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Oumar Ballo has a little Shaq and a lot of potential in his game

Oumar Ballo is flashing pro potential at a young age.

Oumar Ballo put himself on the radar of NBA teams, colleges and international scouts with a dominant performance earlier this month in the FIBA Under-16 African Championship held in Vacoas-Phoenix, Mauritius, a tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean.

The 6-foot-10, 238-pound 15-year-old posted 25.7 points and 22.8 rebounds per-40 minutes on 68 percent shooting from the field, helping Mali cruise to an 8-0 record and first-place finish that secured the emerging West African basketball powerhouse a spot at the FIBA Under-17 World Championship in 2018 in Argentina.

The level of competition at the event was admittedly fairly weak, with traditional African talent hotspots Nigeria, Senegal, South Sudan, Angola and Cameroon all declining to send representatives to the event for reasons such as internal federation politics, a lack of resources and an inability to gather their most talented prospects already playing in the U.S. or Europe. Still, Ballo’s performance — and especially his potential — playing up a year on the competition is notable.

With a 6-5 mother and 6-8 father, Ballo grew up playing soccer in Koulikoro. He didn’t pick up a basketball until he decided he was too tall to keep kicking a ball. The switch to hoops came at the urging of his mother and brother, Drissa, who is 6-10, 260 pounds and as a 15-year-old moved to France, where he still plays professionally.

Ballo started training with coach Mohamed Diarra in Koulikoro at age 11, leading to an invite to the Canterbury International Basketball Academy (CIBA) in Las Palmas in the Canary Islands of Spain shortly after. CIBA stands out among others for its association with Canterbury, a private British school where most of the classes are conducted in English. The goal is for students (the majority of whom are not athletes) to continue their studies at universities in Europe or the U.S.

“Life was hard at first in Spain,” Ballo said. “Leaving my family behind at that age was difficult. I didn’t speak any English or Spanish. But I want to be a professional basketball player, so I had to do it. I had to be focused. I practiced three times per day at Canterbury, while being a full-time student. I played three to four games per week, against older players, which helped me a lot.”

Ballo has been with CIBA for two seasons, winning MVP of the Under-16 Spanish Championship in May after helping his relatively new team finish in third place alongside traditional powerhouses like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Joventut, Malaga and Estudiantes, with Ballo ranking first in rebounding and second in scoring.

He stands out first and foremost because of his height, massive frame, huge hands and 7-foot-5 wingspan that allows him to dominate the interior against other players his age, despite never having lifted weights seriously. He patterns his game after Shaquille O’Neal and it’s easy to see why with his ability to move opponents around with brute force and his willingness to take (and dish out) contact inside the paint.

"Every single day people ask me how did I get so big like that?" Ballo said. "How can I only be 15 years old? The answer is my parents. Look at my brother Drissa. He is a beast."

Ballo is more than just a wrecking ball in the post, though, as he has exceptionally soft and reliable hands, allowing him to catch almost anything thrown his way and also emerge as a force on the backboards. In the 30 games in our database, Ballo has grabbed an outrageous 23.5 rebounds per-40 minutes, nearly 10 of which come on the offensive glass.

Highly mobile, coordinated and fluid, with good balance and a solid feel for the game, Ballo can pass the ball much more effectively than your typically raw 15-year-old. He sees both sides of the floor and showed a soft touch finishing off the glass or throwing in turnaround jumpers. His footwork and shooting mechanics are promising, a testament to the skill work on fundamentals that has been instilled in him over the past two years at CIBA, even if that hasn’t quite translated to the free throw line yet, where he made just 52 percent of his attempts at the U16 African Championship.

With that said, Ballo has quite a bit of work to do on his intensity level and polish. He can get away with being bigger and stronger than his opponents, and will look somewhat lackadaisical at times with the way he runs the floor, boxes out or puts a body on opponents defensively, which makes sense considering the circumstances. As players in his age group catch up physically and the competition stiffens, he won’t be able to get by operating at half speed. While he’s fluid and nimble, he’s not a freakish athlete who can compensate with overwhelming quickness and explosiveness. He’ll have to play hard all the time.

Cynics will look at Ballo’s chiseled frame for a 15-year-old and wonder if he’s truly the age his passport lists. FIBA Africa has some experience with fake documentation, unfortunately, and has made it mandatory for all players competing in the U16 Championship to succumb to an “age test.” While far from foolproof, these X-rays conducted on players’ wrists indicate whether the bone has fused, which would suggest they are no longer growing and thus not likely to be 16 or younger. Mali has a better reputation than many countries in West Africa for the stringency and accuracy of its bureaucratic documents, something that was put to the test when Ballo moved to Spain at age 13.

Ballo confirmed that he conducted the bone test prior to the Championship.

“Everyone did it,” he said. “So why not me?

“Every single day people ask me how did I get so big like that? How can I only be 15 years old? The answer is my parents. Look at my brother Drissa. He is a beast.”

Ballo’s future plans, both according to him and his coach at CIBA, Santi Lopez, point heavily toward the NCAA once he graduates high school in 2020.

