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Hornets plan to start Dwight Howard over Cody Zeller

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In the last three seasons, the Hornets went 63-53 with Cody Zeller starting at center and 57-73 otherwise.

Charlotte plugged a major hole by acquiring a second center, Dwight Howard. But this team found a groove with Zeller starting at the position.

So, who will start this year?

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Coach Steve Clifford said Friday that his projected starters, going into training camp Sept. 26 at Spectrum Center, are Kemba Walker at point guard, Nic Batum at shooting guard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at small forward, Marvin Williams at power forward and Dwight Howard at center.

This is a tricky situation.

Howard is far more accomplished than Zeller and was probably better last season. But Zeller is seven years younger. If Howard is still better, he won’t be for long.

A five-time All-NBA first-teamer, Howard is also more likely to chafe at coming off the bench. But does Clifford want to implicitly reward that? Other Hornets might especially dislike a newcomer getting preferential treatment.

Unlike Howard, Zeller can play some power forward. But Zeller is far more effective at center, to the point it might not be worth eating into Marvin Williams’ and Frank Kaminsky‘s minutes at power forward. (Don’t even start on Williams playing small forward.)

There’s no easy answer, but it probably makes sense to give Howard the first crack at starting. Given Howard’s free-throw issues, Zeller might finish games. That could be a workable compromise.

Looking ahead: Who will make Eastern All-Star Team?

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This summer saw an almost unprecedented shift of All-Star level player talent in the NBA — and a lot of it went from the East to the West. Three All-Stars from a year ago — Paul George, Paul Millsap, and Jimmy Butler — all moved from the Eastern Conference to a now stacked Western Conference.

It led to the question: What will the All-Star teams look like?

Here is my best guess, starting with the Eastern Conference (we will get to the West tomorrow).

ALL-STAR STARTERS (two guards, three frontcourt players):

Isaiah Thomas (Boston Celtics)
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee Bucks)
Gordon Hayward (Boston Celtics)

Comment: These are voted on by a combination of fan, media, and player votes. Irving may not be in the East come the time for All-Star voting as he has asked for a trade, however, as of this writing, he is still a Cavalier, so he will be treated as a member of the East. Three of these starters are the same as a year ago, with Hayward replacing Butler, and I have Thomas beating out one of the Raptors guards to start thanks to a push from Boston fans.

ALL-STAR RESERVES (two guards, three frontcourt players, two wild cards):

John Wall (Washington Wizards)
DeMar DeRozan (Toronto Raptors)
Kristaps Porzingis (New York Knicks)
Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Andre Drummond (Detroit Pistons)
Bradley Beal (Washington Wizards)
Joel Embiid (Philadelphia 76ers)

Comment: These are selected by a vote of the coaches, and this is where players who have strong first halves will be rewarded. Wall and DeRozan could be starters, they will be close with votes, something also true for the Knicks’ Porzingis. I do not have Carmelo Anthony on this list not because he could be traded to the West, but because as his game fades with age other players will pass him. Putting Embiid on the team implies he’s healthy enough to play at least 40 of the 50ish games played up to that point, which may be more wish than hope from me (and Sixers fans), but I’ll bet it happens. I think we’ll see Drummond take a step forward this season, so I have him making it. There are a host of other guards who could bump Beal or others off this list with strong first halves — Kemba Walker, Kyle Lowry, to name a couple — last year’s East lineup was guard heavy for that reason.

Head Coach: Tyronn Lue (Cleveland Cavaliers). Remember, Boston’s Brad Stevens coached in 2017, so he is ineligible this time around, and even if Irving is traded I’m not sure any team is higher in the standings than the Cavaliers. It is possible Scott Brooks in Washington could slide in here if his team comes together and Cleveland stumbles, same with Dwane Casey in Toronto, but the bet here is Lue gets the call again.

Why a trade probably won’t alone cost Kyrie Irving a super-max extension

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Kyrie Irving getting his wish of being traded from the Cavaliers would immediately render him ineligible to receive a super-max contract – reducing his projected max on his next deal by $24 million over five years.

It probably won’t matter.

The new Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for designated-veteran-player contracts only to players with their original team or who changed teams only via trade in their first four seasons. So, Irving, entering his seventh season, could no longer qualify if dealt.

