Warriors to host explosive Duke big man at latest 2023 NBA Draft workout

Duke basketball big man Dereck Lively II highlights a list of intriguing prospects set to workout for the Golden State Warriors on Monday ahead of the 2023 NBA Draft. Joining him at Chase Center will be Jalen Wilson of Kansas, Arthur Kaluma of Creighton, Keyontae Johnson of Kansas State and Colin Castleton of Florida, according to Madeline Kenney of the Bay Area News Group.

Lively, a consensus top-five recruit in the High School Class of 2022, was considered a surefire lottery pick entering his freshman season with the Blue Devils. He struggled to live up to expectations, though, averaging 5.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in just 20.6 minutes per game, at times falling in and out of the starting lineup.

But Lively’s rare combination of length, coordination and timing made him one of most disruptive rim-protectors in the country, averaging 2.4 blocks per game and finishing with a 12.7% block rate—third-best in all of college basketball, per Sports Reference.

There’s no guaranteeing Lively will be on the board when Golden State is on the clock at No. 19. His ability to wall off the paint, finish towering lobs around the basket and possibly switch onto smalls without getting roasted at 7’1 makes him arguably the second-best center prospect in the draft behind Victor Wembanyama.

The same attributes that make Lively a potentially snug roster and schematic fit for the Warriors will no doubt be recognized by teams picking ahead of them. He could ultimately be taken in the back half of the lottery after all. Regardless, expect to hear rumors of Golden State’s interest in Lively until his name is called on June 22nd at Barclays Center.

Wilson and Kaluma are currently regarded as potential second-round picks, valued for their two-way versatility at forward. Johnson and Castleton could also be selected in the second round, or even be available on the undrafted free agent market.

The Warriors’ only pick in the 2023 NBA Draft comes at No. 19.

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Jets’ riskiest free agency decision in 2023 NFL offseason

Though their biggest offseason acquisition was trading for Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets also made several important moves in NFL free agency. The Jets filled holes at wide receiver and defensive tackle and bolstered their offensive line with several free agent signings.

Wide receivers Allen Lazard and Mecole Hardman were likely the two biggest names added from the free agent market. Signing receiver Randall Cobb, a favorite of Rodgers from their Green Bay Packers days, was a nice addition late in free agency.

Veterans Quinton Jefferson and Al Woods were brought in to replace Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shephard on the interior of the defensive line. They should fit nicely in a rotation that will include All-Pro Quinnen Williams, Solomon Thomas (re-signed this offseason), John Franklin-Myers and Micheal Clemons (the latter two will play defensive end as well as tackle).

Billy Turner was the key signing on the offensive line. The veteran will compete with Duane Brown and Mekhi Becton for a starting spot and is a nice upgrade as a backup if he’s not a starter. Free agency also brought Wes Schweitzer, Trystan Colon and Yodny Cajuste to provide quality depth on the line.

New York did not overlook special teams, where they re-signed kicker Greg Zuerlein after a solid 2022 season and signed punter Thomas Morstead to replace the inconsistent Braden Mann.

The Jets re-signed center Connor McGovern, their starter the past three seasons, to compete with rookie Joe Tippmann. And they re-signed linebacker Quincy Williams, an important move to bring back the rising star on the defense.

That said, let’s focus on the riskiest free agency decision made by the Jets in the 2023 NFL offseason.

Jets did not replace Kwon Alexander at linebacker

Re-signing Williams to start alongside C.J. Mosley at linebacker was pretty much an absolute must for the Jets. Quinnen’s older brother is coming into his own at 26, starting 28 games the past two seasons and finishing second behind Mosley in tackles with 110 in 2021 and 106 last season.

But the Jets left a hole at their third linebacker position by not re-signing Kwon Alexander nor replacing him in free agency. Alexander played roughly 50 percent of the defensive snaps last season with the Jets often deploying a nickel package that featured an extra corner in Michael Carter II.

Still, Alexander was a valuable leader and solid contributor, especially against the run. Replacing the former Pro Bowl linebacker from within won’t be easy.