“I want to pass from high school to college to the NBA,” Ballo said. “I want to be a pro.”

“He must go to college,” Lopez said. “He must be ready for that. You never know your future, if you have a bad injury, you need academics in your pocket. That’s the first goal for him.”

Soumaila Samake blazed the NBA trail for basketball players as a 7-footer from Mali and the No. 36 pick in the 2000 draft. It took 16 years until Mali had its second draft selection, when Cheick Diallo was selected by New Orleans with the No. 33 pick.

Can Oumar Ballo follow in their footsteps? Only time will tell. He’ll have to keep working, gain experience and make the right decisions for his development.

Next summer’s FIBA U17 World Championship could be his coming-out party for college coaches and NBA scouts, especially if joined by good friend and fellow highly touted Malian big man N’Faly Dante, the No. 20 recruit in the 2020 high school class, according to ESPN.

Lopez thinks very highly of Ballo but feels it’s too early to speak with him about the NBA.

“Too many people are on him right now,” he said. “Everyone is talking to him about being professional and going to the NBA. It doesn’t help a 15-year-old boy. I prefer to speak with him about academics, improving, doing his best, in order to have a good future. And then we can see. Now he needs to work.

“He has the potential to do it. He may still be growing. His body is immature. He’s still a baby. We have facilities, coaches, good players around, and a great private school. He has everything he needs to get there.”

After James Harden MVP snub, Rockets GM Daryl Morey says NBA might be better without awards

Know as a prolific scorer and now the recipient of the NBA's richest contract extension, James Harden elevate his game to MVP levels in 2016-2017 season. Witness the Beard's finest moments in this ultimate highlight.

Russell Westbrook winning the MVP award over James Harden has Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey wondering if the NBA should just eliminate awards.

Morey told The Crossover in a telephone interview that he has questions about the method of voting the league uses to name its award winners. Morey made his comments on Saturday but they weren’t published by the website until Monday.

“I don’t know if this is a good process,” Morey told The Crossover. “The ones that are decided by players or executives or media, they all have their strengths and weaknesses. I honestly don’t think there’s a good process. You could argue for eliminating the awards altogether. I don’t really see a good way to do it that doesn’t have major issues. I like clean answers. If there’s not going to be a set criteria and there’s going to be issues with how it’s structured, for me, it might be better to not have it.”

Westbrook, who averaged a triple-double this season for the Oklahoma City Thunder, had 888 points in the MVP voting, while Harden had 753.

Morey’s comments drew a sarcastic response from LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin on Twitter.
After James Harden MVP snub, Rockets GM Daryl Morey says NBA might be better without awards
At issue for Morey is the reasoning presented to him in 2015 when Stephen Curry edged Harden for the MVP nod — that the Warriors’ record (67-15) was superior to the Rockets’ mark (56-26).

If the same criteria was used this year, then Harden should have won the award instead of Westbrook because the Rockets (55-27) won more than the Thunder (47-35) this season.

“I didn’t like how a different MVP criteria was used this year, compared to the last 55 years, to fit more of a marketing slogan. People thought a different criteria for selecting the MVP this year was the way to go,” Morey told The Crossover.

Morey said that since “the criteria seems to be shifting away from winning,” the Rockets’ acquisition of Chris Paul this offseason “probably doesn’t help anyone’s chances on our team.”

He added: “But we’ve moved on since the award isn’t focused on winning anymore. Let’s just win and not worry about it.”

Source: Boston Celtics to add free-agent guard Shane Larkin

The Boston Celtics will continue a feverish offseason roster overhaul by signing free-agent point guard Shane Larkin, according to a league source.

Larkin, the No. 18 pick in the 2013 NBA draft, played 72 games with Saski Baskonia in Spain last season and averaged 13.8 points and 5.4 assists. He elected to pass up a $6.3 million option to compete for a spot on a Boston roster that will now feature 16 guaranteed contracts.

Larkin, 24, last played in the NBA with the Brooklyn Nets during the 2015-16 season. His signing was first reported by David Pick.
Shane Larkin, who last played in the NBA for the Brooklyn Nets during the 2015-16 season, will pass up a $6.3 million option in Europe in an effort to make the Celtics' roster.
The Celtics have already formally signed nine players this summer — including All-Star Gordon Hayward and seven players on rookie deals — revamping the roster of a 53-win team that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston made official Thursday the signings of 2016 first-round pick Guerschon Yabusele and German import Daniel Theis. Boston’s other summer signings include veteran Aron Baynes and rookies Jayson Tatum, Ante Zizic, Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye. Rookie Kadeem Allen was signed to one of two available two-way G League contracts.

The Celtics also received Marcus Morris in the trade that sent Avery Bradley to Detroit in a cap-clearing move necessary to sign Hayward.

Boston’s roster features just six returning players: Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier.

The Celtics also signed Paul Pierce earlier this week so he could retire as a member of the team.

