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Five-star guard Jaden Hardy, No. 2 prospect in ESPN 100, headed to G League

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Jaden Hardy, the nation’s top uncommitted prospect, said Saturday he plans to play professionally with the G League Ignite team instead of heading to college in the fall.

Most schools had slowed their recruitment of Hardy in recent months after it became clear he was likely to go pro. Earlier in his recruitment, the likes of Kentucky, UCLA, Michigan, Oregon and Arizona had all been involved.

“I gave it a lot of thought,” Hardy told ESPN. “I always wanted to go to college, but I wanted to look at the G League. The more I could not make official visits or meet with coaches and players, it made my decision easier. I never got to interact with anyone on campuses or see things first-hand.”

Hardy is the third notable player in the 2021 class to sign with the G League Ignite team, following No. 7-ranked prospect Michael Foster and one-time Gonzaga commit Fanbo Zeng. The new pathway began last spring, when four five-star prospects opted to go that route: Jalen Green, Jonathan Kuminga, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix.

“I always dreamed about playing in the NBA, and this will prepare me for it,” Hardy said. “Playing with and against pros and learning from pro coaches will be a great experience.”

A 6-foot-4 shooting guard who attended Coronado High School (Nevada), Hardy is ranked No. 2 in the ESPN 100 for the class of 2021 and projected as the No. 3 pick in ESPN’s latest 2022 mock draft. He’s considered the best scorer in high school basketball.

Hardy makes the game look easy on the offensive end of the floor. He scores equally well on or off the ball, and has developed the ability to navigate in ball screens as a legitimate scoring threat or a trusted facilitator. Over the past year, he has developed into a consistent shot-maker and added NBA range to his offensive arsenal, with a skill set that already included a highly productive midrange game and terrific finishing ability. He needs to improve on the defensive end, but his footwork, body control, balance and elevation to make tough shots is his separating quality offensively.

One popular comparison is Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal.

Hardy said he worked out during the pandemic with NBA players James Harden, LaMelo Ball and Trae Young.

“I am trying to get where they are,” he said. “I have a lot of work to do, but I held my own against them.”

With fellow five-star guard Nolan Hickman committing to Gonzaga earlier Saturday, there are now zero five-star prospects still available in 2021.

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Cleveland Cavaliers extend qualifying offer to Jarrett Allen

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CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers extended a qualifying offer Friday to center Jarrett Allen, making him a restricted free agent.

The team had until Aug. 1 to make the offer to Allen, a 23-year-old acquired last season in a trade from Brooklyn and viewed as one of Cleveland’s core pieces.

The Cavs can now match any offer given by other teams to Allen, whose size and athleticism at both ends of the floor makes him enticing.

General manager Koby Altman has expressed his hope to keep Allen in Cleveland long-term.

Allen, who played college ball at Texas, came to the Cavs as part of the blockbuster trade in January that sent star James Harden to the Nets.

Allen’s arrival pushed veteran Andre Drummond to the bench and eventually led to the team buying out the two-time All-Star center’s contract.

Allen averaged 13.2 points and 9.9 rebounds in 51 games — 40 starts — for Cleveland.

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Devin Booker, Khris Middleton, Jrue Holiday available for Team USA opener vs. France

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TOKYO — The trio of players making the unprecedented jump from the NBA Finals to the Olympics are all scheduled to be in Japan by Saturday.

The hope is for Devin Booker, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday to be available when Team USA opens play Sunday against France, according to coach Gregg Popovich.

After attending the Milwaukee Bucks‘ championship parade Thursday, Middleton and Holiday are scheduled to fly to Seattle on Friday. There, they will join Booker, whose Phoenix Suns they helped eliminate on Tuesday, and take a private plane to Tokyo.

The pivot from being opponents in the NBA playing for the highest stakes to teammates on the national team going for a gold medal has happened over the years but never this suddenly, making it one of the more awkward scenarios in Team USA’s already fascinating history of intersecting star players.

“I would say just understanding competition and that it’s never personal between who you’re going with, unless lines are crossed,” Booker said this week discussing going from foe to teammate with the Bucks’ players. “Those guys aren’t that type and I would never go that way with them, because there’s a high respect level for each other. Representing your country is a whole different dynamic than competing against each other in the NBA Finals, but I can always respect somebody that competes at the highest level.”

With the lengthy procedures for entry into Japan, it is unlikely the new arrivals will get much more than a light walk-through with the rest of Team USA, which has been in Japan since Tuesday. But with an expected tough test against the French, Popovich is planning on using his reinforcements immediately, even if he’s not sure how it will play out.

“I have no idea [how to use them]. I’m not trying to be glib. I’m trying to be transparent,” Popovich said. “Maybe they’ll be OK for the game [Sunday] and it’ll hit them two days later. Maybe we should play them in the first half and see what they’re like.”

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Los Angeles Lakers extend qualifying offer to guard Talen Horton-Tucker

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The Los Angeles Lakers made their first move in what promises to be a busy offseason by extending a qualifying offer to second-year guard Talen Horton-Tucker, the team announced Thursday.

The qualifying offer for Horton-Tucker is $1.9 million, according to ESPN front office insider Bobby Marks, and will make the 20 year old a restricted free agent, allowing the Lakers to match any outside offer to retain their former second-round pick.

Los Angeles has early Bird rights and can re-sign Horton-Tucker for a contract that projects to start at $10.4 million, according to Marks. The contract must last at least two seasons.

Horton-Tucker averaged 9.0 points on 45.8% shooting with 2.6 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 steals in more than 20 minutes per game last season.

The Iowa State product made strides in his second year in the league, memorably filling up the box score with 14 points, 11 assists and three steals in a road win over the Brooklyn Nets in April and played 13 games when he scored 15 points or more, during which the Lakers had an 8-5 record.

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