogdanovic is a teammate of Bjelica’s with Fenerbahce and has also been integral to their success this season.  He signed a four-year deal with the Turkish team this year after spending the last few seasons with Partizan.  He has dramatically improved his three-point shot to the tune of 43.1% in TBL play and was named Euroleague Rising Star for the second consecutive season.  His contract includes NBA outs starting in 2016 and upon being drafted he was expected to stay in Europe until then.  However, given his continued success, it’s quite possible that the Suns make a run at him this offseason and at least see how much it would cost to buy him out early.

DeAndre Daniels (SF) — 2014 pick No. 37: Rights owned by the Raptors

Fresh off a national championship with Connecticut, Daniels moved to Australia and joined the Perth Wildcats.  He missed three weeks early in the season with an elbow injury but returned to help his team reach the playoffs.  He put up 14.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per contest, but his shooting numbers left much to be desired.  Daniels is an excellent summer league candidate who will need to show that his shooting woes were mostly a result of the elbow injury.  If he can prove himself there, he could become a cheap reinforcement for the Raptors next season.

Josh Huestis (SF) — 2014 pick No. 29: Rights owned by the Thunder

The Stanford grad is best known for being the 29th overall pick because he agreed to spend the season in the D-League, a fact that sparked great controversy after the draft.  The OKC Blue were said to be molding him into a “3 and D” type player and while the defense was there, the three-point shooting (31.6%) has been slower to come along.  Huestis will undoubtedly join the Thunder’s summer league team but will likely have a tough time finding an open roster spot with OKC as the Thunder already have 13 players under contract for next season. Plus, there are restricted free agents Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler to consider, and that forthcoming lottery pick.

Livio Jean-Charles (F) — 2013 pick No. 28: Rights owned by the Spurs

Jean-Charles is a raw forward who plays for ASVEL Villeurbanne, the French team owned by Spurs point guard Tony Parker.  He missed the entire 2013/14 season after undergoing knee surgery and returned this year to mixed results.  He played limited minutes off the bench and didn’t shoot particularly well in the process.   He has no three-point range for someone who’s supposed to be a combo forward, which would seem to limit his NBA potential, given his skinny frame.  He should get a look at summer league, but it’s likely that he’ll return to France for at least another season.

Nikola Jokic (F/C) — 2014 pick No. 41: Rights owned by the Nuggets

Jokic is a 6’11”, 250-pound brute who managed to dominate the very tough Adriatic League while leading a team basically filled with young prospects. He finished with 15.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game for Serbia’s KK Mega Vizura en route to winning MVP honors at just 20 years old.  There have been rumors throughout the season that the Nuggets are already working on a deal to sign the Serbian prospect prior to summer league.  He could eventually form quite the frontcourt tandem with rising star Jusuf Nurkic.

Tibor Pleiss (C) — 2010 pick No. 31: Rights owned by the Jazz

Pleiss is a 7’2″ monster in the middle who played this past season as a teammate of Alex Abrines with Barcelona of Spain.  Pleiss left a starting role with Spain’s Laboral Kutxa to come off the bench and so his numbers aren’t a very fair reflection of his talents.  In ACB play, he shot 65% from the field and 88% from the free throw line.  He was acquired by Utah from Oklahoma City in the Kanter trade and there were rumors shortly thereafter that the Jazz were trying to buy him out of his contract.  It’s safe to say that he has a place in the Jazz’s future, though the apparent mutual dissatisfaction between Pleiss and Barcelona that reportedly fueled talks between Utah and Pleiss earlier this year is rumored to have resulted in a different outcome. Barcelona is expected to convey him to Germany’s Bayern Munich, according to Nikos Varlas of Eurohoops.net.

Dario Saric (PF) — 2014 pick No. 12: Rights owned by the 76ers

Saric moved from Cibona of Croatia to Turkey’s Anadolu Efes this season and is averaging 10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 24.2 minutes per game over 54 contests.  He was named Euroleague MVP of the Month in November while also picking up his second consecutive FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year Award.  Saric’s contract doesn’t have a NBA out until 2016, but the Sixers have been in constant contact with him, and he won’t dismiss the idea that he might play for Philadelphia next season.  His past has been riddled with contract controversy, so it would be quite a feat for Philly to make that happen.  Even so, Saric is improving rapidly and, whether he comes over in 2015 or 2016, he figures to be a big piece of the 76ers’ future.

