2014 All-Star

After Break, Reality Bites For Carmelo


VIDEO: Carmelo sets a record with eight 3s in the All-Star Game

NEW ORLEANS – The 3-pointers rained down, one after the other — eight in 13 tries — more makes than anyone in All-Star history as part of scoring 30 points in 30 minutes. Everything was going right for Carmelo Anthony.

And then he woke up.

Sunday was a blast, a 163-155 win for his Eastern Conference team inside Smoothie King Center. And Sunday was record-setting affirmation for a player shooting 41.6 percent behind the arc after shooting in the 20-percent range earlier in his career. But it was a rest stop more than anything, practically with the motor running. One long weekend, one game as a tease of a reminder that basketball actually can be fun, contrary to evidence all around him in recent months. But now, smack, Anthony is a Knick again.

His reality: The future employment of coach Mike Woodson is the stuff of constant speculation, and guesstimates over his next move as a free agent-in-waiting has not yet peaked, and New York is on pace to miss the playoffs.

New Orleans was a standing-eight count.

“It was a great feeling,” he said in response to a question from a Knicks beat writer. “I’ve been telling you that it was going to be hard for me to try and enjoy this weekend, but I did. I found a way. The guys that’s part of the weekend did a great job of just getting me through it and keeping me positive. Just the whole vibe was something I was looking forward to, being around the guys the whole weekend, just kind of decompressing from the regular season. And now it’s back to the grind.”

There is no avoiding it. Anthony was down when he arrived on the heels of a home loss to the Kings, with the Knicks working on two days rest while Sacramento was on the second night of a back-to-back, and tried to create some positive energy. At the media session Friday, he not only said he would like to re-sign rather than leave town, but that he would be willing to take a pay cut to make it happen if it meant management could spend the savings on the roster.

Even if the smart PR move never comes true in the real world of contract negotiations, it was something. And little things can mean a lot at 20-32 and 2 and 1/2 games behind the Bobcats for eighth in the East, a fact no one could have imagined at the start of the season.

Now comes four games in five nights, including a return to New Orleans on Wednesday, and jumping right back into the Woodson rumors and the free-agent speculation. Now comes life as a Knick again.

All-Star Game’s Record-Setting Night


VIDEO: The Daily Zap from the 2014 All-Star Game

From NBA.com Staff Reports

The 63rd edition of the NBA All-Star Game was a dandy … and was one for the record books, too. Our friends over at NBA.com/Stats have a complete breakdown of every stat that was broken or tied last night, but here’s a quick list of them, too:

  • Most Combined Points in Game:  318
  • Most Points by Team: 163, Eastern Conference
  • Most Combined FG Made: 135
  • Most Combined 3-Pt FG Made: 30
  • Most Combined Assists: 88
  • Most FG Made by Team: 70, Eastern Conference
  • Most 3-Pt FG Made by Team:  16, Western Conference
  • Most 3-Pt FG Attempts by Team:  56, Western Conference
  • Most Combined Points by Teammates: Durant & Griffin, 76
  • Most Combined Points in Half: 165 (first half)
  • Most Combined FG Made in Half: 74 (first half)
  • Most Combined Assists in Half:  50 (first half)
  • Most FG Made in Half: 40, by Western Conference in first half
  • Most Points in Half: 89 by Western Conference in first half
  • Blake Griffin: 19 field goals made
  • Blake Griffin: 9 field goals made in a quarter
  • Carmelo Anthony: 8 3-pointers made
  • Kevin Durant: 17 3-Pt attempts (Durant also tied the record for FGA in an All-Star game with 27)- 27
  • Kyrie Irving: 24 Points in 2nd Half (Ties record for most points in any half –Glen Rice- 24 points in second half, 1997)
  • Kevin Durant: First player in history with four consecutive 30-plus point All-Star Games
  • Kyrie Irving: Second Cavs player to win All-Star Game MVP (James was first)

Kobe Bryant Running Out Of Time For 2013-14 Lakers Return

VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s All-Star news conference

NEW ORLEANS – The specter of Kobe Bryant missing the rest of the season grew Sunday.

The Lakers star said his recovery from a fractured left knee is “coming slowly,” and the usual defiant tone about a 2013-14 return was noticeably replaced by a non-committal response.

“I haven’t been thinking about it,” Bryant told NBA.com when asked if feels he has played his last game of the season. “I keep my blinders on and just try to get healthy.”

Asked if was as confident as before he would play again before next season, he replied, “I’m in the same emotional state as I was before. Just keep my blinders on and just keep on working and just go from there.”

Bryant missed the first 19 games of the season while recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon, returned Dec. 8 against the Raptors, then fractured the knee Dec. 17 at Memphis after just six appearances at 29.5 minutes per. The original timetable was that he would miss approximately six weeks, or until the final days of January.

