Masai Ujiri’s Next Move

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Fans of the Toronto Raptors breathed a sigh of relief this week when Kyle Lowry decided to stay north of the border and sign a four-year, $48 million deal.

Patrick Patterson followed suit re-upping with Toronto for three-years and $18 million.

It looks like another mid-season acquisition from last year, Greivis Vasquez, may be also coming back next season.

Throw in the trade for Lou Williams, and it appears Masai Ujiri is having a solid start to the NBA offseason.

On the other hand, there were two key areas that Masai indicated needed to be addressed at the end of last season: size at the wing position and a rim protector.

Although the moves mentioned above were necessary to ensure roster continuity from a 48 win season, Ujiri now needs to either find some bargain deals in free agency, or pull of a trade to fill out these two remaining areas.

So what’s more important? What are his options?

I believe that size on the wing position is the next area that needs to be addressed. The Raptors don’t have the cap space to flat out sign the likes of Luol Deng, Gordon Hayward, or Chandler Parsons; and I believe that Ujiri is comfortable with going into next season having Terrence Ross as his starting small forward. Ross showed flashes last season that he could be a legit starter in the NBA, which will allow Masai to focus on acquiring a second tier talent to come off the bench next season.

So who is left on the market that fits this mold? Here are three wings that I would like to see the Raptors make a run at.

Trevor Ariza

At 6’8” and 200 pounds, it would have been nice to have Ariza matched up against Joe Johnson in the playoffs. In Washington’s six game series with the Pacers, Ariza held Paul George to 19.6 points per game. Although George did put up a 39 point performance in game four, Ariza held George to 15 points or fewer three time in that series.

Ariza also was a contributor on the offensive end for the Wizards, averaging 14.4 points per game, and shooting 41% from three point land.

However, based on these numbers and with the type of money being thrown around this offseason (Jodie Meeks getting signing a 3 year, 19 million dollar deal), Ariza is probably out of Masai’s price range and will likely cash in on a strong contract year with either Washington or a championship contender.

Marvin Williams

It’s hard to imagine that Marvin Williams was drafted ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA draft. Although Williams has been a solid NBA player, he has never quite lived up to being selected #2 overall, averaging 10.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game.

At the age of 27, and having two mediocre season in Utah, Williams may be just what the doctor ordered for the Raptors of the bench.

At 6’9”, Williams fits the mold of a big wing, who could guard both the small forward and power forward positions for the Raptors. Coming off a season where Williams averaged 9 points and 5 rebounds per game, the Raptors can offer Williams a chance to play (first wing off the bench) and a chance to play in the East where it’s easier to make the playoffs.

The only issue with Williams is that with Patterson now re-signed, there may be a little bit of redundancy up front. His numbers were slightly below Patterson’s, so the Raptors may be able to get him at a similar price, possibly around 5.5 million a year.

Al-Farouq Aminu

When you look at the Raptors cap situation, Masai would need to work some serious cap magic to sign either Ariza or Williams next season.

That’s were Al-Farouq Aminu may be a good option.

After being drafted 8th overall in 2009, Aminu has been somewhat inconsistent early in his career. However, at only 24 years of age, and his ability to guard multiple positions, Aminu could be had on the cheap and in a winning environment, he may develop into a solid option off the bench for Toronto.

After making 3.7 million last season, my guess is Aminu won’t demand any more than 3-4 million next season, which would make him an affordable option for Ujiri.

2014 NBA Mock Draft

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1. Cleveland Cavaliers | Joel Embiid | C | Kansas | Yes, I know that injury issues might scare teams off, but the Cavs need to draft the best player, and the best player in this draft is Embiid. The chance to add Wiggins should be too much for the team to pass up, but with Anderson Varejao getting older – and already being injury-prone – they could draft Embiid as their center for the next decade… that is, assuming his body holds up. The past few drafts (Anthony Bennett and Dion Waiters) have shown this franchise is anything but predictable.

2. Milwaukee Bucks | Jabari Parker | SF | Duke | Parker might slip to Philly, but Parker is a “hometown” guy as he grew up just over a hour away from Milwaukee. He’s also the most NBA ready player in the draft and will average better than 20 points at least a handful of seasons in the NBA. Getting the chance to pair Parker with Giannis Antetokounmpo gives the Bucks a fantastic duo to build around.