Tomas Satoransky (G) — 2012 pick No. 32: Rights owned by the Wizards

Satoransky is a 6’7″ combo guard and yet another player for Barcelona.  Last summer, Satoransky refused to play in summer league for the Wizards unless the team signed him to the regular roster. He failed to receive the money he sought from Washington and signed for two years with Barcelona instead. He excelled this season, with shooting splits of 58-49-81, and he has the ability to fill up the stat sheet.  It’ll be interesting to see if he’ll change his tune and join Washington this summer, but regardless, he’s just 23 and another year with one of the top international teams will only aid his improvement.

Latest On Paul Pierce

May 25 at 12:22pm CDT By Chuck Myron

Many around the league believe that Paul Pierce will opt out of his deal with the Wizards and join the Clippers for the home stretch of his career, as TNT’s David Aldridge writes within his Morning Tip column for NBA.com. That would run counter to Wizards coach Randy Wittman‘s apparent confidence that Pierce will pick up his nearly $5.544MM option and return to Washington. Pierce, who’ll turn 38 in October, left it open-ended in the wake of Washington’s playoff elimination about whether he would even play next season, echoing comments he made in January.

The link between the Clippers and Pierce dates back to last year, as Pierce told Aldridge this past fall that he saw the Clippers as his favored alternative to re-signing with the Nets before sign-and-trade talks between the Clips and Brooklyn broke down. Clippers coach and president of basketball operations Doc Rivers was Pierce’s coach for nine seasons with the Celtics, and Clippers assistant coach Sam Cassell played a major role in luring Pierce to the Wizards this past summer before he joined the Clippers staff. Still, the Clippers, if they succeed in their efforts to re-sign DeAndre Jordan, almost certainly won’t have the capacity to give Pierce as much for next season as he would make if he picked up his option, as I explained earlier when I looked at the offseason ahead in Los Angeles. The Clippers would have a tough time exceeding the $3.376MM taxpayer’s mid-level exception for any outside free agent if Jordan comes back.

Pierce has said he feels a connection with the younger players on the Wizards and with the city of Washington. The forward assumed a larger role for the team in the postseason than he had during the regular season, no doubt in part because of his sizzling 52.4% shooting on 63 attempts from behind the arc in the playoffs.

The 10-time All-Star will probably speak with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and co-owner Wyc Grousbeck this summer about a role with the Boston organization for after he’s done playing, as Pierce told Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald in December. Still, Pierce didn’t follow up at that point on his assertion from March of 2014 that he was open to rejoining the Celtics as a player. Pierce and the Rockets had a degree of mutual interest last summer, but a deal didn’t appear likely.

Atlantic Notes: Nets Draft, Stevens, Jackson

May 25 at 11:14am CDT By Chuck Myron

The Celtics and Sixers account for one-sixth of the 60 total draft choices this year, as we pointed out last week (Twitter link), but the rest of the Atlantic Division isn’t so replete with picks. The Nets have two picks, though they won’t be picking as highly as they would have in the first round had they not allowed the Hawks to switch picks under the terms of the Joe Johnson trade. The Knicks, who fell in the lottery, and the Raptors only have one selection apiece. Here’s more on the draft and other matters from the Atlantic:

  • NetsDaily’s Reed Wallach examines needs the Nets can fill through the draft, writing that Brooklyn would be likely to use a higher pick on a point guard if the team indeed trades up as GM Billy King said he would try to do. The Nets have the 29th and 41st picks.
  • Danny Ainge is firmly in control of the draft process for the Celtics, yet Brad Stevens takes an interest and was more engaged than many of his counterparts on other NBA teams at the draft combine, as Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald examines.
  • Knicks president Phil Jackson expressed fond wishes for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Pablo Prigioni (on Twitter), all conference finals participants whom the Knicks traded away this season, citing his desire for them to find their “comfort zones.” That led Ian Begley of ESPNNewYork.com to wonder why they couldn’t find comfort zones on Jackson’s Knicks.

Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Clippers

May 25 at 9:56am CDT By Chuck Myron

Guaranteed Contracts

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

Options

  • None

Restricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

  • None

Unrestricted Free Agents/Cap Holds

Draft Picks

  • None

Cap Outlook

  • Guaranteed Salary: $58,077,790
  • Non-Guaranteed Salary: $8,748,342
  • Options: $0
  • Cap Holds: $24,060,085
  • Total: $90,886,217

This looked like the year the Clippers would make that next step forward. They were one win away from their first-ever Western Conference Finals berth, but they whiffed on all three chances to grab that victory. Instead, the team hit its head against the same ceiling it has repeatedly, losing in the conference semifinals for the third year out of four. What’s worse is that the specter of losing DeAndre Jordan in free agency presents a clear path in which they could get significantly worse for next season, and there’s no readily apparent way to get much better.

Apr 14, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre  Jordan (6) against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

No, a return to the lottery isn’t in store, given the continued presence of both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, both signed through 2016/17 with player options for 2017/18. Yet with more than $58MM guaranteed against a projected $67.1MM cap, and more than $6.7MM tied up in non-guaranteed salary to key contributors Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes, the Clippers would have no cap flexibility to sign an adequate replacement should Jordan bolt. The former 35th overall pick has spoken in glowing terms about Doc Rivers, the coach who took him from playing only 24.5 minutes per game in 2012/13 to an All-NBA Third Team selection in the span of two years, but Jordan has said the Clippers aren’t necessarily the favorites to sign him. Indeed, Jordan has expressed through back channels that he will have extreme interest in joining his home-state Mavericks this summer, multiple sources told Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com last month.

The Clippers appear ready to make him a five-year maximum-salary offer. Jordan has said he won’t sign a one-year deal to try to reap an even greater payday when the salary cap escalates sharply in the summer of 2016, so ostensibly the Clippers can tempt him with the fifth year and 3% higher raises that only they can offer him. Of course, Jordan never said he wouldn’t sign a two- or three-year deal to take advantage of the salary cap when it’s projected to rise into the $100MMs. The financial advantage the Clippers have wouldn’t be as pronounced in that scenario. It could well come down to comfort rather than money. While Jordan’s affection for Rivers is obvious, he’s rumored to have had a falling out with Paul, though teammate Dahntay Jones says that isn’t true.

A Jordan departure would carry a silver lining of sorts for the Clippers. Removing the league’s leading rebounder and All-Defensive First Team center from the roster would leave the Clippers without a reasonable chance to break through in a way they didn’t this year, and so it would likely goose Rivers into more extensive retooling with an eye on the summer of 2016. They could try to trade Crawford’s expiring, partially guaranteed contract for a future first-round pick or a promising young player on a rookie scale contract. They could explore what sort of bounty they might get in return for selling high on Redick, who’s coming off the best season of his career, knowing that he’d be 32 by the time they could spend freely again. They could try their luck at using the full mid-level again after blowing it on Spencer Hawes last year. None of those approaches would necessarily bear fruit, but as long as the Clippers didn’t clutter their 2016/17 books too much, missing on Jordan would allow them the chance to go after Kevin Durant and other star 2016 free agents.

Jordan is, without a doubt, one of the top centers in the game, but he’s no Durant. Maxing out Jordan this summer would mean he’d be making in the neighborhood of $20.5MM in 2016/17, and coupled with the more than $20.1MM that Griffin has coming and the nearly $22.9MM the team committed to Paul, and the Clippers would have about $63.5MM against the preliminary projection of an $89MM salary cap for three players alone, never mind the money on the books for Redick and Hawes. That would make it almost impossible for the Clippers to sign Durant to his estimated $25MM maximum salary.

The effects of a max deal for Jordan would be even more immediate, since it would essentially force the Clippers to either pay the tax or unload a key member of the team, like Redick or Crawford. A slight chance exists that the Clippers could dodge the tax apron, the line $4MM above the tax threshold, but it’s more likely the Clips would zoom above the apron, too. That means the team would be unable to acquire a player via sign-and-trade or spend more than the $3.376MM taxpayer’s mid-level amount on the starting salary for any free agent from another team. Just crossing the tax threshold carries with it stricter salary-matching rules for trades, never mind the apron.

