Phoenix’s Goran Dragic runs away with Most Improved Player

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There were a lot of different directions voters could go with the Most Improved player award. Blake Griffin raised his game from “freak athlete” to “elite power forward” if you want to go that route. Guys like Gerald Green in Phoenix finally had his game mature and he flourished in Phoenix. There were a whole lot of other options.

But the one thing everyone seemed to agree on is Goran Dragic should be on the list.

The Phoenix point guard ran away with the Most Improved Player award. He easily outdistanced second place Lance Stephenson of Indiana and third place’s Anthony Davis of New Orleans in the voting.

For his career Dragic averaged 9.5 points a game and there were questions about how he would blend with Eric Bledsoe in the backcourt.

The answer was very well — those two were a force together that propelled Phoenix to 48 wins (which left them a game out of the playoffs in the Western Conference, but would have been tied for third best in the East).

Dragic finished the season averaging a career-best 20.3 points per game, plus averaged 5.9 assists and 3.2 rebounds a night.

Dragic becomes the third Suns player to win the award, joining Kevin Johnson (1988-89) and Boris Diaw (2005-06).

While I think you can make a good case for a lot of guys to get votes, there were some interesting choices out there from the 125 media members who voted for the award. LeBron James did improve parts of his game, but was he really the second most improved? Robin Lopez? Sean Livingston might have won this award if it was still the “comeback player of the year” but he’s doing what he’s done for a couple years, just on a bigger stage. Mike Conley has been very good for a couple years.

Here is a voting breakdown. The media member votes are public so if you want to see who voted for whom follow this link.

Player (team) total points (first place votes, if any)

Goran Dragic (Phoenix) 408 (65)
Lance Stephenson (Indiana) 158 (13)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans) 155 (16)
Gerald Green (Phoenix) 117 (16)
DeAndre Jordan (L.A. Clippers) 66 (4)
Kyle Lowry (Toronto) 43 (2)
Blake Griffin (L.A. Clippers) 39 (6)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto) 28 (1)
Patty Mills (San Antonio) 14
Markieff Morris (Phoenix) 13 (1)
Isaiah Thomas (Sacramento) 13
Shaun Livingston (Brooklyn) 11
D.J. Augustin (Chicago) 9 (1)
Reggie Jackson (Oklahoma City) 8
Robin Lopez (Portland) 6
Klay Thompson (Golden Stat2) 6
DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento) 5
Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City) 5 (1)
Al Jefferson (Charlotte) 4
Bradley Beal (Washington) 3
Mike Conley (Memphis) 3
Andre Drummond (Detroit) 3
Taj Gibson (Chicago) 3
LeBron James (Miami) 3
Terrence Jones (Houston) 3
Jodie Meeks (L.A. Lakers) 3
LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland) 1
Alec Burks (Utah) 1
Paul Millsap (Atlanta) 1
Chandler Parsons (Houston) 1
John Wall (Washington) 1

Serge Ibaka is dunking and Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t going to stop him. Twice. (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors had their best half of their first-round series against the Bucks, taking an early lead and, despite a little shooting slump midway through the second they were up nine at the half.

That was all topped off by two emphatic Serge Ibaka dunks. Ones Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t going to stop.

Ibaka dunked around him more than over the Greek Freak, but still.

Stephon Marbury is parting ways with Beijing Ducks after three titles

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Stephon Marbury is big in China — he has his own statue and a play in his honor.

In six seasons he led the Beijing Ducks to three titles, but eventually rebuilding hits every team and it is coming to Beijing. Which means that while Marbury wants to stay in China beyond this season he is essentially a free agent. Here are the details, via shanghaiist.com (this has been confirmed by other sources).

The 40-year-old former NBA All-Star had a contract with Beijing for the next season that included an unusual clause allowing the team to decide if Marbury — known to fans as “Old Ma” — would return as a player or as an assistant coach. Marbury has said that after his playing days are over, he wants to coach in China; however, he still feels he could play for one more year.