Right now, the Jets will trust either Jamien Sherwood or Hamsah Nasirildeen to fill Alexander’s role. Each is a third-year pro and converted safety with limited NFL experience. Sherwood is the better prospect of the two and capably stepped in last season when Williams missed two games.

There’s also rookie sixth-round pick Zaire Barnes, though he’s expected to be a special teams contributor and not in the mix to play a lot of snaps at linebacker.

Of course, even if Sherwood, let’s say, is up to handling the third linebacker role, what happens should Mosley or Williams get injured and miss time? The Jets’ depth chart at linebacker in painfully thin, so not addressing the situation could come back to haunt them.

However, there might be a solution out there that still makes sense. Re-sign Alexander. The 28-year-old is still available, wants to return and is a favorite of the coaching staff.

The Jets have a chance to right a wrong. Let’s see what they do before training camp begins next month.

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3 early NBA free agency targets for Lakers in 2023 offseason

The Los Angeles Lakers can go in countless directions this offseason.

They can prioritize continuity, as Rob Pelinka indicated at exit interviews. They can clear out basically everybody besides LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Austin Reaves to create $35 million in cap space. Or, they can settle somewhere in the middle.

The Lakers will aim to stay under the $162 million luxury tax line to avoid harsh repeater penalties. They are reportedly determined to avoid the “second apron” of $179 million, which would trigger crippling roster-building limitations.

In terms of free agency, let’s start with their current roster. The organization intends to match any offer for Reaves, even up to $100 million, according to The Athletic. By all accounts, they’re hell-bent on re-signing Rui Hachimura, who could demand $16-$20 million annually. (Due to Hachimura’s $18.8 million cap hold vs. Reaves’ $2.2 million cap hold and their Bird rights, the Lakers can take care of Rui first, proceed with other transactions, then formally ink Reaves later). Los Angeles is likely to guarantee Jarred Vanderbilt’s $4.5 million 2023-24 salary.

The Lakers can renounce the rights to D’Angelo Russell and let him walk. Or, ideally, they could include DLo — and Malik Beasley’s $16.5 million team option and Mo Bamba’s $10.3 million contract, both of which they have to decide to pick up by June 30 — in a trade. (Klutch clients Fred VanVleet, Dejounte Murray, and Trae Young have been floated as possibilities.) Russell wanted $25 million from the Minnesota Timberwolves but seemingly damaged his value in the conference finals. If his market is tepid, the Lakers can bring him back at two years, $40 million.

Depending on how things shake out, the Lakers may be unable to retain Lonnie Walker IV and Dennis Schroder and sign quality rotation players. Theoretically, the Lakers could use the $12.2 nontaxpayer mid-level exception on Schroder and the $4.5 million bi-annual exception on Walker IV (or Wenyen Gabriel) — or divvy it up — but those players may see more lucrative offers elsewhere. (Schroder is tight with Darvin Ham and Walker IV is a Klutch client, so perhaps they’ll help the Lakers out.) Alternatively, the Lakers can deploy the $5 million taxpayer MLE. Using more than $5 million of the NTPMLE and/or the BAE would trigger the hard cap, around $169 million. Troy Brown Jr. and Tristan Thompson are free agents, as well.

Between their finances, the middling free agent class, Pelinka labeling their trade deadline approach as “pre-agency” and his emphasis on continuity, I wouldn’t expect the Lakers to be major players on the open market.

Kyrie Irving is the flashiest name available. The mutual interest between him and LeBron to reunite is well-known. However, as Jovan Buha reported in February, that ship has probably “sailed.” The Lakers would have to shed everybody on the roster not named LeBron, Anthony, or Austin, then hope Irving takes $12 million less than his annual max value. (The Dallas Mavericks sending Irving to Los Angeles via sign-and-trade is apparently a “pipedream.”)

The Lakers can theoretically pursue Los Angeles native James Harden should he decline his $35.6 million option from the Philadelphia 76ers. On paper, Harden might thrive alongside LeBron and AD, but he seems to want a long-term max extension and the culture fit is iffy; Harden seeks carte blanche from his employers and isn’t exactly known for delivering in high-stakes playoff games.