Regardless of whether the Clippers sign Jordan or not, they’re already hamstrung when it comes to Austin Rivers. They can’t sign him for a starting salary any more than $3,110,796, which is the value of the rookie scale team option that the Pelicans declined before the season. That rule is in place so teams can’t try to get around the rookie scale and give their recent first-round picks more money as an enticement to stick around for the long term, but it doesn’t matter that the Clippers had nothing to do with that option decision. It still applies, even though Rivers was traded twice this season. It wouldn’t matter if the Clippers wanted to sign him using cap room, the mid-level, or any form of exception. That $3,110,796 figure is as high as they can go.

Of course, that doesn’t mean any other team will want to exercise its right to pay him more than that. Rivers had his moments in the playoffs, when he shot 37.1% from three-point range, but he was still a net negative during the postseason according to Basketball-Reference’s Box Plus/Minus metric, just as that statistic suggests he has been during all four regular seasons of his NBA career. Doc Rivers unsurprisingly wants to re-sign his son, and there is a degree of promise left for the former 10th overall pick who won’t turn 23 until August 1st. Still, there won’t be a clamor for his services from competing teams, and even $3,110,796 may well be too rich for the Clippers’ tastes, especially considering the other salary constraints they face.

The perception of nepotism concerned Doc Rivers before GM Dave Wohl and a pair of assistant coaches talked him into trading for his son. Doc Rivers suggested that Wohl had worked to convince him for months, dating back to last summer. Yet for myriad other reasons, Doc Rivers might be wise to give Wohl or someone else the final say in the front office. Rivers succeeded with the Redick sign-and-trade in his first weeks on the job, but he’s done little since to upgrade the talent on the roster, outside of the enhancements he’s made to Jordan and others through his coaching. Perhaps Rivers would be well-advised to concentrate on what he does best, better than just about anyone in the game, and simply coach while someone else handles player personnel. Owner Steve Ballmer just last summer gave Rivers a five-year deal worth more than $50MM to serve both as coach and president of basketball operations, but Rivers needn’t do two jobs for Ballmer to get his money’s worth. Both Wohl and assistant GM Gary Sacks have been at the controls before, and if the Clippers wanted to look elsewhere, the chance to work for the deep-pocketed Ballmer in a warm-weather glamour market with two incumbent superstars on the team would be appealing to just about any executive.

Still, it doesn’t seem like Rivers is going to be without his front office responsibilities anytime soon, and when it comes to keeping Jordan around, that’s probably an advantage for the Clippers. Whoever’s running the team will have to excel at building the team’s depth, or at least improve on the spartan supporting cast that’s there now. The placement of Paul, Griffin and Jordan on this year’s All-NBA Teams showed the Clippers’ core is as strong if not stronger than any other in the league. Paul could overcome his playoff demons, Jordan could make more free throws, and Griffin could challenge for the title of the best player in the league, and the Clippers could still fall short of a title if the team can’t fill a rotation with enough players worthy of staying on the floor.

Cap Footnotes

1 — The Clippers waived Delfino in August 2014 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next five seasons.
2 — The Clippers waived Farmar as part of a buyout deal in January and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next three seasons.
3 — The Clippers waived Raduljica in August 2014 and used the stretch provision to spread his remaining guaranteed salary over the next five seasons.
4 — Crawford’s salary is partially guaranteed for $1,500,000.
5 — Barnes’ salary is partially guaranteed for $1,000,000.
6 — Hudson’s salary becomes fully guaranteed if he remains under contract through July 15th.

The Basketball Insiders Salary Pages were used in the creation of this post. 