3. Philadelphia 76ers | Andrew Wiggins | SF | Kansas | Somehow the player the Sixers covet will fall into their laps. Philly hasn’t been shy about their torrid love affair with Wiggins, and despite the Embiid question marks, they won’t have to trade up to get their man. Having the chance to build around current Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams, Noel and Wiggins is a great foundation for Philadelphia.

4. Orlando Magic | Dante Exum | PG | Australia | The chance to pair Victor Oladipo and Exum is a match made in heaven for the Orlando Magic. Julius Randle will probably win Rookie of the Year, but Exum is the better long-term fit.

5. Utah Jazz | Noah Vonleh | PF | Indiana | Utah will probably flip this pick for veteran help, but, if they do keep this pick, Vonleh could step in immediately and play alongside Derrick Favors. The two twin towers would give the Jazz a big edge on the glass. Julius Randle is the better player, but not a good fit on Utah’s roster.

6. Boston Celtics | Julius Randle | PF | Kentucky | This would be a great pick for the Celtics.. if they keep the pick. Look for Boston to be aggressive in trying to obtain Kevin Love and using this pick as leverage.

7. Los Angeles Lakers | Marcus Smart | PG | Oklahoma State | Smart is one tough hombre and he’s a sponge. Look for the Lakers to draft their point guard of the future and for Kobe Bryant to act as a great mentor for Smart.

8. Sacramento Kings | Aaron Gordon | PF | Arizona | Having Gordon drop to Sacramento – when he could go as high as #5 to Utah – is like manna falling from Heaven. Gordon is a bit undersized to play the 4 in the NBA, but when sandwiched between DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay he’ll fit in just fine. Gordon’s height (6’8″) scares me because he’ll have the dreaded tweener label, but at this point in the draft, he’s a nice pick.

9. Charlotte Bobcats | Dario Saric | PF | Croatia | I was tempted to give the Hornets another wing – Gary Harris and James Young are options here – but the Hornets need more bigs. Enter Sandman Saric.

10. Philadelphia 76ers | James Young | SF | Kentucky | Gary Harris is a player I’ve been high on all season, but his draft combine measurement of 6’2″ isn’t going to cut it in the NBA as a shooting guard… even if Philly’s point guard has height to spare. Young is a player who can step in right away and start for Philadelphia.

11. Denver Nuggets | Doug McDermott | SF | Creighton | This might be a bit high for McDermott, but he could also be great insurance for if danilo gallinari isn’t able to return to form after issues with his ACL’s that kept him off the court all of last season.

12. Orlando Magic | PJ Hairston | SG | NDBL | A bit of a stretch, but Orlando needs another young wing and Hairston is the best on the board.

13. Minnesota Timberwolves | Rodney Hood | SG | Duke | Kevin Martin will likely be packaged with Kevin Love this summer, so Hood could step in and start for Minnesota next season. Hood could also be long gone as he will be an option for Charlotte at #9 Philly at #10.

14. Phoenix Suns | Gary Harris | SG | Michigan State | Harris be a little small, but that won’t matter as the Suns rolled with two point guards for most of last season. He could act as insurance in case Eric Bledsoe bolts town or act as a perfect third guard.

15. Atlanta Hawks | T.J. Warren | SG | North Carolina State
16. Chicago Bulls | Nik Stauskas | SG | Michigan
17. Boston Celtics | Adreian Payne | PF | Michigan State
18. Phoenix Suns | Jerami Grant | SF | Syracuse
19. Chicago Bulls | Jusuf Nurkic | C | International
20. Toronto Raptors | Tyler Ennis | PG | Syracuse
21. Oklahoma City Thunder | Kyle Anderson | PG | UCLA
22. Memphis Grizzlies | Clint Capela | PF | Switzerland
23. Utah Jazz | Shabazz Napier | PG | UCONN
24. Charlotte Bobcats | K.J. McDaniels | SF | Clemson
25. Houston Rockets | Clearanthony Earl | SF | Wichita State
26. Miami Heat | Jahii Carson | PG | Arizona State
27. Phoenix Suns | Zach LaVine | SG | UCLA
28. Los Angeles Clippers | Spencer Dinwiddie | PG | Colorado
29. Oklahoma City Thunder | Damien Inglis | SG | France
30. San Antonio Spurs | Jabari Brown | SG | Missouri

Pat Riley Should Be Worried About This Summer

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Pat Riley delivered an epic rant to the media yesterday.

