Kevin Durant Injury Opens Door for Russell Westbrook to Realize MVP Dream

Only Russell Westbrook knows what he put on his to-do list for the season other than get engaged to longtime girlfriend Nina Earl, but at least some familiar with the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard believe he included being named MVP.   

Some contend that was among his objectives even before teammate and reigning MVP Kevin Durant was expected to miss six weeks or more of the season with a fracture in his right foot. Now that Earl is in the fold and Durant is on the mend, being recognized as the most valuable player in the league simply moves to the top of the list.   

Does that shock you? Have you seen Westbrook dress? Do you think reaching beyond what anyone would expect is somehow out of character?

“This is his chance to show he can carry a team and that he’s the heartbeat of that team,” said one rival executive. “I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but I’m sure that’s how he is looking at it.”

Thanks to Durant’s durability, it’s his first chance. Durant has missed a total of 16 regular-season games over seven NBA seasons, only six since Westbrook became an All-Star and all of two in the last three seasons.

If he returns after eight weeks, he’d miss the first 19 games. League sources believe the Thunder will be cautious bringing Durant back, which could keep him out until a Christmas rematch of the 2014 Western Conference Finals with the San Antonio Spurs. Either way, it will be close to the stretch Durant went without Westbrook—an ironman in his own rightlast season to establish himself as the early favorite to win last year’s MVP award.

Thunder sources have long contended that the great misnomer about Westbrook is that he is competing with Durant and bent on subverting his authority and stardom. They point to how Durant has won four scoring titles and a league MVP trophy and say that if Westbrook really were a hindrance or disruption, none of that would’ve been possible.

Too much, they say, is made of the glimpses of Westbrook barking at Durant after a miscue or miscommunication and not enough of the times when Westbrook is yelling “Stick it in their face, KD!” or exhorting the crowd to support Durant when he’s missed a couple of shots.

All that said, no one disputes that Westbrook wants to be regarded on the same superstar plane as Durant and that he seethes over the fact that he is not. If he wishes Durant as much success as he can achieve, he also wishes the same for himself.

The loss of Westbrook to torn knee cartilage in the first round of the playoffs two years ago underscored, perhaps for the first time, his importance to the Thunder; with him, they were in the NBA Finals (2011-12) and the conference finals (2013-14). Without him, they bowed out quietly in the second round in five games to the Memphis Grizzlies.

That silenced a lot of the critics who viewed Westbrook as holding back Durant in particular and the Thunder in general. When Durant and the Thunder went on a tear during the regular season while Westbrook had a recurrence of his knee issuesthe team going 14-2 in one stretch and Durant scoring 30-plus in 12 consecutive gamesit not only launched Durant’s MVP campaign but renewed the murmurs that Westbrook was a bad fit.

A Thunder source, however, insists that, one, the team couldn’t have possibly maintained that winning pace and, two, that its collective quality effort should not be attributed to Westbrook’s absence but merely a collective realization they all would have to do more without him.

Whether you buy that or not, Westbrook seeks to be viewed as far more than merely an asset; he wants to be considered Durant’s equal. To do that, Westbrook knows the Thunder have to enjoy the same degree of success to start without Durant than they had without him.

Former Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro, who once had to integrate Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, believes the key to Westbrook achieving that will be efficiency more than expanded productivity.

“I do think Russell can take over games at the end, but teams are going to load up on him,” Del Negro said. “I would look at his field-goal percentage more than his total points. How many shots does it take to get his average? If OKC can control their turnovers, they have enough firepower with Reggie Jackson, Serge Ibaka and Westbrook to win games without Durant.”

The case for Westbrook being on the same level as Durant, or arguably even better, has been his versatility, particularly for a point guard. While he never has come close to leading the league in assists, he has consistently been in the top 10 and prior to last season led all point guards in rebounding three years running.

Nothing would change the analytical view of Westbrook more, though, than an improved assist-to-turnover ratio, which is just under 2-to-1 for his career. Durant’s is far worse—1.08-to-1—and only rose to 1.56-to-1 as an MVP, but in not being tagged as a point guard, that doesn’t draw nearly as much attention as it does with Westbrook.

“They’ll be a better team after figuring out ways to win in the fourth quarter without KD,” Del Negro said.

If Westbrook is integral to that improvement, he’ll be viewed in a different light, for sure. Durant’s injury, greeted initially as dour news, actually could prove to be a setback that leads to a spring forward. Both for Westbrook and the Thunder. The pressure, though, is on him more than anyone else. If his postseason performancesand his aforementioned to-do listare any indication, he’d have it no other way.

 

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.

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The 1 Player Who Could Torpedo the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dream Season

The Cleveland Cavaliers will open the 2014-15 NBA season with high expectations after adding LeBron James and Kevin Love to a talented young crop of players. Who could be the one key guy that could unsettle head coach David Blatt’s team as it searches for chemistry?

