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NBA PM: Montrezl Harrell’s Unfinished Business

Montrezl Harrell was almost a lock to go in the lottery of the 2014 Draft, but put the NBA on hold in order to better prepare himself… Steve Ballmer officially buys Clippers… P.J. Tucker suspended.

Yannis Koutroupis



There are a lot of reasons why players commit to Louisville. It’s a well-respected academic institution, Rick Pitino is a Hall of Fame head coach with a resume for developing talent that few in the country can match and they provide the opportunity to play against the best on a nightly basis. The one prevailing reason that consistently draws top-tier recruits there, though, is the belief that if they succeed they will end up in the NBA.

Through two years, Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell did everything necessary to make his aspirations of becoming a professional reality. He excelled as a role player his freshman year and won a national championship. As a sophomore, he exploded and became one of the best power forwards in the country, averaging 14 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.3 blocks. He was projected to be a lottery pick almost unanimously across all of the preeminent mock drafts. There was a chance that he could have slipped past the top 14, but he was a surefire first-round pick, one highly unlikely to be on the board past 20.

Yet, shockingly, Harrell decided that he wanted to return for his junior season.

“I felt like I had some more things to work on,” Harrell told Basketball Insiders. “I felt like I wanted to go into the NBA more prepared than what I was already. I felt like my skill set could be higher than what it was. I felt like I could be way better than I was in the post this previous season. I felt like going back to Louisville was the best move for me.”

As elated as Pitino was by Harrell’s decision, teams looking for a power forward in the middle of the draft were disappointed. He may lack the perceived upside of a Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon or Noah Vonleh, three freshmen power forwards who all went in the top 10 of the 2014 draft, but Harrell was poised to handle the transition to the NBA better than all three initially.

At 6’8, 240 lbs. with a 7’3 wingspan, great athleticism, above average quickness and a motor that never comes off of the highest gear, Harrell was one of the most NBA-ready prospects eligible for the draft. He would have made an impact from day one, especially on the glass and defensive end of the floor.

Defensively, Harrell is the equivalent to a premiere middle linebacker in football. He’s the leader on that end of the floor, constantly communicating with his teammates, making sure they know where to be and that he’s there to help them. His 1.3 blocks per game don’t indicate just how much of a force he is at deterring shots. Unlike some shot blockers who simply camp around the rim waiting for someone to attack them, Harrell is aggressive in contesting shots all over the floor.

At the 2014 adidas Nations camp, which features some of the top high school and college talent from across the globe, there were multiple occasions where his coaches were telling him to be careful. They were worried about how much he was hitting the floor and all the contact he was creating. However, Harrell doesn’t know any other way to play.

“I’ve always played with a chip on my shoulder,” Harrell said. “There’s been a lot of guys ranked above me. I don’t criticize what the scouts have to say about my game, I just work. I use that as motivation for me. I go into every game with a chip on my shoulder. When I’m on the floor I feel like there’s nobody on this floor that’s going to outwork me.

“I’ve just been coming in here showing that I’m a hard worker. I play on both ends of the court. I’m not really out here to showcase or show coaches that I’ve been working on this or that, that’s going to come within the game. I’m not coming out here and impress the guys with things that I couldn’t do in my game before. I just come out here, play hard and try to do everything to put my team in a position to win.

“I’ve been working on my post moves a lot, a lot of different aspects of my game. I have showcased a couple of things here, putting the ball on the floor, getting to the basket. There’s a lot more of my game that hasn’t been shown.”

Expectations are going to be high for Harrell going into what will likely be his final year of college. He can’t just come in with the same 14 points and eight rebounds a game that he averaged last year if he’s going to improve his stock and crack the top 10 – the ideal result from his decision to stay an extra year.

That likely wouldn’t even be enough to keep Louisville in the mix for a national title. He has to take that next step forward in his development and become a featured option. The opportunity is there for him with the departure of Russ Smith and Luke Hancock, who averaged a combined 30.5 points a game last year, to carry a big load offensively.

