There's an easy way to backdoor into Insider. Don't pay the 40 bucks for it. Go to a store and look at the ESPN Magazine subscription cards. Usually you can find one in there for 2 years of the Magazine for like 20 bucks. When you get the Mag, you get Insider for free. You can also look online, but the deals aren't as good as in the newsstand mags.
1. Clippers - Blake Griffin
2. Grizzlies - Hasheem Thabeet
3. Thunder - Ricky Rubio
4. Kings - Tyreke Evans
5. Wizards - James Harden
6. T'Wolves - Stephen Curry
7. Warriors - Jordan Hill
8. Knicks - Brandon Jennings
9. Raptors - DeMar DeRozan
10. Bucks - Jrue Holiday
11. Nets - Jonny Flynn
12. Bobcats - Terrence Williams
13. Pacers - DeJuan Blair
14. Suns - Gerald Henderson
15. Pistons - Ear Clark
16. Bulls - James Johnson
17. Sixers - Ty Lawson
18. T'Wolves - BJ Mullens
19. Hawks - Jeff Teague
20. Utah - Tyler Hansbrough
21. Hornets - Sam Young
22. Mavs - Eric Maynor
23. Kings - Austin Daye
24. Blazers - DaJuan Summers
25. Thunder - Chase Budinger
26. Bulls - Toney Douglas
27. Grizzlies - Omri Casspi
28. T'Wolves - Jonas Jerebko (Sweeden)
29. Lakers - Darren Collison
30. Cavs - Derrick Brown
31. Kings - Nick Calathes
32. Wizards - Patrick Mills
33. Blazers - Victor Claver (Spain)
34. Nuggets - Jeff Pendergraph
35. Pistons - DeMarre Carroll
36. Grizzlies - Jon Brockman
37. Spurs - Jermaine Taylor
38. Blazers - Taj Gibson
39. Pistons - Danny Green
40. Bobcats - Wayne Ellington
41. Bucks - Ahmad Nivins
42. Lakers - Josh Haytvelt
43. Heat - Patrick Beverley (Ukraine)
44. Pistons - Sergio Llull (Spain)
45. T'Wolves - Christian Eyenga (Congo)
46. Cavs - Rodrigue Beaubois (France)
47. T'Wolves - Nando De Colo (France)
48. Suns - Sergiy Gladyr (Ukraine)
49. Hawks - Marcus Thornton
50. Jazz - AJ Abrams
51. Spurs - Joe Ingles (Australia)
52. Pacers - Jack McClinton
53. Spurs - Vyacheslav Kravtsov (Ukraine)
54. Bobcats - AJ Price
55. Blazers - Emir Preldzic (Slovenia)
56. Blazers - Goran Suton
57. Suns - Tony Gaffney
58. Boston Celtics - Bryan Mullins
59. Lakers - Dante Cunningham
60. Heat - Jodie Meeks
POSTED: June 22 -- 11:32 p.m. ET
Chad Ford: The Sacramento Kings finally got their wish on Monday … Ricky Rubio in their gym.Unfortunately for Rubio and the Kings, he was playing one-on-none after going a month without picking up a basketball. The results shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone. Several sources surrounding the Kings said Rubio didn't blow anyone away.
Of course he didn't. Rubio is a pass-first point guard who makes everyone around him better in a five-on-five game. In a one-on-none I wouldn't expect him to be great. He's not going to shoot the lights out. He's not going to put up highlight-reel dunks. He's just not that type of player.
But they did get to see him live. They got his measurements (6-foot-5 in shoes with a 6-foot-7 wingspan). They got to check out his body language and English skills.
Most importantly, the Kings got word that Rubio was making progress on a deal with his club in Spain, DKV Joventut, that will lower his buyout to roughly $4 million. When you factor in that Rubio will be allowed to make his payments over several years, there is no longer a huge financial impediment for Rubio to come to the draft.
The question on everyone's mind right now? What will the Kings do? The answer? It depends.
First there's a chance Rubio might not be there at No. 4.
The word on Monday night is that it looks like Hasheem Thabeet will be the Grizzlies' pick at No. 2 if they don't trade the pick.
With Thabeet gone, Thunder GM Sam Presti will decide between Rubio, James Harden and Stephen Curry.
If they take Rubio, then the Kings will likely draft either Tyreke Evans or Jonny Flynn.
