NBA denies it asked Raptors to remove Drake to avoid fine

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We’re talking about $25,000 here. To you and me, that’s a lot of money. To an NBA team, that’s nothing. A slap on the wrist. At best.

So the idea that the Raptors would have dropped Drake as their “Global Ambassador” after they threw a big press conference to promote him last year, all over $25,000, was crazy. Drake is tied to the team as they try to rebrand it, his popularity and being a Toronto native make him a great fit as spokesman for the team.

The idea the Raptors would drop him is crazy that the league didn’t even ask, according to league spokesman Tim Frank, speaking to the National Post.

“As the Raptors’ global ambassador, Drake must follow our anti-tampering rules,” Tim Frank, the league’s senior vice-president of basketball communications, said in an email to The Canadian Press on Wednesday. “At no point did we suggest his title be removed but we were clear that as long as he acted as a representative of the team, he is subject to the league’s rules.”

When you go back to the original story where this rumor started, the tone of it is to make the Raptors as the poor, picked on victims of a secretive NBA agenda. Frankly, it was kind of sad. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if the writer (or sources trying to sell this same sad story) would exaggerate what the league actually told Toronto.

The NBA likes having big name celebrities like Drake associated with it. The agenda would be to get his face in front of more people talking about the league, not less.

Was the fine silly? Sure. But I don’t have the space here right now to list all the silly fines the NBA hands out because someone violated the letter of its laws. And this did violate the letter of the league’s bylaws. And the Raptors are probably good with that, part of the reason to have Drake on the masthead is to recruit players. Just not directly in public.

The fact is the NBA is fond of Tim Leiweke, the president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment and the guy who helped bring in Drake to the Raptor family. Leiweke is a guy who dreams big and pushes the big picture. He was part of getting Los Angeles’ Staples Center (and the very successful LA Live center around it so many other teams want to mimic) built. He came closer to bringing the NFL back to Los Angeles than anyone.

Heck, the NBA gave him and Toronto an All-Star Game. There is love there.

More than that Raptors fans, you have a good team, an improving team that could be top four in the East and make it past the first round of the playoffs. A team that plays hard and is entertaining. Savor that, enjoy it. Don’t get sucked into a “woe is us” mentality. You’re better than that.

Marcus Smart returns, helps Celtics win Game 5 over Bucks

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Marcus Smart returned to the Boston Celtics after suffering a thumb injury earlier in the year, and boy was it just in time.

The Celtics guard came off the bench, doing what he does best: attacking opposing guards, grabbing rebounds, and making hustle plays for his squad. Smart thoroughly annoyed the Milwaukee Bucks, and as Giannis Antetokounmpo failed to make a push in the second half (and as Khris Middleton‘s shooting slowly deteriorated) it was Boston who came out with a win in Game 5, 92-87.

Milwaukee’s offense failed to show up early. According to NBA TV, it was the second-lowest halftime total for the Bucks this season, and the away team scored just 37 points at the break. Milwaukee struggled mightily as a team, shooting just 21 percent from 3-point range. Despite the issues, both Antetokounmpo and Middleton had 11 points by half.

Boston’s attack was balanced, with nine players scoring in the first half but none reaching double figures. Smart was effective off the bench, playing 12 minutes in the first half. Smart’s presence was felt elsewhere on the floor as well; in those minutes he racked up two blocks, two rebounds, and two assists.

The Celtics stalled to start the third quarter, at times going several minutes between baskets. The intensity level was still high, particularly during one tussle with 9:33 left in the third. Eric Bledsoe and Terry Rozier got into a bumping match on the baseline away from the ball, resulting in one player getting pushed into an official. Bledsoe earned a Flagrant 1 for his efforts, and Rozier was assessed a technical.

Milwaukee began to battle back on surprising baskets by Shabazz Muhammad. The former Minnesota Timberwolves wing dropped two 3-pointers to help the Bucks make a run at the Celtics all the way into the fourth quarter.

The critical play of the game came with 80 seconds left. With the shot clock winding down, Al Horford was allowed by officials to shoot a long jumper. The refereeing crew didn’t blow the whistle, and Boston took a second possession after a backtip.

Then, with 28 seconds left as the Bucks were trying to steal or foul the Celtics, came the play Boston fans had been waiting for from Smart. At first it appeared Milwaukee had shot at a turnover as they hustled Smart to the floor on a trap. Thinking quickly, Smart leapt on the lost ball, flipped over, and sent a pass to a wide open Horford for the basket, all but sealing the game.

Milwaukee tried to play the foul game in the final minute or so, but weren’t able to come up with a win. Antetokounmpo finished with just 16 points and Middleton with 23. Horford led the Celtics with 22 points, 14 rebounds, and three assists.

Boston now leads the series, 3-2, as they head back to Milwaukee for Game 6 on Thursday.

Meek Mill gets out of jail, takes helicopter to 76ers-Heat, rings bell pregame

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Philadelphia 76ers big man Joel Embiid had been one of the most notable NBA players leading the charge for the #FreeMeekMill movement. The rapper Meek Mill, a Philadelphia native and Sixers fan, has been incarcerated for violating the terms of his probation multiple times.

At the heart of the movement to free Meek Mill is the idea of comparative justice, that he has been unfairly targeted because of his race as an absorber of punishment from the penal system despite it being a decade since he committed his crime. People from Embiid to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft have made their voices heard on the subject.

Today, Meek Mill was released from prison and was sent a special gift: the opportunity to fly via helicopter, provided by 76ers minority owner Michael Rubin, to Game 5 between the Sixers and Miami Heat.

When he arrived at the game, the rapper rung the ceremonial bell before tip-off.

Not a couple of hours fresh out of the joint.

Russell Westbrook fined $10,000 for confrontation with Gobert, no suspension

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The rule in the NBA is clear and strictly enforced (just ask Amar’e Stoudemire and the Suns): Leave the bench during an altercation and you get suspended for a game.

Monday night, in the fourth quarter of the chippy game Monday where the Jazz beat the Thunder, Russell Westbrook was set to check into the game when there was a little dust-up between Rudy Gobert in Raymond Felton, and Westbrook came in and escalated it. Did he leave the bench, or was he coming into the game and that’s different.

The NBA decided he was coming into the game already — Westbrook got a $10,000 fine and an after-the-fact technical, but no suspension.

OKC needs Westbrook — and an aggressive Westbrook who is knocking down his midrange shot — to have a chance to avoid elimination in Game 5 Wednesday. The Thunder have had their strengths turned against them, and have not shown the versatility to adjust in this series, and if Westbrook and company cannot change that Wednesday their season will end.

Nets hire Pablo Prigioni as assistant coach, Tiago Splitter as scout

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NEW YORK (AP) — The Brooklyn Nets have hired former NBA player and Argentine guard Pablo Prigioni as an assistant coach.

The Nets also announced Tuesday that former Spurs center Tiago Splitter was hired as a pro scout.

Prigioni spent most of his professional career in Spain and won a bronze medal with Argentina in the 2008 Olympics before coming to the New York Knicks in 2012 as a 35-year-old rookie. He spent four years in the NBA with the Knicks, Rockets and Clippers.

Splitter helped San Antonio win the 2014 NBA championship before spending the final two seasons of his seven-year career with Atlanta and Philadelphia. The Nets said Splitter, who also played for Brazil’s national team, will have added duties related to player on-court development.