Draft Notes: Rozier, Looney, Timberwolves

May 25 at 8:59am CDT By Chuck Myron

The NBA draft is just one month from tonight. The lottery and the combine are finished, so team workouts will be the main focus from now until draft night. Now that we know where every team will pick, we debuted our mock draft this weekend, and we’re continuing with our Prospect Profile series. Here’s more on the draft as the event starts to get close:

  • Louisville point guard Terry Rozier has made a habit of overcoming the odds, and he didn’t disappoint in his workout with the Jazz this weekend, according to Utah vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin, as Carter Williams of the Deseret News examines. The Jazz were one of 17 teams scheduled to audition Rozier, Williams writes, a group that apparently includes the Rockets and Spurs.
  • Kevon Looney added the Nets, Wizards, Jazz, Suns, Bulls, Cavs, Raptors, Hawks and Knicks to the list of the teams he interviewed with at the draft combine earlier this month, as the UCLA power forward revealed to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. Looney is a raw prospect, but even though he feels he could have improved if he’d stayed in college, he tells Medina that he’s confident he can also develop at the NBA level.
  • Connecticut point guard Ryan Boatright, LSU power forward Jordan Mickey, Texas combo forward Jonathan Holmes and Louisville swingman Wayne Blackshear are among the players tentatively scheduled to work out Friday for the Timberwolves, reports Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN Twin Cities (Twitter link).

Prospect Profile: Frank Kaminsky

May 24 at 10:36pm CDT By Will Joseph

In an era when many of basketball’s top prospects are “one-and-done,” Frank Kaminsky stands out. He was only a three-star recruit coming out of Benet Academy in Illinois and despite playing a limited role in his first two years with Wisconsin, he metamorphosed into one of the nation’s top players. Through his first two seasons as a Badger, he averaged less than nine minutes per game. Kaminsky has often said he was a bit immature in his early years in college, and often operated without a clear vision, as Ben Hamilton of SI.com outlined in a piece earlier this year. Once he figured it out, the guy known as Frank the Tank emerged as one of college basketball’s most unlikely stars. With more playing time, the 7-footer’s game improved and later evolved.

Frank Kaminsky.

Courtesy of USA Today Sports Images

Kaminsky took a big step forward in his junior season. He averaged 13.9 points per game and grabbed 6.3 rebounds per game. He also led the Badgers to the NCAA Final Four to cap his breakout. Kaminsky entertained the idea of entering last season’s draft, as Chad Ford of ESPN.com (Insider subscription required) relays, but the big man admits that he wasn’t quite ready for the NBA at that point. “I knew I needed to get better. I wanted to go back to school, finish my degree and do more research by watching NBA basketball so I could see what I needed to get better at,” Kaminsky said. “It was like a free year to study for your final exam.

It turned out to be a great decision to wait another year. He entered his senior season as the 2015 preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and preseason AP All-American. He somehow managed to surpass expectations with an unworldly campaign. In other words, Kaminsky did everything for Wisconsin this past season — and then was rewarded for it. He led the Badgers in points per game (18.8), rebounds per game (8.2), assists (103), blocks (57), field goal percentage (55%), 3-point field goal percentage (.416), free throws (156) and free throw attempts (200). He was the only NCAA Division I player to average at least 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He propelled Wisconsin to its first national championship game since 1941. For his efforts, he was named National Player of the Year by The Associated Press and captured a handful of other honors.

There’s a strong possibility that the next reward for Kaminsky is at least a top-15 selection in the draft. One NBA GM told The Journal Times’ Gery Woelfel that Kaminsky could go as high as sixth in the draft. Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress ranks Kaminsky No. 10, but he is the No. 14 overall player according to Ford (Insider subscription required).

Kaminsky has superb size with a frame that has filled out well over time and would improve more with added weight. Kaminsky will never be confused with an explosive athlete, but he is a very coordinated big man who runs the floor well. What makes Kaminsky a unique prospect, according to Givony in his profile of the player, is his versatility and offensive efficiency. Simply put, he’s a matchup problem for many because of his size and how good he is at shooting. While he played mostly center in college, Kaminsky sees himself as a stretch four in the NBA, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders writes. “[I’m] turning myself into a four,” Kaminsky told Pincus. “In college, I played the five for so long.  I know I can play the four.  I just have to pick up the nuances. The NBA values big guys that can stretch the floor.”

Kaminsky added that he is confident he can transition successfully to power forward. “I played against four in college, because that’s who was guarding me. I know what I’m able to do,” he said. “The college game is obviously different than the NBA game. It also makes it easier that the shot clock is 11 seconds shorter. There’s not as much running around.”