If Rubio is on the board, it will be a pretty tough decision. As we've written previously, this is a debate about upside versus present value. Evans and Flynn are ready to play now. No question. Rubio? It may take him a while to adjust (though some in the league think he's actually more ready to play in the NBA after years of experience playing pro ball in Spain).
I don't think there's any question that Rubio has the most upside of the group. Given the fact that the Kings are so dreadful at the moment, wouldn't they choose the best player for the long-term health of the franchise? It depends. Most members of the Kings' front office staff are in the last year of their contracts. Do they want to stick their necks out for Rubio when they could take a safer pick like Evans or Flynn?
You get the picture.
If the Kings pass, a number of teams are trying to get Washington's pick at No. 5. Presumably Rubio is the target of at least some of the Wizards' suitors.
The Timberwolves at No. 6 are also high on Rubio. So are the Knicks at No. 8.
POSTED: June 22 -- 7:55 p.m. ET
Chad Ford: UCLA's Jrue Holiday was feeling the pressure. He was in New York today for a callback with the Knicks -- a team he would love to go to at No. 8. His first audition wasn't all that it should've been. He was overshadowed by more experienced players like Stephen Curry and Gerald Henderson. He struggled to shut down Curry defensively. He got frustrated. A little down. And then those old feelings of self-doubt, the ones that were on display all season at UCLA, started creeping up.The Knicks were down on his first workout, but recognized that he could do better and invited him back to New York on Monday -- this time against Miami's Jack McClinton.
The result? "He was much, much better today," one Knicks source told ESPN.com. "He shot the ball better, played with confidence -- he's a special player."
The question is … is he special enough to overtake Brandon Jennings on the Knicks' draft board?
As of Sunday night, the Knicks had Jennings ranked slightly ahead. Jennings' workout in New York was full of sizzle and bravado and surprised the Knicks' brass, who thought he'd be less polished. Basketball guru Sonny Vaccaro, who orchestrated Jennings' year in Italy this past season, began telling people that Jennings was going to prove everyone wrong on draft night -- alluding to New York as a possible destination, according to sources who talked to Vaccaro.
Is Sonny speaking too soon? The word I got out of New York on Monday was mixed. On the one hand, the Knicks had originally had Holiday ranked higher and were persuaded that his size and versatility made him a better pick. On the other, Jennings seems to have the makeup to be a star in the NBA.
Sources said Knicks president Donnie Walsh will gather his staff on Tuesday to go over the draft one more time so that they can settle on a player.
Two things could still put a stop to Jennings' or Holiday's dreams of playing in New York.
First, the Knicks do have other players higher on their board. If Curry, Ricky Rubio, Tyreke Evans or Jordan Hill were on the board, I think they'd take them over Jennings or Holiday.
Second, the Knicks have had talks with the Wizards about acquiring the No. 5 pick. If the Knicks draft a point guard there, they'd likely go in another direction with their second first-round pick. Their offer was Larry Hughes for Etan Thomas and Mike James and the fifth pick. The Wizards were once high on Hughes and are in the market for a veteran player who can propel the team to a championship right now. They'd save some money in the deal, get a player who could help them … but is that enough for the No. 5 pick?
The Wizards are entertaining lots of other offers right now and the Knicks' offer of Hughes may not be enough.
• The word around the league is that Hasheem Thabeet canceled his workout in Memphis on Sunday in part because he's confident that the Thunder will take him with the No. 3 pick in the draft. How confident is a subject of debate. A few sources say Thabeet got a promise from the Thunder over the weekend. However a source close to Thabeet says he doesn't have a promise and feels there's still a good chance that Memphis takes him at No. 2 -- despite Thabeet's objections.
• There's been a lot of speculation the past few weeks that the Pistons may trade their pick at 15. Not true, according to Detroit sources. "We're in a position to add two to three players through free agency and to add a couple of players through the draft," the source said. "No need for us to move our pick for an extra $1.4 million of cap space."
As for all the talk that the Pistons promised everyone from B.J. Mullens to Earl Clark at No. 15. "It's totally B.S.," the source said. "Why would we promise someone in this draft? So many scenarios are still playing themselves out. Anything could happen. We're just going to be content to let whoever falls to us fall."
• The Rockets are actively hunting for a team willing to trade its lottery pick. Their offer? Carl Landry. I love Landry, but not sure he's worth a lottery pick. Then again, in this draft … maybe.
