Portland Trail Blazers v Phoenix Suns

The Extra Pass: 2013-14 Western Conference All-Star reserve picks; plus Sunday’s recaps



After selecting the Eastern Conference All-Star reserves on Friday, it’s time to tackle the Western Conference. Once again, we’ll defer to the last ballot returns for our starters, which are decided solely by fan vote. Here’s the projected Western Conference starters:

West Starters (Fan Vote)

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant, Stephen Curry

Frontcourt: Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Blake Griffin

We’ll know if this holds up very soon, as the starters will be named on January 23rd.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the format, the reserve picks include two backcourt players, three frontcourt players and two wildcards to fill the 12-man roster. On to the picks:

West Reserves

Backcourt: Chris Paul and James Harden

Curry was last season’s most notable snub, fans appear to have corrected that oversight by making him a starter over Chris Paul (the two were close in the vote after the last round, although with CP3 out injured it seems unlikely he slides back into the start spot with last minute votes). Paul is an easy and obvious choice here — 19.6 points and 11.2 assists a game, true shooting percentage of 57,8%, PER of 27.4, shooting 35.6 percent from three. Whether he is healthy enough to play remains to be seen, but he should get the nod.

Harden’s stock has gone down a bit since the focus shifted to the flaws in his game (particularly on the defensive end), but he’s still unquestionably one of the league’s most dynamic scorers.  Harden is averaging a 24-5-5 line for the season, and no player who has ever done that has been left off the All-Star team.

Frontcourt: Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tim Duncan

It’s a murderer’s row out West, but Love is averaging 25 points, 13 rebounds and 4 assists a night. No player in NBA history who has averaged those numbers has ever been left off the All-Star team, and Love won’t be the first.

The days of Aldridge being on the cusp of All-Star bids are over. This season he’s averaging career highs in points per game (24.1), rebounds per game (11.3), assists (2.9) and PER (23.2), and even if that wasn’t enough for some reason, Portland’s spectacular first-half pushes him way over the top.

Duncan is having a down year by his lofty standards, but his per 36 minute averages of 18.1 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 3.8 AST and 2.4 BLK are plenty deserving. Duncan is still the best player on one of the conference’s best teams, and no coach is going to snub one of the league’s greatest players ever in what could be his final season.

Wildcards: Dirk Nowitzki, Damian Lillard

You may think Nowitzki is here based on reputation, but his production has been unreal yet again this season. Nowitzki’s points per 36, PER, true shooting percentage, assists and steals are all above his career averages — an incredible feat for a 35-year-old forward. It’s scary, but this first half of the season could be the best shooting performance of Nowtizki’s career. Dallas would be completely lost without him, and it’s hard to see the conference’s coaches leaving him off.

Now here’s the tough one. All of the reserves listed above are plenty deserving, but the last wildcard spot is going to be a free-for-all. It’s incredibly close, but I’m giving the nod to Damian Lillard over the other contenders. Portland deserves plenty of representation, and all of Lillard’s game-winning shots have to be factored in along with his solid per game averages of 21.4 PPG, 5.8 APG and 3.8 RPG.

Just Missed The Cut

Tony Parker is probably Lillard’s toughest competition for the last wildcard spot, and it would be somewhat surprising if the coaches didn’t defer to the veteran when the numbers are so close. While it’s hard to be too upset either way, Lillard has been the more prolific and efficient scorer this season of the two, and he’s had more memorable moments. Ultimately, this might not matter much, as whoever gets left off will almost certainly be an injury replacement for Kobe Bryant.

DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis should both be All-Stars every year for many years to come, but it’s just too tough of a team to crack this year. Cousins is hurt by the quality of his team, as per usual, while Davis has the double-whammy of missed games and a non-playoff team holding him back. If the West’s frontcourt wasn’t so deep and the backcourt wasn’t so banged up, Cousins would have a legitimate argument for the wildcard spot. That’s just not the case, though.

If Russell Westbrook had played in more than just 25 games and wasn’t projected to be out until the All-Star break, he’d be a lock with averages of 21 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds a game. Again, like Cousins and Davis, this may be the last All-Star game Westbrook misses for a long, long time.

D.J. Foster



Lakers 112, Raptors 106: Nick Young returned after his one-game suspension to lead the Lakers in scoring with 29 points on 13 shots in just over 30 minutes of action, over a Raptors team that had been playing better lately since trading Rudy Gay to the Kings. Young scored 15 of his points over the final 12 minutes, and for Toronto, this game will go down as a missed opportunity — the team led by 19 points in the second quarter before they lost focus and slowly let L.A. back into the game.

