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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.

US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

Former Lakers forward Tommy Hawkins dies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, has died. He was 80.

Hawkins died Wednesday in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications.

He graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. Hawkins was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor and his 1,318 career rebounds remain the oldest record on the books in Fighting Irish basketball history.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played for them as well as the Cincinnati Royals, and notched 6,672 career points and 4,607 rebounds.

Nuggets hire assistant coach, assistant general manager

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DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have hired veteran NBA coach Bob Weiss as an assistant on Michael Malone’s staff and announced the hiring of Calvin Booth as an assistant general manager.

Weiss has coached 31 seasons in the NBA, including the last four as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets. He’s been a head coach with four teams, compiling a 223-299 career record with the Spurs, Hawks, Clippers and SuperSonics.

Prior to coaching, Weiss played a dozen seasons in the NBA.

Also Wednesday, the Nuggets made official their hiring of Booth, 41, who spent the previous four seasons in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office, serving as director of pro personnel last season.

Booth has quietly emerged as a respected evaluator of talent. He was one of the holdovers in the front office when Tom Thibodeau was hired to take over last summer as president of basketball operations and coach.

After one season working under Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, Booth left for a promotion with the Nuggets, taking a position that will give him more responsibility and a greater say in the direction of another young team on the rise in the Western Conference.

Booth joins a Nuggets front office that includes Tim Connelly, who was promoted earlier this summer to president of basketball operations, a move that allowed Denver to hold on to promising executive Arturas Karnisovas as the team’s general manager.

Booth spent 10 years as a player in the league. Four of those seasons were with the Washington Wizards while Connelly was working there. The two also worked together in New Orleans in 2012-13, when Connelly was the assistant GM and Booth was a scout.

 

Rasheed Wallace says Zach Randolph isn’t a drug dealer: ‘The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party’

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Kings big man Zach Randolph is charged with possessing marijuana with intent to sell, a felony – not because law enforcement has evidence Randolph planned to sell the drug, but because of the amount of the drug found.

Randolph’s agent/attorney denied the allegations.

Also sticking up for Randolph? Rasheed Wallace, who played with Randolph on the Trail Blazers.

Wallace, via TMZ:

“It seems to be — no matter who you are — the bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party,” Sheed says.

“I know for a fact he ain’t no dope dealer.”

Charging someone for intending to distributing drugs without any proof he intends to distribute drugs is hazardously lazy. Randolph – who has earned about $175 million in his career and is on a two-year, $24 million contract with Sacramento – can afford more marijuana than most. That doesn’t mean he plans to sell it.

The stakes are high for Randolph. If he’s convicted of “a felony involving the distribution of marijuana,” per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he’d be banned from the NBA for at least two years.