On Jan. 28, though, the Lakers announced Bryant still had pain and swelling in the knee and that his workouts would consist mostly of riding a stationary bike, part of a program of non-weight bearing exercises. That ruled him out of the All-Star game, after being voted a Western Conference starter by fans.

“It’s coming slowly,” he told a press conference at Smoothie King Center before the All-Star game. “It’s coming slowly. I’m optimistic coming into out of the break that I will have some improvements once I get back to L.A. and do a couple follow-ups and then go from there. But it’s been a slow process.”

The Lakers, tied with the Kings for last place in the Western Conference at 18-35, have 29 games remaining. With Bryant still unable to say when he plans to jump into practice, let alone actual action, the question becomes when he crosses the line of no return. At some point, and with L.A.’s spot in the standings, the decision has to be made whether it makes more sense for Bryant to aim for 2014-15 rather rejoin the team for 15 or 20 games this season.

The uncertainty comes with the trade deadline on Thursday, leaving the possibility that longtime Bryant favorite Pau Gasol will be traded and the Lakers’ roster the rest of the way might be an unknown.

“I hope not,” Bryant told NBA.com when asked if he thinks he has played his last game with Gasol. “I hope not. Big, big fan. You know how much I love Pau.”

Bryant also reiterated, though, that he will not be involved in front-office decisions, this week or moving into a summer with the Lakers hoping to be major players to re-shape the roster. He said he simply wants to know about any major decision before it happens rather than have to learn about it at the same time as the public.

Live From The 63rd NBA All-Star Game




VIDEO: LeBron thanks the fans before the East and West All-Stars get going

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — No one, and I mean no one puts on a party like New Orleans and the NBA for ALl-Star Weekend.

And it all culminates with tonight’s 63rd All-Star Game here at the Smoothie King Center. From the kicking player intro concert from Pharrell Williams, Nelly, Diddy and Busta Rhymes to all the action that will follow from LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the fellas from the Eastern and Western Conference squads, we should be in store for a relentless night of action.

Dig in with us all night here for the best tweets, notes and observations from the festivities right here.

– And no, that wasn’t me on stage with Pharrell. But that is Snoop joining the party now. Keep coming back because you never know when your Tweet will show up here …

Kobe Bryant showing up for the intros in a clean suit was a nice touch for the West. Player/coach?

– My main man and Hang Time Podcast partner Rick Fox of NBA TV is all over the style scene down here in New Orleans. Check him out while wait for this game to start … (Pharrell is almost as tall as Rick with that hat on)


VIDEO: Pharrell and Rick Fox talk fashion at All-Star Weekend

— Get your MVP predictions in now. I’m going with KD. It’s his year. He might not be on your Mount Rushmore … yet, but he’s trying to get there.

Carmelo Anthony and Blake Griffin handling the opening tip is a nod to the small ball that has become the rage around the league.

– Generation Next wants a seat at the All-Star table and it’s showing on the rosters …

– You wonder why the stars from nearly every walk of life turn out and turn up for NBA All-Star Weekend … you’ve been watching it since the opening tip. These guys are the best and most jaw-dropping athletes on the planet, IMO. Nothing like seeing these guys work like this.

– East up 30-27, btw, with Blake on course for a wicked night along with LeBron, Durant and Melo!

– 44-42 West lead at the end of the first quarter of the 63rd NBA Dunk Fest

– Classy tribute to Bill Russell from Magic Johnson and the other Hall of Famers … Happy Birthday Sir! Magic leading the Happy Birthday serenade from the entire arena, All-Stars included. So classy!


VIDEO: Happy Birthday Bill Russell

Dwight Howard scores a bucket and there is absolutely no reaction from the crowd. A couple of years ago his every move drew oohs and aahs from the crowd. Now he gets nothing. It’s just weird.

– The NBA making sure Bill Russell has the best seat in the house every year is pure class. No one treats their former greats better. No one!

– West 89, East 76 at halftime and now we get a sick halftime show led by Trombone Shorty that also includes a little Earth, Wind and Fire!

– Lil’ Chris giving the West a halftime pep talk?

– https://twitter.com/HPbasketball/status/435253824794546176

– MVP Watch … Blake, Durant, LeBron, Kyrie, Melo? They are all having monster nights.

– You know why I love Joakim Noah? Because any other guy would concede a that layup to Durant. But not Noah.

– Sitting here having a wild chat with NBA.com’s John Schuhmann and Leigh Ellis of The Starters and we’re trying to figure out if the U.S. sent two teams to international competition could they win gold and silver? I say yes. Think of the preposterous depth they have on the Men’s Senior National Team. It could happen.



