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NBA Playoff Fantasy: Play For $100,000 In Prizes

The NBA Playoffs begin on Saturday and DraftStreet is having a 2-Day first round Fantasy Contest with $100,000 in guaranteed prizes to celebrate.  

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As Long Season Ends, Danny Ainge Provides Insight Into Celtics' Offseason

The Boston Celtics mercifully closed the books on their 2013-14 season on Wednesday night with a listless 118-102 loss to the playoff-bound Washington Wizards. At one point in the first half -- with Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless sitting out -- Brad Stevens sent out Chris Babb, Avery Bradley, Chris Johnson, Brandon Bass and Joel Anthony.

The loss dropped the Celtics to 25-57, their lowest win total since the 2006-07 season, when they scratched together just 24 victories. We all know they flipped the script just one year later, winning it all after acquiring Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in offseason trades, but such a drastic turnaround won’t happen this time around.

“I think the Fourth of July, we’ll have some fireworks,” Ainge said when asked if this offseason would be an eventful one. “I don’t know; we’re hopeful. I have some ideas and some plans that I’d like to do but there’s just no guarantee that we can do it. We need to find good trading partners. We always are trying to make fireworks every summer. We try to do something that’s unique and special and we will definitely try this summer.”

The work begins immediately for Ainge, who has already been preparing for June’s NBA Draft. The Celtics will have about $15 million in salary coming off the books heading into the offseason, but the most efficient way for them to add long-term talent will be using their multiple draft picks.

Boston has the highest chance at landing the fifth pick in next month’s lottery and also has Brooklyn’s first-rounder at their disposal in a draft that has lost some of it’s luster, thanks in part to executives like Ainge downplaying the class publicly. On Wednesday night, Ainge left open the possibility of either dealing for more picks or even trading some of their current ones away.

“I could see that possibly happening, acquiring more assets,” Ainge said. “I could see giving up our assets, our young assets and some draft picks for players as well and everywhere in between.”

Ainge will have the contract of Brandon Bass ($6.95 million) to use as a trade sweetener because it expires after next season. Rajon Rondo ($13 million in 2014-15) is Boston’s only other expiring contract of note and I remain of the belief that Ainge will hang onto the mercurial point guard rather than trade him. It’s telling that Rondo has been mentioned in rumors for several seasons, yet never been moved.

In perhaps another veiled attempt to increase Rondo’s value heading into this summer, Ainge predicted big things for the 28-year-old next season.

“I think that Rajon will have the best year of his career next year. I think he’s sort of in a phase of his life where he’s matured, he’s just smarter, and the game has slowed for him,” he said.

“I think he’ll be really healthy and fresher with a summer of strength [work]. You sort of bypass the mental anguish from him coming back from the knee surgery and the ACL and that’s been sort of the pattern of guys in the past. The first few, 30, 20 games whatever are an adjustment period so I’m confident he’ll have the best year of his career.”

Rondo played in a career-low 30 games this season after tearing his ACL last January. He was sidelined by shin and hamstring injuries in the season’s final week and didn’t play in back-to-back situations upon his initial return.

Whether it was his ongoing recovery, or the absence of longtime teammates Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Rondo had the lowest TS% (46.1) of his career and a 44.0 eFG%, the lowest mark since his rookie season. He inched closer to 30% as a three-point shooter (28.9%), but was just a 40.3% shooter overall.

Deciding Rondo’s future has to be the first step on Ainge’s checklist because it will shape how the organization attacks both the draft and free agency.

“Listen, there’s no one person that’s more important than the whole organization,” Ainge said when asked if he would hasten the team’s rebuilding project with Rondo only under contract for another year. “We need to be good because we all want to be good. I want my coach to stay, I want Jeff Green to want to be here, I want free agents that are out there looking at us play to want to play here. I want fans to want to come to the game, everybody wants to win, but not just for one player, not just for one person. We all want to win and that’s what we are trying to accomplish.”

The Celtics began this season just a few months removed from the end of the Pierce-Garnett-Doc Rivers era, and the haze from the emotional departures never fully cleared. They were without a true leader or superstar in the first half of the season with Rondo sidelined and featured a disjointed roster.