POSTED: June 22 -- 4:39 p.m. ET
Chad Ford: Ricky Rubio is back in Sacramento. After a disappointing first visit last week -- when he got sick and left without working out -- Rubio flew into Sacramento on Monday to work out for the Kings.
This comes on the heels of Rubio spending the weekend with Thunder GM Sam Presti in LA, where Rubio and his camp shared physicals, contract information and personal time with Presti, who walked away "intrigued." However, Rubio didn't walk away with a promise from Presti that they'd draft him at No. 3.
That prompted Rubio to return to Sacramento on Monday to try to seal the deal with the Kings. The Kings are high on Rubio, but their interest has waned in the last few weeks after strong workouts by Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn and Jrue Holiday. The front office is split between Rubio's upside and the more immediate impact Evans or Flynn could make in Sacramento.
If Rubio can do enough to impress the team this time, it might be hard for the Kings to pass. While Evans and Flynn are both good players, neither has the upside of Rubio.
POSTED: June 22 -- 10:11 a.m. ET
Chad Ford: What would the draft be without a few Blazers trade rumors?
Portland GM Kevin Pritchard has been among the NBA's most active executives on draft night. In 2006, he pulled off three draft-day trades to get his hands on LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy and Sergio Rodriguez. In 2007, Pritchard landed Rudy Fernandez and Petteri Koponen with draft-day deals. And in 2008, Pritchard traded up two spots in the draft to get Jerryd Bayless and then landed Nicolas Batum in a trade.
Will Pritchard strike again this year?
The Blazers have been making inquiries all over the first round. Their main target has been Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair, a burly power forward who plays with a toughness the Blazers lack and coach Nate McMillan would appreciate.
However, Sunday night, there was talk Pritchard has even grander plans. With point guard Ricky Rubio possibly slipping out of the top four, the Blazers are talking to the Wizards about acquiring the No. 5 pick. Pritchard has been on the hunt for a point guard, and Rubio would be a nice fit to round out the Blazers' collection of young, unselfish talents.
But trading for the No. 5 pick is far from a done deal, as the price would be high for the Blazers. The Wizards want any team interested in the No. 5 pick to take Etan Thomas off their hands -- a move that could eat into the Blazers' cap space this summer. The deal almost certainly would cost the Blazers some young talent, like Bayless, Travis Outlaw or Batum.
Even more pressing, McMillan has been pushing for the Blazers to sit out this draft and instead add a veteran to their young core.
Pritchard joked to The Oregonian that McMillan "will probably kill me" if he adds another rookie to the team. McMillan laughed and told The Oregonian, "you will have to put me behind bars" if Pritchard gets another rookie.
There's no question Pritchard also is trying to figure out a way to get maximum cap room this summer to use for a free agent or in a trade. The Magic's Hedo Turkoglu gets the most mention, but sources say Portland's real target is Bulls point guard Kirk Hinrich.
If the Bulls re-sign Ben Gordon to a big contract this summer, they are going to have to part ways with Hinrich to be able to afford it. The Bulls are dangerously close to the luxury tax as it is, and gving Gordon a big deal would put them over the top. Enter the Blazers, who will have the cap space to absorb Hinrich's deal and put the Bulls back under the tax threshold.
Hinrich would give the Blazers a seasoned point guard, but one without the sizzle or upside of Rubio.
Can Pritchard sit back and let Rubio slip through his fingers?
POSTED: June 22 -- 2:54 a.m. ET
Chad Ford: The NBA has experienced workout mania the past few days, with some of the best workouts of the draft happening as teams bring back their top-rated prospects to battle each other.
• Maybe the biggest news is about the workout that didn't happen -- UConn big man Hasheem Thabeet dropped out of a workout scheduled for Sunday with the Memphis Grizzlies.
The official explanation was a sore shoulder. The unofficial explanation? Thabeet doesn't want to play in Memphis and wanted to stay in Los Angeles to talk Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti into drafting him at No. 3.
Why doesn't Thabeet want to play in Memphis? For the same reason that Ricky Rubio, Stephen Curry and others have refused workouts. Said one source in explaining the Grizzlies' reputation: "They don't spend any money anymore. They don't have a commitment to put a winning team on the floor right now. It's not where an agent wants to send his star pick."
Rubio and Thabeet have said no to Memphis, and James Harden bombed a workout there, so who are the Grizzlies taking?
I think it's likely they still will take Thabeet.
But I have no idea how Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley is going to react to this latest twist.
• Presti didn't conduct any workouts, but he sure was busy this weekend. He met with Rubio and family on Saturday, and then Thabeet and Harden on Sunday, all in L.A.