Ethan Skolnick joins Stephen Nelson to give his take on the Cavs in the video above.

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Dream Team, Barcelona Games continue to impact NBA

Birthplace of global hoops: NBA still riding momentum of Dream Team, 1992 Barcelona Games

      
 

 

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Dream Team II: The U.S. Team That Time Forgot

Twenty years ago, the NBA was coming off the first full season without Michael Jordan. After riding a decade-plus Micheal-Magic-Larry ascension, the league was suddenly depicted by some as having lost its positive momentum, as captured by this memorable Sports Illustrated cover with the headline, “Why the NHL’s Hot and the NBA’s Not.”

That season featured a trudging playoffs that were most memorable for Reggie Miller blistering the Knicks (with Spike Lee sitting courtside) and the NBA Finals being interrupted by the O.J. Simpson car chase. The league was by no means floundering or in peril, but it was definitely in transition.

With that backdrop, the NBA and USA Basketball faced the task of sending a team to Toronto to play in the FIBA World Championships. The team—which USA Basketball marketed as Dream Team II—had the added pressure of following up the original Dream Team, one of the most iconic collections of talent in sports history.

The roster featured perennial All-Stars, young cats at the beginning of Hall of Fame careers and vets nearing the end of theirs. They were a brash bunch that won the gold easily (the fiercest competition, as one might imagine, came during practice—specifically Pacific Rim-type battles between the squad’s young big men) but battled apathy and some backlash from the public back home.

Bleacher Report reached out to the principal members of that team and others who spent time around it to get their recollections of that experience. What follows are their memories, as told to Vincent Thomas.


Titles, teams and ages found in the parentheses identify each individual at the time of the tournament.

The NBA and USA Basketball decided early on to field a roster with a mix of vets and young up-and-comers. They also didn’t want to have any returnees from the original Dream Team.

Dream Team: Charles Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Christian Laettner, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton.

Dream Team II: Derrick Coleman, Joe Dumars, Kevin Johnson, Larry Johnson, Shawn Kemp, Dan Majerle, Reggie Miller, Alonzo Mourning, Shaquille O’Neal, Mark Price, Steve Smith and Dominique Wilkins.

JIM TOOLEY (Director of men’s national team): We had a committee made up primarily of NBA general managers and some former players. So [in the summer of 1993], we all met in La Jolla, California, and started talking about team needs. We didn’t have a pool of players back then like we do now—not much continuity, which we know now is big.

We knew there were some players like Isiah Thomas and Joe [Dumars] and Dominique [Wilkins] that weren’t able to be a part of the 1992 Dream Team, so we wanted to invite them. Then we talked about how to fill out the rest of the roster with a mix of generations and skill sets. We had kind of identified who we wanted. There weren’t many heated discussions at all.

MARK PRICE (Cleveland Cavaliers, point guard, 30): Yeah, I mean, without a tryout process, there wasn’t the option of beating someone out on the court like we have now. With it being handpicked, I definitely felt like I deserved to be on the team.

ALONZO MOURNING (Charlotte Hornets, center, 24): I thought I should have been the college player on the ’92 team, truthfully. I mean, Christian Laettner was a good player, but I felt like I actually could have made an impact on that Olympic team. But when it came to Dream Team II, I was just coming off a dream rookie season where I hit that series-winner against the Celtics, and I knew this team was going to have some younger guys. So, yeah, I was expecting to get invited.

REGGIE MILLER (Indiana Pacers, zone buster, 28): I definitely felt like I belonged. I was just coming off that playoff run against the Knicks. The Pacers were entering our stage of being consistent contenders, the All-Star berths were about to pick up for me…I was entering my wheelhouse.

DOMINIQUE WILKINS (Boston Celtics, forward, 34): I would have been on the original Dream Team, I’m sure of it. But I was dealing with Achilles problems around then. So they invited me on Dream Team II to be the vet, one of the statesmen with Joe. They put together a hell of a team. We knew going in that we were gonna beat everyone by 20—at least. Let me tell you: That Dream Team II could play with any of the other Dream Teams.

Due to a few injuries (Thomas, Tim Hardaway) and some late replacements, the final 12-man roster had it all.

Mourning and Shaquille O’Neal were the young interior beasts. Derrick Coleman was a do-it-all big man who could get you with a turnaround from the block or rain lefty three-pointers. Larry Johnson was at the height of his post-UNLV “Grandmama” powers, his generation’s Charles Barkley.

All foreign big men were helpless against Shawn Kemp’s freakish athleticism. Kevin Johnson and Mark Price manned the point. Miller and Dan Majerle were zone busters. Steve Smith was a young, big guard in the Magic Johnson mold, and ‘Nique and Dumars were the steady-hand old guard.