VIDEO: Kyrie Irving steals the show and MVP trophy from LeBron James and Kevin Durant

Fan Night 1-On-1 Finals: LeBron Vs KD




VIDEO: LeBron James discusses the prospects of a 1-on-1 matchup with Kevin Durant

NEW ORLEANS — What better stage for the finals of the biggest 1-On-1 tournament in basketball than All-Star Weekend 2014?

The lights are brightest here. No stage is greater. And we definitely couldn’t find two bigger stars to battle it out for the NBA TV Fan Night 1-On-1 Tournament title than reigning two-time MVP and Finals MVP LeBron James and three-time scoring champ Kevin Durant.

This clash of basketball titans pits the two players who have been at the center of non-stop MVP debates throughout the past two years. Whatever separation existed between the two in the recent past has dissipated as Durant’s game has grown and matured. The fury has reached a fever pitch, however, this season thanks to Durant’s mercurial season.

Anyone willing to completely dismiss Durant’s chances of defeating James in a 1-On-1 matchup clearly has not paid attention the work KD has done this season. He’s LeBron’s equal in almost every statistical category and is a better and more complete scorer than the man considered the be the best and most complete player in the game.

All that said, you can’t just mess with the King. You have to knock him out to pay for his spot. Durant knows that better than anyone and has made it clear on several occasions that he is fed up with finishing second to LeBron.

This is truly a flip of the coin matchup. LeBron fans will swear their guys is indestructible. Durant’s fans will swear it’s time for a new king. You all have time to vote, it ends tonight after the playing of the 63rd All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center.

Dive in here …



Since the league is experimenting with the All-Star Saturday night events and there is a bit of a transition period right now with new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, this might be as good a time as any to bring up this new event for next year in New York. In the meantime, discuss and debate the prospects of the leading two players in the league battling it out for the title in the NBA TV Fan Night 1-On-1 Tournament.

That even would be the spectacle of the weekend and have everyone talking. KD (below) and LeBron (above) are certainly talking about it …


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks about his potential matchup with LeBron James

Silver Offers Glimpse Of The Fan Within


VIDEO: Commissioner Adam Silver’s opening statement at All-Star 2014

NEW ORLEANS – In the first few minutes of his most notable public appearance to date as the NBA’s newly minted commissioner, Adam Silver may have given people a greater glimpse into what drives him than David Stern, his predecessor, offered in 30 years.

Silver worked solo Saturday night at the annual state-of-the-league All-Star Weekend media session that Stern – part Borscht Belt stand-up act, part bully pulpit – handled so masterfully through the years. After a series of acknowledgements (including one to Stern, who is in Aspen this weekend), Silver offered an “Intro to Adam” that showed the beating heart of a diehard basketball fan.

“The league has certainly changed my life. The game of basketball has,” Silver said, a little nervous and emotional as he spoke of some of the mileposts in his journey to this night. “When I was younger, when my parents were first divorced, basketball is what bonded my father and I together.”

Silver, 51, is a native New Yorker, the youngest of four children. He grew up as a Knicks fan, played on a junior league team in grade school and eventually attended Duke University, where students choose their majors but basketball is nearly everyone’s minor.

“I was never a paint-your-face kind of kid,” Silver said. “[But] when I was there, I experienced some of the best college basketball maybe ever.”

Silver spoke of ACC stars, of Ralph Sampson and Gene Banks, of Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins. “I would say that had enormous meaning on my life,” he said, “and it was only sort of back then that I think I started to understand how meaningful this game of basketball is to so many people, and the impact it has on so many people’s lives.”

Silver joined the NBA in 1992 as a special assistant to Stern before working his way into the deputy commissioner role. He has traveled the world and been intimately involved with most of the league’s big ideas and issues: labor negotiations, television contracts, international initiatives to grow the sport, technological innovation. But his passion for the game stayed close to the surface.

“I’ve been with the league so long that if there were issues that I thought required immediate attention, I would like to think in partnership with David we would have addressed those,” Silver said. “The coming together of the larger community of basketball is probably my priority, and that means focusing on the game all the way up from the young level through college to the pros.”

Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul, president of the National Basketball Players Association, already has begun working with Silver on multiple fronts. “Adam has been unbelievable, wonderful,” Paul said this weekend, “in talking with us about increasing the dialogue between the players and NBA front offices.”

