NCAA amends ‘Rich Paul Rule’ amid blowback

Mark Schlabach | ESPN

The NCAA has amended its certification process for agents representing basketball players who are deciding whether to stay in school or explore the NBA draft and will no longer require them to have a bachelor’s degree.

Instead, agents who don’t have a bachelor’s degree will have to be in good standing with the National Basketball Players Association.

“We are committed to providing student-athletes who are deciding whether to stay in school or explore NBA draft options with access to a wide array of resources to make their decision,” the NCAA said in a statement on Monday.

“NCAA member schools developed the new agent certification process to accomplish that goal and reflect our higher education mission. However, we have been made aware of several current agents who have appropriately represented former student-athletes in their professional quest and whom the National Basketball Players Association has granted waivers of its bachelor’s degree requirement.”

‘Gee… I wonder what they all had in common?

Last week, the NCAA issued a memo to agents, outlining new certification requirements that included a bachelor’s degree, NBPA certification for at least three consecutive years, professional liability insurance and completion of an in-person exam taken in early November at the NCAA office in Indianapolis.

The NCAA’s new requirements were heavily criticized because some current NBA agents didn’t attend college. The bachelor’s degree requirement led some to refer to it as the “Rich Paul Rule.”

Paul, who represents LeBron JamesAnthony DavisBen Simmons and Draymond Green, among others, and recently brought his Klutch Sports Group under the United Talent Agency umbrella, began working with James a couple of years after high school and didn’t graduate from college.

James and Thunder guard Chris Paul criticized the NCAA’s new requirements on social media.

In an op-ed piece for The Athletic on Monday, Rich Paul wrote:

“Requiring a four-year degree accomplishes only one thing — systematically excluding those who come from a world where college is unrealistic. Does anyone really believe a four-year degree is what separates an ethical person from a con artist?

“Let’s also be clear that once the NCAA requires a four-year degree for athletes ‘testing the waters,’ it’s only a matter of time until this idea is socialized, no longer questioned, and then more broadly applied. We all know how this works. Unfair policy is introduced incrementally so people accept it because it only affects a small group. Then the unfair policy quietly evolves into institutional policy. I’m not sure what the technical term is for that because I didn’t finish college but I know it when I see it.”

The NCAA said in the original memo to agents that it implemented the new requirements “to protect the collegiate eligibility” of student-athletes.

“While specific individuals were not considered when developing our process, we respect the NBPA’s determination of qualification and have amended our certification criteria,” the NCAA said in Monday’s statement.

The NCAA will still require agents representing players who might return to school to have NBPA certification for a minimum of three consecutive years, maintain professional liability insurance, complete the NCAA qualification exam and pay the required fees.

In the application, sources told ESPN last week, agents are required to agree that they will cooperate with the NCAA in investigations of rules violations, “even if the alleged violations are unrelated to [their] NCAA-agent certification.”

Agents who complete the application and background check will take the in-person exam on Nov. 6, the day after the college basketball season begins with the Champions Classic in New York.

Agents who meet every requirement besides the three-year NBPA certification can receive an exception if the student-athlete they represented this past spring decided to return to school.

“This policy provides student-athletes with access to hundreds of qualified agents who can offer solid guidance but also protects those same students from unscrupulous actors who may not represent their best interests,” the NCAA said. “We remain focused on improving the college basketball environment, and over the next year, we will continue to evaluate the agent certification policy as well as the implementation of other rules recommended by the Commission on College Basketball.”

ESPN’s Jeff Borzello contributed to this report.

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NBA releases complete 2019-20 schedule, with an emphasis on vengeance games

Ben Rohrbach | Yahoo Sports

The NBA released its 2019-20 regular-season schedule on Monday, confirming that the reigning champion Toronto Raptors will host their opening-night ring ceremony prior to facing No. 1 pick Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans on Oct. 22.

