Lance Stephenson leads list of three biggest All-Star Game snubs from each conference

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There are only 12 All-Star Game roster slots per conference, and there are more than 12 deserving players.

Somebody is going to be left off — we like to call it a snub, but most of the time it’s more like splitting hairs between good players. You pull on of these guys off the coach’s list of All-Star Game reserves to get your guy on and the fans of the player yanked will cry snub. And the circle of life continues.

Still, it’s a little frustrating this year because the coaches chose to play it safe and go with veterans like Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Joe Johnson over exciting young players. I had hoped the coaches would be more daring and less conservative. But alas…

Here are the three biggest snubs from each conference

EASTERN CONFERENCE

• Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. He is the guy who does a lot of shot creation for the team with the best record in the NBA — coach Frank Vogel told Pro it wasn’t his plan coming into the season to have Stephenson playing this big a roll in the offense, but his play demanded it.

“I wanted to expand his role,” Vogel said of Stephenson this week. “What I envisioned was getting him out early, bringing him back to play with the bench unit and running offense through him. That sort of expanded when he started producing with the starting unit. So obviously, we’re a balanced team and we’re going to go to the hot hand so to speak, or to whoever is making the most efficient plays. With the second unit that’s who we’re going with, but a lot of times with the first unit he’s been great too.”

Stephenson averages 14.2 points a game, 7.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game. He has a true shooting percentage of 56.3 percent (a few percentage points above the league average). The argument against him is he is just a cog in the Pacers’ system, he could be the fourth or fifth offensive option at times. And that he could be more efficient. Maybe. But for an exhibition game — and for rewarding the best first half players — I’d rather have Stephenson on the court instead of Joe Johnson.

• Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic. This was one of those splitting hairs decision compared with DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors (who made the team). Afflalo is the guy the other team schemes to stop on one of the weakest rosters in the league — he has a usage rate of 23.8, the highest of his career. And he’s scoring 20 points a game (also a career high) while having a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent. He’s not a nice player putting up good numbers because he has to on a bad team, he’s a very good player putting up efficient numbers despite defenses gearing up for him.

(Yes, you could make a case that Kyle Lowry is more deserving than Afflalo. I’m not going to, but you could.)

• Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. This is a tough one because I want to see the young players but the veterans who made the Eastern Conference frontcourt — Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert — are all deserving. And I love the addition of Paul Millsap, who ha balled so hard for the Hawks this season. Drummond is averaging 12.6 points a game on 60 percent shooting (he should get more touches, but this is the Pistons) and 12.7 rebounds a game.

WESTERN CONFERNECE

• Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns)/Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies). I am combining these two because while both deserve to go both may get to — Kobe Bryant is out for sure due to his knee injury, and Chris Paul may be out due to his shoulder injury. These two guys should be the replacements. (The league office and Commissioner Adam Silver get to make the call on who is selected as a replacement.)

Dragic is averaging 19.7 points and 6.1 assists a game to lead the offense of the biggest surprise team in the NBA this season. It was thought when Eric Bledsoe went down the Suns would fall apart, but Dragic has stepped up and been an All-Star level player.

Mike Conley quietly orchestrates the Memphis offense and is scoring 18.2 points a game, dishes 6.3 assists a game, is shooting 37.3 percent from three to help them space the floor, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game.

• DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. This is the kind of exciting big man I’d like to see in the All-Star Game — he is averaging 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds a game and at age 23 you can make a case he’s been the best center in the West this season. Yes, he makes some bad decisions still, at other times still battles bouts of laziness, but he is maturing and he is a force.

• Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. He is averaging 20.4 points on 51.9 percent shooting and he grabs 10.4 rebounds a game, plus he leads the NBA in blocked shots at 3.3 a game — and he has 21 blocks combined in the last two games he played. He can score a variety of ways and, most importantly for this kind of exhibition game, he is the best transition big in the NBA right now. And he’s the hometown guy for this All-Star Game. I really wanted Davis to make the cut.

Kevin Durant trolls Westbrook, haters with cupcake hat — now topped with a ring

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Back when Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were breaking into the NBA together and learning how to win together, one of their veteran mentors was tough guy Kendrick Perkins. When Perkins thought someone was acting soft, he called that player a “cupcake.”

When news broke on the Fourth of July last summer that Durant was leaving OKC for Golden State, the NBA world freaked out. Except for Westbrook. He just posted one Instagram photo that day — a tiered tray of red, white, and blue cupcakes. It was meant as a subtle jab at Durant, but when word got out (via Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated) what it meant, Thunder fans embraced it and had cupcake signs and clothing made for Durant’s return to Oklahoma City.

Durant had the last laugh — he’s got a new hat with a cupcake on it, topped by a ring.

Well played Durant. Well played.

Another report Rockets “aggressively” trying to clear cap space to chase Chris Paul

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Daryl Morey is big game hunting. Again.

The Rockets, with James Harden running Mike D’Antoni’s offense, made a leap up to the NBA’s second tier last season — then landed with a playoff thud. The team should be better the second season in the same system, but to get past the Warriors, the Rockets need more talent.

Hence the Rockets are going to chase Chris Paul. That’s not new news to anyone paying attention, but Chris Haynes laid it out in more detail in on SportsCenter.

