Dan Feldman

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 26: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers controls the ball against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Wells Fargo Center on October 26, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. The Thunder defeated the 76ers 103-97. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Report: Other NBA teams speculating 76ers sat Jahlil Okafor to drum up trade interest

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Jahlil Okafor missed the 76ers’ last two games, because — as they abnormally openly revealed — he was involved in trade talks. It’s one thing to sit a player the day a trade is imminent. Doing it for multiple games is another level.

Yet, Okafor is rejoining Philadelphia for its game against the Celtics tonight.

What gives?

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The shelving of Okafor was likely meant to flush out the best offers around the league, sources speculate. It’s not uncommon for teams to use leaks to stir interest. The Nuggets and Blazers weren’t pursuing Okafor. The Bulls likely aren’t either. No one is buying what Bryan Colangelo is selling: a one-dimensional center who can’t defend, rebound, or pass on a roster loaded with big men.

Even if this weren’t 76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo’s plan, this belief around the league will hurt his leverage. Colangelo already sounded desperate to move a center. Good luck convincing anyone Okafor is coveted now.

And there’s still the issues about Okafor’s defense and floor-spacing…

Lakers, Knicks lead Forbes NBA franchise valuations

Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young (0) celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in New York. The Lakers won 121-107. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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In 2011, the Knicks, according to Forbes, were the NBA’s most valuable team, worth $655 million.

That would rank last in the league today.

Thanks to a lockout moving 6% of revenue from players to owners, lucrative new national TV contracts and the NBA’s growing popularity, franchise values have skyrocketed.

The Knicks ($3.3 billion) and Lakers ($3 billion) lead the latest Forbes valuations. Even the last-place Pelicans are worth $750 million.

Here are the full rankings:

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Joel Embiid replaced by Nikola Jokic, Alex Abrines in All-Star Weekend events

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 6: Joel Embiid #21 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during the second half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on January 6, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the 76ers 110-106. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Joel Embiidnot an All-Star starter, not an All-Star reserve.

Now, not even at All-Star Weekend participant at all.

The injured 76ers center has been replaced in both his events:

Abrines is fine. Jokic deserves the bigger stage.

But Embiid brings such an infectious joy with him. It’s a bummer he won’t compete.

Report: Pistons explore trading Andre Drummond

Detroit Pistons v Washington Wizards
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The Pistons have talked about trading Reggie Jackson, who once appeared locked in at point guard but has been central to Detroit’s underwhelming season.

But dealing franchise player Andre Drummond? Apparently the Pistons have looked into that, too.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Detroit has quietly explored the trade market for each of its franchise centerpieces, according to sources across the league, and come away disappointed with the potential return. (Van Gundy himself has said anyone is available for “the right price.”)

Any Drummond deal at the deadline is an extreme long shot, but Jackson remains in play for Minnesota, Orlando, New Orleans, or some mystery destination.

They have their tense moments. Both are close with Tom Gores, the Pistons’ owner, and each freely admits they talk with Gores about the other in terms that might not always be the most flattering.

“Whatever we talk about with the owner is between us,” Drummond said. “But Stan and I leave nothing unspoken.”

“I think we like each other personally,” Van Gundy said. “Like most young bigs, he needs to be pushed really hard. Sometimes, he’s more willing to hear hard coaching than others.”

As Pistons president/coach Stan Van Gundy has explained, Detroit has held trade discussions about every player on its team and most of those discussions revolve around top players, because that’s whom other teams call about. Do these Drummond discussions rise above standard-fare talks?

Maybe, maybe not. That Lowe is reporting them indicates yes, but that’s hardly definitive proof. It’s also unclear whether the Pistons are seeking a reasonable return or just seeing whether they can draw an unexpectedly strong offer.

Drummond, just 23, is already one of the NBA’s best big men. His combination of size and athleticism is rare, and he puts it to great use as a rebounder, pick-and-roll finisher, and, sometimes, defender. But his effort wanes too often, and there’s a decent gap between his defensive production and defensive potential.

Nobody feels that like Van Gundy, who coaches Drummond daily. With front-office power, Van Gundy could seek a fix via trade.

