The Extra Pass: Handicapping the All-Star Saturday events

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A week from now the eyes of the basketball world will be on New Orleans for the NBA’s Damian Lillardapalooza. … er, I mean the NBA’s All-Star weekend.

While Sunday’s All-Star Game is the big show, I’ve always found Saturday night’s series of skill contests more fun than the no-D exhibition that is the All-Star Game itself. So, in the spirit of gambling (I guess), let’s take a stab at handicapping the three big events of All-Star Saturday night.

SLAM DUNK CONTEST

All predictions here must come with this caveat — they have changed the format this season to start with a freestyle round where everyone is dunking, then a series of head-to-head dunk “battles” to decide if the East or West wins. I have no idea how this will change the feel of the event and how the format will effect who wins it. That said, I’ll make a prediction anyway on who wins the “Dunker of the Night” as voted by the fans.

Favorite: Paul George, Indiana Pacers. There are three factors in his favor. First and foremost, the fans vote on the award and George is a popular budding superstar. This is a popularity contest to a degree. Second, he has done this before. George has been in the dunk contest and that matters because there is a distinct difference between an in-game dunk and an exhibition dunk and having done this before he should get it. Third, and most importantly, he can really throw it down.

Others at the front of the pack: Terrence Ross and John Wall. Ross won the Dunk Contest last year and did it without props — he knows how to win and we know he can throw down. Wall has the perfect combination of athleticism and showmanship to win the Dunk Contest, plus he is a name known by fans.

Dark Horse: Ben McLemore of the Kings. He was supposed to be the best shooter in the last draft but he has real hops and has shown some impressive dunks this year.

SKILLS CHALLENGE

Favorite: This is the hardest event to predict, but I’ll take Goran Dragic of the Phoenix Suns — he’s quick, he’s precise, and he grew up in a European system where they practiced the fundamentals more than most AAU coaches do stateside. Besides, the Suns deserve some recognition.

Others at the front of the pack: Watch out for the two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Trey Burke. This is the kind of event that traditionally goes to skilled guys who are quick with the ball, your Tony Parkers of the world, and these two guys are both quick and skilled.

Dark Horse: Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Bucks… okay, I’m not sure he has a real shot at this, but I just want the Greek Freak to win.

THREE POINT CONTEST

Favorite: It’s got to be Stephen Curry. There are guys who have higher in-game shooting percentages but this is a contest about finding a groove and hitting big shots under pressure and nobody in the game right now does that better than Curry.

Others at the front of the pack: Really any of the guys in this group could get in a rhythm and win, but keep an eye on Marco Belinelli — he is knocking down 44.3 percent of his looks from beyond the arc this season, the highest percentage of anyone in the competition. Also don’t sleep on Kevin Love, who won this same competition two years ago and we know he can find a rhythm and win.

Dark Horse: I would say Kyle Korver, but somehow he isn’t there participating. I would say Klay Thompson, but somehow he isn’t there participating. You sense a theme here?

SATURDAY NIGHT’S BIGGEST WINNER

Kendrick Lamar.

He’s performing before the Slam Dunk Contest and he’s the only thing I know I’ll love all night.

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Nets 103, Spurs 89: The Spurs were without their big four (no Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili or Kawhi Leonard) yet they led in the first half by as many as 12 because they are the Spurs and they run their system. But eventually talent wins out in the NBA and Brooklyn just had more of it — although Alan Anderson may not be the first name you think of in Brooklyn he had the hot hand and had 22 points on the night as the Nets pulled away in the second half for the win.

Warriors 102, Bulls 87: Out of the gate Golden State just was not ready for the hard charging, aggressive style of Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls — they only know how to play one way. But again, as in the Nets game, at some point talent wins out and Golden State has guys who can create on offense that the Bulls just do not — Stephen Curry had 36 points on the night as the Warriors came back to get the win. But it was closer and harder fought than the score indicates (the Warriors closed on an 11-2 run).

Report: Kyrie Irving considered requesting a trade after Cavaliers’ championship season

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Kyrie Irving reportedly made his desire to leave the Cavaliers known during his first few years in Cleveland. Then, LeBron James returned and that talk quieted – for a while. This offseason, Irving renewed his trade request, reportedly before the draft then again to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert last week.

But this has apparently been percolating throughout Irving’s time in Cleveland – even at the Cavaliers’ peak.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

When Irving signed his deal, he expected to be the franchise player for the foreseeable future. But about two weeks later, James arrived from Miami. The sudden change of situation rocked Irving, and he has vacillated at times over the past three years about working as a secondary star to James and the original plan of having his own team.

He discussed the challenge during last month’s NBA Finals.

“Having just a tremendously great player like that come to your team, and you see yourself being one of those great players eventually, and then he ends up joining it, and then now you have to almost take a step back and observe,” Irving said. “Finding that balance is one of the toughest things to do because you have so much belief and confidence in yourself. … Selfishly, I always wanted to just show everyone in the whole entire world exactly who I was every single time.”

With this in mind, Irving considered requesting a trade after the Cavs’ championship last year but decided against it, sources said.

Irving is catching a lot of heat for wanting to ditch LeBron and the consensus second-best team in the NBA. Imagine if Irving requested a trade immediately after a title!

This is yet another example of winning curing all ills. Irving clearly sees playing a supporting role as suboptimal, but he was willing to do it when Cleveland was winning a championship. Now that the Cavs title chances have slipped (hello, Kevin Durant-boosted Warriors) – even just to second-best in the entire league – Irving has prioritized his exit.

We’ll see how this affects Irving’s image. That’s important for such a prominent endorser. But it’s safe to say a trade request last summer would have gone over far worse with the public.

Report: Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns recruiting Kyrie Irving to Minnesota

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When Draymond Green and other members of the Warriors spent time recruiting Kevin Durant to come to Golden State it made sense — he was about to be a free agent who could make his own choices. Watching players such as C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard recruit Carmelo Anthony to Portland makes sense — ‘Melo has a no-trade clause so he needs to waive it to go anywhere, so recruiting makes sense.

This one makes less sense, but it is happening — Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns are recruiting Kyrie Irving to come play in Minnesota. Brian Windhorst of ESPN has the reporting.

League sources told ESPN that both Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns have been doing their part to recruit Irving on the idea of playing alongside them in Minnesota, and they’ve made it known to Wolves management that they want to add the Cavs star to the mix. Butler and Irving became tight in their time playing for USA Basketball together. Towns’ father, Karl Towns Sr., and Irving’s father, Drederick Irving, are connected through the basketball scene in northern New Jersey, where they both reside.

This could happen, but just about anything could happen the door is wide open with Irving to a lot of teams. That said, here are my two thoughts.

First, recruiting Irving is nice, but he has zero say in where he gets traded. Irving does not have a no-trade clause, he is not a free agent, he has two years left on his deal and the Cavaliers will/should send him to the team that gives them the best return. What Irving wants is irrelevant (although teams trying to get and keep him may take it into consideration).

Second, Minnesota could put together an interesting package, but there would be hurdles. It would likely involve one or both of Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague. Wiggins can be extended this summer, but that salary would not count toward the salary in this trade so someone such as Cole Aldrich would need to be thrown in (and it would take more than that, there would need to be picks). More likely, it would take Jeff Teague and his $19 million salary to get a deal done — except the Timberwolves signed him this summer so Teague cannot be traded until Dec. 15.

If the Cavaliers can’t find a deal they like this summer, they can step back and look at their options, then decide to wait out the market and bring Irving back to start the season. At that point, a deal with the Timberwolves makes more sense.

In the short term, Butler and KAT can recruit all they want.

Report: Kyrie Irving initially requested trade before draft – to Bulls

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Kyrie Irving reportedly asked Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert last week for a trade.

But that apparently wasn’t the first time Irving approached Cleveland about a trade this offseason.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Another league source said that Irving made his initial trade request before last month’s Draft, in hopes of being traded to Chicago and playing with All-Star swingman Jimmy Butler.

That’s around the time Irving reportedly told former Team USA teammates – who include Butler – that he might be interested in a trade and was keen on the Bulls. It seemed that was in preparation for LeBron James leaving in 2018, but Irving’s timeline might have been accelerated.

Irving and Butler are close, but the Cavs went the other way with that information – trying to line up a trade for Butler. Cleveland obviously didn’t pull of a deal, as Chicago dealt Butler to the Timberwolves.

Beyond Butler, the Bulls lacked the assets to trade for Irving. Yes, LeBron and Dwyane Wade are friends. No, Wade’s value is not anywhere remotely near Irving’s. And remember, without a no-trade clause and contracted for two more years before a player option, Irving has minimal leverage to pick his destination.

This report also negates the idea that Irving hurt the Cavaliers and his own likelihood of getting dealt by not requesting a trade before players like Chris Paul and Paul George were settled. Maybe Irving could have been more insistent earlier, but he at least gave a full offseason of notice that he was ready to move on.

AP source: Justin Zanik, David Morway join Jazz front office

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A person with knowledge of the situation says the Utah Jazz have reached agreements with Justin Zanik and David Morway to join the front office.

Zanik returns to the Jazz after serving as assistant general manager from 2012-16, the person told The Associated Press on Friday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the decisions had not been formally announced.

Zanik, a former agent, had been hired as assistant general manager with the Milwaukee Bucks and was expected to succeed general manager John Hammond one day. Hammond was named GM of Orlando Magic in May and the Bucks eventually hired Jon Horst.

Morway was the Pacers’ GM from 2008-12 and Bucks assistant GM from 2013-15. He spent 13 years in the Indiana front office, starting as vice president of basketball administration.

ESPN first reported the agreements.