Magic 93, Celtics 91: Someone had to win a game between two teams that couldn’t possibly seem less interested in winning, and on Sunday, it was the Magic. Orlando hadn’t yet won in 2014, and the win over the Celtics snapped a 10-game losing streak. Boston, meanwhile, has now lost 11 of 12. Arron Afflalo led the Magic with 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

Thunder 108, Kings 93: Kevin Durant followed up Friday’s 54-point effort with a more subdued but just as deadly 30 points, nine assists, six rebounds, four steals and two blocked shots in 32 minutes of action. OKC led by as many as 24 points in this one, and since it wasn’t much of a game, go read Sam Amick’s piece on DeMarcus Cousins which details how the Kings franchise is stuck with covering for his continued pattern of deplorable behavior.

Spurs 110, Bucks 82: Gregg Popovich told reporters before tip-off that he expected his team to play as if they were facing the defending champion Heat instead of the league’s worst team in the Milwaukee Bucks. The Spurs largely did that, outrebounding their opponent by 18, shooting 56.6 percent from the field, and getting out to a lead of 13 points in the first quarter to remove all doubt as to how this one would turn out as soon as was reasonably possible.

Suns 117, Nuggets 103: The frustrating thing for the Nuggets on this night was the fact that they were beaten by the Suns from top to bottom. Not only did Phoenix’s starters get off to a fast start in scoring 34 first quarter points, but the reserves finished the job by putting 33 on the scoreboard over the game’s final 12 minutes. Four of the Suns’ five starters sat the entire fourth period, while Channing Frye, who led all scorers with 30 points on 12-of-16 shooting, appeared in the fourth for just two and a half minutes.

More Collective Bargaining Agreement details emerging

Omer Asik, Paul Millsap, Kyle Korver
AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are on track for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement soon, and details are emerging about the new deal.

Here are some more.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

There is currently not enough support for an amnesty clause among NBA owners as they continue negotiations for a new deal with the National Basketball Players Association, sources told ESPN.com.

Under the new deal, players are expected to be able to sign contract extensions two years after the date of their original signing. Currently, they have to wait three years.

Restricted free agents also will be able to agree to offer sheets with teams starting on July 1 instead of waiting until July 7. The window for teams to match these offer sheets will be reduced from 72 hours to 48 hours.

Also, teams will no longer be able to pull qualifying offers to restricted free agents, as is currently allowed before July 31.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Two-way contracts between the NBA and NBA Development League will offer teams the chance to add 16th and 17th roster spots, and pay players differently based upon their assignments in either the league’s minor league or as part of the parent team, league sources said.

I’m unsurprised the new CBA won’t include an amnesty clause. When the salary cap rapidly escalated under the new national TV contracts, it made it very difficult to find onerous contracts. The few teams with amnesty-worthy deals probably can’t convince other owners to approve an amnesty clause. The other owners don’t want to give a small minority of teams a competitive advantage. Though amnesty is good for players – amnestied players still get paid and then have the freedom to choose a new team, and it creates an immediate job opening – not enough of them would benefit to push this.

Allowing contract extensions sooner can be helpful, but it doesn’t get to the crux of why the current CBA made veteran extensions too prohibitive. Extensions can add only a maximum of three years to a contract. Too often, players prefer to wait for free agency, when the max contract length is four or five years.

I’m unsure what it would look life if only restricted free agents, not unrestricted free agents, can sign July 1. There has been talk of eliminating the moratorium, though the feasibility of doing so is questionable. Windhorst doesn’t address unrestricted free agents, but omitting them suggests their status won’t change – but I’m skeptical. If restricted free agents can sign before unrestricted free agents, will teams rush to sign players to offer sheets and fill cap space before unrestricted free agents become available? That’s essentially the opposite of the current system. Reducing the matching window is good. Teams used to have seven days to match an offer sheet, but contract details are no longer relayed through standard mail and fax. With the instantaneousness of the internet, there’s no need to hold people in limbo even three days.

Keeping qualifying offers binding is another good move. I’m honestly surprised the league has avoided a dispute over whether a player accepted a qualifying offer before it was pulled. This change removes the possibility of a squabble and puts a fair onus on a team to stand by its qualifying offer. If you’re going to make a player a restricted free agent, you shouldn’t have the right to cool the market on him and then pull his qualifying offer only once conditions change.

Additional NBA roster spots are not my preferred direction for greater D-League integration, but perhaps it’s the best bridge. NBA teams will pay D-League players more if those teams get exclusive rights on the players. Because players on D-League contracts are NBA free agents, no matter which affiliate they’re on, NBA teams have little incentive to pay major money to D-Leaguers. I’d prefer NBA teams hold the NBA rights of everyone on their D-League affiliate, but not  every team has an affiliate. Perhaps, once that changes, this system will be tweaked. This solution is fine for now.

