PBT Extra: PBT does its own Rising Stars Challenge draft; plus Wednesday’s recaps

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The NBA announced the field for the Rising Stars Challenge, but the teams won’t be selected until next week. A sucker for any opportunity to hold a mock draft, I enlisted Kurt into holding our own.

We followed the same positional rules whoever picks the teams on TNT next Thursday – the general managers have yet to be announced – will follow. Within each of our first seven picks, we must each pick three backcourt players (B) and three frontcourt players (F), with flex players (X) counting for either requirement.

The real drafters won’t pick the final four players, who will be randomly assigned to teams so nobody gets the indignity of being the last choice. That’s probably the right move for the NBA, but we’re not quite as concerned with sparing feelings. So, we draft our full teams.

I won the coin toss to pick first, so here we go.

1. Team Feldman: Anthony Davis (F, New Orleans)

Davis is definitely the best first- or  second-year player in the league. The only consideration I gave to someone else here was Damian Lillard, because I still would have been guaranteed Davis or Andre Drummond at No 3.

2. Team Helin: Damian Lillard (B, Portland)

These kinds of no-D exhibitions are won by the best guards, so I’ll take the best guard thank you very much. I then tell my coach to wear him out before the actual All-Star Game.

3. Team Feldman: Andre Drummond (F, Detroit)

Easiest pick of the draft. The top three are head and shoulders ahead of everyone else, the only first- or second-year players with a chance of making the big-boy All-Star game.

4. Team Helin: Bradley Beal (B, Washington)

Now that I’ve got a point guard, let’s give him a shooter to go next to him. You can have all the big men you want Dan, my team will just rain threes over the top of them.

5. Team Feldman: Terrence Jones (F, Houston)

Remember when there was question which forward position would fit Jones best in the NBA? Jones has settled in at power forward, but he’s also developed 3-point range, so he’ll be playing small forward for my team.

6. Team Helin: Steven Adams (F, Oklahoma City)

Yes he is a quality big and I need some size in the lineup. More importantly, I need the karma of the entire nation of New Zealand pulling for my team.

7. Team Feldman: Michael Carter-Williams (B, Philadelphia)

I’m thrilled Carter-Williams slipped this far, because his speed and athleticism will be huge in this game. He’s just the playmaker I need to get Davis and Drummond going.

8. Team Helin: Giannis Antetokounmpo (X, Milwaukee)

We’re going to run and we’re going to turn the Greek Freak loose (honestly, he is my sleeper game MVP candidate, at the least he should have a crazy dunk in this game).

9. Team Feldman: Trey Burke (B, Utah)

Looks like I’ll be compensating for missing the game’s best point guard by starting two point guards. Their ability initiate the offense from both sides of the floor will help feed Davis and Drummond inside.

10. Team Helin: Jared Sullinger (F, Boston)

Just crash the offensive glass Jared, I’m asking nothing else of you. Nobody wants to do the dirty work this game, you get inside and the glass will be yours.

11. Team Feldman: Jonas Valanciunas (F, Toronto)

I don’t really need Valanciunas, but because Drummond can sometimes get fatigued in bigger roles, Valanciunas provides nice depth. Plus, this keeps one of the league’s more underrated bigs off Kurt’s team.

12. Team Helin: Victor Oladipo (B, Orlando)

Yes, he was a mess to start the season, but in his last five games he’s averaged 17.2 points a game and is shooting 42.9 percent from three in that time. He’s figured it out, just in time for my purposes.

13. Team Feldman: Harrison Barnes (X, Golden State)

Needing a backcourt-qualifying player to fulfill the requirement, I’ll happily snag Barnes, who’s the best (only) true small forward in the game. That position is a real weak spot for the league’s youngest players. He might even start for me with Jones coming off the bench.

14. Team Helin: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (X, New York)

I know which way the league is trending so yes, I’ll take another athletic guard who can run the floor and knock down the three. Plus, I just want to see the joy on his face of not being coached by Mike Woodson for a game.

