Author: D.J. Foster

NBA All-Star Game 2013

The Extra Pass: Predictions for All-Star Weekend


All-Star weekend is upon us. While the rest of the PBT crew gets to eat beignets and earn beads for showing a little skin (that’s how that works, right?), some of us will be stuck at home watching the celebrity game and reevaluating our life choices. Not that I’m bitter or anything. Not at all.

If we’re going to be watching anyway, though, we might as well make some predictions for all the weekend’s festivities. Feel free to leave your own in the comments section so you can probably gloat at a later juncture. Ready? Here we go.

All-Star Celebrity Game, Friday, 7pm ET

Winner: Arne Duncan’s team. I’m not sure what team that is, or who is even on his team, but the Secretary of Education can HOOP. He’s a former professional basketball player in Australia, and he takes this game entirely too seriously. He’s liable to take a charge on Nick Cannon and not even feel bad about it.

MVP: Michael B. Jordan. Duncan is great, no doubt, but Jordan has been rumored to have serious game on the hardwood. That makes sense because his parents, ya know, named him Michael freaking Jordan.

I’m obviously not picking against the man who played Vince Howard in Friday Night Lights, either, as he was one of the most convincing TV or movie quarterbacks ever. What’s the basketball equivalent of a last second 60-yard touchdown run? Mark MBJ down for whatever it is. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose (unless he’s not on Arne Duncan’s team).

Rising Stars Challenge, Friday, 9pm ET

Winner: Team Webber. Damian Lillard is barely going to play in this one, so Team Hill will be relying on Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters to bring up the ball. It doesn’t really matter all that much because no one plays defense anyway, but I’m picturing Waiters taking 40 shots and never passing to poor Jonas Valancuinas (or anyone else), while Jonas has flashbacks to playing with Rudy Gay and finally freaks out. Good for you, Jonas. Let it all out.

I can’t believe I’m picking against Giannis Antetokounmpo right now, but he’s going to get iced out like Isiah Thomas by all the sophomores. I’m pre-angry at Team Hill.

MVP: Anthony Davis. He’ll win even if he shouldn’t because he’s playing in front of the Smoothie King faithful. That said, he’ll probably deserve to be MVP because he’s better at basketball than everyone else in the game, and the crowd will yell at anyone who doesn’t give him the ball enough. I’ve thought about this way too much.

NBA D-League All-Star Game, Saturday, 3pm ET

Winner: One of the teams, probably.

MVP: Pierre Jackson. He’s been absolutely destroying the D-League this year (29.1 points a game!), but the Pelicans haven’t called him up to the NBA because Austin Rivers exists and life isn’t fair. Anyone in New Orleans who wakes up before noon will be in for a real treat watching Jackson do his thing.

Shooting Stars, Saturday, 8:30 pm ET

Winner: Steph Curry, Dell Curry and Becky Hammon. This is a father/son battle against Tim Hardaway Jr. and Sr., but then there are two other teams that don’t have father/son combos. I don’t know, just roll with it.

This is basically picking which team you think can hit halfcourt shots first. It really has very little to do with actual shooting ability, because that would be too much fun. This would be All-Star weekend’s worst event if it weren’t for…

Skills Challenge, Saturday, After Shooting Stars

Winner: No one. The person that created this just said, hey, you know the obstacle course at dog shows? What if we did that, but — wait for it — with basketballs? Someone said yes and now we’ve done it every year since.

At least they changed the format this year and made it teams of two, maybe figuring that two half-hearted performances would add up to one full-hearted performance.

I guess I can make amends for my earlier betrayal and go with team Giannis/DeRozan as the winner here. I’ll be rooting for Goran Dragic to either take this way too seriously and set a course record or lay down and take a protest nap.

Three-Point Contest, Saturday, After Skills Challenge

Winner: Steph Curry. Sorry. I’m just never going to pick against him in any sort of shooting contest. Here’s how I think the field will shake out:

1. Curry – Quick release, probably the scariest “streak” shooter of the bunch.
2. Irving – Returning champ, heavy favorite to emerge out of the Eastern Conference quartet.
3. Lillard – Would be getting more attention for his prolific three-point shooting if it weren’t for Curry.
4. Love – Former winner, has the advantage of a good beard.
5. Belinelli – No Spur has ever won the three-point contest, but this feels like one of those times Wikipedia is being a liar.
6. Beal – Has about one full season of really good three-point shooting on his resume.
7. Afflalo – Amazing from the corners, not so hot from everywhere else.
8. Johnson – A serious threat to run out of time.

