Orlando Magic v Boston Celtics, Game 6

Four Celtics but no Love among All-Star Game reserves


David Stern has some work to do out West.

The coaches’ selections for the seven All-Star Game reserves for each conference came out and the East went pretty much to form. Now David Stern gets to add one player to that list and he has some pretty clear choices.

The Western Conference? That’s hard. You can make a good case for all seven guys the coaches went with — even rookie Blake Griffin — but you can also make a great case for seven more. Stern gets to choose two out West, his regular pick plus someone to replace the injured Yao Ming. But the call is still brutal.

Here are the reserves and who got left out for the Feb. 20 game:

Western Conference reserves:

Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers, forward): Fans should have voted him in as a starter over Carmelo Anthony. But since the game is in L.A., smart money says coach Gregg Popovich makes him the starting center in the West.

Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks, forward): No-brainer pick. Averaging 23.2 points per game to lead a good Dallas squad — dude’s a 7-footer shooting 41 percent from three. One of the best scorers in the game.

Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs, forward): Is this a lifetime achievement award? Maybe he is scoring less, but the man is the anchor on defense, grabs the rebounds and gets key buckets for the league’s best team. He’s Tim Duncan! You can’t keep him out of the All-Star Game. He could start at center, too.

Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers, forward): Averaging 23 points 12.7 rebounds a game as a rookie, he is more than just dunk highlights. He has maybe the quickest spin move from the post in the game. Suns coach Alvin Gentry said he voted for him because he’s the best athlete in the NBA right now. Plus, it’s a show. You want him there in Los Angeles.

Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs, guard): The best player and leading scorer on the best team in the league. Had to be on the team.

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder, guard): When Kevin Durant was off at the start of the season, Westbrook took on more and has all season. Averaging 22.5 points and 8.4 assists per game. He deserves this.

Deron Williams (Utah Jazz, guard): Debate amongst yourselves whether he is the best or second-best or third-best point guard in the game, but he is certainly an All-Star. Must be on the squad.

Guys who got screwed over/Guys Stern to choose from in the West:

• Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves forward) is a double-double machine and the best rebounder in the game. How do you leave off a guy with his numbers?
• LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland Trail Blazers forward) has stepped up for a banged-up team, has been good all season and had a huge game Wednesday night to make his case.
• Zach Randolph (Memphis Grizzlies forward) can get overlooked, but he’s averaging 20 points and 13.2 rebounds a game.
• Lamar Odom (Los Angeles Lakers forward) is having a career year.
• Steve Nash (Phoenix Suns guard), while the team around him has crumbled, Nash continues to play fantastic ball and remains one of the best point guards in the game.
• Monta Ellis (Golden State guard) is one of the best pure scorers in the game, averaging 25.2 points per contest.
• Tony Parker (San Antonio Spurs guard) has taken on more responsibility in the offense for the best team in the league.

Eastern Conference reserves:

Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks, center): He’s averaging 16 points a game and is shooting 57 percent, plus he’s dishing out assists at a career best rate. He’s getting better every season and is clearly the second best center in the East easy. This is his second All-Star game.

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat, forward): Averaging 18.5 points and 8.2 rebounds per game and is more important to the Heat’s success than people realize. Well, until he got injured. (Actually, that may have proved his importance even more.)

Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics, forward): This is 14 All-Star games in a row, and as soul of the best team in the East he had to be there.

Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics, forward): Scoring 19 points a game to lead the Celtics. He’s still one of the game’s elite forwards.

Ray Allen (Boston Celtics, guard): Prettiest jump shot in the game and this will be All-Star Game No. 10.

Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics, guard): He’s the reason all those other Celtics look good, averaging 12.5 assists per game to lead the league.

Joe Johnson (Atlanta Hawks, forward): We tend to look past the Hawks, thinking we know what they are. But what they are is good (31-18). Johnson is averaging 20-5-5 to lead them.

Who got screwed in the East:

• Carlos Boozer (Chicago Bulls forward) missed the start of the season because of a hand injury, but he has been scoring as expected and playing the best defense of his career in Chicago.
• Raymond Felton (New York Knicks guard) may get people in the Big Apple saying he deserves it — and he has been good, just not better than any of the people above him.
• Josh Smith (Atlanta Hawks forward), sorry, but I think you only get one Hawk in, and if you wanted to swap him in I wouldn’t complain. But frankly Johnson is the better player.

Here is Kobe Bryant’s letter given to every fan at Lakers’ game Sunday

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers
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LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.

Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):

When we first met I was just a kid.

Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.

But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.

You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.

Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.

You witnessed my fears morph into strength.

Your rejection taught me courage.

Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.

What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.

I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.

I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.

My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.

Thank you for this incredible journey.

It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.

But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.


Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


LOS ANGELES — It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.