15. Team Feldman: Mason Plumlee (F, Brooklyn)

I really wanted the sharpshooting Hardaway, who would have given my team a much-needed floor spacer. Instead, I’ll just take the best player available, even if he’ll likely get buried on my bench.

16. Team Helin: Kelly Olynyk (F, Boston)

He’s been up and down this season (he is a rookie) but he runs the court well and can finish some putbacks off Lillard’s PUJITs.

17. Team Feldman: Pero Antic (F, Atlanta)

This is a bit of a strategic pick. Antic is out with an injury that could keep him sidelined through the All-Star break. If he can’t play, I’ll happily take one of the many players snubbed for this game who would have gone much higher in the draft – John Henson or Miles Plumlee, or, if I have to replace a rookie with a rookie, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Ben McLemore.

18. Team Helin: Dion Waiters (B, Cleveland)

What does it say about a guy that can shoot the rock — 37 percent from three this season — that he went dead last in a this draft, for an exhibition that should play to his strengths? I just hope he doesn’t ruin the chemistry on my imaginary team and cost me the imaginary game.

Here are the final rosters:

Team Feldman

  • F: Andre Drummond (Detroit)
  • F: Anthony Davis (New Orleans)
  • F: Terrence Jones (Houston)
  • B: Trey Burke (Utah)
  • B: Michael Carter-Williams (Philadelphia)
  • X: Harrison Barnes (Golden State)
  • F: Jonas Valanciunas (Toronto)
  • F: Mason Plumlee (Brooklyn)
  • F: Pero Antic (Atlanta)

Team Helin

  • F: Steven Adams (Oklahoma City)
  • F: Jared Sullinger (Boston)
  • X: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
  • B: Bradley Beal (Washington)
  • F: Damian Lillard (Portland)
  • B: Victor Oladipo (Orlando)
  • X: Tim Hardaway, Jr. (New York)
  • F: Kelly Olynyk (Boston)
  • B: Dion Waiters (Cleveland)

Which squad would win?

-Dan Feldman

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Raptors 98, Magic 83: Kyle Lowry continued his assault on coaches voting for All-Star reserves with his second consecutive performance where he scored at least 30 points. It was 33 and 11 assists in this one, in a game that was essentially decided in the first 12 minutes. Toronto got out to a double-digit lead in the first quarter, and won the rest of the game by just two points in what was an even contest over the final three periods. Nik Vucevic led the Magic with 16 points and 10 rebounds in the losing effort. — Brett Pollakoff

Sixers 95, Celtics 94: No tanking here, as this game between two lottery teams in the East came down to the final possession. Evan Turner hit the game-winner as the buzzer sounded, a tough shot through contact that gave the Sixers the victory. Five Sixers finished in double figures, while Jared Sullinger did the heavy lifting for Boston, finishing with 24 points (on 9-of-25 shooting) to go along with 17 rebounds. — BP

Suns 126, Bucks 117: A win is a win, obviously, but the Suns have evolved to the point where they’re a solid playoff contender in the Western Conference. That means that a Bucks team that’s one of the league’s worst shouldn’t be allowed to score 117 points, but the victory will stand and Jeff Hornacek will be able to use it as a teaching tool moving forward. Goran Dragic continued his strong play that may have him in line for a spot on the All-Star squad with 30 points on just 13 shots, to go along with six assists. — BP

Timberwolves 88, Pelicans 77: Anthony Davis didn’t play in this one after suffering a dislocated finger in his last outing, and the result was a complete implosion on the part of the Pelicans. New Orleans couldn’t reach even 20 points in three of the game’s four periods, and while Minnesota didn’t exactly light it up offensively, a low-scoring affair like this one meant that Kevin Love’s often hollow numbers carried much more value than usual. Love led all scorers with 30 points, to go along with 14 rebounds and five assists. — BP

Pistons – Hawks: POSTPONED, due to severe weather in the Atlanta area. The game will be rescheduled at a later date. — BP