Slam Dunk Contest, Saturday, After Three-Point Contest

Winner: Eastern Conference. If this is what it takes to get big names back in the dunk contest, it’s probably worth it to not have guys like Fred Jones bringing home the title.

Out of Paul George, John Wall, Harrison Barnes, Damian Lillard and Ben McLemore, I like Terrence Ross to have the best dunk of the night. He’s the most acrobatic of the group, and there’s always the chance he gives a nod to Vince Carter. Playing on memories always helps in this event.

McLemore is the wildcard who could help the West win, but Barnes is just a little too stiff of an athlete and Lillard might not be able to do some of the crazy dunks we’ve grown accustomed to. So long as Paul George doesn’t go all glow-in-the-dark again, the East should be able to win this.

2013-14 All-Star Game, Sunday, 8pm ET

Winner: Western Conference. It’s been by far the superior conference during the real games, and the East likely being down Dwyane Wade won’t help. The East has a lot of good players that don’t necessarily translate all that well to the All-Star style (Roy Hibbert, Joakim Noah), and the West is far more balanced with scorers like Kevin Durant and Curry in addition to table setters like Chris Paul.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony make for a tough tandem, but the West is deeper and more explosive. Here’s guessing the West makes it four straight over the East.

Score: West 144, East 139

MVP: Kevin Durant. We know LeBron and Durant are going to go at it, as the battle for MVP won’t take a break. Here’s giving Durant the slight edge, as he’s more likely to be on the winning team and have the game’s most points. That’s usually enough to win MVP, but either way, this should be good.

The Extra Pass: Three players who are ready to start

Taj Gibson

Let’s take a look at three players who were in action Tuesday night who deserve starting jobs sooner rather than later.

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder

Reggie Jackson has understandably received plenty of praise in Russell Westbrook’s absence, but don’t sleep on Lamb’s emergence as a reliable scorer. With Thabo Sefolosha struggling to find his shot and Kevin Martin out of the picture, Lamb has stepped into a bigger role (22 minutes a night) and has provided OKC with a real spot-up shooting threat on the perimeter. Unlike Sefolosha, Lamb has the ability to score off the bounce and his much quicker release allows him to more effectively spread the floor.

Are the offensive upgrades enough reason to insert Lamb in the starting lineup over Sefolosha, who has familiarity and stronger defensive instincts on his side? Thunder head coach Scott Brooks catches a lot of flak, but he’s been more open to toying with different lineups and letting hot players stay on the floor. There’s still a lot of loyalty to guys like Kendrick Perkins, but not nearly as much as in years past. With that in mind, Lamb playing more than Sefolosha might not be so out of the question.

Sefolosha is on an expiring contract, so don’t be surprised if the Thunder start to work in Lamb as much as possible, even with Westbrook’s eventual return. He’s just a much more dynamic offensive player than Sefolosha is.

James Johnson, Memphis Grizzlies

It’s pretty incredible that a player who wasn’t on an NBA roster to start the season could swing the Memphis Grizzlies’ season, but here we are.

Johnson has been incredible in his 22 games with Memphis, averaging roughly 14 points, 7 rebounds, 4.5 assists, 2 steals and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes. Andrei Kirilenko is the only wing player to ever actually average those numbers over a full season, so you know Johnson is in good company.

Those numbers alone should warrant more than 22 minutes a night, especially when you consider who is blocking Johnson’s path to more playing time. At age 33, Tayshaun Prince is a shell of his former self on the defensive end, and his true shooting percentage of 41.7 is unpalatable for a team already starved for space.

Prince has had a storied career and deserves a lot of respect, but rookie head coach Dave Joerger might have to make the tough call and cut his playing time considerably in order to get Johnson some more burn. If the Grizzlies sneak into the playoffs and go against the likes of Kevin Durant or Nicolas Batum in the first round, Johnson’s 6-foot-9 frame and playmaking ability on both ends will be desperately needed. Prince just isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls

You can understand why Gibson comes off the bench for Tom Thibodeau. Protecting Carlos Boozer’s ego by keeping him as a starter makes sense, and Gibson’s defensive versatility allows him to play either the 4 or 5, which makes him perfectly suited to be a third big man.

