Kobe Bryant soaks up final All-Star appearance

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TORONTO — With about a minute left in the fourth quarter, Kobe Bryant out of the All-Star Game for the final time with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists in 25 minutes. He received a standing ovation from the crowd and hugged every player on both teams.

It was the culmination of a night that started with an extended tribute to the 18-time All-Star and third all-time leading scorer, who announced in November that he’s retiring at the end of the season. For Bryant, it was all about reflecting on his career and enjoying the moment.

“It was fun,” Bryant said in his postgame press conference. “I had a blast playing with those guys, laughing and joking with them on the bench. And, you know, I got a chance to stop Pau [Gasol] in a post, redeem myself from what he did to me when Chicago came to town. But all those things are just fun. I had a great time. I had a great, great time.”

All weekend, players shared stories about what Bryant meant to them and to the game. An environment like All-Star Weekend is the perfect venue for such reflections, because the game itself is an exhibition and the entire event is a show for the fans, above all else.

Bryant enjoyed the adulation he received from the younger players in the game.

“Well, I think it’s the stories of when they first came into the league and they were matching up against me,” Bryant said. “Just kind of the little things that — an elbow here or a steal here, and then wanting to earn my respect at an early age, right? Coming into the league, playing against me, wanting to prove to me that they were as competitive. When I hear those kind of stories, man, that makes me feel real good. Because over the years you’re competing against each other. Those aren’t stories you’re ever going to share with somebody that you’re competing against, right. But at this stage, it feels absolutely wonderful to hear these those things.”

Now, with this joyous weekend out of the way, Bryant will go back to a miserable Lakers season that will see his team out of the playoffs for the third year in a row with one of the worst records in the NBA. It’s not an ideal situation for him to end his career, but he’s making the best of it.

“You try to make the second half better than the first,” he said. “And you try to forget about what happened the first half of the season in a sense of what our record is, and take this break to come in and feel like you have a clean slate, right? Mentally approach it as you’re 0-0, and see if we can’t get better. Because as the season progresses and season ends, you want to feel like free agents and other players around the league are looking at the Lakers roster and saying they have some talent and they have some potential. So that’s what we want to try to do.”

For the final two months of the season, Bryant will continue to make the rounds in his farewell tour, ensuring that even the meaningless games of a lottery team will have some special meaning for him. But for now, his final All-Star Weekend was a tremendous tribute to his greatness.

Stan Van Gundy backs off feud with ESPN ahead of televised Pistons game

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Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy said he wouldn’t give ESPN its usual access – a private pre-game meeting and an in-game interview – in the aftermath of ESPN publishing LaVar Ball’s negative comments about Lakers coach Luke Walton.

The first test of Van Gundy’s new policy comes with today’s Pistons-Wizards game on ESPN… and Van Gundy is mostly backing down.

Van Gundy, via Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

“I got an email from Rick Carlisle of the coaches association and they want me to cooperate, so my whole idea was to boycott the thing in support of coaches,” Van Gundy said. “If the coaches don’t want that, then it would be a selfish thing, sort of a grandstanding thing.”

“I’m certainly not looking to do extra stuff with ESPN.com when those guys call and want to do things,” Van Gundy said. “They want to put themselves out there as a journalistic enterprise — they’re clearly not. They don’t have any journalistic standards. I have no obligation to do anything extra.”

Many media members have quoted Ball on a variety of issues. Coaches threw a fit over this one because they’re sensitive to coaches being criticized. It wasn’t about journalistic ethics or the source. Van Gundy and other coaches simply didn’t like Ball’s conclusion.

I’m so glad Van Gundy is no longer grandstanding. [extreme sarcasm]

He’s not obligated to speak with ESPN reporters, but when Van Gundy rails on journalistic standards as cover for disagreeing with the opinion a journalist published, he sounds a lot like the guy he loves to criticize.

Pistons’ Jon Leuer to undergo season-ending surgery

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Jon Leuer‘s ankles survived this.

But apparently they’re not invincible.

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

After suffering a sprained ankle on Oct. 31, the symptoms worsened, as an exam revealed bone fragments and other issues. Leuer has missed the last 35 games and has decided to have season-ending ankle surgery, he told The Detroit News on Friday.

Leuer, 28, has scheduled the procedure to remove bone fragments for next Friday and will have a four-month rehabilitation process.

The Pistons have applied to the NBA for a disabled-player exception

The Pistons have been without Leuer for a while, and they’ve done fine without him. Anthony Tolliver is a capable backup stretch four, and Henry Ellenson adds even more insurance there. Detroit misses Leuer as a stretch center, providing a different style behind Andre Drummond, but Eric Moreland and Boban Marjanovic have at least decently handled those reserve minutes.

The bigger issue: The Pistons are paying Leuer $10,497,319 this season and owe him $19,510,724 over the next two years and don’t miss him that much. He’s a luxury they don’t need and maybe can’t afford.

Perhaps, they’ll deal him before the trade deadline, as they look to upgrade the roster for a playoff run. Detroit could send Leuer and a draft pick or young player (Stanley Johnson) for a better player on a more favorable contract. How about Leuer and a first-round pick to the Bulls for Nikola Mirotic?

A disabled-player exception (DPE) would be worth $5,248,660, half Leuer’s salary. It could be used to sign a free agent for the rest of the season or trade for a player in the final year of his contract.

But the NBA grants a DPE only if a league-appointed physician rules the player is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15. The reported timeline would have Leuer back in May.

Still, the league tends to be lax with giving out DPEs. Detroit has a chance to get one.

The Pistons are just $2,745,417 below the luxury-tax line. So, they’re unlikely to use a full Leuer DPE to acquire another player (and would still need to clear a roster spot). But it could be helpful in facilitating a bigger trade.

PBT Podcast: All-Star starters mock draft, picking reserves

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The votes are in, and LeBron James and Stephen Curry are your All-Star captains.

For the first time in NBA All-Star history, that means they are picking their own teams, playground style, first from the pool of starters, then the pool of reserves. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports take on the roles of LeBron and Curry and pick their All-Star starters, from James Harden through Kyrie Irving.

Then the pair gets into who should be the All-Star Game reserves — and choosing among the Western Conference guards is brutal. Do they leave out Damian Lillard? Lou Williams? Klay Thompson? And that’s not even getting into Paul George being a bubble All-Star in a deep West.

Kurt and Dan break it all down, plus talk some Kemba Walker trade scenarios.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Aaron Gordon forgoes desperation attempt to win, sinks halfcourt shot instead (video)

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The Magic were in dire straights near the end of their game against the Cavaliers last night. Orlando trailed 104-103 with 0.2 seconds and a jump ball to be tossed at center court. By rule, the Magic didn’t have time to catch-and-shoot, let alone recover the jump ball then shoot. Aaron Gordon had to tip the jump ball through the hoop from halfcourt – nearly impossible, but technically possible.

Instead, Gordon grabbed the jump ball – a violation – then sank a halfcourt shot. What an ironic end.

Cleveland then harmlessly inbounded the ball to seal the win.