Averaging closer to 20 points a game would do a lot for Harrell’s stock and have teams looking at him as more than just a hustle guy whose impact will be primarily on one side of the floor. His ultimate goal, though, is to walk away with his second national championship, and putting up Russ Smith numbers isn’t the key to achieving that.

“We gotta be that top defensive team,” Harrell said. “Offensively, we have guys who can score the ball at every position on the floor. We gotta be that defensive standout team, that team that [makes others say], ‘Hey it’s hard to score on Louisville. We’re going to Louisville we have to prepare for this, we have to prepare for the press, the halfcourt defense.’ We’ve got to be that defensive team.”

The decision to stay around an extra year has proven to be costly for a lot of NBA hopefuls like Harrell in the past. Yet, given the tenacity and effort he plays with, the situation waiting for him at Louisville and the fact that he’s beyond NBA ready, it’s hard not to feel like the odds are stacked in his favor for this decision to end up paying off for him.

Ballmer Officially Takes Over Clippers: The Los Angeles Clippers announced that the transaction in which Steve Ballmer purchased the Los Angeles Clippers closed today following the entry of an order by a California court confirming the authority of Shelly Sterling, on behalf of the Sterling Family Trust, to sell the team.

The NBA Board of Governors previously approved the sale and Mr. Ballmer is now the Clippers Governor.

“I am humbled and honored to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Clippers,” Mr. Ballmer said. “Clipper fans are so amazing. They have remained fiercely loyal to our franchise through some extraordinary times. I will be hard core in giving the team, our great coach, staff and players the support they need to do their best work on the court. And we will do whatever necessary to provide our fans and their families with the best game-night experience in the NBA. I look forward to meeting our fans at our STAPLES Center Fan Festival on Monday, Aug. 18 at 12:30 pm PT.”

“This is an amazing new day in Clippers history,” Clippers President of Basketball Operations and Head Coach Doc Rivers said. “I couldn’t be more excited to work together with Steve as we continue to build a first-class, championship organization. I am already inspired by Steve’s passion for the game, his love of competition and desire to win the right way and I know our players and fans are going to be inspired as well.”

Ballmer, Doc Rivers and Clippers players will be in attendance at a Clippers Fan Festival that will be open to the general public on Monday, Aug. 18 at STAPLES Center at 12:30 p.m. PT.

P.J. Tucker Suspended: Phoenix Suns’ forward P.J. Tucker has been suspended three games without pay for pleading guilty to driving while under the extreme influence of intoxicating liquor, in violation of the law of the State of Arizona, the NBA announced today.

Tucker’s suspension will begin with the first game of the 2014-15 NBA regular season.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.




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NBA Daily: Trae Young Looks To Be Next Up

Oklahoma’s Trae Young is taking college basketball by storm, and drawing comparisons to All-Star point guards.

Dennis Chambers



When basketball fans glance across the college landscape to find the next wave of talent they expect to dominate the sport, they check in on the usual spots.

Duke, Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan State, Kansas and UCLA are among the culprits. Norman, Oklahoma, and the Sooners, though? Well, they’re not a destination that comes to mind very often when debating what young player is in position to take the reins at the next level.

Until now, that is. Meet Trae Young.

Young is Oklahoma’s freshman point guard. He’s 6-foot-2, isn’t overly muscular, and operates up and down the court with a smoothness that’s eerily similar to the guy who plays the same position out in the Bay Area.

How he looks isn’t the only thing that draws comparisons from Young to Steph Curry. Look at the numbers, and the obscene production the 19-year-old point guard is putting up. At the moment, Young leads the entire country in points per game (28.7) and assists (10.4). Young has reached the 30-point plateau four times in eleven games, including his 43-point outburst against Oregon. He’s scored 29 points on two occasions, and twice more reached 28 points.

Young’s picture-perfect shooting form and effortless release from beyond the arc are what makes this teenager so lethal. But he’s not just a one-trick pony. On Dec. 20 against Northwestern State, Young tied the NCAA record with a 22-assist performance (to go along with his 26 points). It was the first time in 20 years a player had reached 20 points and 20 assists in the same game. In six of Young’s first 11 collegiate games, he’s reached double-digit assists.