Ex-Raptors star Kawhi Leonard will also make his Los Angeles Clippers debut against Anthony Davis, LeBron James and the new-look Los Angeles Lakers on TNT’s opening-nigh slate. You can check out the full 2019-20 NBA schedule here.

With so many high-profile players changing teams this summer, revenge is the theme of 2019-20, so here is your official Vengeance Game Schedule this season (all times Eastern):

Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans

Nov. 27: Lakers at Pelicans, 9:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Jan. 3: Pelicans at Lakers, 10:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Feb. 25: Pelicans at Lakers, 10 p.m. (TNT)

March 1: Lakers at Pelicans, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

With a season and a half left on his contract, Anthony Davis requested a trade from New Orleans at the end of January, sat out through the deadline, and then returned to the lineup once no deal was made, only to play sparingly before being shut down with lower back spasms in late March. In the meantime, he was booed by the home crowd, and the Pelicans tanked in the standings, eventually landing the No. 1 pick.

The arrival of Zion Williamson did nothing to change Davis’ mind, and he eventually orchestrated the move he sought all along — a trade to the Lakers — by letting the rest of the league know that he did not intend to re-sign anywhere but L.A. in 2020.

That trade brought Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart to New Orleans, along with a cache of draft picks that includes rookies Jaxson Hayes and Nickeil Alexander-Walker. With Williamson, they will try to spoil Davis’ four games against his former team this season. The former Lakers will have added motivation after LeBron James’ midseason endorsements of the trade fractured their locker room.

Los Angeles Clippers vs. Toronto Raptors

Nov. 11: Raptors at Clippers, 10:30 p.m. (NBATV)

Dec. 11: Clippers at Raptors, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

There will be less animus toward Kawhi Leonard in Toronto, since he delivered on the promise of a championship, and both sides entered into last season knowing he could walk this summer. After much consideration, Leonard did leave for his hometown Clippers, but not before submitting one of the great playoff runs in NBA history en route to the franchise’s first title and his second Finals MVP award.

Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oct. 28: Thunder at Rockets, 8 p.m.

Jan. 9: Rockets at Thunder, 9:30 p.m. (TNT)

Jan. 20: Thunder at Rockets, 5 p.m.

There is some question as to when the the seeds for Westbrook’s breakup with the Oklahoma City Thunder were planted. The prevailing theory is that the two sides mutually agreed to part ways after Paul George successfully requested a trade to the Clippers. This despite reports that Westbrook sought a trade after their third straight first-round loss and that OKC initially wanted to send him to the Clippers.

Regardless, Westbrook will be welcomed with open arms when he returns to Oklahoma City for the first time as a visitor. He was the last man standing from a young superstar-laden team that reached the 2012 Finals and a stabilizing force when Kevin Durant left in 2016 free agency. He signed his supermax extension on Durant’s birthday that summer, and then submitted a storybook MVP season that saw the first of three straight triple-double campaigns. Even if the weight of that contract contributed to his exit, Westbrook made an indelible mark on that city.

It is tougher to gauge how Houston might receive Chris Paul. His relationship with Rockets star James Harden had soured to the point that Paul requested a trade, according to Yahoo Sports’ Vincent Goodwill, and he ultimately got his wish when Westbrook became available. The Rockets may have won a title with Paul had he not suffered a hamstring injury in Game 5 of the 2018 Western Conference finals, and they likely would have remained contenders had he stayed this season. Whether Houston is contending with Harden and Westbrook will go a long way toward determining how Paul is treated if and when he returns to Houston.

L.A. Clippers vs. OKC Thunder

Nov. 18: Thunder at Clippers, 10:30 p.m.

Dec. 22: Clippers at Thunder, 7 p.m. (NBA TV)

March 3: Clippers at Thunder, 8 p.m.

April 4: Thunder at Clippers, 3:30 p.m.

