Kawhi Leonard

Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge withdraw from USA Basketball consideration

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When USA Basketball released its 19-man pool of players that would be contending for a spot to play in the World Championships this summer, a couple of names that were left off the list weren’t done so as a result of a decision made by Jerry Colangelo and Mike Krzyzewski.

Instead, two All-Star caliber players voluntarily withdrew from consideration.

Kawhi Leonard is coming off of winning a Finals MVP and playing deep into June in consecutive seasons, and he cited seeing how fatigued his international teammates were following similar duties as his reason for bowing out at this time.

From Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News:

Watching the struggles teammate Tony Parker experienced during the 2013-14 Spurs season after competing for the French national team in last summer’s Eurobasket tournament, Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard made what he called a very difficult decision to withdraw from competition for a spot on the United States team that will compete in the FIBA World Cup in Spain later this summer.

“I went through those two seasons going down to June 20,” Leonard said. “That’s tough on your body to keep going. I’m just learning from Tony and Manu (Ginobili), just going into that off-season and playing so hard and then coming back and their bodies not feeling the same and then being tired for the regular season. So I’m just learning from them.”

LaMarcus Aldridge also withdrew, but for no similarly good reason other than to rest this summer in preparation for the upcoming season.

From Eric Gundersen of The Columbian:

A source confirms that Aldridge was initially invited to the 19-player pool but withdrew his name. …

“We can only offer an opportunity,” Colangelo said in a conference call Monday morning, “and then they can either accept or not. In Aldridge’s case, this has happened a couple of times previously. But the bottom line is he advised us that he’s not available.”

There’s nothing wrong with Aldridge bowing out, and looking at the pool of players who will be competing, it’s unlikely he would have made it anyway, and would have had to attend a mini-camp later this month had he left himself in the running for a spot on the roster.

Colangelo believes that playing for Team USA is the most important thing in the world, which explains his making a remark that seems to be dripping with disappointment. But it’s clear that some players don’t exactly see things the same way.

Aaron Gordon both legs over the mascot, ball-under-the-legs dunk (VIDEO)

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TORONTO — Zach LaVine won the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest, but in an epic night for my money this was the single best dunk.

Orlando’s Aaron Gordon broke ground with this one — guys have jumped over mascots and other players before (and a Kia hood), but by splitting their legs apart. Gordon just put both legs over Stuff (that’s the mascot’s name, Stuff the Magic Dragon, I don’t make this up) — and took the ball off the mascot’s head, went under his legs, and threw it down.

Insane.

Gordon deserved a trophy for his performance in this dunk contest.

Zach LaVine edges Aaron Gordon in epic, insane Dunk Contest

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TORONTO — That. Was. Amazing.

In a dunk contest that will go down with the all-time greats — Jordan vs. Dominique, Dr. J from the free throw line — Minnesota’s Zach LaVine defended his dunk contest title. Barely. Because Orlando’s Aaron Gordon was doing dunks nobody had ever seen before.

And LaVine was bringing it just as hard.

The two men advanced to the finals — dismissing Will Barton and Andre Drummond, each of whom had good dunks — and that was when it got wild.

There were four second-round dunks, and four perfect scores of 50. (That was in spite of Shaq, who wanted to give nines for second attempts.)

“I was prepared for four (second round dunks),” LaVine said. “To tell the truth, he came with something that no one else has done. He did two dunks that were just crazy with the mascots, jumping over them. We just kept pushing each other until the last dunk. I’ve got to give it up to my boy Will “The Thrill” Barton. It’s because of him I think I won. Because he said try to go from the free-throw line. I’d never done that before, and I just tried it. So I guess it was a great dunk. I think it was the best one ever.”

The Air Canada Centre crowd was exploding with every dunk. The two men went to a dunk-off — and got two more 50s.

“If I knew it was going to be like that, I would have prepared better and we would have been here dunking all night, going back 50 after 50 after 50 after 50,” Gordon said. “We would have been here all night. I didn’t know it was going to be like that. I was just hoping Zach was going to miss, and it wasn’t going to happen. You could see as my facial expressions when Zach dunks it, it’s like okay, that’s a 50. Like I know we’re going to have to dunk again.”

So they went to a second-round of overtime, where LaVine put up another 50 and won the contest.

Gordon was close to perfect.

Zach LaVine can flat-out fly.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon with the over-the-mascot mad dunk

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TORONTO — Aaron Gordon was giving Zach LaVine all he could handle in the Dunk Contest.

He blew the lid off the Air Canada Centre with this dunk in the first round — and it wasn’t even his best dunk of the night. Never seen this before.

This dunk contest was awesome, so much more video to come.

Zach LaVine opens Slam Dunk Contest title defense with spectacular behind-the-back slam (VIDEO)

during the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 12, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
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TORONTO — Zach LaVine clearly heard all the talk that Aaron Gordon or Will Barton had a chance to upset him in the Slam Dunk Contest. He came out ready to prove his superiority right off the bat. This behind-the-back slam was his first attempt of the night:

Even better was the reaction, both from Andre Drummond and from LaVine’s Minnesota teammates: