May 07, 2013 6:29 PM EDT
Before Alex Len underwent surgery on his left ankle last week, the Maryland center and his agent contemplated holding off the procedure, trying to play through the stress fracture in pre-draft workouts and pushing for the No. 1 spot in June’s NBA draft. They eventually decided to stabilize Len’s injury and his future.
Teams won’t have the opportunity to watch Len work out now, and that is the part that disappoints him. In the mind of Len’s agent, had the 19-year-old participated in drills – and matchups against other big men – leading up to the draft, Len could have been the No. 1 pick.
“If he had a chance to work out, I truly believe he could have moved up and gone No. 1,” agent Michael Lelchitski told RealGM. “But people have been watching Alex closely for years and they know about his potential – not just next season, but two, three years into the future.”
Len showed tremendous growth in his second season at Maryland and played like the potential No. 1 pick at times. For most prospects, losing the draft process would put a dent in their standing, but scouts have kept an eye on Len ever since he played in the Ukraine, as one NBA executive said at Maryland’s win over Northwestern in late November.
Still, the timing of surgery on Len’s ankle came weeks before a combine that could have separated him from other potential lottery picks. This is a critical time for all prospects, in a draft void of Nerlens Noel’s availability.
Ultimately, Len was wise not to jeopardize his future for a short-term gain. And most of all, he knew he could have challenged his ankle to perform in workouts, but then this stress injury promised to linger and leave him needing surgery anyway.
“That would have put him behind the eight ball,” Lelchitski said.
Len will soon begin light workouts on the court, where he will be monitored closely to ensure that he isn’t overworking the ankle. With surgery, Lelchitski said, Len fortified his complete health for his pro team come training camp. At 7-foot-1, Len has a chance to become a talented NBA center, but he understands he needs to improve his game and strengthen for the pros.
An ankle injury put Len out of workouts, possibly out of the running for the No. 1 pick, but he still will “definitely” sit down to conduct pre-draft interviews with teams, Lelchitski said. Len has been speaking English for just over a year, and yet this will be a chance to sell his character and demeanor to organizations.
“Alex will be all about full disclosure,” Lelchitski said. “This will give these teams a great opportunity to get to know him.”
Apr 29, 2013 12:00 PM EDT
MILWAUKEE – On the way out of Bradley Center for potentially one last time with the Milwaukee Bucks, on the way out to Los Angeles for the offseason, Brandon Jennings talked about his grand strategy, a perfect free agent path. He called this a season of fluctuating emotion, engraved with his lack of a contract extension last October and punctuated by a putrid shooting display in the Bucks’ first round sweep to the Miami Heat.
Jennings will now head back to the west coast not only to train, but also meet with his new agent, Jeff Schwartz, and reinforce a plan for his restricted free agency. Ultimately, the Bucks have the leverage to withstand the power play that awaits them, with the ability to keep Jennings through an extension or should he sign the qualifying offer.
Jennings was adamant on Sunday afternoon, promising his agent will take care of him this offseason. At every turn, he declared he didn’t know whether he wanted to be back. Even so, Jennings stopped on his way to the Bradley Center parking lot and admitted openness to staying with the Bucks.
“Yeah, of course I’d be cool coming back here,” Jennings told RealGM. “I started here. So that’s always a possibility.”
In a season that began with a game-winner by Jennings at home, he lacked assertiveness and had just three points, one made shot in seven attempts and one assist in 23 minutes in the Heat’s 88-77 Game 4 win. For the series, Jennings averaged 13.2 points and missed 40 of 57 attempts from the field, his shot and body language falling flat. There were extended slumps and benchings, frustration and confusion all season, and through it all Jennings hadn’t let go of the fact the Bucks didn’t give him the extension that top point guards in his draft class received.
The Bucks still appear poised to match any offer sheet that Jennings receives, and he told RealGM that a decision about possibly signing a one-year tender has yet to be made and will be done with Schwartz. Yes, Jennings and Schwartz are forging a power play, forging a market for the 23-year-old to get a lucrative long-term deal.
“My agent’s going to take care of everything,” Jennings said. “I don’t have no mindset. It’s up to my agent and everybody will find out July 1.”