NBA Summer league is the showcase for undrafted free agents

 NBA Summer league is the showcase for undrafted free agents

We’ve all had fun watching Lonzo Ball, Dennis Smith Jr. and other lottery picks put on a show in the NBA summer league this month. But for every top pick lighting up Las Vegas, there are dozens of undrafted free agents scratching and clawing for the chance to land a roster spot.

“I don’t think there’s a difference between me and some of the players who got drafted,” said former Pittsburgh standout Jamel Artis, an undrafted free agent who played summer league with the New York Knicks. “I just wanted to show that I was better than anyone out there.”

Artis’ mentality illustrates the other side of the NBA’s summer leagues: more than 300 undrafted free agents playing in front of general managers, scouts and other decision-makers in an extended job interview.

“You didn’t get drafted, so there’s nothing guaranteed for you. So you just have to stand out in any way possible.”–Bryce Alford, Warriors Summer League guard
These players have a small window to make a big impression — and they’re fighting long odds. NBA rosters have expanded to 17 players this season, but there still isn’t much room for an undrafted free agent to gain a spot. For every Tyler Johnson, Jonathon Simmons and Jeremy Lin — who eventually earned lucrative contracts — there are dozens of undrafted players who never spend a day on an NBA roster after playing in summer league.

“You just have to find a way to stand out,” said Bryce Alford, who suited up for the Golden State Warriors’ summer league team in Las Vegas. “Whether that’s showing up early and staying late, asking questions or getting an extra film session in. You didn’t get drafted, so there’s nothing guaranteed for you. So you just have to stand out in any way possible.”
Jamel Artis suited up for the New York Knicks at Orlando Summer League after going undrafted out of Pitt this year.
That was James Michael McAdoo‘s mentality in the summer of 2014. He had spent three months preparing for the NBA draft and traveling to different cities for workouts. He went undrafted out of North Carolina.

“It was back to the drawing board,” he said.

McAdoo and his agent talked about signing a contract in Europe, but he decided to give the NBA a shot and landed on the Warriors’ summer league team.

“When I got to summer league, I was going to practice early, trying to stay as late as possible, and I was one of the only guys doing that, trying to earn a training camp roster invite,” McAdoo said. “I didn’t have to go in there and average 20 points and 10 rebounds … but what I did was enough to get the Golden State Warriors’ attention, and it ended up with me getting an invite to training camp.”

McAdoo eventually earned a roster spot with the Warriors and now has two NBA championship rings. It’s a path to success that dozens of undrafted players dream of.

“Everyone’s looking for an opportunity,” said Alford, the son of UCLA head coach Steve Alford. “I look at it as, I want to prove that the teams that passed on me are missing out. I look at the names ahead of me and I’m thinking I’m better than a lot of those guys. That’s just competitive nature.”

Alford averaged 9.3 points per game in 19 minutes for the Warriors in Las Vegas — the biggest stage of his nascent professional basketball career.

“It’s been what I’ve worked for my whole life, it’s what I’ve always wanted,” Alford said. “Even though it’s just summer league, to be able to wear the Warriors name across your chest, it’s pretty cool.”
Bryce Alford participated in the 2017 NBA Summer League in Las Vegas with the Golden State Warriors after going undrafted out of UCLA.
Now, Alford will wait to find out if he has earned an invite to Warriors training camp. It would be natural for some self-doubt to creep in during the waiting period.

Trainer David Nurse has seen it before. He has worked with several undrafted free agents (Lin, McAdoo, Sean Kilpatrick, Aron Baynes) and understands better than most the mental approach that these players need to thrive.

“These guys are all uber-talented and it’s just the small details that separate them from the rest,” Nurse said. “I want to empower them — they are at this level for a reason. My role is to be in the background, behind the scenes to help them highlight their strengths and make their weaknesses become assets. It’s all about the relationship and building the trust; I always want to have a servant-attitude approach. And then a lot of it depends on if you are ready when you’re opportunity is called.

“You’ve got to be ready — physically, mentality, emotionally ready as possible when your opportunity is called. My joy comes in seeing their success.”

To aid with that process, Nurse becomes a coach both on and off the court for his clients, supporting them with skills development and a ton of positive reinforcement.

“He’s trying to make sure that mentally I can get over any obstacle that gets in my way,” Alford said. “Being an undrafted free agent, there’s going to be a lot that gets in your way that you have to get over.”

Those are hurdles that Artis, Alford and hundreds of others hope to leap after playing for teams in summer league. Many will end up playing overseas or in the NBA G League, never reaching their goal of an NBA roster. But a select few will make that uncommon jump from undrafted rookie to the NBA.

The jump that McAdoo made three summers ago.

“Looking at the past three years, I’m honestly so blessed. I couldn’t have written a better story in terms of going undrafted and where I am today,” McAdoo said.

“I think the biggest thing for me is continuing to have the same mindset that I had when I was in summer league: Show up, work hard and have a chip on your shoulder.”

Sounds like a good blueprint for the undrafted free agents of the 2017 summer league.

VP Scott Perry agrees to five-year deal to be New York Knicks’ GM

Scott Perry has been hired by the New York Knicks as their general manager in a deal league sources told ESPN is for five years.

