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Three things we learned Thursday: Knicks, Bulls battle for NBA title of “most off-court drama”

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA on Thursday, while you were out fighting fires while wearing a jet pack.

1) Which team has more drama right now, Bulls or Knicks?
Before the season we asked, “Which team will be better, the Bulls or the Knicks?”

Midway through the season, maybe that question should have been “Which team will have the most off-the-court drama at midseason?”

Usually, the Knicks would run away with this. Phil Jackson has — rightly and finally — decided he needs to build this team around Kristaps Porzingis, and that KP and Carmelo Anthony are on different career paths. So Jackson has started his mind games to get Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and be happy going out of town. Except Anthony isn’t going to take a deal to go to Orlando or Phoenix, he wants to play with his banana boat buddies on a contender. Which basically means the Cavaliers and the Clippers (the Celtics have been mentioned as well). Except the Cavaliers are not interested in a Kevin Love for ‘Melo swap because they are not stupid. That leaves the Clippers, who would have the exact same reaction if Jackson came looking for Blake Griffin. However, a trade involving Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and J.J. Redick might interest Doc Rivers. Here’s where this gets interesting: If Redick is part of the deal I don’t think the Clippers get better — people underestimate how important his shooting and spacing is to that team. His 3&D game fits better with Chris Paul‘s drives, DeAndre Jordan‘s rim runs, and Blake Griffin overall. Lose Redick and Crawford and I think the Clippers get worse. If the Clippers could figure out a way to add Anthony to their core four then — if healthy, always the caveat with this team — they might make things interesting for the Spurs and Warriors. The questions are, would Doc Rivers really trade his son, and does Phil Jackson want Anthony out of town so bad he’d settle for a Crawford/Rivers/pieces to make the salaries workd?

And despite all that, the Bulls may lead the drama train. After blowing a 10-point lead in the final three minutes to lose to the Hawks Wednesday night, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler went off on a rant, saying that too many players on the team didn’t care about winning enough. They were looking at you, Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams. But then on Thursday, Rajon Rondo fired back defending the young players.

My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off. My vets didn't care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn't have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn't change the plan because it didn't work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership.

A post shared by Rajon Rondo (@rajonrondo) on

Rondo likely is not all wrong here (at least if you talk to people around the team), but how he delivered it will ensure he is gone soon enough (if not moved by the trade deadline, look for a buy out right after). He was already on his way out of the rotation because guys such as Jerian Grant were playing better and Rondo is a shell of his pre-injury self, this just made it official. Wade and Butler ultimately win this war because they are the better players and Butler is the franchise’s best player and future. But this is going to make Friday’s shootaround interesting. The chemistry and fit of this team on and off the court is a mess, and as with all things Bulls the problems point right back to the front office. But they are likely not going anywhere, as Sean Highkin of The Athletic told us in a recent PBT Podcast. Which ultimately will mean the Bulls will keep on being the Bulls.

2) The All-Star Game reserves were announced, and Joel Embiid leads your list of snubs. The coaches have voted (they pick this group), and here are your All-Star Game bench players for 2017’s game in New Orleans in a couple of weeks.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Guard: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)
Guard: Klay Thompson (Golden State)
Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento)
Frontcourt: Draymond Green (Golden State)
Frontcourt: Marc Gasol (Memphis)
Wild Card: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers)
Wild Card: Gordon Hayward (Utah)

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Guard: Isaiah Thomas (Boston)
Guard: John Wall (Washington)
Frontcourt: Paul George (Indiana)
Frontcourt: Paul Millsap (Atlanta)
Frontcourt: Kevin Love (Cleveland)
Wild Card: Kyle Lowry (Toronto)
Wild Card: Kemba Walker (Charlotte)

The biggest snub has to be Joel Embiid. The fans voted him in as a starter, and even the people not voting for him have to admit he’d be fun in this setting. However, as I wrote the other day, you have to remember who was casting the ballots: Coaches. What do coaches value? Guys who play every day, guys who have improved over their careers, and guys with high hoops IQ and subtlety to their games. That’s Millsap, it’s not Embiid. But Embiid still had a great sense of humor about it.