The Thunder GM got a chance to look at the results of Rubio's physical, see his contract and meet the young guard, and he came away "intrigued" by the possibility of taking Rubio at No. 3.
While Rubio isn't the best fit in OKC, he looks like he might be the best player on the board. So what will Presti do? While Harden might be the logical choice in terms of fit, my gut feeling is Rubio will go No. 3.
• The Kings had a great workout in Sacramento on Sunday, with Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, Jonny Flynn and Nick Calathes taking part. And from what I can gather, Sunday might end up being the day Ricky Rubio lost his chance to get drafted by the Kings if he's still available at No. 4.
Several people in the Kings' front office already doubted Rubio was the right fit, so it didn't help that he wasn't there to duke it out with the other top prospects. It's hard to make the case for Rubio when he's not at a workout.
Meanwhile, it was the second Sacto workout for Flynn and Evans.
Flynn was at the top of the Kings' board coming into the workout, but Evans emerged at the top. His physicality was just too much for Flynn, Curry and Calathes to handle.
As one Kings scout said, "It was a man beating up boys."
That could be bad news for Rubio. With Sacramento general manager Geoff Petrie looking for a player who can contribute right away, Flynn and Evans are getting more attention.
If Rubio slides past Sacramento at No. 4, he could be heading to either Washington at 5, Minnesota at 6 or New York at 8. The Wizards haven't seen him yet, and neither have the Wolves. But if the Knicks want to see him, I think Rubio will find a way to accommodate them.
• The Timberwolves brought a number of guards in over the weekend, including Flynn, Evans, Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson and Jeff Teague.
From what I gather, Evans won some hearts in Minnesota, and Flynn stole a few as well. As for Jennings, it sounds like the Wolves will pass.
• The Suns also had a big workout this weekend -- Earl Clark, James Johnson and Jennings were joined by Calathes, Jack McClinton and Jonas Jerebko.
It sounds as though a number of players played well, and it appears Clark and Johnson are in a dead heat in Phoenix at the moment -- that is, unless someone else in the top 12 falls to Phoenix at No. 14.
As for Jennings, one Suns source said he was good but was skeptical: "I hope he doesn't fall to us at 14. I don't want to have to make a decision on him."
• More big workouts are coming early this week.
The Knicks are bringing back Holiday. There's a good chance it will be Holiday versus Jennings for the No. 8 pick if Curry, Evans and Jordan Hill are off the board.
Milwaukee has a big point guard workout with Flynn, Teague, Jennings and Lawson. The Bucks' workouts should help them decide who they take at No. 10.
The New Jersey Nets have an "everything" workout with Flynn, Jennings, Gerald Henderson, Terrence Williams, Tyler Hansbrough and Jeff Pendergraph on Tuesday. That one should help them determine who they take at No. 11
The Bobcats are trying to arrange a matchup between Henderson and Williams. Henderson has been the favorites there for weeks, but it appears Williams has edged into the mix.
And the Bulls are trying to schedule one last showdown between DeJuan Blair, Johnson and B.J. Mullens for Tuesday. As of Sunday night, only Blair had committed to the workout. The Bulls wanted Hansbrough at that one as well, but he had already committed to the Nets. Clark might replace him.
• By the way, Blair seems to be back in favor with more GMs. Over the weekend his agent, Happy Walters, had a couple of teams talk to Blair's physician, James Bradley, who did Blair's ACL surgeries in high school.
I'm not privy to the conversations, but I do think this latest development has put him back in the mix with the Pacers at No. 13 and the Bulls at 16.
TREVISO, Italy -- Two weeks ago, Brandon Jennings' grand European experiment ended with a whimper and then, a demand.
His team, Lottomotica Roma, had just been upset in the quarterfinals of the Italian League playoffs. Jennings, who many NBA scouts predict will be a lottery pick in this month's NBA draft, hadn't played a minute in the entire playoff series.
Frustrated, and a little bit angry, Jennings had had enough. Before his team had even left the court he was on the phone with his agent.
"Get me out of here."
Within 48 hours Jennings was on a plane back home to Los Angeles. His one-year European adventure was over.
***Last Friday, a number of top NBA GMs headed in the opposite direction, to Italy, to watch Jennings play in the 2009 Reebok Eurocamp.