VanVleet can turn down his $22.8 million player option, though his path to Los Angeles is smoother via sign-and-trade. LeBron’s good buddy and Klutch client Draymond Green can decline his $27.5 million option, but the Lakers cannot sign either player without blowing up their squad. (VanVleet makes more sense. The Lakers don’t really need Green — their defense is elite with AD and spacing is a weakness.)

Realistically, any external signings will represent marginal upgrades. And that’s totally fine for a team that came within four wins of the Finals. Here are a few names that might make sense for the Los Angeles Lakers with NBA free agency about one month away.

Bruce Brown

Brown may play himself out of the Lakers’ price range, especially if he shines in the Finals. It’s hard to imagine the Denver Nuggets guard settling for anything less than the full mid-level. He’d be a great fit for the Lakers, though — for any team, really. Maybe the Lakers can re-sign Russell and add Brown at the expense of Schroder.

Max Strus may, too, earn a hefty bag thanks to his integral role in a Finals run (0-for-10 Game 1 notwithstanding). The 27-year-old could potentially command upwards of $20 million — and the Miami Heat may overpay to keep him. But the career 37.1% 3-point shooter would be a nice replacement for Beasley and Walker IV if the Lakers let Russell walk, or if his market proves cooler.

Jordan Clarkson would also make sense as a dynamic sixth man, but he’s also looking for $20 million after averaging a career-high 20.8 points per game.

Donte DiVincenzo

DiVincenzo is coming off a fine season with the Golden State Warriors — 12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 4.8 assists per 36 minutes, 39.7% from 3 — but he didn’t necessarily increase his value out of the Lakers’ price range. One would expect him to turn down his $4.7 million player option for 2023-24, even though he said Golden State feels like home. If he does, the Warriors — facing a gigantic luxury tax bill and second-apron consequences — may be forced to let him go.

DiVincenzo offers shooting, athleticism, and perimeter defense. His incessant off-ball movement would jell with high-IQ passers like LeBron and Reaves. The 26-year-old is familiar with Ham and his system, thanks to his three-plus seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Naz Reid

Bamba and Gabriel are decent options behind AD, but the Lakers could use more size in the backup center role, as evidenced by Ham’s decision to try Thompson on Nikola Jokic in Game 4 (he did OK!).

Reid, 23, will be a highly-coveted unrestricted free agent after four seasons with the Wolves. The Lakers are reportedly interested, and it’s easy to understand why. Reid averaged 22.5 points and 9.6 rebounds per 36 minutes in 2022-23. He shot 53.7% from the field and 34.6% from 3 on 6.2 attempts per game. Over his last two appearances against Los Angeles, the 6’9, 264-pound center — nicknamed Big Jelly — put up 38 points and 19 rebounds.

Brook Lopez would be the dream signing, but he vastly outperformed the MLE and is expected to stay in Milwaukee. Reid would be a logical option for the Lakers.

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Nets 2022-23 player grades: Dorian Finney-Smith

The Brooklyn Nets were not known for their wing depth throughout the Kevin Durant-Kyrie Irving era. However, following the trades of both stars at this year’s deadline, the team was suddenly left with a logjam at the position.

Dorian Finney-Smith was among the wings to join the Nets in the blockbuster deals. The 29-year-old’s stock had steadily risen within league circles in recent seasons due to his hard-nosed defense, three-point shooting and high-level playoff performances. While Finney-Smith appeared to be the 3-and-D wing Brooklyn had been missing in recent years, the team did not see immediate returns.

Dorian Finney-Smith’s 2022-23 season with Nets

In 26 games with the Nets, the Florida product averaged 7.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists. After shooting 35.5 percent from three with Dallas before the trade, Finney-Smith struggled to find his rhythm with the Nets, converting at a 30.6 percent clip. Some of those struggles may be attributed to a nagging injury to the pinky finger of his shooting hand.

Days after their first-round sweep against Philadelphia, the Nets announced Finney-Smith underwent successful surgery to correct a contracture on the finger and is expected to resume workouts in mid-June. A contracture is defined as a “tightening of the muscles, tendons, skin, and nearby tissues that cause joints to shorten and become very stiff.”

