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Andrew Wiggins making himself at home in Minnesota

New Minnesota Timberwolves NBA basketball players, from left, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, Zach LaVine attend a news conference at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in Falcon Heights, Minn. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Brian Mark Peterson)

New Minnesota Timberwolves NBA basketball players, from left, Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young, Zach LaVine attend a news conference at the Minnesota State Fair on Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014, in Falcon Heights, Minn. (AP Photo/Star Tribune, Brian Mark Peterson)

NBA rules kept incoming rookie Andrew Wiggins in trade limbo all summer. Once the one-and-done Kansas University standout signed his first NBA contract with Cleveland, the Cavs couldn't deal him for 30 days.

Well, the uncertainty and embargo that mired the 19-year-old's time since becoming the No. 1 overall pick kind of worked in his favor. Wiggins arrived in Minneapolis just in time for the Minnesota State Fair.

Put those weeks of annoyance on a stick and toss them in a deep fryer. Or better yet, hop on some rides and sign some autographs.

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The Timberwolves utilized the fair crowd to introduce Wiggins and fellow new Minnesotans Anthony Bennett, Thaddeus Young and Zach LaVine — all acquired this summer (all but LaVine were added in the trade that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland).

Now that Minnesota has shipped away its former franchise player so he can join forces with LeBron James, the T'wolves are selling their new roster as one that will bring youth, excitement, defense and up-tempo basketball to the Target Center in the 2014-15 season.

Wiggins told media and fans at Tuesday's fair press conference the plan is to take the franchise in the right direction. During the session, the team's new players brought up Minnesota's now 10-year playoff drought multiple times.

"We're young, athletic," Wiggins said. "We have a lot of freaks on this team. And we all play hard, are competitive. So I think that'll help bring us to a whole different level."

Minnesota president and coach Flip Saunders hopes Wiggins will prove capable of leading a turn-around. Saunders said after the trade became official that Love was such a unique player, they wanted to be sure to get a solid asset in return when they dealt him away.

"A lot of times, in the history of it, people have gotten good players back, but maybe not what you consider a guy who has an opportunity to be a superstar-type player," the coach said.

"You're talking in Wiggins a player that, since he was in high school, people thought he was the best player to come out of high school since LeBron James. He's been compared to those (type of players) and he's got phenomenal ability. He's got a lot of work to do, but I know that he's a willing learner."

Saunders can already tell Wiggins is a hard worker and said the rookie could potentially develop into an all-defensive team player. The coach/president thinks the team has an identity now, with multiple two-way players.

As for what never was in Cleveland for the KU product, Wiggins just felt relieved to put on a jersey and know that will be the one he will wear for seasons to come.

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Wiggins said he didn't take the trade personally or feel rejected.

"I know it's a business," he said. "Organizations are like a family, really. If they feel like something's better for their family, they're gonna go through with that decision. That's what they did."

When LeBron joined the Cavs, Wiggins said it was a joyful moment.

Jeff Caplan wrote about the potentially odd relationship between Wiggins and James for NBA.com's Hang Time blog.

Rob Fulford, Wiggins’ high school coach at Huntington Prep, said his former player was too classy, humble and respectful to worry about that.

“I think this whole process with the trade rumors, he could care less. That kid just wants to play basketball. The fact that LeBron never reached out to him, Andrew could care less what LeBron James thinks of him.”

Bennett, who grew up in the basketball circuit around Wiggins, was taken No. 1 in the 2013 NBA Draft. The forward was asked if he had any advice for his fellow young Canadian.

"Work hard through the ups and downs," Bennett said. "I've been through it and it's only going into my second year. I just told him to stay focused, don't listen to all the talk people say. Just keep on the grind."


Embiid tweets signing selfie (of course he does)

Joel Embiid's Twitter presence has gained him thousands of fans. Above is the Philadelphia center's profile picture, a photoshopped image of him on a supposed dinner date with pop star Rihanna.

Joel Embiid's Twitter presence has gained him thousands of fans. Above is the Philadelphia center's profile picture, a photoshopped image of him on a supposed dinner date with pop star Rihanna.

Elsewhere, Tuesday held significance for Wiggins' KU teammate Joel Embiid, too.

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Signing an NBA contract figures to be a life-changing moment, especially considering he might have to alter his Twitter game.

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No one should be surprised that the big man was back to tweeting away shortly thereafter. But he did manage to avoid anything fine-worthy. Basically, Embiid is looking forward to rigging the NBA 2K15 video game in his favor.

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None by Joel SHMURDA Embiid

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Philadelphia GM Sam Hinkie said Tuesday it remains unclear when Embiid will debut for the 76ers, following his late-June surgery to repair his right foot.


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Rom-com: Things ‘going pretty well’ with Joel Embiid and Rihanna

It's not going to take long for one-and-done Kansas University center Joel Embiid to become a fan favorite in the NBA.

The gregarious 7-footer from Cameroon began heading down that road within days of becoming the No. 3 overall draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers.

He first made a splash on The Dan Patrick Show. The sportscaster spoke with Embiid about his ailing foot, his soccer background, his future in the league and how it appeared during the live NBA Draft television broadcast that Embiid wasn't pleased to be taken by the 76ers.

Before long, Embiid had Patrick cracking up.

But his star really began to shine as more people became aware of his tweet game. In the past couple of months, @JoelEmbiid has:

• tried to recruit LeBron James to the Sixers

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• declared his affection for Kim Kardashian, and then backed off

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• claimed multiple times he is going to stop tweeting

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• and announced his interest in pop star Rihanna

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Currently (as of Wednesday afternoon at least) Embiid's Twitter profile pic was a manipulated photo of him and Rihanna on a dinner date. And, of course, he has given this potential super-couple a nickname: Johanna.

Joel Embiid's Twitter presence has gained him thousands of fans. Above is the Philadelphia center's profile picture, a photoshopped image of him on a supposed dinner date with pop star Rihanna.

Joel Embiid's Twitter presence has gained him thousands of fans. Above is the Philadelphia center's profile picture, a photoshopped image of him on a supposed dinner date with pop star Rihanna.

Whatever his intentions — amusing himself or his 294,000 followers or something else — it's working. The world famous performer, with 36.7 million Twitter followers of her own, followed Embiid back.

The light-hearted big man described his reaction to that news in at interview with Complex — it basically involved smiling and a little celebratory dance.

Reporter Lang Whitaker also inquired with the injured rookie about his exploits for the All Ball blog at NBA.com.

In a video interview, Whitaker cut right to the chase, asking: "How's it going with Rhianna?"

Embiid didn't blink.

"It's going pretty well," he replied with the mock sincerity of a trained comedic actor.

They discussed his alleged date with the pop star and how he was able to pull that off.

"Girls love when I speak French, so every time I call, I just call them up in French," Embiid said.

Watch the whole interview at NBA.com.

In the meantime, make sure you keep up with the burgeoning comedian on Twitter for cheap/enjoyable entertainment.

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Embiid and Wiggins spend a day in front of cameras at rookie photo shoot

It's Rookie Photo Shoot Day! #NBARooks

It's Rookie Photo Shoot Day! #NBARooks by nba

The NBA gathered up almost 40 members of its 2014 draft class this weekend in New York for a rookie photo shoot.

Kansas University products Andrew Wiggins — Cleveland's No. 1 overall pick — and Joel Embiid — Philadelphia's No. 3 pick — of course featured prominently in the fun.

The shoot marked the first time Embiid appeared in a Sixers uniform. If you look closely in some pictures, you can see his still-protected (and injured) right foot, which kept him from participating in the NBA Summer League and will keep him out of Philly's lineup most, if not all, of the upcoming season.

While other rookies spent portions of the session putting on an aerial display for photos, basketball cards and an impromptu dunk contest that broke out…



Embiid had to take it pretty easy. At least he got in some work on his sky hook:



The NBA posted tons of images on its Instagram account and other social media platforms. Check out Embiid's Derrick Rose kicks that he wore for the shoot.

Check out @joelembiid's #RookieKicks! #NBARooks

Check out @joelembiid's #RookieKicks! #NBARooks by nba

The 7-foot jokester proved that he can at least pretend to be serious, too.

@joelembiid gets his portrait taken at the #NBARooks Photo Shoot.

@joelembiid gets his portrait taken at the #NBARooks Photo Shoot. by nba

He even autographed some photos.

@joelembiid autographs the 2014 #NBARooks photo!

@joelembiid autographs the 2014 #NBARooks photo! by nba

With no injuries holding him back, Wiggins got to have a little more fun.

@22wiggins takes flight at the #NBARooks Photo Shoot!

@22wiggins takes flight at the #NBARooks Photo Shoot! by nba

Like his KU teammate Embiid, he laced up a fresh pair of kicks for team adidas.

Check out @22wiggins' #RookieKicks! #NBARooks

Check out @22wiggins' #RookieKicks! #NBARooks by nba

And though posing for all those photos can't be the most entertaining endeavor…

@22wiggins of the @cavs gets his #NBARooks portrait taken.

@22wiggins of the @cavs gets his #NBARooks portrait taken. by nba

… Wiggins at least got to see a rough draft of his rookie card.

@22wiggins checks out his first @paniniamerica trading card! #NBARooks

@22wiggins checks out his first @paniniamerica trading card! #NBARooks by nba

One can't help but wonder if his cards will be worth more or less* once he gets traded to Minnesota, which seems almost inevitable at this point.

(*I guess basketball cards are still a thing. Are they actually worth any money?)

The whole photo shoot had to be kind of awkward for Wiggins. Everyone thinks he will be traded to the Timberwolves for all-star power forward Kevin Love before the season even begins, but he had to do all of these promotional photos in a Cleveland uniform, pretending like everything is fine and he and LeBron James will spend the next decade throwing lobs to each other.

Don't think he hasn't heard that the NBA's online store stopped selling his jersey. (Update: A league source told NBC Sports the jerseys were just sold out.)

Unfortunately, someone at the photo shoot thought it would be a good idea to put Wiggins on live TV for an interview. Which led to some uncomfortable moments for the 19-year-old Canadian.



What's more, Wiggins told the New York Post he hasn't even spoken with LeBron, adding, "I'm sure he's busy."

Now that we're all sort of feeling bad for Wiggins, let's end on a happier note. Check out NBA.com's photo gallery from the shoot.

And take a little time to read some of the NBA rookie Reddit AMA in which Wiggins and Embiid participated during their busy day.

Fellow rooks Marcus Smart of Boston and Noah Vonleh of Charlotte predicted Embiid will be the biggest trash-talker of the class. And the big man from Cameroon claimed he and music artist Rihanna went on a date and had fun.


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‘Boogie’ backs Ben McLemore, expects progress

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (16) drives the the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, April 13, 2014. The Kings won 106-103.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

Sacramento Kings guard Ben McLemore (16) drives the the basket against Minnesota Timberwolves guard Ricky Rubio (9) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Sacramento, Calif., on Sunday, April 13, 2014. The Kings won 106-103.(AP Photo/Steve Yeater)

No NBA rookie comes into the league and figures everything out in the span of 82 games. But some assimilate faster than others.

Kansas University lottery picks Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid will find that out soon enough. For proof, they could just examine the still young career of another Jayhawk.

Sacramento shooting guard Ben McLemore — coming off a somewhat disappointing debut season (8.8 points, 37.6-percent shooting) — hopes the Las Vegas Summer League will serve as his springboard to Year 2.

A look at McLemore's shot chart from his rookie season reveals there were really only a handful of spots the Kings would want him shooting from — either corner for three-pointers and inside the arc on the left wing.

Ben McLemore's shot performance from his rookie season with Sacramento. Green = FG% above league average; yellow = comparable to league average; red = below league average. (Via NBA.com/stats)

Ben McLemore's shot performance from his rookie season with Sacramento. Green = FG% above league average; yellow = comparable to league average; red = below league average. (Via NBA.com/stats)

Just about every other spot on the floor yielded little returns for the first-year guard out of KU.

After two games in Las Vegas, though, McLemore had converted just six of his 18 shots.

In the Kings' third Vegas game, Monday against the D-League Select team, McLemore finally found his stroke. The athletic young guard went 7-for-10 from the floor, 3-for-4 from the foul line, made one of his two three-pointers and finished with 18 points and six rebounds.

"My first two games, I was just too anxious," McLemore said in a video interview posted by News10, in Sacramento. "You know, not letting the game try to come to me and not playing my game."

His next time out? Even better.

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McLemore led the Kings with 22 points Thursday in a win against Minnesota, knocking down 7 of 11 shots — including 2 of 4 from three-point land — while converting all six of his free throws, dishing four assists and grabbing six boards.

He knows the kinks need to be addressed now if he wants to help keep Sacramento afloat in the highly competitive Western Conference during the regular season.

The Kings' star forward, DeMarcus "Boogie" Cousins, told ESPN's Bill Simmons he has faith in the 21-year-old shooting guard.

On an episode of his podcast, the B.S. Report, Simmons asked Cousins about "what's up" with McLemore after his "typical rookie" season. Cousins quickly spoke up for his teammate.

"He's gonna be an incredible player. He's just gotta keep growing," Cousins said.

Simmons suggested there weren't a lot of shots to go around in Sacramento last season for role players such as McLemore — what with Boogie, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas all averaging 20-plus points on the season — and Cousins agreed. But the Kings let point guard Thomas sign with Phoenix this summer and replaced him by picking up Darren Collison. So McLemore could have more opportunities in his second year — if rookie Nik Stauskas, from Michigan, doesn't beat him out for a spot in the starting lineup.

"That's like my little brother," Cousins said of the incumbent. "One thing about Ben, he works his tail off. With that alone, he's gonna be fine. I believe he'll have a better season this year."

The Sacramento big man predicted the Kings (28-54 in 2013-14) would break through and make the playoffs next season.

Simmons' response?

"You need your little brother, McLemore, to step up."


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The Gambler: Paul Pierce betting on young Wizards

Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce, top, scores over Washington Wizards' Marcin Gortat, left, Nene Hilario, right, and Martell Webster during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, in New York. Washington defeated Brooklyn 113-107. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Brooklyn Nets' Paul Pierce, top, scores over Washington Wizards' Marcin Gortat, left, Nene Hilario, right, and Martell Webster during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, in New York. Washington defeated Brooklyn 113-107. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Paul Pierce must be in the gambling mood this summer.

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After surviving for three days at the World Series of Poker Main Event last week in Las Vegas, finishing around 800th, the 16-year veteran out of Kansas University shocked many NBA observers when news surfaced late Saturday night he had reached a deal with Washington.

One of seven former KU players in the expansive pool of available free agents this summer, Pierce, like nearly every other veteran in search of a contract, had to wait until LeBron James made his Decision: The Sequel. Once The King announced his return to Cleveland on Friday, the rest of the league began making moves. The Wizards couldn't re-sign Trevor Ariza, who chose Houston. That left a void at small forward for D.C., which Pierce will happily fill after signing a two-year contract worth $10.8 million.

Prior to the deal, reports indicated Pierce preferred to re-sign with Brooklyn or find a way — preferably via sign-and-trade, for more money — to get on the Clippers' roster and reunite with his former Boston coach, Doc Rivers.

The Nets reached the Eastern Conference semifinals this past spring, and could have made a similar or better run in 2015 with Pierce, Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, aging-in-fast-forward Kevin Garnett and Brooklyn's key role players — assuming all were healthy.

Had Pierce landed in L.A., near his boyhood home of Inglewood, California, he could have joined a team that has to be considered one of the handful of favorites to contend for the NBA title next year, with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin leading the way.

Instead, "The Truth" decided to move in a different direction, to the nation's capital.

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Why Washington? Well, it's a lot easier to reach the NBA Finals out of the East. In 2013-14, nine Western Conference teams won at least 48 games. In the East, just four organizations — Indiana, Miami, Toronto and Chicago — managed to do so.

Plus, LeBron's relocation makes the East wide open. Miami is no longer a juggernaut. Indiana faltered down the stretch last season. And Toronto is no longer in position to surprise anybody.

Chicago, which added Pau Gasol and (presumably) gets Derrick Rose back from his second knee injury in two years, will be a favorite in the East, along with Cleveland (any team with LeBron James on its roster is a title contender).

Still, neither of those teams is a sure-fire bet. No one knows whether Rose can still play at an MVP level and LeBron will be surrounded by guys with little to no playoff experience — and that includes Kevin Love, if the Cavs can swing a deal for the coveted power forward.

Washington could unseat the Heat atop the Southeast Division and find itself among the conference's top three seeds. The Wizards (44-38 in '13-'14) advanced to the second round as the No. 5 seed in the playoffs a few months back. And D.C. has one of the best young backcourts in the league, with John Wall and Bradley Beal. Add Pierce, in a complimentary role, to those two, Marcin Gortat and Nene Hilario, and you've got a lineup that can play with any of the East's top teams.

Pierce is betting on Wall and Beal instead of Williams and Johnson. If his latest gamble pays off, he could be cashing in on a deep playoff run in 2015.


He's back

Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers, right, shoots as San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan defends during the second half in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers, right, shoots as San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan defends during the second half in Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals on Sunday, June 8, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

The weekend also brought new NBA contracts for 'Hawks in the NBA free agents Cole Aldrich (New York), Kirk Hinrich (Chicago) and Mario Chalmers (Miami), all of whom re-signed with their previous teams.

The most surprising of those deals, by far, has to be Chalmers' two-year agreement with Miami. A Heat scapegoat in what turned out to be the franchise's last LeBron hurrah, a 4-1 NBA Finals defeat at the hands of San Antonio, Chalmers was yanked from the starting lineup in Game 5 and presumed on his way out of town once Miami drafted UConn point guard Shabazz Napier.

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But James' departure left the Heat scrambling, so Chalmers, after averaging 4.4 points, 2.8 assists and 2.0 turnovers in the Finals, finds himself back in the fold with Miami's new Big Two: Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. (Big Three if you count newly signed Luol Deng.)

Xavier Henry, Drew Gooden and Brandon Rush remain on the market. Gooden is expected to re-sign with Washington, which would give the Wizards a pair of Jayhawks.

Rush will work out for some NBA teams Tuesday in Las Vegas. Bleacher Report's Ethan J. Skolnick says the Heat could be one franchise interested in the 6-foot-6 shooting guard, who only played 38 games for Utah in his sixth season.

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Recovering from a torn ligament in his left wrist and an abnormality in his right knee's meniscus, Henry said in June he expects to be at 100 percent before the end of the summer.


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Jeff Withey building bulk, confidence after rookie season

Kansas University all-time blocks leader Jeff Withey, top, denies Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka during a victory for Withey's Pelicans April 14, 2014, in New Orleans.

Kansas University all-time blocks leader Jeff Withey, top, denies Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka during a victory for Withey's Pelicans April 14, 2014, in New Orleans.

With his rookie year behind him, New Orleans center Jeff Withey wasted little time addressing his shortcomings — all of which he discovered existed the hard way, by getting pushed around inside — from his first tour of the NBA.

Kansas University’s career leader in blocked shots (311), the 7-footer from San Diego only swatted 50 in limited minutes (11.8 per game) for the Pelicans this past season. Speaking to media at the organization’s mini-camp earlier this week, Withey said his offseason plan of attack, which includes playing for New Orleans at the Las Vegas summer league, is designed to get him more confidence in the post and improve his defensive rebounding.

Playing in the paint at the highest level of basketball, the young center realized quickly putting some more bulk on his frame would do him a lot of good in every aspect of the game. In a video interview posted on New Orleans’ website, Withey said he has added 17 pounds since his rookie season ended in April.

New Orleans played its young backup big 18 minutes or more in eight of its final nine games. With that, Withey said, he began to feel as though he belonged.

“I knew I could play at this level. It’s just, once you get here, you’ve got to get the confidence and get the timing down and everything, and luckily I had good vets to help me out with that,” he said. “Now that it’s here, I just want to take full advantage of it.”

Thanks to the makeup of the Pelicans’ summer league roster, Withey will have extensive opportunities to further promote his worth. All-Star power forward Anthony Davis, center Omer Asik (reportedly acquired by New Orleans) and stretch forward Ryan Anderson figure to begin next season ahead of Withey on the depth chart. But the organization’s summer league coach, Bryan Gates, told The Times-Picayune’s Nakia Hogan he expects Withey to lead in Las Vegas.

“Everybody talks about we only have one draft pick (second-round choice Russ Smith, out of Louisville),” Gates said in Hogan’s story. “What’s summer league for? Summer league is for Jeff. Let’s see what Jeff can do.”

In his summer debut Friday night, a New Orleans victory against the D-League Select team, Withey scored eight points, secured seven rebounds and blocked three shots in 25 minutes, a team-high.

In 58 games as a rookie, Withey averaged 3.3 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks. However, as Hogan reported, those numbers went up to 8.1 points, 3.9 boards and 2.3 denials in 21.3 minutes during his final 10 games, when he made 60.8 percent of his shot attempts.

Pelicans head coach Monty Williams told The Times-Picayune that Withey still has a lot to learn, and Williams plans to work with him one-on-one in Vegas to get the most out of him.

“As good as he was last year, he’s still like most young guys,” Williams told Hogan. “He’s got to improve up here (mentally) to take advantage of the rest of his physical abilities.”

The only summer squad player who spent the entire regular season with New Orleans, Withey said the offense might not look too fluid in Vegas. But the man who hopes to help anchor the interior defensively for the Pelicans in the 2014-15 season could prove he deserves that role by protecting the rim the way he used to at Kansas.

“We should have the smarts,” Withey said, “and defense is just about knowing where you’re supposed to be, hustling, and we have that right now.”


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Las Vegas a showcase for Andrew Wiggins, other KU products

Houston Rockets’ Tarik Black, right, tries to shoot over Philadelphia 76ers’ Nerlens Noel in an NBA summer-league game, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Orlando, Florida.

Houston Rockets’ Tarik Black, right, tries to shoot over Philadelphia 76ers’ Nerlens Noel in an NBA summer-league game, Tuesday, July 8, 2014, in Orlando, Florida.

While Las Vegas became the center of the NBA universe this week, thanks to the arrival of the most sought after free agent on the planet, LeBron James, it will remain the league's epicenter for the next 11 days as far less known players try to make names for themselves.

The Vegas summer league opens Friday, and between now and July 21, seven former Kansas University players will be in uniform — some just trying to work on their games and become valuable pieces for their franchises, others hoping to impress the right decision-makers enough to land contracts.

Cleveland's No. 1 pick in the 2014 draft, rookie Andrew Wiggins, highlights the Jayhawks playing in Sin City. The explosive 19-year-old wing gets his first taste of the league at 7 p.m. (CST) Friday against Milwaukee and No. 2 pick Duke's Jabari Parker.

Wiggins sat down for a video interview with Fred McLeod, of the Cavs' website, and said he already is getting comfortable with his summer league teammates.

"I'm settling (in) pretty good," the one-and-done KU product said. "Coming in as a rookie, you know, there's a lot of new plays thrown at you. You just kind of have to get situated and feel comfortable — if you have any questions, ask questions. You really don't know the offense too well, so you've just got to learn."

McLeod asked whether Wiggins had to "flush out" the offensive sets he learned at Kansas and "learn from scratch." Wiggins said that wasn't the case. Rather he needed to familiarize himself with the intricacies of plays — where to dribble, when to look for a hand-off, knowing where to find back-door cutters.

"Some things from Kansas really translated to the next level," Wiggins said. "But also, there's a lot of new things I'm learning here, too."

The Cavs have made it clear they expect the 6-foot-8 rookie with a 7-foot wingspan to impact the game on defense immediately. Wiggins said his interest in that aspect of the game first materialized when he was in elementary school.

"I just always liked to defend," he said. "You know, my father (former NBA player Mitchell Wiggins) always told me that defense will bring you far. So that's always something I try to key in on."

Offensively, of course, the young skywalker admitted running the floor in transition is what he's best at right now.

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Mostly, Wiggins said first-year Cleveland coach David Blatt wants to see him and his teammates play with effort.

"He's not gonna take us out for missing shots," the former Jayhawk said. "He's gonna take us out for not bringing energy, not working hard."

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A year ago, as a rookie, Jeff Withey didn't know what to expect out of the summer league, or the NBA in general. This time around, the 7-footer told media at New Orleans' mini-camp, he has a much different outlook.

