Storyline: All-Star Contests

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Regardless of what Morant decides to do, this year’s All-Star Weekend is shaping up to be a historic one for the Grizzlies. Memphis has never had more than four participants between the Dunk Contest, 3-Point Contest, Skills Challenge, Rising Stars Challenge and All-Star Game. There’s a great chance the Grizzlies will have at least four this year. If Morant agrees to do the Dunk Contest — and make no mistake, it’s something many of his teammates would like to see — it would almost guarantee the Grizzlies matching their franchise-high for All-Star Weekend participants, barring anything unexpected.

With the shooting display Robinson has put on this season, a spot in the three-point contest during February’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Chicago could be in his future. “Only just because people keep saying stuff to me about it,” Robinson said when asked if he has thought about the possibility of competing in the three-point contest. “It would be an honor, obviously. I’ve had that in my skill set my whole life. It would pretty surreal to be a part of it. But I try not to get too caught up in that and just focus on making shots and winning games.”
3 months ago via ESPN

With NBA All-Star Weekend set to return to Chicago this February, Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson tells ESPN he’s a “game-time” decision on committing to the dunk contest. “I don’t know yet, if I’m being honest, depends on where I’m at,” he said. He also called it an honor to play at the United Center for the first time tonight because Michael Jordan “won six rings here.” More than three decades have passed since MJ glided from the free-throw line in 1988 to win the slam dunk title in Chicago.

The presentation that millions saw Saturday night was not all Collins’ idea. He was skeptical at first and thought the entirety of the act was too sophisticated for a dunk contest. He originally had approached NBA officials with a plan to leap over an object that hadn’t been jumped over before in a dunk contest. As the two parties discussed options, a plane was settled on. In theory, it was perfect because of North Carolina’s aviation history. Collins, however, didn’t have control of the size of the plane as the construction of the plane was handled by the league. The first conversation was just the two sides agreeing to a plane being involved in one of Collins’ dunks. As conversations continued, league representatives also suggested he include a nod to the Tuskegee Airmen for Black History Month, and the NBA would create a short intro video for the Wright brothers and provide the aviation headgear. Collins’ mother was a sergeant in the Air Force, and he’s a history buff himself, so he went along with it, thinking the creativity behind it would be appreciated. It fell flat.

There was a lack of energy from the crowd all night, and a salute to the state’s history wasn’t going to be enough for the fans to care. Collins felt defeated after completing the dunk. He threw the hat he was wearing into the crowd and took a seat on the bench where he kept shaking his head in frustration. “I was just disappointed,” Collins said.

“He has been scoring the basketball, but I think he’s been doing a really good job of deciphering when to score and when to pass,” Drew said recently. “That was something that coming into this thing with him that we knew we would have to teach him, and show him, and continue to harp on. But what I’m seeing, he’s kind of picking and choosing his spots. Which is what point guards do.” Sexton said he will watch the Rising Stars game. He wants to support teammate Osman and Sexton is friends with a number of participants.

While such a reality is laughable now, five All-Stars took part in the dunk festivities in 1985: Dominique Wilkins, Michael Jordan, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Clyde Drexler and Larry Nance. Another All-Star was a scratch due to injury: Charles Barkley. (His replacement was a little-known player named Terence Stansbury, who delivered the memorable “Statue of Liberty” 360-degree dunk.) The 1985 NBA Slam Dunk Contest has gone down in history as arguably the best ever, as Wilkins outlasted a sweatsuit-wearing Jordan for the dunk crown in Indianapolis. “We wanted to know who the best was,” Wilkins told The Undefeated. “It was as simple as that. And we wanted to do it for the fans. That was the biggest thing. That’s what everybody came to the All-Star Weekend to see. The dunk contest was a signature event.”

HOW WOULD YOU CHANGE THE DUNK CONTEST? Vince Carter: I would do it like the old days, like you would do in streetball. Next man up, then once you go, it’s next, next, next, next. To me, the gimmicky thing is kind of overrated. Show them what you’re ‘cooking’ with. Don’t put the onus on a guy to have to use a prop or a teammate. Just go out there and throw the ball out there. It’s your turn. And let that be that. And that’s kind of how it originated. That’s kind of how it organically happens on the streetball or basketball court. Dominique Wilkins: I don’t know what you can do because the best athletes don’t want to get in it. That’s one thing you can’t change. As for the format, I like the old-school format. You go out there and get you a ball and let your imagination do its thing. Keep it simple.

