Dante Exum Isn’t The Enigma Most People Claim He Is

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Everyone in the NBA world seems to be asking about Dante Exum right now.

I’ve seen the reports calling him an “international man of mystery,” and while I see the fun in such a title, there is plenty of information out there about Dante Exum if teams and members of the media are willing to pick up the phone.

In the past few months I’ve heard from a bunch of respected basketball people here in Australia who have been taking calls from NBA GMs and scouts about Exum, some have even had a few quiet questions about Ben Simmons, who is still a few years from NBA eligibility.

But I wanted to give readers my thoughts on Exum from my time dealing with him as an Australian journalist.

He has to get stronger, has to improve his jump shot and will take time to adapt to playing 82 games – you could say that about everyone in the draft.

But mentally, psychologically I have no doubt he is ready to be a pro and will make whoever drafts him better.

I’ve only chatted with Exum a couple of times and same with his dad, Cecil Exum, who is a highly respected person within basketball in Victoria, my home state.

Each time I’ve walked away (or hung up the phone) believing Exum has a good head on his shoulders, a great family behind him and a strong heart in his chest.

The Exum story is a good one and one which would not be foreign to families through the western world.

His dad came out to Australia after a successful college career with North Carolina.

He was a respectable, hard-working import who took care of his teammates and generally did the right thing in all circumstances.

As such he kept getting contracts and made a good career in the Australian NBL.

Along the way he did what several US imports at that time did, he decided to make his life in Australia and as such went on to work in Victoria, coach and play in our state league competitions while he and his wife, Desiree, raised their kids, one of which is Dante.

Talk about Dante’s talents only started a few years back when he made our under-17 national team, previously he had played at junior level for Victoria and looked a promising talent.

About that time the Australian national team, known as the Boomers, were coached by a bloke named Brett Brown, you will now know him as coach of Philadelphia 76ers.

Brown knew how good Dante could be so he promoted him to the Boomers training camp, even though he still hadn’t turned 16.

Once in the national team set-up and playing against international talent, people both here and overseas realised just how good he could be.

The first time I spoke with Dante he was at a camp for the Australian under-19 side which was in Europe and about to head to the world championships.

At the time he was projected to be a possible NBA draft pick but his future plans were completely unknown, as such there was almost no media coverage of him in Australia.

When we spoke the team had recently found out one of their best shooters, a guy named Mirko Djeric, was going to miss the tournament as he had been shot in the leg at a house party in Sydney.

When I asked Dante about it he spoke like a seasoned veteran, saying how much their friend would be missed and that the team would be playing for him.

That seems like a response anyone could make but several months later I was in Sydney for the Australian league (known as NBL) preseason tournament where Djeric was playing with Townsville Crocs.

During the Crocs first game, I noticed Exum and two of his Australian under-19 teammates quietly walk into the stadium.

At half time those same boys went and greeted Djeric’s very nervous family who were watching his first serious game since returning from the shooting.

His family had been riding each of Djeric’s shots, each time he hit the floor or took a foul.

But when those boys came over to them they all exchanged hugs and kisses like long-lost family – turning up at that game said more about Exum and his teammates than any conversation could tell you.

I spoke to him a few months later after ESPN’s Chad Ford listed him third in his 100 players list.

Exum was training with the Boomers and loving the chance to battle NBA guards Patty Mills and Matt Dellavedova and European veterans like Joe Ingles and Brad Newley.

He seemed more excited about being in the national team setup than anything else.

At this time talk was building that he would definitely be heading to the NBA but Exum made it clear he was torn both ways between having the college experience his dad had at North Carolina or fast-tracking his career to the NBA.

His biggest learning curve was facing the physical strength of playing against men like Mills and Dellavedova – but from all accounts I received Dante more than held his own.

When ESPN reported in January that Exum would enter the draft, suddenly every person with a camera or microphone went looking for Dante.

He was in Canberra, training at the Australian Institute of Sport, so was quite hard to find.

I sent him a couple of texts asking if he had a few minutes to talk, I didn’t hear anything from him all day until just before 4pm when he called me back saying he was more than happy to talk and was held up training.

This time he made it clear he had noted the extra analysis US college stars like Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins had faced during their freshman seasons – he knew it was time for him to go pro.

In the past year I have talked to lots of people who have worked closely with Exum, so often the conversation begins with “don’t report this but Dante did this”.

I won’t break those confidences but each time they told me stories of him going the extra mile for a teammate, telling volunteers or officials he appreciated their work and similar gestures.