George probably won’t get so warm a welcome in his return trip to Oklahoma City. One year after George threw a party to announce his return to the Thunder on a max contract, seemingly cementing them as a quasi-contenders for the next four years, he requested a trade to join fellow L.A. native Leonard on the Clippers.

The Thunder received a king’s ransom in return, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari, who will both hope to ruin George’s trips to Oklahoma City. Meanwhile, Thunder fans will have to decide whether to blame George for tearing the team down or credit him for accelerating their rebuild with a cadre of picks.

Brooklyn Nets vs. Boston Celtics

Nov. 27: Nets at Celtics, 7 p.m. (ESPN)

Nov. 29: Celtics at Nets, noon

March 3: Nets at Celtics, 7:30 p.m. (TNT)

March 21: Celtics at Nets, 6 p.m.

In October, Kyrie Irving told Celtics season ticket-holders that he planned to re-sign with the team this summer. In November, he unveiled a Nike commercial that chronicled his father’s ties to Boston and a dream of retiring their No. 11 to the TD Garden rafters. By December, he was contacting Spencer Dinwiddie about the Nets. And before the end of the regular season, he reportedly made a pact with Kevin Durant on a Brooklyn partnership, the groundwork of which was reportedly laid last summer, prior to Irving’s appearance before the season ticket-holders.

If you haven’t put it all together by now, Irving is headed for jeers in his return to Boston, if he makes the trip. After debuting for the Celtics in their 2017-18 season opener in Cleveland, he has sat out every trip to Ohio since. While Jayson Tatum and Marcus Smart have publicly supported their ex-teammate’s move to Brooklyn, word is Irving’s relationship with Jaylen Brown was far worse. Count me in to see if Brown can handle the All-Star point guard when they get switched onto each other.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics

Oct. 23: Celtics at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Dec. 12: 76ers at Celtics, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Jan. 9: Celtics at 76ers, 7 p.m. (TNT)

Feb. 1: 76ers at Celtics, 8:30 p.m. (ABC)

Al Horford won’t face the same scrutiny when he returns to play a Celtics team he led to back-to-back to Eastern Conference finals before the locker room unraveled last season. Still, there is some lingering resentment about how it all went down.

Horford declined his player option for the 2019-20 season on June 18, and when extension talks fell well short of what he had learned he could get on the open market, he ended discussions with Boston and agreed to terms with Philadelphia the very moment it cleared cap space to sign him on the opening night of free agency. Once the Celtics learned Kemba Walker would replace Irving, attempts to rekindle negotiations with Horford and remain in title contention went nowhere fast.

It’s not so much that Horford left for a bigger paycheck that will irk most Bostonians, it’s that he joined a Sixers team the Celtics had beaten in a five-game conference semifinals two years earlier. The two rising giants were set to revive a rivalry between the teams until Horford swung the pendulum in Philadelphia’s favor.

Dallas Mavericks vs. New York Knicks

Nov. 8: Knicks at Mavericks, 8:30 p.m.

Nov. 14: Mavericks at Knicks, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Kristaps Porzingis has yet to play for the Mavericks sinceessentially forcing a trade from the Knicks at the end of January. New York made the move in order to clear two maximum salary slots in the hopes of landing Irving and Kevin Durant, only to see the two superstars join their rivals in Brooklyn. Porzingis then signed a max extension with the Mavericks to form his own star pairing with Luka Doncic, and his return to Madison Square Garden will be a sad reminder of what could have been.

Toronto Raptors vs. Memphis Grizzlies

March 28: Raptors at Grizzlies, 8 p.m.

March 30: Grizzlies at Raptors, 7:30 p.m.

Utah Jazz vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Nov. 15: Jazz at Grizzlies, 8 p.m. (ESPN)

Nov. 29: Jazz at Grizzlies, 8 p.m.

Dec. 7: Grizzlies at Jazz, 10 p.m.

March 14: Grizzlies at Jazz, 9 p.m.