As currently constructed, the Bucks aren’t strong enough to contend in the Eastern Conference and not weak enough to chase a high draft pick. Monta Ellis said Sunday he’ll mull over his $11 million player option for next season in the coming weeks before coming to a decision. Among the veteran free agents, Drew Gooden isn’t sure whether he’ll return, as an amnesty candidate, and Marquis Daniels told RealGM he feels healthy and will allow his agent to identify interested teams in the offseason.
In the end, it all revolves around Jennings, and he’s already made clear he wants to win and the Bucks would be inclined to add veterans and try to pile up picks for next year’s draft. His confidence in winning the first round series was always admirable; what else is a player supposed to say? Clearly, the Heat didn’t need the motivation to win, nor did LeBron James and Dwyane Wade use it.
Near the end of the regular season, Jennings had proposed an idea to his foundation: Building more basketball courts in Compton, his hometown. Yet, he’s gone from committed to the plan to unsure now. Just as he says his free agency decision is up to his agent, implementing the idea to build his own courts is hinging on others, too. “It might happen, it might not,” Jennings said. “I still got to check.”
Jennings will be back in Los Angeles soon either way, training and finalizing a strategy into restricted free agency. He had to get some joy telling everyone to wait for his decision on July 1, but Brandon Jennings alluded to a truth: The Bucks are still viable for him, where it all started.
Apr 26, 2013 5:32 AM EDT
MILWAUKEE – LeBron James waited and waited for Ray Allen near midcourt on Thursday night, waited for an embrace. These had been just a few minutes, but James still was biding time. He leaned left to right, his arms folded, and impatience grew. Finally, the two hugged, whispered into each other’s ears and marched into the locker room with the Miami Heat’s 3-0 series lead over the Bucks in the first round.
Waiting out these several minutes was nothing for James – nothing compared to the years of recruitment it took to convince Allen to sign with the Heat last offseason. Even when James and Allen had been playoff rivals, an offseason dialogue existed. “Let’s join. Let’s join. Let’s join,” James would tell Allen, then with the Boston Celtics. And each year, James’ subtle pitch would fall short.
Only Allen had come around now, and he sent James a message over the phone last July that sent LeBron into excitement in his Las Vegas summer camp:
“The time is now.”
The wait was over. Playing with James was always an attraction for players, but without a title, without Miami, he’d never brought along an established player like Allen with plenty of talent and production left. Five three-pointers later in the Heat’s 104-91 Game 3 win, Allen surpassed Reggie Miller’s playoff record – 322 three-pointers over 10 postseasons. Five three-pointers later, and a Celtics' first-round elimination appearing imminent, Allen again validated his decision to join James and these Heat.
For the Heat, a legitimate road test won’t come in the first round, when the most hostile challenge put forth from the Bucks’ crowd will assuredly be a jumbotron video that mocked James and Chris Bosh. With Dwyane Wade scoring just four points and dealing with a forearm injury – which won’t be an issue, he said, after he receives treatment heading into Sunday’s closeout game – Allen poured in 23 points and found himself given shooting room repeatedly Thursday. This is the beauty, the ease, of playing with James.
“This is what we’ve been talking about for a while,” James said. “I’ve always tried to be in [Allen’s] ear. I knew what he was able to do against me in the past and I knew that threat could add another dimension to our team that we haven’t had in our first two years.
“He seemed like he had a fresh start, a breath of fresh air, being part of our franchise.”
As far as reluctance goes, Allen has none playing behind Wade. There is no feeling slighted by his coach, no battling a young guard like Avery Bradley for stature. Mostly, Allen knows he’s wanted again, and Erik Spoelstra reminds that to everyone within the Heat’s locker room, everyone outside it. “We don’t take him for granted,” he said.
In the end, the Celtics took Allen – his shooting, his tireless preparation techniques that have been absorbed by James – for granted. From the start, the Heat made clear he wouldn’t feel that way again. Back with the Celtics, Allen’s value began to debilitate. With the Heat, his pedigree and experience are always fresh. James gives him respect and praise at every turn. Wade believes that Allen bails him out of shooting slumps.
“This team, these guys truly, truly love each other,” Allen said. “Whether you’re on the floor or on the bench, we’re always trying to find a way to help. … There’s no animosities, no egos out there.”
As Allen walked out of Bradley Center late Thursday, he smiled with family members near the court, pointing out how these rims feel so old, so familiar, to him. Most of his teammates were already long gone back to the hotel, but Allen took his family from outside the locker room to courtside, soaking in the beginning of a playoff run late in his career.