Dante has been a heart-beat away from the NBA for over a year now but hasn’t let it change his values – if that isn’t the best possible indication of his ability to handle the NBA, then I don’t know what is.

Karma And The NBA Draft Lottery

Karma is the spiritual law of moral causation. While I don’t subscribe to any religion, I firmly believe everything happens for a reason. Being kind has done me more good than harm.

That said, I got a kick out of Bill Simmons’ NBA Draft Lottery Karma Rankings. He deemed the Cleveland Cavaliers to be the team least deserving of a top pick. He yearned to see them fall to 13 because of their recent draft lottery luck (four top-four picks, including two first overall, in the last three drafts) and general ineptitude as a franchise.

Then the Cavaliers won the draft lottery. Again. With a 1.7 per cent chance. They didn’t even need the team owner’s son to represent them for luck this time.

Bill Simmons reacts to the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the draft lottery for the second straight year

People were quick to cry foul on Twitter.

#Cavspiracy became a thing. So did #CavsGoodKarma.

I am partial to the latter. Unlike the previous three seasons of the post-LeBron James era in Cleveland, the Cavaliers received relatively few ping-pong combinations. That’s because they tried to win games this season (keyword: tried). They finished with a 33-49 record, good for ninth in the Eastern Conference.

The other two clubs in contention for the first overall pick were the Philadelphia 76ers, who tied the record for the longest losing streak in NBA history with 26 consecutive losses, and the Milwaukee Bucks, who managed to find even more ways to fail.

I’d rather see the top pick go to a team that made a late playoff push than a team that spent the year ‘Riggin’ for Wiggins,’ ‘Sorry for Jabari’ or ‘Conced[ing] for Embiid.’

It doesn’t hurt that the Cavaliers owner is a positive guy. Philanthropic endeavours aside, Dan Gilbert blogs about bright snow and sunshine. That’s a man doing karma right.

But then again, the rest of the draft lottery went as expected. This season’s worst teams by record (save for the New York Knicks and Detroit Pistons) still get dibs in the highly anticipated draft next month.

And while karma may (or may not) win a team the lottery, it’s what they do with the pick that matters. Cleveland, you’re on the clock.

It’s Time To Change The NBA’s Video Review Policy

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Technology has done so much for basketball, especially the NBA.

It has allowed the league to beam its games all over the world and reap billions of dollars in the process.

It has also allowed players to hone their fitness, reduce their travel time and improve their recovery and the number of years they can play at NBA level and make NBA wages for longer.

I love my NBA League Pass and also love wearing my NBA merchandise shipped straight from the US to my home in Australia.

But when it comes to the NBA’s video review system – it’s time to go old school and place the power back in the referees’ hands.

LA Clippers coach Doc Rivers called for video review to be scraped following what he called a blown decision which contributed to his side’s game 5 Western Conference semi-final loss to Oklahoma City Thunder.

Rivers was “pissed” about a video review decision late in the game in which Clippers forward Matt Barnes looked to have stripped Thunder guard Reggie Jackson of the ball as he drove the basket attempting to take the lead for his side.

Replays appeared to show Barnes hitting the hands of Jackson as he went for a layup with Jackson then appearing to touch the ball after it came loose, hence knocking it out of bounds.

The referee called no foul on the play but when reviewed by the referees they gave the ball to the Thunder.

I don’t think the league needs to completely scrap the system but it needs to cut down the areas big brother in which can have oversight.

Namely, the video needs to be used for when referees can’t make a firm decision on whether a shot is a two or three pointer and when it comes to decisions on whether a shot left a player’s hands before the shot clock expired.

In those areas video can give comprehensive information which the referee’s human brain cannot match.

But when it comes to deciding fouls and out of bounds calls – these are areas which, for the most part, require a human decision.

Sometimes the two-dimensional cameras give us a clear decision, other times they don’t and because of that we should leave it to the referees to make the call.

Now I hear you all saying that video replays can show a player hitting another player’s arm and can show a player stepping out of bounds or touching the ball with the tip of his finger.

But the video is not always conclusive and can often give contradictory information when shown at full speed or slow motion.

The referee making a decision on the court gives an immediate and, for the most part, fair outcome.

Yes, referees can be swayed by crowds but that is just an element of the human condition and nobody in the NBA is better conditioned at playing down crowd noise than NBA referees as they face such crowds every night over the season.

We have to fight to keep our game human and make sure the outcome of games is not handed over to robots and computers.

Pro sport is at its best when we have humans competing against humans while other humans try to shape events (i.e. coach) and more humans try to keep them playing by the rules (referees).

