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Justin Dentmon Regrets Not Going Overseas Sooner

Justin Dentmon wishes he had went overseas sooner rather than toiling in the D-League.

David Pick

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Justin Dentmon grew up dreaming of playing in the NBA. It didn’t matter which team, he just wanted to tell the world, “I made it.” Overseas hoops? Forget about it.

In 2006, Dentmon saw then University of Washington backcourt mate Brandon Roy get drafted and win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. Roy would blossom into an All-Star while Dentmon developed hopes of nothing less.

However, the road to the NBA for the 29-year-old journeyman wasn’t the same. In fact, the cards were dealt so far apart that Dentmon traveled 6,000 miles outside the U.S. and bounced around a few countries for a total of eight NBA appearances with three separate teams.

“I was young and ambitious,” Dentmon said. “I didn’t care much about the money, it was all about chasing the NBA dream.”

The former Huskie guard held pre-draft workouts in 2009 for the Portland Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and then New Jersey Nets before going undrafted. He received offers to play in Australia, South Korea, New Zealand, Italy and the Spanish LEB Gold, but opted to sign a one-year $60,000 deal in Israel.

“Justin lied to his parents about going to Israel. He convinced them his rookie deal was in Italy,” a source close to Dentmon told Basketball Insiders. “During the season, Justin sent some money home and his mother found out the package came via Israel. She was going to kill him.”

Dentmon captured the No. 1 scoring title in Israel, averaging 19.8 points per game on 36 percent shooting from the perimeter. His backcourt teammate was recent shooting guard for the Phoenix Suns, Dionte Christmas, as the two overcame an 0-2 series deficit to escape regulation to the minor league and eliminate Gary Forbes’ club 3-2.

Dentmon then told one of his staff members, “Mark my words. I’ll play in the NBA.”

Throughout the following season, Dentmon continued his pursuit of an NBA uniform and signed with the Texas Legends, and then the Austin Toros. During the 2011-2012 season he “accomplished” brief stints with the San Antonio Spurs and the Toronto Raptors while crowned the D-League’s Most Valuable Player, averaging 22.8 points, 5.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.6 steals.

The Dallas Mavericks next rewarded Dentmon with a call-up, but he wouldn’t stick. This became a pattern for Dentmon. Week after week, year after year, he’d hunt for another shot in the league. Reality would ultimately sink in as Dentmon took his talents elsewhere. Again.

Looking back, Dentmon believes he should have just appreciated his overseas opportunities rather than toiling in the D-League.

“It took me five seasons to appreciate life outside of the NBA,” Dentmon said. “As a young kid, all my focus was dedicated to making the NBA, I was dream chasing. Once I played my first year in the D-League I was done. I wasn’t going to waste time anymore. I was about to leave, but got the opportunity to play for the U.S.A. team during the 2011 Pan-American games in Mexico (alongside current NBA players Lance Thomas, Greg Stiemsma and Donald Sloan, bringing home a Bronze medal).

“The catch was for me to sign back in the D-League and teams were forced to pay buyouts in case we wanted to leave.”

Overseas teams annually explore the D-League market for talent, however, a large portion of clubs can’t afford its costly buyouts.

“The NBA and the things teams tell players are exactly what young guys want to hear,” Dentmon said. “Truth is, it’s all politics. Every player owns the right to play at least once in the D-League, but my best advise would be: DON’T. Don’t spend your entire career chasing the NBA. Even though teams say one thing — and might even call your number up to the NBA — they already know who they want on the floor and have their eyes fixed on the up-and-coming draft prospects.”

Dentmon was the fourth leading scorer in the Development League, netting 22.2 points per game and shooting 42 percent from deep before signing the previously mentioned 10-day contract with the Spurs. He played just two games. During his stint with the Raptors, he made just four appearances and averaged 5.5 points and 2.3 assists.

“Some guys make it but not all get a shot,” Dentmon said. “I was just hoping for one legit chance. I got called up to the Raptors, but they didn’t like me. Coach (Dwane Casey) didn’t like me and I never understood that. I never got a shot to play with the Spurs or the Mavericks either. Honestly, I really thought I’d stick with Toronto for the rest of the season.