ROD THORN (NBA’s executive vice president of basketball operations and part of the team selection committee): From the NBA’s perspective, there wasn’t a concern about them being called the “Dream Team II.” While everyone witnessed the Dream Team’s dominance in Barcelona, the rest of the world in 1994, from a competitive standpoint, still had some catching up to do, and the pressure was minimal on the USA team. The coaching staff had a lot of flexibility with varying lineup combinations based on the competition.

Speaking of the coaching staff, despite higher profile candidates with championship pedigrees (like Pat Riley or Phil Jackson), Golden State Warriors coach Don Nelson got the call.

TOOLEY: We certainly looked at other candidates, but Nellie sort of rose to the surface. He was an animated guy, a creative guy. His son, Donnie, had been coaching with the Lithuanian national team. It was pretty clear he was the guy.

DON NELSON (coach): I really don’t know why they chose me, to tell you the truth. But I do know I always wanted to coach a U.S. national team. I didn’t really have any conversations with [the league or USA Basketball] in advance of them choosing me. But, heck, it was an honor.

A year prior to his selection, Nelson had won the 1992 Coach of the Year award. His ’93 Golden State squad didn’t fare too well, dealing with injuries to four of its five best players. It bounced back, winning 50 games in the ’94 season.

A hallmark of those Warriors squads was that they played what would become known as “Nellie Ball,” a blitzkrieg version of basketball that eschewed true centers and big men in favor of highly skilled perimeter players (Hardaway, Chris Mullin, Sarunas Marciulionis, Latrell Sprewell, Billy Owens, etc.)—a progenitor of today’s “small ball.”

They were unique in the early ’90s, a period dominated by slugfest squads such as the New York Knicks. The irony is that heading into international competition, Nellie wouldn’t have much use for “Nellie Ball”—no need to trot out a KJ-Price-Miller-Dumars-Wilkins lineup to throw his competition off guard.

MILLER: Nellie was known for doing a lot of switching and coming out with these bastard lineups. But he didn’t have to use all those freaky lineups because now he actually had traditional players at their positions, and it freed him up coach in a more traditional sense. He had penetrators, he had shooters, he all kinds of big men. [Dream Team II] was probably Nellie coaching as his truest self.

NELSON: I didn’t have any roster input. It’s not like now where Mike [Krzyzewski] and Jerry [Colangelo] collaborate. I just took the guys they gave me. And, well, they were all really, really good. I had the best guards in the tournament, the best shooters in the tournament—and definitely the best big men.


The World Championships, especially to the European teams, have always been considered more important than the Olympics. Such is not the case for American players or public.

So without the public spectacle that is the Olympics and with international competition still years away from gaining any real significance for the American players, the highlight of the tournament for almost all the Team USA players involved were the practices.

KEVIN JOHNSON (Phoenix Suns, point guard, 28): The battles in practice were part of what made the experience so incredible. … I certainly enjoyed the international competition but may have enjoyed the day-in, day-out battles against my teammates even more.

MILLER: Our practices were the ultimate pickup games. I mean, they were officiated and structured, but it’s in terms of you going against guys at the top of each position. One of the guys I always looked up to and always had problems guarding and being guarded by was Joe. I picked his brain. You were picking everyone’s brains because you knew you had to play these guys the next seasons—I was looking for tells.

PRICE: Reggie, Dan and I did have some epic shooting battles after practice.

MILLER: The international three was nothing for us. We’d just keep on taking steps back to see who had the ultimate range.

PRICE: By the time we were finished, we’d be at half court. Those guys were bigger than me, so they had an advantage.

MILLER: If we’re being honest, in terms of range, it was Dan. But if we’re going range and accuracy, well…yours truly.

WILKINS: We all went at it in the practices, but let me tell you, Shaq and Zo had some of the most intense big-man battles I had ever seen.

NELSON: Those two were still young, and I mean, they just went at it. And I’d add Derrick to those battles, too. They’d be banging and really going after each other. It was like this in every practice. Battles you could only dream of seeing.

MOURNING: We never really played each other in college, but we always had that rivalry of being the two best young centers of our generation. We were drafted together. He was picked first, me second. The NBA kind of highlighted every game we played. He won Rookie of the Year, I was runner-up even though I felt like we should have shared the honor with me getting my team into the playoffs. So, yeah, everyone there was trying to prove something in those practices. And with me and Shaq, when practice started, boy, we’d butt heads like some bulls.

We were all alpha males. You were carving out space, saying, “This is my territory.”

NELSON: And we can’t forget Shawn. That’s actually one of the things we focused on in practice. All my small players were really good and could make shots. But I knew the competition’s big men couldn’t keep up with our bigs, so I wanted to make the power forward the “runner.” Kemp was the best at doing that—running the lane and making plays. He was the most important player to starting our fast break and putting pressure on the transition defense. That really opened everything else up.