But, after missing the playoffs this past season, Beijing is looking to rebuild and didn’t want their aging superstar clogging up a precious foreign player roster spot. The Ducks announced at a press conference on Saturday that after being unable to negotiate a deal, they were going to terminate Marbury’s contract.

Marbury put out a letter to fans on Weibo — a Chinese social media site — that Shanghaiist excerpted.

Second, we did not make the playoffs in the past season, as a player who always want to win and work hard to prepare myself for winning, it’s very hard to accept the way the season ended. Though I am 40 years already, I still work very hard to keep my body right, I can still play at a very high level, I am sure all the fans could tell from last season I’m still capable of playing. I was still able to lead the team to compete, even with an injured leg. I pulled my hamstring at the beginning of the season and I still played and put everything on the court because that’s who I am. I want to play, I love to compete, I [pursue] winning all the time, l love basketball because it’s my life, I still have a lot in the tank that [makes] me really want to play for another year. I want to dedicate this last year of my career in the best way possible on the court for the CBA, then I’ll retire and work as a coach to help the basketball here for the rest of my life.

Marbury had a 13-year NBA career (and was a two-time All-Star) but things got a little messy for him around the end of his career in the Association. Then he found a second life in China. A lot of Western players struggle to adjust to a very different culture and environment in China — not to mention a different style of basketball — so the league has a high drop out of Western players

However, Marbury has thrived. He’s found a second home.

I have to imagine a lot of teams would leap to get a draw like him on their team for a season.

Report: NBA to announce All-NBA Teams early, because of salary cap reasons

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The NBA’s Most Valuable Player award will not be announced until an awards ceremony June 26 on TNT — after the NBA draft, and after the NBA playoffs that will shape the narrative of the award even though voting will have been completed more than two months earlier. Same for Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and on down the line.

But not the All-NBA Teams, those are coming sooner — because teams want it that way.

The easiest example is the Indiana Pacers: If Paul George makes an All-NBA team they can offer him a designated veteran contract worth roughly $80 million more than any other team. However, if he doesn’t make a team the Pacers need to worry about him leaving as a free agent in 2018, and they may try to trade him. The best time for that trade might be around the draft — Indiana may be able to secure a high pick from a team near the top of the draft in a trade. However, if the Pacers didn’t know if George made an All-NBA team by the draft they wouldn’t make that move.

So the NBA is announcing early, a story broken by Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

To allow for its teams to have all the necessary information to make offseason preparations, the NBA will announce its all-NBA teams before its inaugural awards show in late June, according to league sources.

Because of the newly created Designated Player Exception, which relies on players making, among other things, one of the three all-NBA teams to qualify, decisions about whether players — such as Indiana Pacers star Paul George, for example — will be willing to remain with their current team or be open to being traded elsewhere could be based upon whether a player is voted on to one of the teams.

Smart move by the NBA. There are also bonuses and other impacts on salaries based on end of season awards that will alter the salary structure of teams heading into free agency.

Larry Bird delivers Pacers’ 2021 All-Star bid in IndyCar

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NEW YORK — Indiana wants the NBA All-Star Game and sent Larry Bird to get it – in an IndyCar

Bird drove four blocks down Fifth Avenue in his car Monday to deliver the Pacers’ bid to host the 2021 game to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, fitting his 6-foot-9 frame into a car usually driven by much shorter people.

Bird, an Indiana native and now the Pacers president, had driven an IndyCar only once, during his practice for his drive Monday.

Drawing a crowd of a couple hundred spectators, he maneuvered along the left lane, exited his yellow and blue “Larry Bird” car and called it a “little rough ride” because of his big feet and the car’s small pedals.

Silver says the Pacers, who hosted the game in 1985, would be “fantastic hosts.”

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and 2019 is expected to be re-awarded to Charlotte. Houston, Orlando, and a number of other cities are expected to make bids for the 2020 and 2021 games, along with Indiana.