Three Stars of the Night: Sunday Scorers

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On a night where scoreboards were getting lit up like Christmas trees, it’s probably prudent to celebrate some of the league’s best scorers. Of course, any talk of scoring has to include league leaders Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant, who both put up some gaudy totals (34 for Kobe, 27 for Durant) despite off shooting nights. That just illustrates how good those guys really are, but they still weren’t good enough for the Three Stars of the Night. Who was? Ignore your open co-worker and read on:

Third Star: Mo Williams – (22 points, 8 assists, 8-for-11 shooting)

Ah, a nod to efficiency. The Jazz dropped 117 points on the hapless Lakers defense, and Williams was the one orchestrating it all. Williams rarely gets enough credit for his ability to run an offense, which seems silly, especially when you consider Utah’s main sources of scoring are so dependent on him providing the ball in good spots. Williams was nearly flawless in that regard tonight, dishing out 9 assists to just one turnover in a relatively mistake-free game. Although he didn’t really get to show it after the Lakers oddly decided not to foul until there were four seconds left on the shot clock down 5 points, Williams provided a calming influence for a Jazz team that hasn’t produced quality road wins all year long.

Second Star: Carmelo Anthony – (34 points, 6 rebounds)

Sweet, sweet revenge. George Karl didn’t exactly bite his tongue after Anthony headed out to New York, so it’s not a surprise that Melo came back healthy right in time for this juicy revenge game. Anthony didn’t disappoint, as he bullied his way to the rim all night and drew contact whenever humanly possible (16 free throw attempts). Anthony’s performance seemed to reinforce two themes: he’s a matchup nightmare at the power forward when surrounded by shooters, and that the Nuggets have an issue when it comes to crunch time scoring. Although Danilo Gallinari (the main piece in the Melo trade) played very well for the Nuggets, Anthony outscored him 11-3 in the game’s final period to help keep the Knicks undefeated at home this season.

First Star: Brandon Jennings – (26 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals)

Ever since draft night, Jennings has had an infatuation with stealing the show in New York. Unfortunately for the Nets, that also extends to them now as well. Jennings put up a killer line, out-dueling Deron Williams with the aid of the PUJIT (pull up jumper in transition) that would make fellow lefty jump shooter and teammate Beno Udrih pretty proud. The East is a jumbled mess between seeds 4-8, and Milwaukee is included in that, but the Bucks have an identity that seems pretty bankable. They share the ball much more than you’d think, they block a ton of shots at the rim, and they seem to enjoy playing with each other. The future for Jennings in Milwaukee is still undecided, but it might be time for the Bucks to go for broke and acquire a smart frontcourt player who can really score in the post, share the ball, and add another element to their offense. Hmmm. Know of anyone who fits the description?

What exactly was on the table for Bulls in Jimmy Butler trade?

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It’s been the cry since the Bulls’ front office traded Jimmy Butler for Zach LaVine (coming off an ACL surgery), Kris Dunn, and the No. 7 pick (Lauri Markkanen):

Why didn’t the Bulls get more?

I’m in the camp they didn’t get enough, starting with the question why did they give Minnesota the No. 16 pick in the deal? Even if the Bulls keep that pick, it doesn’t feel like they got enough for an All-NBA player, a top-flight wing defender who can also get buckets with the ball in his hands. The Bulls could have been patient and waited out a better offer, one of this quality would always have been on the table.

However, the deals for Butler may not have been as rich as fans assume. Here is part of what ESPN’s Zach Lowe wrote breaking down the trade.

It’s not as if Chicago didn’t canvas the league, either. The Bulls talked to Phoenix about a package centered around Eric Bledsoe and the No. 4 pick, but nothing came close, according to league sources. (Those talks may have been linked at one point to Cleveland’s pursuit of Butler, which apparently fizzled Thursday as Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ owner, tried to hire a new president of basketball operations on the freaking day of the draft.)

They poked around with Denver, but the Nuggets drew a line at Jamal Murray, sources say. Those teams had to weigh the possibility of Butler bolting in 2019, which cooled the market a bit, sources say.

