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Some rumors coming out of the Chicago pre-draft camp
• Check out Chad Ford's blog for the latest on draft workouts in Chicago.
CHICAGO – The Chicago predraft camp officially got under way Tuesday night with 64 prospects playing their hearts out in scrimmages in front of hundreds of NBA scouts and executives.
The action was fast and furious on three different courts for an hour and a half, but serious scouting won't begin until today, when individual drills and actual games start.
That meant that the name of the game Tuesday night was rumors. Lots of them. Some good, some not so good.
Insider talked to dozens of NBA executives and scouts to get the latest scuttlebutt. Here's what we're hearing.
• The most interesting draft rumor flying around this weekend had the Blazers and Celtics talking about a deal that would send Paul Pierce to Portland for the No. 3 pick in the draft and Nick Van Exel.
On Tuesday, Celtics director of basketball operations Danny Ainge shot that rumor down, telling Insider it was "ludicrous." Ainge said he had no intention of trading Pierce, especially for a draft pick.
Still, it's an interesting idea.
Van Exel has a team option on his contract this year. That means the Celtics could trade for his $12.7 million contract, and essentially waive him without owing him a penny. In other words, the Celtics would get the draft pick and cut their cap by more than $13 million (Pierce makes a little more than Van Exel).
It's obvious why the Blazers would do it. Adding an All-Star like Pierce at the two would be a major upgrade. If Portland could find a veteran point guard in free agency to back up Sebastian Telfair, it could be back in the playoff mix next year.
The Celtics also have motivation to do a deal like this. Pierce is unhappy. The Celtics don't sound like they're bringing back Antoine Walker and Gary Payton (both are free agents) next season, which is only going to make matters worse with Pierce.
By not re-signing Walker and Payton and by trading Pierce, the Celtics could accomplish a couple of things.
First, by making the move, Boston would be around $10 million under the cap going into the summer. That would allow Ainge to be aggressive on the free agent market. The Celtics would love to have a long, athletic shot blocker like Samuel Dalembert, Tyson Chandler or Stromile Swift. They would have enough cash to be a contender for one of these players by trading Pierce.
Second, the Celtics would be in a position to draft a potential superstar such as North Carolina swingman Marvin Williams or Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul. One of these two should be on the board at No. 3. They'd also retain their No. 18 pick in the draft.
While making these moves would likely mean the Celtics slip a little in the standings next year, Ainge would be putting together a pretty awesome long-term foundation for the Green. Both Paul and Williams have the potential to be superstars. Al Jefferson looks like he could be an All-Star someday. Delonte West and Tony Allen also appear to have bright NBA futures.
The downside of the deal is just as troubling. Ainge would be trading a proven star and scorer for potential and cap room. Given how lopsided the trades of Shaquille O'Neal, Vince Carter and Tracy McGrady have looked in hindsight, you can understand the hesitation.
• Every year about this time we start hearing about team promises to underclassmen. The draft promise is steeped in folklore, but also is very real. It doesn't happen as much as agents and the media claim it does, but it does happen.
Telfair, Ben Gordon, Andris Biedrins, Robert Swift and Sasha Vujacic all received promises in 2004.
Promises happen when teams tell players they pledge to take them with their picks if they agree to shut down their workouts or stay in the draft (for underclassmen eligible to withdraw).
This year, there have already been two false Internet reports about promises.
The first had the Warriors promising to take Channing Frye at No. 9. While the team is strongly considering him at that position, both the Warriors and Frye's agent say it's bogus. Considering that Frye is a senior and is planning on working out for teams above the Warriors, what would the Warriors gain by making the promise?
The other ridiculous one had the Suns promising to take Arizona State's Ike Diogu at No. 21. Diogu held a press conference Tuesday claiming he wasn't even sure he'd stay in the draft. Factor in that the Suns haven't even had him in for a workout, and that Diogu is working out for teams drafting both before and after the Suns, and it doesn't seem to make any sense.
Tuesday night, the buzz was that Russian prospect Yaroslav Korolev got a promise in the "12-15 range," according to multiple NBA general managers. GMs were split on whether it was the Clippers or the Nets who made the promise.
Korolev was expected to join the Russian junior national team in a tournament in San Diego this weekend. However, he withdrew at the last second with a mild ankle sprain. That's partly what has been fueling the rumors.
Korolev's agent, Marc Fleisher, denied to Insider Wednesday that a promise had been made. However, he said it is "very likely" Korolev will stay in the draft.
"There's been significant interest," Fleisher said. "We haven't made a final decision, but I think he stays in."
As far as sure-fire NBA prospects go, Korolev looks like the real thing. He's been on scouts' radars now for two years, but he really put it all together at a juniors tournament at the Euroleague Final Four in Moscow in May, averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
Korolev is one of the most complete young players in Europe. He's a long, 6-foot-9 small forward with great athleticism, an excellent long-range jumper and superb ballhandling skills. His father is a former Russian basketball player and coach, and it's clear dad has rubbed off on him. While scouts are a little concerned about his toughness and decision-making skills (he takes a lot of unnecessary chances), he's clearly a blue-chip NBA prospect. The only thing he really lacks is significant playing time at the senior level.
Fleisher says Korolev's buyout with CSKA Moscow still has to be negotiated, but he said it looks like a framework is starting to come into place that would pay CSKA $1.5 million if he's a top-10 pick, $750,000 if he goes 10-20 and $500,000 if he goes below No. 20. Under those scenarios, Korolev would be available to come directly to the NBA next season.
• The Hawks have been in numerous conversations with teams about adding more first-round picks. They know they are going to struggle to lure top free agents to Atlanta this summer with all of their cap room and are trying to fill out the roster with young players.
That could open the door for a Hawks-Bobcats swap on draft night if Marvin Williams is available at No. 2. The Bobcats sound willing to part with the No. 5 and No. 13 picks for Williams.
• As happens every year, not every prospect who promised to attend actually showed. Two of the 12 best prospects due in the camp, Kentucky's Randolph Morris and prep star Louis Williams, pulled out Tuesday afternoon. They were replaced by Georgia Tech's Will Bynum and Fresno State's Mustafa Al-Sayyad.
Morris is in Chicago and is expected to participate in a private workout today with prep star Amir Johnson, Arkansas' Olu Famutimi, Duke's Daniel Ewing and Georgetown's Brandon Bowman.
Two other top prospects, Arizona's Salim Stoudamire and Kentucky's Kelenna Azubuike, also weren't in attendance. Stoudamire had travel problems. Azubuike was injured in practices Monday.
• The players just went through scrimmages Tuesday evening, but Maryland's John Gilchrist, Memphis' Sean Banks, Florida's David Lee, St. Joseph's Dwayne Jones, George Washington's Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Louisville's Ellis Myles, Poland's Marcin Gortat, Chicago State's Deji Akindele, Pepperdine's Alex Acker and Washington's Will Conroy caught the eyes of several NBA scouts in attendance.