Kaminsky has interviewed with the Pistons and met with the Bucks last week. He met with the Magic and Knicks, respectively, the week prior. A “sure thing” is impossible to find in any draft, and Kaminsky is no different. While he’s a very polished and mature player, because of his age (22) there is some belief he has already maximized his potential. Kaminsky, however, has said that he is looking forward to continuing to grow as a player with any team that selects him. There are no shortage of teams that seem like good fits for him, either. Miami, which owns the 10th pick, is looking for immediate help and Kaminsky’s maturity would present an intriguing addition. If he’s still on the board at No. 12, it would be logical for the Jazz to scoop him up because of their need for someone who can stretch the floor. The best fit, however, is likely the Suns, who will pick 13th. The Suns do not have a quality big man and their options are limited beyond Alex Len.

And-Ones: Thomas, Pistons, Mudiay

May 24 at 9:18pm CDT By Will Joseph

Isaiah Thomas said he was asked by Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to name free agents he’d like to play with, Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe reports. The exchange has made Thomas, who has been vocal about his desire for starting in the past, feel like he is part of the Celtics’ future, Himmelsbach adds. “Danny said if there’s any free agent out there I’m interested in, to let him know,” Thomas said. “That has me excited. For him to ask for my input means a lot, because it means I’m definitely, right now, a part of the future, and they also value your word and what you think about the game of basketball. It means a lot, and it’s a mutual respect we have. Now, hopefully, we can get a few guys.”

Thomas did not name any player specifically, but he said a big man is a top priority. “A defensive-minded player,” he told Himmelsbach. “It’d be nice to get one of those in the draft. A lot of the big men out there could definitely help us out. But I know Danny is always up to something.”

Here’s more from around the league:

  • Pistons head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy said the team will hire a full-time shooting coach by July, David Mayo of MLive.com writes. The Pistons ranked 27th out of 30 teams last season in field-goal percentage (43.2%), and also ranked 29th in free-throw percentage at 70.3%, as Mayo points out.
  • The Jazz hosted Andrew HarrisonTerry Rozier, Vince Hunter, J.P. Tokoto, Treveon Graham and Aaron White in a pre-draft workout, and Walt Perrin, vice president of player personnel, said he wasn’t too surprised with the results, Melissa Yack writes in a piece for the Deseret News“I thought Terry played — I know Terry can shoot it, but I thought he shot it pretty well today,” Perrin said. “Other than that — Andrew maybe could have shot it a little better, but surprises no.”
  • Stanley Johnson believes he can be an impactful and versatile defender in the league, Eric Pincus of Basketball Insiders writes. “In today’s day and age, it’s about defensive versatility.  How many people you can guard and how well you can do it,” Johnson said. “I can guard fours.  I can guard Draymond Green.  I can guard Kawhi Leonard.  I can guard Mike Conley — I can stay with him at least,” he continued.  “You guard people in stints, I can definitely stint the minutes for sure.” In 38 games with Arizona, the small forward averaged 13.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, and played well defensively.
  • The top four teams in the draft — the Wolves, Lakers, Sixers and Knicks — reached out to Emmanuel Mudiay‘s agents, but the guard who played last season in the Chinese Basketball Association likely won’t work out for them until early June, tweets SNY.tv’s Adam Zagoria, who cites a source.
  • Boston College guard Olivier Hanlan worked out for the Spurs, and is hopeful he will be selected in the first round of the draft, Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe writes.

Western Notes: Westbrook, Bryant, Clarkson

May 24 at 8:10pm CDT By Will Joseph

Russell Westbrook, who is locked in with the Thunder through the 2016/17 season, evolved into a capable leader during a challenging campaign for the team, Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman writes. For the most part, Westbrook, who tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve, kept his composure in check after a preseason outburst, Mayberry adds. Westbrook led the league in scoring with 28.1 points per game and finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Westbrook said he was most pleased with his improved leadership from the stellar season.

““That was something I had to learn. I wouldn’t say it was forced. It was something I had to learn,” Westbrook said. “If I was playing well or not, still find a way to take myself out of the equation and constantly keep helping other guys on the team. That was a huge part of me and my leadership and the biggest part of what I learned about myself [and want] to carry over to the next season.”

