Justise Winslow’s winning paradox

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NEW YORK – The feeling of success has followed Justise Winslow everywhere he’s been on his road to the NBA. In his freshman season at St. John’s he led the high school to their first Texas state championship since 1979 and then added two more championships to the school’s trophy case before heading to Duke.

In his only season in Durham, Winslow tasted the sweet flavor of championship glory as he helped guide Coach K and the Blue Devils to their fifth championship in school history, but when a player shows the flashes Winslow has shown throughout his life on the AAU circuit through college, a paradox is created when the player decides to head to the NBA.

When a high school kid displays a certain level of excellence, elite college programs will send letters and swag to try and acquire their services. When the kid continues to display a similar level of success at the college level, it’s time to try your luck in the NBA, but the Spurs, Warriors, and Clippers aren’t sending letters or cute little stuffed mascots in order to swing a player’s choice regarding a place to continue their career. It’s the bottom feeders in the NBA food chain that are chomping at the bit to obtain a player that can help them climb back up to the top.

The process puts someone like Winslow in a somewhat awkward spot, because if he ends up landing anywhere in his current draft projection (anywhere between the Knicks at four and the Heat at 10) he’s going to head to a team that has and will likely continue feeling a sensation that Winslow has avoided for most of his basketball life.

Losing.

“Yeah it’s not a concern, but it’s just something that you have to understand. It’s a process. I won a lot,” Winslow said during the pre-draft interviews. ”For me to be able to deal with losing it’s something that I’m going to have to understand. Part of the maturing process is being able to take those losses and get better from them.”

When you watch film of Winslow, it’s easy to understand how he’s put himself in this position. He has the potential to become an elite defender along the lines of Jimmy Butler and Kawhi Leonard. His 6’ 6”, 222 lb frame gives him the ability to switch off of a guard onto a big in a pick-and-roll, a key in this era of the NBA and his 6’ 10.25” wingspan helps him contest shots at the rim just in case a guard does get by him.

So what is it about his defense that makes him so tantalizing on that end of the floor? “I think my ability to use my hands and use my lower body to stay in front of guys,” Winslow told NBCSports’ ProBasketballTalk. “I’m just too physical and athletic that I just wear guys down by the end of the game.”

His offensive game has drawn comparisons to James Harden and when you watch him drive to the hoop or pull up from deep it’s hard to not see a younger, less hairy version of Harden. Winslow and Harden were almost identical in their freshman seasons in terms of threes attempted and made (Harden made 44 out of 108 and Winslow made 46 out of 110). Harden did get to the line much more than Winslow did during their freshman campaigns (270 compared to 156).

Winslow has received some criticism regarding the mechanics of his shot, specifically the trajectory of his shot, but it’s not something Winslow is concerned about, “I haven’t changed any mechanics,” Winslow told ProBasketballTalk. “I’ve just been putting up more reps and building up muscle memory.”

When you’re being compared to Harden on offense and Leonard/Butler on defense, your future is pretty bright to say the least. Justise Winslow just has to make sure the darkness of losing doesn’t gobble up the light of glory that has guided him to this spot.

Twitter – @ScottDargis

Rumor: Jeff Hornacek shoved Joakim Noah during confrontation

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The saga between the New York Knicks and Joakim Noah has been ongoing for sometime, with the latest story being that there was some kind of verbal altercation between the former All-Star big man and head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Noah has not played for the team since Jan. 23, and he is now separated from the Knicks as they try to find a solution to shed him from their roster.

We now have a better idea of what kind of urgency New York has to make that move.

A report from the New York Daily News has given us more information about the confrontation between Noah and Hornacek. The latest addition to the story is that it was not just words between the Knicks coach and Noah, and that Hornacek actually pushed Noah first during the confrontation.

The two then had to be separated.

Via NYDN:

Noah was banished from the Knicks after an altercation with coach Jeff Hornacek during a practice last month. The disagreement stemmed from Noah’s lack of playing time, and it turned physical the day after he logged only five minutes against the Warriors.

While no punches were thrown, the Daily News learned that Hornacek was the first to shove Noah before they had to be separated.

In our last update on this story, Dan outlined how that could be made possible. No team is going to trade for Noah at this juncture in his career, so the only real option for New York is to waive him.

Here’s how that looks, according to our own Dan Feldman:

If the Knicks waive Noah without a buyout, they’d have two options after paying out the rest of his $17,765,000 salary this season:

Pay Noah $18,530,000 next season and $19,295,000 the following season
Pay Noah $7,565,000 each of the following five years via the stretch provision

It just keeps getting weirder and weirder during a lost season in the Big Apple.

Kobe Bryant tells Shaq he was planning to leave Lakers for Bulls (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal got their three championships together as members of the Los Angeles Lakers. The two stars were part of the three-peat team that won in 2000, 2001, and 2002. But the story that perhaps overshadows those accomplishments in the modern era is the story of Kobe vs. Shaq, and the long-standing beef that was between the players even after they split in 2004.

