John Wall, Paul George lead East to 2014 Slam Dunk Contest title

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NEW ORLEANS — John Wall’s final dunk of the night won the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest for the team representing the Eastern Conference, but the drastic format changes to the event, and not any of its dunks, are what will be remembered most from this year’s All-Star Saturday showcase.

“I think it was cool,” Wall said of the new format. “It was fun. Brought some excitement to it in the first round. And basically the second round you go toe to toe with the guy from the West, and you got to have a great opportunity to beat those guys.”

Judging by the fan responses coming in live over social media channels, he was a member of a very small minority.

The event began with a 90-second freestyle round, where each team took turns throwing down dunks with all three of its respective members on the court at the same time. This resulted in a lot of teamwork, and one of the better dunks of the night — Terrence Ross drove and threw it off the backboard, Wall caught it and passed it off the shot clock, and Paul George finished with a thunderous one-handed flush.

The West struggled in the freestyle round, missing too many attempts overall. But Lillard saved it with an athletic attempt that saw him catch the ball off the bounce, before putting it through his legs in the air and then throwing it down.

After that it was onto the Battle Round, which featured a player from each team going head-to-head in competition. The winer of each round was voted upon by judges Dominique Wilkins, Magic Johnson and Julius Erving, though there was little drama because there was a decisive victor in every single round. The team to win three rounds would be declared the contest’s winner, and the East was able to sweep it.

The first battle featured Lillard against Ross, and while Lillard’s pass to himself and finish with a one-handed, 360-slam was impressive, Ross brought more creativity with him to his performance — along with a fellow Canadian, rapper Drake, as a prop.

Drake held the ball in an outstretched arm, and Ross ran up, grabbed it and put it through his legs before finishing a one-handed slam.

Neither was amazing, but Ross got the 2-1 nod from the judges.

The second battle matched up Harrison Barnes against George, and this one was really no contest. Barnes put a device of some kind in his pocket before taking a few attempts to complete an extremely modest dunk by Dunk Contest standards.

We saw once it was over that the device somehow was meant to capture Barnes’ motion, and we then were shown an NBA2K video game version of the dunk that he had just finished. The lack of creativity of the actual dunk, along with the forced product placement were an underwhelming combination.

George took advantage, and considering he was one of the more athletic dunkers in the event, his entry appeared effortless by comparison. It took him a few tries, but George completed a between-the-legs, 360-dunk that most felt was the best of the night. All three judges voted for George, so all that was left was for Wall to finish things off.

With the assistance of the Wizards’ mascot G-Man who began holding the ball, Wall leapt over him, taking the ball and bringing it down below his knees before finishing with the two-handed reverse slam. That was far better than a nonsensical routine performed by Ben McLemore before him, who had Shaquille O’Neal sit in an elaborate throne that was placed in the paint before jumping over him for his turn at a slam.

Another easy 3-0 decision for the judges, and the contest was over.

It was a bit anti-climactic, and the format was initially confusing to fans, before most decided along the way that it wasn’t a change for the good. Seeing a team awarded the event’s trophy messes with the iconic history of the signature All-Star Saturday event, too, where we’re used to seeing one dunker crowned as the Slam Dunk champion.

But Wall didn’t seem to mind so much when all was said and done. He was voted as the Dunker of the Night by the fans (even though George’s body of work seemed more deserving), and discussed how he came up with his final, contest-winning attempt.

“Somebody sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter and said 27 dunks that haven’t been done in the NBA dunk contest,” Wall said. “And the first one was that one, and it seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy.”

Wall then detailed just how meaningful it all was to him personally.

“It’s a humbling experience for me, a great opportunity,” Wall said. “I wouldn’t be here without my coaches, my teammates and my fans in the city of DC supporting me for my first three years. So I did it for all those guys and did it for my mom that’s in the hospital sick right now, so it was a big moment for me.”

Thunder’s offseason moves start here: Offer Russell Westbrook $220 million contract

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The narrative of Oklahoma City’s first-round playoff loss to Houston — and frankly its entire season — was about how little help Russell Westbrook was given. Game 5 was the perfect example: The Thunder were +12 when Westbrook was on the court, but he rested for 6:07 and OKC was -18 in those minutes. The Thunder’s role players are young and many — for example, Enes Kanter — are very one dimensional, but that’s because their role was supposed to be much more narrow and defined. Then Kevin Durant left and players were asked to do things outside their comfort zones, or grow up fast, and it didn’t go that well.

Thunder GM Sam Presti has some work to do this summer to tweak that roster, make it more versatile, and design it to fit better around Westbrook (not to mention take some of the load off him).

But the first thing Presti has to do is keep Westbrook — and that means offering him a five-year, roughly $220 million extension. Royce Young if ESPN has the details on how that works.

After signing an extension last summer in the wake of Durant’s departure, Westbrook can sign another in the ballpark of $220 million over five years this summer. Westbrook is signed through the 2017-18 season, with a player option on the following year, but the Thunder would obviously like to have a longer commitment from their franchise player.