“After a strong season in the Development League and a few call ups, I opted to stick around the NBA and rejected overseas interest. Then I got hurt, pulled my hamstring and the Austin Toros turned their back on me. I asked for a trade and went to play for the Texas Legends. That didn’t work out either and that’s when I looked at Europe.”

Had Dentmon signed with an overseas team earlier, he likely would’ve gotten a better deal.

“NBA teams promised to give me a partial-guarantee, but it never materialized. I had offers from the Ukraine and Hapoel                         Jerusalem in Israel, but chose to sign with Zalgiris Kaunas at the last minute because I waited so long,” Dentmon said.

Dentmon became one of most electrifying Euroleague scorers of the modern era, ranking No. 1 in points throughout the first and second stages of the 2013-14 season. He was named MVP of the Week three times: once following a 6-for-6 shooting performance from beyond the arc for 24 points and nine assists. He also torched Euro-finalist Real Madrid with 36 points on 7-for-11 from the perimeter.

“I think guys are scared to go to Europe and leave their comfort zone,” Dentmon said. “Sometimes agents tell players they can or can’t do certain things in order to stay in a comfortable situation. I would like to advise players chasing the NBA to think about their families and lives after their pro-careers — how most professionals go broke.

“In the NBA, players are taxed on income while in Europe you’re barely taxed, you meet new people and explore the world. Don’t wait until you’re 25 years old to go abroad because one needs to build a resume. I don’t know if Europe missed out on me, but I definitely missed out on playing more in Europe.”

Throughout his decorated career, Dentmon played in the NBA, the D-League, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Italy, China, Lithuania, Israel and Puerto Rico. He won championships in three different countries. During the offseason, Dentmon signed with the Chinese club Qingdao Double Star Eagles. His contract is in the ballpark of $1 million, per a source.

David Pick has extensively covered European basketball and American players abroad since 2010. His work can be found at Eurobasket.com and ONE.co.il. Follow him on Twitter @iamdpick

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NBA

David Nwaba and the Road Less Traveled

David Nwaba speaks to Basketball Insiders about his unconventional path to the NBA.

David Yapkowitz

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A player’s path to the NBA usually follows the same formula: A star in high school, a strong college career, and then eventually being selected in the NBA Draft. However, there are times when a player’s path is more unconventional. In the case of David Nwaba, he definitely took the path less traveled.

He attended University High School in West Los Angeles, where he was named All-Western League MVP twice as well as being an all-league selection. He finished his senior year in 2011 putting up 22.0 points per game and 11.5 rebounds per game.

He went to an NCAA Division 2 school, however, Hawaii Pacific University, but never suited up for them as he redshirted his freshman year. He played a year at Santa Monica Community College, where he was the Western State Conference South Division Player of the Year before transferring to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. According to Nwaba, the decision to leave Hawaii Pacific was made with the NBA in mind.

“It was always a dream of mine, it’s also why I left a Division 2 school that I started at,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I had bigger dreams of playing D1 and potentially the NBA. So that was a dream of mine. I never thought the journey would go like this but it is how it is.”

Behind Nwaba, Cal Poly made their first-ever NCAA appearance in 2014. They won the Big West Tournament as the seventh seed out of eight teams, and then knocked off Dayton for the right to come in as a No. 16 seed against No. 1 seed Wichita State. Cal Poly would go on to lose to Wichita State, but sparking that run to March Madness put Nwaba on the basketball map.

He didn’t get to the NBA right away, though. His first professional experience came with the then Los Angeles D-Fenders, now South Bay Lakers, the Los Angeles Lakers G-League affiliate. He initially began with the Reno Bighorns, the Sacramento Kings affiliate, but his rights were traded to Los Angeles. His strong play in the G-League was what caught the Lakers’ attention, enough to give him a pair of 10-day contracts, and then one for the rest of the season.

“It was a perfect spot to start up my professional career The G-League is a place to develop your game, and I think I developed a lot,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “I learned a lot about the game, and I think it was a good place for me to start just out of college.”

Although he made a strong impression on the Lakers, Nwaba found out that nothing is ever guaranteed in the NBA. Due to a roster crunch when the team signed Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the summer, the Lakers ended up cutting him. He didn’t stay unemployed for long though. Before he had a chance to hit the open market, the Chicago Bulls claimed him off waivers.