Gores just gave Van Gundy a vote of confidence, and the owner is fond of Drummond, who’s locked up three more years. Most likely, the coach and player will continue trying to progress. With Drummond’s youth and Van Gundy’s coaching acumen, this could still all work — even as a little impatience shows now.

Rise and resilience (and fall?) of Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind

Memphis Grizzlies players Courtney Lee (5), Tony Allen (9), Mike Conley (11) Zach Randolph, second from left, and Marc Gasol (33) talk during a break in the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Grit & Grind was borne out of Tony Allen loathing his defensive assignment.

Allen was mostly coming off the bench in his first season with the Grizzlies, as they prepared for a Feb. 2011 game against the first-place Thunder. So, he studied to guard Oklahoma City super-sub James Harden.

But, with O.J. Mayo already suspended, Rudy Gay was a late scratch due to injury. Memphis inserted Allen into the starting lineup – and told him to cover Kevin Durant. With no time to prepare, Allen seethed.

“It felt like my livelihood, my manhood, everything, was on the line,” Allen said. “I didn’t want to get embarrassed.”

Allen carried his anger into the game and played his heart out. In a four-point overtime win, the Grizzlies outscored Oklahoma City by a whopping 24 points with Allen on the court. He scored 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting with five steals and three blocks. Though Durant finished with 31 points, he’s a generational scorer, and Allen slowed him just enough late.

After the game, Allen was still riding a wave of emotion when, in an on-court interview, he uttered the two words that would define an era.

“It’s just all heart,” Allen said. “Grit. Grind.”

Six years later, a core of Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are still leading Memphis, which has adopted Grit & Grind as its perfectly fitting slogan.

The quartet’s seven seasons together is NBA’s longest active run for a foursome – one year longer than Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard and Patty Mills (yes, five) have all been with the Spurs. In that time, the Grizzlies have established themselves as a team that plays tough and defends.

“It might not be the prettiest of basketball,”Gasol beams. “It might not be the most spectacular.”

But it has been darn effective.

The Memphis quartet reached playoffs all seven seasons together, upsetting the No. 1-seeded Spurs in the 2011 first round and peaking with a trip to the conference finals in 2013. At 34-23, the Grizzlies appear headed back to the postseason again.

There little idea this core would achieve so much when it was formed.

Conley arrived in Memphis first, drafted No. 4 in 2007 and overcoming premature bust labeling. Gasol followed in 2008, when he signed after the Grizzlies acquired his much-overlooked rights in an earlier trade of his brother, Pau Gasol. Then, in 2009, Memphis traded for Randolph, who came cheaply because he had developed a reputation as a troublemaker with the Trail Blazers and Knicks. Allen was the final enduring piece to the puzzle, signed after helping the Celtics win the 2008 title and return to the 2010 Finals as a reserve.

Through the years, they’ve developed a bond evident in their linked competitiveness and on-court chemistry.

“These are the people that I want to go to war with,” Gasol said.

The players have established such a strong culture, it has survived through three coaches.

It blossomed under Lionel Hollins, whose hard-nosed style was integral to the Grizzlies establishing their identity (especially given his insertion of Allen into the starting lineup for that Feb. 2011 game). Dave Joerger followed, and Memphis endured. Now, David Fizdale is in his first season.

“They already had some success before I got there,” Fizdale said. “I just felt like what I needed to do was fill in the gaps to get us a little bit closer to the promised land.”

Fizdale has rejuvenated Conley-Allen-Randolph-Gasol as a unit after it slipped last year. When they shared the floor, those four played better than a 53-win team in each of their first five years together. That dropped to playing like a 38-win team last year. This year, they’re up to a 70-win pace when sharing the court, important considering how little Memphis has gotten from its splashy offseason signing, Chandler Parsons:

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Fizdale has given Conley a larger offensive role, and the point guard is absolutely thriving in it. Career highs in usage percentage (26.0) and true shooting percentage (58.7) have led to him scoring a career-high 19.4 points per game and adding 6.3 assists per game.

Per Fizdale’s suggestion, Gasol has expanded his range beyond the arc. After making 12 3-pointers in his previous eight seasons, he has already hit 77 this season. And he’s doing it efficiently, converting 39.1% of his 3-point attempts.