Perry, formerly the Sacramento Kings‘ vice president of basketball operations, will report to Steve Mills. The Knicks are planning to sign Mills to a new multiyear deal as president, promoting him from GM, league sources said. Phil Jackson was dismissed as president of basketball operations shortly before the free-agency period.

As part of the Perry deal, the Kings and Knicks agreed on a future second-round pick and cash considerations as compensation, sources told ESPN.

“Today marks a culture change for our organization where we reestablish the pride, work ethic and responsibility that comes with playing for the Knicks and representing New York,” Knicks owner Jim Dolan said in a statement announcing the hires, the terms of which were undisclosed. “I’m confident that Steve is the right person to take on this role, and ensure that we return to one of the elite teams of the NBA. He’s got an ambitious plan that centers on building a young team focused on player development, communication and teamwork.”

Mills will still retain ultimate authority in the front office, but Perry will be given freedom to operate as he chooses, league sources said. He will be the day-to-day voice running the basketball side. New York was seeking a GM who won’t push for an overhaul of the front-office staff, league sources said, as well as an executive who can coexist with Mills.
Scott Perry and the New York Knicks have agreed on a five-year deal for Perry to serve as GM. Perry was formerly a vice president in the Kings' front office.
One of the first items on the agenda for Mills and Perry is figuring out where things stand with veteran forward Carmelo Anthony.

“Today is a new day for this franchise,” Mills said in the news release. “Scott will immediately begin to put together a basketball operations department that is among the best in the league. We will all be united in implementing our strategy, which is to build our team by developing young players, emphasizing athleticism, length and defense. We have several rising young stars in the organization and we expect to add more young talent to this core. Our message to our fans is clear: we will be disciplined in sticking to this strategy, hold our players and staff accountable to the high standards that we have set for ourselves, and deliver results.”

The Knicks are pausing trade talks centered on Anthony and want to pursue a conversation with the 10-time NBA All-Star about possibly reincorporating him into the organization, league sources told ESPN.

After talking with the Houston Rockets and Cleveland Cavaliers for nearly a month to engineer deals for Anthony, the Knicks told both teams that they’re stepping back from trade talks for a short time, league sources said.

The Knicks want Anthony to meet with the new front office and coach Jeff Hornacek in the near future, but it’s unlikely that Anthony will respond with eagerness about a plan to stay with a franchise that has been pushing him — publicly and privately — to accept a trade out of New York, league sources said. Anthony has been focused on getting a deal done, especially with advanced talks that surrounded Houston. The Rockets were working on a four-team trade with the Knicks that had gained traction throughout the week, league sources said.

The Rockets have been eager to partner Anthony with Chris Paul and James Harden. It is unclear at this point what Anthony prefers, but the way in which Mills and Perry handle the situation will play a major role in the short-term direction of the organization.

Since parting ways with Jackson, the Knicks, under Mills, made the decision to sign Atlanta Hawks guard Tim Hardaway Jr. to a four-year, $71 million contract, a move that has been met with shock inside and outside the organization. Mills and Perry will guide a Knicks team that has missed the playoffs in each of the past four seasons and has just one playoff series win in the past 17 seasons.

Prior to putting a hold on the Anthony talks, the Knicks were telling people around the league that they wanted to put together a younger roster, as evidenced by the Hardaway Jr. signing and the Knicks’ decision to select 18-year-old Frank Ntilikina with the No. 8 pick in the 2017 NBA draft.

In Perry, the Knicks have hired an executive with extensive experience. Days after he was dismissed as the Orlando Magic’s assistant GM in April, the Kings hired Perry as the front office’s No. 2 to GM Vlade Divac. Perry played a part in selecting Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 pick and making a draft-day trade to move back and draft twice more in the first round, selecting North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Duke’s Harry Giles.

In free agency, the Kings signed veterans George Hill, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph. Perry has a front-office history that includes stops in Seattle, Oklahoma City, Detroit, Orlando and Sacramento. He was part of helping GM Joe Dumars build an NBA champion and perennial contender with the Pistons.

The Knicks’ move to hire Perry came days after former Cleveland Cavaliers general manager David Griffin pulled his name out of the Knicks’ front-office search last week, a source told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears. Sources said the Knicks and Griffin were at odds over Griffin not having full authority on basketball decisions and over his preference to bring in his own staff. No formal contract offer was made.

Free agent forward Kelly Olynyk goes to Heat for 4 years, $50M

Free agent forward Kelly Olynyk has agreed to a four-year, $50 million-plus deal with the Miami Heat, his agent Greg Lawrence tells ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The deal includes a fourth-year player option.

Over four NBA seasons, Olynyk has averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 rebounds in 20.7 minutes per game. What’s less obvious from his stat line is the positive impact that Olynyk has typically had on team performance when he’s on the court. An excellent 3-point shooter and a slick passer in a 7-foot frame, Olynyk’s presence often opened up the floor for Boston. During the 2015-16 season, Olynyk was second on the team in net rating (plus-3.2), trailing only Isaiah Thomas (plus-3.6).

