VIDEO: Relive the 65th NBA All-Star Game
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Report: Timberwolves shopping Rubio before deadline: The Ricky Rubio era in Minnesota could soon come to an end. The Timberwolves are reportedly shopping their one-time point guard of the future. The emergence of back-to-back Verizon Slam Dunk champion Zach LaVine has given the Timberwolves a different option at the position, writes Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:
Zach LaVine was nothing short of spectacular in winning his second straight Slam Dunk title on Saturday and by the end of this week he may win something else; the starting point guard job for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Incumbent Ricky Rubio is readily available and the feeling is that the Spanish guard could be moved prior to Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
Phil Jackson is in the market for a point guard but it’s hard to envision the Knicks having the assets to acquire the 25-year-old Rubio, whose season average in points (9.7), assists (8.6) and minutes (30.3) are down this year.
Jackson wants desperately to make the playoffs – as evidenced by his quick trigger decision to fire Derek Fisher 136 games into his tenure – but finding an upgrade in the backcourt is tricky.
Houston’s Ty Lawson has been a bust with the Houston Rockets but perhaps he can turn his career and the Knicks season around over the last 27 games. Ditto for Brandon Jennings, who is also on the Knicks radar.
The Clippers are making Blake Griffin available even though the injured forward is recovering from a second surgical procedure to his right (punching) hand and may not play again this season, especially if he’s traded to a team out of the playoff race.
Denver, Boston and Atlanta cannot be ruled out but if Griffin remains with the Clippers after Thursday this may be something the Knicks and Carmelo Anthony may want to consider over the summer.
A Griffin-for-Anthony trade makes sense on a number of levels including the fact that Anthony and Chris Paul have for years tried to become teammates.
VIDEO: Relive the 2016 Verizon Slam Dunk contest
No. 2: All that’s left for Kobe now is goodbye — The Kobe Bryant farewell tour won’t see another stop as big as All-Star weekend and Sunday’s 65th All-Star Game. His Los Angeles Lakers are not in the playoff equation in the Western Conference, so there will be no walk off into the postseason sunset for Bryant. That means, today marks the start of his long goodbye from the game he has been an integral part of for more than half of his life. Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical explains:
This is your life, Kobe Bryant. This was your goodbye. That’s how All-Star weekend had played itself out, how the relentlessness of Bryant’s 20 years had been honored. For all these years, Bryant never felt terribly compelled to gift the most intimate details of his craft. He gassed himself to understand the nuances of it all, and never, ever wanted to cost himself a competitive advantage. Bryant didn’t want only to win, but destroy you, too. The force of his will was nothing short of predatory.
Everything has changed now. Bryant has let go. He’s let go of it all. The competition is gone, and Bryant is shaping his legacy. He isn’t chasing championships, nor playoffs, nor competitive genius. At times this season, he has traveled the NBA and had his opponents searching out informal sessions of wisdom. There were times that rival players were uneasy about approaching Bryant, uneasy with what could be a most uninviting vibe.
Now, Bryant stood inside a third-floor corridor at the Air Canada Centre and embraced everything. The All-Star game MVP, Russell Westbrook, marched past Bryant clutching his trophy. He had grown up in Southern California, and told The Vertical that as a kid he had “gone to the Lakers’ championship parades to see Kobe.” Indiana’s Paul George had 41 points for the East, and nothing made him feel better lying in that hospital bed 18 months ago than Bryant reaching out, encouraging him to fight his way back.
Across his final season, Bryant has torn down the walls and let everyone close to him. Across this All-Star weekend, the NBA’s best players found themselves making personal, private pilgrimages to him.
“It feels like I’m passing on all the knowledge that I’ve gained in this game,” Bryant told The Vertical. “These kids, they grew up watching me. They were my daughter Gianna‘s age  when they started to watch me play. When we talk now, they’re asking me questions about things that they’ve watched and observed from my career. They want deeper insight. For me, it’s been really, really interesting. That’s part of the weekend that I most enjoyed – more than everything else. Just sitting down and talking to the guys individually. Steph. Kawhi. Draymond. These guys, they were just picking my brain and that’s … that’s … special.”
VIDEO: Kobe Bryant reflects on his final All-Star Game appearance
No. 3: Whiteside’s future in Miami in jeopardy? — The Miami Heat’s development of Hassan Whiteside‘s was always a low-risk, high-reward proposition. If the talented 7-footer could find a way to curb his enthusiasm for nonsense, the Heat could very well have uncovered one of the league’s most talented big men. But the experiment has hit a rough patch, one that could that lead to Whiteside’s exit prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, according to Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
In many ways, power forward Chris Bosh is the ideal center in today’s NBA game. And he could end up back there next season if the Heat moves on from Hassan Whiteside, whose future here looks increasingly questionable.