But Silver’s news conference was a coming-out moment that kicked off All-Star Saturday night, shared with a roomful and a global TV audience. He worked his way through a number of questions:

  • Asked about technology, Silver quickly balanced that by citing transparency as one of his “guiding principles,” through the use of replays in officiating but elsewhere too. “Transparency in how decisions are made at the league office, transparency in how we deal with our players and the Players Association,” Silver said.
  • Silver said he wasn’t looking to alter Stern’s approach, sounding more like he’d build on it in exploring new opportunities and markets. His respect and fondness for his former boss and mentor were evident. “It goes without saying that virtually none of us would be here without David,” Silver said, congratulating the “commissioner emeritus” on his direct election Friday into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
  • Like Stern, Silver is an advocate of adding a year to the current eligibility rule for young players to enter the NBA Draft. Bumping the minimum age to 20 years old and turning prospects’ college careers into two-and-done would help both the NBA and the NCAA, he said, which he considers appropriate. “If players have an opportunity to mature as players and as people, for a longer amount of time, before they come into the league, it will be a better league,” he said.
  • “Tanking,” a buzzword this season as teams consider the depth of the 2014 Draft, conjures teams “losing games on purpose,” Silver said. “There’s absolutely no evidence that any team in the NBA has ever lost a single game – or certainly, in any time that I’ve been in the league – on purpose.” Rebuilding is something quite different. But Silver sounded open to adjusting the lottery system or odds, as needed.
  • An area in which Silver brings his greatest expertise, and has gained the most trust from 30 owners, is television. Negotiations of the next TV deal are ongoing, with blockbuster expectations attached. As for those who feel that broadcast coverage has been crowded out by cable – affecting fans who don’t have or might not be able to afford cable, where all of All-Star Weekend could be found – that world has changed. “It really to me is the quality of the coverage and the ability to reach homes in America,” Silver said, “which we’re doing now.”
  • Silver talked again about the refinement of the league’s use of instant replay, improving the system while heeding the flow of games. Going to an off-site central replay system “similar to what the NHL does right now,” with plays reviewed more swiftly and consistently, sounds like merely a matter of time.
  • Sleeved jerseys? Silver said he’s sensitive to player concerns but reaction has been mixed and statistics show no adverse effects on performance. Meanwhile, apparel sales have been strong, he said. “On one hand, people keep encouraging me to try new things,” the commissioner said, “and then when we try something new, people say you’ve lost your mind. … It’s something we’re trying. We’re having some fun with it. Long-term, we’ll see.”
  • Those jerseys do provide more acreage for ads, and ads on game jerseys don’t face the same threat of zapping that conventional commercials do. “Those live images are critically important to our marketing partners,” he said. “I think it ultimately will happen.”
  • Expansion, domestically or internationally, does not rank high on Silver’s list. The financial viability and competitive strength of the NBA’s existing teams matters more.
  • The goals espoused during the 2011 lockout – greater financial health and more competitive balance – are playing out in Silver’s view. “The fact that we had four teams in the conference finals last year who are all in the bottom half of the league in terms of market size is a strong indication,” he said.
  • Despite concerns that the players association has not hired a replacement for deposed executive director Billy Hunter after more than a year, Silver said the delay has not squelched dealings with the union. Acting director Ron Klempner is available to address the most pressing issues, and the current CBA can’t be reopened by either side until 2017.

Here again, Silver’s sense of stewardship for the game and the league emerged. He sounded very much in sync, frankly, with comments earlier in the day that came from the NBPA’s player-rep meeting.

Silver said it is important for the players to understand that collective bargaining is only “one small aspect of what their union is there for.” He spoke of pensions, health care and other topics, not necessarily related to wrangling over the 50-50 split between players and owners of NBA revenue.

“Their greatest incentive should be to grow this league with us,” Silver said. “That’s going to have such a greater impact ultimately on their salaries than sort of tinkering around with the percentages of [basketball-related income].

“So I’m looking forward to dealing with a partner in this league, not an adversary, a partner that’s going to continue to build this league with me and with the league.”


VIDEO: Commissioner Silver on the issue of “tanking”

Live From New Orleans … It’s State Farm All-Star Saturday Night!




VIDEO: Distance is never a problem for Stephen Curry and won’t be during All-Star Saturday night

NEW ORLEANS — Showdown Saturday night is here, finally.

We’ve been waiting for days down here in New Orleans for things to get officially started and for years All-Star Saturday served that purpose for the NBA’s showcase weekend. This year is no different, as we come to you live from the Smoothie King Center and State Farm Saturday night well into the wee hours.

This has long been the domain of the league’s best and brightest, from Dr. J, Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Vince Carter and so many other of the league’s greatest dunkers, not to mention the most prolific 3-point shooters and skilled technicians.

Is there someone in tonight’s field for the Sprite Slam Dunk contest … say someone like this Paul George fella below?



VIDEO: Paul George has all of the tools to become one of the league’s all-time great dunkers

Your All-Star Saturday night schedule can be found here. And we are going to provide you with a non-stop in-arena feel for what’s going on down here in the Big Easy.