The NBA needs to looks deeply into its business-minded, corporate heart and score a win for the humanists.

We need an NBA in which games are decided by players and where decisions, for better or worse, are made by referees.

Plus it will never be much fun yelling at computers – “You suck, R2D2” isn’t near as satisfying as “You’re blind, Joey Crawford”.

A Look At The NBA Playoffs: Round Two

The 2013-14 NBA season is reaching its climax, with the eight teams remaining set to begin their series this week. With some of the very best players in the business set to go head to head in some extremely intriguing matchups, it may prove difficult to pick the winners. The latest odds at bettingsports.com will keep you up to date on the odds for every match, so you can pick your winners.

Los Angeles Clippers v Oklahoma City Thunder

In perhaps the most exciting matchup of the round, the two star-studded teams face off against each other. The Clippers will be trying not to let the scandal involving ex-owner Donald Sterling affect their game, with leading talent such as Blake Griffin and Chris Paul set to lead the charge. The team has never reached the conference final round, and will be looking to make history in this series.

The Thunder, however, has a star duo of their own in Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, and on top of that, a much better defense than the Clippers. Oklahoma City will look to make the 4 home game advantage count and defeat the Clippers.

Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets

After seeing off the Charlotte Bobcats in just four games in the previous round, the Heat will have the fresher legs going into this series. As well as that, Miami has the best player on the planet in Lebron James, along with other star players such as Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat will be looking to defeat Brooklyn and go on to win a successive NBA title.

However, the fact that the Nets swept the Heat in the regular season is no fluke, and with experience on their side and questions over Wade’s injury status, the Nets will be quietly confident of springing a surprise.

Indiana Pacers v Washington Wizards

The first and second picks in the 2010 draft face off in this matchup, with Washington’s John Wall and the Pacers’ Evan Turner matching up respectively. The strides that the Wizards made in their 4-1 series win over Chicago in the previous round could see them in good form, however, the Pacers’ roster is genuinely championship class when it is clicking. The pure ability of John Wall may be enough to see the Wizards advance in this one.

San Antonio Spurs v Portland Trail Blazers

Experience may be key in this matchup, and the Spurs have it in abundance. Players such as Tony Parker and Tim Duncan know exactly how to handle the pressure of the playoffs and the Spurs have an extremely good defense. On the other hand, the Blazers played extremely well in their first round matchup with the Rockets, and their outstanding pick and roll duo of Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge will cause the Spurs problems.

To keep updated on the latest news, check here for more articles.

Toronto’s Attention Switches To Kyle Lowry

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With news leaking last night that the Toronto Raptors gave Dwane Casey an additional three years as the head coach of the team, the next big domino to fall for the Raptors is what they will do with all-pro point guard Kyle Lowry.

Having the ability to pick what team he plays for is an opportunity Lowry has craved since he entered the NBA.

It’s also likely his final chance to sign a big contract due to his age so he needs to take that into account when he’s making his decision.

As much as it will pain fans of the team – and probably the front office as they dangle in the wind – Lowry’s next contract is something that will take until at least mid-July to sort itself out.

Lowry has earned the right to test the market after playing for three teams during his eight years in the NBA. Very few organizations, coaches or teammates have been loyal to him, so he doesn’t need to be loyal to an organization of a fanbase.

Granted, the fans in Toronto love Lowry, but the Raptors are an organization that would have traded Lowry to the New York Knicks if the Knicks hadn’t gotten cold feet. The idea that Lowry should be loyal to Toronto is laughable.

A number of teams – the Los Angeles Lakers and Sacramento Kings pop to mind – have a need for a top flight point guard and could have the cap room to offer Lowry a rich contract.

The Raptors need to be patient and see what the market dictates while also keeping an eye on other pieces like Reggie Jackson (restricted free agent) and Isaiah Thomas (unrestricted free agent).

Both players are young, talented point guards who may come cheaper than Lowry.

Jackson has played well in a reserve role for the Oklahoma City Thunder and he played well in a starting role while filling in for an injury Russell Westbrook. He has a strong bond with Kevin Durant but he has also stated a desire this summer to try to secure a starting role via free agency.

It’s also worth noting that Oklahoma City probably won’t match an offer of more than $8 million per season due to already being pushed close to the salary cap.

Both Jackson and Thomas serve as solid Option B’s for the Raptors. Or, if Lowry’s asking price gets too steep, they may serve as better options than retaining Lowry.

The first option for the Raptors remains keeping Lowry; it’s just a matter of seeing what the market dictates this summer.