During his media scrum, he was full of pride and seemed confident in Miami’s ability this summer to retain LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

“I don’t think we’ve got to recruit Chris (Bosh), Dwyane (wade) or LeBron (James),” Riley boasted to the media . “I’m not dropping rings on the table for those guys. They could drop their own.”

It’s a great sentiment, but there are a lot of problems with his thinking.

Miami has gone to four consecutive NBA Finals since the Big 3 united in South Beach.

However, the Eastern Conference has offered little to no resistence.

While Miami has two NBA Championships over the past four years, people shouldn’t be so quick to forget San Antonio was a Kawhi Leonard free throw or a Tim Duncan rebound away from winning a championship last season.

That means the Miami Heat are pretty close to being the Buffalo Bills of the NBA.

This isn’t the kind of success LeBron James envisioned when he famously boasted, “Not one. Not two. Not three. Not four.”

The ugly reality for Miami and James is that Chris Bosh has hit his peak as a player and is now adjusting his game to one where he’s not in the paint as much and he prefers to set up shop out on the perimeter.

While Bosh is a talented defender when he chooses, his comments about wanting to get away from elbows isn’t an encouraging one for his future as an elite big man in the NBA.

Bosh has claimed he’s willing to leave money on the table this summer so it’s likely he comes back at a reduced rate which means he’s a nice piece moving forward. However, that hinges on Bosh leaving money on the table (again) and Miami also being able to find an imposing big man to play alongside Bosh.

Those are currently two big ifs.

Where things get scary is with Wade. He was limited to 54 games during the regular season in order for him to rest his body and be ready for a deep run in the playoffs. That plan didn’t work out as Wade shot 43 percent from the field in the Finals and only averaged 15.2 points.

Even with his 20 games he played in the playoffs, Wade’s total games this season was less than an 82 game regular season.

That’s not the kind of sidekick LeBron James envisioned when he bolted to South Beach.

It’s also not the kind of second option that will keep James around.

The problem is Wade is in the twilight of his career so asking him to turn down $42 million over the next two seasons is something he likely won’t do. However, without him taking less money, Miami won’t have room in the salary cap to sign James, Bosh, Wade and whatever reinforcements they need.

This is where things get sticky because Miami needs a lot of help. They need a bruising big man to pair alongside Bosh, a floor general to get everyone their touches and take that pressure off of James and they need to strengthen their bench.

During the NBA Finals this month the Heat basically relied on a seven-man rotation. That won’t cut it when the San Antonio Spurs leaned on their depth and went almost 10 deep most games depending on matchups.

While the likely situation is that Miami will retain James, Bosh and Wade, the reality is a lot of things need to swing Miami’s way for that to happen. Primarily the team needs to convince Wade into leaving a lot of money on the table when it’s likely Wade’s last contract in the NBA.

If that first domino doesn’t fall the right way – and it’s likely Wade takes his money – then Riley is in a lot of trouble this summer.

The Cleveland Cavaliers’ Dilemma

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In two weeks, the Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the 2014 NBA draft with the first overall pick for the third time in four seasons.

Last season the Cavaliers felt their days of drafting in the lottery were behind them. When they went out and added Andrew Bynum to the core of Irving, Thompson, Waiters, and Varejao, many felt Cleveland would be back in the playoffs for the first time since “the decision”.

Unfortunately for Dan Gilbert and Co., the Cavaliers season nose-dived and consisted of the following highlights:

• Andrew Bynum was a malcontent and was eventually traded for 2014 free agent Luol Deng
• There was a reported beef between Dion Waiters and Kyrie Irving during the season
• Number one overall pick, Anthony Bennett, looked lost and was a non-factor
• Head Coach Mike Brown was fired one year into a five year deal
• Key free agent signing, Jarrett Jack, was a bust after inking 4 year, $25 million deal
• The team finished 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 33-49 record

As bad a season as it was, there once again is now a light at the end of the tunnel for Cleveland. The basketball gods have decided to give the Cavaliers another chance at redemption, as they will now have their choice of Embiid, Wiggins or Parker on draft night.

Based on Chris Mannix’s latest mock draft, it appears the Cavaliers are down to either Embiid or Wiggins with the first pick and according to Chris Sheridan, Cleveland would even consider dealing the first overall pick for Kevin Love if they could.