Their flights were booked weeks in advance on the promise that Jennings would attend. The buzz about seeing Jennings unleashed drew an unusually high amount of GMs to the event. But by the time they arrived on Friday, they already knew the bad news. While the Eurocamp had a number of interesting international prospects, the main attraction wasn't coming.
"We all came to see whether this kid can really play," one veteran GM told ESPN.com. "I'd heard the hype, watched the video and heard various opinions from my scouts. I wanted to see how he stacked up against other top kids his age. Then he doesn't show. He sure isn't making this easy on us. You want to like the kid, but he ain't giving you a lot to go on."
Other GMs around the league have expressed similar opinions all week. A few didn't even make the trip to Italy after they got word he backed out. The ones who are there are asking the same question: Is Jennings worthy of the hype?
The answer to that question varies widely here at the camp. I spent the weekend talking to dozens of people in Italy. Some were Italian coaches. Others were rival Italian GMs. I talked to veteran NBA international scouts, coaches and executives who have followed him closely this year.
Their descriptions of Jennings -- the player and the man -- were all virtually identical. To a man, nearly every person I spoke with described the same strengths and weaknesses. But when it comes to making conclusions about his future in the NBA, there is no consensus.
Jennings remains the biggest enigma in this year's draft.
* * *Jennings shocked the college basketball world last year when he decided to skip his freshman season at Arizona and leave the NCAA behind for a professional contract in Rome. Some say he was motivated by low SAT scores. Others by money. A few whispered that Jennings was being controlled by basketball mogul Sonny Vaccaro -- a man on a mission to buck the NCAA and all of its eligibility rules.
Jennings has been equally vilified and revered in America for his groundbreaking move. The college basketball powers that be mocked the decision. Why would the NBA take seriously anyone who skipped the chance to play at a blue-chip school in one of the best conferences in the nation?
But for those who have been looking for alternative routes to the NBA outside of the indentured servitude that is big-time college basketball -- Jennings was a trailblazer. If Jennings could do it, they argued, maybe the NCAA, now faced with real competition for the top high school prospects -- would loosen its draconian amateur rules. Maybe it would even think about paying its star athletes.
Despite the hopes and fears on both sides, Jennings' one-year stint in Rome wasn't everything either side had hoped for. Much to the chagrin of the anti-Jennings, pro-college contingent, virtually every NBA scout and GM who saw him play reported that he matured, both as a player and a person, in Italy. He got more practice time than he would ever have received in college. He was schooled in the fundamentals by one of the best developmental coaches in Europe, Serbia's Nenad Trajkovic. Most importantly, he learned how to play like a man and act like a pro on and off the court.
However, the experience itself was a mixed bag. For the pro-Jennings, anti-college crowd, Jennings' experience in Europe reads as a cautionary tale. He never got consistent minutes. He struggled with his shot and confidence. Team politics were a major factor in whether he was playing or not. And, as Jennings told The New York Times in January, being a 19-year-old pro in Europe wasn't everything he thought it would be.
"I've gotten paid one time this year," Jennings told the Times. "They treat me like a little kid. They don't see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you don't play a lot. Some nights you play a lot. Some nights you don't play at all. That's just the way it is."
The "way it is" posed a number of problems for NBA teams trying to scout Jennings this season. Scouting a teenager in the Italian League is a little different from scouting him in the Pac-10.
Show up at one game, like the Euroleague contest against Tau Ceramica earlier this year, and you might see Jennings shine. Show up in March, and he might barely get onto the floor against weak competition.
Drop in on a practice in December, and you'd see Jennings getting picked apart by the coaching staff and veteran European and American players. See him in March, and watch him dominate those same teammates.
See Jennings make a spectacular pass worthy of the "SportsCenter" highlight reel one minute. Watch him take a bad shot and make an even uglier turnover a few minutes later.
Jennings was, to put it mildly, all over the place this season and many of the opinions from the people I spoke with varied based on when, and where, they had seen him.
A number of Italian coaches and GMs weren't big fans. They felt his game was too American. They said he struggled to rein in his instincts to start playing one-on-one when a teammate missed a shot or two. They lauded his athleticism and acknowledged his abilities to do things on the floor few Europeans could ever dream of. But when pressed, they saw an athlete, not a basketball player.
"Jennings' game is all about his athleticism," one prominent European GM told me. "Like many of the Americans we see come to Europe, he just doesn't have a great feel for the game. No one ever taught him how or when to pass. Speed and athleticism are fine. But I want a point guard who puts the team above their own individual game. I don't blame the young man for this. He is just the product of a corrupt development system that is ruining American basketball."