He’s since carved out a role as one of the Bulls most dependable players in the second unit. And just like his path to the league, his role is a bit of an unconventional one as a shooting guard. He’s shooting 51.7 percent from the field, but most of his shots come from in the paint. He only shoots 26.3 percent from three-point range. It’s been effective for him though.

“It’s just bringing energy off the bench and just being that defender,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “For the most part, I just try to be aggressive going to the basket, finishing at the rim, making the right plays, just defending and playing hard.”

The Chicago Bulls got off to a slow start this season. They lost 17 of their first 20 games. In December, they started to pick up their play, winning 11 of their 20 games including a seven-game win streak. However, they’ve now dropped eight of their last 11 games. Despite that, Nwaba does see some encouraging signs. And in the Eastern Conference, he’s not quite ready to count out another run.

“We’re developing every game, just building chemistry amongst each other,” Nwaba told Basketball Insiders. “Who knows, all it takes is just a streak of eight to ten games or something and we’re already back in the playoff race. You never know, anything can turn around. It’s still a long season, a lot of games to be played, and a lot of time to develop our game. We’ve still got a lot of time with each other.”

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NBA Daily: The Los Angeles Lakers Could Be Up Next

The Los Angeles Lakers may not make the playoffs this season, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Dennis Chambers

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The Los Angeles Lakers are coming.

They may not be playoff-bound this season as some of their purple and gold faithful hoped for, but the prestigious franchise occupying the Staples Center is showing improvement from their young players. Perhaps even enough to lure the likes of established stars come summer time.

In Luke Walton’s second season as the Lakers’ head coach, he hits the All-Star break with his team holding a 23-34 record. Granted, that’s not the level of success he was used to during his time with the Golden State Warriors, but it is only three fewer wins than his team had all of last season.

Prior to limping into the break on the back of a three-game losing streak, the Lakers had won eight of 10. During that stretch, they’d beaten the likes of Oklahoma City (twice), Indiana, and Boston. Along with making the most of their performances over that span, the Lakers were also doing so without 2017’s second overall pick, Lonzo Ball, who’s sidelined with an injury.

But Ball isn’t the only Los Angeles darling who has shined this season. In fact, it’s arguable that he’s not even the most impressive youngster on the team.

Drafted second overall last season, Brandon Ingram is showing the improvement this season that warranted such a high selection. His play thus far suggests he’s one of the building blocks of the Lakers’ next era in contending for a championship.

In his 53 games this season, Ingram is averaging 16.2 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. His shooting from the floor and from beyond the arc have both seen dramatic increases as well this season. Over the same stretch that saw the Lakers go 8-2 with wins over cemented playoff teams, Ingram upped his assists per night to 5.2, taking the place of facilitator with Ball sidelined.

Though Ingram and the Lakers haven’t been setting the win column on fire all season, the steady growth and improvement show to him that the team is moving in the right direction, under the right coach.

“I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job,” Ingram said to reporters during All-Star weekend. “I think guys have gotten better every single day. I think we come in with the mindset that we have a really good coach that pushes us every single day. I like the progress of what we’re doing in our organization.”

Walton, this season more than last, has shown the ability to get the most out of the players he has. Ingram’s improvement, plus the capability as a point guard Ball has shown, are the givens. They were highly selected players, expected to contribute immediately. But it’s the production of the players who were afterthoughts that are a major testament to Walton’s teachings.

Kyle Kuzma and Josh Hart were selected with the 27th and 30th picks in last June’s draft. Both were collegiate upperclassmen with noted handicaps in their respective games that led to teams selecting younger, or more athletic, or sweeter shooting players in their place.

A few years from now when everyone looks back, that could prove to be a silly mistake.

All Kuzma has done this season is keep his name consistently in the Rookie of the Year award race by averaging 15.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and shooting nearly 36 percent from beyond the arc. He’s been a lightning rod of scoring for the Lakers on nights where they desperately need it, racking up 13 games where he’s reached at least 20 points, and three games breaking the 30-point plateau.

Hart, on the other hand, hasn’t been as steady a performer as his fellow late first-round selected teammate. But when called upon, especially since Ball has been out, Hart’s shown the all-around game that made him one of the most decorated players in college basketball while at Villanova.

