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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.

Sources: New Orleans Pelicans meet with free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo about possible one-year deal

The New Orleans Pelicans sent a contingent of officials to Louisville on Thursday to meet with free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo about a possible one-year deal.

The New Orleans Pelicans sent a contingent of officials to Louisville on Thursday to meet with free-agent point guard Rajon Rondo about a possible one-year deal, league sources told ESPN.

One source briefed on the meeting said it was “excellent,” and the Pelicans and Rondo could begin negotiations as soon as Thursday, as there’s enthusiasm on both sides to try to work out an agreement, league sources told ESPN.

The Pelicans re-signed Jrue Holiday to a five-year, $126 million guaranteed deal that could be worth over $150 million with incentives, but they remain intrigued by the possibility of shifting Holiday off the ball for large chunks of games, sources told ESPN.

Rondo played with Pelicans center DeMarcus Cousins in Sacramento during the 2015-16 season, and the two formed a strong bond.

The Lakers also have shown interest in signing Rondo to a one-year deal, league sources said. The club has a $4.3 million exception it could use toward him.

Cousins will be a free agent after next season. The Pelicans are heavily invested in making the Cousins-Anthony Davis partnership work.

Sources said the Pelicans’ contingent dispatched from the Las Vegas Summer League to meet Rondo included general manager Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry.

Rondo surged in the playoffs before breaking his thumb after what had been a largely disappointing and turbulent season with the Chicago Bulls. He has received interest in free agency from a few teams, including the Lakers, who spent their remaining salary-cap space this week on a one-year deal for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

The Pelicans do not currently have a traditional backup point guard after trading Tim Frazier to the Washington Wizards for a second-round pick.

Upon early review, clearly these rebuilding Bulls have a ways to go

Fred Hoiberg chuckled nervously as he processed how he wanted to answer the question. Not often does a team have five of its potential rotational players for the upcoming season playing together in summer league action, but that was the case Saturday afternoon as Denzel Valentine, Cameron Payne, Kris Dunn, Paul Zipser and Lauri Markkanen couldn’t keep the Bulls from sinking late in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks.

So what is it like for a young coach to see so many of the players he will be counting on in a few months taking the court together in these exhibition games?

“Well, it’s, uh, it’s a good opportunity,” Hoiberg began.

The embattled coach then launched into some praise for Markkanen and gave an update on Zipser’s ankle injury.

Hoiberg, who has been under scrutiny since he took over for Tom Thibodeau a little more than two years ago, was trying to accentuate any positives he could find. The problem for the 44-year-old coach, and the organization itself, is that there aren’t many to see this week.

The 2017 Las Vegas Summer League was supposed to offer the first glimpse of promise surrounding the Bulls’ rebuild, a plan set in motion after a draft-day deal that sent All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The organization was optimistic that its young core would come to Vegas, show off its talent, and begin the process of developing together. Instead, the first week has shown just how far away the Bulls are from putting a compelling product on the floor.

Markkanen’s offensive skills have been the only thing for the Bulls to write home about. He has displayed a pure-looking jump shot, one the Bulls have been seeking on a consistent basis for years. He still needs to bulk up, a common refrain for a lot of young players and something Bulls GM Gar Forman discussed openly during the week.

The characteristic the Bulls are banking on in Markkanen’s game is not only his ability to space the floor, but the mental toughness it will take to bounce back after a tough night. That was on display in his 20-point, 10-rebound game in a win over the Washington Wizards. The fact that it came a day after Markkanen went 1-for-13 from the field, including 0-for-10 from beyond the arc, is a good sign for the 20-year-old Finnish product.

“He’s mobile,” Forman said. “He has physicality to him. He just has to get stronger physically. Like today, he missed shots but you thought every one was going down. He has a nice stroke. I thought he had some really nice passes today. This is all a process. It’s good to get him in our gym and our system and to start working.”

The rest of the production, or lack thereof, from the key players on this roster is a major concern for Forman and executive vice president John Paxson.
The strong play of first-round pick Lauri Markkanen is one positive the Bulls can take away from Las Vegas.
Dunn showed some defensive tenacity and a willingness to try to get to the rim in Saturday’s loss, but the lack of a consistent jump shot continues to hover over his game. Dunn said he feels much better about his mechanics heading into the season than he did a year ago, but the results have yet to back up that claim. Dunn will not play again in summer league after leaving Vegas for family reasons.

Zipser was a nonfactor in Saturday’s loss, going just 3-for-11 from the field, and hasn’t played since spraining his ankle in the same game.

Valentine has played in all three of the Bulls’ games but has really struggled to make an impact. He is a combined 12-for-44 from the field and has not shown the athleticism needed to separate himself at the professional level. Valentine expressed an interest in taking on more of a leadership role within the younger group of players during the upcoming rebuilding year, but it’s tough to develop that kind of voice when a player isn’t contributing at a high level during games.

