Noel, Len atop NBA draft full of questions

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Noel, Len atop NBA draft full of questions

NEW YORK -- Nerlens Noel is coming off a major knee injury. Alex Len is in a walking boot.

One of them could be the No. 1 pick Thursday in an NBA draft that appears short on stardom, and neither looks ready to get his career off to a running start.

"This draft is really unpredictable, a lot of guys with injuries and you don't have any, like, LeBron James," Len said Wednesday. "So it's going to be interesting."

Ten years after James climbed on stage to start a draft that goes down as one of the best in recent memory, the No. 1 pick again belongs to Cleveland.

The Cavaliers won't find anyone who can play like James on the court -- if they keep the pick -- and even the climbing the stage part will be a challenge for the big men who opened their college seasons against each other and are competing again now.

Noel tore the ACL in his left knee on Feb. 12, ending his lone season at Kentucky. The 6-foot-11 freshman led the nation in shot blocking and his conference in rebounding, but hasn't been able to show the Cavaliers if his offensive game has grown.

The only basketball work he did during his visit to Cleveland was shooting some free throws. Perhaps the pants he wore with his sports jacket and orange tie were just too tight, but Noel was walking gingerly as he exited a hotel ballroom after meeting with the media Wednesday.

"I wanted to do more. Unfortunately I got hurt, but I mean I definitely felt right before I got injured I was really coming along as a player and just really coming into my own during that part of the season," Noel said. "But like I said, unfortunately I got hurt, so I wasn't able to show as much as I wanted to."

Nor has Len, but that hasn't stopped the 7-1 center from the Ukraine who spent two seasons at Maryland from climbing into the mix at No. 1. His left foot started bothering him around February, and he found out after the season that it was a stress fracture.

He was aware he was projected as a top-10 pick before the draft combine, but may go much higher even though his visits to teams have consisted of nothing more than interviews. He no longer needs crutches but will be in the boot for perhaps two more weeks.

So, with all these injury questions, what about playing it safe and picking a healthy guy?

"I mean, probably a lot of people wish it could be that easy," Kansas guard Ben McLemore said. "But it's a process for the teams, they've got to see what's available and what they really need. And like I said, this draft is up in the air and nobody knows what's going to happen, who's going to get drafted in which order."

Orlando has the No. 2 pick, followed by Washington, Charlotte and Phoenix.

McLemore, Indiana's Victor Oladipo, Georgetown forward Otto Porter and national player of the year Trey Burke of Michigan are among the other players who will hear their names called early at Barclays Center by NBA Commissioner David Stern in his final draft.

It's a class that won't draw any comparisons to the one that James led, which featured future Miami Heat teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with NBA scoring champion Carmelo Anthony among the first five picks.

Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King said a number of teams are trying to trade out of the draft and acquire extra picks for next year, which is expected to be a stronger class. But he doesn't know if there will be enough teams interested in being trade partners to get those deals done.

"There are good players in this draft, but right now, there are not impact players. What I mean by that is that there's no one you look at in this draft that within two years will be an All-Star, say like Kyrie Irving was, players like that," said Minnesota Timberwolves president Flip Saunders, referring to the guard Cleveland took with the No. 1 pick in 2011.

"And so in order for you to move up and dilute your talent pool and your roster, you've got to get an impact-type player, and I just don't believe ... there's good players, probably pretty good players in this league, but are they going to be that impact player who's going to be an All-Star or future Hall of Famer? That's what you don't see. And sometimes that's something you don't see for two or three years in a row."

McLemore has in some ways been hurt by healthy, since by being able to work out he's given teams something to nitpick. Noel and Len have been largely free of criticism while sitting on the sideline.

Instead, Len is hoping his first impression of the season is one that holds up, when he had a career-high 23 points, 12 rebounds and four blocks against Noel in Maryland's loss to Kentucky, right in the building where they will be Thursday.

"I did well against him. So, it's not up to me, it's up to teams," Len said of a team choosing between the two.

Neither player said he knows what the Cavs will do. There has been speculation they are open to dealing the pick, something teams rarely consider in a year with a clear-cut No. 1.

Noel said he had gotten no sense from the Cavs that they had concern about his knee, which could keep him off the court until early in the regular season. And in a draft full of questions, he believes selecting him is the right answer.

"I'm a good teammate, I definitely love to work," Noel said. "I want to get better. I want to be great, I want to reach my potential, be the best player I can be. I definitely do countless hours in the gym and I'm definitely working to get there."

AP Basketball Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

Sixers Mailbag: Joel Embiid's return, signing Kyle Lowry?

This week I tweeted asking for questions for a Sixers mailbag, and the replies came pouring in. (Thanks, everyone!)

So we changed it up and in addition to answering the questions in these articles, we also discussed some of the topics on PST Extra. Read below and watch the video for the responses.