The invigoration of Young into the Oklahoma offense has Lon Kruger’s 11-20 team from a year ago at 10-1 and ranked No. 17 in the country heading into Big 12 Conference play. Make no mistake about it, that’s large, if not wholly, because of the freshman point guard.

How exactly did the Sooners land a superstar player of this caliber, though?

Well, they almost didn’t.

Young’s college choice came down to his hometown Sooners (he attended Norman North High School right down the road) and typical blue-blood powerhouse Kansas. Even with the commitment of a five-star point guard, few, if any, saw this type of impact from Young right away.

Ranking No. 23 on ESPN’s Top 100 for the class of 2017, Young was behind three other point guards: Trevon Duval (Duke), Collin Sexton (Alabama) and Jaylen Hands (UCLA).

Expecting the supernova level star Young has become almost immediately would’ve been a bit overzealous in any prediction. But that’s what makes college basketball the marvel that it is. Young has looked like the best player in the country, on a team where, at just 19 years old, he is considered “the man,” and without the usual supporting cast that players get at Duke and Kentucky.

After a 31-point, 12-assist performance against Northwestern on Friday, opposing head coach Chris Collins couldn’t do anything but rave about the teenager that dominated his team.

“With how deep he can shoot it from, you have to extend out on him, and then it just opens the floor,” Collins said. “He does a great job. He changes speeds well and he is shifty. And so the moment you are kind of a little off balance, he does a great job getting into your body and kind of playing off your movements. He’s got incredible vision. I always knew he was an incredible scorer. But the one thing I think he is underrated is his ability to pass. I thought he made some great passes and found guys.”

While the comparisons between Young and Curry are obvious, Collins offered up his own version of the mold he believes Young is fitting into.

“I had the opportunity to coach Kyrie Irving at the same age, and he was similar like that before he got hurt,” Collins said about Young. “There was just a maturity to his game that he had. He knew how to change speeds. He looked like a veteran from day one and that’s how Trae is out there. He plays at his pace. He knows where he wants to go.

Ironically, 11 games were all Irving got to play at Duke during his freshman season, and he still managed to be drafted first overall. Young may have a bit more competition than Irving did come next June for the draft’s top spot, but just over a month into his rookie campaign in college, Young is looking every bit of the best player in the entire nation.

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College Basketball Has A Money Problem, But No Solution

The FBI confirmed that college basketball has a big money problem. But it won’t go away until NCAA fixes their rules.

Dennis Chambers



College basketball saw its world rocked on Tuesday when the FBI made a two-year long investigation into the illegal paying of amateur players public for all the world to see.

Ten people total were arrested and charged with fraud and corruption. Those men included active assistant coaches from Auburn, USC, Arizona, and Oklahoma State, along with a prominent executive from Adidas.

All the FBI did this week was confirm what was potentially the worst kept secret in college sports: that high-profile high school athletes receive under-the-table benefits to attend certain schools and keep certain relationships with shoe companies, agents, financial planners, etc. once they make their jump to the NBA.

As the curtain is pulled back on the backdoor dealings of the grassroots basketball scene and the public receives more confirmation about how some of these basketball powerhouse schools continuously get the best of the best, surely there will be more professional casualties. Already this probe has cost a Hall of Fame coach his job, as the University of Louisville announced Wednesday that Rick Pitino would be suspended from his duties. Pitino’s attorney later released in a statement that the coach “has, in effect, been fired.”

With the massive involvement the FBI seems to have in this matter, the smart guess would be to assume that Pitino isn’t the only prominent coach that will fall victim to this case. On Tuesday, Adidas executive Jim Gatto was arrested in the initial sweep by the authorities, making all of the schools with an Adidas sponsorship immediately look suspect. Just one day later, the FBI issued a subpoena to employees of Nike’s EYBL grassroots division, which runs their AAU basketball circuit.

These initial offenders appear to be the tip of the iceberg. Common sense would suggest that since the long arm of the law is now involved in how certain recruits make their college decisions things will certainly change. However, until the NCAA finds a better way to compensate their student-athletes, don’t hold your breath.

Yes, this is going to be a long and excruciating process for the NCAA. Once certain people involved are facing federal agents and the likes of jail time, they will turn over more information, dragging others down with them. For a while, maybe the recruiting process will get back to operating more organically. But in a multi-billion dollar business like college basketball, money will find its way back in.

Each year there are more than a few top prospects who come from families that are in need of assistance. That player, despite being just a kid, can be viewed as the family’s ticket out of their difficult situation. Those realities are what makes this entire scandal somewhat understandable. That certainly isn’t advocacy for cheating, but when you take into account the financial status of a high-profile player and his family, coupled with the impending millions that a university is set to make off of that individual, with no effective legal payout from the NCAA heading their way it almost makes the cause just.

Certainly, though, rules and laws were breached by these individuals and they will face the consequences as a result. The list of those involved will grow, and the pointed finger at who to blame will swing wildly in the direction of many. But until the conversation is had as to why this truly happening, nothing will ever change permanently for the better.

According to Forbes, Louisville’s team value in 2016 stood at $45.4 million, with their 2015 revenue reaching $45.8 million. Those are eye-popping numbers for a basketball team that doesn’t have to pay its players. An organization can only be as successful as its employees. So, while Louisville continues to be one of the nation’s top basketball programs as a result of their high-tier talent, their payout to these athletes reaches only to the price of tuition and room and board. Most of the players that help keep elite team’s like Louisville relevant don’t stay for more than a year or two.

In the documents released by the FBI, Gatto, agent Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood are named directly as helping provide funding to a particular player.

The statement reads that Gatto, Sood, and Dawkins “conspired to illicitly funnel approximately $100,000 from company-1 to the family of Player-10, an All-American high school basketball player; to assist one or more coaches at University-6, a school sponsored by Company-1, and to further ensure that Player-6 ultimately retained the services of Dawkins and Sood and signed with Company-1 upon entering the NBA.”

Clear as day, the NCAA’s biggest problem is written in black and white by the FBI. These companies and agents know that players are more than willing to take money (truthfully, who wouldn’t?). When a player or player’s family recognizes their worth in a market that doesn’t let them cash in on it, their recruiting process becomes marred with wink-wink agreements from the schools that are recruiting said player, and ultimately the decision is made to attend whichever school is willing to bend the rules the most.

On Tuesday, the world saw for certain that this time the rules were bent to their breaking point. Dark days are ahead for college basketball during this scandal, but until the NCAA develops a reasonable way to compensate their athletes, the problem will never fully disappear.

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Is Lauri Markkanen Finland’s Dirk Nowitzki?

Draft prospect Lauri Markkanen talks to Michael Scotto about preparing for the draft and his NBA prospects.

Michael Scotto



Not many 20-year-olds have drawn comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and have an opportunity to be a basketball ambassador for an entire nation. Lauri Markkanen is not your average 20-year-old.

“First of all, it’s an honor to be compared to him,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “It’s probably not fair to him to have some young guy compared to a Hall of Fame player and champion. We have similarities because of the height, being from Europe and shooting. But I have a long way to go before I’m in the same category as him. Hopefully, I can get there one day.”

Markkanen, a 7-foot prospect from Finland, shot 49 percent from the field, 42 percent from downtown and 84 percent from the foul line in his freshman season at Arizona. Nowitzki has shot 47 percent from the field, 38 percent from downtown and 88 percent from the foul line in his 19-year career.

A few weeks ago, video footage surfaced of Markkanen draining 18 straight 3-pointers from the corner.

“He has the most ready NBA skill of any player in the NBA draft,” a Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “He’s the best shooter coming into the draft in my opinion. That’s one skill you can rely on.”