The squad opened the tournament against Spain. But unlike the current Spain roster that features the Gasol brothers, Jose Calderon, Ricky Rubio, Serge Ibaka, Victor Claver and at least three other players who spent time in the NBA, Spain’s ’94 team featured zero. Yet behind Jordi Villacampa’s 28 points, Spain clawed back in the second half, and when the buzzer sounded, Dream Team II had only won by 15.

NELSON: You’d have thought we lost the game based on how upset the media was. Well, we learned our lesson with the expectations; we better win by 25.

The next game, Team USA beat China 132-77, and the cakewalk was on. Price and Miller shot a combined 10-of-12 from long range in a 130-74 route over Australia. Miller hit up Puerto Rico for 26 first-half points on eight treys. After halftime, Shaq went for 25. Team USA won by 51.

By the time Team USA met Russia (which had upset the Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja-led Croatian squad) in the finals, the team was clicking. It shot 72 percent in the first half and never looked back.

NELSON: Shaq was our leader. He set the tone. He kept everyone committed, but loose, too. His Shaq Fu stuff was out then, and he always had jokes. But it was playful in the right way because when the games started, boy, was he dominant. And I also always had the issue of minutes when dealing with a team that talented, and he even helped in that way by volunteering to come off the bench some games. He really made my job easier.

MILLER: A lot of those European teams played zone. And with Big Shaq out there and Zo and D.C. and Grandmama wreaking havoc down low and KJ penetrating and everything else…I was wide-open all tournament, and man, it was like shooting fish in a barrel.

PRICE: I don’t really recall a lot of the games. So many of them were over by halftime.

Even though Dream Team II dominated competition as expected, it couldn’t escape the shadow of the original squad. What was clear is that some of the younger players had approached the tournament less beholden to the ambassador mission of the original Dream Team.

Zo was reared by John Thompson’s “Hoya Paranoia”; L.J. was the dominant personality on a mean, counterculture UNLV championship squad that paved the way for a lot of the ethos exhibited in teams like Michigan’s Fab Five. Two members of the Fab Five (Jalen Rose and Chris Webber) grew up in Detroit getting a lot of their bravado from players a couple of years their senior like Coleman and Steve Smith.

What resulted was some of the introductory glimpses into a cultural aesthetic that would define the late ’90s and early ’00s NBA: snarling after rebounds and dunks, hanging on the rims for punctuation (Kemp infamously grabbed his crotch after one dunk, something he had done many times before in NBA games but seemed untoward in the diplomatic context of international play), chest-bumping, trash-talking.

It was a new breed, and the public and media perception of the squad fell along cultural, but more specifically, generational, lines. This new generation of NBA players coincided with hip-hop’s increasing impression on American culture (the list of classic, culturally defining albums released in 1994 is legend), and folks were startled and none too complimentary.

For instance, as a postscript for Sports Illustrated, Phil Taylor wrote, “This year’s Dream Teamers were constantly compared with their predecessors and found wanting, not because they couldn’t match the originals’ 43.8 average margin of victory but because they could not duplicate their mystique. Where the first Dream Team had an aura, the second had mostly attitude.”

The Advertiser (a daily in Adelaide, South Australia) ran a piece with the headline, “Dreamers a Nightmare for Opponents and Fans,” which contained this character summation: “Their talent and ability is unquestioned. But so far, at least half the players are on the record raving about the team’s invincibility, their overwhelming arrogance suggesting the world is not only about to see the best in basketball but also the worst of the Ugly American syndrome.”

MILLER: Nellie allowed us to be our own individual selves. If guys were a little brash, a little cocky, well, hey, we’re representing the best country in the world— I want the soldiers to be a little brash.

WILKINS: The change had begun. For most of my career, there was a certain type of celebration that we wouldn’t get into, the popping your jerseys after dunks and all that, and I think the younger guys got into a little too much of that.

TOOLEY: We—USA Basketball—were the ones that decided to dub the new team “Dream Team II.” Whereas the first time, it was media that gave the original team that nickname. And we kind of put the second team in an unfair position.

I don’t think they liked being compared, to be honest. So much of the original team was about ambassadorship, and the new team just couldn’t live up to it. Some of the younger guys didn’t quite understand etiquette. We’d be up 20, and guys were showing out after dunks. I remember Nellie telling the guys, “Come on, act like you’ve been there before.”

NELSON: That was an issue. Some of our guys wanted to show off a little too much. I’m from old school, and I didn’t want that. We had several conversations to curtail it. Shawn and I had a talk after that one celebration of his. A few guys still wanted to show off a little bit.

WILKINS: Joe and I had to talk to the guys and say, “OK, let’s tone it down. Let’s be respectful.” The young guys, they were just a little too amped, I guess. [Laughs]

SHAUN POWELL (Newsday, NBA reporter covering the team in Toronto): I don’t like to use the word “cultural” because that has so many connotations. What exactly does that mean? I like to use the word “generational” because I know what that implies. And there was a generational shift around then.

