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What if Dennis Rodman isn’t all that wrong?

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This Dennis Rodman saga just keeps getting more and more unbelievable. Unless you live under a rock and/or are otherwise disconnected from modern technology, you’ve heard at least something about the former Bulls forward’s North Korean activities backed by Irish oddsmakers Paddy Power, PLC.

Not only has the guy visited North Korea twice, referring to dictator Kim Jong-un as “a very good guy“, he is now saying he plans to return in January to host two exhibition games with former NBA players. He calls it “basketball diplomacy”, indicating at least some knowledge of Nixon’s 1971 ping-pong diplomacy campaigns between the U.S. and China in the midst of the Cold War.

The media is having a field day: here is one of the most colorful (literally, too) players in NBA history, financed by Irish bookies, cozying up to the world’s most brutal dictatorship, then showing up to the press conference in classic Rodman fashion complete with cigar, booze*, chains, oversized shades, and more piercings than I can count. Ridiculous, wouldn’t you say?

But here’s the thing – what if Rodman isn’t so wrong? Beyond all the media hoopla, what if somehow, someway, this ridiculous drama thaws the ice-cold tension with the North Korean regime? Personally, I think it’s a slim chance at best. BUT, consider this: Dennis Rodman isn’t flying solo. He and Paddy Power have the support of the independent non-profit NGO International Crisis Group, whose stated objective is to prevent and resolve deadly conflict. Dr. Daniel Pinkston directs the North East Asia arm of the ICG, and spoke at Rodman’s press conference. Earlier that day, Pinkston published his reasoning for why “basketball diplomacy” could work.  An excerpt:

“The Rodman visit was very important to [North Korean] leadership. Kim Jong-un snubbed former US presidents and other heads of state, as well as a former high-level US government official and the executive chairman of Google, but Kim turned out for Rodman and appeared giddy as they sat next to each other and watched the game.  …

The Rodman visit is subversive because the image of Kim embracing Rodman can be perceived as the leadership tolerating or accepting someone who is different. South Korea’s Daily NK reported that North Koreans in the provinces were stunned to see Kim embracing an American with numerous tattoos and body piercings and likened it to Kim embracing a ‘goblin or gangster’.  …

North Korea’s leaders want their system to survive, and any changes they make are intended to strengthen the system, not to reform it. They have learned from Gorbachev’s ‘mistakes’ of seeking political reforms and restructuring to improve the Soviet system. The North Korean leadership apparently views sport exchanges as furthering its own agenda.  …

However, ‘basketball diplomacy’ could have unintended consequences for the regime, just as Gorbachev’s perestroika did for the USSR and the lifting of travel restrictions did for East Germany. Personal exchanges are probably the best way to expose North Koreans to different types of governance and social organisation, which is the first step in the thought process that results in questioning the regime.”  (see Pinkston)

Basically, Pinkston says that before North Korea can change, we must make inroads into the North Korean thought process. Dennis Rodman represents a new approach, an attempt to breach the norm and create a measure of goodwill. Who’s to say if it will go smoothly – the North Korean regime is erratic and unpredictable, and events could spiral wildly out of control.** Rodman & Co. might be right, might be wrong. But Paddy Power and the International Crisis Group have a very good point: in order to make positive change, the door must first open. It’s just curious this is who they chose to try it.

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* Visible as he makes his entrance at the 6:20 mark.

** Example: Dennis & Kim.  (Sounds like it could be the name of Comedy Central’s next big thing)

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164

Devin Booker to replace Nerlens Noel in Rising Stars at All-Star Weeekend

Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
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Sixers big man Nerlens Noel — who has looked much improved this season once Ish Smith was feeding him the rock on offense — sat out the Sixers game Wednesday night due to tendonitis in his right knee. After he missed his rookie season with knee issues, you can understand why the Sixers want him to be cautious.

Noel is going to sit out All-Star Weekend as well — he had been scheduled to play in the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night, but he is going to sit that out and Devin Booker of the Phoenix Suns will take his place, the league has announced (Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic broke that story).

Booker has been one of the few bright spots for the Suns this season, averaging 10.6 points a game and shooting 40.3 percent from three.

He will play for the USA in the World vs. USA format of the Rising Stars Challenge (the former rookie/sophomore game, featuring first and second year players).

With Emmanuel Mudiay replacing Patrick Beverley, NBA reveals Skills Challenge bracket

Houston Rockets' Patrick Beverley (2) knocks the ball away from Denver Nuggets' Emmanuel Mudiay (0) in the first half of a NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015, in Houston. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Out: Defending champion Patrick Beverley.

In: Emmanuel Mudiay Emmanuel Mudiay.

The NBA confirmed the Rockets guard would miss the Skills Challenge and that Mudiay would replace him. The league also release the bracket:

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My picks:

Quarterfinals

Semifinals

  • Isaiah Thomas over C.J. McCollum
  • Anthony Davis over Draymond Green

Final

  • Isaiah Thomas over Anthony Davis

NBA suspends Hassan Whiteside for elbowing Boban Marjanovic’s head

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Hassan Whiteside lost his cool and elbowed Boban Marjanovic in the head Tuesday.

The Heat center received a flagrant 2 and an ejection, and now he’s getting the rest of his punishment.

NBA release:

Miami Heat center Hassan Whiteside has been suspended one game without pay for throwing an elbow and making contact with the head of San Antonio Spurs center Boban Marjanovic, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

The incident, for which Whiteside was assessed a Flagrant 2 and ejected, occurred with 9:35 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ 119-101 win over the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena on Feb. 9.

Whiteside will serve his suspension when Miami plays the Atlanta Hawks on Feb. 19 at Philips Arena.

The suspension will cost Whiteside $8,921. As a result, the Heat – in line to become the first team in NBA history to pay the repeater luxury-tax rate – trim their impending tax bill by $24,534.

More importantly for Whiteside, this will be a strike against him for teams considering offering him a big contract in free agency this summer.