European Hoops Insider Notebook: Boston Celtics Draft May Have Foreign Flavor

David Pick@@IAmDPickInternational Hoops InsiderMay 31, 2016

Croatian phenom Dragan Bender gained an audience with Boston Celtics executives this weekend, according to sources.
Croatian phenom Dragan Bender gained an audience with Boston Celtics executives this weekend, according to sources.THOMAS COEX/Getty Images

With the 2016 NBA draft on the immediate horizon, Boston Celtics President Danny Ainge and Director of Player Personnel Austin Ainge are Euro-touring. Both were in Israel this past weekend to evaluate top-five-projected draft pick Dragan Bender in a series of workouts through Monday.  

The Celtics secured the No. 3 draft selection in the lottery during mid-May and have serious intentions of picking the Croatian wunderkind, according to sources in Bender's camp. Not long ago, Celtics international scout Benas Matkevicius spent time in Tel Aviv watching Bender and filed an encouraging report.

Danny Ainge @danielrainge

Two of my all-time favorite players and people👣👣 https://t.co/NjRFDuAGyp

The Ainges were also in attendance for Game 3 of the Croatian League semifinals series, where Cibona Zagreb eliminated Zadar, 80-71, to advance to the finals. According to Zagreb sources, the Celtics monitored FIBA Europe Cup Center of the Year and first-round prospect Ante Zizic, who registered a double-double of 12 points and 13 rebounds, shooting 5-of-9 from the floor and 2-of-5 from the line during 33 minutes for the winning squad.

Most mock drafts have Zizic falling in the 20-30 range, and Boston also has the 23rd pick. Zizic recently inserted an out clause into his Cibona contract, but sources from his camp believe he is open to the draft-and-stash route. Regardless of whether he jumps to the NBA or returns overseas, he is not continuing in Zagreb.

Since the Celtics hired Ainge as executive director of basketball operations in 2003, he has selected just two foreigners: 2008’s 60th pick, Semih Erden from Turkey, and 2013’s first-rounder out of Brazil, Lucas Nogueira, who Boston traded to Atlanta on draft night.

In late April, San Antonio Spurs general manager R.C. Buford saw Zizic go for 18 points on a perfect 6-of-6 from the field in just under 21 minutes. The Spurs have the 29th pick.

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Reinforcements on the Way for OKC?

Alex Abrines, the Oklahoma City Thunder's 2013 second-round draft-and-stash project, told Bleacher Report the Thunder have been aggressively recruiting him for the past three seasons.

"I didn't feel I was ready when OKC offered me to come to the U.S. I know I can play in NBA," he said backstage in Berlin after winning the Euroleague's 2015-16 Rising Star award.

Danny Ainge may be targeting two European prospects in this year's draft.
Danny Ainge may be targeting two European prospects in this year's draft.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

In May 2015, Barcelona re-signed Abrines until 2019, but sources from Abrines' camp said his agreement includes several escape clauses, leaving the door open to making the jump to the NBA.

Abrines was the second Barcelona standout to claim the Rising Star honors, joining current Minnesota Timberwolves point guard Ricky Rubio, who captured the trophy in 2009-10. Abrines was inducted into an impressive group that includes Andrea Bargnani (2005-06), Rudy Fernandez (2006-07), Danilo Gallinari (2007-08), and Nikola Mirotic (2010-11 and 2011-12).

Abrines almost single-handedly won Game 3 for Barcelona against Lokomotiv Kuban during the Euroleague playoffs in mid-April, dropping a career-high 25 points on 6-of-10 shooting from distance. He hit 12 triples during the series.

The Rising Star award recognizes the best under-22 Euroleague player. Abrines, a 6'6" swingman, beat out Philadelphia-bound Dario Saric of Anadolu Efes and Cleveland stash Cedi Osman, also of Anadolu Efes. Anadolu Efes shooting guard Furkan Korkmaz—a 6'7", 18-year-old projected to go to the Boston Celtics with the No. 16 pick, according to DraftXpress—will return to Turkey next season, opting for the draft-and-stash route, his agent Misko Raznatovic told Bleacher Report.   

Blatt Returning to Europe? Blatt Returning to Europe.

The OKC Thunder have been courting draft and stash prospect Alex Abrines.
The OKC Thunder have been courting draft and stash prospect Alex Abrines.PETRAS MALUKAS/Getty Images

The NBA coaching carousel has ceased spinning for the time being, leaving former Cavaliers coach David Blatt benchless and Spurs assistant Ettore Messina in San Antonio, despite several job interviews.