But who should the Cavaliers draft? Or would they really consider trading the first overall pick?

Drafting Joel Embiid

When you look at the front line for the Cavaliers, you can make a strong case that Embiid is the right pick. Anderson Varejao will be 32-years-old next season, and has only played in 44% of games since 2010.

Recent draft picks, Tyler Zeller and Tristan Thompson are solid forwards, but don’t appear to move the needle, and their trade deadline acquisition, Spencer Hawes, is an unrestricted free agent.

Although Embiid has only played serious basketball since he was 16, he would step in right away and be an upgrade to the Cavaliers front court. According to NBA.com, the Cavaliers finished 17th in defensive rating this past season. The addition of Embiid would most certainly improve this ranking, and if Varejao can stay healthy to pair with Embiid, the Cavaliers would have a nice duo on the defensive end.

However, out of Embiid, Wiggins and Parker; Embiid is the riskiest pick. If the Cavaliers do draft Embiid, they will need to be certain that he has a clean bill of health. After the Bennett pick last year, the Cavaliers can’t afford to draft “Greg Oden”, instead of “Kevin Durant”.

Drafting Andrew Wiggins

Making the case for drafting Andrew Wiggins is very similar to that of Embiid. When you look at the Cavaliers wing players, an upgrade is needed. Luol Deng is a good bet to leave via free agency, Dion Waiters seems to have worn out his welcome, and the reserves consist of Alonzo Gee, C.J Miles and Anthony Bennett – not guys who put fear in opposing teams.

Like Embiid, there would be a learning curve for Wiggins, but with his speed and athleticism, he automatically upgrades the Cavaliers perimeter defense and will now make opposing guards work at both ends of the floor.

With a Wiggins and Irving backcourt, the Cavaliers would be set and can look to add pieces up front this offseason. According to BasketballInsiders.com, the Cavaliers could have up to 23.4 million dollars in cap space this offseason, and could also use Waiters, Thompson and Zeller as trade pieces to land a free agent.

Landing a Pau Gasol or Marcin Gortat in free agency would be an upgrade on the front line, and they could also possibly sign and trade Deng to bring in another starter like Chandler Parsons from Houston.

A starting line-up of Irving, Wiggins, Gasol/Gortat, Thompson and Parsons would get the Cavaliers back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Trade the Pick

One of the gutsiest moves the Cavaliers could pull off is trading the pick. If I’m David Griffin, the only chance I trade this pick is if I am blown away with an offer that would put my team into the Eastern Conference elite for not only next season, but for years to come.

The Kevin Love rumours are circulating, but there is zero chance he signs on with the Cavaliers after this season. So unless I get a guarantee from Love, I’m not even thinking of doing a deal with Minnesota.

Cleveland is not a prime destination for players, so the only chance they trade the pick is if they are able to acquire a superstar, with time left on his deal. Right now, when you circulate the market, there really is no big name superstar that is available, and worth the risk of trading the first overall pick. Of course there is LeBron and Durant, but we both know they are not being traded to Cleveland.

The only real name right now is Kevin Love, and with his sights set on LA in 2015, I think it’s a safe bet for Cleveland to stand pat.

Canada And Australia Should Play Regular International Matches

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AUSTRALIAN and Canadian basketball exist in very similar places despite being, geographically, so far from each other.

Both countries love the sport, both have a stack of players and coaches who we can claim as “world class” talents and we both have several NBA first round picks either in the league or coming in upcoming classes.

We also have struggling national leagues, both called NBL, and for this we can blame the NBA and our strong European links which allow so many elite players to claim foreign passports and double their wages on the continent.

With so much in common, why don’t we play regular international matches against each other?

For all the common ground we share, I would contend, that the Australian and Canadian men’s teams play arguably the least matches of any major national teams.

This shouldn’t be the case considering the depth of talent in our teams and the wealth of our societies – it shouldn’t be hard to pull together national teams, find some affordable venues and play an annual series, especially if we played in Canada and used took players from the US college system, where both nations have a number of talented players.

Timing would be a major issue but between July and early September surely there could be a workable time for a three or five game series.

Maybe we could organise some games before or after the NBA Las Vegas Summer League so to give lesser know players a chance to play serious games near NBA scouts.