First up is the Sears Shooting Stars competition, followed by the Taco Bell Skills Challenge , followed by the Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and, we saved the best for last, the Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

I’m going to go ahead and get my predictions out of the way now. Here are my winners …

– Sears Shooting Stars: Team Curry looks lean and mean. They win this one for the Western Conference.

– Taco Bell Skills Challenge: The West has two wicked teams in this one (Trey Burke and Damian Lillard on Team 1 and Goran Dragic and Reggie Jackson on Team 2). I have to roll with Team 1! Another win for the West.

– Foot Locker Three-Point Contest: The Currys need to adopt me, because in Steph Curry I trust when it comes to a shooting contest. (East coast bias … where?)

– Sprite Slam Dunk: The defending champ, Terrence Ross, and the East will be tough to beat. I’ve been hearing rumblings around town that Ben McLemore has some crazy stuff planned. We shall see. In the meantime, I’m rocking with my man “Ross” and George and John Wall.

Get your popcorn ready …

Sears Shooting Stars

– Team Bosh vs Team Durant in the championship for the Sears Shoot Stars.

– Team Bosh with the repeat thansk to Chris Bosh … ain’t nothing but a winner! Durant finishes second again … unreal.

Swin Cash going all Seattle Seahawks and Doug Baldwin on the TNT crew after Team Bosh was handed the trophy was a most appropriate way to finish off the opening event of the night. Straight Cash homie!

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

– East rookies MCW and Victor Oladipo representing for their side with a 43-second run in their run through the course. Too easy for two youngbucks like that.

– It’s still not the Year of the Dragon. Burke and Lillard come through with a 40.6 second-run on the course and keep my prediction alive.

– 45.3 second run for the rookie team in the finals. Always believe in Burke baby! West delivers a 45.2 to take the title. My dude Burke has mad quicks (not that NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has noticed. He’s too busy hating on the best rookie in the league.)

– A little controversy on All- Star Saturday never hurts! We’ve got to get the replay.

Foot Locker Three-Point Contest

– Redemption time for Steph Curry. This is your night sir. This is your event. Do what you do!

– Chuck picks an upset and goes with Bradley Beal (his mom calls him Bradley, so I’m going with Bradley).

– Great field in this competition. All-Stars in Lillard, Curry, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

– Who jinxed me and the Curry clan tonight? Steph is watching the finals like me. Ugh!

– RapCam turns up shots of Ludacris and Nelly sitting courtside. These young rappers clearly need to step their game up if the vets are getting all of the major Jumbotron play tonight. #whereyouatDrakeand2Chains?

– Nice theme music for Arron Afflalo, Robin Thicke‘s Magic Touch playing as he hits the stage and his 15 is the new score to beat.

Bradley Beal has the high-mark with 21. Kid has wicked range and an absolutely pure shooting stroke.

– The Kendrick Lamar concert/interlude is coming up soon. Just FYI

– Belinelli didn’t smile at all during the final round tale of the tape interview with Nick Cannon and Beal. Not sure how to take that. I know you want to win and everything but have a little fun with this thing fella. His method worked, though. Dropped a 19.

– Beal struggles on his money ball rack but rallies down the stretch for a 19 to tie it and now we get these guys in a 60-second tiebreaker.

Belinelli wins it with a monster effort in the OT. Fantastic showing by both guys.

– Kendrick Lamar’s tearing it up. perfect intro for what I hope will be a spectacular Sprite Slam Dunk contest.

Sprite Slam Dunk

– So I’m 0-for-everything going into this final contest of the night. Somebody on this East team needs to get greasy from the start so I can get back on track. Judges are Dr. J, Dominique and Magic. No worries with those judges.

Kevin Hart and Cannon doing their two-man routine before we get started. Mr. Box Office himself is picking Lillard. And Hart goes with McLemore (who got roasted by Barkley and Hart for his ‘fro … cold blooded).

– East had one day of practice for that routine they turned in for the freestyle portion of their program. Impressive!

– West had a couple of decent dunks but the choreography was way off.

– East wins that freestyle round easy!

– Someone pulled Vanilla Ice out of uh, moth balls … I’ve seen it all now. Bring on the battle round!

– Ross comes out with Drake as an assistant. Battle Round brings out the human props and a cape … and a between-the-legs jam that looks way better on replay after he missed it the first time.

– Lillard’s nights end mercifully without any hardware. The effort was outstanding, though.

Harrison Barnes has some explaining to do after this NBA2k14 dunk …

– McLemore dunking over Shaq and getting crowned had the crowd on its feet. Dunk looked much better on replay, of course. But no one has nailed that all-important first attempt …

– Until now. Thank you JohnWall, the reverse over the mascot and the Nay Nay with George after the dunk. Energy back up just like that. Even the judges agreed on that one. The East wins it. The new format is still being digested as we await the word on the individual champ … well, the dunker of the evening. Wall!