Thunder 112, Heat 95: Miami raced out to an 18-point first quarter lead, but when the Oklahoma City bench came in and the team went small everything changed — the Thunder got easy baskets in transition, Jeremy Lamb was knocking down threes and their defense improved. The big surprise was that Scott Brooks stuck with what works and didn’t stay loyal to Kendrick Perkins (who Brooks has stuck with as a starter despite what both the numbers and the eye test tell everyone) and benched him for the second half to starter Perry Jones. The result was another Thunder run, 9-0 right at the start of the second half, and the game was over. Mostly it was over because Kevin Durant caught fire on his way to 33 points (that makes 12 straight over 30). We broke the game down in more detail here. –Kurt Helin

Rockets 117, Mavericks 115: Dallas had their chances in this one, they had shaved that 12-point fourth quarter lead down to two then Jose Calderon — who is shooting 45 percent from three this season — got two looks at a game winner from beyond the arc and missed both. This was an up-tempo shootout which favors Houston and the Rockets got 26 from Chandler Parsons, 21 points from Dwight Howard and 18 from Jeremy Lin. Dirk Nowitzki dropped 38 in a losing effort but simply could not lift the team over the hump. –KH

Bobcats 101, Nuggets 98: From the start the Bobcats were getting the ball into Al Jefferson and letting him go to work on J.J. Hickson — and the Nuggets left Hickson largely on an island. They didn’t double much at all. The result was an early 20-5 Bobcats run. Timofey Mozgov came in and he didn’t fare much better, by the end Jefferson continued his hot play of late with 35 points. Denver came back to take a small lead again — thanks to 33 from Randy Foye — and the fourth quarter was tight, but Charlotte got 11 points from Jefferson in the fourth and had a late 8-2 run to get the win. –KH

Bulls 96, Spurs 86: It was a game of big sweeping runs for the better part of three quarters, both teams led for a while, but the Bulls started to pull away with a 14-3 late third quarter run then Kirk Hinrich’s 11 points in the fourth held off the depleted Spurs. San Antonio also had an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers against the stout Bulls defense. Joakim Noah (10 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists, four blocked shots) and Carlos Boozer (16 points, 12 rebounds) led the Bulls. –KH

Grizzlies 99, Kings 89: In a battle of the point guards Mike Conley owned the second half and was able to lift his Memphis team to the win. Conley had 20 of his 27 points in the second half plus had 10 assists, while the Kings’ Isaiah Thomas finished with 24 points and 5 assists. This is five straight losses for the Kings who did get Rudy Gay back in the lineup (23 points) but that wasn’t enough — the Kings’ defense couldn’t slow Memphis, which shot 54.7 percent on the night. –KH

Clippers 110, Wizards 103: The Clippers were aggressive — Blake Griffin had 29 points on 20 shots and took 15 of those in the paint (hitting 10), plus the Clippers as a team got to the free throw line 42 times as they attacked inside. Those free throws include an effort late in the game, with the Clippers up three, to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan (hack-the-DJ, which has a nice Smiths ring to it) but he drained all four of his free throws. In between Bradley Beal, an 80 percent free throw shooter, missed both of his. Jamal Crawford had 21 for the Clippers, J.J. Redick 20. Beal led the Wizards with 20. –KH

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.

Russell Westbrook wins union’s Players Voice MVP

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The players union released its long-anticipated long-overdue awards, and there are some doozies. First of all, I still can’t figure out what Chris Bosh – who was announced as the “host” of the Twitter-released awards – has to do with this. But let’s get to the actual winners.

Here are the major awards, with the traditional award/Players Voice equivalent:

No surprise Westbrook won both MVPs. He deserved them. Still, James Harden could’ve hoped for a split result like in 2015, when Stephen Curry won actual MVP and Harden won the players’ version.

There’s obviously slight differences in the other categories. I think Green had the best defensive season and deservedly won Defensive Player of the Year, but I also think Leonard is the NBA’s best defender and therefore deserved this honor. I would’ve picked Andre Iguodala for Best off the Bench (and Sixth Man of the Year, for what it’s worth), though that’s a minor quibble. But how on earth did Joel Embiid not win Best Rookie? He was the best rookie in years, let alone this season. I picked Brogdon for Rookie of the Year based on his overall contributions in far more playing time, but there should have been no question about the best rookie.

