PRO BASKETBALL TALKPBT Select Team

Thursday And-1 links: LeBron took his kids to Browns practices to see Johnny Manziel

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Here is our regular look around the NBA — links to stories worth reading and notes to check out (stuff that did not get its own post here at PBT) — done in bullet point form. Because bloggers love bullet points more than TMZ loves Jay Z/Beyonce marital trouble….

• The only thing anywhere near as hot as LeBron James in Cleveland is Johnny Manziel. And the future savior of the Browns (*cough*) is still a distant second. But the stars almost collided on Thursday when LeBron took his boys to see the Browns practice as they get ready for their first preseason game this weekend. LeBron talked with Browns coach Mike Pettine as well as with Manziel (who is represented by LeBron’s marketing firm).

“He just asked how camp was going,” Pettine said. “You could tell that he’s into it and loves football, a big Browns fan. He said he’ll be at the games when it’s warm and when it’s cold he’ll be watching in his basement.”

There are some things Miami can always offer that Cleveland can’t, not needing to bundle up for a game is one of them.

• LeBron’s old running mates in Miami, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade now have something else in common — their own lines of ties.

• Sixers GM Sam Hinkie is still trying to find a way into and to get some value out of the Kevin Love trade, and he’s ticked that the Thaddeus Young rumors leaked.

• Dirk Nowitzki the movie? Fortunately it’s a documentary about the star, which is set to debut in Germany in September.

• Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins — of course it’s him — with the best big of writing anywhere on Paul George and his injury.

Power ranking the best/worst uniforms in the NBA over at CSNWashington.com.

• After watching the Spurs knock them out of the playoffs, Thunder coach Scott Brooks wants his team to increase its assists and move the ball better next season. I bet 2/3 of the coaches in the league say that, and I doubt many have any success. We’ll see if Brooks is the exception.

• One league executive told the Philadelphia Daily News that the Sixers have a “negative effect on the integrity of the NBA.”

• Brook Lopez says he is fully cleared for basketball activities. Which should make the good people of Brooklyn happy. Well, relatively.

• One final bit out of my time with Team USA in Las Vegas, it is Mike Krzyzewski talking about Kyrie Irving: “He’s not been accustomed to playing with guys who are rim runners, and with the shooters. In some respects you create a little tunnel vision of him as a scorer, in this camp he reacquaints himself with lobs, with drive-and-kick, with things he hasn’t been asked to do as much in the past couple years.”

• Kemba Walker is pumped to have someone else who can create their own offense off the bounce in Charlotte. As he should be.

• Michael Beasley went to Los Angeles for some workouts in front of teams last week. While there he rented a car — a Porsche none the less — but he didn’t bother to return it so the rental company had to come and tow it away. And you wonder why teams are lining up to take his talent.

• RIP to Dale Schlueter, an original member of the Portland Trail Blazers from their inaugural season (1970-71), who died of cancer last week at the age of 68.

• Watch the Bucks’ John Henson eat his way through the Wisconsin State Fair. For the record, this is not exactly doctor recommended healthy eating.

• Much to the joy of the Orlando brass, Maurice Harkless will not play for Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Cup this summer.

• Hawks’ second round pick Edy Tavares is expected to play next season in Spain.

• Byron Mullens will play in China next season.

• Finally, Minnesota’s Zach LaVine with the selfie dunk video.

Phil Jackson’s reaction to Kristaps Porzingis getting turned upside down feels about right

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New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.

That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.

Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.

Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.

Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.

Jimmy Butler won’t pick LeBron over Durant as toughest matchup in NBA, and for good reason

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.

He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.

Via Twitter:

The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.

Smart move, Jimmy.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

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