"I'm definitely a lot more comfortable," the Pelicans big man said in a video on the team's website. "I felt like I ended the season pretty confidently and I'm just trying to bring that into summer league. It's not as stressful for me, just because I know I'm under contract, I know that I have a year underneath my belt, so I know kind of what to expect. Last year was kind of a little frantic and (I was) kind of just worried about everything. Now I get to sit back and actually just play."

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With one more year of NBA experience than his former KU cohort Withey, Portland's Thomas Robinson said, individually, his offseason will be about improving his mid-range ability and developing go-to moves in the post.

"Other than that, just being smarter with the basketball — being able to read things before they happen and stuff like that," the 6-foot-10 power forward told the Trail Blazers' website.

What's more, Robinson said he just feels happier and more confident now as a player.

"I'm in a good place right now," he added, "so I plan to stay here."

Unrestricted free agent Cole Aldrich has played four years in the league and he'll suit up in Vegas with New York, the franchise that signed him to a one-year deal late last September, a little more than a month before the start of the season. The 6-11 center told the Journal-World he wants to re-sign with the Knicks. These summer league games could make that happen.

"This summer is a little different than last summer," Aldrich said earlier this week. "I think things this summer will get done quicker. Last summer was wait, wait, wait."

The other former Jayhawks playing in Las Vegas are: Tarik Black (Houston), Elijah Johnson (Philadelphia) and Ben McLemore (Sacramento). Like Aldrich, Black, Little and Johnson are not under contract with a franchise. Black also played for Houston in the Orlando summer league, where he had 11 points, five rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block in 21 minutes on Thursday.


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Ben McLemore not sweating Kings’ latest draft selection

Ben McLemore brings down the house as he slams home a monstrous dunk over Brady Morningstar during the annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, played Thursday evening at Lawrence High.

Ben McLemore brings down the house as he slams home a monstrous dunk over Brady Morningstar during the annual Rock Chalk Roundball Classic, played Thursday evening at Lawrence High. by John Young

Considering his team, the Sacramento Kings, had just selected a shooting guard — the same position at which he started 55 games as a rookie — with the eighth overall pick in the NBA Draft, Kansas University product Ben McLemore played it cool on draft night.

A year removed from his own introduction to the league, when the Kings took him seventh overall, McLemore sent out a welcome tweet to his new teammate (and potential competitor for playing time), Michigan guard Nik Stauskas:

None by Ben McLemore

Outwardly congenial, McLemore revealed to the Sacramento Bee's Jason Jones that the choice initially surprised him.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” McLemore told Jones. “At the same time, they felt he was the best available draft pick, so I’m fine with it. At the end of the day, it’s a business, and I’m just going to do what I have to do to get better as a player.”

While his rookie season included flashes of production and promise, such as when the league named McLemore the Western Conference rookie of the month in November, the first-year guard struggled in stretches, too. He finished the season with an 8.8 points per game scoring average and less than impressive shooting percentages: 37.6 from the floor and 32 from three-point range (he missed 202 of his 297 attempts).

None by Sacramento Kings

As McLemore and other members of the Kings' summer league team gathered in Las Vegas for mini-camp on Monday, head coach Michael Malone indicated to the Bee that McLemore's performance didn't inspire the organization to try and draft a replacement in Stauskas, a 6-foot-6 shooting specialist who drained 44.2 percent of his three-pointers this past season at Michigan.

“There’s only a few LeBron James, Kevin Durants, Kobe Bryants out there,” Malone said. “Most rookies come out and struggle. (McLemore) went through the struggling times. The most important thing for me was February was his toughest month, but in March and April he really got himself up off the mat. He showed resilience and finished the season on a high note (career high 31 points in finale).”

Jones reported Sacramento's Monday practice included some experimentation with playing McLemore and Stauskas side by side.

“It was good,” the rookie told the Bee. “For the most part, we were on the floor at the same time. He’s a great player, and hopefully we can feed off each other well.”

None by Sacramento Kings

After playing with Stauskas for the first time (they played against each other in the 2013 Sweet 16, when Michigan beat Kansas, 87-85, in overtime), McLemore gave a brief scouting report in a video interview posted on the Kings' website.

"We've kind of got a similar game," McLemore said. "We both can shoot the ball, we can put it down on the floor, you know, (do) different things. I think we'll be a good backcourt."

The Kings play their summer league opener Friday night in Las Vegas, against San Antonio.


None by NBA Pictures™

'Hawks in free agency

Paul Pierce is in Las Vegas, too. But not for the NBA's summer league. Apparently unfazed by his status as an uncommitted free agent, "The Truth" is working on one of his favorite hobbies at the World Series of Poker.

None by Paul Pierce

As for what uniform he'll wear in his 17th NBA season? Pierce could re-sign with Brooklyn. But ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo reported the 36-year-old small forward wants $9 to $10 million a year, while the Nets would like to pay him between $6 and $8 million.

According to Mazzeo, Nets general manager Billy King said the Los Angeles Clippers inquired about a sign-and-trade deal for Pierce, who teamed with Clippers coach Doc Rivers to win an NBA title in Boston. However, King didn't like what L.A. offered.