Over the last month, Hart has averaged 8.8 points and five rebounds per game, while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 44.4 percent from beyond the arc. During that same stretch, Hart’s scored in double-figures six times and registered three straight double-doubles at the beginning of February.

Moving forward, as the Lakers look to add high-priced free agent in the coming summers, having guys like Kuzma and Hart on cost-effective rookie contracts is a luxury teams around the league hope to have.

Diamonds in the rough like Kuzma and more than capable contributors like Hart are nice, of course, but the real reason for optimism in L.A. is Ingram. He’s the player with a star power ceiling. He’s the guy that the likes of LeBron James and Paul George look at when they weigh their free agent options, as a guy who can handle the workload on the nights they may not have it.

Ingram’s game isn’t finished, though; far from it, in fact. But he knows that, and he’s aware of the steps he needs to take to get to that next level.

“To improve my game I think from a shooting standpoint,” Ingram said. “If I get that down, I think it would be a lot more easier for me to drive to the basket, break down a lot of guys, make plays for my other teammates. I think it would take me to a whole other level.”

Playing for the Los Angeles Lakers doesn’t come void of expectations. There, in Hollywood, everyone is always watching. Fans, other teams, the media, everyone is waiting for the next time a Laker championship comes around. With the weight of the world on their shoulders, Ingram thinks the current legend captaining the ship is the young team’s best asset to achieving that ultimate success everyone in Los Angeles is accustomed too.

“Magic Johnson,” Ingram said. “He’s in our front office. He’s at most of every practice, every single day. For any advice why not go to him, with the caliber of player he was and how many championships he won, the way he carries himself. He always there for just information on anything we need.”

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NBA All-Star Friday Recap

Simon Hannig recaps NBA All-Star Friday 2018.

Simon Hannig

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NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

The NBA All-Star Celebrity Game was highlighted by many stars this year, including Tracy McGrady, Paul Pierce, Nate Robinson, Candace Parker, Bubba Watson, Rachel DeMita and many more. Team Lakers was led by head coach, Rachel Nichols. Team Clippers was led by Katie Nolan.

Quavo, of hip hop group Migos, had the first the two points for Team Clippers, and Justin Bieber had the first three points for Team Lakers.

Team Clippers defeated Team Lakers 75-66.

Quavo led the way for Team Clippers with 19 points on 7/10 shooting, with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse had 17 points on 8/14 shooting and 6 rebounds. Actor and social media star Brandon Armstrong finished with 16 points on 6/17 shooting, 11 rebounds and 3 assists for Team Clippers. Both wereamong the top three leading scorers for Team Clippers.

NBA2KTV host, actress and model, Rachel DeMita led the way for Team Lakers with 17 points on 6/12 shooting and 2 rebounds. NBA legend Nate Robinson was the second leading scorer for Team Lakers with 14 points on 4/11 shooting, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.

Other notable NBA and WNBA legends stats from tonight’s game — Stefanie Dolson (Chicago Sky) had zero points. Paul Pierce had 4 points on 2/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Jason Williams had 2 points on 1/3 shooting and 1 rebound. Tracy McGrady had 3 points on 1/3 shooting, 3 assists and 2 rebounds. Candace Parker (Los Angeles Sparks) had zero points.

Quavo was named MVP.

BBVA Compass Rising Stars Game

There is a ton of young talent in this league, and the league will be in good hands for years to come. The talent was put on display tonight in Los Angeles.

Utah Jazz rookie sensation Donovan Mitchell gave us an early preview of the dunk contest tomorrow by throwing an ally-oop pass to himself off the backboard in the first half.

However, it was all Team World in the first half as they led 78-59 at the break. Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings each had 14 points to lead Team World. Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 16 points at the half.

It felt like a three point contest throughout the entire game, as there were 96 combined three point attempts. Bogdanovic led the way with seven three pointers made for both teams.

All in all, Team World defeated Team USA 155-124. Hield led the way for Team World with 29 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds.

The MVP of the game was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who dazzled the crowd with his three point shooting. He had 26 points, 6 assists and 4 rebounds with seven made three’s.

Next up for the NBA in this fun-filled weekend is NBA All-Star Saturday Night with the dunk contest, three point contest and much more.

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