Payne’s inability to contribute much at all is a microcosm of the Bulls’ entire summer league experience. Payne, acquired in a package from Oklahoma City at last February’s trade deadline for Taj Gibson, Doug McDermott and a second-round pick, didn’t just play poorly in his two-game stint in Vegas. He played like a prospect who has no long-term future in the NBA. Payne left the team on Tuesday to deal with a family issue and will not return. He looked lost on the floor, shooting a combined 9-for-26 from the field and turning the ball over seven times.

About the only thing the Bulls can bank on over the past week is that the young group has played hard. They’ll need to keep that tough mentality throughout the season when the adversity inevitably hits.

“I don’t know what tanking means,” Dunn said. “I go out there and try to win each and every game. Nobody in the locker room is gonna go out there and lose the game on purpose. Because then, why are you playing the game? We’re gonna go out there, try our hardest … we know we don’t have the superstars on our team but that don’t mean anything. If we go out and play hard and play together, we’ll be fine.”

A week in Vegas with this untested group of underperforming players suggests that’s still an open question.

C Rudy Gobert not mad at Gordon Hayward, but wishes Jazz exit had been better

Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert says he isn’t angry at Gordon Hayward for choosing to leave for the Boston Celtics, but expressed disappointment with the manner in which the All-Star small forward’s free-agency decision occurred.

“You cannot be mad at somebody for wanting to play for another team,” Gobert told ESPN while watching the Jazz’s summer league team in Las Vegas. “It’s just the way he handled it, that’s the thing I didn’t like. I’m happy for him at the same time. I hope he’s going to be happy over there and get what he’s looking for.”

The Jazz were left in limbo for the six hours between the time that ESPN’s Chris Haynes broke the news that Hayward intended to sign with the Celtics and Hayward publicly announced the decision to leave the Jazz with an essay published on The Players’ Tribune. In the meantime, Hayward’s camp said that he had not reached a decision. Utah management was not informed that Hayward had chosen to leave the Jazz until minutes before he went public with his decision.

Hayward did not inform Gobert or other teammates before announcing that he was leaving for Boston.

“To all his teammates, all the guys that he competed with for years, guys that sacrificed for him and for the team, not necessarily tell us but make sure as a team we can keep going forward if he leaves,” said Gobert, who traveled to San Diego along with Ricky Rubio, Joe Ingles and Rodney Hood the previous day for the Jazz’s pitch to Hayward. “I think that wasn’t the best way to do it, but I’m over it now. I’m just focused on the team.”

In the wake of Hayward’s announcement, Gobert posted a video on Instagram of him singing along with Chris Brown’s “Loyal.” However, Gobert would not acknowledge that the video was a shot at Hayward’s perceived disloyalty.
"It's just the way he handled it, that's the thing I didn't like," Rudy Gobert said of former teammate Gordon Hayward's exit out of Utah.
“I was just listening to music,” Gobert said, suppressing a smile. “I always do that. I always listen to music in my car and put up videos.”

Gobert, 25, who was a second-team All-NBA selection and the runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year, was adamant that he remains encouraged by the direction of the Jazz’s franchise despite Hayward’s departure following a 51-win season and first-round playoff victory.

Gobert, who is entering the first year of a four-year, $102 million contract extension, pointed to the trade for Rubio, the addition of lottery pick and summer league star Donovan Mitchell and the anticipated continued development of the Jazz’s young players as reasons for optimism.

“When you see the young guys and Ricky joining us, I’m very excited,” Gobert said. “We might end up being better than last year. Who knows? I think we’re going to keep getting better every year. The goal is to keep getting better and keep competing. The goal is still the same: win a championship in the close future.

“Watching summer league, watching the guys, I’m very confident. I’m excited for our team. Obviously, we lost Gordon, but we are still a very good team. We’re going to show people that we’re a good team.”

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.

Free-agent guard Dion Waiters agrees to terms on 4-year deal to return to Miami Heat

Free-agent guard Dion Waiters has agreed to terms on a four-year deal to return to the Miami Heat, league sources tell ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Waiters, 25, turned down a player option worth a little more than $3.2 million to test free agency.

Last season, his first in Miami, Waiters averaged 15.8 points per game, the second-best mark of his career. He also posted career highs in assists (4.3) and rebounds (3.3) per game, as well as 3-point percentage (.395).

Waiters was selected fourth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2012 draft and was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder in a three-team deal in January 2015.

Oklahoma City gave him a $6.8 million qualifying offer in the summer of 2016, but rescinded it later in July after losing Kevin Durant to the Golden State Warriors, giving Waiters the opportunity to sign elsewhere.

He eventually agreed to a $2.9 million deal with the Heat with a player option for 2017-18.