There were flashes from Vitor Faverani, Kelly Olynyk and Pressey, but Stevens’ infamous postgame “#EveryGameIsAnAdventure” back in December proved to be a mantra for the entire season.

“It was a long season, I guess not that long, but it was a tough, tough year and I saw a lot of positive things from individuals,” Ainge reflected. “I thought our team gave good effort most nights, I think consistency was our biggest challenge and I don’t think the team was a great fit, great mix, but individually I think what I saw in almost every player. I just feel like we didn’t have the size inside to protect the rim, I thought that was a big factor that cost us a lot of games and we didn’t finish a lot of games down the stretch.”

After trading Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets, Ainge was left with a disorganized roster and future flexibility. Not doing much after the Brooklyn trade made it seem as though Ainge had been looking past this season all along, but he wouldn’t admit as much. Even if it sounded very much like that was the case.

“I think that we started the season very concerned with the personnel,” Ainge said. “I thought Vitor gave us some size at times; his injury hurt us some there. He was a rookie and playing inconsistent, but showing some signs of being a presence inside. I think all the way up to the trade deadline we looked at opportunities to make our team better, but we wouldn’t sacrifice draft picks to make us better for just this year, but we looked for opportunities to make out team better in the long-term.”

Assuming Rondo remains, the core of this team will likely also contain Jared Sullinger, Olynyk and whomever the Celtics take with their top pick two months from now. The Kevin Love rumors will be persistent and Sullinger (as well as the high pick) would undoubtedly have to be part of any deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I’ve never been a believer in either the likelihood of such a deal or just how much better the Celtics would be with a Rondo-Love tandem.

Whether he remains in Boston or is the centerpiece of a trade, Sullinger has a lot of room to grow. In just his second season, with major back surgery coming in between the two, Sullinger averaged 13.3 points and 8.1 rebounds in fewer than 28 minutes per game.

“I think that Jared is still very young and I don’t think he understands, yet, how good he is,” Ainge said. “He’s heard it. He’s heard it from a lot of people: his father, from his agent to his coaches how good he can be, but until he believes how good he can be and really puts in the time, and I really do believe that Jared will this summer and is going to be in better shape next year.”

Regardless of what it looks like in six months, Brad Stevens will be the one coaching the roster Ainge puts together. Stevens gave himself an “incomplete” for the season, but in reality he did about as well he could have with the hand he was dealt.

In six years at Butler, Stevens won 77.2% of his games and was on the losing end just 49 times. The Celtics lost their 49th game on March 28, and then proceeded to lose eight more times.

“Brad did a great job this year. He’s a special person and a great coach and the players see it,” Ainge said. “The players see his work ethic, they see his integrity and they see his intelligence, so I think he’s earned the respect of the team in a really difficult situation this year and I know he’s going to get better. He’ll be better next year and he’ll be better the next year. He’s a sponge, and he’s very intelligent with a great work ethic and I couldn’t be happier.”

The two biggest remaining question marks for the Celtics are the futures of Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. Green is due $9.2 million in each of the next two seasons, with 2015-16 coming as a player option, while Bradley is a restricted free agent this summer.

Bradley hasn’t shown that he can remain on the floor and his offense has yet to progress significantly. There are two schools of thought on what that means for the Celtics -- he’s either easy to let go or valuable on a discounted deal given his lowered value.

Green was forced into the role of a No. 1 option, something he’s not, often this season. His contract isn’t as bad as it once looked, which gives Ainge multiple options -- keep him and move him into a more customary and effective supportive role, or move him for future assets.

“[Green] became more a focal point of the offense and he had his ups and downs with that, but I think his game is complete and I think Jeff is improving as a player,” Ainge said. “I think he still has a lot of growth still left in his game and I think he’s going to have a better year next year than he had this year.”

Without a Garnett and Allen out there to acquire, Ainge has his work cut out for him. If he thought this season was long, wait until the offseason begins.