If you tweeted a question with #CSNSixersMailbag and don't see it on here, there will be plenty more answered leading up to the draft and free agency.

Both players are planning to return to the court during the offseason.

Joel Embiid recently said he intends to be ready for opening night and to play all 82 games next season. That would mean he has a lot of work to do before then. Embiid, who underwent knee surgery in March, has been pleased with his rehab and is scheduled for another scan. He has not been jumping and plans to be cleared for 5-on-5 this summer.

"Every day I go in and do some rehab on my knee, on my whole body basically," Embiid said last week at the draft lottery. "Then [I] get on the court, shoot a little bit flat-footed, and then lift. After lifting, I go in the pool and [on the] treadmill and then start running in the pool. Usually, I'm there for about four, five hours every day."

Covington underwent surgery for a right meniscus tear in mid-April. He actually began his rehab before the procedure, which doctors told him could cut down on his recovery time. Following the surgery, the Sixers announced Covington was expected to "resume basketball activities" this summer.

Training camp is still months away. The players will be closely watched during that period before their availability and minutes are determined for the start of the season.

Rye.

And for the non-question, I'll give that a reply too. I see this point of view: draft a young small forward and bring in an experienced guard. I could envision an opposite scenario, though.

The Sixers could bolster their perimeter play through free agency or a trade. They lacked depth at small forward last season. A player with years on his résumé could fill that void faster than a rookie who will need time to develop into an NBA player.

As for Lowry, there's no question he can improve any NBA team. As I noted a few weeks ago, he is at a different stage in his career than the Sixers are in their progress. The Sixers also have Jerryd Bayless on the books to provide that veteran leadership to Ben Simmons as he learns how to play the one spot.

If I had to go with adding experience at one position or the other, I'd lean toward small forward over point guard.

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

NBA Notes: Cavs-Warriors III joins past championship trilogies

It never happened between Magic Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics. Same for Michael Jordan and Karl Malone or Jerry West and Bill Russell.

While there have been 14 rematches in NBA Finals history, this year's meeting between LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers and Stephen Curry's Golden State Warriors will be the first trilogy in league history.

After the Warriors beat the Cavs for their first title in 40 years in 2015, Cleveland got revenge last season with a comeback from 3-1 down to give the city its first major championship since 1964. Now they meet for the rubber match starting June 1 in Oakland.

While this may be unprecedented in the NBA, it has happened once before in the NFL, NHL and Major League Baseball with matchups that included some of those sports' biggest stars.

There was Babe Ruth vs. Frankie Frisch in the 1920s and then a pair of memorable three-peat matchups in the 1950s featuring Otto Graham against Bobby Layne in the NFL and Gordie Howe against Maurice Richard in the NHL.

Warriors: Durant once team’s 2nd choice
Truth be told, Golden State's former coach wasn't sure the Warriors needed Kevin Durant.

The Warriors were already small-ball sensations, capable of piling up the points with their daring drives and sizzling shooting. So rather than add another scorer, Don Nelson figured Golden State might be better off getting a dominant man in the middle to shore up the defense in the 2007 NBA draft.

Nelson thought the Warriors needed Greg Oden.

That was 10 years ago, leading up to the heavily hyped draft in which the Oden-Durant debate raged throughout basketball. And now, as Durant leads the league's most potent team into the NBA Finals while Oden is long gone from the NBA spotlight, it's easy to forget that a lot of people agreed with Nelson.

"I think everyone felt that there were two players there that were going to be prominent players, but one thing you can't count on is injuries," Warriors executive Jerry West said. "So Greg really never had a chance to have a career, where Kevin's obviously been more than advertised."

Celtics: Thomas unsure if he’ll need surgery
Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas wanted to keep playing in the Eastern Conference finals, but team doctors and officials convinced him he needed to shut down his season for his long-term health.

"They had multiple people come in and talk to me about what's more important," Thomas said Friday, a day after the Celtics were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "But I definitely wasn't trying to hear that at that point in time."

Thomas injured the hip in March and aggravated it in the second-round series against Washington. He played three halves against the Cavaliers before limping off the court in the middle of Game 2.

The Celtics lost that game by 44 points to fall behind 0-2 in the best-of-seven series, then announced the next day that Thomas was done for the season. Still, they beat the Cavaliers in Cleveland the next game before falling easily in Games 4 and 5.

"Eastern Conference finals, that's the biggest stage I've ever been on," Thomas said at the team's practice facility in Waltham, Massachusetts. "To not be able to go back out there in that second half and continue that series was painful. Like it hurt me."

Speaking for the first time since the end of his season, Thomas said he might need surgery but it's "not the No. 1 option right now." He will have to wait for more tests until the swelling goes down, he said (see full story).