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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.

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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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Grizzlies trade Jonas Valanciunas to Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Andrew Lopez, the New Orleans Pelicans are shipping guard Eric Bledsoe, center Steven Adams, the Nos. 10 and 40 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft, and two future first-round picks to the Memphis Grizzlies for center Jonas Valanciunas and the Nos. 17 and 51 picks of this week’s upcoming draft. So, the Pelicans are giving up the Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick. Valanciunas, the 29-year-old veteran center, averaged 17.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game in 62 games played throughout the 2020-21 season. He also shot 59 percent from the field. The seven-foot Lithuanian also ranks fourth overall in true shooting percentage (.616) among active players. On July 11, 2019, Valanciunas signed a three-year, $45 million contract with the Grizzlies. He is set to earn $4 million next season.

Additionally, in 71 games played last season, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. The six-foot-one guard also shot 42.1 percent from the field in the 2020-21 season. On November 23, 2020, as part of a four-team trade, Bledsoe and Adams were traded to the Pelicans from the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with two future first-round picks and the right to swap two additional first-round picks. Last season, in 71 games played, Bledsoe averaged 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. His field goal percentage was 42.1 percent as well. The 11-year veteran is set to earn $18,125,000 in the 2021-22 season. Before he was traded to New Orleans, on March 4, 2019, the guard signed a four-year, $70 million extension. He earned his first All-Defensive second-team selection in the 2019-20 season.

Moreover, in 58 games played last season, Adams averaged 7.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. The six-foot-eleven center ranks fifth among active players for effective field goal shooting percentage (.591). The eight-year veteran also ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage, with an active statistic of 14 percent. On November 23, 2020, the same day Adams was traded to the Pelicans, he signed a two-year, $35 million extension. For next season, he is projected to earn $17,073,171. To add to this trade news, the Grizzlies and Pelicans are swapping second-round picks in this year’s draft, too. Referencing NBA.com’s “Consensus Mock Draft” article, with the No. 10 pick of the draft, the Pelicans were originally expected to draft either Josh Giddey or Davion Mitchell at this number. However, plans have now changed.

From ESPN’s Bobby Marks, the trade will not be finalized until August 6th, and this is because of the annual salaries of these said players. Free agency will begin on August 2, 6:00 p.m. (EST). Furthermore, per Spotrac’s 2021-22 NBA salary cap table, next season’s luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. The team’s current available luxury tax space is $22,555,195. The Pelicans and Grizzlies have a salary cap maximum of $112,414,000. Brandon Ingram, Bledsoe, and Adams had a combined cap percentage of 39.2 percent. Considering that Bledsoe and Adams are traded away, this will clear up $35,198,171 of dead cap space.

Yesterday, CBS Sports reported the news pertaining to Lonzo Ball’s desire to remain in New Orleans. With extra cap space, the team is expected to re-sign the 23-year-old guard. Likewise, for the Grizzlies, the teams has a luxury tax space of $37,019,952. Their current cap space is $8,321,229. As stated before, the transactions have not yet been finalized. The Grizzlies’ outgoing cap is now $14 million, but from the contracts of Adams and Bledsoe, they are bringing in $35,198,171.

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NBA Trade Rumors: Jazz considering trade offers for Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neale, and No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft

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Per one interesting announcement from Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer, the Utah Jazz are open to trading forward Bojan Bogdanovic, forward-guard Joe Ingles, small forward Royce O’Neale, and the No. 30 pick of the 2021 NBA Draft. Fischer stated, “The Utah Jazz are known to be one of the few teams actually searching to move playoff-tested talent. Retaining Mike Conley is an offseason priority, sources said, and the Jazz have held numerous discussions with teams around the league about offloading salary to create for Conley in free agency.” Point guard Mike Conley is set to become a free agent this offseason. Though, general manager Justin Zanik will aim to re-sign the 33-year-old guard in the coming weeks. Conley earned $34.5 million in the 2020-21 season.

“League personnel most often mention Joe Ingles as the Jazz wing to watch, and Bojan Bogdanovic and Royce O’Neale are also considered available for trade as Utah narrows its focus towards building a contender around Donovan Mitchel. The Jazz are also open to discuss trading their No. 30 pick, sources said.” In the 2020-21 season, in 72 games played, Bogdanovic averaged 17 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 1.9 assists per game. On May 1, 2021, in the team’s 106-102 victory over the Toronto Raptors, the six-foot-seven Croatian scored a season-high 34 points, shooting 12-for-22, and he finished his performance with four rebounds and four assists as well. On July 7, 2019, he signed a four-year, $73 million contract with the Jazz.