Boston has danced around Butler for almost a year now, and would not include the No. 3 pick in any package for him as the draft approached, sources say. Other reports suggest they refused to offer next year’s Nets pick, or the Lakers-Kings pick they snagged from Philly in the Markelle Fultz deal.

Boston’s Danny Ainge wanted a deal, a bit of a discount, and the Bulls were not going to give it. Those pick requests are reasonable for a Top 15 player, but Ainge knows he can be patient and the Celtics will still win more than 50 games next season and be a contender in a couple of years. Ainge knows he has a real shot at Gordon Hayward as a free agent this summer. He knows it’s not Butler or bust, so he didn’t go all in. He can afford to be patient right now, but eventually he will have to make a move.

The lack of a better market for Butler speaks to a couple of things. Phoenix, Denver, and other teams are correct to worry about overpaying for a player that could leave in a couple of years. Maybe they can win him over with their culture, maybe a team like Denver becomes very dangerous with Butler in the mix with Nikola Jokic, but is that enough. This is also where the looming shadow of Golden State, the Mount Everest looming over all things in the West, comes into play — how much do teams want to pay to try to contend right now?

Still, the Bulls could have done better. At least know a direction is set, the Bulls are rebuilding. Can Gar/Pax pull that off is another question entirely.

Klay Thompson goes up for 360 dunk in exhibition… and he’s not a dunker (VIDEO)

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Klay Thompson has an amazing skill set — one of the best pure shooters in the league, he can put the ball on the floor and create, and he’s a very good perimeter defender.

He’s not a dunker. Oh, he can dunk, but he’s not the guy you’re inviting to the Dunk Contest.

Case in point, this video out of China where Thompson was part of an exhibition and tried to show off his dunking skills.

Thompson’s shoe sponsor is China-based Anta, which explains why he’s there playing some exhibition ball. In case you missed it, Thompson had a Finals shoe released.

Those are about as good as the 360 dunk.

Sixers will talk contract extension for Joel Embiid this summer, want to lock him up

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Could Joel Embiid be Philadelphia’s Stephen Curry?

No, I don’t mean taking 30-foot bombs that demoralize opponents (although, no doubt Embiid is game for trying it). I mean in having a contract extension off his rookie deal for less than the max, a value contract that allows the Sixers the cap room to secure a title contender around him.

After three seasons in the NBA, Joel Embiid is eligible for a contract extension this summer (one that would be negotiated now but not kick in until the 2018-19 season). Teams lock up their stars at this point, and Embiid is that — he was dominant in the 31 games he played. But it’s 31 games in three seasons, how much do the Sixers want to pay here?

Sixers owner Joshua Harris said extending Embiid is a priority for the team this summer, speaking at a press conference, via the Courier Times.

“Look, I’d just say we want Joel to be on the team for a long time,” Harris said. “We want us all to grow old together. That’s the way I would put it.”

A max contract for Embiid would be five years at about $130 million, an average annual salary of $26 million. Because of his injury history, would he be willing to sign five years at $100 million, maybe with an opt-out after four? That extra cap space may not sound like a lot, it’s not a Curry-level savings, but it would help the Sixers’ team building.

If the two sides can’t reach a deal by Oct. 31 (the deadline), Embiid will play out this season then be a restricted free agent next season. If he stays healthy, he will get a max deal from another team that the Sixers would just match (the Sixers and Embiid could also reach a deal).

The Sixers are not about to let Embiid go, they have their young core they believe they can contend with in a few years. Plus he is a fan favorite. The only question left is cost.

Josh Jackson’s first pitch is… just a bit outside

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Josh Jackson is not going Bo Jackson on us and playing baseball in the offseason.

The highly-rated forward out of Kansas who was the No. 4 pick of the Phoenix Suns was invited to throw out the first pitch before Friday night’s Diamondbacks game.

To quote Bob Uecker, he was just a bit outside. He tried the corner and missed.

Lonzo Ball was able to make his first pitch, ergo, he will turn out to be a much better NBA player. Obviously, these skills correlate.