With the NBA draft only four days away, the chatter between team executives and scouts is building. Here’s what we’re hearing:
O.J. Mayo worked out in front of five of the first six teams in the draft at Tim Grover’s training center in Chicago on Saturday. Chicago, New York, Minnesota, Seattle and Memphis all sent representatives to the workout.
Mayo didn’t scrimmage against anyone in the session, which made it difficult to get much of a read on him. He shot well, one spectator said, finished strong around the basket and showed off his high skill set – or at least as much as he could in the limited workout.
If the Minnesota Timberwolves keep the No. 3 pick it appears they’ve focused – at least for now – on taking Mayo. League sources also say the Los Angeles Clippers could offer to package their No. 7 pick along with their 2009 first-round pick (protected) and possibly the future pick they are owed by Minnesota (top 10 protected) to move up and select Mayo.
French forward Nicolas Batum will undergo a series of tests in Cleveland at one of the top cardiological hospitals his agent told DraftExpress this weekend. Batum has stopped conducting private workouts for the time being after tests in Toronto and New Jersey revealed he could possible have heart issues. Bouna Ndiaye, Batum’s agent, is concerned that teams believe this to be a heredity issue (which would make it much more serious) and hopes to prove that Batum’s father didn’t die of a heart attack. Ndiaye thinks, after Monday, he will be able to show teams that Batum is in good health and will be able to conduct workouts immediately after.
Jerryd Bayless may not be as much of a lock at No. 4 after all. A number of NBA teams we’ve spoken with don’t think that’s the case, instead projecting Brook Lopez to be picked by Seattle while Bayless drops slightly to the Knicks at No. 6. Also, keep an eye out for Russell Westbrook. He’s continued to move up on the draft boards of several teams.
If Lopez doesn’t go third, fourth or fifth, he’ll be taken by a team that did not work him out. Lopez agreed to be seen by only those three teams.
While it’s been widely speculated the Portland Trail Blazers are interested in moving their pick, they may keep it if one of the top two players on their board can be had at No. 13. We’ve heard numerous reports of trade talk between the Blazers and many other teams drafting below them, but now it seems likely they’ll stand pat if they can somehow manage to get a hold of Joe Alexander. Alexander worked out in Portland on Tuesday (with Donte Greene and Batum) in front of the watchful eyes of Blazers owner Paul Allen, and apparently left quite an impression. Westbrook is believed to be ranked at the top of Portland’s draft board, but the Blazers would have to move up to at least No. 8 to get him.
If Alexander and Westbrook are out of reach, Portland could take a long look at French center/forward Alexis Ajinca. Other teams that have worked Ajinca out recently have come away raving not just about Ajinca’s skills and physical tools, but also his personality and competitiveness. There’s an outside chance Ajinca could be drafted as high as No. 9 by Charlotte.
Teams that did not research Ajinca during the season beyond what he showed at the Hoop Summit are frantically trying to get him in for a workout. Ajinca last visited the Utah Jazz and will likely turn down a workout with the Phoenix Suns in favor of the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. It’s possible that Portland goes full circle with the French connection and selects both Ajinca and Batum, should Batum slip to the early second round.
Serge Ibaka is in the United States working out for NBA teams, sources told DraftExpress. Citing exhaustion, Ibaka initially decided to head straight back home to Barcelona after the Reebok Eurocamp in Treviso, but has since changed his mind.
Ibaka worked out Sunday for the Utah and also has workouts scheduled with the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday and San Antonio Spurs on Monday (with Ryan Anderson), which will also be attended by representatives of the Houston Rockets, Memphis Grizzlies, Seattle Supersonics and New Orleans Hornets. Ibaka is expected to be drafted anywhere from No. 23 to the early portion of the second round. If taken in the first round, he will likely stay overseas for one or two more years.
A team like Boston, which has the No. 30 pick, could decide to take him and stash him in Spain next season, which would help the Celtics with their problematic luxury tax situation. That’s one of the reasons Boston is heavily considering moving its pick. The Celtics, said one source, are “not in love with anyone in that range.”
Omer Asik is in discussions right now with his Turkish team about ripping up his current contract and signing a five-year deal that would keep him out of the NBA for a considerable amount of time, his agent Justin Zanik told DraftExpress.
An agreement may not be reached before the draft on Thursday, and Zanik is in the process of informing every NBA team about the progress of negotiations. Asik currently has two more years on his deal and was thought to be a safe bet to be drafted in the second. A new contract, however, would changes things considerably, and may drop his stock from the early second round to the mid-to-late portion of the draft. Asik seems likely to accept the five-year offer from Fenerbahce because of the financial stability it would provide his family.
This is yet another example showing how much more equipped top European teams are to compete for the rights to their local players and keep them away from the NBA because of the increased amounts of money flowing through the top leagues and the much weaker American dollar.
In a telling sign of just how much his stock has risen over the past few weeks, Robin Lopez has been invited to sit in the Green Room on draft night. This is a pretty good sign that NBA executives consider him likely to go somewhere around the mid-first round or earlier. Lopez has an excellent chance to be picked at No. 15 by the Suns, and, if not, will almost certainly be taken 17th by Toronto. Every NBA person we’ve spoken with has him slotted at either of those two picks.
Sasha Kaun signed a three-year contract with CSKA Moscow, according to the Russian team’s official website. Kaun could end up being the highest-paid player on the Kansas Jayhawk championship team because his salary will be similar to that of a late lottery pick next season. He has not shut the door on playing in the NBA down the road: He has a comfortable buyout after the second year of his contract, which may even make him more attractive to a team drafting in the late second round.
Also joining Kaun in Moscow is former Maryland power forward Terrence Morris, who landed a three-year contract for slightly more than 5 million Euros. CSKA is reportedly close to landing the signatures of both Zoran Planinic (to replace Theo Papaloukas) and Jorge Garbajosa (if he passes a physical).