If one could be a little more imaginative – why aren’t we creating a four-nations type tournament with Commonwealth cousins in Great Britain and New Zealand.

Those two nations are truly emerging basketball countries and both can claim NBA and US college players.

I’m far from the first person to propose this sort of tournament but at this time of year, as we prepare for the NBA Draft I can’t help but think about how good this could be for all four nations.

Sure it’s not easy for Canada or Great Britain to pull together a team and fly to Sydney or Auckland but there are enough Australians and New Zealanders playing in the NBA and college basketball to be able to bring together strong sides – you could almost make the same argument for British players considering their recent advancements.

Can you imagine the rivalries which could be created and the opportunity to see young stars in action?

If we had already made this series last year we could have had Dante Exum (Australia) playing against Andrew Wiggins (Canada) – a matchup which a year later would be much talked about.

Also TV providers in all four nations are always looking for affordable sporting content so providing a series of matches so in time it could also offer both additional exposure and maybe even a little extra revenue for the four federations.

In 2017 international basketball will undergo an enormous re-generation as FIBA adopts a world cup soccer style qualification system within each continent where national teams play a series of qualifying matches to qualify for the FIBA basketball world cup over a number of years.

Gone will be those forgettable qualifying tournaments and in their place will be regular international windows each year in which nations like Canada and Australia will suddenly need to be ready and able to bring together national team squads to play must-win matches against their neighbors.

This will be a massive cultural change for our national bodies, both in cost and in organisational requirements.

Australia already plays an annual series against China called the Sino Series, this year’s installment is currently in session with Australia winning the first game in overtime.

The Boomers side just one European-based player and a few US college players – the bulk of the team comes from Australia’s NBL but the first game was still compelling viewing.

With the 2016 Olympic qualifications on the horizon, then the Olympics themselves – all nations will need to get used to regular games.

Why not get ready now and lock in such a series?

The San Antonio Spurs: What Could Have Been

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The NBA Draft Lottery was held on May 20th and the Cleveland Cavaliers received the first pick in the 2014 NBA draft.

For the third time in the past four years, the Cavs will again be picking first overall come June.

One day later, the San Antonio Spurs took a 2-0 series lead on the Oklahoma City Thunder with a 35 point throttling and now look to be well on their way to their fifth NBA Finals appearance during their remarkable 17 year playoff streak.

The Spurs were last at the draft lottery 17 years ago. During the 1996-1997 season, David Robinson played only six games before suffering a fractured left foot; the Spurs finished 20-62 that season, finishing with the third worst record in the NBA.

Much to the chagrin of the Vancouver Grizzlies and Boston Celtics, the Spurs landed the top pick in the 1997 NBA draft and selected the prized power forward from Wake Forest; Tim Duncan.

Since that draft, the Spurs have not stepped foot in the lottery; wondering many to think just how have the Spurs survived without a lottery pick since 1997. As we have seen this season with the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, generally there is a shelf life on winning and teams eventually need to hit the reset button for a season or two.

So, how have the Spurs been so successful for so long? Why haven’t they had to hit the reset button? Much of the well-deserved credit goes to Gregg Popovich and the Spurs executives. Over the past 17 years, time and time again have made the right personnel decisions. But what if they whiffed on their big three? It’s always fun to wonder what could have been if San Antonio did not win the lottery back in 1997, or if they missed out on picking Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili.

Scenario #1 – Spurs pick 3rd in the 1997 NBA draft

It’s hard to imagine where the Spurs would have been had they not landed the first overall pick. However, if the ping pong balls didn’t fall their way and they stayed at number three, who would they have drafted? Let’s assume the top two picks go the same way; Duncan goes first overall and Keith Van Horn goes second. The Spurs finished the season with Will Purdue and Carl Herrera on their front line, so it’s safe to assume they were looking to draft a big man. Can you imagine if the Spurs drafted Tony Battie to fill their big man void? Battie was the next big man taken in the 1997 NBA draft going 5th overall to the Denver Nuggets. Although having a serviceable 14 year career, Battie finished with career averages of 6.1 points and 5.1 rebounds per game; with zero all-star appearances.

Even if the Spurs decided to draft Chauncey Billups or Antonio Daniels, who were drafted 3rd and 4th respectively in 1997, it’s safe to assume winning a championship during the 1998-1999 season would have been unlikely without Duncan.