Hall Of Fame Fan Voting Remains On Hold

NEW ORLEANS – Hopes by the Hall of Fame to take the revolutionary step of including fan voting to help decide enshrinement have been delayed at least one more year as officials continue to struggle to find a partner for the project.

“It really all comes down to a sponsor issue, about finding the right sponsor to help us execute that,” said John Doleva, the president of the basketball museum in Springfield, Mass. “We’ve had discussions and nothing has transpired yet, so we’re going to go through the process that we’ve had over the past several years. With the changes that Mr. (Jerry) Colangelo (Hall chairman) has done to be more inclusive is great. We’d love to engage the fans. We think it is a sellable opportunity, but it’s an opportunity we have not yet been able to find the right partner.”

The Hall has been working to refine the plan that would give the election results the same weight as the current format of needing 18 of a possible 24 votes for enshrinement. The proposed format would increase the number of chances to 25, a popular decision in some circles because it encourages fan involvement and a concerning turn in others because it adds an element of popularity contest that can create problems, as witnessed by All-Star balloting some years.

Either way, the Hall has no intention to move forward without a sponsor to help in marketing.

“We work to try to do it every year,” Doleva said. “We think about the opportunity for fans to go to a website, whether it’s the Hall of Fame website or a sponsor’s website, and being able to vote for this list of 10 finalists and have an impact. It’s not just an opinion poll. It’s the top three people would get an additional to help them maybe get into the Hall of Fame. We’re actually talking about the fan having an opportunity to impact who goes in. We continue to market that.”

Doleva remains hopeful the format could be introduced for voting on the Class of 2015. In the meantime, balloting will move forward for the current set of finalists from the North American and Women’s committees, with the winners to be announced at the Final Four in Arlington, Tex., in April.

The Rise Of New Orleans’ Pelicans

Tom Benson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Pelicans owner Tom Benson (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

NEW ORLEANS — While the geographic incongruity of the Lakers slam dunking near the ocean in Los Angeles and the Jazz playing pick-and-roll music in conservative Utah have become ingrained parts of NBA tradition, the feeling was that for pro basketball to finally thrive in southern Louisiana, a new name to match the region would finally help put down roots.

Thus were born the New Orleans Pelicans. Or, more accurately, a rechristening of the Hornets, arrivals from Charlotte, N.C. in 2002 and temporary refugees in Oklahoma City from 2005 to 2007.

Part resurrecting the banner of a beloved minor league baseball franchise (1887 to 1959) and part homage to the official and resilient state bird that appears on the state flag, seal and commemorative quarter, the new team nickname was an instant hit before the start of the 2013-14 season.

“Actually, it was funny that the reaction all over the country was surprised and, in some cases, not good,” said team president Dennis Lauscha. “Because as soon as the name spread around here, people got it. Immediately. The pelican means something in Louisiana.”

The name-change was the most public evidence of a total revamping and rebranding of the franchise since the purchase by Tom Benson in April 2012. Since the 86-year-old owner of the NFL’s New Orleans Saints spent a reported $338 million to buy the club from the NBA, there has been a full-court press to make upgrades to every level of the organization in a city that has had a mutually noncommittal love affair with professional basketball since the days after World War II. From the Hurricanes to the Sports to the Buccaneers to the Jazz to the Hornets, loyalty has often been discarded like a plastic beer cup on Bourbon Street.

“That’s why it was important for us to demonstrate right away that this, in no way, was stop-gap ownership,” Lauscha said. “The mandate from Mr. Benson was that if we were going to get into the NBA, then we were going to get in all the way and make the same kind of commitment that eventually produced a Super Bowl championship for the Saints.”

Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Pelicans president Dennis Lauscha (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

That push is coming every day, more than eight years after the devastation inflicted upon the city and the entire Gulf Coast region by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows the population within the city limits is 369,250, down from a 2000 high of 484,674. But there has been a gain of 28.2 percent since 2007. The greater metro area is now at 1.2 million, off just 8 percent from 1.3 million in 2000.

New Orleans, ranked 53rd, is the smallest television market in the NBA, yet the Pelicans have made significant inroads by finally getting distribution into the prosperous North Shore area of Lake Pontchartrain. The Pelicans had the largest increase in part- and full-season ticket sales in the league and ranked among the top third in merchandise sales coming into the 2013-14 season when the new name became official. Two weeks ago, the team announced a 10-year deal worth a reported $40 million to rename 14-year-old New Orleans Arena as the Smoothie King Center.

“There’s a new energy, a new sense of excitement around the team and whole franchise,” said coach Monty Williams, now in his fourth season. “When I first got here, all I heard was the reasons why guys didn’t want to come here. Practice site, location of the practice site. All these things that to me were excuses. Because you’re not in the game in the fourth quarter, about to shoot free throws and thinking, ‘Man, if we had a better practice site I’d make these.’

