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Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

Morning shootaround — Jan. 17


VIDEO: The Fast Break — Jan. 16

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Should the Blazers break up their backcourt?| Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix, but Suns haven’t | Are the Wolves in the right hands? | Kobe cancels out Rio, speaks on other topics

No. 1:  Should Blazers trade CJ McCollum? — Just when it appears the Blazers have a solid young backcourt for the future, along comes a thought: Are they better off trading CJ McCollum? The thinking is both McCollum and Damian Lillard are smallish guards who collectively run into defensive matchup problems, and since both are scorers, the Blazers could trade one to shore up the front court. Here’s what John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote recently:

The Blazers remain $13 million below the salary floor, and are sitting just four games in the loss column out of the No. 8 spot in the playoffs. The Feb. 18 NBA Trade deadline is looming and for those holding out hope that Portland may try to alter its future by obtaining a front-line player at the deadline, there’s a move that could be made.

CJ McCollum (20.9 points per game) is putting together a nice bounce-back season. At $2.5 million annually he’s currently a terrific value. But anyone who has watched McCollum play when paired with Damian Lillard knows that you can’t play them successfully together on a team that will compete at the top of the Western Conference.

That’s the goal, right?

They can score together, but they’re a defensive disaster when paired. They’re both chuckers, too. And there’s no way that Olshey is trading Lillard, his prized draft pick. Further, the Blazers don’t want to get into a position beyond the 2016-17 season where they have to pay both Lillard and McCollum.

They’re not the “Splash Brothers.” We know that. But we don’t want them to become the “Cash Brothers.”

Even as Olshey has a man-crush on McCollum, and has privately said he wouldn’t dream of trading him, the general manager should be looking and listening when it comes to offers for the guard between now and Feb. 18.

Portland also has a potential first-round lottery pick as trade bait (but theoretically would have to wait until the draft to make that deal). And even as Olshey feels stuck on a refusal to part with any of his future draft picks, the Blazers general manager should be quietly shopping McCollum, gauging his trade value. If the return resulted in a front-line player who would start for multiple seasons and better complement Lillard, you’d have to consider making it.

To be clear, I’m not saying “McCollum must go,” here. I like his game. Just not as much as Olshey does. I’m saying, McCollum’s value isn’t going to be greater than it is in the next two seasons. It’s just not sustainable. Also, I’m saying that this season shouldn’t just be viewed as a throw away in which the Blazers roll out a the lowest-paid roster in the league and pretend that’s all there is to see.

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No. 2: Isaiah Thomas has flourished since his trade from Phoenix; Suns haven’t —  It was a strange marriage and a strange breakup. The Suns signed Isaiah Thomas to a very team-friendly free agent contract over a year ago, which angered Goran Dragic, who felt threatened by another point guard on a team that already had Dragic and Eric Bledsoe. Both Bledsoe and Thomas got paid while Dragic at the time was awaiting free agency. Well, Thomas was traded to the Celtics and Dragic to Miami and of the two, Thomas is clearly having the better transition. Here’s Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic on Thomas and the team he left:

Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas is keeping the book open on the trade history now that he has become the starting point guard that he wanted to be. Thomas is being called an All-Star candidate, averaging career highs in points per game (21.6) and assists per game (6.7) although his 3-point percentage (33.5) is at a career low.

Isaiah runs the show for a 21-19, eighth-place team in Boston. When he was traded from Phoenix, the Suns were a three-point-guard show for a 29-25, eighth-place team.

“When we recruited him, we pitched the sixth-man role to him and to be one of the top scorers in the league,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “That was with (Eric) Bledsoe and (Goran) Dragic on the roster. We signed Isaiah before we ended up getting Bledsoe’s contract resolved. It’s one of those things that seemed better to him in July than it did maybe during the season.”

The Suns pursued LeBron James first in 2014 free agency. Once that door closed after a meeting with James’ agent, the Suns targeted Thomas as the best available free agent after Sacramento did not pursue re-signing him. Thomas’ four-year, $27 million contract (via a sign-and-trade for Oriakhi) was – and is – considered a strong value, especially with how rapidly the NBA salary cap will rise over the next two years.

Thomas averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 assists for the Suns in 25.7 minutes per game, nine fewer minutes than he played in Sacramento. Thomas said he was competing for a starting job from the start of 2014 Suns training camp and commented during the season that the Suns situation was not what he expected. After the trade, he said playing time was his only issue in Phoenix, where he made 39 percent of his 3-pointers.

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No. 3: Are the Wolves in the right hands? — The Minnesota Timberwolves are a team built for the future; everyone knows this. But the present-day Wolves aren’t doing very well; we can all see that, too. The question then becomes: is the team being brought along properly? And is Sam Mitchell the right coach in their development? Mitchell is the interim coach this season and the Wolves haven’t made any guarantees about his future, which means the organization is taking a wait and see approach. Meanwhile, Mitchell spoke with Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, who offered up this report:

And so, despite a nine-game losing streak, Mitchell loves the team he has. And, after practice Saturday, Mitchell defended his work developing that Wolves young roster.

“Our three leading scorers are our young guys,” Mitchell said of Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns and Zach LaVine. That will be a blessing a year or two from now. It’s tough when they’re developing. But everything they’re going through is going to make them better.”