WHY AREN’T THE ELITE PLAYERS COMPETING? Dominique Wilkins: The big-time athletes won’t get in it. That is the first thing that comes to mind. But they got so many things going on besides that. … Everybody’s scared to fail. Vince Carter: I don’t think there’s a remedy. It’s just how they’re feeling. I can’t answer that question. I just don’t know. That was just something I looked forward to. But in my mind, I didn’t know I would become a star player that night. Prior to it, I wasn’t a star player. I was [a high] pick. But after that night, my life changed. I also was in the All-Star Game, so it kind of goes both ways. [The dunk contest] was something I wanted to do. … One time was enough for me. I didn’t want to be labeled as the dunk contest guy.

Terrence Ross said he was told by the NBA staffer he spoke to about competing in the 3-point shoot at the NBA All-Star Game in Charlotte on Feb. 17 that the event was already full of participants. Reportedly, brothers Steph Curry and Seth Curry have already committed to compete in the 3-point shootout in their childhood home of Charlotte, as has veteran Dallas Mavericks’ forward Dirk Nowitzki. “I wanted to do the 3-point and I tried to get in this year, but they told me that they already had the guys for it,’’ Ross said. “That was a little disappointing.’’

Each participant on the World Team’s 10-player roster hails from a different country, with four continents represented (North America, Africa, Europe and Australia). The World Team also includes three players who participated as campers in Basketball Without Borders (BWB), the NBA and FIBA’s global basketball development and community outreach program: Ayton (BWB Global 2016), Gilgeous-Alexander (BWB Global 2016) and Markkanen (BWB Europe 2014; BWB Global 2015).
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January 20, 2020 | 12:46 pm UTC Update
“Thankful, most of all,” Carter says of the treatment. “And I say that because I was an opponent for 22 years for most of these teams and obviously these are great organizations that are class acts and for them to do that is great. “I just enjoy playing the game regardless of being an opponent of these different organizations … regardless, it’s a brotherhood, it’s a small community and it makes for an emotional roller coaster.”
And he will hearken back to those glory days of the early 2000s and that special night in Oakland he got to witness in person. “I tell you what, I was thankful that I was able to be there and see those guys win. I remember sitting next to Tracy (McGrady) and thinking, ‘Do you believe what’s about to happen?’ There was like two minutes left, and it was like, ‘Dude, this is unreal.’
“It’s different, but I prefer my people on the East Coast,” Bradley said. “Some people might be offended by that, but I mean, especially knowing I’m from the West Coast. I don’t know if it’s because it’s home for me or what, but I just feel like people are real good friends. That’s all it is. I could go years without talking to someone in Boston but [when] I see them, it’s a real friendship. People are honest, that’s the culture. East Coast, but specifically Boston. People are just good people.”
Even if he does decide to play, he may make his signal behind the scenes in the coming weeks and let the world know when he arrives at training camp. For now, Wiggins is keeping his cards close to his chest. “I’m not sure [about the summer],” he said Saturday after recording his first career triple-double in a Timberwolves loss to the Toronto Raptors. “Right now my team is struggling a little bit [they were five games out of the 8th seed in the West as of Sunday] so we have to get back and try to get in a playoff run. That’s my main goal right now. And after that I’m going to decide on Canada Basketball.”

