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.

Clippers’ Jerry West: ‘I did not want to leave’ Warriors

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A report emerged last spring that Jerry West was nearing a deal to stay with the Warriors as a consultant. Instead, he took the same job with the Clippers.

West, via Tim Kawakami of The Athletic, via NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Frankly it was very sad, OK? It really was. A place where I thought that if I was going to work another year or if somebody wanted me to work another year, I thought I could contribute; I did not want to leave. I did not want to leave. I was very happy there.

But those things happen sometimes. Obviously to be around a bunch of players that were as together as any I’ve seen and I think more importantly the talent that was on that team and to see the joy. There’s a lot of joy there. I think those are the kind of environments where people really prosper.”

“It was time for me to leave. I’m in Los Angeles again. For me, I’ll have a chance to go in the office a little bit and watch some of the people that have been hired, to watch our coaches coach. I’ve often said I’ve done some crazy things in my life because of the timing and maybe the timing was right.”

The Clippers’ appeal appeared to be their salary offer – reportedly $4 million-$5 million annually. And maybe that factored.

But it sure sounds as if there’s more to the story.

With Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum, Celtics continue ascent – just not as steeply as hoped

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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.

The Celtics landed the No. 1 pick and signed the top free agent to change teams.

Given that, it feels like their offseason should have gone better.

Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward are nice, and I won’t lose sight of that here. But…

Boston traded down from the top pick to No. 3 to draft Tatum. Count me among those who believed there was a significant drop from Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball to the next tier – and the tier after that.

The extra first-rounder the Celtics acquired has also only lost value since the trade.

It’d convey from the Lakers if they pick 2-5 next year. But they added two players, Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, better than they were expected to get. Los Angeles looks less likely to stumble into a top-five pick – especially without incentive to tank.

If not the Lakers’ pick this season, Boston will get the higher of Sacramento’s and Philadelphia’s 2019 first-rounders (or lower if one is No. 1). The Kings signed a couple veterans, George Hill and Zach Randolph, to help them in 2018-19. Sacramento’s young players will be more developed by then, and mirroring the Lakers this year, there’s no incentive to tank. (Philadelphia is also on the rise, but the Celtics probably already knew that.)

There’s still a chance Boston winds up with a high pick – or even wins the trade with a middling additional selection. Tatum, as the Celtics have claimed, might be a better prospect than Fultz outright.

I originally thought the trade was about fair. Developments swing the pendulum away from Boston, though perhaps I’m overly colored by my relatively dim evaluation of Tatum. (I expected the Celtics to draft Josh Jackson when the trade was made.)

Boston’s next big move, signing Hayward, also comes with a major caveat. To get Hayward, the Celtics had to downgrade from Avery Bradley to Marcus Morris.

The reasons are clear: Bradley is earning $8,808,989 in the final season of his contract. Morris is locked up for two more seasons at $5 million and $5,375,000.

Not only was that salary difference essential for clearing max cap space now, Bradley will enter unrestricted free agency with Isaiah Thomas next summer. The raises necessary to re-sign both likely would’ve pushed the Celtics higher into the luxury tax than they’re willing to go. Thomas and Morris should be affordable.

Morris is a fine player, but it looks like he’s caught between better combo forwards (Hayward and Jae Crowder) and higher-upside/younger combo forwards (Jaylen Brown and Tatum). How much will Morris matter in Boston?

Bradley certainly did plenty, defending the better opposing guard so the undersized Thomas didn’t have to. Marcus Smart can handle some of that responsibility, but that cuts into the time he can play in relief of Thomas at point guard and the time he can defend forwards.

Getting Aron Baynes for the room exception was solid. He might even start for the Celtics, eating up minutes against big starting centers. I suspect Al Horford will play center in most pivotal minutes, though.

Signing Baynes was one of Boston’s several respectable moves – drafting Semi Ojeleye in the second round, signing 2016 first-rounders Guerschon Yabusele and Ante Zizic and paying to take a flier on Shane Larkin.

But the real needle-movers were signing Hayward, a 27-year-old versatile star, and adding a highly touted talent in Tatum. Even in the less-flattering greater context, those are huge additions.

Offseason grade: A-

Reports: Lakers, Pacers both confident in tampering case

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The Lakers reportedly expect to be cleared of the tampering allegations brought by the Pacers over Paul George.

As for the Pacers?

Bob Kravitz of WTHR on The Rich Eisen Show

They feel very strongly that there were correspondences between Lakers executives and Paul George’s representative. They had heard those rumors for quite some time. They think there’s some there there.

Wishful thinking by both sides? It sure looks like it.

The Lakers probably tampered, because everybody tampers. But teams are rarely punished for it, so they can also believe they did nothing egregious enough to become an exception.

A paper trail between the Lakers – Magic Johnson or any other executive – and George’s camp would go far. But even that must be more specific. George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, also represents Lakers forward Julius Randle and former Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell. So, he’d have good reason to communicate with the organization.

I don’t know what the NBA will do here. Tampering rules are rarely and arbitrarily enforced. That gives each team plenty of room to believe it’s right.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?