Olynyk played a career-high 75 games during the 2016-17 campaign but his scoring dipped from the previous year and his 3-point shooting fell to 35.4 percent (after being at 40.5 percent a season earlier). In the 2017 playoffs, Olynyk was still one of only two postseason regulars with a positive net rating (fellow second-teamer Terry Rozier was the other).

Olynyk was ranked No. 21 on the list of top available free agents this offseason compiled by ESPN’s Kevin Pelton.

Sources: LA Clippers close to 3-way sign-and-trade to acquire forward Danilo Gallinari

The LA Clippers are finalizing a sign-and-trade agreement to acquire free-agent forward Danilo Gallinari on a three-year, $65 million contract, league sources told ESPN.

Los Angeles, Denver and Atlanta are working out the final details of a deal and executives involved in the talks do not anticipate any snags that could derail the completion of the trade, league sources said.

The Clippers will send Jamal Crawford, Diamond Stone and a future first-round pick — likely its 2018 pick recently acquired in a deal with Houston — to the Atlanta Hawks, league sources said. Denver will minimally receive a second-round pick in the trade for Gallinari, who played the past six seasons for the Nuggets.

The proposed deal is poised to move the Clippers’ payroll to $110.4 million in 2017-18, a salary figure based upon 10 players under guaranteed contracts. The Clippers will move into the financially punitive repeater tax if the team’s salary rises over $119 million.

The Clippers sold Gallinari, 28, on a frontcourt that includes him and All-Stars Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. Gallinari could’ve waited until Gordon Hayward made his decision, expected on Tuesday, and had the opportunity to sign with the Boston Celtics if Hayward passed on them. Nevertheless, Gallinari passed and moved in the past 24 hours toward a deal with the Clippers.
The Clippers, Nuggets and Hawks are working on a three-way sign-and-trade to send Danilo Gallinari to Los Angeles on a 3-year, $65 million deal, league sources tell ESPN.
Los Angeles is trying to reboot its roster post-Chris Paul, and Gallinari is a floor-spacing shooter whom the Clippers have coveted for several years.

Atlanta is moving toward a complete rebuild and Crawford will likely be waived before the season, allowing him to become a free agent. Stone was a 2016 second-round pick out of Maryland.

Crawford’s preference would be to join rookie Lonzo Ball with the Los Angeles Lakers, a source told The Undefeated’s Marc J. Spears. Crawford has no interest in playing with the Hawks and he prefers to be waived to become a free agent. The Lakers have strong interest in signing Crawford as well, a source told Spears, and have the money to do so.

Gallinari became expendable for the Nuggets once they agreed to a deal with Atlanta forward Paul Millsap.

Utah Jazz believed their pitch to Gordon Hayward was as strong as anybody’s

The Utah Jazz will never fully enjoy the fruits of the rebuilding process that began Feb. 23, 2011, when the team traded Deron Williams. Gordon Hayward‘s decision to leave for greener pastures guarantees that.

A couple of months ago, the Jazz seemed positioned to be a franchise to be reckoned with for the foreseeable future. They were a rising, young team that broke through with a 51-win season despite dealing with injuries to key players, ending a four-year postseason drought and winning a playoff series for the first time since Williams’ departure.

Of course, that required re-signing the Jazz’s lone All-Star selection since this rebuilding project began.

The Jazz aren’t back to square one — second-team All-NBA center Rudy Gobert, 25, is one of several talented young players who remain in Salt Lake City — but Hayward bolting for Boston leaves a huge hole on the roster. The Jazz developed Hayward into a go-to guy, particularly in the three seasons since coach Quin Snyder arrived, and built the offense around his evolving skill set.

General manager Dennis Lindsey will explore every avenue, but it’s essentially impossible to immediately find a suitable replacement for a No. 1 scorer, especially for a small-market team without much wiggle room under the salary cap.

The Jazz entered the offseason cautiously optimistic that they could keep Hayward, well aware of the attractive options he had to spend his prime, yet they were confident they’d put plenty of reasons in place for him to want to stay in Utah. Leading into free agency, Lindsey took a proactive approach in upgrading the roster. He twice traded up in the first round of the draft, most notably to get into the lottery to select Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell. Lindsey ensured the Jazz would have a proven veteran point guard, trading for 26-year-old Ricky Rubio instead of risking losing (or overpaying) 31-year-old George Hill in free agency. Utah quickly worked to get a four-year, $52 million deal done with Joe Ingles, a sweet-shooting glue guy who happens to be one of Hayward’s best friends.