[+] EnlargeLuca Sgamellotti/Getty ImagesBrandon Jennings made 45.7 percent of his field goals in Euroleague play.
To say that many of the Italian opinions I heard on Jennings also conformed to stereotypes that many European scouts and coaches have about virtually all American players, white or black, is regrettable, but true. Much of the world doesn't hold American hoops in the same high regard as it did a decade ago. A few dysfunctional Team USA performances and some young international prospects who were ruined when they went to the NBA play a large part in how the world sees the American game.But their opinions were also backed up by a number of veteran NBA scouts who questioned whether Jennings was the second coming of Allen Iverson, not Chris Paul.
"I see a lot more of Iverson to Jennings' game than I do CP3's," one veteran American scout who has watched Jennings play in both America and Italy said. "Iverson can dish out assists too, but he controls the tempo of a game with his own game, not by making others better. I see a lot of that in Jennings. He makes the pass if he can make a spectacular one. If he can't, he shoots the shot. Either way his mentality is what makes him look the best, not necessarily the team."
I've seen some of what those experts describe in the 10 or so games I've watched of Jennings this season via video. More scouts say they see more evidence of the flashy, selfish Jennings in the practices than in the games. However, I've also seen Jennings make the right decisions for his team when it matters. He may have more work to do in that area, but so do Rajon Rondo and Derrick Rose.
"He's a smart kid," said one NBA coach who saw him later in the season. "You look at him in high school and now and it's clear to me he's started to pick up the rhythm of the European game. He's never going to be a European-type of player. But neither is Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant. No matter how many Europeans you talk to, he's never going to measure up that way. But he's trying and is showing he can be effective in the half-court game. Watch a practice and you see what he can do when that game starts going up and down. I think it's really important that a player learns to play both ways. Jennings has learned that this year."
Several veteran NBA scouts, who have been scouting both college ball and the international game for years, rolled their eyes at the criticism Jennings was getting.
One scout, who claimed to have watched Jennings in person during "at least a dozen games" and "tons of practices" (the most of any person I spoke with), was particularly adamant. He felt strongly that Jennings was one of the two or three best prospects in the draft.
"I ask two questions about every prospect. First, do they have the talent to play in the NBA? Second, have they gotten better? I think Jennings gets two huge check marks on both accounts.
"First, Jennings is a crazy athlete. He's as quick as anyone in the draft. No one is going to be able to stay in front of him. He explodes around the basket and he's a clever passer when he wants to be. We saw all of that in high school and if you watched him enough in Europe, you saw it there too. Yeah, he needs to get stronger and work on some stuff. But the raw talent is totally there."
OK, that's talent. Now here's the thing. What did he need to work on?
"Defense. He's become a much better and more committed defender this year. Everyone who has watched him play would acknowledge that.
"Basketball IQ. The European game is a thinking game. He's had to learn all sorts of things that most college kids aren't confronted with. There's no way you can argue his IQ hasn't increased.
"Understanding the team concept. That's what Europe is all about and Jennings has made great strides there. He's not perfect, but he's much better than when he came.
"Shooting. You can't just look at his shooting numbers for the year. His shot is getting better. I don't think it's broken and he's been taking a lot of shots.
"Maturity. Many four-year college players come overseas and can't handle the dramatic change in lifestyle. They are home before Christmas. This kid stuck it out. He left his friends and his life behind. Things didn't go his way with the team he chose. He wasn't pampered. He felt disrespected. He didn't complain. He showed up every day and worked his tail off. He kept getting better. What else do you want?
"In every area he's gotten better. You can't say the same thing about Jrue Holiday or Jonny Flynn or whoever you want to put up there. This kid's learning curve has been dramatic. The numbers are just a part of the story."
That opinion was more typically shared by scouts who had seen Jennings a lot, less so by GMs who may have seen him play only once or twice.
"I'm not sure how you take a kid without a real body of work that high," one NBA GM in Treviso said. "I know this is a weak draft, but are we really taking kids who have struggled to produce in college or Europe in the lottery? I'm all for upside, but it's ridiculous. If Jennings can't get on the floor in Italy, how does he help my team in the next couple of years? How do you take him over some really talented college kids who have proven they can play? Jonny Flynn, Ty Lawson, Steph Curry. Those guys are talented too and they have track records."
