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Fixing The New York Knicks

The Knicks have a long offseason ahead of them, but here’s how they can turn the ship around, writes Benny Nadeau.

Ben Nadeau

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The New York Knicks are in trouble.

Following a disappointing 32-50 season in 2015-2016, the Knicks entered free agency with a plan to put talented, capable players around Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. The Knicks then signed Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee, and traded for Derrick Rose. Their new point guard made waves with a single quote:

“I mean, with these teams right now, they’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.”

Just a few months later, the franchise — headed by president Phil Jackson— may have buyer’s remorse. Today, the Knicks are just 27-41 and falling out of playoff contention with every passing day — so where have they gone wrong?

The Knicks are in the unenviable position of a franchise that desperately needs a complete rebuild, but some major obstacles lie in their way. Until the Knicks can hit the reset button, they may toil away in the NBA’s version of purgatory: not good enough to win, but not bad enough to bottom out.

If the Knicks want to get back to their competitive, hard-nosed days, here are some simple steps to follow this spring and summer.

Embrace The Tank, Draft Smart

First things first: The Knicks, who have more or less given up, must finish the season by losing as many of their remaining games as possible. This means handing over the reins to younger players like Chasson Randle, Justin Holiday and Willy Hernangomez, a notion already helped along by the Knicks waiving Brandon Jennings last month. Currently, the Knicks only hold a 6 percent chance to jump into the top three in June’s draft, but with some well-positioned tanking, they could make up ground quickly.

Even if they still end up around No. 7, there are plenty of talented guards the Knicks can take a look at. With Rose’s contract set to expire in the offseason, the Knicks will surely select NC State’s Dennis Smith Jr., Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox or the French international Frank Ntilikina. Now that Porzingis has landed in the trainer’s room with a thigh contusion, the Knicks have a perfect opportunity to pump the breaks and ease into tanking bliss.

While the Knicks will have to deal with no-trade clauses, bloated contracts and an ill-fitting system over the summer, the one thing they can control is how many games they’ll lose now. The impatient Knicks supporters may be vocal, but few will remember a meaningless April win if that’s the difference between a role player and a franchise cornerstone.

Now, about one of their current cornerstones…

Revisit The Carmelo Anthony Problem

Carmelo Anthony has been the Knicks’ franchise player since they traded a bounty for him in 2011 and, yet, the results have been largely underwhelming. The Knicks last made the playoffs in 2013 and since they added Anthony, they’ve only escaped the first round on one occasion. Now 32-years-old, it may be time to move on from the forward and start from scratch, but there’s just one problem with that — Anthony’s no-trade clause.

When Jackson convinced the 10-time All-Star to re-sign with the Knicks in 2014, he gave Anthony one of basketball’s most powerful tools. Along with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the Dallas Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki, Anthony possesses one of the league’s three outright no-trade clauses and Jackson clearly found it difficult to navigate at the deadline because of it.

While plenty of reports noted Jackson’s “determined” nature to move Anthony, the forward consistently rebuffed those notions all winter:

The power is in Anthony’s hands and, if they don’t move on from each other this summer, the two sides should find a middle ground at the very least. The Knicks’ losing habits are certainly compounded when mixed with a healthy dose of drama both on and off the court, but it would be silly to purposefully feud with the franchise player when he has no intention of leaving.

If Anthony is truly determined to finish out his contract (and perhaps his career) with the Knicks, Jackson needs to get past the subtweeting and subliminal efforts to drive his star out of the city.

Move On From Derrick Rose

In time, perhaps the Knicks will regret holding out for more assets in the rumored Ricky Rubio-Derrick Rose swap that was reported near the trade deadline. Rose hasn’t been shy about his attempts to garner another max contract this summer as an unrestricted free agent either. Despite the unlikelihood of Rose commanding a deal like that at this point in his career, the Knicks would do well not to get sucked back in.

While Rose has had a better season than most expected, signing the 28-year-old to a massive deal when the roster is already saturated with them would be a misstep. To his credit, Rose has averaged 17.7 points, 3.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists over 59 games with the Knicks, but they must not attempt to rebuild and contend at the same time. Although the Knicks may feel obligated to chase Rose after giving up some solid assets for him, it’d be most wise to just cut their losses. If the Knicks end up drafting a stud point guard, there will be little reason to bring back Rose anyways.

Is Jeff Hornacek The Knicks’ Long-Term Solution?

Billed as a coach who could implement and run Jackson’s much-adored triangle offense, Jeff Hornacek was supposed to wrangle the great individual talents of Anthony, Porzingis, Rose, Jennings and Lee into an efficient attack. While this season hasn’t been a catastrophic disaster, if the Knicks blow things up this summer, they’ll need to take a long look at the coach as well.

Yesterday, Hornacek reiterated that the triangle was the Knicks’ offense of choice now and for the future, despite the fact that much of the team hates running it. While it could be simple posturing for his job on Hornacek’s part, Jackson must consider the long-term implications of forcing the team into the triangle.

To ESPN’s Ian Begley, Hornacek chimed in on the offense’s potential draw in free agency:

“There might be players that think [the triangle offense is a deterrent], but there are also probably players out there that say ‘Oh man, I’d like to run something like that,’” Hornacek said. “It’s still an offense where guys, if they’re knowledgeable about the game, should like.”

