Dunk contest contestants discuss plans for All-Star Saturday night

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HOUSTON — In advance of the main event of All-Star Saturday night, the participants had some thoughts on the overall aesthetics of the Slam Dunk Contest, and argued over who the actual favorite is to take home the trophy in 2013.

Kenneth Faried, he of the Rising Stars MVP performance on Friday, seemed to be of the opinion earlier in the day that practice wasn’t imperative, and that he would just determine what to do on the fly as the mood struck.

“I don’t know,” Faried said sincerely, when asked what we can expect from him on Saturday. “Maybe a two-hand power dunk, a behind-the-back dunk, turning a 180 or something like that. That’s it.”

Faried took to practicing for the contest on the main floor of the Toyota Center after the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, so perhaps he changed his mind.

James White is the favorite by those who determine such things, largely on the strength of his performances in dunk contests of the past. His athleticism in these events is seemingly unparalleled, with dunks from the free throw line and through the legs in his repertoire (and available on YouTube) for all the world — as well as his opponents — to see.

But White, a veteran dunk contest champion, said we might see something new from him if the conditions are just right.

“It depends, man,” he said, when asked if the fans can expect to see something different. “I mean, honestly I really don’t plan my dunks. I pretty much just go on the fly and however I feel … if I feel real good, I might try something new that pops in my head, so we’ll see.”

Even if White monotonously goes through his usual routine that opens with a dunk from the free throw line, fans who haven’t seen him perform on the biggest stage might be in awe and appreciative of his talents just the same.

“My goal is just to make it to the second round,” White said. “That’s the number one thing, and to get to the finals. And then from there we’ll see what happens. So I’m just going to come out from the beginning and do my normal thing and get to the next round.”

Despite White’s legendary dunks in the past, he disagrees that he’s the favorite going in — no matter what the oddsmakers are saying.

“I don’t think I’m the favorite, man, I’m the old guy,” he said. “Everyone out here besides me is like, 26. I’m the old guy, so I’m not the favorite.”

Gerald Green, he of the cupcake dunk in 2007, would like to beg to differ.

“Really I’m not the favorite,” Green said. “I think [James White] is. I think I’m the underdog, but I’ve been the underdog in every dunk contest I’ve been in.”

Green has had some memorable in-game dunks this season, but the dunk contest is different in that it requires creativity and showmanship to go along with those powerful finishes. He teased the fact that he may have something incredible in store for all of us.

“I’ve got a dunk that can really go down in history,” he said. “If I can complete this dunk this afternoon [in practice], this dunk can be one of the best dunks of all time.”

Of course, that’s as much information as Green was willing to give.

Regarding the use of props which has become so prevalent in the contest in recent years, all of this year’s participants seemed to be not only fine with it, but in favor of their use in the event, for a variety of reasons.

“I am in favor of props,” Green said. “I’m thinking of using this one prop, but I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it. If I don’t then I probably won’t use a lot of props. I’ll have to go prop-less.”

“It just depends on what you’re doing,” he continued. “I mean, if you’re doing a backflip and dunking, you obviously don’t need a prop. But sometimes, the prop that you bring out may be a crowd pleaser, so it may help you out in your favor.”

Faried echoed those feelings.

“I like the props, because it does show a little bit of ability [in terms of] how creative you were to think up certain things,” he said. “Sometimes it’s just … it helps make your dunk that much better.”

“Let’s say I go down and do a windmill, then somebody gets props involved and does a windmill,” Faried said. “Which one are you going to like more?”

And White was also alright with props being utilized in the dunk contest, never mind the fact that he’s never used one himself.

“You’ve never seen me use props,” he said proudly. “I don’t do props, man.”

“A lot of guys use it because it’s part of the entertainment, but I think it’s taken away from the dunk contest the last couple of years,” White said. “So I’m just going to bring it back to its natural state.”

One thing was certain in speaking with these guys on Friday: They all take the contest very seriously, and each has a vested interest in putting on the best show possible when they take the floor Saturday night.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.