Chris Paul would have been an All-Star except for his injury. The biggest snubs in the West were Damian Lillard (Portland), Rudy Gobert (Utah), Mike Conley (Memphis), C.J. McCollum (Portland), and LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio). Besides Embiid, the biggest snubs in the East were mostly bigs to make way for six guards: Kristaps Porzingis (New York), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Dwight Howard (Atlanta), and Hassan Whiteside (Miami).

3) Russell Westbrook drops 45 in win, but Thunder suffer big loss because Enes Kanter hates chairs. Apparently.

Russell Westbrook was doing Russell Westbrook things on Thursday night, dropping 45 on the Mavericks and getting OKC the 109-95 win over Dallas.

But that wasn’t the big news out of this game. During it, a frustrated Enes Kanter punched a padded chair, but in doing so fractured his forearm.

He will be out 6-8 weeks. This is a blow, Kanter was mentioned in Sixth Man of the Year awards talks midseason because the Thunder are 5.5 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he is on the court. Over his last 10 games, he’s averaged 17.2 points a night on 57.4 percent shooting. The Thunder don’t have anyone nearly as good to replace him, but look for more Steven Adams, as well as Joffrey Lauvergne to get some run.

One other side note: The Thunder are currently on pace to win 49 games, if this injury knocks that down to 46 wins on the season, could it cost Russell Westbrook the MVP award because the Thunder didn’t get to or near 50 wins (while James Harden‘s Rockets will be pushing 60 wins)? Way, way too early to say, just throwing it out there.

It’s time for No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz to turn 76ers into winners

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Markelle Fultz already has his first turnover as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers.

It came in an Instagram post sponsored by a watch company. “Excited to head to (City) and join the (team name). (at)Tissot.us is helping me get started with my (team name) watch,” Fultz posted, not bothering to actually fill in the blanks.

Ah, it’s a process. Or rather, The Process. And the Sixers have plenty of blanks to fill in on their roster before becoming a playoff contender.

The No. 1 overall pick in this NBA draft has become an instant fan favorite before signing his rookie contract. The 6-foot-4 guard out of Washington has gone on late-night TV and boasted of his love of Philly cheesesteaks, made a social media connection with franchise player Joel Embiid and dazzled on draft night with a pair of orange sneakers made of the same leather used to make NBA game balls.

If that wasn’t enough, Philly fans found an open love letter from Fultz to the city on The Players’ Tribune.

“What’s up, Philly? You good? I’m pretty good,” Fultz wrote . “Today is a good day. Today we take The Process to another level.”

Long the league laughingstock, it’s the Sixers’ turn to clap back, with Embiid and Ben Simmons poking fun on Twitter at Lonzo Ball and his father, LaVar.

Moments after LaVar Ball went on TV and declared of his son, “From the words of Zeus, Jesus, everybody said he gonna be a Laker,” Simmons simply tweeted, “Crazy pills .” Embiid quickly chimed in with, “Please dunk on him so hard that his daddy runs on the court to save him.”

But the Sixers aren’t counting on the Fultz-Simmons-Embiid core to simply entertain in 140-character bursts. They expect the trio to help lead the franchise to their first playoff appearance since 2012 and first championship since 1983.

“It’s been a while,” team president Bryan Colangelo said, pointing toward championship banners hanging in the team’s New Jersey complex.

Here’s a look at how they might get to 35-50 wins over the next two seasons:

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STEP ON THE GAS

First, Simmons and Embiid need to be healthy.

Embiid, who missed his first two seasons with foot injuries, was placed on minutes restrictions in 2016-17 and was banned from playing both games of back-to-back contests. Despite the precautionary steps, Embiid played in only 31 games and needed surgery on his left knee in March.

Simmons missed his rookie season with a broken right foot.

“I think both Ben and Joel are on course for recovery,” Colangelo said Friday. “We anticipate a full, healthy roster.”

Colangelo said Embiid would have no minutes’ restrictions this season, provided he stays healthy.

“He plays with reckless abandon and some of that has got to be controlled,” Colangelo said.

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IT TAKES TWO

Coach Brett Brown had said all year that Simmons would open next season as the point guard. Simmons seemed excited at his shot to run the show until a confluence of events and a trade with Boston for the No. 1 pick that netted Fultz.

No worries, for now. Brown said Simmons and Fultz, who will play in the summer league, could work well together in the backcourt, no matter which player is the ballhandler.