Draft Report: Dante Exum Of Australian Institute Of Sport

From an NBA draft perspective, the Nike Hoop Summit, which pits the best under-19 international players against the best US high school players, is the most intriguing of the high-school all-star games. It’s one of the only times the best teenagers from overseas play in North America before the draft - Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Enes Kanter were all “discovered” at the game. Every year, there’s at least 1-2 future lottery picks on the international squad.

Given the one-and-done rule, though, much of the intrigue comes a year in advance - the standout players at the 2014 Hoop Summit won’t be drafted until 2015. If you want to talk about the 2014 draft, you have to look at 2013 Hoop Summit. The film from last year’s game gives us a few clues about what should be one of the biggest storylines in this year’s draft - Andrew Wiggins and Dante Exum, the two World Team guards expected to go in the Top 5.

Neither fits the stereotype of the unathletic international player. Like Tony Parker, Wiggins and Exum are sons of Americans who played in the NBA before finishing their careers overseas. Mitchell Wiggins wound up in Canada and his son played high school ball in the US. Cecil Exum played in Australia and his son spent most of his teenage years at the Australian Institute of Sport, the academy that produced Andrew Bogut and Matthew Dellavedova.

Exum was not in a situation in Australia where he could get much publicity in NBA circles. Coming into the Hoop Summit, he was more of an unknown commodity than Wiggins, who was being hyped as the best prospect since LeBron. Exum was expected to play college basketball and not declare for the draft until 2015. That began to change after a strong performance in Portland, where he was every bit as good as his more celebrated teammate.

The game itself, a 112-98 victory for the World Team, wasn’t all that competitive. They got out to a big early lead by playing zone, which forced Team USA to beat them with a half-court offense instead of going 1-on-1. The Americans were able to get back in the game by speeding up the tempo with a full-court trap, but the international players eventually figured out the press, pulling away in the fourth quarter with a string of open dunks in transition.

As the NBA teams that drafted Saer Sene and Bismack Biyombo in the lottery found out, there’s only so much you can take away from an exhibition game between two groups of teenagers who practiced together for less than a week. Team USA, which had more slashers than shooters, didn’t have enough time to prepare for the zone and neither team was all that smooth in the half-court. The internationals had 24 assists on 19 turnovers; the Americans had 15 on 14.

Nevertheless, just from that game, you could see why people are so excited about the two guards. Wiggins (6’8 200 with a 7’0 wingspan) and Exum (6’6 190 with a 6’9 wingspan) both have an elite combination of size, speed and length. Exum may not be quite as explosive in the air, but he’s every bit as quick laterally. His first step is absurd - the American guards couldn’t stay in front of him. The difference in quickness between Exum and the Harrison Twins was glaring.

When you look at his production in the game, what jumps out is how efficient he was. Exum needed only eight shots to get 16 points. He didn’t get the ball that often, but when he did, he knew what to do with it. When the Americans eventually began playing off him, he knocked down the open jumper. He could take whatever the defense gave him without having to force the action. The best players can beat a defense in multiple ways - they make the game look easy.

Wiggins got 17 points at the Hoop Summit, but he needed 16 shots to do it. That was the big difference between the two - Exum played under more control and had a lot of finesse in his game. For the most part, Wiggins was putting his head down, running at the rim and throwing up shots. He was mostly scoring off being longer and more athletic than the guys he was facing - in the NBA, he will be playing guys who are just as long and just as athletic as he is.

Aggressiveness was one of the knocks on Wiggins in college, but that was more about his role in the offense than his mentality. Kansas runs a lot offense through the post - Wiggins didn’t get to play in transition nearly as much as he did in AAU ball. He’s an inconsistent shooter without great ball-handling ability, so it was hard for him to be as “aggressive” without open lanes to the rim. He got most of his points in the Hoop Summit in transition and the offensive glass.

A perimeter player with that skill-set is valuable, but they have a hard time making their teammates better. That’s where Exum has an edge on Wiggins - he’s a much better passer. A few months after the Hoop Summit, he carried a relatively untalented Australian team to the semis of the U19 world championships. Exum averaged four assists per game in Prague while Wiggins had only 1.5 a game at Kansas. That’s a big deal when evaluating wing players.