Gobert is just about to begin the four-year extension he signed last fall, a less-than-max deal that is a bargain for a big man whose ability to dominate doing dirty work complemented and enhanced Hayward’s consistently expanding skill set. The Jazz contingent, which included Rubio, Ingles and Gobert as well as Lindsey, Snyder and others, presented a compelling case during Monday’s meeting at Hayward’s home in San Diego. A major focal point was a specific plan to continue Hayward’s dramatic development, including accompanying tweaks to the offense as his game grows.
Gordon Hayward is the only Jazz player to make the All-Star team since rebuilding began in 2011.
The Jazz could offer Hayward something the Celtics couldn’t: the opportunity to be the unquestioned No. 1 offensive option. Utah believed Snyder had just as strong of a relationship with Hayward as Boston’s Brad Stevens, his college coach. But Boston could reasonably paint the picture of a brighter future: a roster basically intact after a conference finals appearance, a pair of top-three picks already in place, more high-lottery picks on the way and a much easier path to the NBA Finals in the Eastern Conference.

There really isn’t anything else Utah could have done in recent months to improve the odds of Hayward’s return. The Jazz front office’s fatal mistake, in hindsight, was made a few years ago when Hayward was a restricted free agent.

The Jazz could have given Hayward a five-year maximum contract then. In that case, as it turns out, his salary in Utah would have been a relative bargain through the 2018-19 season. Instead, the Jazz allowed Hayward to explore the market and opted to match the max offer he received from Charlotte, a four-year deal that included a player option for this season.

A few years later, that looks like a terrible decision. At the time, many scoffed at the thought of paying max money to a guy who just put up pretty good numbers (16.2 points per game with a subpar eFG% of .454) on a 25-win team that just fired its coach.

Hayward’s numbers have soared in the three seasons since under Snyder (topping out at 21.9 points per game with an eFG% of .536 last season), with the Jazz’s win totals making similar jumps. Utah hoped Hayward and Gobert could be the modern-day version of Stockton and Malone, a star duo with staying power that could make the Jazz consistently competitive for an era. They were the poster boys for a developmental program that Jazz staffers proudly considered to be on par with the NBA’s best, a must for a small-market franchise hoping to contend.

With Hayward gone, Utah fans have to hope the franchise can develop another co-star to pair with Gobert. In the painful aftermath of their All-Star’s exit, patience again will be required.

Free agent Patrick Patterson agrees to 3-year deal with Thunder

Free agent forward Patrick Patterson has reached agreement on a three-year, $16.4 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder, league sources told ESPN.

The deal includes a player option for the third year, league sources said. The Thunder used their full tax payer mid-level exception on the agreement.

For Oklahoma City, Patterson, 28, is the ideal replacement in the starting lineup for Taj Gibson, who left for Minnesota in free agency.

Patterson leaves Toronto for Oklahoma City, where GM Sam Presti sees Patterson as floor spacer alongside the NBA’s MVP Russell Westbrook and new All-Star forward Paul George. Patterson chose the Thunder as an opportunity to stay with a contending franchise and play along All-Star players, which he did with Toronto for the past four years. In seven NBA seasons, Patterson has averaged 7.9 points and 4.7 rebounds.

2017 NBA Superteam standings: Ranking the contenders on star power

Minutes after his Cleveland Cavaliers lost the 2017 NBA Finals to a juggernaut Golden State Warriors squad, LeBron James was still playing hard-nosed defense.

When asked for his take, given his role in forming two famous superteams, James pushed back: “I don’t believe I’ve played for a superteam. I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe we’re a superteam here. So, no, I don’t really, I don’t.”

LeBron was drawing a line, implying that his Miami and Cleveland championship teams had been built differently than the Warriors. “Their team was already kind of put together,” James said during the Finals. “For me, when I left [Cleveland] to go to Miami, we had to build something. We brought in eight or nine guys, and we had to build something, and when I came back here we had to build something again.”

That may be true, but you can see how James’ definition is rather limited and perhaps self-serving. The fact is, with the 2007-08 Boston Celtics and LeBron’s Heatles as examples, superteams are coming together in all kinds of ways, and in all shapes and sizes.

In the effort to dethrone NBA champion Golden State or to be the first team since 2010 to knock a LeBron superteam out of the Eastern Conference playoffs, players are joining forces in new superstar combos that we barely could have imagined a decade ago.

We are most definitely in the superteam era. So how’s it going as teams load up to compete with Golden State and Cleveland?

To figure that out, I set up four tiers of teams on a superteam scale, looking at every team with at least two established current stars.

Who qualifies as a star? A player has to have been on an All-Star team or an All-NBA team in any of the previous three seasons. A superteam gets five points for first-team All-NBA, three points for second-team All-NBA and one point for All-NBA third team or an All-Star team. Players over 35 don’t count, since we’re talking about stars near their peak.

Let’s dive in.

Tier 1: The true superteams

Golden State Warriors

Stars: Four (Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson)

SuperPoints: 36 (Curry 16, Durant 9, Green 6, Thompson 5)

This is a superteam that embraces the name. Remember, they hosted a “Super Villains” party back in November with a customized Snapchat filter and a fancy balloon arrangement to boot.

Even dominating this points system probably understates their superteam standing. The Warriors are in the discussion for the best team ever despite not having a single player voted first-team All-NBA. If Curry and Durant were voted first-team All-NBA this season, they’d be bumped up to 40 SuperPoints. Even still, the Warriors have drawn the ire of the rest of the league by compiling four stars and are 14 points higher than the next-best team. Oh, and that’s not including the 2015 Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala.