There was no rookie scale, so a lot of the young players would be untested but already making more than vets. ESPN really started showing a lot of highlights back then; so the dunking and chest-bumping and self-promotion was becoming more of a thing. I think that was even the year that a magazine like Slam became popular. The younger players were definitely more into showboating.

None of these guys did anything wrong off the court. There was no international incident. Nothing of the sort. But, look, no one even knew what the World Championships were. It was basketball in August, there was no Olympic medal at stake. For a lot of these guys, it was about promoting their own profile.

MOURNING: There were a lot of eyes on us, man. They wanted to see what we were gonna do and how we would represent our country. We were younger, yeah, and somewhat immature. But, hey, we were out there having fun. That was just the way we did it.

Some of people said some of the antics were classless, that we should have held back. But when I’m out there screaming after rebounds and dunks—those are primal noises. It’s no disrespect. When I would flex after a block…that’s me enjoying the game. That’s a release.

Yeah, we could have held back. But the bottom line is we won, we won big, and we enjoyed ourselves.

PRICE: I think we never really got the respect for how good we were as a basketball team. When you follow a team full of legends, no matter what, you probably won’t get your just due. That’s probably my biggest beef because we were really good.

POWELL: Everything about that team was kind of destined to fail. Not in hard-line sense, but in comparisons with the original. It was marketed completely wrong by NBA and USA Basketball. They should have retired that “Dream Team” term with Magic, Michael and Larry. But the powers that be were so swept up with the success of the original that they tried to push terminology that this was a superteam. It was wrong from very beginning—before the first dribble or shot.

If the Beatles are the opening act, how do you follow that? How do you follow up Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder. You can play and sing the best notes of your career, and you’ll still get booed off the stage.

After Dream Team II’s gold-medal run, Bob Ryan wrote in The Boston Globe: “The basic theme of the Dream Team I experience was ‘Beat Me, Whip Me, Take My Picture.’ The basic theme of the Dream Team II experience was ‘Beat Me, Whip Me—If You’re Man Enough To Do It.’”

Russian point guard Sergei Bazarevich told Newsday after the gold-medal loss that he could see a team dethroning the USA in 10 years.

“Everybody is scared to play them the first time,” he said. “Eventually, there will not be as big a gap.”

In Ryan’s Globe column, Kevin Johnson, who was tasked with staying in front of Bazarevich, the quick Russian guard, was quoted as predicting a possible USA loss by “as early as 2000. The competition is getting better and better. By playing against us, they have benefited so much. They see how we do it, and they go back and work on things. They ask, ‘How can we get better?’ and they do something about it. This whole experience is great for them.”

Well, we know now how things progressed. The 1996 Olympic team—a team then-USA Basketball President C.M. Newton said he wanted “with character, not characters” perhaps in backlash to Dream Team II— bum-rushed the competition again.

1998 was the summer of the NBA lockout, so it didn’t feature any of the league’s players. By 2000, the world had indeed began to catch up, with the U.S. barely beating Lithuania (85-83) in the semifinal and then narrowly (for them) beating France, 85-75.

In 2002, with many stars turning down invites and others injured, the U.S. finished sixth on its home soil in Indianapolis. It took the NBA and USA Basketball—led by Colangelo, Coach K and recommitted players—six years to reassert world dominance.

Meanwhile, in the timeline of Dream Teams and Redeem Teams and whatnot, the 1994 squad is sometimes overlooked. What do the players remember?

WILKINS: One of the best teams ever assembled.

MOURNING: I played on the 2000 Olympic team, too, and ’94 was better. An amazing team.

NELSON: It was probably the top experience that I had as a coach. To stand up there and see your flag raised is a special thing.

JOHNSON: What I took away from the experience as a whole was how special it is to represent your country on the international stage. I know that my teammates all felt that way, too. It was a very special feeling to get that gold medal around your neck.

And another important thing I took away was that it was much easier to have Shaq on your team than as your opponent.

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USA not quite Dream Team in Barcelona now

Spain’s stars now have the big presence in Barcelona, but Team USA appreciates the history.

      
 

 

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We Remember: 22nd Anniversary of the Dream Team Winning the Gold Medal

Twenty-two years ago today, the Dream Team completed its domination of the 1992 Summer Olympics by beating Croatia in the gold-medal game.

Michael Jordan dropped 22 points and six other players scored in double figures in a 117-85 victory.

The Dream Team, which was the first Olympic team to use NBA players, still remains the greatest basketball team to ever take the court. The team went 8-0 in the tournament, with an average margin of victory of 43.8 points.

Although Jordan gets all of the attention, it was Charles Barkley who was the team’s leading scorer.

Here are the players on the team who were eventually inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame: Jordan, Barkley, Larry Bird, Clyde Drexler, Patrick Ewing, Magic Johnson, Karl Malone, Chris Mullin, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson and John Stockton.