While Exum isn’t quite as long and athletic, he’s far more skilled. He’s an elite athlete in his own right and he plays with more poise than Wiggins, despite being six months younger. You have to play Trading Places with these guys - what would have happened if Exum was on the AAU circuit every summer and Wiggins was in the AIS? Forget which one has the better highlight tape and who is getting more publicity - passing up Exum to take Wiggins could be a mistake.

Final Non-National NBA Games Of The Week & NNGW Season Awards

The final jockeying for playoff seeds and the NNGW awards are handed out.

Why I Love The Nike Hoop Summit

The Nike Hoop Summit is the best of the high school All-Star games. Something happens when players put on the Team USA uniform. This isn’t just an all-star dunk contest. You get to see a little bit more of the player’s character.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (April 7-April 13)

On the strong weeks by Seth Curry, Darius Morris, Patrick Christopher, Troy Daniels, Cameron Jones, Ognjen Kuzmic and more.

NBA Players Who Could Still Be In College

It’s easy to forget how young some of the players in the league are - freshmen drafted in 2011 would have been college seniors this season. You have to judge young players against guys their age not against the guys in their draft class.

One And Done Model Works For Everyone

John Calipari is 18-3 in the NCAA Tournament at Kentucky. Even more remarkable, he compiled that number with four completely different teams, sending upwards of 15 players to the NBA. It’s a vindication not only of how he built his program, but of the entire “one and done” model.

Al Jefferson Chases The Money Into The Playoffs

Al Jefferson has often been considered an overrated stat compiler in his career, but he has posted his best season and has the Bobcats in the playoffs.

Searching For Journeymen

Amidst the D-League hopefuls and marginal talent, a few players have proven themselves as NBA caliber, and deserve to have roster spots either with the Sixers or with another franchise.

A Champion Is Crowned

Should Kentucky have played more zone this year, why Niels Giffey made a lot of fans happy, and how Napier survived a few frustrated moments to lead his team to victory.

Non-National NBA Games Of The Week (Apr. 7-Apr. 13)

Despite the huge stakes of the final full week of the regular season, the non-national slate looks pretty weak at the outset though Warriors/Blazers on Sunday will have the 5th seed on the line.

The Draft Deadline

The crucial earning years for a basketball player aren't their early 20's but their late 20's, when they are in the prime physically. At that point, it's not about whether they maximized their draft position but whether they developed their game and maximized their earning potential before they start to decline.

UConn-Kentucky Title Game Shows Changes In College Basketball

Kevin Ollie didn’t recruit most of his roster, but his offense and maneuvering of lineups have been essential to reach the championship. The Huskies starting lineup has shown a change of the times as well.

RealGM's D-League Weekly Wrap-Up (Mar. 31-Apr. 6)

Great weeks for P.J. Hairston, Patrick Christopher, Justin Brownlee, Ike Diogu, Scott Suggs, Kevin Murphy and more.

Final Four Saturday

Kentucky continues to overcome the odds, Wisconsin's season was historic even without a Final Four win, and I break down the simulcasts.

Blue Blood Schools Again Taking Country's Best Talent

The programs who reel in multiple players from the McDonald’s game are the sport’s blue bloods. There were 13 schools represented at the game, but only five with multiple recruits - Duke and Kentucky with 4, UNC with 3, Kansas and UCLA with 2.

The Bigs Of The Incoming 2014 College Class

Jahlil Okafor, for all his skills, plays more like the No. 1 overall pick in 1994 than 2014. For a glimpse at where the game is going, you have to look at Karl Towns and Myles Turner, two of the other top big men in the class of 2014.

Why Oladipo Deserves ROY Honors Over Carter-Williams

Victor Oladipo had analysts dubbing him as the preseason favorite to win the Rookie of the Year award until Michael Carter-Williams' stat-stuffing season began.

How Kentucky Became Better Than The Sum Of Its Parts

In a tourney filled with unlikely stories, none is more unlikely than John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats becoming a Cinderella. Rather than 2-3 guys emerging as stars, everyone on has shared the burden, with each member of their rotation coming up big at a different time.

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