Markkanen isn’t just a standstill shooter. He’s lethal in pick-and-pop sets, and can move off the ball and attack off the dribble.

“He has a lot of similarities to a guy like Ryan Anderson,” another Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “I think later in the season he showed more versatility to his game. He’s shown that he has more to his offensive package with his ability to post up, which will only get better as he gets stronger. He has a good enough handle to create space and is tall enough where his shot will be hard to contest.”

As the league emphasizes floor spacing more than ever before, Markkanen could be a matchup nightmare in small ball lineups.

“He’s an excellent shooter with range for his size,” an Eastern Conference scout told Basketball Insiders. “He knows how to play and has good overall fundamentals. Center will be his best position as a stretch-five. He has deceptive mobility. He’s a below the rim player, not a rim protector, nor a top rebounder now.”

While Markkanen’s shooting ability is unquestioned, he believes other areas of his game are underrated.

“I think I am the best shooter in this class,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “I think my ceiling as a rebounder and defender is higher than people may think. And my work ethic is something I take a lot of pride in, which will help elevate my game.”

Scouts and executives believe Markkanen will need to improve his lateral quickness to compete better on the defensive end at the NBA level. He will also have to get stronger to fight for rebounding position in the post, but that’s a natural progression for any rookie coming into the league.

Unlike most foreign players, Markkanen skipped an important adjustment. He came overseas and got a chance to adjust to lifestyle on and off the court in the States while attending the University of Arizona.

“As a player, the physicality of the game and the pace was different and took some getting used to,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “Otherwise, the adjustment was not that bad. As a student, there was more work than back home, but it was not too difficult to me.”

While Markkanen enjoyed his time at Arizona and is looking forward to NBA life as a rookie in the States, he believes he can eventually help grow the game of basketball back home in Finland.

“That is one of my biggest goals,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders. “Hopefully my story can inspire more kids back home to learn the game and enjoy it. I look forward to many future projects back home and hopefully continued success of the national team program.”

Markkanen’s father, Pekka, played for Kansas and was a member of the Finland National Team. At 15 years old, Markkanen made his Second Division debut for BC Jyvaskyla. At Helsinki Basketball Academy, Hanno Mottola – one of two all-time Finnish NBA players – was one of Markkanen’s coaches, as DraftExpress noted. Markkanen’s international debut for the Finland U-18 National Team came at the 2015 FIBA Europe U-18 Championship. A year later, Markkanen was the top scorer in the 2016 FIBA Europe U-20 Championship, averaging 24.9 points per game, and participated in the NIKE Hoops Summit.

“As a player, the kid dominated at the junior level,” a Western Conference executive told Basketball Insiders. “In big games, he stepped up. He led Arizona to an incredible record.”

Arizona won the Pac-12 Tournament and was a No. 2 seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament. Markkanen led all freshmen in offensive rating (134.1) and made as many 3-pointers as any 7-footer in college since 2000, as DraftExpress noted. As a result, Markkanen was named a member of the Pac-12 First Team. Arizona eventually lost 73-71 against No. 11 Xavier in the West Regional Semifinal.

While Markkanen hopes to become a role model for children in Finland and inspire them to play the game, he has other goals in mind before hanging up his sneakers down the road.

“Winning an NBA championship, winning an Olympic medal and being an All-Star,” Markkanen told Basketball Insiders.

Markkanen’s journey will begin Thursday night at the NBA Draft, where colleague Steve Kyler and I both have him going to Minnesota with the seventh pick in our latest mock draft.

However, the Timberwolves may trade their pick for an established veteran or as part of a package to acquire Jimmy Butler. With the uncertainty of the draft in mind, why should any team select him?

“I think I am unique as a player,” Markkanen replied. “I am a very hard worker and give everything on the court. I am going to do everything in my power to help my team win.”

While becoming the next Nowitzki is the ceiling for Markkanen’s career, becoming a basketball ambassador and role model for young children in Finland could be Markkanen’s greatest accomplishment by the time he hangs up his sneakers.

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