It’s clear Mitchell would like to still be the coach when the benefits of that development are reaped. He also knows that, as the Wolves losing streak has gotten longer — it reached nine Friday — the criticism has grown louder. But Mitchell — who went through a similar situation in Toronto — is confident he is the right man for the job of developing this young team.

“Explain to me how we’re blocking the young guys?” Mitchell said. “When Andrew Wiggins is a 20-point scorer, and there are only 20 of those in the league? Karl-Anthony Towns is doing something that no rookie has done in 20 years. Zach LaVine is in the process of learning a new position and is our third-leading scorer. And Shabazz Muhammad has made tremendous strides. Gorgui Dieng has made strides …

“Now tell me, how are we hurting them?”

Mitchell is a self-described old school coach. Again Friday he left many of his young players in the game in the fourth-quarter of a one-sided loss, hoping they’d learn from the experience. He has admitted being hard on LaVine, even allowing as his style hasn’t always been fair.

“Yes, I tell him that all the time,” Mitchell said. “I tell him, ‘It’s hard, Zach, and sometimes it’s unfair.’ But that’s the way young players learn.”

As an example Mitchell offered Muhammad. The coaches were trying to get him to look for his teammates more, make the extra pass, play better defense. When he didn’t do that, his minutes took a tumble late in December. But, once Mitchell saw Muhammad making the effort, the minutes increased.

“I didn’t give him those minutes,” Mitchell said. “He earned them.”

But, as the losses mount, so does the pressure. Mitchell admitted Saturday that his team very much needed to experience a win, and soon, just to see some return on his players’ investment.

But he’s not going to change his approach. He said his experience in Toronto — where he won 33 and 27 games in his first two seasons before jumping to 47 wins and a division title in his third — gives him the confidence he’s doing the right thing.

“Two years from now, if we don’t do what we’re doing now, we’re never going to win, or compete, for playoff spots, or for the Western Conference or an NBA championship,” he said. “So my job is this. Even though it’s painful to do the right thing. And the right thing is to teach the young players — with the help of the veterans — how to play. And if I had not been through it before, maybe I’d panic. Maybe I’d be worried.”

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No. 4: Kobe cancels himself out for Rio — Yes, Kobe Bryant does have a realistic grip on his basketball abilities at this point. Previously, Kobe openly wished he could be considered for a spot on the 2016 Olympic team, but with his struggles this season, he finally conceded that maybe taking a spot from a more deserving player wouldn’t be the best idea, even if he could pull it off. Remember, Olympics chief Jerry Colangelo didn’t promise Kobe a spot – only Paul George is virtually guaranteed one — but would consider it out of respect for what Kobe has done for international basketball. Anyway, Kobe some about this and other topics before playing in Utah. Here’s some of the Q and A:

 

Q: Lot of memories with the Jazz team. Do you have any memories with this Jazz crowd here in this arena?

Kobe: [Laughing] Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. They were really, really tough on me, man. More so than the other crowds. They were tough. Signs when I’m shooting a free throw to literally just yelling it in my ear. Taking the ball out. They pissed me off so much. It was like ’08 in the playoffs where I just kind of erupted after a play, talking back to the crowd because they just kept driving me. With that said, it’s fond memories truly because it was like that’s what sports should be. That kind of bantering and that kind of competition or whatever. I’ve always loved playing here because of that.

Q: A man that is so driven like yourself, if you can, as you think about life after basketball, have you thought about ownership, coaching, broadcasting? Have you had a chance to just let it soak in and say what about life – because you’re still a young man – but after basketball that will keep you motivated and focused?

Kobe: Yeah, those are tough questions for athletes, I think. I’ve been kind of searching for what that was going to be for years now – 15 or 16 years – kind have been searching for that next passion and I’ve been very fortunate enough to find it to the point where it keeps me up at night. Constantly working, studying, and trying to get better at it, and I’m really looking forward to moving into that next phase. Ownership is in terms of being there day-to-day or coaching and things of that sort don’t interest me. I just don’t have a passion for it. Or broadcasting for that matter, I just don’t have a passion for it.

Q: Speaking of the future, the other day you said it was Draymond’s and Steph’s time to pursue championships and gold medals. That you’ve had your turn. Have you closed the door on pursuing the Olympics this summer or is that something you’re still considering?

Kobe: I think it’s their time. I think it’s their time. It’s funny; during a game in Golden State, it was a break in a play or whatever. Leandro Barbosa, who I’ve known for a very long time, comes up to me and goes, ‘Hey, I’ll see you in Rio.’ I just turned around and go, ‘Nah.’ [Laughs] He said, ‘Come on, man, it’s Rio.’ I said, ‘Nah, I think it’s the young guy’s turn to go play and perform.’

I’ve been fortunate enough to win two gold medals. I’ve had my moment. I think it’s important for them to go ahead and play. I’ll watch from afar, support from afar. If they want me to come down and speak to the guys, I will. That’s about it. I think as beautiful as it would be to play for our country, when I say my last game is going to be my last game I’m going to retire, then that’s it. It’s not like I’m going to walk off the stage and then but… I’m going to come right back for a minute. [Laughs] ‘Hold on one second.’

I think it’s pretty sweet to have the final game in a Laker uniform and to support the players from afar.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Suppose the moves made by Sam Hinkie eventually help rebuild the Sixers? How will he be viewed? … After a show start, Amir Johnson is starting to finally fit in with the CelticsLeBron James, whose company dropped Johnny Manziel, says the QB needs to turn things aroundCody Zeller at center? It might work. He has played better with the Hornets missing Al JeffersonJared Dudley says the Bucks were smart to trade him.