James waited and waited in his recruitment for Allen, waiting for a response to the pitches he has made over the years. The possibility started out as friendly, subdued offers, but it always stayed with Allen. When his career with the Celtics deteriorated, Ray Allen finally came back to LeBron James with the message both men wanted, and, yes, the time is now.
Apr 03, 2013
When Sam Presti beat the trade deadline to acquire Ronnie Brewer, he had a vision of another wing defender the Oklahoma City Thunder could use in critical moments on Manu Ginobili or Kobe Bryant, and, ultimately, LeBron James.
Mar 05, 2013
The Jazz have had painful moments this season out of a partial youth movement while competing for the playoffs, and as a rookie, Al Jefferson was a 20-year-old drafted into the same hybrid situation.
Mar 03, 2013
From Tom Thibodeau’s strict system to Dwane Casey’s schemes, John Lucas III values the styles of both coaches. He’s forever grateful for the way he grew under Thibodeau, receiving his first true platform to exhibit his game, and enjoys the chance now with Casey’s Raptors.
Mar 03, 2013
For Andrea Bargnani now, there’s always something new – from criticism inside and outside the Raptors to continued discussion about his capacity living up to the No. 1 pick Toronto used on him in 2006.
Feb 11, 2013
Jose Calderon has already injected the Pistons with a new sense of confidence. Lawrence Frank marvels about Calderon’s calmness and leadership, and the coach has begun to rely upon him to smooth over the offense and, more importantly, rub his knowledge on Brandon Knight.
Feb 04, 2013
Gaining the trust of Tom Thibodeau has been a process for Jimmy Butler, and last year he concentrated on showing the coach that he’s always ready. Butler got off to a slow start this season, admittedly passing up shots and playing tense. Nevertheless, his minutes gradually increased, and his confidence followed.
Jan 28, 2013
For David Lee, being voted by the coaches onto the All-Star team brought gratification. He has averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds in past seasons, but doing it on a surprise playoff threat has given him assurance about his standing among the NBA’s top forwards.
Jan 27, 2013
The Warriors’ ascension has given Andrew Bogut sanity for now, providing him reason to rehabilitate his left ankle thoroughly. He knows that sitting out all these games would have been difficult on him if the Warriors had gotten off to a tough start.
Jan 13, 2013
All around him, Tayshaun Prince is the lasting player for remembrance. The Detroit Pistons’ young core players ask him every so often about that 2004 championship, and Prince doesn’t boast about the winning, but rather tells them the process needed before the glory.
Dec 31, 2012
Just like last season, Dwyane Wade has welcomed giving up the leading role to LeBron James, shifting from an all-time alpha dog to the player who can still carry the Heat at times. He enjoys that he doesn’t have to shoulder the scoring burden game in, game out like before, though.
Dec 28, 2012
For a brief moment last offseason, coming back to the Bulls looked like a realistic possibility for Keith Bogans. Ultimately, Bogans believed re-signing with the Nets fit him best.
Dec 27, 2012
Avery Johnson knew his message was wearing on his players. He understood that the locker room tuned him out, and still the coach begged everyone to give him and these Nets some time: We haven’t even reached the halfway point yet, Johnson would say.
Nov 28, 2012
Maryland's Alex Len promises to evolve as the year wears on, and he has tools that simply don’t come natural for seven-footers these days: A soft 14-to-18-foot touch, being a willing post player, running the floor smoothly and, mostly, there is no teaching this size and length.
Nov 25, 2012
Brandon Jennings set a serious tone from the tip and played an excellent game Saturday, going for 23 points, seven assists and five steals, carrying the offense with Monta Ellis missing 10-of-17 shots and Ersan Ilyasova again disappearing.
Nov 11, 2012
Drew Gooden played under Mike Brown with the Cavaliers and was surprised the Lakers suddenly changed direction since his system takes time to master.
Nov 11, 2012
The Celtics’ new plan for Kevin Garnett this season, however, goes against all the principles that have kept this proud, mighty veteran going strong at age of 36. They’ve installed a 30-minutes-per-night regimen, with a desire to keep it even lower.
Nov 05, 2012
The Cavaliers entered the season as a perceived playoff contender, but its reliance on Kyrie Irving seems substantial. Soon, losing will be tougher to swallow for these Cavaliers and this superstar. But for now, they’re satisfied trying to improve on a daily basis, focusing on supporting Irving offensively.
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