After the Dream Team’s dominance, every great United States Olympic team is compared to the greatest team in basketball history.

[NBA, YouTube]

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James McAdoo Deserves Chance at NBA Dream After Going Undrafted

There’s a lesson to be learned for all college underclassmen looking to declare for the NBA draft early. Making it to the NBA is difficult, and the road is not as easily paved as some highly touted college prospects might think.

James Michael McAdoo of North Carolina learned that lesson the hard way.

McAdoo came to the Tar Heels as an emerging star with hopes of being a lottery pick in the NBA draft after his career in Chapel Hill. Those ambitions fell well short on Thursday night, as the two-time second-team All-ACC player fell out of both rounds and is now simply looking to crack a roster.

Bret Strelow of the Fayetteville Observer offered his advice to any players hoping to avoid McAdoo‘s path:

So maybe that’s the next option for McAdoo. If he doesn’t make an NBA roster after this summer, maybe he just packs it up and looks to play overseas.

Before he makes any brash decisions, he might want to consider a list of players who also went undrafted and went on to have successful careers in the NBA. Names like Bruce Bowen, John Starks and even Avery Johnson rose to stardom in the league thanks to hard work and dedication.

Will he ever find that same rise to the NBA as very few before him have? Maybe, but before he can ever reach that level, NBA consultant Chris Ekstrand breaks down where McAdoo needs to improve, per Ed Miller of The Virginian-Pilot:

“There’s talent there, there’s the ability to achieve at the highest levels, at least of college basketball,” Ekstrand said. “Why he didn’t do that consistently is sort of an open question.”

Chris Moore of the ACC Sports Journal and Brooke Pryor of Carolina Blue Magazine, two writers who followed McAdoo throughout his tenure in Chapel Hill, provide their thoughts on the former Tar Heel:

Maybe it was the timing of his decision—would he have been selected last season? Or perhaps it was the fact that he still needed to prove more to have his name called in the draft.

Following his freshman year, there were still talks about untapped talent that scouts hadn’t seen from McAdoo and what he could eventually be at the next level. But with McAdoo staying at UNC for another season, those questions were still being asked as he failed to shine for the Heels.

The 21-year-old noted the change between his first season and when he decided to leave UNC, via Aaron Dodson of the Daily Tar Heel:

After my freshman year and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m good enough to play in the NBA.’ Then these last two years to now, I’m really having to fight my way into the league. But I got two more years of my education, and I’m that much closer to getting my degree. I’m married and have no regrets about my time there.

At the end of the day, we’re here now. We’re in the present and I’m still living my dream.

What McAdoo has to do now is prove himself through the summer league and potentially D-League. Talent can only get a player so far, but he has enough to turn some heads in the next several months and eventually win scouts over.

Simply put, McAdoo has shown the ability to crack an NBA roster, but fell short during his collegiate career. Despite averaging over 14 points and 6.8 rebounds per game during his final two seasons with the Heels, he ultimately didn’t show enough to convince NBA scouts that he was worthy of a draft pick.

Whatever it was, McAdoo is now simply left searching for a team after leaving UNC early. For the rest of college basketball players planning to do the same, consider this a lesson learned.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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LeBron James Nothing More Than Pipe Dream for Los Angeles Clippers

Can you imagine LeBron James and Blake Griffin running down the court in transition with Chris Paul leading the charge and waiting to throw an alley-oop to whichever of the two uber-athletic targets presents him with the best option? 

No, this isn’t some far-fetched scenario in which the NBA‘s two conferences mix All-Stars and play a pickup game during the midseason break.

It’s supposedly a realistic possibility, as LeBron and the Los Angeles Clippers apparently have some mutual interest.

“The most intriguing move on the mind of James and his camp, sources told Yahoo Sports, would be a sign-and-trade scenario with the Los Angeles Clippers in which James could play with close friend Chris Paul and under president-coach Doc Rivers,” reports Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski while discussing the offseason options of the four-time MVP, who recently opted out of his contract with the Miami Heat.

“Intriguing” doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen, though.

It’s fine to dream of LeBron wearing those baby blue uniforms and helping CP3 advance to the conference finals for the first time in the point guard’s impressive career, but do so while recognizing that it’s still nothing more than a pipe dream.

If you sorted the list of candidates for LeBron’s services by their realistic chances of landing him, the Clippers would be quite far down in the rankings. Behind the Atlanta Hawks. Behind the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Behind everyone with a remote chance of gaining access to James’ talents.

 

Clearing Cap Space Is an Impossibility 

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi,The Clippers’ current salary is slated to be $73,660,731 if Glen Davis, Darren Collison and Danny Granger opt out, as ESPNLosAngeles.com reported they will. That figure also includes their first-round draft pick (No. 28) and empty roster charges.”