“It’s a really exciting challenge to have where you try to grow those two players and let them coexist and learn more about each other,” Brown said. “The start of the season and training camp and the month of September are really going to be important for us to allow those guys to feel each other and the coaching staff to be able to truly see it on the court.”

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TOUCH OF GREY

So who shall lead the talented trio of Embiid-Fultz-Simmons, a trifecta of first- and second-year players. The Sixers have long needed a veteran both in the locker room and to help lead on the court.

“Those young guys need nurturing and they need veteran leadership. To think that you’re going to go into a season with a 19-year-old, a 20-year-old and Joel Embiid, as much as we love him and see how special he is, the reality is those three players have played a cumulative 31 NBA games,” Brown said. “And holding a locker room, growing those guys, helping them navigate NBA life and NBA games is a very powerful message when it comes from a player. And trying to identify veterans that have the ability to nurture and help those three, especially, is one of the main priorities.”

WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

Sixers fans have been very patient, and they may have stay that way.

They waited two years for Dario Saric to come from his overseas commitments. They waited two years for Embiid to recover from injuries.

They may have to wait two more years for Latvian center, and first-round pick, Anzejs Pasecniks. Pasecniks, who most recently played with Gran Canaria, a Spanish basketball club, has two more years left on his deal and may not immediately join the Sixers. Second-round picks Jonah Bolden and power forward Mathias Lessort out of France also won’t join the team next season.

But when they do, they could be the final pieces for a contender.

“Everything is designed with a championship in mind,” Colangelo said.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Report: Mavericks will decline $25 million option for Dirk Nowitzki, sign him to new deal

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Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki had a huge $25 million team option on his contract for the upcoming 2017-18 NBA season. It now appears that the team will not exercise that option, and will instead try to re-sign their star player for an additional few years.

Given the context of the Mavericks roster, it makes sense that the team would want to allocate its resources as the NBA salary cap goes even further up the scale. Nowitzki’s salary would have remained a huge chunk of change as the Mavericks yet again try to go after free agents this summer.

While a restructuring of his contract to, say, half the amount it would have been originally would not give Dallas room for a max-level free agent, it could at least give them the capacity to go after mid-level exception type of players.

Meanwhile, it’s not clear what kind of contract the Mavericks will try to sign Nowitzki to. Reports at this point say that a two-year deal for Nowitzki Is one of the options are being considered.

The question now will be what kind of deal will Mark Cuban offer his favorite player, And how low Nowitzki Is willing to go.

Via ESPN:

Nowitzki’s advanced statistics were down from prior seasons, particularly affecting his offensive efficiency thanks to dips in both field goal percentage and free-throw rate. He also only played and 54 games last year, a real concern as the Dallas roster looks to be carried by a player going into his age 39 season.

Paul George disputes the idea that he’s already moved out of his house in Indiana

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Rumors spread on social media this week as moving trucks were found outside of Indiana Pacers star forward Paul George‘s house. But were they really his?

The user posted photos of giant moving trucks outside of a house in George’s neighborhood to Snapchat. People began speculating wildly that George, the subject of trade rumors for the last few weeks, could be on the move.

Now, the Pacers start has taken to Twitter to dispute the moving trucks as his. So whose were they?

According to George, they were there to move his neighbors.

Via Twitter:

Well I guess that settles that.

The other obvious answer is that they were George’s and NBA players simply move to new locations during the summer. Half of the NBA it seems lives in the Los Angeles area come the off-season, or at least train there, so seeing moving trucks outside of his house would not have been an anomaly if you ask me.

We are past the 2017 NBA Draft and still we have no deal for George. But the NBA off-season is long, and free agency is just around the corner. I am sure that we will see a new landing spot for George in the coming months.

Then we can send somebody on over to see if there are moving trucks at his house.

Hornets’ GM slips up, introduces Dwayne Bacon as Dwyane Wade

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It’s a slip that would have made Freud proud.

Charlotte had a good draft night. In the first round, Kentucky shooter Malik Monk fell to them at 11 and they grabbed him. In the second round, they took a smart risk with Florida State wing Dwayne Bacon.

Friday came the usual team press conference with the GM introducing his players and Charlotte GM Rich Cho made a mistake, introducing Bacon as “Dwyane Wade.”

I love Bacon’s reaction.

Cho instantly realized his mistake and laughed it off, then later said: “Actually, I think they have some similarities.” Hornets fans can only hope.