How they move up: They don’t, really. The best chance for a fifth star is probably Patrick McCaw, but he’s a second-rounder who averaged just 4.0 points this season. Then again, Green averaged 2.9 points during his rookie campaign and he’s now accepting NBA awards in tuxedo shorts.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Stars: Three (LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love)

SuperPoints: 22 (James 18, Irving 3, Love 1).

Wanna know why the Warriors and Cavs make up the only Finals trilogy in NBA history, and why they’re a favorite to make it a Round 4? The Cavs are still the only big three in the NBA while the Warriors are the only big four. Everyone else is still hoping to find that third piece.

There’s no doubt that the Cavs are a superteam, even if LeBron doesn’t see it that way. In case you forgot, Love averaged 26 points and 12 rebounds before joining the Cavs. He’s a star. Proof: Love has averaged 35.7 points per 36 minutes without James or Irving on the floor, per But until they get a fourth star …

How they move up: First, they probably have to find a GM. Then, they have to pray for internal development. As is, the Cavs have no cap space and probably can’t add any significant players unless they break up the current big three.

Or there’s this: convince Carmelo Anthony to take a buyout with the Knicks and sign for the midlevel exception ($5.1 million). The crazy thing? Adding Anthony would still leave the Cavs 11 points behind the Warriors in star power.

Tier 2: Super duos

Houston Rockets

Stars: Two (James Harden and Chris Paul)

SuperPoints: 21 (Harden 13, Paul 8)

For Houston’s sake, let’s hope this has a better outcome than the Harden-Dwight Howard partnership. Yes, that super duo reached the 2015 Western Conference finals — at the expense of Paul’s Clippers, mind you — but GM Daryl Morey couldn’t find a third star to complement Harden and Howard, so he retooled by letting Howard walk to Atlanta. A year later, Morey’s still searching for the third piece. While it’s true that the 1994 Rockets won a title with only two stars (Hakeem Olajuwon and Otis Thorpe qualified), that year the NBA didn’t have Michael Jordan — or this Warriors team.

How they move up: The Rockets whiffed on Paul George this time around, but they could revisit a trade if the Oklahoma City experiment falters. Don’t dismiss an acquisition of Anthony or DeAndre Jordan, which would give them their first big three since the 1996-97 team featuring Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler and Morey’s best friend, Charles Barkley.

DeMarcus Cousins would be an interesting target, but it’s doubtful New Orleans would take Ryan Anderson back, even if Clint Capela and a future first-rounder were attached.

New Orleans Pelicans

Stars: Two (Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins)

SuperPoints: 21 (Davis 13 and Cousins 8)

And this isn’t even counting Jrue Holiday, who was a 2013 All-Star, but too early to qualify for this list. No one is calling the Pelicans a superteam yet, despite Holiday’s $123 million contract that could balloon to $150 million, according to our own Adrian Wojnarowski.

No one can boast a Twin Towers frontline as formidable as New Orleans’ version. Fit is a real concern here, considering the Pelicans went a disappointing 6-11 with Cousins in the lineup next to Davis. An offseason should help Alvin Gentry and his staff maximize their talents.

How they move up: It’s hard to see how Holiday, even with a healthy full season, would beat out a loaded West backcourt to another All-Star bid or All-NBA team. Crazier things have happened in this league. The real problem is that the team lacks movable assets to exchange for the third star.

For example, Solomon Hill, Omer Asik and E’Twaun Moore will make $31 million combined next season and they ranked 126th, 204th and 286th in ESPN’s RPM last season, respectively. However, the team does have all its first-round picks going forward.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Stars: Two (Russell Westbrook and Paul George)

SuperPoints: 19 (Westbrook 16, George 3)

What a coup by GM Sam Presti. Not only did Presti nab a star without giving up much, but he also indirectly depressed the trade market in case he wanted to add a third star. George isn’t the same caliber as Durant, but he’s a surefire top-20 player for the Thunder to pair with Westbrook. This team is one move away from being a superteam, which seemed little more than a pipe dream a week ago.

For what it’s worth, the 2011-12 roster that went to the Finals drew a score of 26 SuperPoints, a figure that would land in second place on this current list.

How they move up: Again, if Victor Oladipo on a swollen contract and Domantas Sabonis are what it takes to nab a star player on an expiring contract, then who knows what Presti can pull off as an encore? If Steven Adams makes the leap that many expected last season, they can achieve superteam status without making a trade. Keep an eye on Jordan, who could be their 2009 Tyson Chandler — although that deadline trade was rescinded due to a failed physical.

San Antonio Spurs

Stars: Two (Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge)

SuperPoints: 18 (Leonard 12, Aldridge 6)

If we based the rubric purely on team wins, the Spurs would be at the top of this list. But no one’s calling this a superteam. This is a super franchise starring Leonard. The Spurs became the first team in NBA history to win over 60 games with only one All-Star on the team (Leonard).