Kobe Bryant withdraws from Olympic consideration

Kobe Bryant withdrew from consideration for the 2016 Olympic team, saying “I’ve had my moment” and that he should not take a roster spot from a more-deserving player.

“I already let Jerry and Coach K know that I physically can’t do it,” Bryant said in Salt Lake City on Saturday before the Lakers played the Jazz, referring to Jerry Colangelo, the chairman of USA Basketball, and Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski.

The decision takes the Team USA officials off the hook from either having to cut one of the greatest players in NBA history and a key part of the United States’ recent success in international play or keeping him on the roster for the Rio de Janeiro Games as a largely ceremonial move.

“Since my retirement announcement, I’m able to watch these guys in a different light,” Bryant said. “I’ve come to terms with the fact that they are the future of this game. These are the guys who deserve the spots in Rio. These are the guys who people need to watch and root for. These are the guys to show fans where this game is going in the future.”

 

Morning shootaround — Jan. 16


VIDEO: Top 10 Plays from Friday night

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates | Thunder getting overlooked, underloved? | Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage | Long trip leaves Cavs in good place

No. 1: Noah’s shoulder jeopardizes his, Bulls’ fates — Your first instinct was to look around for Boston’s Kelly Olynyk. He was the culprit involved in the NBA’s previous most notable shoulder injury, locking up Cleveland’s Kevin Love in the first round last spring and sending the former All-Star forward off to surgery, done for the rest of the playoffs. This time, though, it was Dallas’ JaVale McGee getting tied up with Chicago’s Joakim Noah, with Noah suddenly pulling away and running off the court while shouting anguished expletives. Noah’s left shoulder dislocation was a significant re-injury of the same shoulder he had sprained before Christmas, and according to Bulls beat writer K.C. Johnson, it has the frustrated center and his teammates rattled while awaiting the outcome of an MRI exam. Meanwhile, any plans by Bulls management to explore the trade market for Noah, an impending free agent, probably have been diminished:

A Saturday MRI will produce an official prognosis and whether surgery is needed, but the injury likely will have major ramifications for the franchise — and for Noah. The Bulls have gauged the market for Noah in advance of next month’s trade deadline, an option that is in serious jeopardy now.

More powerfully, the Bulls waited two weeks to clear Noah for contact practices and officially rule out surgery for his last injury, which involved a small tear. If surgery is needed this time, could Noah, an unrestricted free agent, have played his last game for the franchise that drafted him in 2007?

“It didn’t look good,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

“It’s devastating,” Derrick Rose said. “He’s a big piece.”

No two injuries are the same, but [Love] took more than four months to return to basketball activity after dislocating his shoulder in last season’s playoffs.

“I’m frustrated for him,” Taj Gibson said. “He felt so good coming into this game. We don’t know the severity of it but the look on his face was just crazy. He had put so much work in to get back to the team.

“It just makes my stomach sick. You’ve been going to war with this guy all kind of different circumstances over eight years, a guy you pride yourself with, especially with practice and he’s one of the emotional leaders, it hits you in the heart. Seeing him on that table like that, I kind of got flashbacks to when Derrick got hurt. You don’t want to see your man go down like that. It’s frustrating.”

***

No. 2: Thunder getting overlooked, underloved?— No one would welcome additional, legitimate championship contenders for the Larry O’Brien Trophy this June than the NBA. It just so happens that the defending champions, the Golden State Warriors, are as good as or maybe better than they were last season. The San Antonio Spurs have a history of success unrivaled for duration since the Bill Russell-era Boston Celtics. And the Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James, who has taken his team to five consecutive Finals. Outside of those three franchises, though, the league’s other 27 teams have more skeptics than supporters when assessing their shot at a spring ring. Royce Young of ESPN.com took a hard look at where the Oklahoma City fit among the top contenders, and wound up re-visiting a familiar topic – media disrespect – with former MVP forward Kevin Durant:

A couple of hours before the Oklahoma City Thunder squared off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, Michael Wilbon said on “Pardon The Interruption”: “There’s only three teams in the NBA, right now from where we sit, who can win the championship, who can even play for the championship.”

Those three: the Golden State Warriors, the San Antonio Spurs and the Cleveland Cavaliers. “That’s it,” Wilbon said. “That’s the list.”

The Thunder went on to effortlessly roll over the young Wolves 113-93, as expected, improving to 29-12. At the midway point of the season, that puts the Thunder on a 58-win pace, which in the past 10 seasons on average is good for the second seed in the Western Conference, and has been good for the No. 1 seed twice. With a robust margin of victory of +8.2, on paper, the Thunder look like a surefire contending power.

But plenty of people around the league seem to share the same sentiment as Wilbon. It’s Warriors, Spurs and Cavs, and then everybody else.

The question is, where are the Thunder?

“Man, the [media and experts are] always trying to nitpick us,” Kevin Durant told ESPN.com. “I mean, they don’t like us. They don’t like how Russell [Westbrook] talks to the media, they don’t like how I talk to the media. So obviously, yeah, they’re not going to give us the benefit of the doubt.

“Especially since we’ve been together so long. Some of these teams are new, except for the Spurs, who have won. But we haven’t won and we’ve still got the same core, so they don’t expect us to win. It is what it is, who cares about them. They don’t mean nothing, the critics. Their opinions, everybody has one, but we don’t really care about them. Every day we’re just going to keep grinding this thing out. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”

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No. 3: Bird unhappy with Pacers’ style slippage — Change is hard, especially when the state from which one is departing worked so darn well. The Indiana Pacers committed to a pace-and-space attack over the summer, shedding the “smash mouth” style built around center Roy Hibbert and power forward David West that had produced consecutive trips to the Eastern Conference finals. There were growing pains early – Paul George didn’t like the idea of being stuck as a “power forward” – but George, his teammates and coach Frank Vogel worked out the kinks for a satisfying start. But Indiana has dropped nine of its past 15 games since starting 16-9 and whether in response to opponents’ tactics, George’s sputters after his early MVP form or just lapsing into old habits, the Pacers have slowed down and gone bigger. That had Larry Bird, the team’s president of basketball operations, displeased when he spoke to Nate Taylor of the Indianapolis Star:

“I just can’t get a handle on it right now because these guys are up and down,” Bird said in a telephone interview just hours before Friday’s game against Washington. “I can’t tell you what is best for us right now. We’ve had success with the small lineup, but we’ve had success with two big guys in there. It’s going to take a little bit more time, but I would like to have won more games up to this point. I don’t think any of us feel comfortable with how we’re playing and the way things are going.”

What Bird does not want the Pacers to do is waver from the new offensive philosophy they developed in the offseason.

“I’d like to see teams match up with us instead of us worrying about who certain guys are going to guard on the other teams,” Bird said. “Let’s see if they can guard us. If you’ve got good ball movement and you’ve got guys hitting shots, it makes it pretty easy.”

After talking with Bird after Thursday’s practice, Vogel returned to the spread lineup to start Friday’s game for the first time since Dec. 31. The results were not what Bird desired. The Pacers fell behind early to the Wizards and struggled throughout in a 118-104 blowout loss. The Pacers missed 14 of their 17 3-pointers and were outrebounded by the Wizards 54-35.

Bird and Vogel have talked almost every day throughout the season. Vogel said their conversations have not changed much, but he mentioned before Friday’s game that every aspect of the team is in flux, from which lineup should start to which players should be on the court in the final minutes of games.

Vogel said he has favored the big lineup because it has a strong defensive rating of 89.4, a statistic that measures points allowed per 100 possessions, entering Friday’s game. The spread lineup’s defensive rating is 106.3.

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No. 4: Long trip leaves Cavs in good place — Fatigued yet fulfilled, the Cleveland Cavaliers returned home in the wee hours Saturday from a long road trip that may have positioned them just right for another push to the Finals. The mood of their leader, LeBron James, was evident in a Tweet James posted upon getting home:

It also was clear in James’ comments after a breezy 20-point victory at Houston to conclude the trip that Cleveland might just be revving up to keep playing for another five months. Here is an excerpt from Dave McMenamin‘s piece for ESPN.com:

After traveling nearly 6,000 miles over the course of a six-game, 12-day trip — enough distance to go from New York to Los Angeles and back again — the Cleveland Cavaliers walked out of the Toyota Center on Friday night having picked up five wins on the journey and a boost of confidence to take into the second half of the season.

“The only thing I care about is how I lead these guys every single night, and I know we can compete with any team in the league and it doesn’t have to be a regular-season game,” LeBron James said afterward when asked if it bothered him that some were judging the Cavs because of that Spurs loss [Thursday]. “I know, you give us four games and it’s time to lock down in a playoff series, we can play and we can beat any team in this league. So that’s my feeling and that’s what I know.”

The certainty in James’ words was significant, as the 5-1 trip seemed to solidify the notion that his Cavs had indeed turned the corner. They won in just about every imaginable fashion — blowing it open late in Washington; thoroughly dominating in Minnesota; toying around with the competition in Philadelphia; coming from behind in Dallas and making big plays down the stretch; and then, in Houston, shooting only 39.1 percent as tired legs resulted in missed jump shots, but determined defense wouldn’t let them lose as the Rockets shot even worse at 35.1 percent.

They’ve now won nine of their past 10 games, heading into a home date with the Golden State Warriors on Monday, and are starting to look like the team that became a juggernaut in the second half of last season through the playoffs, until injuries derailed them in the Finals.

“I think just being on the road, just together for 12 days just brought us together more,” Cavs big man Tristan Thompson told ESPN.com. “And you can see it on the court. There’s more flow. Guys are understanding where guys are going to be at.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Byron Scott is talking about playing the Lakers’ young guys more over the second half of the season, though it’s hard to imagine Kobe Bryant‘s Farewell Tour yielding to any sort of organizational-development agenda. … We can understand why the Brooklyn Nets would be interested in Tom Thibodeau to bail out their dismal operation, but we’re unclear as to why Thibodeau would be interested in the Nets. … San Antonio has been so good for so long, it’s kind of unfair to the rest of the league, according to USA Today. … The first priority with Nene always seems to be, getting him healthy .The second is keeping him that way, because his impact on the Washington Wizards is considerable. … This Miami Heat teams lacks some of the self-assurance and self-awareness that the Big Three edition owned, says one insider. … There are Bulls fans who wish that Jimmy Butler and Derrick Rose got along as famously as Butler and his Hollywood buddy Mark Wahlberg.