***As the opinions continued to pour in over the weekend -- some pro, some con -- I caught a break Sunday night when word came to me that Jennings' development coach for the past year, Nenad Trajkovic, was in the gym scouting prospects.
Trajkovic is sort of a legend in Europe when it comes to developing young players. He spent years in Serbia preparing guys all the way back to the Vlade Divac years. He's been hired by teams around the world to work with some of the top young talent in the world. He was hired by Jennings' team midseason as a lead assistant and spent every day with Jennings working on his game.
Jennings would practice up to four hours a day, sometimes longer with Trajkovic. A few hours were spent each day learning the offensive and defensive schemes. The rest was focused on fundamental development -- ballhandling, shooting, basketball philosophy.
No one, I would submit, knows Jennings better.
"For sure, Brandon matured as a person and a player this year," Trajkovic said. "From the beginning I was concerned when I saw tape of him in the U.S. and watched him in Italy. He was a special athlete. But he didn't know how to play the game. He liked to play one-on-one or one-on-five, not five-on-five. He dribbled too much. He took bad shots. He made incorrect reads.
"The coach didn't trust him. This team was a veteran team. Winning was important and Brandon didn't know how to help his team win. We worked every day on his decision-making. We worked on the pick-and-roll. We taught him defense. The plan was to bring him along slowly and then, by the middle [of the season] he could be more trusted."
Trajkovic said that Jennings was a hard worker. He said Jennings was a quick study and that the improvement he made in the first few months was dramatic, albeit mostly in practice. However, disaster struck for Jennings when his head coach was fired and replaced with a veteran coach who felt a lot of pressure to win immediately.
"The coach didn't want to take the risk with Brandon," Trajkovic said. "He knew Brandon was improving but he felt more comfortable with veterans. You have to understand. Brandon was leaving, so why risk something for a player who will leave your team anyway?"
Trajkovic said Jennings kept working hard. They often would simulate game conditions in practice and Jennings would dominate, especially later in the season.
“ Brandon is so much better than the talent here [pointing to the players in the Eurocamp]. He is far and away in front of them in skills and athletic ability. He needs to be competing against your best. "He kept his focus. Playing was important. But so was development. Sometimes you can't control how much you play. But you can keep working and stay positive. Brandon did this."
” -- Nenad Trajkovic, Jennings' development coach in Italy
As the regular season ended, Jennings came down with a mild case of tendinitis in his knees. The doctors suggested he rest for a game or two. He quickly recovered, but by then, he was totally out of the rotation. His coach didn't want to mess with the chemistry of the team and Jennings watched, helpless on the sidelines, as his team fell in the quarterfinals to Biella -- a team that he had played his best game in the Italian league against just a few months earlier. Trajkovic, for one, didn't blame Jennings for wanting to get out.
"He's a competitor. He was frustrated. He had worked every single day. There were no days off. He hadn't been home. He would have to wait more than a week for the camp. I think he felt it was enough. I agree with this. Brandon is so much better than the talent here [Trajkovic pointing to the players in the Eurocamp]. He is far and away in front of them in skills and athletic ability. He needs to be competing against your best."
Trajkovic wasn't always glowing in his praise. He said Jennings still had more to learn. He needed to totally buy into the team game. He needed to keep taking jump shots (he said Jennings put up more than 30,000 while he was in Europe) and he would need to get stronger in the NBA. But he cautioned not to read too much into Jennings' struggles in Europe.
"I promise you. If you brought LeBron James over from high school straight to Europe, we would have messed him up," Trajkovic said. "We demand different things. It is not enough to do something. You must do it correctly. Everyone who comes, young or old, from America, has to adjust. He was able to do it better than most I have seen. One more year in Europe, and he would be a star. I don't know if the NBA feels the same way."
Jennings should find out soon. His agent, Bill Duffy, said Jennings will begin team workouts this week. He's targeting four teams at the moment: the Kings (No. 4), Wizards (No. 5), Wolves (No. 6), Warriors (No. 7) and Knicks (No. 8). If Jennings doesn't get the positive feedback he's looking for, he'll backfill with a few more later lottery teams like the Bucks, Pacers and Suns.
If just one GM in the top 10 falls in love, Jennings will look like a genius. He skipped the college basketball factory, earned millions of dollars and still found his way into the lottery. If he falls, he may close the door to other prospects searching to do the same thing.
That's a lot of pressure and responsibility for a 19-year-old. But if Jennings handles things as well as he did in Europe, he may be more prophet than fool.