Marc Gasol and Mike Conley led the Grit ‘n’ Grind Grizzlies to unprecedented heights earlier this decade. They played their entire careers in Memphis until this year, when the rebuilding Grizz traded Gasol to the Raptors in February and Conley to the Jazz last month. Both might have been content riding out their careers together in Memphis, even as the franchise navigated the challenges of remaining relevant in a small market, butGasol’s exit spelled the end for Conley, too.

Beloved members of a lovable team that forged a unique bond with its city, both Gasol and Conley will receive rousing ovations when they return to Memphis. That they landed Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant in the last two drafts will go a long way toward easing the pain of seeing the longtime Grizzlies in different uniforms.

Boston Celtics vs. Charlotte Hornets

Nov. 7: Celtics at Hornets, 8 p.m. (TNT)

Dec. 22: Hornets at Celtics, 6 p.m.

Dec. 31: Celtics at Hornets, 3 p.m.

Same goes for Kemba Walker, who was reportedly lowballed by more than $30 million in Charlotte’s feeble attempt at re-signing its lone All-Star. Walker gave the franchise eight years on one of the league’s best bargain deals, building himself into an All-NBA performer, only to see the Hornets repeatedly fail to surround him with enough capable talent. Charlotte can hardly blame him for leaving, and he will surely be showered with praise when the Celtics visit the Hornets for the first time.

Miami Heat vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Nov. 23: Heat at 76ers, 7:30 p.m.

Dec. 18: Heat at 76ers, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Dec. 28: 76ers at Heat, 8 p.m.

Feb. 3: 76ers at Heat, 7:30 p.m.

Butler played only 55 regular-season games for the Sixers after forcing his trade from the Minnesota Timberwolves in November, but he was an invaluable member of their playoff run that came within four bounces of the Eastern Conference finals. He was arguably their most important offensive player, ranking second in playoff scoring behind Joel Embiid and second in playoff assists behind Ben Simmons. Most importantly, Butler was their best fourth-quarter option by a wide margin.

Despite high praise for Philadelphia’s young core, amid the customary griping about his role, Butler left for Miami. His sign-and-trade at least salvaged Josh Richardson out of the deal and paved the way for Horford to sign into the resulting cap space. Richardson has since said he wants “kill the Heat” when the two teams face, and Philadelphia’s reaction to Butler’s return will likely hinge on whether the 76ers can.

Golden State Warriors vs. Brooklyn Nets

Feb. 5: Warriors at Nets, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)

Mar. 12: Nets at Warriors, 10:30 p.m.

It is unlikely Durant returns at all this season from his Achilles tear in June, much less in time to play the Warriors, so we will probably have to wait until 2020-21 to see him and Draymond Green trash-talk each other from opposing sides.

But there is still a score to settle. The Nets sent D’Angelo Russell to Golden State in the sign-and-trade for Durant, choosing Irving over their incumbent 23-year-old All-Star point guard. Russell will be motivated to prove they chose wrong, just as Stephen Curry and company will want to handle the team Durant chose over them.

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Steph Curry Refurbishes Oakland Basketball Court After Local Man Tweets About City’s Neglect of It

Daryl Nelson | ATLANTA BLACK STAR

The Currys continue to do good for the community.

Less than a month after Steph Curry and Ayesha Curry launched their foundation to help children in lower-income areas thrive, the Golden State Warrior rebuilt an outside basketball court in Oakland, California.

But if it had not been for a local musician named Nimsins who sent a tweet about the dilapidated court in Concordia Park, it might have never been refurbished.

“So Look Bruh, City Of Oakland Won’t Fix Our Courts,” tweeted Nimsins on June 27. “I Called 311 hella times, been waiting for almost half a year. We don’t have lights, trashcans, smooth pavement, nor a second backboard/hoop. Can yall come through??”

The seemingly ambitious musician also posted photos of the damaged court, and he tagged Golden State Warriors Draymond Green, Jordan Bell, Kevon Looney and Alfonso McKinnie.