Morning shootaround — Jan. 15


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant to Warriors: ‘Make history’ | Perkins, Davis lament state of Pelicans | Butler puts in epic performance in Philly

No. 1: Bryant encourages Warriors to go ‘make history’ — With their victory last night over the Los Angeles Lakers, the Golden State Warriors improved to 37-3. That start matches the mark the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls had through 40 games when they won an NBA-record 72 games. After the win, Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who played against the dominant players (Michael Jordan in the 1990s and Stephen Curry today) encouraged Golden State’s stars to push for the 73-win mark, writes Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com:

Before Kobe Bryant left the Oracle Arena court for the final time Thursday night, the Los Angeles Lakers icon was greeted by a trio of Golden State Warriors who have been terrorizing the rest of the league lately.

Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green all surrounded Bryant and chatted him up following their team’s 116-98 win over Bryant and the Lakers.

“You guys have got to go ahead and make history,” Bryant told Curry.

“I got to chase you,” Curry replied, a response that Bryant said he too would have used.

“Damn right,” Bryant told Curry. “Absolutely. Come and get it.”

Bryant also signed a pair of his game-worn sneakers for Green.

The message Bryant wrote: “Make history.”

A passing of the torch? Perhaps.

“I think so,” Bryant said. “It’s their time. It’s their time. It’s their time to step up and play and see how many championships they can win, see how many gold medals they can win. I had my run. Now it’s important for them to carry it forward.”

But the Warriors heard Bryant’s message loud and clear.

“He told us to chase history, so we’re going to try to chase it now like he did in his career,” Curry said. “He paved the way.”

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(more…)

Bryant, Curry, James maintain leads in final All-Star voting update

ALL BALL NERVE CENTER — With just one week before All-Star starters are announced, good luck catching Kobe Bryant.

In the third returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ star guard maintained his commanding overall lead in voting, with 1,533,432 overall votes. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history who is playing in his final NBA season, held onto a cushion of about 300,000 votes since the last round of voting over the next-highest vote-getter, Golden State’s Stephen Curry (1,206,467).

In the Eastern Conference, Cleveland’s LeBron James (830,345) leads all players, ahead of his former Miami teammate Dwyane Wade (736,732). Indiana’s Paul George (569,947) seems to be destined to start alongside James. For the final Eastern Conference starting frontcourt spot, despite a vigorous social media campaign from the Detroit Pistons, center Andre Drummond — the NBA’s leading rebounder — has dropped to fourth after holding the third spot through the first two rounds of balloting results. With these latest totals, New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony (368,336) has surpassed Drummond (361,307) to move into the potential starting five.

While Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant (774,782) seems to be a lock to join Bryant in the Western Conference frontcourt, the race for the final starting spot remains tight. After moving into the starting five in the last voting update, Golden State’s Draymond Green (499,947), who leads the NBA with eight triple-doubles this season, has maintained a slim lead over San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (487,626) for the final spot in the Western Conference frontcourt.

Another race worth keeping an eye on is the Eastern Conference backcourt, where Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving (399,757) is currently in the lead to start alongside Wade, although the host city’s Kyle Lowry (367,472) isn’t far behind. Last year, Lowry used a late, social media-fueled push to overcome Wade and make it into the starting five.

Lowry has just a few more days if he wants to make a similar run this year: Voting will conclude Monday, Jan. 18 at 11:59 p.m. ET. The starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 21 (7 p.m. ET) during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com. All-Star Game reserves, selected by the NBA’s coaches, will be revealed on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 28.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 10


VIDEO: The Fast Break: January 9

NEWS OF THE MORNING

A kinder, gentler Bryant? | Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn | Stevens rejoins Celtics | NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio

No. 1: A kinder, gentler Bryant? For the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour has become the focus of their season. Which may be a good thing, since the Lakers otherwise haven’t been very good, compiling an 8-30 record thus far. Yet despite all the losses, Kobe seems to be enjoying himself as he plays out the string, and the Los Angeles Times‘ Mike Bresnahan writes, has Kobe’s legendary burning desire to win faded a bit in this his final NBA season?

It was bad to be a trash can if Kobe Bryant was mad.

This was years ago, back when there were championship expectations, but Bryant booted one clear across the Lakers’ locker room at Madison Square Garden after a rough loss.

It was also sometimes bad to be toilet paper, apparently. Bryant angrily called his teammates “soft like Charmin” during a rant at practice in which he didn’t feel challenged. This was a little over a year ago.

The smoldering Bryant is now replaced by a smiling one, even as the Lakers (8-30) pinwheel toward the worst season in their 68-year history.

They played well Friday but lost a tight one to Oklahoma City. The new, lighthearted Bryant showed up again in the interview room, just like the previous night after a close loss in Sacramento.

The losses don’t seem as devastating to him.

“I just hide it a lot better,” he said Friday.

***

No. 2: Lopez doesn’t regret sticking with Brooklyn Last summer, Brooklyn center Brook Lopez was one of the most talented big men available in free agency. He eventually re-upped with the Nets, and though the team has struggled this season, Lopez has been a bright spot, averaging 19.8 points to go with 7.8 rebounds. The Nets may face an uncertain future, but as Andy Vasquez writes for the Bergen Record, Lopez says he has no regrets about re-signing with the Nets…

The Nets are in the midst of another disappointing season, certainly far from what Lopez envisioned when he re-signed. But the 27-year-old doesn’t regret his decision.