Of course, there’s something to be said about consistency, and firing their second head coach in as many years would just add to the Knicks’ infamous lore. In the end, their decision here should cater to Porzingis, who reportedly enjoys the triangle, so it may just be a moot point.

Good luck convincing any free agents of that, though.

Joakim Noah’s Mammoth Contract

When the Knicks decided to give Joakim Noah $72 million over four years, the move was almost universally panned. Even if the former defensive stalwart kept it together for an entire season, relying on Noah, who will be 35 years old when the contract expires, to lead the defense is risky at best. Worse, before Noah went down with season-ending knee surgery in February, his albatross contract was nearly unmovable already. To top it all off, the Knicks don’t even have a team option built into the contract down the road.

Within reason, the Knicks should do whatever they can to get Noah off the books, particularly so if Rose is on his way out as well. Combine his contract with a future first-rounder and Kyle O’Quinn, a serviceable, athletic backup, and the Knicks might be to sneak out from under Noah. This is easier said than done, but if the Knicks want to kickstart this rebuild, they must start with some of the roster’s deadweight.

Target Low-Cost, High-Reward Free Agents

If the Noah and Lee contracts have taught the Knicks anything, they’ll stop chasing the easy fix and focus on the future. This, unfortunately for Dolan, means that the Knicks need to stay away from high-profile free agents like George Hill, Kyle Lowry and Jrue Holiday, three point guards that’ll demand top dollar this summer. On the surface, grabbing a player like Hill to set up Anthony and Porzingis sounds good in theory, but the Knicks have been down this road before.

Additionally, the Knicks would be wise not to make the same mistakes their cross-river rivals have made in recent years. The Brooklyn Nets once responded to the Knicks’ acquisition of Anthony by dealing for Deron Williams to make a splash for their big move to New York. Under the unrelenting pressure of owner Mikhail Prokhorov, general manager Billy King pushed his chips to the middle and dealt a treasure trove of assets for the (diminishing) talents of Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Today, the Nets are barely keeping their head afloat and must convey the likely No. 1 overall pick to their bitter rivals in Boston.

So, even if things look dismal, the Knicks need to look no further than the Nets to see their future should they get too hasty. Chasing two of the Chicago Bulls’ restricted free agents, Nikola Mirotic and Cristiano Felicio, would be a solid strategy for the Knicks come July. Mirotic, who has fallen out of head coach Fred Hoiberg’s rotation, is a burly, court-stretching forward that shot 39 percent from three-point range in 2015-2016, and could offer some nice interplay in a smaller front court with Porzingis. On the other hand, Felicio is an underutilized 24-year-old center that could do well with a change of scenery, averaging a solid 11.3 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Other intriguing options could include the Miami HEAT’s James Johnson and Willie Reed (player option), the Milwaukee Bucks’ Terrence Jones, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Andre Roberson (restricted) and the Phoenix Suns’ emerging Alan Williams (restricted).

Bonus: Fix The Charles Oakley Situation

For a team that’s been consistently disappointing over the last 20 years, it’s difficult to watch the Knicks hurt their relationship with one of the franchise icons. After ejecting Charles Oakley from the arena in February, owner James Dolan went to war with one of the Knicks’ fan-favorites from the 90s. While this has little to do with the on-court product, the Knicks’ historic brand has taken quite the hit and it’s time to make good.

What free agent would want to sign with a franchise that’ll ultimately turn their backs on them? The Madison Square Garden ban has been lifted for Oakley, but the retired center certainly still feels the relationship’s strain. At this point, it would be best for the Knicks and Dolan to bury the hatchet and start treating a beloved former player with the praise he deserves. Without an overhaul of the situation, the Knicks may just find the free agent well running a little dry this summer.

While most of these issues start and end with the front office, the dominoes will only fall once the Anthony situation is definitively answered again. Should he stay, the Knicks will be stuck with a superstar on a team that desperately needs to clean house outside of their budding Latvian sophomore. If he doesn’t, the Knicks have a handful of potential paths that’ll take them closer to respectability once more — but which road will they choose?

Ben Nadeau is a Boston-based writer in his first year with Basketball Insiders. For the last five seasons, he covered the Brooklyn Nets for The Brooklyn Game.

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NBA

NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs

Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?

Joel Brigham

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This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.

Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.

The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.

For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.

That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.

The Eastern Conference

Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.

In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.

Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.

Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.

The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.

What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.

That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.

The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.

The Western Conference

Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.

The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.

Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.

The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.

That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.

Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.

The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.

Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.

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NBA DAILY

NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors

If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.

Moke Hamilton

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For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.

Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.

Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.

A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.

In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.

The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.

It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.

At least, that was the case until Saturday night.

* * * * * *

With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.

Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.

Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.

It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.

This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.

With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.

At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.

Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.

In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.

Poetic, indeed.

* * * * * *

With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.

At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.

What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.

For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.

Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.

Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.

While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.

Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.

Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…

And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.

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NBA

G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts

David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.

David Yapkowitz

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Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.

Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.

Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.

With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.

1. Christian Wood

Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.

His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.

2. Jameel Warney

Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.

With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.

3. Melo Trimble

After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.

He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.

4. Joel Bolomboy

Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.

At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.

5. Jeremy Evans

Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.

With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.

Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.

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