Almost a dozen NBA clubs—Brooklyn, Houston, Indiana, Los Angeles, Memphis, Minnesota, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, Sacramento and Washington—hired new coaches. The Lakers and Suns signed coaches with interim experience under their belts in Luke Walton and Earl Watson, respectively. The Nets and Grizzlies went bold, hiring first-timers Kenny Atkinson and David Fizdale.

Blatt, though offered, never gave a return to Maccabi Tel Aviv serious weight.

“It would be tough for David to co-exist with certain front-office people who tried to fire him from Maccabi,” said a source close to Blatt.

Blatt, a 2013-14 Euroleague champion, has been lured back to Turkey instead, agreeing to a lucrative long-term deal with Euroleague returnee Darussafaka Dogus.

Negotiations kicked off with Dogus filing a $3.7 million offer sheet till 2018, which Blatt countered with demands of $5 million total. Both sides finalized a two-season, $4 million guaranteed deal, on top of Blatt's $3.3 million earnings next season from the Cavaliers, according to sources from both parties.

Q&A with Steph Curry's Davidson Coach, Bob McKillop

Few people are as familiar with Stephen Curry's development as longtime Davidson coach Bob McKillop, who started recruiting Curry when the two-time MVP was in 10th grade. Curry played under McKillop from 2006-07 through 2008-09, earning Southern Conference Player of the Year honors twice while setting Davidson's all-time scoring record (2,635) and all-time three-point record (414). As a junior, Curry led the NCAA in scoring and was a consensus first team All-American.

McKillop recently held a clinic in Israel in association with reigning champions Hapoel Jerusalem and the club’s youth and development program, where he spoke to Bleacher Report about Curry. The conversation took place days before Curry and the Warriors advanced to the NBA Finals, where they'll again meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Tell us something we don't know about Steph Curry?

The proudest moment I had was in the same week that he won the MVP, Steph was also honored by being on the cover of Parents magazine, which is a national publication about how to be a good parent. For an NBA player to be an MVP as a basketball player and as a father and a spouse, I think is very rare in our society. He has become iconic.

Here's a story that will give people an indication of the kind of person Steph Curry is. In his junior season at Davidson, he was the leading scorer in America. We're playing the eighth or ninth game of the season against Loyola University, who decided they're going to play triangle-and-2 defense against Davidson. That meant three defenders playing a triangle zone, and two guys guarding Steph Curry.

During our first timeout, Steph came to the bench, and it was clearly his decision and his suggestion. "Coach, I'm going to stand in the corner with two guys on me, and let four of our guys play against three of theirs."

We ended up beating the team by 30 points. Steph did not score a single point, so their coach [Jimmy Patsos] accomplished what he wanted because he said in a pregame radio show, "I'm going to hold Steph Curry scoreless, I'm going to go down in history for holding him scoreless."

Steph did not care and put the team ahead of the individual. That's a pretty good statement about the kind of person he is.

Did Steph ever face adversity under your umbrella at Davidson?

It was not very often that Steph struggled in college. We were about to play North Carolina, the No. 1-ranked team in the United States, in the Charlotte Hornets' arena. Sellout crowd of 19,000-20,000 people were going to be there, and the day before we practice at the Charlotte arena, Steph gathered on the baseline with our two senior captains, myself, our trainer and his father, Dell Curry. He had to make a decision at that point whether he was going to have surgery on his left wrist or continue to play. Steph had been playing with tremendous pain.

His two teammates were seniors, and it was going to be their last year, and Steph was just a sophomore. So Steph said at the end of that conversation: "I'm not going to have the surgery because it would put me out for the year. I will not let my two captains down." He decided to play.

Now, we talk about miracles all the time. He played that year, made All-American and miraculously his left wrist healed without needing the surgery. It was a triangular cartilage that was torn and it miraculously healed.

Can you explain how Steph became a late bloomer?

I think late bloomers are a great thing. There is a great anecdote that a 90-year-old man decided he is going to plant an orange tree in his backyard. I think it takes an orange tree 10 years to grow to its fullness, so here's a 90-year-old man with a great idea about his future.

Seeing this happen with Steph and several other players validates people having dreams. You're never too old to dream. I think Steph is the perfect example because he continues to get better and better.

Did you think back then he could become an All-Star?

I could never have envisioned him achieving what he has achieved. Achieving excellence, I can always envision that. Having him surprise me has not been a surprise. That American saying about the sky being the limit for Steph Curryhe is going to touch the sky. That's his limitation. I could not forecast what he has accomplished, but it has not surprised me.

David Pick is a veteran pro basketball reporter covering overseas hoops and American players abroad since 2010. Follow him on Twitter at @IAmDPick.

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