While his shooting struggles were glaring, Finney-Smith did flash his 3-and-D capabilities in spurts following the trade. He drained five threes to go with nine rebounds and two blocks during a 28-point comeback in Boston, tied for the largest in Nets franchise history.

Despite his slow start with the injured finger, Finney-Smith improved in the playoffs, shooting 7-of-17 (41.2 percent) from beyond the arc.

Regardless of his offensive deficiencies amid the change in scenery, the veteran’s defense was as advertised. At 6-f00t-7 with a seven-foot wing span, Finney-Smith effectively guards across positions in Brooklyn’s switch-heavy scheme. The Virginia native uses his length and quick feet to defend on the perimeter while utilizing his 220-pound frame to bang in the post.

With a 41.5-inch max vertical, he also turned in some highlight blocks off weakside rotations:

What does the future hold for Finney-Smith?

Finney-Smith is under contract for $28 million over the next two seasons before a $15 million player option in 2025-26. With a wing rotation that already includes Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Royce O’Neale and Joe Harris, league executives believe the Nets could look to cash in on some of their depth this summer. Finney-Smith or Royce O’Neale are the logical candidates to be moved in that scenario.

Brooklyn turned down two first-round picks for Finney-Smith at the trade deadline and could’ve landed one for O’Neale, according to HoopsHype. During his exit interview, the newly-acquired Net seemed to indicate Brooklyn could be in store for another roster shakeup in the coming months:

“Well, we got to see what’s going to happen this offseason, if we’re being honest,” Finney-Smith replied when asked how the team can gel this summer. “We know the pieces we have and you just never know in this league. So I guess we’re going to see after the draft. See what’s going on and go from there.”

Finney-Smith’s 2022-23 player grade

Overall, Finney-Smith’s shooting struggles were a problematic development for a Nets offense struggling to produce following Durant and Irving’s departures. However, his high-level defense remains a resounding positive. As long as his shooting can return to his career average, Finney-Smith should be a valuable role player to Brooklyn or whatever team decides to enter bidding for his services.

Dorian Finney-Smith’s 2022-23 grade with Nets: C

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BREAKING: Suns hire Frank Vogel as next head coach

The Phoenix Suns have their new head coach, choosing Frank Vogel to replace Monty Williams, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania and ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. 

Vogel, who is 49 years old, got the job over a group of finalists that included Suns associate head coach Kevin Young and former Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers. Former Toronto Raptors coach Nick Nurse was considered a candidate before he agreed to a deal with the Sixers.

Frank Vogel is a championship coach, something the Suns appeared to covet. Phoenix has superstars Devin Booker and Kevin Durant and must build a team around them. The Suns fired coach Monty Williams two days after their season ended in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Denver Nuggets.

Vogel last coached in 2020-21 for the Los Angeles Lakers. He and the Lakers won a championship in 2019-20. 

Los Angeles had the league’s top-ranked defense in Vogel’s first two years as coach. The Lakers built their team around two stars, forwards LeBron James and Anthony Davis, with role players and toughness.

The Suns are on a similar path with Booker and Durant.

Durant is under contract for the next three seasons. Booker is under contract through the 2027-28 season.

Phoenix has an immediate championship window. Suns owner Mat Ishbia has been very aggressive in the team’s pursuit of winning a championship, trading for Durant on the same day he had his introductory press conference as majority owner.

The Suns parted ways with beloved forwards Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson along with four unprotected first-round picks and a pick swap in 2028.

Frank Vogel had a 127-98 record in three seasons with the Lakers. He previously coached the Indiana Pacers (2010-2016) and then the Orlando Magic (2016-2018). 

Vogel has a combined record of 431-389 in his 11 seasons as an NBA coach.

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Sixers’ notable 2022 offseason signing makes $4.3 million contract decision

The Philadelphia 76ers are ready to begin a fresh chapter under new head coach Nick Nurse. In order for him to succeed, Philly will need the right players around him. One of their athletic 3-and-D wings from last season’s squad, Danuel House Jr., will stick around and try to earn a more solidified role as a reserve.

