Three Stars: We are all witnesses

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What a night. We saw Utah and Toronto battle it out in a triple-overtime slugfest high on theatrics. We saw the Pistons put a scare into the Thunder before collapsing, and the Bulls make things interesting against the Celtics. There were a lot of memorable moments from tonight’s games, but like anyone who has stood in front of the Men in Black flashy forget thingy (that’s real, right?), we’ll probably only remember one part of it. Onward, to the Three Stars of the Night.

Third Star: Rajon Rondo – 20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds, 5 steals

Rondo ended up one Ricky Davis rebound short of a triple-double — an impressive feat given the circumstances. Although Chicago has probably taken a step backwards defensively, they’re undoubtedly still a team who can really put a damper on your halfcourt stuff. That wasn’t a problem at all for Rondo, who seemed to be an extension of Doc Rivers more than ever out on the floor, following the gameplan perfectly. Rondo got Garnett involved early, pushed the pace when needed, and gashed the Bulls defense with crafty fakes and euro-steps to the tin. Rondo has shouldered a great deal of the blame for Boston’s lackluster offense over the years, but tonight he was the number one scoring option against one of the league’s best defenses, and he came up roses (sorry, Bulls fans).

Second Star: Brandon Jennings – 33 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 1 turnover

This was just pure speed. When Jennings can establish his 3-point shot as a threat like he did in the first half against the Sixers, there aren’t many guys quick enough to hang with him on a pump-and-go. With that quick first step and left-handed wizardry, Jennings blew by Philly’s guards and finished at the rim against a toothless frontcourt with relative ease. There were questions about how Jennings and Monta Ellis would co-exist going into this year, but Scott Skiles deserves a ton of credit for getting his team to buy in to sharing the ball. Although Jennings and Ellis both jacked up a few quick shots on occasion, they didn’t spend the entire game dribbling the air out of the ball like both were prone to doing in the past. Is Jennings worth the contract coming his way eventually? Probably not, but it’s nights like these that spark the imagination to what he could become. If he ever starts consistently taking good shots (Jennings’ career True Shooting Percentage is 49.3, one of the worst of all starting point guards) he’ll start being a serious problem for opposing teams more consistently than just this.

First Star: LeBron James – 38 Points, 10 Rebounds, 6 assists, 0 turnovers

I distinctly remember playing basketball with my dad when I was younger, and how he’d let me make a few buckets and hang around so I’d gain some confidence before destroying me and restoring order to the universe. And honestly? That’s the same feeling I got watching LeBron James in the second half of this game against the Rockets. LeBron had just 6 points at the break, but erupted for 32 in the second half, never even bothering to turn it over once. LeBron was in total “no-fair” mode tonight, making 3-pointers (5-for-8) and controlling the second half completely. Although Houston had their chance with a wide open 3-point attempt for Jeremy Lin that hit nothing but net (in the bad, little kid in the driveway sense), it just felt like LeBron James was winning this game without a doubt. It’s funny how quickly perception changes when you actually see someone do it on the highest level, and you have to consider that LeBron’s disposition towards the end of games may be a little different now that he’s seen himself do it. I suppose seeing truly is believing, and after watching how easy LeBron made the go-ahead layup, it’s pretty safe to say that we were all witnesses tonight. Again.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.

Report: Clippers sort of resent Austin Rivers’ favored status

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The Clippers faced a potential crisis this summer.

They had already agreed to re-sign Austin Rivers to a three-year contract worth more than $35 million, and Jamal Crawford was threatening to leave. Losing the then-36-year-old Crawford would’ve been costly, but it wouldn’t have been devastating. The bigger issue would have been the image: keeping the coach’s son over the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers calmed the brewing storm by giving Crawford a three-year, $42 million deal.

But apparently the underlying tension hasn’t completely dissipated.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

The in-house resentment toward Austin Rivers being favored as Doc’s son, according to team sources, still very much exists, but it isn’t out of control.

Know what the Clippers truly resent? Losing. They’ve gone 8-9 since the All-Star break, and they’re clearly feeling the slump.

That brings lingering issues, like Austin’s place on the team, to the surface.

And other Clippers are reasonable to show suspicion about the dynamic, a complication Doc should have considered when he traded for Austin.

Austin has explained his never-that-warm relationship with Doc, who was busy coaching while Austin was growing up. These two claim this is far more a coach-player than father-son relationship, and I believe they believe that. I also believe it’s mostly true, though their familial ties probably intrude more than they realize.

That said, Austin has worked himself into a legitimate backup guard after a horrendous start to his NBA career. It’s worth a reminder just how bad he was in New Orleans because that shows how even his modest role now is a sign of tremendous growth. Austin has improved his shot, and his 6-foot-4 frame is an asset in some defensive matchups (probably not as many as Doc believes, judging by Austin’s assignments).

Does Austin deserve 28 minutes per game? Probably not, though he also handles garbage-time minutes so older teammates don’t have to. Does Austin deserve his $11 million+ annual salary? Probably not, though the capped-out Clippers had no recourse beyond minimum contracts to replace him, so he had leverage (ditto Crawford). Does he deserve to so often speak for the team? Probably not, though bigger stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might not mind the occasional break.

Austin’s biggest problem is that, despite his improvement, his gaffes are still so blatant. That makes it more difficult to take him seriously, even when the totality of evidence says we should.

And for all the examples of Doc’s Clippers favoring Doc’s son, Austin was still the player who got left in the game with a concussion. That’s just dangerous, not nepotism.

There isn’t out-of-control resentment for Austin, because there’s isn’t out-of-control favoritism for him.

But there is some favoritism, and the more the Clippers struggle, the more they’ll look for a place to point the finger and occasionally land on Austin.

Report: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, determined to become NBA head coach, offered Florida women’s job

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Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the NBA’s first female full-time coach.

She could also become the next Florida women’s basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is considering a lucrative offer to leave the NBA and become the University of Florida women’s basketball coach, league sources told The Vertical.

The financial offer would be a considerable raise, especially considering that she’s still a young, behind-the-bench assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Nevertheless, Hammon is grappling with the decision, because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach, league sources said.

Hammon is blazing a trail in the NBA and might eventually become a head coach in the league. She has Gregg Popovich’s endorsement, praise from San Antonio players and success in limited opportunities.

But the path for a woman coach in men’s basketball is extremely narrow. It’s not fair, but Hammon faces hurdles others wouldn’t.

And the glass ceiling becomes exponentially thicker for a woman in women’s basketball who’s trying to jump to men’s basketball. Women’s college basketball is not a pipeline to the NBA, especially not for a woman. If Hammon goes to Florida, the paradigm changes. It would renew questions about her playing experience coming only in women’s basketball and her limited time with the Spurs.

Hammon wouldn’t be blackballed from the NBA, but she’d be setting up more obstacles for herself to clear to become a head coach in the league.

In one respect, I don’t envy her decision. However, she has positioned herself to choose between a promising path and an excellent job. Even if deciding is difficult, she’ll wind up in a good place.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.