“All that stuff can be an excuse. But now I’m listening to people around the league. I’ve got players coming up to me during the game and saying, ‘Hey Coach, don’t forget me this summer.’ I wasn’t hearing that the first few years. Everybody just wanted to get out of here. I didn’t have a problem with that. They weren’t doing anything illegal. I just wanted guys to give it a chance. You can see the potential here. We’ve got an unbelievable fan base. We just need them to come to games more. I’ve been lobbying for that and I think they will once we give them a better reason to.”

Jack Sperling mid-wifed the team through the period when the Hornets were owned by the NBA. Then Mickey Loomis, also general manger of the Saints, became the head of basketball operations, and he and Lauscha undertook a plan that has produced a $10 million Pelicans practice facility that adjoins the Saints in nearby Metarie. It is state of the art and then some, the finest in the NBA.

“They showed me blueprints and plans last summer when I first got traded to the team,” said point guard Jrue Holiday. “I said, ‘OK, that’s nice.’

“Then I got down here for training camp and it was open and all you could say was ‘Wow!’ I think there is definitely a different feel. I’ll be the first one to tell you that two years ago I would say, ‘No, don’t send me down here.’ But now that I’m here and now that we have a new facility and, especially with the team that we have, the players, the coaching staff, it’s definitely one of the top places to be.”

The Pelicans are led by 2012 No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis, who in his second NBA season has posted unprecedented numbers for a 20-year-old. He is the hoped-for franchise anchor for the next decade.

“I can’t and won’t look way off into the future at anything that could happen,” Davis said. “But I’ve got to say that everything that has taken place with the team and around the team tells you that everyone in charge is doing all they can to make it possible for us to succeed on the court.

“I can’t speak for what the atmosphere or the operation might have been like before I was drafted. I can only say that I like my teammates, our coaching staff and the way every effort is being made to improve. And it’s great to play in New Orleans. Except for one trip in the NCAA Tournament in college, I was never here before I was drafted. But I feel at home here. The fans have opened their arms to me, to all of us.”

This will be the second NBA All-Star Weekend held in New Orleans in the post-Katrina Era, yet there is a noticeable difference from the last time in 2008. That game was a kind-of personal pledge from former commissioner David Stern, who wanted to demonstrate to the world that his league was fully behind the recovery effort. That was at a time when there was talk of the team relocating permanently to Oklahoma City. It was before the league stepped in and bought the team from George Shinn and ran it for more than two years.

“I had a sense just before we purchased it that there was not really the necessary effort and muscle to make that team successful,” Stern said. “It deserved a chance to be successful. So when we took over, we put a little elbow grease behind it, improved the business prospects and had some conversations with the mayor and the business community.

“When you are talking about someone with the experience and the know-how and the connections in the city to make the franchise not just viable but very successful in the long run, of course, Tom Benson is the first name on that list in New Orleans.”

The octogenarian is a tireless businessman and promoter of his teams. He attends every Saints game, home and away, sits courtside for every Pelicans home game and has his calendar filled most nights of the week with appearances around town.

“I don’t know a lot about owner-coach relationships because this is my first time doing it,” said Williams. “But I hear some of the other things some coaches go through with their owners and I just sit here and think, ‘I don’t have that problem at all.’ I don’t have anything to say about Mr. B at all, other than he gives you everything you need. When you look at this practice site and the type of money he’s spent on young talent, he makes you want to win for him.

“He comes to the games. He’s talking about my wife and kids. He’s saying, ‘You were busy last summer. You were in Africa, Team USA.’ He’s talking stuff, he wants to win, no question. He’s tasted Super Bowl. What he’s done for us and for all of this to happen in a matter of two years, that’s phenomenal.

“My rookie year as a coach we went to the playoffs and this town, it was like we were in The Finals, and I want our guys to experience that. They haven’t yet. I got a taste of it in my rookie season. There’s no question that it can work here and it will.”

Avery Johnson is a New Orleans native, a graduate of St. Augustine High, who attended Southern University in Baton Rouge and watched his beloved Jazz move away to Salt Lake City in 1979. He spent 16 years in the NBA as a player, five as a head coach and is now an ESPN analyst.

“I always crossed my fingers and hoped for New Orleans, but I wasn’t sure about the NBA ever coming back,” he said. “Then the Hornets showed up, then Katrina hit and you had to figure it was all lost again.

“But now, with Tom Benson owning the club, man with all the contracts, the corporate infrastructure and the synergy that’s possible with the Pelicans and the Saints, I can honestly say for the first time that it’s possible for the NBA to be a success in New Orleans, a big success.”

