Joe Santoro: Muss is Nevada’s Wolf Pack’s Fixer Upper | NevadaAppeal.com

Joe Santoro: Muss is Nevada’s Wolf Pack’s Fixer Upper

Joe Santoro

There's no such thing as a trade in college basketball. You can't sell or buy players. Well, not technically. But coach Eric Musselman has never let that stop him from remaking his Nevada Wolf Pack roster every single year he's been in Northern Nevada. Musselman's Wolf Pack finally got down to the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships this past week when junior Josh Hall told the world on Twitter he's transferring to Missouri State. The Pack every off-season under Musselman has sort of been a HGTV show, along the lines of Fixer Upper, Flip or Flop, Love It or List It and Rehab Addict. Gone from last year's Sweet 16 roster are Elijah Foster, Hallice Cooke, Kendall Stephens, Hall and a handful of walk-ons. In their place comes nine scholarship players, as well as another handful of walk-ons, who will all step on the court for the first time in a Wolf Pack uniform. He's taken a Fixer Upper that won nine games the year before he came to town and flipped it into a NCAA championship contender.

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Musselman has only been at Nevada three seasons but the amount of talent he has coached for the Silver and Blue is, well, mind boggling. Forget the tremendous amount of talent (it's, without question, the most talented and deep roster in Wolf Pack history) that's currently on the roster. The following players all played for Musselman and are no longer around: Cam Oliver, Tyron Criswell, D.J. Fenner, Marqueze Coleman, Eric Cooper, Marcus Marshall, Leland King, A.J. West, Cooke, Stephens, Foster and Hall. That team of former Musselman Wolf Pack players would coast to the Mountain West title this coming year.

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The loss of Hall isn't all that surprising. When it was learned Musselman was handing out scholarships this off-season like they were free Gelato coupons at Greater Nevada Field, Hall was immediately suspected to be among the first Pack players that would, "request and receive permission from the Wolf Pack to transfer." It's not that he couldn't help this Pack team. Hall's a wonderfully talented player whose rebound and basket in the lane to beat Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament will never be forgotten. He scored 39 points and was an efficient 17-of-26 from the floor in the Pack's three NCAA tourney games. But there were signs he had ceased to fit the mold of a typical Musselman type of player. He had 31 assists over his first 11 games last year but just 17 over his last 23 games. He also was 12-of-17 on 3-pointers over his first five games a year ago but just 3-of-28 over his last 29 games. Players who don't pass the ball or shoot threes aren't exactly priorities on a Musselman roster.

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Missouri State, though, is getting a steal from the Pack. Hall, who will sit out this season and have two years of eligibility remaining starting in 2019-20, was one of the most clutch players off the Pack bench the last two years, coming up big in the biggest games. In nine games combined the last two seasons in the Mountain West tournament and NCAA tournament, Hall shot 39-of-61 (64 percent) and scored 92 points (10.2 a game) without starting even once. The Pack was 6-3 in those nine games. Finding a new Josh Hall — someone Musselman can trust off the bench — will be a key to this Pack season.

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Assistant coach Johnny Jones has left the Pack basketball staff to become the head coach at Texas Southern. Finding a new assistant coach won't be a problem. There will be hundreds of coaches who would love to go get Musselman something cool to drink during games this year for a chance to be part of a Final Four team. But there's one name Musselman should put above all others. David Padgett. The former Reno High center, who did a wonderful job as Louisville's fill-in head coach last year (and should have gotten the permanent job), would be perfect for Musselman's bench.

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LeBron James, for all of his amazing skills and gifts as a basketball player, continues to be incredibly difficult to like off the court. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith said this week LeBron is currently texting NBA players all around the league to see if they would like to join him on the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the players LeBron texted, Smith said, is Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant. NBA commissioner Adam Silver should just go ahead and give LeBron the league's 31st franchise. The LeBron Kings. Sacramento would have to find a new name because, well, LeBron is the real King. With his own franchise, LeBron could just form his own team every year from the best of the available free agents. He could then hire a puppet of a head coach (nothing new there) and even make out his own schedule (no games against the Warriors, Rockets or Celtics) with every game followed by at least two off days. Welcome to the LBA, the LeBron Basketball Association.

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King James, though, should've been named the NBA's Most Valuable Player this week. Picking James Harden over LeBron is laughable. Harden's Houston Rockets still would've won 55-plus games this year without him and might have even secured the best record in the league. Take James off the Cavaliers and, well, Cleveland might have had the top pick in last week's draft. LeBron put the Cavs on his back and carried them all the way to the Finals. They might have even won the Finals had J.R. Smith not turned into the All-Time Shaqtin' A Fool late in Game 1 and LeBron had not broken his hand punching a white board. LeBron is, without question, the Most Valuable Player in the NBA. Every single year.