Bringing back Pau Gasol would technically make this a big three because of his 2014-15 All-NBA appearance and two All-Star bids in the last three seasons, but he’ll be 37 on Thursday and not close to a seventh All-Star bid. Not helping Aldridge’s current star status is this fact: He averaged a career-low 16.5 points per game this postseason and scored in single digits in two of his three games without Leonard by his side. Yikes.

How they move up: Moving Aldridge would be considered a sell-low move, so it’s hard to see them making a serious upgrade with him as the centerpiece in a deal. There are other interesting “buy-low” candidates out there like Andre Drummond and Anthony. Internal development from Kyle Anderson or Dejounte Murray is probably the best bet.

Tier 3: On the fringe

LA Clippers

Stars: Two (Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan)

SuperPoints: 10 (Jordan 8, Griffin 2)

The stunning thing here is that Jordan, not Griffin, is the bigger star in terms of current accolades. Griffin just signed a monster $173 million contract, but the results haven’t been great in recent years. He has exchanged dunks for 3s, which is probably smart for his durability. Griffin has missed the last two All-Star games due to injury and his only All-NBA appearance in the last three seasons was at third-team level. He’s not the box-office hit he used to be; his dunk rate has been sliced to a third of what it was in 2011-12.

There were some recent whispers that the Clippers would move Jordan in an effort to upgrade the roster with smaller pieces, but such a move would probably kick them off this list. This was one of the best big threes in the league with Paul around, but it’s possible that it will be a big zero if Griffin’s health betrays him again and Jordan is moved.

How they move up: The Clippers’ recent obsession with older vets leaves this roster with little hope for a blossoming All-Star. When Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and the coach’s son are the best bets for the next star in waiting, that’s not a good sign. Jerry West has some work to do. It’s hard seeing the next superteam for Steve Ballmer’s new arena.

Boston Celtics

Stars: 2 (Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford)

SuperPoints: 7 (Thomas 5, Horford 2)

Chew on this: The Cavs, Celtics and Raptors combined still don’t have more SuperPoints than the Warriors. That’s why the Celtics haven’t been considered legitimate championship contenders despite nabbing the East’s No. 1 seed. In fact, if the Celtics were in the West, they’d rank seventh in star power by this rubric.

The analytical look is a bit more favorable for the Celtics’ supporting cast. Jae Crowder ranked in the top 30 by RPM this past season (don’t look at Thomas’ ranking). But this Celtics team isn’t anywhere near the 2007-08 superteam that beat the star-studded Lakers in the Finals.

How they move up: Signing Gordon Hayward would help, but he has been named an All-Star just once in his career and missed out on the latest All-NBA squad, giving him a whopping one point on this scale. He’s arguably a better player than some of the stars on this list, but no one would mistake the Celtics for a superteam even if he came to Boston. A Hayward-Thomas-Horford big three won’t rival Cleveland’s star trio, but they have plenty of youngsters who could help in the superteam department.

Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and the war chest of future first-rounders could produce a 2020 superteam in time for LeBron’s supposed decline. If Danny Ainge has a change of heart and pulls the trigger on a trade, look for the following names to be on their radar: Cousins, Jordan and Drummond.

Toronto Raptors

Stars: 2 (Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan)

SuperPoints: 7 (Lowry 4, DeRozan 3)

Masai Ujiri is keeping the band together. By bringing back Lowry (three years, $100 million) and Serge Ibaka (three years, $65 million), the Raptors essentially announced that they’re content with being good and not great. Being the new Atlanta Hawks isn’t the worst thing in the world. That also means no superteam expectations.

How they move up: Jonas Valanciunas finally makes the leap into stardom. Barring that, there’s no superteam in Toronto anytime soon. With the Ibaka and Lowry signings, the team has trod into luxury tax territory, making its flexibility almost nil. Being a perennial playoff team with 50-ish wins shouldn’t be laughed at. But they’re definitely a tier below in the star department.

Tier 4: Tomorrow’s superteam

Minnesota Timberwolves

Stars: 2 (Jimmy Butler and Jeff Teague)

SuperPoints: 5 (Butler 4 and Teague 1)

Meet everyone’s favorite superteam of tomorrow. Believe it or not, Karl-Anthony Towns hasn’t yet qualified for “star” status by this measure, which shows just how close this team is to superteam territory. RPM still views Andrew Wiggins’ peripherals as questionable enough to slot him outside the NBA’s top 250, but his scoring average — 23.6 points per game last season — suggests he’s on the cusp of stardom.

Teague probably will fall off this list soon. But between Towns and Butler, this team has some MVP candidates on deck. Remember, Butler was the seventh-best player by RPM this past season. If Towns’ defense improves, he’ll make this a no-doubt super duo in no time. But only five SuperPoints keep them from the upper echelons.

How they move up: You don’t have to squint hard at all to see a superteam consisting of Towns, Butler and Wiggins, but the third piece is probably further away than most would think. If another team is higher on Wiggins, don’t be surprised if the new Minnesota regime, which did not draft him, puts Wiggins in a trade for a win-now player — for the second time in his career.