The Rockets need talent and Chris Paul is unquestionably that. He and James Harden could figure out how to play together.

The problem is money. Chris Paul is going to demand max or near-max money, so close to $30 million. The Rockets enter the summer with about $10 million. The Rockets need to clear cap space and are ready to deal so long as they don’t take contracts back. Lou Williams will make $7 million next season, so even moving him and Patrick Beverley is not enough to land a Chris Paul or Paul Millsap. Moving Ryan Anderson ($19.6 million) or Eric Gordon ($12.9 million) helps much more.

That Morey is being aggressive isn’t the news, the question is can he find a willing partner to lower some money off his cap and give him a sense of what is to come. CP3 is going to meet with a lot of teams, but the Clippers do have advantages and are the favorites to retain him.

Jimmy Butler trade sets the stage for looming free agency

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(AP) — As draft night approached, some of the heavy hitters in the NBA – Cleveland, San Antonio, Houston, Boston, the Clippers among them – were jockeying, making calls and looking for deals to try to position themselves to make a run at the Golden State juggernaut.

The Warriors’ greatness has forced the rest of the league to do deep self-examination and be aggressive in upgrading their rosters if they’re even going to have a chance to compete. The Celtics and Cavaliers were looking hard at Pacers star Paul George and Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, the Rockets and Spurs were looking at clearing cap space to make a run at some big-name free agents next week and the Knicks were, well, the Knicks.

Draft night always lays the groundwork for what will happen when the circus (officially known as free agency) begins on July 1. And with all of those contenders looking to make a splash, the biggest move was made by … the Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Wolves reunited Tom Thibodeau with Butler, giving up two promising young players in Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn and the No. 7 overall pick to land one of the best two-way players in the game. The move should jumpstart Minnesota’s pursuit of its first playoff spot since 2004 and, the Wolves hope, pave the way for success in free agency.

“I think it will (help) a lot,” Thibodeau said. “With players, they look around the league, they see the makeup of the team, they see how they play, play together. That’s the main thing. Both offensively and defensively.”

The Timberwolves have long had difficulty attracting free agents to a relatively small market that spends four months of the year covered in ice and snow. Landing a top-15 player like Butler to team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins sends a sign of how aggressive the teams could be.

The Bulls plunged head-first into a rebuild with the decision, and now it’s up to the Pacers to decide if they want to do the same.

Much to the dismay of Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, George let it be known last week that he did not plan to re-sign in Indiana when he becomes a free agent next summer. Most of the league assumes that he wants to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, who appear to be in a tug-of-war with the rival Celtics for George’s attention.

“I’m confident we’ll get something,” Pritchard told reporters in Indianapolis on Friday.

One of the big markets affected on Thursday night was at point guard, the deepest position in the league. Philadelphia, the Lakers, Sacramento, New York and Dallas all drafted point guards in the top 10, which could diminish the options for veterans like Jrue Holiday, George Hill, Jeff Teague and Patty Mills.

The elite point guards available – Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry – should have no trouble finding significant contracts. With Tony Parker suffering a serious injury in the playoffs, the Spurs were reportedly trying to clear space to make a run at Paul, who is widely considered the best point guard in the league. Paul has spent the last six seasons with the Los Angeles Clippers, but has yet to advance to the Western Conference finals.

The Clippers are trying to make a decision about retooling around the core of Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, but really it’s a decision that depends largely on Paul’s thinking. He has long struggled to win big in the postseason, and heading to San Antonio to join with Kawhi Leonard or Houston to team up with James Harden could prove to be more attractive.

Lowry figures to remain in Toronto with a Raptors franchise that he has helped put back on the map, but after that there will be few teams in the market for a high-priced starting point guard. Denver, Utah, New York and Indiana could wade into those waters. But if they look at themselves as still being a couple of year away, they might be hesitant to spend big bucks on a veteran.

Other big names available include Gordon Hayward, Paul Millsap and Andre Iguodala. And while some of the very biggest names like Kevin Durant and Steph Curry figure to stay put, it only ramps up the sense of urgency for teams that have big holes to fill.

The clock is ticking and Thursday night provided the first steps toward making big improvements to the roster.

The Timberwolves rocked the boat with Butler, but the waters were calm after that, which should only mean one thing: It’s about to get real choppy when the clock strikes midnight on July 1.

 

Report: Dallas picks up option on Yogi Ferrell for next season. As expected.

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When teams sign a guy out of the D-League, or late second-round picks/undrafted guys as you see this summer, they are often announced as “a three-year deal.” The reality, this is a non-guaranteed contract (or at most a guaranteed contract for a short period of time) with team options for future years.

Why teams do that is guys like Yogi Ferrell.

Dallas snapped him up out of the D-League last season when they needed a point guard, and Ferrell proved to be a solid rotation-level player to bring off the bench. With that Dallas now has the option to bring him back at a good price next season, and they will do just that, reports Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

Sources say the Mavs have informed PG Yogi Ferrell that they are picking up his team option for next season, an easy decision after he proved himself capable of being a rotation player after his promotion from the D-League.

Ferrell will make $1.3 million next season, a steal for a rotation player. Dallas needs that, because the cost of keeping Nerlens Noel could push the Mavericks close to the luxury tax.

If Ferrell keeps playing like he did last season, and his big payday is coming in a couple of years.