The union also released several awards without a corresponding NBA honor:

  • Comeback Player of the Year: Joel Embiid
  • Hardest to Guard: Russell Westbrook
  • Clutch Performer: Isaiah Thomas
  • Global Impact: LeBron James
  • Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team: LeBron James
  • Most Influential Veteran: Vince Carter
  • Best Dressed: Russell Westbrook
  • Best Social Media Follow: Joel Embiid
  • Coach You’d Most Like to Play For: Gregg Popovich
  • Best Home Court Advantage: Warriors

LeBron winning Player You Secretly Wish Was On Your Team has to be an implicit slap in the face to Kyrie Irving. I’m glad to see Thomas and Carter deservedly recognized.

Lastly, the union awarded a Teammate of the Year on each team:

Dirk Nowitzki won the NBA’s Teammate of the Year – which is voted on by current players after a panel of former players selects nominees – then didn’t even win for his own team here? That’s just weird.

76ers take 1 big step (and a couple smaller ones, too)

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Even the NBA’s worst team has only a 25% chance of getting the No. 1 pick in the lottery.

The 76ers made their own luck.

Philadelphia finished with the league’s fourth-worst record, fell to No. 5 in the lottery, swapped picks with the Kings to move up to No. 3 thanks to a two-year-old trade then traded up to No. 1 by enticing the Celtics with a future draft pick (another pick acquired in that heist of Sacramento, a Lakers pick or one of the 76ers’ own).

Whew, that’s some Process.

No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz is the latest prize in the 76ers’ reverse engineering of the NBA’s system, joining Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. That’s an exciting young core that might be ready to lift Philadelphia from years of tanking to playoff contention.

To that end, the 76ers signed J.J. Redick to a one-year, $23 million contract. The 33-year-old has already shown signs of decline, but he’s an upgrade over any shooting guard on the roster. If their other young players are ready to make the leap, the 76ers didn’t want to learn the hard way they were a starting shooting guard short of reaching the postseason. In securing an immediate boost, Philadelphia essentially paid extra for flexibility. Redick’s salary will almost certainly outpace his production, the 76ers ensured no lasting negative effects beyond this season.

The same logic could apply to Amir Johnson, who signed a one-year, $11 million contract. But Philadelphia’s frontcourt depth and the dreary market for bigs make that deal less defensible – especially if Johnson’s salary could have been reappropriated for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (who surprisingly became an unrestricted free agent) or paying Robert Covington more up front (as opposed to in future seasons, when the savings might matter more) in a renegotiation-and-extension.

With about $15 million in cap space remaining, the 76ers will likely still renegotiate-and-extend Covington once they can in November. He fits well into a deep crop of solid assets beyond the big three: Dario Saric, Richaun Holmes, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Jahlil Okafor, Justin Anderson, T.J. McConnell, Nik Stauskas, Furkan Korkmaz (the No. 26 pick last year who signed this year), all Philadelphia’s own future first-rounders plus one extra (from either the Kings or Lakers – or both, if if Philadelphia’s own pick is conveyed to Boston). The 76ers even added to the pool this summer with a couple draft-and-stash selections – No. 25 pick Anzejs Pasecniks and No. 36 pick Jonah Bolden (who I’m personally quite high on).

That grouping alone would be envy of many teams. And then there are still Embiid, Simmons and Fultz – the trio that will determine how quickly the brighter days ahead arrive in Philadelphia.

The 76ers’ revival is built on Embiid’s back – and feet and knees. He could be a generational player, but injuries have already cost him 215 games in three years and limited him to just 25 minutes per game in the 31 he has played.

Though it’s the one that looms far beyond, Embiid’s health isn’t the only potential pitfall this season. Rookie point guards – whether it be Fultz or Simmons – rarely lead good teams. It’s a position that typically requires fine-tuning.

Still, this is just the start in Philadelphia. Making the playoffs this season would be nice, but bigger goals down the road appear attainable either way.

The 76ers were in great shape entering the summer. They’re in even better shape now.

Offseason grade: B