LAC could also save itself nearly $1.5 million by cutting ties with Willie Green, who’s operating on a non-guaranteed salary, though the cap hold for the empty roster spot would negate much of what’s gained.

With well over the salary cap already committed to current pieces, could the Clippers possibly clear up enough space to have a shot at a maximum-salary player?

That’s the question Markazi asked Larry Coon, the foremost expert on all things dealing with the salary cap and the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement:

Let’s say they dump Jordan, Crawford and Dudley, and also get rid of the No. 28 pick while they’re at it. They’d then be at $53,625,152. This assumes that all assets are dumped for future considerations only, with no salary coming back to the Clippers. The team would need to get down to $42,540,368 to make LeBron a max offer. They’re over $11 million short.

It’s worth noting that the 2014-15 salary cap is projected to come in at $63.2, a figure that also comes from Coon (h/t BasketballInsiders.com’s Eric Pincus).

So, at this point, the Clippers would be able to offer LeBron a salary just under eight figures. That’s probably not going to cut it, huh?

Coon continues:

If they also dump Reggie Bullock and Matt Barnes for nothing, they will get down to $50,042,854. That’s still about $8 million short. So there’s still no way. This also presumes the Clippers will be able to dump five players with no salary coming back, which is a pretty tall order.

There are a couple things to note.

The Clippers would be able to offer LeBron just over $13 million at this point. Then they could fill up the rest of the roster with cap exceptions and players willing to operate on veteran minimums. But as the CBA expert hints at, the figure LeBron makes might be even less than that.

This plan requires trading DeAndre Jordan, Jamal Crawford, Jared Dudley, Reggie Bullock and Matt Barnes to teams with enough cap space to absorb their salaries without going over the threshold. Otherwise, they’d be left trading salary back to LAC in order to make the deals legal.

That’s hard to do with one player, much less fiveespecially when Jordan is set to make $11.4 million in 2014-15.

Additionally, let’s think about the core of players who would be left.

LeBronassuming he even signed, as the Clippers could be gutting the roster without receiving anything useful for the 2014-15 campaignPaul, Griffin, J.J. Redick and Green.

That’s it.

Technically, Redick could be dealt in similar fashion while the Clippers cut ties with Green, but they’d still be pressed up against the cap with only three rostered players after signing the Miami standout. Is that really a championship core? Better yet, is that a championship core in the Western Conference?

LeBron looked exhausted during the 2014 NBA Finals, the result of playing a season’s worth of extra games over the last few years. The responsibility of carrying the Miami offense, the extra playoff games and the Olympic experience clearly took their collective toll.

Would he really sign up to star on an even thinner roster in a tougher conference?

The Clippers have way too many hurdles to overcome for this to be a realistic possibility.

They’d have to trade almost all their players for nothing but future draft picks. They’d still have to convince LeBron to sign for less than a max deal. Then they’d have to fill up the roster in such fashion that LeBron wouldn’t wear down, and that’s saying nothing of the toll Paul’s notoriously fragile body might take with such a heavy responsibility.

This may as well be impossible. Fortunately for the Clippers, there might be another optionwith “might” being the operative word.

 

Forget About a Sign-and-Trade

Should James seek a max contract, he could still find his way to the Clippers, but the Heat would have to help facilitate a sign-and-trade deal. Right off the bat, that’s quite unlikely.

As Wojnarowski writes, the Heat have never shown any signs of being willing to consider such a transaction:

As for sign-and-trade scenarios, in which Riley would have to assist James in getting his maximum financial payout with a new team, the organization has been privately adamant that they’d never do it, league sources said. If James wanted to force his way to the Clippers, he’d have to create the fear within Miami that it could lose him for nothing to a team with the salary cap space to sign him.

This is a big assumption, but let’s just pretend that the Heat would be willing to facilitate.

Should LeBron still be working with a max contract, the Clippers would remain mired in financial trouble, regardless of who they sent back.

Even if the Clippers completed a sign-and-trade that sent Griffin to Miami for James after he re-signed to a maximum deal, Coon said the Clippers’ cap would be about $74 million and hard-capped at about $81 million, leaving just $7 million to fill out the rest of the roster,” writes Markazi.

The CBA includes restrictions for sign-and-trade deals, one of which indicates that a team on the receiving end can’t go above the “apron,” which is set at $4 million above the luxury-tax threshold.

That serves as the hard cap that Markazi and Coon are referring to up above.

In this scenario, the Clippers are looking at rostering only a handful of players, losing Griffin and having $7 million to sign about six veterans and rookie-scale players. Does that really sound like a good situation for LeBron?

There’s one other problem here as well. The Clippers have been rather adamant that they won’t trade Griffin. Not under any circumstances.

While the Clippers would need to move significant players and money to make a run at either James or Anthony, sources told ESPN that Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers has told Griffin on numerous occasions that he considers him ‘untouchable’ in any trade,” reports ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne.