“No, no, no. I’m happy to be here,” Lopez said Thursday at the team’s practice facility.

“Time and time again I’ve said I wanted to see something built here, I see a special opportunity, a great situation to be in.”

The current situation isn’t exactly a bright one. Brooklyn just lost starting point guard Jarrett Jack for the season with a torn ACL.

Rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who showed promise, is at least another month from returning from a broken ankle that has sidelined him since early December.

While the Nets aren’t mathematically eliminated from the NBA playoffs — it’s not even halfway through the season — they may as well be.

Brooklyn is closer (seven games ahead) in the standings to the awful Sixers than to the final playoff spot in the East (nine games behind).

The Nets don’t have control of their first round draft pick until 2019 thanks to the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

So the franchise’s best chance is to hope free agents agree with Lopez about there being a special opportunity in Brooklyn.

Despite all the doom and gloom, the Nets do have some things going for them.

They should have about $40 million in cap space next summer, enough to offer two max salaries to free agents.

Barclays Center is still the league’s newest arena and the team’s state-of-the art Brooklyn practice facility opens next month. And then there’s the lure of the nation’s largest media market.

“The opportunity to play in New York, first and foremost,” Lopez said, when asked how he’d pitch the Nets. “The facilities we have. I think, for me, it’s all about potential.”

That potential starts with Lopez and Thaddeus Young, 27, two nice players with several prime years remaining in their careers. Both are having seasons worthy of All-Star consideration.

Meanwhile, Hollis-Jefferson was better than expected when he played. And the Nets have an intriguing young prospect in Chris McCullough, who has spent the season rehabbing a torn ACL he suffered at Syracuse a year ago.

Add the right pieces and the Nets could be a good team next season. And Lopez said that matters more than anything.

“At the end of the day, it’s about winning, regardless of where you are,” Lopez said.

“Whether we’re luring free agents or want people to stay or whatever it is, you’ve got to be able to show them that there’s opportunities here for that. We have to have the right product on the court.”

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No. 3: Stevens rejoins Celtics Before joining the Boston Celtics, coach Brad Stevens led Butler University to several memorable NCAA Tournament appearances. And with his former Butler player Andrew Smith in the hospital battling cancer, Stevens recently missed a Celtics game in order to spend time with Smith. Stevens rejoined the Celtics on Saturday and, as the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn writes, says the last few days helped put things into perspective…

Celtics coach Brad Stevens returned to the team Saturday, conducting a rather important practice at the University of Memphis in his quest to end the team’s recent doldrums.

He returned from his trip to Indiana with a heavy heart. He acknowledged visiting former player Andrew Smith, who has been suffering from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but wouldn’t offer specifics on his condition, only to say he felt compelled to visit him immediately.

Stevens left the club in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, missing the team’s 101-92 loss to the Bulls.

“It’s very tough, not as tough on me as it is certain on [Smith and his family], but certainly emotionally, very challenging,” Stevens said following practice at the Larry Finch Center. “It certainly puts things in a lot of perspective. The conditions [of Smith] were worsening. I’ll let [his family] talk about his condition. I’m glad that I went.”

Stevens returns to a team that has lost four of five games and fallen out of the top eight in the Eastern Conference.

The Celtics have been abysmal shooting from the field in their past two losses — 36.5 percent from the field, 25.5 percent from the 3-point line — and are playing with wavering confidence.

“We could have controlled things to give ourselves a little bit better chance,” Stevens said of the Chicago loss. “I told [the players] this today. We’ve got to get better in a lot of areas. But we usually play hard.

“Sometimes we play a little haphazard but we usually play hard, so we need to bottle that up and play a little more controlled at times.”

Isaiah Thomas, who has made just 11 of 37 shots in the last two games, took full responsibility for the Bulls loss, saying his poor body language and frustrations spilled over to his teammates. Stevens didn’t fully agree.

“I think it says a lot about him from an accountability standpoint,” Stevens said of Thomas. “And at the same time, that’s an overreaction too, because we don’t feel that way. He’s going to have his moments. Other guys are going to have their moments. Other guys are going to have bad moments. We just all have to be in this thing together. We need to improve.”

***

No. 4: NBA’s Australians looking forward to Rio — The NBA has become a global league, followed worldwide and played by athletes from all corners of the earth. Australia, in particular, has become a hotbed of hoops, with its own popular domestic league and several NBA players who originated Down Under. As Roy Ward writes in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australians in the NBA are looking forward to trying to find Olympic glory this summer in Rio…

The 82-game NBA season engulfs the lives of all players and Australia’s basketballers are not immune from this.

But on planes, buses or in down time, the country’s leading players admit their thoughts turn to the Rio Olympics and the glass ceiling that sits in front of a first men’s Olympic medal.

Andrew Bogut, Patty Mills, Matthew Dellavedova, Cameron Bairstow, Aron Baynes and Joe Ingles are all in thick of the action this season while Dante Exum continues to rehabilitate his reconstructed knee.

In Europe, in US college basketball and in the NBL sit the rest of the Boomers aspirants with the final 12-man squad not due to be announced until later in the year.

Since the team qualified for Rio in August last year, they have made public their goal to win the gold medal in Brazil despite Team USA’s long-running dominance in the men’s competition.

