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NBA Sunday: One-On-One With Jabari Parker

Despite the season-ending setback, after going one-on-one with Jabari Parker, Moke Hamilton is still a believer.

Moke Hamilton

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With the lights flashing and the cameras rolling, the neophyte sat and thought for a moment, but only a moment.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said when asked if there were talented players around him. “This is a really good draft. We have a lot of veteran players and a lot of young players from college, but it’s our job to get the job done.”

Poised, polished and candid, Jabari Parker looked every member of the media in the eyes and answered every question posed to him with maturity, responsibility and confidence.

On the morning of June 25, 2014—merely hours before the Milwaukee Bucks selected him with the second overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft—Parker impressed everyone within earshot of him at the NBA’s pre-draft media availability.

I walked away knowing that he had the mental makeup required of a rookie being changed with altering the fortunes of a floundering franchise.

Unfortunately, his body had different ideas.

* * * * *

Over the past several years, scores of promising youngsters have entered the NBA. Some of the sub-25-year-old contributors who have earned our attention and affection are Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Andre Drummond, Karl-Anthony Towns and, the young man who was drafted just ahead of Parker, Andrew Wiggins.

The unfortunate truth is that the gross majority of promising players drafted will ultimately be forgotten in the grand scheme. For a prime example, one need to look no further than the likes of Mark Price, Mitch Richmond, Derrick Coleman or Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Derrick Rose, it seems, could ultimately find himself joining a long list of history’s “What If?” stories, joining Brandon Roy and a prior generation of destined-to-be greats such as Anfernee Hardaway and Tracy McGrady.

In another 10 years, will Parker be remembered? It’s not a stretch to say that, to an extent, he was already forgotten.

“I feel good,” Parker told Basketball Insiders recently. “I try not to make excuses for myself. If I’m out there, I try to make the most of my ability and make the most out of it.

“There’s some good people in my corner that help me get up. It’s going to be a journey and each and every game there’s room for improvement.”

It’s been about 20 months since Parker was the starry-eyed kid that was extolling the virtues of Wiggins and discussing his desire to be a difference-maker on the NBA level, and about 14 months since he sustained a torn ACL that caused him to miss all but 25 games of his rookie season.

After sitting on the bench and watching his Bucks overachieve in his absence, Parker, at this moment, is about three months into his return. Unsurprisingly, he has had trouble finding his rhythm on the floor. He appears a bit thicker than he did the last time we had a one-on-one conversation, but he is as pleasant as ever.

“I felt good out there,” Parker told me after participating in the Rising Stars Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto. “I felt good because this is priceless. You can’t buy this back,” in reference to having the opportunity to take the court, find his rhythm and play with a few of his teammates in a spirited but friendly exhibition.

And as we had a brief encounter in the bowels of the Air Canada Centre, Parker recalled what his journey had been like to this point. The expectations and the hopes thrust upon him, he says, are all just background noise. What has gotten him to this point, he reminds me, is his belief that the game of basketball is bigger than one man. His pursuits, desire and dedication—especially after sustaining such a horrifying injury—are all about the bigger picture.

That bigger picture, he says, is winning.

“You know what? If it so happens for me to be an All-Star, then yeah,” Parker said about looking forward to potentially playing on in the main event on All-Star Weekend—the Sunday night game. “But the most important thing is me being on my team, Milwaukee, me representing the city and me being a team player.”

And fittingly enough, as Parker and I chatted about life in the NBA thus far, he gave me a quick reminder.

“All I care about is winning when it counts,” he said with a shrug.

At ease, confident and relaxed, if you can’t say anything else about Jabari Parker, you can certainly say that he is mature beyond his years and a youngster with a great head on his shoulders.

“Just wait and see. Be a little patient,” Parker said to me when asked about him returning to his pre-injury form.

The playoffs, he says, are still a legitimate and reasonable goal and expectation for this team. After doing some quick math, Parker reminds me that he and his Buck still have 28 games left in the regular season, and that there is plenty of time to put together a solid run and try to snag one of the seeds available in the increasingly-competitive conference.

* * * * *

With sweat streaming down his brow, it takes Parker a moment to realize that Frank Kaminsky is daring him to shoot a jumper. To this point, Parker has gotten to the basket rather effectively, so for Kaminsky, the choice was to accept the lesser of two evils.

Dribbling to his right, Parker quickly crosses over to his left. As Kaminsky steps back to prepare for what he believes is the impending drive to the basket, Parker steps back and, suddenly, has five feet of space. He calmly shoots a pull-up 12-footer reminiscent of the Detroit Pistons version of Grant Hill, calmly converting the shot. For the rest of the third quarter, Parker terrorizes the Charlotte Hornets and each of the defenders sent his way. Though occurring in the loss, Parker’s 23 points are a season and career-high. Afterward, he dismisses the accomplishment and reminds those around him to be patient.