That’s rather significant, as it knocks the one option Miami would strongly consider out of the equation. There’s a chance Rivers could budge on that stance if LeBron-for-Griffin was a swap that awaited just his signature on a dotted line, but why would LeBron even agree to play for a capped-out team on which he and CP3 were the only stars?

Too many logical leaps are required in this scenario.

The only realistic possibility involves a different sign-and-trade, one in which the Clippers don’t cut salary beforehand, require LeBron to take a significant pay cut and then send the Heat back a monetary equivalent.

The big question is would all three opt out and take [$13 million per] to allow the Heat to build their roster back up?” an NBA executive asked Fred Kerber of the New York Post. “Miami then would have flexibility for another $13-$14 million player. But as we saw in the Finals, it’s not about your payroll, but team chemistry.”

If LeBron is willing to take that type of massive pay cut to stay at South Beach, who’s to say he wouldn’t do the same thing in order to play with Paul, one of his best friends, and Griffin, one of the more intriguing young talents in the game?

The earning potential from endorsements in Los Angeles would surely trump the loss in salary, after all.

Let’s roll with this assumption for the sake of the argument. As you might have noticed, these assumptions are already piling up in these pipe-dream scenarios.

Because the Clippers will be at roughly $73.7 million once Glen Davis, Darren Collison and Danny Granger opt out, as discussed earlier, money would still be tight—even tighter because that $81 million hard cap would still exist after the completion of a sign-and-trade.

So if LeBron really were willing to sign for $13 million in a sign-and-trade agreement, the Clippers would have to send Miami just about that much money.

The ideal way would be trading Jordan and Dudley, who are set to make a combined $15.7 million during the 2014-15 season, to South Beach in exchange for the four-time MVP.

Another option would be combining Redick, Crawford and Bullock into one package—really, any combination of Redick, Crawford, Dudley, Barnes, Green and Bullock that adds up to around $13 million would work.

But what’s the appeal for Miami?

There isn’t any, which is why Jordan—assuming Griffin really is off the table—must be included.

Parting ways with the promising big man would be difficult. The Heat taking on his expiring contract with no guarantee of re-signing him would be even tougher. And, remember, that’s assuming Pat Riley budges from his “no sign-and-trade” stance.

Even then, the Clippers would have a roster comprised of Paul, LeBron, Griffin, Redick, Crawford, Barnes, Collison and Green with only about $10 million left before hitting the hard cap.

There’s no center on the roster, much less a starting-caliber one to help LAC survive the rigors of the West, nor is there a backup big man at either power forward or center.

Long story short, there’s no way to get LeBron into a Clippers uniform while making the finances work, convincing LeBron it’s worth his while, getting the Heat to agree to their part and keeping the roster strong enough to be competitive while fighting through the Western gauntlet.

Each route involves too many unlikely twists and turns, and even the ones that are relatively simple would involve LAC losing the appeal that would draw LeBron there in the first place.

He wants to win championships while playing with friends, not play with friends at the expense of having a realistic shot at rings.

So enjoy those dreams of LeBron and Griffin bolting down the court and waiting to see who CP3 chooses as the recipient of his inevitable lob.

Your head is the only place such a scenario will ever take place.

 

Salary information courtesy of ShamSports.com.

Read more NBA news on BleacherReport.com

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College Basketball Recruiting: Dream Package Deals from the 2015 Class

On the heels of Duke’s success in landing both Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, package deals have become a major storyline in college basketball recruiting.

Although few high school stars will actually wind up tying their college selection to that of a friend as Okafor and Jones did, the chance to get two elite prospects for the price of one is tough to pass up for a coach—and tough to ignore for fans speculating on how to secure the best class.

One such hypothetical pairing could see two of the nation’s most celebrated big men arrive on the same campus, with Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter forming a potential package. The two high-powered centers have already shown that they can play together effectively for Las Vegas’ Bishop Gorman High, so continuing their partnership at the next level wouldn’t be too much of a reach.

Read on for more on the twin-towers possibilities for Zimmerman and Jeter, along with a half-dozen more package deals (announced or imagined) that might come out of the class of 2015. Note that only uncommitted players were considered for these packages, and that (in the interest of variety) only one suggested package is discussed for any given player, though other possibilities often exist.

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Dayton, Stanford trying to extend dream runs (Yahoo Sports)

Stanford's Chasson Randle, right, works out during practice at the NCAA college basketball tournament, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. Stanford plays Dayton in a regional semifinal on Thursday. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

The 6-foot-10 Dayton center said the Flyers would be a good addition to that list. No. 11 Dayton (25-10) faces No. 10 Stanford (23-12) on Thursday in the Sweet 16 of the South Region with the winner earning a shot at playing for a spot in the Final Four. Dayton toppled Ohio State and Syracuse. Stanford foiled New Mexico and Kansas.


View full post on Yahoo Sports – NCAA Men’s Hoops News

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