Here’s more from the Western Conference:

  • Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak reiterated to Howard Beck of Bleacher Report (Twitter link) that next year will likely be Kobe Bryant‘s last, but left the door open for the star beyond that. “I’m sure that’s something that will be discussed a year from now,” Kupchak said. Kupchak signaled that next year would be it for Bryant on Thursday in a radio appearance with Rick Fox and Jared Greenberg on SiriusXM NBA Radio (audio links). Bryant hasn’t ruled out playing beyond next season, and said in March that he would probably hold off on a decision until after the 2015/16 campaign.
  • Kupchack said Lakers rookie guard Jordan Clarkson compares similarly in terms of athleticism and style of play to Westbrook in a radio appearance with ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, as relayed by Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com. “If there’s a player in the league that plays like him, it’s Russell Westbrook,” Kupchak said. “Now, I’m not saying for a second that Jordan Clarkson is the next Russell Westbrook, but he’s that kind of a ball-handling guard.”  The Lakers acquired Clarkson with the 46th pick in last year’s draft, and he earned considerable playing time last season because of injuries, as Holmes points out. Clarkson averaged 15.8 points per game on 45.8% shooting, with 5.0 assists per game and 4.2 rebounds per game in 38 games as a starter.
  • Steven Adams, who played so well this season that the Thunder said he was off-limits at the deadline, displayed some growth in his second season in the league and showed defensive versatility, Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman writes.

Hoops Links: Booker, Johnson, Draft

May 24 at 6:57pm CDT By Zach Links

On this date in in 2000, famed Pistons floor general Isiah Thomas was voted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. That year, Danny Biasone, Bob McAdoo, Charles Newton, Pat Summit, and Morgan Wootten also joined him in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Got a great basketball blog post that you want to see featured on Hoops Rumors? Send it to Zach at HoopsLinks@gmail.com. Here’s this week’s look around the basketball blogosphere…

Please send submissions for Hoops Links to Zach at HoopsLinks@gmail.com.

Northwest Notes: Saunders, Wolves, Nuggets

May 24 at 5:44pm CDT By Will Joseph

Despite an NBA-worst 16-66 record this year, Timberwolves coach and president of basketball operations Flip Saunders has the franchise moving in the right direction with some good fortune and solid return on past acquisitions, Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe writes. One positive is that Minnesota has the top pick in the draft. Saunders, who Wolves owner Glen Taylor expects to return next season, must now decide between Karl-Anthony Towns and Jahlil Okafor, Washburn adds. Saunders’ goal is to find the perfect complement to Andrew Wiggins, and trading the pick for an established veteran who may not match the team’s long-term plans is not an option, according to Washburn.

“When you talk about trading the pick, it would have to be a huge-type situation because I feel like there’s three or four players that will be All-Star, All-Pro-type players,” Saunders said. “You’re just not going to give somebody like that away. The positive from our standpoint getting the top pick — we’ve got two great 19-year-olds last year, we got [Adreian] Payne, and we’re waiting to see if [Anthony] Bennett can get healthy and Bennett can develop. They’re all going to be able to kind of mature together. Really similar to the situation Oklahoma City had. We’ve talked about what they’ve been able to do. They’ve been lucky and gotten the right players, and they were able to develop those players, so we’re hoping to follow suit.”

There’s more news from the Northwest Division:

  • With more on the debate of Towns versus Okafor, Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune examines which player would better suit the Wolves’ style and better fit the team’s needs. Kentucky’s Towns is the new generation big man — a mobile center who can shoot, while Duke’s Okafor is more of a throwback, low-post option, Zgoda adds. In theory, Zgoda writes, going with Okafor spreads the floor and creates open shots for Wiggins, Shabazz Muhammad and Zach LaVine. However, as Zgoda points out, the game has changed with more teams relying — and thriving — on shooting from beyond the arc, and Towns gives the team a way to keep up with everybody else in that regard.
  • Chauncey Billups wants to be a GM, and not a coach, and therefore the Nuggets would have to give him some say in player personnel matters if the team wanted to offer him the head coaching job, Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post writes in response to a question from a reader. The chances that Denver sticks with interim head coach Melvin Hunt are reportedly improving.