The expectation is that they will make the offer, but should Westbrook decline, all that talk of stabilizing the franchise would get a little more wobbly, and with only a year guaranteed, talk of trading him could spark again. It will certainly be alarming for the front office, especially after what it went through with Durant.

It’s hard to imagine Westbrook walking away from that money — it’s about $75 million more guaranteed and one more year than any other team can offer. That’s a lot of cash to leave on the table, I don’t care how much you make in endorsements. (If Westbrook left, signed a max deal elsewhere for four years, then signed a max deal for that fifth year later, he still would get roughly $35 million less than signing with the Thunder now.) Once Westbrook is locked into place, Presti can start looking to reshape the Thunder roster.

But if Westbrook pauses and doesn’t sign, the NBA rumor mill will be moving at the speed of Westbrook in transition. The Thunder wouldn’t want to lose Durant and Westbrook for nothing, it would set their rebuilding process way back, so Presti would have to consider trades. However, because Westbrook is a free agent in 2018, he would almost have a no-trade clause — no team is going to give up much to get him without an under-the-table understanding he would re-sign in that city.

Expect Westbrook to agree to the extension in OKC. Because he likes the team — remember, he signed that extension last summer (which got him a healthy pay raise) — and because it would make him the highest-paid player in the NBA, and that would feed his ego (and pocketbook).

Once he does, Presti’s real work begins.

After tough loss, Chris Paul wasn’t having any of reporter’s inane question

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LOS ANGELES — The Clippers are feeling a lot of pressure these playoffs, and they have suffered a couple tough losses at home now. That can lead to some interesting postgame press conferences, something we’ve already seen this series from Doc Rivers.

Tuesday it was Chris Paul‘s turn.

The Clippers had just dropped Game 5 at home and are staring a 3-2 deficit series deficit in the face, and they have to win those two games without the injured Blake Griffin. That’s when this exchange happened.

I was in the room with this happened. Yes, there were a lot of eye rolls when the question was asked.

This was not a rookie reporter, it was a guy who gets sound for local radio stations and has been a regular at Staples Center games for years. He knew what he wanted, a fairly standard quote about how the Clippers just need to take it one game at a time but they are confident they will be back, that they can still win the series. We have all heard it before, the kind of generic crap that is all over columns about the game and talk radio. The reporter served up the softball and, frankly, most nights savvy players just give the reporter the quote they want and move on.

Tuesday Paul was having none of it. Which led to a pretty amusing exchange, especially with the follow up that was not going anywhere.

That said, I do not know one reporter worth his or her salt who has not asked a question they regret, and been called out for it. Sometimes we get called out for good questions we do not regret. It is part of the gig.

Rajon Rondo says he will not play in Game 5, doesn’t sound optimistic about quick return

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He tried. Rajon Rondo has seen the Chicago Bulls struggle the last two games without him as a strong defender and stabilizing influence at point guard — something nobody thought Rondo would be mid-season — and he wanted to get back on the court for Game 5 against the Celtics. He took some steps toward getting ready to play.

But it’s not happening, Rondo said at shootaround Wednesday. From Vincent Goodwill of CSNChicago.com and K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

And it’s not just the fractured thumb.

If the Bulls are going to win this series, they are going to have to do it without Rondo.

Isaiah Canaan will get the start in Game 5, and he will set a lot of screens in a 1/3 pick-and-roll to try and get Isaiah Thomas switched on to Jimmy Butler. Canaan can do that. He had fallen way out of the rotation and is really a two-guard not a point, but with the terrible play of Jerian Grant and Michael Carter-Williams, coach Fred Hoiberg took a gamble. It worked, at least for one game. Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played well on both ends of the court. But Canaan was buried on the bench for a reason, he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. The Celtics will be prepared for him in Game 5.

Hoiberg’s best option is to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most, with three wings who can handle the ball in Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, and probably Denzel Valentine. That could be a challenging defensive lineup and Boston will try to get the lightning quick Isaiah Thomas switched onto Wade or Valentine (neither of which can guard him). Also, this lineup would be draining and put a big load on Butler, but he could handle it for critical stretches of the game.

Cleveland OKs last chunk of financing to upgrade Cavs’ arena

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Cleveland officials have committed the final chunk of financing for $140 million in upgrades planned at the Cavaliers’ home arena.

The makeover of Quicken Loans Arena would include more space for dining and gathering.

The cost of renovations to the concert and sports venue is being split by the city, the team, Cuyahoga County, and a convention and visitors bureau. The final total is expected to be roughly double the initial $140 million price tag, mostly because of interest over the next two decades.

Cleveland’s share is an estimated $88 million over 11 years, starting in 2024. Mayor Frank Jackson signed off on that Tuesday.

The county already approved the deal and agreed to sell bonds for the project.

The team committed to extend its lease at the arena to 2034. It is expected the team will make a bid to host the NBA All-Star game once renovations are complete.