The road back to where he was before the injury, he knows, will be long and circuitous.

“Don’t expect this next game,” Parker says.

Right he was. On February 20, the following night, Parker didn’t match the 23-point effort—he improved on it. And this time, he led his team to victory. With 28 points and 13 rebounds, Parker led the Bucks to a tough road win over the Atlanta Hawks.

Indeed, he is far from his final destination, but as an NBA player, Parker is coming along nicely; he certainly is far from where he began.

* * * * *

Entering play on February 21 with a 23-33 record, the Bucks trail the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference by six games. Time may be running out on them this season. But the race is not for the swift. The proclamation made in this very space that these Bucks will one day be the cream of the East seems laughable now, so chuckle while you can.

As Wiggins has seemingly left Parker in the dust, living among the Tinder generation that values instant gratification, we must remember the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Parker possesses the spirit of the wise old turtle.

It’s not over for these Bucks, and life really hasn’t even begun for Parker.

“No, nothing has been surprising. I’ve had a lot of friends that played in the league so they pretty much prepared me for it,” Parker said before admitting that the travel can be a bit hectic at times. “The expectation is to be professional. And I pretty much had everything to be prepared for.”

Everything, except, suffering a tough injury that would cost him his rookie year. Set back just a tad, Parker has handled that like a champion.

And even in the limited sample size that we have on him and his career to this point, it’s fairly safe to assume that one day, Jabari Parker will be remembered as one too.

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NBA Daily: Surging HEAT Must Overcome Adversity

The Miami HEAT have been hit with a number of injuries at shooting guard. Can they stay hot?

Buddy Grizzard

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The Miami HEAT have surged to fourth in the Eastern Conference on the back of a 14-5 stretch since Dec. 9, including a seven-game win streak that ended with Monday’s 119-111 loss to the Bulls in Chicago. In the loss, shooting guard Tyler Johnson got his legs tangled with Robin Lopez and appeared to suffer a serious injury.

“I was scared,” said HEAT small forward Josh Richardson, who joined his teammates in racing down the court to check on Johnson. “You never want to see a guy, whether it’s on your team or the other team, down like that. I talked to him when he was in here [the locker room] and he said he didn’t know what was up.”

Coach Erik Spoelstra told pool reporters after the game that X-rays were negative. It was initially feared to be a knee injury, but Spoelstra said the knee is okay and the ankle is the area of concern. Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel tweeted that an MRI was not deemed necessary and Johnson will be listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game in Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the HEAT is facing a serious shortage at shooting guard, having lost Dion Waiters to season-ending knee surgery, Rodney McGruder to a left tibia stress fracture that will likely keep him out until February, and now Johnson. Miami has applied for a $5.5 million disabled player exception after losing Waiters, according to the Sun-Sentinel. HEAT power forward James Johnson said the team will be looking for other players to step up.

“I think it’s the next guy’s gonna step up like we always do,” said Johnson. “As we have guys going down we also have guys getting back and getting back in their groove [like] Justise Winslow. Hopefully, it’s going to give another guy a chance to emerge on this team or in this league.”

Johnson added that the loss to Chicago came against a hot team and the HEAT didn’t have the right mental approach or defensive communication to slow them down.

“Our communication was lacking tonight,” said Johnson. “I think our brains rested tonight and that’s not like us. Tilt your hat to Chicago. They’re shooting the hell out the ball. They didn’t let us come back.”

Richardson echoed the theme of communication and the inability to counter a hot-shooting team.

“We weren’t communicating very well and we were not giving them enough static on the three-point line,” said Richardson. “They’ve been the number one three-point shooting team in the league for like 20 games now. They ran some good actions that we were not reacting right to.”

Spoelstra referred to a turnover-riddled close to the first half as “disgusting” basketball and agreed that the defense let his team down.

“I don’t know what our record is in HEAT franchise history when we give up 120-plus,” said Spoelstra. “I would guess that it’s probably not pretty good.”

The good news for Miami is that it can try a combination of Richardson and Winslow at the wings, while Wayne Ellington has been shooting the leather off the ball from three this season (40.5 percent on over seven attempts per game). The HEAT is the latest team to attempt to defy history by making a serious run without a superstar player. To make that a reality and remain in the upper half of the East’s playoff bracket, Miami will have to personify the “next man up” credo.

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NBA Daily: Is It Time To Cash Out On Kemba Walker?

Should the Hornets get serious about trading Kemba Walker or risk losing him in 2019 for next to nothing?

Steve Kyler

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Is It Time To Sell?

Every professional sports team at some point has to decide when its time to cash out, especially if they have a star player heading towards free agency. The Charlotte Hornets are a team teetering on this decision with star guard Kemba Walker.