In 67 games played last season, Ingles averaged 12.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.7 assists per game. The six-foot-eight forward is set to earn $14 million in the 2021-22 season. Plus, among the mentioned players, Royce O’Neale has contributed the least. In 71 games played last season, he averaged seven points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.5 assists. On January 19, 2020, the forward signed a four-year, $36 million extension with the team. He will earn $8.6 million next season. According to The Athletic, in the team’s seventh workout for draft prospects, they viewed Quentin Grimes, David Duke, Matt Mitchell, and a few other players. In the first round, if the team chooses not to draft any of the players they are holding workouts for, the organization will trade the No. 30 pick.

Just for a reminder, retrieved from Spotrac, the 2021-22 NBA luxury tax threshold is $136,606,000. Utah’s active roster cap is $133,284,695, the maximum cap is $112,414,000, and the current cap space is $72,990,215. Furthermore, center Rudy Gobert currently has the highest guaranteed contract on the team. On December 20, 2020, Gobert signed a five-year, $205 million extension with the organization. Gobert is set to earn $35.3 million in the coming season, whereas Donovan Mitchell will earn $28.1 million. Gobert and Mitchell combined consume 47.6 percent of the team’s salary cap. For the upcoming 2021-22 season, the Jazz have a guaranteed total of $129,719,453. Based on the team’s future outlook, the Jazz will have to make a trade or two in order to retain their star players. This should go without saying.

NBA Analysis Network reported a few days ago that a potential Jazz-Knicks trade target is Bojan Bogdanovic. Greg Patuto proposed the Knicks receiving Bogdanovic, while the Jazz would receive Kevin Knox II, and the Nos. 19 and No. 32 picks of the 2021 NBA Draft. Now, this could still happen at some point during this draft week, but then again, sports bettors and fans alike understand that these news reports could be just rumors. The most intelligent, unforthcoming general managers know not to leave bread crumb trails for the media, especially leading into the offseason. They will do everything necessary to protect their foolproof plans.

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Raptors, Pacers, Timberwolves, Kings, and Cavaliers among teams showing interest in Ben Simmons

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According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, five teams have shown interest in pursuing Ben Simmons from the Philadelphia 76ers. Fischer reported, “Cleveland, Indiana, Minnesota, Sacramento, and Toronto all showed interest in acquiring the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year.” Furthermore, the teams are wanting Simmons to change position from point guard to forward. “Multiple executives from those teams, when contacted by Bleacher Report, mentioned their excitement at incorporating Simmons as a play-making forward—not at the point guard position he’s played in Philadelphia.” The six-foot-eleven guard averaged 14.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 6.9 assists in the 2020-21 NBA season. This might sound fine for a young rookie, but as a five-year player, these aforementioned statistics were career lows.

However, the 25-year-old also earned his third NBA All-Star selection and second All-Defensive first-team selection last season. After a less than mediocre performance in his third postseason of his NBA career, the majority of 76ers’ fans would agree that it’s now time for Simmons to have a change in scenery. With a regular season record of 49-23 (.681), the No. 1 ranked 76ers in the Eastern Conference entered the conference semifinals as favorites over the Atlanta Hawks. Leading into this series, some NBA analysts were predicting Philadelphia to prevail four games to two. The 2016 first overall pick was expected to limit Trae Young in scoring and rally his team from point deficits, but none of this ever manifested.

Pertaining to postseason averages, Simmons had a playoff series-low of 9.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals against the Hawks. This lackluster showing proved to be a more significant downfall for the superstar, considering Simmons had only five points, eight rebounds, and 13 assists in Game 7 versus the Hawks. In the 2019-20 season, he averaged 2.1 steals per game, leading all other players in the league. Moreover, Simmons currently ranks sixth in the NBA for active player triple-doubles (32). With a total of 32 career triple-doubles, he ranks 13th on the all-time list, tied with Clippers’ guard Rajon Rondo.

On July 16, 2019, Simmons signed a five-year, $169.65 million contract extension with the 76ers. He is set to earn $30.5 million in the 2021-22 season. Among these teams interested in Simmons, Cavs’ Kevin Love has the fourth largest contract guarantee of $91.4 million. Love is due to earn $31.3 million next season, and the 13-year veteran’s contract consumes 26 percent of the team’s salary cap. He could be traded this offseason. Timberwolves’ Karl-Anthony Towns has a contract guarantee of $130.8 million. The 25-year-old Wolves center will earn $31.6 million in the upcoming season.

Plus, Kings’ 2017 first-round pick De’Aaron Fox has a guaranteed contract of $171.1 million. Fox will earn $28.1 million next season. To add to that, Raptors’ Pascal Siakim has a contract guarantee of $131.4 million. Not to mention, reported by Yahoo Sports via trade rumors yesterday, the Golden State Warriors are a potential trade partner for Toronto. The Warriors could make a move on Siakim, clearing up space on the Raptors for Simmons. Per Spotrac, the 2021-22 season cap maximum is $112,414,000. In the coming weeks, one of these said five teams might make a substantial trade offer to the 76ers’ organization that they cannot refuse.

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