House has picked up his $4.3 million player option for the 2023-2024 season, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. He signed a contract with the Sixers last offseason, along with P.J. Tucker, but the team was hit with tampering charges. For those signings, Philly was charged two second-round picks.

Although the Sixers broke league rules to bring him in, House fell out of Doc Rivers’ rotation as the season went on. His familiarity with James Harden made him appealing to the Sixers, as he spent two seasons alongside the Beard with the Houston Rockets. House appeared in just 56 regular-season games, including five starts, and averaged 4.8 points per game.

During the Sixers’ second-round series against the Boston Celtics, House got playing time in Game 5 with the series tied. He provided a scoring boost off the bench, scoring 10 points on 5-7 shooting in 15 minutes, but was a non-factor for the rest of the series.

Danuel House Jr. projects to be a good fit under Nurse because of his energy and athleticism. He shot just 33.6 percent on three-point attempts last season but could improve if given more regular playing time. Across his four seasons prior to joining the Sixers, he shot 37.3 percent from deep.

Additionally,  Nurse’s defense usually requires perimeter players to scramble often in order to contest shots. House should be able to do that while serving as someone who can run the floor in transition. He also has a good sense for moving without the ball in the halfcourt, another trait that Nurse is keen on with his offenses. While his spot in the rotation isn’t guaranteed, he should have a good shot at earning one.

Along with James Harden and Montrezl Harrell, House was one of three Sixers with a team option for next season. Harden is widely expected to decline his option and test free agency. Harrell’s option is worth $2.7 million, which is just under the estimated veteran minimum. The deadline to decide is June 29.

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7 traits that made Nick Nurse Sixers’ top coaching candidate, per Daryl Morey

CAMDEN, NJ — When the Philadelphia 76ers set out to find their next head coach after firing Doc Rivers, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey laid out some traits he is looking for in the ideal candidate. In Nick Nurse, he found his man. The Sixers made him their top choice for the job and convinced him to take the job over the Phoenix Suns’ opening.

Morey and Sixers owner Josh Harris introduced Nurse, who led the Toronto Raptors to the 2019 championship, as the 26th head coach in franchise history on the same day as Game 1 of the 2023 NBA Finals. The championship series serves as a reminder of the work that needs to be done in order to turn Joel Embiid and the Sixers into a champion.

Nurse having an NBA title under his belt — as well as G League championships in 2011 and 2013 with different teams — was one of the five factors laid out by Morey that shows why Philly desired him. He’s the only coach to steer both a G League and NBA team to the ultimate prize.

“Obviously, championship pedigree on multiple levels is a big, big factor,” Morey said. “His creativity. Like I mentioned before, the fact that [he is] a partner in how to create results together, I think is a big factor. I think he sort of checks every box: relationships with players, working with star players, tactics, someone that people in the league want to play for. It’s a pretty long list and we thought he’s a pretty special candidate.”

That list of traits runs in line with what Morey said two weeks ago about his ideal coach for the Sixers. Morey spoke highly of Rivers but he was hired roughly a month before Morey took the Sixers’ job. The partnership between Nurse and Morey should be more in sync, especially because Nurse coached the Houston Rockets’ G League team when Morey was their general manager.

Before they first joined forces, Nurse was the head coach of the Iowa Energy. They won the 2011 championship over the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and Nurse was that season’s Coach of the Year award recipient. Five months later, Nurse was hired by the Vipers, working a few levels beneath Morey but pulling in the same direction nonetheless. Both the Rockets and Vipers were on a quest to maximize their offensive efficiency.

“I was interested in going to work with Daryl once we started talking,” Nurse said. “I mean, there was a lot of kind of analytical things, innovative ideas, etc. And that kind of really triggered me. I thought I thought it’d be a chance for me to grow as a coach.”

Nurse cited that desired growth as a coach upon his arrival to the Rockets organization. He said that the setting adopted the mindset of a laboratory where he was expected to experiment on the hardwood. He said that Morey encouraged innovation and creativity, which indeed helped him improve his coaching.