But to receive a designated-veteran-player extension next summer, Irving would also have to make an All-NBA team or win Defensive Player of the Year or MVP this season. To receive a designated-veteran-player contract in 2019 free agency, Irving would have to make All-NBA or win Defensive Player of the Year in 2018-19 or win MVP in either 2017-18 or 2018-19.

That’s unlikely.

For all his accomplishments – Rookie of the Year, four All-Star appearances, the game-winning shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals – Irving has made only one All-NBA team, the third team in 2015.

Five other players have made precisely one All-NBA team in their first six seasons since the league added an All-NBA third team in 1989: Marc Gasol, Derrick Rose, Chris Bosh, Latrell Sprewell and Larry Johnson. Only one – Gasol – reached another All-NBA team. That’s a small sample, but indicative of how Irving’s lone All-NBA selection doesn’t make repeated All-NBA inclusion inevitable.

The league’s current crop of guards doesn’t help, either. At least 11 players on this list must fall short for Irving to make All-NBA:

The competition could be even stronger if Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jimmy Butler and/or Gordon Hayward qualify as guards.

It’s obviously far from impossible for Irving to make All-NBA if he remains in Cleveland. Irving is a star whose biggest strength – scoring – earns the most accolades.

His All-NBA chances are obviously worth discussing. Nobody mentioned Ricky Rubio losing his chance at a designated-veteran-player deal when the Timberwolves traded him to the Jazz.

But it’s also worth noting that the odds are against Irving making an All-NBA team the next two years if he remains in Cleveland. That calculus surely factors into his trade request.

DeMarcus Cousins, Kristaps Porzingis, six All-Stars to play in NBA Africa Game

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NEW YORK (AP) — DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans, Kyle Lowry of the Toronto Raptors and Kristaps Porzingis of the New York Knicks will play for Team World in the NBA Africa Game.

Dirk Nowitzki and Kemba Walker had already been chosen as captains for Team World. The squad includes Portland’s CJ McCollum, Detroit’s Andre Drummond, Boston’s Jaylen Brown, Denver’s Wilson Chandler, New York’s Courtney Lee and Leandro Barbosa, who most recently played with Phoenix.

The rosters were announced Thursday for the second game featuring players born in Africa and second-generation African players against a team from the rest of the world. It will be played Aug. 5 in Johannesburg.

Team Africa, captained by Luol Deng and Thabo Sefolosha, will be rounded out by Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, Atlanta’s Dennis Schroder, Orlando’s Bismack Biyombo, Houston’s Clint Capela, Minnesota’s Gorgui Dieng, Toronto’s Serge Ibaka, Luc Mbah a Moute, most recently with the Clippers, Denver’s Emmanuel Mudiay and Dallas’ Salah Mejri. Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid, from Cameroon, is on the roster but won’t play because he is recovering from injury.

The game will be played in support of UNICEF, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and SOS Children’s Villages South Africa.

Reports: Charlotte reaches one-year deal with Michael Carter-Williams for $2.7 million

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Michael Carter-Williams has played with four teams in four different years, and his game has stagnated to the point that he is the first ever Rookie of the Year to not have his fifth year picked up by a team. The Bulls let him walk so they could run out a point guard trio of Kris Dunn, Cameron Payne, and Jerian Grant (in whatever order you wish).

Point guards who can’t shoot and have an injury history are not in high demand, but Carter-Williams will get a chance to prove himself coming off the bench in Charlotte next year. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer broke the story.

MCW confirmed this himself.

The deal is for one year at $2.7 million. He will come off the bench behind Kemba Walker, and the Hornets likely will add a veteran third point guard to the mix.

Remember back when Sam Hinkie traded Carter-Williams to the Bucks and got the Sixers’ future Lakers first-round pick? The Sixers traded that pick this year to Boston in the deal that got Philly the No. 1 pick and Markelle Fultz. The Bucks traded him to the Bulls in a deal that got Milwaukee Tony Snell, where he had a breakout season.

Carter-Williams averaged 6.6 points and 2.5 assists per game last season, and his length makes him a decent defender. He’s a below-average NBA point guard, but he can give the Hornets some decent bench minutes, and he comes at a price they can easily afford.