SFGate reports Curry caught wind of the tweet when he was traveling in Asia after the NBA season, and he reached out to Under Armour, which he endorses, as well as Chase. The finished court opened on Tuesday, where the point guard made an appearance and played in front of some thrilled youngsters.

The court itself has some of Curry’s sayings painted on the ground in yellow and gray letters, like “Ruin the Game” and “I Can Do All Things,” the Bible verse he wears on his shoes. The court also has the words “Eat Learn Play,” the title of the foundation he started with his wife.

Curry also met up with Nimsins, took photos and hooked him up with a pair of his Under Armour Curry 6s.

The Future Hall of Famer shared a clip of the new court on his Instagram page as well and wrote “Concordia Park in Oakland has a new look ??.”

“This Dope af & the kids fasho needed it, thanks Steph ?,” one person wrote under his post.

“Thank you @stephencurry30 for doing this for the city of OAKLAND! We need this!” another person commented.

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Report: NBA to implement new mental health guidelines for 2019-2020 season

Liz Roscher | Yahoo Sports

The NBA has done more than any of the 3 other major sports leagues to address the mental health issues of its athletes, and now they may be poised to do even more.

According to Sam Amick of The Athletic, the NBA is reportedly bulking up its mental health guidelines for the upcoming season. The Athletic obtained a memo that details a number of initiatives and changes that all teams will have to follow for the 2019-2020 season. From The Athletic:

• Retain and make available to players on a voluntary basis one to two mental health professionals who are licensed in their field and locality, and with experience in assessing and treating clinical mental health issues.

• Identify a licensed psychiatrist (M.D. or D.O.) to be available to assist in managing player mental health issues.

• Enact a written action plan for mental health emergencies.

• Put in place procedures for communicating to players and team staff the team’s practices with respect to privacy and confidentiality.

• Attend a Sept. 12 ‘health and wellness meeting’ in Chicago where these matters will be discussed and analyzed even further.

These are the latest steps in what has been a years-long progression for the NBA. They started in 2015 by making a clinical psychologist available to speak to teams and staff. They retained the help of a mental health foundation to advise them on mental health issues in 2017. And the NBA released its first set of mental health guidelines for teams just last year.

But none of this would have been possible without players like Kevin Love, Royce White, and DeMar DeRozan breaking the taboo and speaking publicly about their mental health issues. Their bravery is a major reason why the NBA is continuing to make the mental health of its athletes a priority. Making these directives league-wide means that no team will have the option to lag behind — every player on every team will have access to these services, so they can get the support and help that they need.

CJ McCollum explains why so many players are turning down Team USA

Jorge Sedano, Malika Andrews and Jonathan Givony play “BS or Real Talk,” reacting to Portland Trail Blazers guard CJ McCollum’s comments on The Woj Pod, explaining why so many big players are turning down playing on Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

Vince Carter signs with Hawks for record-breaking 22nd season

Dan Feldman | NBC SPORTS 

The Hawks held a roster spot for Vince Carter.

He apparently found no better offers.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This will be Carter’s 22nd season – most in NBA history. He’ll break a tie with Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Willis and Robert Parish. If he plays on or past Jan. 26, Carter would also become the first 43-year-old to play in the NBA since Willis in 2007.

Carter’s longevity is incredible. I wrote about it four years ago, and he’s still going!

An amazing athlete in his prime, Carter has remained in excellent shape. He has transitioned into a stretch four late in his career. He’s strong enough to defend opposing bigs, and his outside shooting/mobility are positives at power forward.

The Hawks are rebuilding around Trae YoungJohn CollinsKevin HuerterDe’Andre Hunterand Cameron Reddish. The future is the priority.

But if that if that young group is ahead of schedule, Carter could help Atlanta compete for the playoffs next season. If it takes a little longer, Carter can provide veteran mentorship in the meantime.

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