Going to different tactics helped the Raptors not only win it all but remain a highly competitive team the next year after losing superstar Kawhi Leonard. Nurse won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award in the 2019-20 season, showing that he can also build a strong defensive unit. The Raptors had the league’s second-best defense.

Reflecting on Nurse’s arrival to the Vipers, Morey said that the Sixers were similarly looking for a coach with ingenuity. The work Nurse did for the Vipers impressed the Raptors, who brought him on as an assistant coach in 2013. He served as the de facto offensive coordinator under Dwane Casey the season prior to becoming Toronto’s head coach, fine-tuning his ability to work with different players and install different schemes based on what each team, game and possession calls for.

“Coaching is just trying things and when they work, we keep them in our toolbox,” Nurse said, “and when they don’t work, we crumble them up and get rid of them right away.”

That willingness to try new things made Nurse a successful coach and ideal candidate for vacancies during the 2023 offseason coach cycle. Before getting much of a chance to dissect Philly’s roster as it stands, he has ideas for the developments of Embiid and Tyrese Maxey. He understands that the urgency for the Sixers to advance past the second round is profound. But he’s also not one to dwell on the past.

“That combination of staying healthy, the ball bouncing your way, figuring out the long grind that it is to go from the start of the playoffs to winning a title — all those things, very difficult,” Nurse said of winning in the playoffs. “You gotta be able to do all that stuff.

“And as far as the rest of it, I look at it like this: I don’t really vibrate on the frequency of the past,” Nurse continued. “Like, to me when we get a chance to start to dig into this thing a little bit, it’s going to be only focused on what we’re trying to do going forward. That doesn’t matter. Next season, whatever’s happened for the last how many whatever years, doesn’t matter.”

The Sixers’ past frequencies have scrambled the hopes that an Embiid-led team can achieve greatness. Morey and Philly’s leadership hope Nurse’s tactical flexibility will put them on a path to that greater level of success.

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2023 NBA Draft Big Board prospects who decided to return to college

The 2023 NBA Draft is set to take place in Barclays Center on June 22, exactly three weeks from now. Victor Wembanyama, Brandon Miller, Scoot Henderson and many of the other top prospects in this year’s draft will be hearing their names called, but there are plenty other potential prospects who will wait until next year to hear their name called.

Wednesday, May 31 marked the final day for those who applied for the draft as “early entry” to withdraw and return to college. The NBA announced that a total of 108 players notified the league that they wish to be removed from this year’s draft list in order to remain NCAA eligible.

Of the 108 players pulling out of this year’s draft, several of them ranked inside the Top-100 of ClutchPoints’ 2023 NBA Big Board 2.0 and five of them were listed in ClutchPoints’ 2023 NBA Mock Draft 2.0 released earlier this week.

Below is a list of prospects that withdrew from this year’s draft that were featured on the big board with their recent draft ranking:

  • Dillon Mitchell (Texas, ranked #40)
  • Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois, #48)
  • Reece Beekman (Virginia – #51)
  • DaRon Holmes (Dayton, #59)
  • Adem Bona (UCLA, #61)
  • Cole Hawkins (Illinois, #63)
  • Zach Edey (Purdue, #65)
  • Trey Alexander (Creighton, #69)
  • Arthur Kaluma (Creighton, #70)
  • Ryan Kalkbrenner (Creighton, #73)
  • Johni Broome (Auburn, #75)
  • Matthew Murrell (Ole Miss, #76)
  • Kevin McCullar (Kansas, #79)
  • Jalen Bridges (Baylor, #80)
  • PJ Hall (Clemson, #83)
  • Grant Nelson (North Dakota State, #91)
  • Judah Mintz (Syracuse, #92)
  • Hakim Hart (Maryland, #93)
  • Tyler Burton (Richmond, #94)
  • Josiah-Jordan James (Tennessee, #95)
  • Cliff Omoruyi (Rutgers, #96)
  • Dillon Jones (Weber State, #100)

Zach Edey (Purdue), Terrence Shannon Jr. (Illinois) and Dillon Mitchell (Texas) are the three biggest names that stand out on this list, as all three were projected to be second-round picks in this year’s draft. Mitchell was getting consideration to be a late first-round prospect as a result of his explosiveness and athleticism.