Like Pierce, the six other KU products looking to sign as free agents might have to wait for stars LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh to make their decisions, because so many teams are holding back on contract offers until those pieces of the personnel puzzle fall into place.

Also still in limbo are Mario Chalmers, Xavier Henry, Kirk Hinrich, Drew Gooden, Brandon Rush and Cole Aldrich.

Aldrich told the Journal-World on Monday he would like to re-up with New York. Gooden told the Washington Post's Dan Steinberg he is interested in remaining in D.C., with the Wizards. Hinrich has long stated his desire to keep playing for Chicago.


— Follow @BentonASmith on Twitter.

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Chalmers, six other KU products hit free agency market

Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers (15) goes to the basket as San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends in the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals, Thursday, June 12, 2014, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Miami Heat guard Mario Chalmers (15) goes to the basket as San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard (2) defends in the first half in Game 4 of the NBA basketball finals, Thursday, June 12, 2014, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Most NBA free agents can't wait for July 1. Shortly after midnight, the league's 30 teams can begin their full-court, offseasson press, courting the players they hope to throw multi-million dollar salaries at.

The start of free agency figures to bring equal parts anticipation and uncertainty to unrestricted free agent Mario Chalmers, coming off his sixth NBA season with Miami.

While the 6-foot-2 point guard from Kansas University became a starting lineup mainstay with the Heat, right along with superstar LeBron James and all-stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, his days with the Heat might be over after appearing in four straight NBA Finals with the organization that drafted him in the second round in 2008.

With Miami trying to figure out a way to to bring back the most sought after star in the NBA universe, James, as well as Wade and Bosh — all three free agents themselves — and trying to save every penny it can in the process, Chalmers suddenly appears dispensable. Though the former KU hero averaged 9.8 points and 4.9 assists this past regular season for Miami, but those numbers dropped to 6.4 points and 3.6 assists in the playoffs. Making matters worse for the free agent, Chalmers only put up 4.4 points and 2.8 assists, and averaged 2.0 turnovers in 23.1 minutes a game in the Finals, when San Antonio disposed of the back-to-back champs in five games.

Those five lackluster nights — 33 percent field goals in the series, 1-for-7 from 3-point range — in front of a world wide audience ignited the Twitter trolls, who posted pictures of trash alongside Chalmers' name or claimed his next uniform will be the one issued to Home Depot employees.

Of course, the only opinion that really matters is that of Heat president Pat Riley (who also figures to be keenly aware of LeBron's viewpoint). The night of the draft, James tweeted: "My favorite player in the draft! #Napier."

Shortly after, Miami pulled off a trade with Charlotte to attain the draft rights to Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier.

None by NBA Meme Team

Bleacher Report's Ethan Skolnick wrote about Riley's ability to acquire Napier without giving up Miami's other point guard, Norris Cole. Miami's man in charge said the incoming UConn rookie and Cole would compete for playing time, and didn't offer much on where that leaves Chalmers.

"Mario's a free agent, so (we've) got to deal with that," Riley said in the report.

Back on June 17, Skolnick caught up with Chalmers as players packed up for the summer and tweeted that the free agent point guard would prefer to stay with Miami, but was "excited" about free agency.

"Nobody wants to leave South Florida," Chalmers told Skolnick. "We'll see what happens."

NBCSports.com's Kurt Helin put Chalmers at No. 42 on his list of top 50 free agents. At USA Today's hoopshype.com, Chalmers comes in as the No. 10 point guard available this summer.

He won't be the only Kansas product chasing a new contract. In total, six other Jayhawks are unrestricted free agents: Brooklyn's Paul Pierce, the Los Angeles Lakers' Xavier Henry, Chicago's Kirk Hinrich, Washington's Drew Gooden, Utah's Brandon Rush and New York's Cole Aldrich.

Pierce seemed likely to re-sign with the Nets, but over the past few days, the team's head coach, Jason Kidd, decided he would rather work for Milwaukee. By Monday, the two organizations reached a deal to make Kidd the new coach of the Bucks. A new coach in Brooklyn could mean no more Pierce,

As ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin reported, Henry is recovering from a torn ligament in his left wrist and an abnormality in his right knee's meniscus. He could still be weeks of rehab away from 100 percent.

“All I know is I can play," Henry told McMenamin. "And when I’m 100 percent next season, I’m going to bring the energy and be able to play."

Hinrich stated on more than one occasion during the season that he would prefer to stay with the Bulls. But he might have to do some waiting to figure out if that's possible, as Chicago should be one of the major players in free agency and a possible landing spot for Carmelo Anthony.

Gooden, a late-season addition to Washington's roster might start his 13th NBA season in a striped Wizards uniform. Yahoo's Marc J. Spears tweeted Monday afternoon that the veteran power forward is expected to re-sign with D.C. for the league minimum.

The future, at this point, is far more unpredictable for Aldrich and Rush, though re-signing seems unlikely for either.