Nuggets tout "white pride" uniforms

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The Nuggets unveiled an awesome sleek white uniform last year. They called it their “WHITEGOLD” alternate, and it was part of the NBA’s “Pride” series of uniforms.

So far, so good. Denver had a clean new look and another source of revenue from jersey sales.

But, after some hiccups last year, the Nuggets have crossed words rather ham-handedly.

As captured by Daniel C. Lewis of Denver Stiffs, this is how the team’s official website listed the alternate-jersey schedule:

This isn’t a “real” problem. It’s poor wording and looks ridiculous. But it doesn’t actually harm anyone.

The page has since been taken down. My guess is it will return with better phrasing.

51 Questions: Which team will win the East? Make playoffs?

FILE - In this Oct. 30, 2014, file photo, workers finish hanging a mural of Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James on a building in Cleveland. The colossal LeBron James banner is getting a small _ but significant _ upgrade.
The iconic, 10-stories-tall mural is being removed this week and replaced with a new one that includes a gold patch of the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the back of James’ uniform to represent the Cavaliers winning the NBA title last season to end the city’s 52-year championship drought.
The new banner is expected to be installed by Friday, Oct. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan, File)
Associated Press

It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We are entering the prediction portion of the preview season, today the PBT staff is tackling:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pacers
5. Pistons
6. Wizards
7. Hornets
8. Bulls

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

On the one hand, the East is not that interesting: It’s Cleveland then everyone else. The only question is do they have enough of a championship hangover that Boston or Toronto can catch them in the regular season? That question will be moot in the playoffs, Cleveland is in its own class out East. However, what is interesting is that spots 4 through 12 could go almost any direction — I have the Hawks, Knicks, Bucks, and Magic out of the playoffs, but any of them could make it if their season comes together (the Hawks, in particular, are hard to leave out, but I believe they downgraded at point and center). I’m higher on the Pacers than most, but I wonder about their defense. I think teams 4-12 will all win between 36-46 games, it’s going to be a tight bunch with health and other small factors deciding who is in and who is out.

Dan Feldman

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Pistons
5. Wizards
6. Hawks
7. Hornets
8. Pacers

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers over Celtics

Cleveland is in the top tier on its own, though it’s quite conceivable someone else passes them in the regular season. Boston and Toronto occupy the next group. Then it’s everyone else — including maybe the Bulls, Bucks and maybe even Magic. The difference between homecourt advantage in the first round and missing the playoffs entirely is slim, especially with Reggie Jackson‘s injury destroying my confidence in Detroit as the No. 4 seed.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Cavaliers
2. Celtics
3. Raptors
4. Hornets
5. Bulls
6. Pistons
7. Wizards
8. Hawks

Eastern Conference Finals: Cavaliers vs. Raptors

The real question in the East isn’t about the Cavaliers, but about the two teams projected to finish below them in the Celtics and Raptors. Yes, Toronto has more experience, and they should have a healthy DeMarre Carroll, but losing Bismack Biyombo is big, especially so as Boston added Al Horford. Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star, Brad Stevens looks like a great coach, and I think the Celtics take the No. 2 in the regular season. Then again, I’m also taking the Raptors experience in the playoffs, so maybe I’m hedging.

Report: Timberwolves ask Cavaliers about Iman Shumpert, who could be available in trade

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers poses for a portrait during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Timberwolves are looking to trade a point guard or two.

The Cavaliers are looking to trade for a point guard or two.

Could it be a match?

Shumpert seems like Cleveland’s most likely trade bait, and Minnesota – dangling Tyus Jones and maybe soon Ricky Rubio – is apparently interested.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Keep an eye on Iman Shumpert. Several teams, including Minnesota, have inquired about his availability in the past few weeks and gotten the impression Cleveland is ready to talk, according to several league sources. The Cavs won’t salary-dump Shump for nothing, but given their tax situation, cutting payroll by a few million promises exponential savings.

Shumpert is more valuable than Jones, less valuable than Rubio. Draft picks and/or other players can bridge the gap in any deal, but neither point guard makes much sense in Cleveland. Rubio is too good to back up Kyrie Irving. Jones is not proven enough to be significantly more dependable than Kay Felder.

What could make a lot of sense: A team trades for Rubio, displacing its current point guard, who goes to the Cavs in a three-way trade. With the Kings a known Rubio suitor, Darren Collison could fit in Cleveland – at least after his eight-game suspension. Similar iterations could work with other teams that have a decent point guard but want to upgrade to Rubio.