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. The Hornets are getting nothing of meaningful value in a trade for Walker if they decided to put him on the trade market—that’s something that will drive part of the decision. Check out these UK sports books with free bets!

The other part of the decision is evaluating the marketplace. This is where Charlotte may have an advantage that’s easy to overlook, which is the ability to massively overpay.

Looking ahead to the cap situations for the NBA in the summer of 2019, there doesn’t appear to be a lot worth getting excited over. While it’s possible someone unexpected goes into cap clearing mode to get space, the teams that project to have space in 2019 also project to have space in 2018, meaning some of that 2019 money could get spent in July and change the landscape even more.

But for the sake of discussion, let’s assume most of the 2019 cap space teams swing and miss on anything meaningful this summer and have flexibility the following summer. Not only will Walker be a name to watch, but guys like Boston’s Kyrie Irving, Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, Golden State’s Klay Thompson, Dallas’ Harrison Barnes, Detroit’s Tobias Harris, San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard and Cleveland’s Kevin Love can all hit unrestricted free agency.

That’s a pretty respectable free agent class.

While most of those names will likely stay where they are, especially if their teams shower them with full max contracts as most would expect, there are a few names that might make the market interesting.

The wrinkle in all of it is the teams projected to have space. Based on what’s guaranteed today, the top of the 2019 cap space board starts with the LA Clippers.

The Clippers currently have just Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari under contract going into 2019. They will have qualifying offers on Milos Teodosic and Sam Dekker, but that’s about it. If the Clippers play their cards right, they could be looking at what could be close to $48 million in usable cap space, making them the biggest threat to poach a player because of the LA marketplace. It should be noted, though, that DeAndre Jordan’s situation will have an impact here.

The Chicago Bulls come in second on the 2019 cap space list with just $35.77 million in cap commitments. The problem for the Bulls is they are going to have to start paying their young guys, most notably Zach LaVine. That’s won’t stop the Bulls from getting to cap space, it’s simply a variable the Bulls have to address this summer that could get expensive.

The Philadelphia 76ers could come in third on the 2019 cap space list, although it seems the 76ers may go all in this summer on re-signing guard J.J. Redick and a swing at a big fish or two. If the 76ers miss, they still have an extension for Ben Simmons to consider, but that shouldn’t impact the ability to get to meaningful space.

For the Hornets, those three situations have to be a little scary, as all of themff something Charlotte can’t offer – big markets and rosters (save maybe the Clippers) with potentially higher upside.

The next group of cap space markets might get to real salary cap room, but its more likely they spend this summer like say the Houston Rockets or are equal to less desirable situations like Sacramento (similar), Dallas (has Dennis Smith Jr), Atlanta (similar) or Phoenix (likely drafts a point guard).

That brings us back to the Hornets decision making process.

If the Hornets put Walker on the market, historically, teams get pennies on the dollar for high-level players headed to free agency. If traded, its more likely than not that Walker hits free agency and goes shopping. That’s the scary part of trading for an expiring contract unless you get the player early enough for him to grow attached to the situation, most players explore options. That tends to drive down the potential return.

The Hornets can also start extension discussions with Walker and his camp this summer and it seems more likely than not the Hornets will pay Walker the full max allowed under the collective bargaining agreement, which could be a deal north of $150 million and he could ink that in July.

It’s possible that someone offers the Hornets the moon for Walker. That has happened in the past. The Celtics gave the Cavaliers a pretty solid return for Irving, a player the Cavaliers had to trade. So it’s not out of the question real offers come in, especially with the NBA trade deadline approaching, but what’s far more likely is the Hornets wait out this season and try to extend Walker this summer.

League sources at the G-League Showcase last week, doubted that any traction could be had on Walker while admitting he’s a name to watch, despite however unlikely a trade seemed today.

The challenge for the Hornets isn’t as simple as cashing out of Walker, not just because the return will be low, but also because where would the franchise go from here?

It’s easy to say re-build through the draft, but glance around the NBA today – how many of those rebuild through the draft situations are yielding competitive teams? How many of them have been rebuilding for five years or more?

Rebuilding through the draft is a painfully slow and frustrating process that usually costs you a coach or two and typically a new front office. Rebuilding through the draft is time consuming and usually very expensive.

It’s easier to rebuild around a star already in place and the fact that Walker himself laughs off the notion of him being anywhere but Charlotte is at least a good sign and the Hornets have some time before they have to really make a decision.

At some point, Charlotte has to decide when to cash out. For the Hornets, the time to make that decision on Walker might be the February 8 trade deadline. It might also be July 1, when they’ll know whether Walker would sign a max contract extension.