Even before his ejection angered Heat officials Tuesday, there have been serious reservations inside the organization about giving Whiteside the type of contract Miami believes he could attract in free agency, one that could start at $17 million or more.
ESPN’s Chris Broussard said the Heat is gauging trade interest in Whiteside, and two people in contact with the Heat told me that Miami appears open to considering a Whiteside trade, if it can dump other salary and get quality talent back, because it knows it’s going to be uncomfortably costly to keep him. Heat officials have expressed frustration with him, for reasons we explained in last Sunday’s column.
But the Heat also knows the odds would be against a trade this week because he’s earning just $981,000 (causing cap complications) and the team acquiring him wouldn’t have any financial advantage in re-signing him.
Also know this: Pat Riley is not going to commit long-term financially to a roster that isn’t close to a legitimate championship contender. So that factors into a Whiteside decision this summer if his contract prevents other significant moves (and it certainly would make it very difficult if he commands a stratospheric salary).
If Whiteside makes it past the trade deadline, it likely would take impeccable maturity, elite production, no lapses in judgment, a deep playoff run (with Whiteside playing at a very high level) and/or striking out on a few top free-agent options for the Heat to seriously consider giving Whiteside an enormous deal this summer.
So with the cap jumping from $70 million to $89 million, what could Miami realistically achieve in free agency with or without Whiteside?
Whiteside and Dwyane Wade would potentially command a combined $30 million of the $37 million Miami is projected to have available — a figure that would grow to $43 million if the Heat can somehow can dump Josh McRoberts’ contract without taking money back.
No. 4: George’s comeback complete, USAB future uncertain — Paul George used Sunday’s All-Star Game as his personal reminder that he was officially back from the gruesome injury that cost him most all of the 2014-15 season. He just barely missed Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star Game scoring mark and led all scorers with 41 points. But as good as it felt to finally get back on the All-Star stage, George has some decisions to make about the rest of his season and summer, as he explained to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports:
“I knew this is where I belong,” George told Yahoo Sports. “I just felt good and felt confident after I hit shot after shot. Having this long journey, the long rehab that was really the only thing on my mind was enjoying being back here. It was about making shots.
“Of course, personally I wanted a good showing. But it wasn’t really about that. It was just about enjoying being back in this moment.”
George is averaging 23.3 points, 7.1 rebounds and four assists for the Pacers this season. He believes he is showing the same stellar athleticism that he displayed before the injury. San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who coached the West All-Stars, said what he is seeing in George now is “pretty incredible.”
“Every time he runs up and down the floor and jumps up for one of those dunks and everything, I’m thinking, ‘Wow, the human body is amazing,’ ” Popovich said. “To come back and play at this level athletically, it just stuns me every time I see him out there.”
George was one point shy of matching Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain‘s All-Star scoring record of 42 points set in 1962. George and East coach Tyronn Lue said they had no idea the record was that close. George expects to get “madder and madder” during his flight back to Indianapolis because he didn’t break the coveted scoring record.
“Had I known, I would have gone for the two on my last shot instead of going for the three,” George said.
George has played in all 53 regular-season games for a Pacers team that is expected to make the playoffs. He is also a member of USA Basketball’s 31-man roster that has to be trimmed to 12 before the 2016 Rio Olympics. While USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo has promised George a roster spot, George said his body might not allow him to take the trip to Brazil.
“I had a long year,” George told Yahoo Sports. “This has been a long year coming from rehab. I just know how my body has taken these first 50-plus games, not knowing what these playoffs are going to do to my body. So there is a decision coming at the end of the year, is the smart thing to continue on or take a little bit of time for some rest and let my body heal?”
George, a Palmdale, Calif. native, said he became emotional every time he had a one-on-one opportunity with Kobe Bryant, who was playing in his last All-Star Game. George also met Hall of Famer Michael Jordan for the first time over the weekend.
“I had a special weekend,” George said.
VIDEO: Best from Paul George’s 41-point performance in the All-Star Game
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Chris Paul says he ‘plans on’ breaking the All-Star Game career assists record … Some fresh speculation about how Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could end up with the New York Knicks in 2017 … Kobe Bryant going one-on-one with Chris Paul‘s son … ICYMI, Batman and Superman stopped by Inside the NBA last night … Everything you need to know about NBA All-Star 2016 that you might have missed is right here