Word on the Street: The Home Stretch

Word on the Street: The Home Stretch
Jun 22, 2008, 11:23 pm
-O.J. Mayo conducted a one on zero workout in front of five of the first six teams in the draft at Tim Grover’s A.T.T.A.C.K. Athletics Training Center in Chicago on Saturday. Besides Chicago (who sent only lower level scouts) and the New York Knicks (represented by Brendan Sur), the workout was attended by the lead decision makers of teams drafting 3, 4, and 5, including the General Managers (Kevin McHale, Sam Presti and Chris Wallace) and head coaches (Randy Wittman, Marc Iavaroni and P.J. Carlesimo), as well as numerous other executives.

Although it’s always difficult to get much of a read in a workout of this nature, Mayo reportedly “shot the ball well,” according to Mike Procopio, who ran the workout, “finished strong around the basket”, and generally showed his extremely high skill-level, which was never in doubt.

As of right now, if Minnesota keeps the pick, it appears likely that Mayo will be selected at #3, although things could still change between now and draft day. One rumor making the rounds says that the LA Clippers may offer to package their own pick (#7) along with their 2009 first round pick (protected) and the future pick they are owed by Minnesota(top 10 protected), in order to move up and select Mayo.

-Nicolas Batum will go a series of tests at one of the top Cardiological hospitals in the world in Cleveland, Ohio on Monday, his agent Bouna Ndiaye told DraftExpress this weekend. Batum has stopped conducting private workouts for the time being after tests in Toronto and New Jersey revealed potential reasons for concern possibly hinting at heart problems. Ndiaye is concerned with the fact that teams are jumping to conclusions about this being a heredity issue (which would make it much more serious) and is working on disproving the notion that Batum’s father died of a heart attack. He believes that after Monday he will be able to show teams that Batum is in good health and that he will be able to conduct workouts immediately after.

-Is Jerryd Bayless as much of a lock at 4 as everyone thinks? A number of NBA teams we’ve spoken with don’t think that’s the case. Almost everyone at this point in fact has Brook Lopez slated be picked by Seattle, with Bayless dropping slightly to the Knicks at #6. If Lopez doesn’t go 3rd, 4th of 5th, he will be taken by a team that did not work him out, as he only agreed to be seen by those three teams.

-There are rumors that the Portland Trailblazers may keep their pick after all, particularly if one of the top two players on their board can be had somehow on Thursday evening. We’ve heard numerous reports of trade talk between the Blazers and many other teams drafting below them, but now it seems likely that they stand pat if they can somehow managed to get a hold of Joe Alexander, who worked out in Portland on Tuesday (with Donte Greene and Nicolas Batum) in front of the watchful eyes of their owner Paul Allen, and apparently left quite an impression. Russell Westbrook is supposedly ranked at the very top of their draft board, but they would have to move up to at least 8 and possibly higher to get him.

-Another player that Portland could very well take a long look at (since Alexander and Westbrook are apparently out of reach) is Alexis Ajinca, who they are reportedly extremely intrigued by. Other teams that have worked him out recently have come away raving not just about Ajinca’s exciting combination of skills and physical tools, but also about his strong intangibles. He is reportedly impressing teams with his terrific personality and motivation to succeed, and is believed to have excellent leadership skills. There is an outside chance he could be drafted as high as 9th by Charlotte. Teams who did not do their research on Ajinca during the season (and there is no shortage of them unfortunately) beyond what he showed at the Hoop Summit are frantically trying to get him in for a workout, but to no avail. Ajinca last visited the Utah Jazz and will likely turn down a workout with the Phoenix Suns in favor of the 76ers on Tuesday. It’s possible that Portland goes full circle with the French connection and selects him and Nicolas Batum, should he slip to the early 2nd round.

-Look for the Chicago Bulls to announce former Spurs and Sonics head coach Bob Hill as the lead assistant under Vinny Del Negro shortly. The two are close (Hill coached Del Negro in San Antonio) and were believed to be a package deal from the very start, which eased some of the concerns John Paxson had initially about Del Negro’s lack of experience as a coach. Matt Lloyd of the Chicago Bulls told us via email that the report is “not true” and that there is “absolutely no decision that has been reached.”

-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 changed his mind and worked out Sunday for the Utah Jazz. He 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 23 to the early portion of the second round, depending on how he’s viewed by teams. If taken in the first round, he will likely stay overseas for one or two more years, as his contract is extremely flexible.

A team like Boston could decide to pick Serge Ibaka at 30 and stash him in Spain next season, which would help them with their problematic luxury tax situation. That’s one of the reasons Boston is heavily considering moving their pick, as they are “not in love with anyone in that range” according to one source with knowledge of the situation.

-Omer Asik is in discussions right now with his Turkish team Fenerbahce about ripping up his current contract and signing a 5-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 or may not be reached before the draft on Thursday. Zanik is in the process of informing every NBA team about where things stand about Asik to ensure that they have all the information they need to make a sound decision on draft night. Asik currently has two more years on his deal and was thought to be a safe bet to be drafted in the second and bring over once his contract is up. This changes things considerably, though, 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 offer from Fenerbahce, as his current contract is set at a bargain price and he would like to provide his family with financial stability that the 5-year deal would provide.

This is yet another in a long line of recent examples 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, due to 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, as the league does not like situations where players are sitting in the Green Room long after everyone else has been picked, even if that makes for great television. Lopez has an excellent chance to be picked at #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.

-Other players rumored to be invited to the Green Room (outside of the obvious suspects--Rose, Beasley, Mayo, etc) are Joe Alexander, DeAndre Jordan, Darrell Arthur, Donte Greene, Brandon Rush and Anthony Randolph. The top rated prospects we either have not heard back from or are not invited include JaVale McGee, Kosta Koufos, Marreese Speights and Alexis Ajinca.

-Sasha Kaun signed a 3-year contract with CSKA Moscow, as released on their their official website this weekend. Kaun may end up being the highest paid player on the Kansas Jayhawk championship team, as 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, as 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 him in Moscow is former Maryland power forward Terrence Morris, who landed a 3 year deal for over 5 million Euros net (a near-MLE deal in NBA terms). CSKA is reportedly close to landing the signatures of both Zoran Planinic (to replace Theo Papaloukas) and Jorge Garbajosa (if he passes their physical).

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