What adds credence to the Boomers’ brave stance is Bogut, Mills, Dellavedova and Bairstow are playing on NBA championship contenders while Bogut, Mills and Baynes have won NBA championship rings since 2014.

“There is a lot going on here but while it’s not the every day to day focus it’s always in your mind that it’s coming up and that all the boys are playing well, not just in the NBA but in Europe and the NBL,” Dellavedova said.

“We are all very excited and keep in regular touch through group message, we are going to catch up at All-Star break.

“We are all very excited, focused and committed to trying to do something really special at Rio and we realise the time is now for that.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Atlanta Hawks got a career night from Al Horford last night in a convincing win over the Bulls … Some changes may be in store for the D-League Showcase … Chicago is hoping to get Joakim Noah back from injury this weekRobin Lopez is starting to focus on his offensive post playIsaiah Canaan pays attention to advanced stats … Powerball fever may have been sweeping the nation the last few days, but don’t expect Dirk Nowitzki to get excited about it …

Morning shootaround — Jan. 8


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 7

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Cavs’ Williams gets second opinion on thumb | Russell promises bigger things are in store for him | Report: DeRozan to opt out | Fredette still hoping for another NBA shot

No. 1: Report: Cavs’ Williams to get second opinion on thumb — The Cleveland Cavaliers have struggled with injury issues all season long and backup point guard Mo Williams is the latest name to land on that dubious list. Of late, Williams’ right thumb has been troubling him — the same thumb which Williams had two surgical procedures on in the past. According to Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal, Williams is getting a second opinion on what’s ailing him of late:

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams traveled to New York during Thursday’s off day to receive a second opinion on his sore right thumb, a league source confirmed. Williams missed a week in December after reaggravating a thumb that has twice needed surgery to repair ligament damage.

Dr. Michelle Carlson, who practices in New York, performed both procedures — first in 2008 and again in 2013. Williams posted a picture to his Instagram account Thursday of a framed photo of him standing next to Carlson with the caption, “Best hand specialist in the world. New York weather off the chain today.”

Williams had pins inserted in the thumb during the previous procedures and has limited dexterity as a result, but he told the Beacon Journal last month he did not believe this injury was as serious as the two previous times he needed surgery.

Williams missed two months after surgery in 2013. The first surgery was performed following the 2007-08 season.

Williams has fallen out of the rotation with the return of Kyrie Irving, although it’s unclear now if the thumb was also a factor. He has not played in either of the Cavs’ two most recent games and only played during garbage time of last week’s blowout victory against the Orlando Magic.

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Kobe, Curry continue leading All-Star voting

HANG TIME NEW YORK CITY — It may be Kobe Bryant‘s final season on the court, but he is clearly as popular as ever.

In the second returns of All-Star voting, released today, the Lakers’ guard remains the NBA’s overall leading vote-getter with 1,262,118 votes, increasing his lead over Golden State’s Stephen Curry (925,789) since the first round of voting results. Bryant, the leading scorer in All-Star Game history, led Curry by just over 200,000 votes in the previous voting results.

It appears fans have also rewarded Golden State’s red-hot start to the season, as Warriors forward Draymond Green (332,223) has moved into the top three among Western Conference frontcourt players, joining Bryant and Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, narrowly ahead of San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (330,929) and Clippers forward Blake Griffin (298,212).

Durant’s Oklahoma City teammate, point guard Russell Westbrook (479,512), ranks second in voting among Western Conference guards. He has a healthy lead over the third-ranked guard, Clippers point guard Chris Paul (268,672).

Cleveland’s LeBron James leads all Eastern Conference players with 636,388 votes. His former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade, is second with 562,558 votes. James’ current teammate, Kyrie Irving (271,094) — who has played just seven games this season since returning from injury — is second among Eastern Conference guards. Irving is outpacing Kyle Lowry (242,276), who plays for All-Star host Toronto and used a late push last season to get into the starting line-up.

Detroit’s Andre Drummond, the NBA’s leading rebounder this season, is still among the top three frontcourt players in the Eastern Conference, which would qualify him to start. But Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, an eight-time All-Star, has closed Drummond’s lead to about 6,000 votes. Anthony’s teammate, Kristaps Porzingis, is the highest-ranked rookie, with 160,170 votes — good for ninth among Eastern Conference frontcourt players.

The Spurs and the Warriors each have five players among the Western Conference’s leading vote-getters. After sending four players to the All-Star Game last season, the only player the Atlanta Hawks have among the leading vote-getters this season is Paul Millsap (21,625), who is 15th among Eastern Conference forwards.

The 65th NBA All-Star Game will be held on Sunday, Feb. 14 at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. TNT will televise the All-Star Game in the U.S. for the 14th consecutive year.

NBA All-Star Voting 2016 presented by Verizon is an all-digital program that gives fans everywhere the opportunity to vote for their favorite players as starters for the All-Star Game. New to the voting program this year, fans can cast their daily votes directly through Google Search on their desktop, tablet and mobile devices. They can also vote on NBA.com, through the NBA App (available on Android and iOS), SMS text and social media networks including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, as well as via Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblogs in China.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 222) Featuring Greg Anthony

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The Commissioner has spoken.

He believes Kobe Bryant belongs on center stage at NBA All-Star Weekend next month in Toronto. And judging by the returns from the All-Star balloting, the fans not only agree with Adam Silver, they plan on making sure it happens.

They’ll get no argument from us. We also believe that 20 years of stellar service, on and off the court, as one of the league’s global ambassadors deserves the royal treatment at Kobe’s final All-Star Game appearance.

NBA TV analyst Greg Anthony is on board with that plan as well. He agrees that the All-Time greats deserve to go out the right way, especially during All-Star Weekend, the same way Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan did before Kobe.

Anthony joins us on Episode 222 of The Hang Time Podcast, our first show for 2016, where we also discuss the plight of Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver and his millennial problems, the state of affairs around the league, the playoff picture in the Eastern and Western Conferences.

We try to make sense of it all on the first installment of The Hang Time Podcast for this calendar year.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com, Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.

***


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant’s highlights against the Boston Celtics from his storied career

Morning shootaround — Jan. 5


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Jan. 4

NEWS OF THE MORNING

How Divac nearly upended Kobe trade | Curry, Barnes back in mix for Warriors | Thunder fall apart vs. Kings | Scott says Randle needs to ‘grow up’

No. 1: Divac nearly cancelled Kobe trade to Lakers — Today, Vlade Divac is the Sacramento Kings’ general manager after a 16-year NBA playing career from 1989-2005. In early-to mid-1990s, Divac was a solid young center on the Los Angeles Lakers who was a part of one Finals team with Magic Johnson (1991) and a key cog in a youthful Lakers group (including Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and others) that seemed primed for big things out West. Yet come the night of the 1996 Draft, Divac was dealt to the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to rookie (and future franchise icon) Kobe Bryant. As Divac explains to Yahoo Sports’ Marc J. Spears, though, he wanted nothing to do with the trade and nearly axed the deal by retiring rather than play in Charlotte:

“My feelings were that I play basketball for fun. This is not fun,” Divac recently told Yahoo Sports about the 1996 draft-day deal that sent him to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Bryant, who is expected to play his final game in Sacramento on Thursday. “If somebody asked before, ‘Vlade, are you going to play basketball over there [in Charlotte]?’ It’s not going to happen. I talked to my wife and told her, ‘Look, I’m going to retire.’

“It would have been so bad. I would have been the most hated guy in L.A.”

The Serbian quickly fell in love with Los Angeles and was in even deeper love playing for the Lakers, averaging 12.2 points and 8.5 rebounds primarily as a starter from 1989-1996.

But before the 1996 draft, then-Lakers general manager Jerry West became infatuated with Bryant, the high school kid from Philadelphia who was destined to become a superstar. West worked out a deal to send Divac to Charlotte for the 13th pick in the draft, which the Hornets used to select Bryant for the Lakers. By trading Divac, who was set to make $4.7 million in the 1996-97 season, the Lakers would clear the needed salary-cap space to make a lucrative offer to Shaquille O’Neal in free agency.

Divac was in Europe and was stunned when his agent told him about the trade. Days later, Divac said he informed the Lakers he planned to retire, which would have prevented the team from trading him for Bryant.

“It felt like someone from behind hit me with a hammer,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “It was the first time in my career that something happened in a way I didn’t plan. I was devastated. I was thinking, ‘I play basketball for fun.’ My father said when I brought my first [basketball paycheck] back home, ‘Who gave this to you? Are they crazy? Do they know you would play basketball even if they don’t pay you?’

“I am not going to play basketball because I have to play. I am going to play for fun. I was 28. I am not going to go somewhere and be forced to play basketball. I told my agent that I am not going to Charlotte. I loved L.A. I loved the Lakers. For every kid that played basketball, it was basketball heaven being with Magic and the other guys.”

Within 10 days after the draft, Divac said he returned to Los Angeles ready to retire, yet he agreed to meet with West. After an “emotional meeting” with West, Divac changed his mind and agreed to the trade.

“Jerry called me and I flew back to L.A. and we had lunch,” Divac said. “The trade happened [in principle], but I was holding it up. … It was a great conversation. He said, ‘Why don’t you go over there and explore and see if you like it or not?’

“Me and Jerry had a very good relationship. He was the guy who was waiting for me at the airport [after being drafted in 1989]. It was an emotional meeting for both of us. And I trust him so much. He is the best basketball mind in the world. When Jerry tells you something, you believe it.”

Divac decided to have his wife and children stay in Los Angeles for stability while he played the next two seasons with Charlotte. Despite initial struggles, he averaged 11.7 points and 8.6 rebounds with the Hornets in two seasons from 1996-98.

“We played sellout basketball in front of 24,000 people who love basketball in North Carolina,” Divac told Yahoo Sports. “Each year we had 50-plus wins, and when you win it’s fun. But my first 10 games, I was awful. I can’t explain it. I was fumbling the ball. The funny thing was one of my first games was against the Lakers. I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’

“I felt like I started playing basketball two days ago. There was still mental stuff. I was thinking negative stuff like, ‘Why did they trade me? Was it worth it [coming here]?’ Then I said to myself, ‘Come on, Vlade, it’s just a game.’ I knew that after two years I would come out West and move closer to my family.”

Divac signed as a free agent with the Kings in 1998 with his family and a return to the West Coast in mind. Divac and the Kings pushed the Lakers to brink of elimination entering Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference finals, but the Lakers would win the next two games to stop Sacramento from making its first Finals appearance.

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