Taco Bell Skills Challenge

All-Stars Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan highlight field for 2014 Skills Challenge

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It seems redundant at this point to list Damian Lillard as part of the lineup for any of All-Star weekends many events, considering he’s participating in all of them. But he, along with DeMar DeRozan are the two 2014 All-Stars who will be taking part in the Skills Challenge event on All-Star Saturday night.

The competition is largely showcasing the league’s younger, up and coming stars. The remaining participants from the east will be Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Michael Carter-Williams of the Philadelphia 76ers and Victor Oladipo of the Orlando Magic.

In the West, we have Trey Burke of the Utah Jazz,  Reggie Jackson of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns.

Dragic is the lone veteran of the crew, but his inclusion is likely to make up for the fact that he’s having an All-Star season, but would need to be named as an injury replacement to actually make the roster.

There’s a slight format change this year, which features four teams of two players each competing in a two-round timed relay-style course consisting of dribbling, passing and shooting stations. But the important thing is that it’s mostly for charity, as detailed in the official release:

“As part of this year’s 2014 Taco Bell® Skills Challenge, four lucky teens will paired with the NBA participants. Through the Taco Bell Foundation for Teens, a total of $120,000 will be donated in support of educational scholarships and to Boys & Girls Clubs of America, with the teen paired with the winning team receiving a $30,000 educational scholarship.”

“For the second consecutive year, the Eastern and Western conferences will compete during State Farm All-Star Saturday Night in an evening of challenges that will raise money for charity.  NBA Cares and State Farm will make a joint donation of $500,000 as part of the event, with $100,000 awarded to each event’s winning conference’s charities and $25,000 going to the charities of the runner-up for each event. The Eastern Conference will be playing for the American Heart Association and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF while the Western Conference will compete for Teach for America and Wounded Warrior Project®. All-Stars Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and George, winner of the 2012-13 Kia NBA Most Improved Player Award, will serve as captains of the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively. The charities were selected by George and Curry, the NBA, and State Farm.”

Lillard won the event in Houston last season.

PBT Podcast: Derek Fisher fired, plus your trade questions from Twitter

Derek Fisher
Associated Press
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Derek Fisher is out as coach of the New York Knicks.

In this latest podcast, NBC Sports’ Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman discuss the odd timing of that move — we expect another shoe to drop as to why. It’s not that Fisher was a great coach, but replacing him with Kurt Rambis mid-season is not an upgrade. And Luke Walton isn’t available until this summer.

After struggling to figure out what the Knicks are thinking, Helin and Feldman answer questions off Twitter from readers/listeners on the coming trade deadline including discussions of Blake Griffin, Jeff Teague, the Pistons, the Jazz, the Knicks, and more.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Warriors’ center Festus Ezeli to have knee surgery, out indefinitely

Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli, left, of Nigeria, looks to pass the ball as Denver Nuggets forward Darrell Arthur defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015, in Denver. Golden State won 118-105. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Festus Ezeli has been a rock-solid backup for the Warriors this season, playing almost 18 minutes a night behind Andrew Bogut giving the team 7.5 points and 5.9 rebounds a contest. Golden State’s defense is 3.6 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, and he’s part of the team’s long-term plans.

But he’s going to be out for a while now following knee surgery, the team announced and as reported by Monte Poole at CSNBayArea.com.

http://www.csnbayarea.com/warriors/festus-ezeli-undergo-knee-surgery

The surgery is exploratory, which is why the Warriors say there is no timeline for recovery yet.

The surgery is on his left knee; it was his right one that had reconstructive surgery and forced him to miss all of two seasons ago.

This is a blow to the Warriors’ depth, but little has slowed their march this season. More Mo Speights is not ideal, but the Warriors can just go small more often and run teams out of the building that way.

Ezeli is a restricted free agent this summer and the Warriors would like to keep him on the roster and expand his role, particularly if they do not retain Andrew Bogut. The severity of this knee injury could impact Ezeli’s ability to earn a big contract this summer, but hopefully for him, it’s not that serious.

Russell Westbrook stands behind Kevin Durant, mimics him during interview (video)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, right, gestures after scoring as forward Kevin Durant stands by during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Thunder won 117-113. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Choose your spin.

This is why Kevin Durant is leaving the Thunder. Russell Westbrook doesn’t respect him.

or

This is why Kevin Durant is re-signing with the Thunder. He and Russell Westbrook have so much fun together.

Report: Magic open to talking Tobias Harris trade, looking to add experience

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) grabs the uniform of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Magic just last summer.

Now, just 50 games later…

Marc Stein of ESPN:

I’m skeptical this is significant. Teams discuss trades for many players for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean the player is likely to be dealt.

Orlando in particular has a roster of players who cause significant debate about their value. It’s helpful to know what other teams think of Harris, and soliciting trade offers is a good method to learn his worth.

It’s more intriguing the Magic are looking to add experience. They should probably go the opposite route, but they’ve tried (and failed) for years to accelerate their rebuild. At 22-28 – four games and three teams from playoff position – now is not the time to seek shortcuts. Spend the rest of the season developing young players – and probably securing a higher draft pick in the process.

One of Harris’ best traits is his youth. He’s just 23. See what other teams would offer for him, sure. But, in all likelihood, it’s better to let him grow into the veteran Orlando needs rather than trading him for one when the rest of the team isn’t ready to win, anyway.

My guess is that’s what Orlando will do. Remember, always consider who has incentive to leak this information anonymously and what they’d be positioned to know.