These three players will return to college, along with those listed above, and will likely be first-round prospects by the time the 2024 draft process begins next year.

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Sixers’ Nick Nurse sidesteps James Harden question ahead of free agency

What James Harden decides to do this offseason will have a major impact on what the future of the Philadelphia 76ers looks like. The Sixers All-Star has until June 29 to decide if he is opting into or out of his $35.6 million player option for next season with the belief around the league being that he is going to become an unrestricted free agent.

At his introductory press conference on Thursday, newly appointed 76ers head coach Nick Nurse was asked about the possibility of Harden returning to Philadelphia this summer. His answer has definitely raised some eyebrows.

“James Harden is a great player,” Nurse said briefly when asked if he wants Harden back. The reporter asking the question then told Nurse that he did not answer him fully, to which the 76ers coach responded, “Well, I would say this is that James has a decision to make and I’d be very happy if he came back.”

What was surprising by Nurse’s initial response to the question of wanting Harden to return to the 76ers was that he almost dodged it entirely. Harden and his pending free agency is a big topic of discussion in Philadelphia, but it almost appeared as if the Sixers and their coach wanted no part in answering anything about the former league MVP.

Returning to the 76ers this offseason should he opt out of his contract remains a likely scenario for Harden, but the ten-time All-Star has also been linked to his former team in the Houston Rockets. No matter who the head coach is or what the roster looks like around him, Harden will always be the second-best player alongside Joel Embiid, which could be one of the reasons why he is giving though to leaving.

In the event that Harden does depart Philadelphia, president of basketball operations Daryl Morey will need to get creative with either salvaging value for Harden or flipping him in a deal for another All-Star quality player. Recently, sources informed ClutchPoints that Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet has emerged as a potential replacement for Harden this offseason.

VanVleet holds a strong relationship with Nurse stemming from their time together with the Raptors and he will enter free agency as one of the best players available should he opt out of his $22.8 million player option.

Harden’s future in Philadelphia remains a major question mark this offseason and Nurse’s comments on Thursday reinforce the idea of the All-Star potentially leaving.

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Nick Nurse reveals why he snubbed Suns for Sixers’ head coach job

CAMDEN, NJ — It didn’t take Nick Nurse too long to find a new gig after being fired by the Toronto Raptors. The Philadelphia 76ers not only hired him but made him their top choice in their search for a new head coach. Nurse’s brief rivalry with the Sixers is over as he prepares to install a winning plan centered around Joel Embiid.

Nurse was in the running for the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns’ openings, too. He withdrew from Milwaukee’s search before they hired one of his former assistants, Adrian Griffin. The Suns made him one of their finalists for the job, along with former Sixers coach Doc Rivers and former Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel, among others.

The Suns are going through a transition period with new owner Mat Ishbia but have a pair of superstars in Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. What made Nurse choose the Sixers instead? Above all, familiarity with the situation.

“Well, there’s several things you’re evaluating,” Nurse said. “First of all, I know what’s a good team because I’m in the trenches trying to battle you guys a lot. Pretty good rivalry, right? We saw each other a lot and playoffs and stuff as well. Certainly a big factor.”

Nurse’s Raptors played the Sixers in the playoffs twice. They beat them in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2019 on their way to a championship and then lost in the first round in 2022. As conference rivals, they played each other plenty during the regular season.

“And then, I think what’s most important is ownership. Just just like the other side, do your research, and everything I hear is super positive,” Nurse continued. “And I know Daryl and Daryl’s track record of getting players and putting together a roster that can compete for the title, I think speaks for itself. And that’s what made it a fairly easy decision in the end.”

Morey and Nurse worked together previously with the Houston Rockets organization. Nurse was the head coach of their G League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and won a championship with the vision he helped Morey craft. Now, the two old friends are teaming up to try to make the Sixers champions.

In their statement announcing Nurse’s hire, the Sixers pointed to his championship and creative strategies. The expectations for him will be massive as Philly tries to finally make a deep playoff run.

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