The Denver Nuggets' Darrell Arthur could have made it eight Jayhawks in free agency, but exercised the player option on his contract, instead of testing the waters. The six-year pro will make just under $3.5 million this coming season.


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Stock Watch: Wiggins favorite to go No. 1 after Embiid’s latest injury

KUsports.com graphic by Janella Williams

KUsports.com graphic by Janella Williams

For months, all interested parties assumed Kansas University basketball products Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid, as well as Duke's Jabari Parker, would go in the top three picks of the 2014 NBA Draft.

Late last week, serious doubt surrounding that theory appeared out of nowhere with the news that 7-foot Embiid had a stress fracture in the navicular bone on his right foot, which required surgery and at least four to six months of basketball-less recovery.

Now the center whose name many began pencilling in as Cleveland's choice at No. 1 could drop out of the top three, and some have suggested Embiid could fall as far as the bottom half of the top 10.

The fall of Embiid actually helps his KU teammate Wiggins, who could be Cleveland's new favorite choice, given Embiid's back and foot injuries during the past year.

In the Consensus Mock Draft put together by NBA.com's Drew Packham, Wiggins goes No. 1 to the Cavaliers, and Embiid falls to No. 3 and Philadelphia.

Using Packham's hub of mock drafts, as well as a couple others, we can see that Wiggins is a popular choice for Cleveland, but predictions regarding Embiid vary quite a bit more.

Andrew
Wiggins
Joel
Embiid
DraftExpress.com 1st 4th
MyNBADraft.com 2nd 4th
NBADraft.net
1st 3rd
DraftSite.com 1st 3rd
NBA.com 2nd 6th
ESPN.com 2nd 6th
SportsIllustrated.com (*posted June 18) *2nd *1st
SportingNews.com 1st 6th
SheridanHoops.com 1st 4th
NBADraftInsider.com 1st 6th
NetScoutsBasketball.com (*posted May 23) *2nd *1st
BleacherReport.com 3rd 6th
FoxSports.com (*posted June 16) *2nd *1st
CBSSports.com 1st 3rd

The clock is ticking in NBA front offices, and we can stop worrying about mock-ups come Thursday night, in Brooklyn, New York. Until then, here is the latest on the Jayhawks' stock.


Joel Embiid

Kansas center Joel Embiid wrestles for the ball with San Diego State forward JJ O'Brien during the second half on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas center Joel Embiid wrestles for the ball with San Diego State forward JJ O'Brien during the second half on Sunday, Jan. 5, 2013 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Fr., C, 7-foot, 250 pounds; from Yaounde, Cameroon

(All information uses only mock drafts posted since news of Embiid's foot injury)

Stock assessment: It seemed as recent as a week ago people were willing to look past Embiid's back injury, which kept him out of postseason games at Kansas. Now that his navicular bone is in the early stages of a lengthy healing process, his longterm health is under far more scrutiny. With multiple debilitating injuries popping up in the past six months alone, some NBA executives could be scared of wasting a high draft pick on a player who could spend more time on the injured list than the court.

Average mock draft position: 5th

Current high: 3rd (in three mock drafts)

Current low: 6th (in five mock drafts)

Overall movement: Falling — Embiid's seemingly limitless ceiling appeared to make him too good to pass up on at No. 1. His footwork, athleticism and ability to protect the paint made him the most coveted commodity to enter the NBA Draft since Kentucky big man Anthony Davis went No. 1 to New Orleans two years ago. Now the graceful (when healthy) big man is listed by oddsmakers at Bovada as the third-most likely No. 1 pick (12 to 1 odds) on Thursday, behind favorite Wiggins (1 to 2) and Parker (7 to 5). Soon we'll know which NBA franchise is willing to gamble on Embiid, and trust he can still have a prosperous career in the league.


Andrew Wiggins

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins celebrates after delivering on a breakaway dunk against Kansas State during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse.

Kansas guard Andrew Wiggins celebrates after delivering on a breakaway dunk against Kansas State during the second half on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014 at Allen Fieldhouse. by Nick Krug

Fr., G/F, 6-foot-8, 200 pounds; from Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

(All information uses only mock drafts posted since news of Embiid's foot injury)

Stock assessment: Embiid's loss is Wiggins' gain. The wildly athletic Canadian arrived at KU as the projected No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, and now he could be back atop Cleveland's big board. If Embiid and Wiggins have one thing in common besides their year at KU, its their upside. With a clean bill of health and the kind of speed and leap-out-of-the-arena ability that are difficult to find, Wiggins could turn into a better pro player than Parker, even if Parker is more ready to contribute right away.

Average mock draft position: 1st

Current high: 1st (in seven mock drafts)

Current low: 3rd (in one mock draft)

Overall movement: Rising — Seven of the 11 current mock drafts examined here have Wiggins going No. 1. That could mean he begins his NBA career in Cleveland. Or it could mean some other team who covets a young player with a bright future offers the Cavs some sort of trade package to land Wiggins. Philadelphia is thought to covet Wiggins, and the 76ers might be willing to trade up two spots from No. 3 to make sure they can get him.


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