January 20, 2020 | 1:29 am UTC Update
January 19, 2020 | 10:33 pm UTC Update
January 19, 2020 | 10:08 pm UTC Update
January 19, 2020 | 9:19 pm UTC Update
And now here we are, with the Sixers charging headlong toward the playoffs, ready to make good on what head coach Brett Brown has proclaimed is a championship-caliber team. This is new territory for Brown, who was hired as coach seven years ago, just when the team embarked on an epic intentional collapse — dubbed “The Process” — in order to position itself near the head of the worst-goes-first line in the drafting of the best college players. The team set records for losing over four years, and Brown, all along, stood behind this method, often talking about his players as if helping them become men might be his real job. Was Nerlens Noel, a center the team drafted in the early days of the Process, engaged in timeouts? Was he helping teammates off the floor? How was he comporting himself on planes when the team went on the road? At the end of 2014, when Embiid was proving to be high-maintenance as he rehabbed a broken foot, Brown said this: “Joel Embiid has a good heart. At the end of the day, he has a good heart. I don’t throw that sentence out lightly. That needs to be the criteria of everybody in here.”
Meanwhile, Brown’s approach hasn’t changed. He talks up his best players, never criticizing them publicly. And to this point, it’s worked, obviously: Embiid and Simmons, 25 and 23 years old, are All Stars. But they still have a big piece of themselves to overcome, or to unlock. They still need to grow up. Which gives Brown, who started out in Philly with all the room in the world, a dilemma: Suddenly, he has very little time. Sixers owner Josh Harris has a history of listening to the noise of fans and media, plenty of whom think the team’s head coach should stop babying his two stars and force-feed their growth, given that they’re being paid tens of millions a year and we’re so close to that championship.
IT MIGHT SEEM, then, a bit strange that Brett Brown talks a lot about toughness as central to what he’s all about, though it’s not by accident. “Philly tough, Philly strong” was the banner phrase of an early-season team promo featuring the coach’s voice. Talking toughness is a part of getting his team to play in a certain style, but for Brown, it’s also been a natural way of connecting to the city, of molding a certain persona. “You become a spokesperson and mouthpiece of the owners and players,” Brown says. “I am quite calculated on what I want to talk about.” It helps his standing here, too.
But Brown, who’s 58, does come by toughness, in his own way, naturally. He grew up in seaside Maine towns where his father coached basketball. His father’s father made a living taking wealthy businessmen from New York and Boston and Montreal to fish or hunt moose and bear in Northern Maine. And his father — Brett’s great-grandfather — had a job as a railroad switchman, changing the tracks to direct trains either to Quebec or Montreal. “He had to shovel snow off the tracks and remove dead animals, too,” Brown says. “Which could be anything.”
January 19, 2020 | 7:24 pm UTC Update
January 19, 2020 | 6:26 pm UTC Update

Curry already looks ready to play in his post-practice sessions. Judging by his shooting, his broken left hand looks healed. He is no longer wearing the brace. But he hasn’t played since Oct. 30. Saturday was his 40th game missed since the injury. By the All-Star break, Curry will have missed 51 games — the most he’s missed in a season since he missed 40 games in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season when he severely sprained his right ankle.
Last week, I passed along how the Pacers were informed that Domantas Sabonis could not hurt his left knee anymore but would have to play through pain in the meantime. Many were upset with that strategy and wanted to see Sabonis take it easy. We’ve seen other guys play through injuries, and it often leads to something else, sometimes something worse. So I went to Sabonis to get the full story. Many players hate discussing injuries; they’d rather talk about almost anything else. Sabonis, though, opened up and shared what he had learned.
Storyline: Domantas Sabonis Injury
“I’ve been told it’s a bone bruise, so there’s swelling in the bone that all doctors say it can’t get worse unless you get hit in that same spot,” he said. Sabonis was evaluated by the team doctor, and then his representatives also had him checked out by two additional specialists, which is normal. And all three doctors were in agreement: It’s simply a bone bruise and he’s not subject to additional risk by continuing to play on it.
“It’s the same thing if I get hit in my healthy knee,” Sabonis said, pointing to his right knee. “There’s the same chance. It’s not a muscle or anything, so by doing more stuff, you can’t technically get it worse.” Sabonis tried the rest thing. He strategically didn’t do much on it for three days. He didn’t practice before their game in Chicago on Jan. 10 and didn’t play in the game, and the team had the following day off. “Not even ice helps it,” he said. “You can’t really put anything on it. It just has to heal.”
January 19, 2020 | 5:27 pm UTC Update

Jazz extend Royce O'Neale

Utah Jazz forward Royce O’Neale has agreed to a four-year, $36 million contract extension, agents Ty Sullivan and Steven Heumann of CAA Sports told ESPN. O’Neale plans to sign the deal on Sunday, the agents said. Although he could’ve become a restricted free agent this summer, O’Neale and his reps negotiated a long-term deal that keeps him with the franchise that signed him out of Europe in 2017.
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For what it’s worth, the Rockets weren’t depressed following the loss — not like Westbrook would ever let it get to that point. “Nobody put their head down in here,” Westbrook said. “If I see it, I’ll go grab it myself and put their head up. It’s no reason to put your head down. We’re all blessed to have an amazing job, to be able to support our families and to go out and play basketball — something that we all love to do. There’s no reason you should ever walk out of here with your head down. I’m obviously disappointed [with] the loss, but we got bigger things in life that’s bigger than a basketball game.”