On a brief trip to Spain for yours truly earlier this month, I had the opportunity to catch an in-person glimpse of gritty Spanish guard Sergio Llull for the first time since the 2012 Olympics in London.
Nearly three years later, as you'd imagine, Llull is a much better player than the 23-year-old who served as a seventh or eighth man for the Spaniards in the 2012 gold-medal game against Team USA.
Llull is a combo guard who loves to score first but can do much more when he's on the ball these days for Real Madrid than he did back then for the national team, which for the past several years could always turn to the likes of Jose Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Ricky Rubio for quarterbacking. Llull's role is much bigger with the Spanish club giants in Madrid, who have him under contract through 2018 and to whom Llull (pronounced YOU'LL) has always proclaimed the deepest of affections.
His NBA rights, however, belong to the Houston Rockets, who have been trying for years to convince Llull to make the jump. And there is some fresh talk that next season -- finally -- Llull will give strong consideration to joining the Gasol brothers and the rest of the Spanish armada playing Stateside.
One well-placed source told me in Spain: There's a "pretty decent" chance Llull agrees to sample the NBA next season.
The scouting report on Llull from one Spanish League expert: "He's a really good pick-and-roll player. He takes and makes big shots. He's great in the open floor and very tough. He's a better athlete than you think, too. But he needs to be on an up-tempo team in the NBA -- Houston, Phoenix, Golden State and so forth -- so he can play in the open floor and run pick-and-roll."
The climax of the college season typically gives a hearty nudge to the NBA's offseason coaching carousel. And it's already happening even though the NCAA tournament isn't out of the first round yet.
A few quick dribbles of pertinent coaching gossip:
** There is a growing sense in NBA coaching circles that Florida's Billy Donovan will give renewed consideration to making a move to the pros after a rough (by his standards) season in Gainesville. Although there is no firm indication yet that the Orlando Magic will pursue Donovan again when they ramp up their coaching search in late April, it's a scenario that's bound to be talked about.
** There's been no shortage of buzz among NBA types this week about former DePaul star Ty Corbin, freshly ousted as interim coach of the Sacramento Kings, moving to the college game to fill the fresh opening at his alma mater.
** It is widely -- and I mean widely -- believed throughout the league that Fred Hoiberg, whose Iowa State Cyclones were bounced in the first round of the tournament Thursday by UAB, is the top choice of the Chicago Bulls to replace Tom Thibodeau in the event that the Bulls and Thibs indeed part company at season's end.
A handful of disabled player exceptions quietly expired this month, with the teams that applied to the league to receive them opting to let the money go unspent ... presumably because there were no free agents to chase in-season who could command more than minimum money.
The Pacers received a $5.3 million injury exception in the wake of Paul George's gruesome compound leg fracture last summer. The Lakers were granted two fairly substantial trade exceptions by the league in the wake of season-ending injuries suffered by Steve Nash ($4.85 million) and Julius Randle ($1.5 million). The Heat had one worth $2.7 million, too, after losing Josh McRoberts to a meniscus tear in his right knee.
Yet they all expired March 10 without fanfare.
Last month's trade deadline was a particularly big one for the D-League.
Of the 39 players involved in deals on a frantic deadline day, 16 of them had D-League experience, which equates to a healthy 41 percent. That, of course, includes Detroit's newly acquired Reggie Jackson, who spent some time with the old Tulsa 66ers in his early days in Oklahoma City.
We've also seen a new record this season with more than a third of the NBA possessing D-League experience on their resumes. That figure includes 26 players who were drafted last June, as NBA teams increasingly turn to their D-League affiliates to season young players.
The trade that sent Kevin Garnett back to Minnesota for Thaddeus Young shaved Brooklyn's luxury-tax bill from slightly more than $26 million to $19,687,385. The Nets, you'll recall, paid a whopping $90.57 million in luxury tax after last season's $190 million chase of a championship. ...
We lost out on some good trivia when Ray Allen decided to take this season off. Had Allen signed with a team other than the Boston Celtics, it would have meant that all five starters from the Celts' championship team in 2007-08 would have been active with five new and different teams. Which, according to ESPN's peerless source of NBA goodness Adam Reisinger, hasn't happened since the NBA/ABA merger of 1976-77.