There is work to do, plenty of it. Lauscha, a native of the area, has dreams of drawing fans from northern Louisiana and across the Gulf Coast region — to Mississippi, Alabama and the panhandle of Florida.

“Football is in the blood of the people, but there is a lot of history of basketball in Louisiana — Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Karl Malone, Willis Reed. Of course, Pete Maravich at LSU and with the Jazz.

“Its about tapping into that history and tapping into a sense of local pride and connecting this team to the city. I believe we can do that.”

Dell Demps has been the general manager since 2010. In that short time, he’s seen some great change.

“My first year here the team was in the process of being sold. The league took over the team in year two and part of year three. Then getting the leadership of the Benson family, Mickey Loomis, Dennis Lauscha, it gives us an stability.

“Then with the rebranding of the Pelican name, the symbolism of being the state bird and how the pelicans have been able to survive the hurricane, the gulf oil spill a few years ago. Just what that bird stands for — the resiliency of the state, the people, the city of New Orleans. It just gives us an identity that is our own. I think it puts us on the map with a whole new start.”

Stern Enters Hall As Quietly As Possible

VIDEO: The GameTime guys discuss the legacy of David Stern.

NEW ORLEANS – He wasn’t getting close to All-Star weekend. David Stern was so not getting close, in fact, that he chose an opposite destination, leaving New York for the altitude and snow of Colorado, a favorite getaway, and a ski vacation with his wife while most of his former world converged on the Gulf Coast in sunshine for the indoors of basketball. He didn’t want to be the slightest presence as successor Adam Silver took the big stage for the first time as commissioner.

Giving the spotlight a two-hand shove in someone else’s, anyone else’s, direction reached all the way Friday to skipping his own meeting with history, when the Hall of Fame announced Stern had been elected and he stuck with the ski plans anyway. Silver in the audience for the unveiling of the first five names of the Class of 2014 for the basketball museum in Springfield, Mass., while Stern kept a safe distance was an appropriate twist.

This had to play out just right for the commissioner emeritus. More than just whether he would attend the announcement, Stern debated for some time whether to allow himself to be nominated this election cycle or wait a year or two for the lock of first-ballot enshrinement. He had always said the moment would only come once out of office, but then as moving day, Feb. 1, neared, he thought about delaying the Hall in favor of a comfortable chair deep in the shadows.

“He thought he might let it go by for a while,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Hall and a long-time Stern confidant. “He’s a humble guy in many ways and he wasn’t necessarily looking to have another thing happen real quick, because this is a big thing. I had to nudge him a little bit by telling him, ‘We could use you now, not five years from now. People forget quickly.’ He thought about it and he got back to me. He said, ‘OK.’ ”

OK, back into the limelight.

“David is a modest guy and I don’t think he thought this was coming so quickly,” Silver said. “Even though he had a storied career as commissioner, I think he thought there’d be some period of time before he went in the Hall, but they came to him and said now was the time for him to be inducted. He was moved. I spoke to him right after Jerry Colangelo had talked to him. He was moved, he was excited. I think it’s a great book end to a fantastic career as commissioner.”

Stern’s induction ceremony in Springfield in August will come as part of an ongoing Pacers party, with former coach Bob (Slick) Leonard being elected as the third Indiana selection in a row by the ABA committee, following Mel Daniels in 2012 and Roger Brown in 2013. Leonard, now a Pacers broadcaster, is the winningest coach in the history of the rebel league and won three championships.

Sarunas Marciulionis was elected via the International category for a starring role with the Soviet Union and later, after his native land gained independence, Lithuania. He also played seven seasons in the NBA as a shooting guard who would attack the basket with an aggressive, fearless style that belied an easy-going personality that made him popular among fans and teammates with the Warriors, SuperSonics, Kings and Nuggets.

Nat (Sweetwater) Clifton, from the Early African-American Pioneers committee, and Guy Rodgers, via the Veterans committee, were elected posthumously. Clifton was the first African-American to sign an NBA contract, while Rodgers was a college star at Temple who played 12 seasons in the NBA and made four All-Star teams.

Alonzo Mourning headlined the list of finalists from the North American committee, which, like the Women’s field, involves a second election before inductees are announced at the Final Four ahead of the induction ceremony in August: Mourning, Kevin Johnson (a step forward by making it through the first round of voting), Spencer Haywood, Mitch Richmond, Tim Hardaway, college coaches Nolan Richardson, Eddie Sutton and Gary Williams and former AAU coach Harley Redin along with Immaculata University’s AIAW national-title teams of the early 1970s.

Chris Webber, eligible for the first time, was not nominated, a missed opportunity for a candidate who would have received some support and possibly made it to the finalist stage. Robert Horry, a unique debate as someone who several times changed history in the playoffs despite posting modest numbers in his career, also was not nominated in his first year of eligibility.