If he won’t commit then, the Hornets have their answer and can use the summer to try an extract a package similar to what the Cavaliers got for Irving.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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Cavs Woes Reason For Concern, But Not Dismissal

Spencer Davies takes a look at the Cavs’ issues and why we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

Spencer Davies

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are the classic case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

When they’re on, they look like the defending three-time Eastern Conference Champions. When they’re off, they look like an old team that’s worn down and, at times, disinterested—and it gets ugly.

Take this past three weeks for example. After going on a tear of 18 wins in 19 games, the Cavs have dropped eight of 11 and are falling fast. Two of those three victories in that stretch were decided by four points or less against bottom-of-the-barrel teams in the East.

So what happened? For one, the schedule got significantly tougher. Beyond just the level of competition, Cleveland has been on the road for a long while. Nine of the games in this recent down period have been away games. The only time they’ve been home was for a quick second in mid-December and a short stay for New Years.

You’ve got to think about how that affects a psyche, not only from an on-court standpoint but also in regard to spending time with loved ones and family. LeBron James brought attention to his own homesickness on Christmas Day while he was in the Bay Area instead of in Northeast Ohio to celebrate the holidays. If it gets to him, you know it’s got to get to the other players as well. These guys are human beings with lives, and the rigors of travel can wear differently on people. Luckily for them, seven of their next nine games will be at Quicken Loans Arena.

With that being said, everybody in the NBA goes through it, so it’s no excuse for how flat the Cavs have been. Anybody on the team will tell you that, too. However, when you’re figuring out rotations and re-implementing players who had injuries, it’s not easy. This is exactly why nobody should envy Tyronn Lue.

He’s being asked to make room in his rotations and adjust on the fly as Cleveland gets guys back. When they went on that month-long run, the reason they had success was that the second unit really clicked. Dwyane Wade found his niche as the maestro of the bench bunch along with any mixture of Kyle Korver, Jeff Green, Cedi Osman, Channing Frye, and Jae Crowder. Lue had found the perfect group to spell LeBron James and company.

But then, Tristan Thompson came back and, with all due respect, it messed with their flow. The spacing is no longer there for Wade or Green to penetrate because the paint is clogged. It makes it easier on opposing defenses to just stick to Korver because there aren’t any other threatening shooters on the floor (besides Osman, maybe). Worst of all, the change basically kicked Frye—who has a plus-14 net rating, according to Cleaning The Glass—out of the rotation completely.

Deciding who plays and when is a tough job. Derrick Rose is set to come back soon. Iman Shumpert is coming along as well. Lue likes a 10-man rotation, but there are at least 12 players who deserve to be on that court. We already know Rose is expected to commandeer the second unit in Wade’s absence on back-to-backs. As for if Shumpert remains in Cleveland, who knows? It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on how this situation is managed moving forward.

Isaiah Thomas, on the other hand, is somebody the Cavs have been waiting on to return since the season started. Despite LeBron being LeBron and Kevin Love having as great of an offensive year as he’s ever had on the team, the starting unit lacks an extra punch. Thomas can be that shot in the arm, and he proved that in his debut at home against Portland and on the road in Orlando. There are two snags that both he and the team are going to hit before the 29-year-old returns to his All-Star form: 1) He’s got to get his legs under him to regain the consistency in his game and 2) His teammates are going to have to adjust to playing with him.

These are not easy things to do. Remember, aside from Jae Crowder, there is nobody on Cleveland’s roster that has played with Thomas before. Add in that he’s trying to re-discover his own game and that makes for a pretty bumpy road, at least out of the gate.

Start here—put Thompson in the starting lineup. As poor of a fit he’s been on the bench, he has shown promising signs of a developing chemistry with Thomas. It’s only been four games, but he loves having a partner in the pick-and-roll game. That’s clearly where you’ll get the most production out of him and how he can thrive. He’ll provide hustle, second chance opportunities, and a semi-decent big that can at least bother some of the competition’s drives to the basket. Sliding Love over to the four might change his game a little bit, but you can still get him going in the post before giving him chances as a shooter to work him outside-in.

The resulting effect helps the second unit as well. They’ll get one of either J.R. Smith or Crowder, depending on who would be relegated there. Both of those guys can use a spark to get them going. Because of Crowder’s familiarity with Thomas, let’s say Smith gets kicked out. Maybe that gets him out of the funk he’s in? It also allows for Frye, who hasn’t seen more than 20 minutes in a game since December 4, to get re-acclimated to a group he truly helped on both ends of the floor earlier in the year.

Outside of the need to make a move at the deadline, the Cavs can figure this out. It’s understood that they’re the fourth-worst defensive team in the NBA, but they’ve gone through these kinds of ruts at this time of year, specifically since LeBron came back. There might not be statistical evidence backing up the claim of any improvement, but the track record speaks for itself.

The panic button is being hit, but pump the brakes a bit. This isn’t anything new. The pieces are a little different and things look as bad as they ever have, but in the end, the result will likely be the same.

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