The back-and-forth between the two is part of the fabric not just of the Lakers, but of pop culture as it surrounds basketball. The Shaq/Kobe beef even has it’s own Wikipedia page that’s longer and more well-sourced than most of the papers I wrote in college. It’s impressive.

Meanwhile, Kobe and Shaq sat down in a long special that aired on Saturday as All-Star Weekend ramped up that revealed quite a bit about their time together and their relationship. One of the more interesting anecdotes was Kobe telling Shaq that he was planning on leaving the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls in 2004. That plan was quashed when the team sent O’Neal to the Miami Heat in July.

Via Twitter:

That would have been a major shift for LA and for Chicago. The Bulls drafted both Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon that year, and traded for Luol Deng. The team improved by 24 wins the following season, and adding Bryant may have altered that trajectory and of course sent shockwave of consequential changes through the league. Heck, Scottie Pippen retired that October, but perhaps he would have stayed for one more year with Kobe?

The rest of the interview was interesting, and there were lots of tidbits of information that had people talking. Bryant and O’Neal rehashed their fights, Shaq’s infamous rap dissing Kobe, and mooning Sacramento Kings fans after beating them in the 2002 playoffs.

The biggest takeaway from the interview was how the one-upsmanship between Shaq and Kobe, although subtle, still remains.

As context, Bryant has done a fair bit of career revisionism as he tries to alter his public image now that he’s not a player. He’s painted himself as a “storyteller” and has tried to make his single-mindedness appear praiseworthy rather than destructive. It’s mostly so he can sell shoes well into his 50s à la Michael Jordan.

In the sit down between the two Lakers greats, Shaq did some legacy revision of his own. He played off his continuous egging of Bryant over their careers as simple media manipulation, calling himself a master marketer. It really was a thing to see something that hilariously disingenuous, especially as much of the conversation between the two — including many admissions on each side — were about times they made each other sincerely angry.

The two finished the interview by taking photos next to some championship trophies (Kobe with more, of course) and exchanging laughs and hugs.

You can watch the full interview in the video above.

JJ Redick appears to use racial slur toward Chinese fans

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Chinese New Year was February 16, and now we’ve rolled over to the Year of the Dog. The NBA has a huge presence internationally in China, and so its video partner across the Pacific put together a compilation video of NBA players wishing people a happy new year.

The only problem? In one cut of the video that has been making the rounds on social media, Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick appears to use a racial slur aimed at those of Chinese descent.

The instance is absent from the official video, but a reaction-style YouTube video captured a different edit of the Year of the Dog video with Redick still in it. Redick appears to say, “I just wanted to wish all the NBA c—k fans in China a very happy Chinese New Year.”

Redick responded on Twitter, saying he was simply tongue-tied.

It’s difficult to judge intention from a distance, but the result is certainly disappointing. Even with Redick’s apology, it seems possible he’s contacted by the league office as part of a disciplinary inquiry.

Adam Silver says change to 1-16 playoff format has gotten “serious consideration”

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LOS ANGELES — Going into this season, continuing off the recent past went the Western Conference has been deeper in talent than the East., there was a lot of discussion among fans and media about switching to a 1-16 playoff format that ignores the current conference system.

The league has always balked at that — there is tradition, the conferences play an unbalanced schedule so it’s not a fair matchup now, and travel is an issue — but things have gotten more serious, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during All-Star weekend.

“That is something that’s gotten serious attention, not just recently, but over the last few years at the league office,” Silver said in an address to the media. “I think, as I’ve said in the past, the obstacle is travel, and it’s not tradition in my mind, at least. It’s that as we’ve added an extra week to the regular season, as we’ve tried to reduce the number of back-to-backs, that we are concerned about teams crisscrossing the country in the first round, for example. We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams.

“Having said that, you also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in The Finals, and obviously, if it’s the top team in the East and top team in the West, I’m not saying this is the case this year, but you could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the Conference Finals or somewhere else.

“So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

There is no vote scheduled, no change on the immediate horizon.

The idea of teams playing a more balanced regular season schedule, then having the best 16 teams in the playoffs, is appealing. This season, the Finals should be the Warriors and Rockets, a matchup of the two best teams. Instead, it will be the Western Conference Finals.

Fixing it is not simple. If travel is the concern — having something like the Golden State and Philadelphia in a 2-2-1-1-1 series that drags out in the first or second rounds (if the playoffs started today we would get Boston vs. Portland) — there is no easy answer, short of a Star Trek teleporter. Faster travel across the nation is not on the immediate horizon.

As Silver said, the only real answer would be to build the potential for more time into the schedule. However, the NBA is already starting in mid-October and running through June, how much longer are they really willing to go?

The obvious answer is reducing the number of games, but we know that’s not happening. Don’t expect much of a change here.