All-Star Saturday changes are easier said than done

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In the wake of one of the worst All-Star Saturday nights in NBA history, fans, players, and league officials can only be left dreaming of improvement. They hype had been replaced with an incredible hush, as the participants of Saturday’s dunk contest silenced the crowd at the American Airlines Center in the worst possible way. The three-point contest was competitive, but doesn’t have the built-in suspense to carry an entire night. The Skills Challenge may get some undeserved criticism, but at its core, it’s still an event based on a professional basketball player throwing a ball through some rings, dribbling around nonexistent defenders, and shooting open shots. The Shooting Stars competition is the Shooting Stars competition.

We know all of the problems, and the manner in which Nate Robinson, DeMar DeRozan, Shannon Brown, and Gerald Wallace capped off Saturday’s festivities should instill everyone involved with the All-Star institution a sense of urgency. How do you fix events that have tumbled out of control, to the point where making a highlight reel out of a highlight fodder event (like the dunk contest) would be next to impossible? How do we “take back” All-Star Saturday?

Truth be told, I’m not sure it can be done. Though the NBA has been reasonably progressive in regard to changing up the All-Star events if need be, the events themselves are so static in nature to force a reboot through institutional change. You can tweak the dunk contest, but slightly modified rules won’t make Shannon Brown anything but a complete flop. The other events are equally self-contained; how and why would you change the three-point shootout?

None of the formats are perfect, and I’m sure the NBA will be looking into all kinds of potential changes after this past weekend’s let-down. But tweaking the structure won’t save the event, and neither will transcendent talent (sorry LeBron). It’s spectacular performances that have and always will make for intriguing Saturday night competition. The NBA doesn’t necessarily need high-profile A-listers to headline every event, though I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt viewership or the bottom line. But these events need better incentives for the players to participate, better selection for the event fields, and an artificial stimulus that will make the contests more important and more relevant. Hype is a funny thing, and if All-Star Saturday is drained of it after this year, it could take some serious work to get it back.

Look, you don’t need Jordan and Dominique to have a great dunk contest. A young up-and-comer named Vince Carter, a limited player named Desmond Mason, and a quasi-star named Jason Richardson happened to do just fine running the damn thing. It’s more than just getting the right players — the NBA needs the right dunkers.

Mike Krzyzewski: Team USA having too much fun, needs to tone it down

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 26:  DeMar DeRozan #9 of the United States Men's National Team looks on during a break in the action against the China Men's National Team during the second half of a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at ORACLE Arena on July 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Mike Krzyzewski hates fun (even more than he admits).

So, the coach wasn’t thrilled after Team USA’s exhibition win over China, which included DeMar DeRozan nearly 360-degree dunking on someone.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

I want to see Team USA make highlight plays. Dunk from the free-throw line. Shoot from halfcourt. Throw behind-the-back passes. Show up weaker competition.

So, it’s hard for me to get behind Coach K’s criticism.

But I also want to see the Americans win gold medals in the Olympics, and I’ll blame Krzyzewski if they’re not adequately focused.

Fair? Not one bit.

Doesn’t change what I want, though.

Report: Kevin Durant told Russell Westbrook he’d re-sign with the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Russell Westbrook #0 look on prior to game six of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant said he had to distance himself from Russell Westbrook entering free agency. Yet, Durant listened to the Warriors recruiting him all season and had clearly been interested in Golden State for months.

The writing was on the wall.

Except, a few days before taking meetings in the Hamptons (which led to signing with the Warriors), Durant dined with Westbrook.

Royce Young of ESPN:

Three weeks ago, Kevin Durant’s sitting there at dinner, telling him “Hey, I’m coming back, man. Don’t worry about it.” And now, Russell Westbrook has been kind of thrown into this in having to decide his future a summer earlier than expected.

Kevin Durant, more so than even that, was telling people, “Hey, yeah, I mean I’m coming back.” Like I said in there, a week before Kevin Durant sat down in the Hamptons, he was in Oklahoma City ready to make an offer on a multi-million-dollar house. So, the guy was pretty serious about coming back, and then things turned rather quickly for him to leave. And there’s no doubt that the organization felt a little bit burned by this.

Maybe Durant said that. Maybe he meant it in the moment. Maybe he was just trying to appease someone he didn’t want to let down. Maybe he was unclear. Maybe Westbrook read too much into a more clear statement.

There’s a lot of room for imperfect recollection/interpretation. We’re dealing with human beings.

Likewise on the house. Who says Durant was “ready” to make an offer? That’s an awfully difficult assessment to make outside his head. Just as the Celtics had a list of players Durant wanted them to add, it seems he was preparing for all contingencies. It’s hard to nail down rather he was house hunting because he was certain he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City or whether he just wanted a new place if he stayed in Oklahoma City.

So much of what we know about Durant’s process for picking the Warriors suggests a rational decision. He considered them for months, met with multiple teams, conferred with his inner circle then made a choice.

If Durant told Westbrook or anyone else he’d re-sign with the Thunder, that obviously changes the equation. But I’m left wondering:

How many people in Oklahoma City heard what they wanted to hear rather than what Durant actually said?

How many people are incentivized to paint Durant as impulsive, because the alternative — Durant thoughtfully deciding the Thunder weren’t his best option — indicates deeper flaws in the franchise?

Watch Carmelo Anthony put up 16 points in third quarter on China

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Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and DeMarcus Cousins are pretty much locked in as four of the Team USA starters come the Olympics. But who gets that fifth slot, the one for a wing player? Paul George? Jimmy Butler?

Don’t be shocked if Carmelo Anthony gets that slot.

He helped make his case Tuesday, scoring 16 in the third quarter alone on China in an easy Team USA victory in a pre-Olympics exhibition. Mike Krzyzewski likes to reward veterans, and ‘Melo is one of the old guy leaders of this team who has collected two gold medals already. Don’t be surprised if ‘Melo is a starter in Rio (Draymond Green started Tuesday, but only because the game was at Oracle Arena and Coach K likes to give guys a bigger role in front of the local crowds where they play).

DeMar DeRozan just missed spectacular in-game 360 poster dunk (VIDEO)

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Can a missed dunk attempt be brilliant?

DeMar DeRozan says yes.

The Toronto Raptors guard almost pulled off an in-game 360-dunk over a defender during the USA’s latest rout of China in an Olympics tune-up game. How impressive was the dunk? Ask LeBron James.