Fizdale is bringing Randolph off the bench. Not only does that set a tone of sacrifice, Randolph is excelling in his new role, averaging 14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. The only other primary reserve to meet those marks in the last 25 years was Lamar Odom in 2011.

The coach has unleashed the active Allen on the offensive glass. A poor outside shooter, Allen is hunting offensive rebounds like never before. His 9.4 offensive-rebounding percentage is the best by a rebounding-leaderboard-qualified guard this century. Every other guard ever to hit the mark has been at least eight years younger.

And that’s why time is ticking on this group. Allen (35), Randolph (35), Gasol (32), Conley (29) won’t maintain this production forever – though they’ve already collectively hung on longer than expected.

Contract situations could also break up this group before Father Time. But, again, the Grizzlies have so far staved off that threat more easily than expected.

Despite big-market rumors and a pending salary-cap explosion incentivizing a shorter contract, Gasol re-signed on a five-year deal in 2015. That commitment presented major risk considering Conley would become an unrestricted free agent the following year. If Conley walked, Gasol could be stuck on a listless team.

But Conley’s teammates recruited it him in their own ways. Allen threatened to flagrantly foul the point guard if he signed elsewhere. “He was serious,” Conley said. “He might have showed up at my house.” Gasol went with honey to Allen’s vinegar.

It didn’t hurt that Memphis offered Conley a five-year contract worth more than $152 million – the biggest deal in NBA history. He of course re-signed, taking advantage of the new salary-cap landscape.

But Gasol returning on faith, in part to keep playing with Conley, the year before also factored.

“I guess there was a little bit there,” Conley said. “You didn’t want to let him down. You didn’t want to let the guys you played with over the last seven, eight years, to let those guys down by leaving, abandoning them. So, in a sense, I felt a sense of responsibility, a sense of loyalty, to my guys. I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”

Conley and Gasol are stars who nearly any team would covet. They determined their own futures. The other half of the Grit & Grind quartet is at the whims of the Grizzlies.

Allen has already popped up in trade rumors, and he and Randolph will be unrestricted free agents this summer.

Randolph walks the middle ground about his plans.

“I want to, of course, be here,” Randolph said. “It’s where I want to finish my career.

“You never know. It’s a business. You never know.”

Allen is more direct about his intentions.

“I don’t want to go nowhere,” Allen said. “I want to be in Memphis.

“I don’t need a lot. But I need to be tooken care of. But my heart is in Memphis.”

Heck, Allen will even answer on Randolph’s behalf.

“I’m pretty sure his heart is in Memphis, too,” Allen said. “I don’t think we’re going to go nowhere. But, obviously, Zach is a higher commodity than me. He’s a 20-and-10 kind of guy. He can start anywhere. That’s basically his deal, and he understands it’s a business. Me, on the other hand, I’ve got my feelings into it. I want to be in Memphis.”

Is it time for a new chapter, or will the Grizzlies keep this core together? Owing Parsons more than $72 million over the next three years complicates the picture. So does the changing landscape of the NBA game, which increasingly values speed and spacing.

But Gasol lays out, in simplest terms, why the Grizzlies must re-sign both Allen and Randolph.

“One is the president of Memphis,” Gasol said. “The other is mayor.”

Gasol, Conley, Randolph and Allen have set a winning tone. They each play off each other in their own way, and disrupting the ecosystem could destroy it.

Fizdale hasn’t been in Memphis long, but he has quickly understood who drives the team’s identity.

“It’s all four of them,” Fizdale said. “They all have an incredible toughness, an ability to rise to the occasion. They’re all connected.”

Those connections have survived countless ups and downs, big and small moments. Gasol looks back fondly on their dinners together. It’s not even the happiest times that stand alone. He recalls meals after playoff losses, when a group of four friends – bonded by pursuing a common goal over a long period off time – connect more deeply.

“Everybody is more vulnerable or more open,” Gasol said. “Everything is more real after a loss, and everybody is just more open. More fragile, maybe. I think, after a loss, you sit, and you talk, and you share some wine or whatever it is that you drink, or a Shirley Temple you may like to drink, whatever it is. And you just talk in there, and you open your heart and talk. We always find that we always stay on the same side.”