Scenario #2 – Spurs pass on Tony Parker with the 28th Pick in 2001

With the 28th pick in the 2001 NBA draft, the San Antonio Spurs select… Gilbert Arenas! With Avery Johnson leaving via free agency in 2001, the Spurs were looking to add depth at the point guard position. After Parker was drafted 28th overall, Arenas was the next point guard taken at #30 by the Golden State Warriors. While Arenas finished his career as a 3x All-Star, injuries and off the court issues derailed a once promising career.

One could argue that if drafted into the Spurs system, Arenas probably would have had a better NBA career by playing with Duncan and being coached by Popovich. However, it’s also safe to assume that the Spurs would not have been as successful with Arenas as their floor general.

If you had a 2001 draft re-do, you could argue that based on his career Tony Parker would have been the first overall pick and the Spurs got him at #28.

Scenario #3 – Spurs pass on Manu Ginobili with the 57th pick in the 1999 NBA draft

What if the Spurs decided not to draft Ginobili with the 57th overall pick in 1999 draft? What if they traded out of the second round, or just stashed their draft pick in Europe with never the hope of bringing him over?

Ginobili has since become a two-time all-star, the 2007-2008 sixth man of the year, three-time NBA Champion and generally known as the key piece in the Spurs dynasty era.

Not taking anything away from Duncan or Parker, but Ginobili’s savvy play and clutch performances have been vital to the Spurs success over the past decade.

Spurs management either totally lucked out in 1999, or new exactly what they were doing when they drafted Ginobili; as you can pretty much guarantee that there are only a few late second round picks that even make it to the NBA, let alone become future hall of famers.

Elton Brand, Steve Francis, Baron Davis, Lamar Odom and Johnathan Bender were the top five picks in 1999; again it’s quite possible that if the draft were re-done today, Ginobili could arguably have been the first overall pick.

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.

Toronto Raptors Sign Dwane Casey To A Three-Year Contract

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The Toronto Raptors made the wise decision of giving Dwane Casey a three-year contract this afternoon.

Financial terms of the deal were not available.

This season was supposed to be a rebuilding season. Even the most loyal Raptor fan would have been crazy to think the team that broke training camp had a shot at the playoffs.

When asked before Game 7 if he thought he’d be in that position back in October, Casey chuckled and told the reporter, “I would take those odds, and I would probably say you’re probably over-medicated.”

But somehow Casey took a rag-tag group of players and led them to an Atlantic Division title and a thrilling first round series where they pushed the Brooklyn Nets to seven games.

Casey earned the respect of his fellow coaches and the media which was shown by the fact he finished fifth in Coach of the Year voting this season.

Players are willing to play hard for Casey because they have earned his trust and respect.

“One thing I respect about Coach Casey, man, he’s been consistent,” DeMar DeRozan recently told the media. “He’s been the same Dwane Casey since he’s been here. Preached the same thing, told us to stick with the same principles and they’ll work. We did it, and everything he said came together like he said it would. And you gotta respect coach Casey, he never changed up. You could go in his office, knock on his door, talk to him whenever, you could text him. He’s a player’s coach. He’s a great dude. Sometimes you don’t even look at him like a coach because you could go up to him and talk to Dwane about any situation. I think that’s what helped us a lot.”

It’s taken some time to see results – just last season a Pound The Rock mantra was a focal point for the team – but now that players see the results they have firmly bought into what Casey has been selling.

Greivis Vasquez struggled through injury issues earlier this season while playing for the Sacramento Kings. After getting healthy and finding a consistent role under Casey, he flourished.

Playing for Casey was something Vasquez appreciated and won’t be quick to forget.

“This guy did so much and really got us ready,” Vasquez boasted about Casey to the media earlier today. “As a leader, you gotta give him a lot of credit. He did a great job. He did a great job, I thought we got better throughout the season. We gradually got better and the coaching staff was great. He should be back, to be honest, because what a great job he has done.”

Yesterday Casey was already talking about coaching the Raptors next season. He stopped himself and joked, “I keep talking about next season and using we.”

“I think [Casey will] be back,” Kyle Lowry told reporters after Game 7. “Simple as that. Matter of fact, I’m sure he’ll be back.”

Clearly the players wanted Casey back and Casey wanted to be back.

It was a smart and classy move for the Raptors to tie up Casey for the next three seasons today and not making the respected head coach hang in the wind.