Here’s the issue, though. Even if Gibson is the one finishing games in the fourth quarter, it’s still a shame to see him play less than 30 minutes a night on average. When you see Gibson’s chemistry with Joakim Noah and his vastly superior defense, you have to wonder if Chicago would be much better off playing Gibson as much as he can handle and giving whatever is left over to Boozer.

If the Bulls are going to amnesty Boozer this offseason anyway, it might be less of a priority to treat Boozer with kid gloves. Gibson is the superior player and he’s part of Chicago’s future where Boozer probably isn’t. Once he returns to the lineup, there’s no reason why Boozer should be playing more than Gibson going forward.

The Extra Pass: The Minnesota Timberwolves are on the clock

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Clippers


10 days before the trade deadline. 30 games left in the season. One contract year remaining.

To say this is one of the most important time frames in the history of the Minnesota Timberwolves franchise isn’t overly dramatic or hyperbolic. It’s reality.

Minnesota has never won a championship. 25 years, no rings, and an overall winning percentage below 40 percent. There isn’t much of a history to be forgotten when making statements like the one above.

In fact, very few transcendent talents have ever even suited up for the Wolves. When you think back of all the players over the years, only the two Kevins really spring to mind.

The first Kevin, of course, showed tremendous loyalty and stayed with the team for 12 years. At the peak of his powers, Garnett was able to turn Minnesota into a consistent winner, but he wasted his prime on bad rosters that were mangled by management. Wally Szczerbiak was genuinely one of the best players Garnett got to play with. Yes, it was that bad.

The second Kevin has dealt with worse, though. Whether it was a coach who wouldn’t play him early in his career, management that wouldn’t pay him coming off his rookie deal, or the same failure to put enough talent around him, Love hasn’t even felt the small success of a playoff series to tide him over halfway through the same amount of time KG spent in Minnesota.

Garnett was loyal to a fault, sure, but at least he had some semblance of hope that the Wolves could reach the next level with him on board. He had reason for his faith.

The same can’t be said for Love, and so the Wolves are essentially on the clock to somehow change that.

That means there’s 10 days to make a franchise-altering trade, 30 games to make up a seven-game deficit in the standings, and just one contract year left before Love can bolt in free agency.

History won’t be kind to Minnesota if they fail again with such a talented power forward in tow. We may remember the details of why Minnesota has struggled now with perfect clarity — David Kahn, all the injuries and bad luck, all the losses that should have been wins — but if Minnesota loses such a tremendously talented player after just six seasons? It will be a complete failure on every level.

So what should Minnesota do? Each potential course of action comes with great risk. Trade future draft picks for an impact player now, and maybe that handicaps the rebuilding period if Love ends up leaving anyway. Trade Love now before he can leave for nothing, and maybe it’s the Al Jefferson era all over again.

That being said, doing nothing at all might be the most indefensible decision available. Without Kevin Martin and Nikola Pekovic in the lineup, the Wolves lost by 18 at home to the Houston Rockets, a team that didn’t seem that far off in the distance just a few weeks ago. But the game illustrated a point: the Wolves are getting weaker, the West is getting stronger, and Love’s big games aren’t making much of a difference anymore.

It begs the question: how much longer will Love accept this as his fate? One more full season? Less?

We’ve seen in the past that superstars can get out of situations they don’t want to be in. Carmelo Anthony did. Deron Williams and Chris Paul did, too. Love wasn’t always on that level, but he is now, even if he’s still a flawed defender and a generally high maintenance player. Regardless, he’s good enough to have every team want him at any price. He holds all the cards here.

Flip Saunders and the rest of Minnesota’s front office know this. They are at the mercy of his pending decision. At this pace, though, Love’s patience is going to run out well before his contract does. There are excuses available for Minnesota’s lack of success, but none are going to be good enough to keep Love around. He needs real reasons to want to stay.

Love may be short on those right now, just as the Wolves are short on time.

10 days, 30 games, one more year. Minnesota, you’re on the clock.