Kurt Helin

of the game at American Airlines Arena on December 25, 2015 in Miami, Florida.
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Anthony Davis, Chris Bosh and the evolution of the NBA big man

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Toronto was witness to the latest evidence of the evolution of the big man in the NBA — not during Sunday’s All-Star Kobe Bryant love vest, but on Saturday during the Skills Competition and Three-Point Contest.

Four big men competed in the skills competition — previously the domain of quick little guards — and Karl-Anthony Towns won it, knocking down his three first to beat Boston’s diminutive Isaiah Thomas. Miami’s Chris Bosh was set to compete in the three-point competition until his health issues got in the way.

That evolution of the big man and his role in a modern NBA was a topic throughout All-Star weekend for those trying to adapt to changing roles.

“The whole game has evolved,” said New Orlean’s Anthony Davis, one of those big men in the Saturday Skills Competition. “I don’t think there’s too many traditional big men anymore. Guys grab a rebound and push it up the floor and starting plays, stretching out to the three now. There are no traditional big men, but that’s the way the game has evolved….

“Everybody’s gotta be versatile now, and that’s the way the game has evolved.”

But this evolution is not one size fits all. There are the all-around skills of someone like Davis or Towns, the length and shooting of Kristaps Porzingis, the polished midrange game of LaMarcus Aldridge (who follows in the footsteps of Dirk Nowitzki), or the freakish athleticism of someone such as DeAndre Jordan.

DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond are the two best players close to a traditional big man in the Association, but they bring other skills to the table — Cousins can hit threes (as he did in the All-Star Game), and Drummond is so athletic he can defend the pick-and-roll out on the perimeter.

“(Drummond) is a freak of nature,” said Bosh, who himself is a good pick-and-roll defending big on the perimeter. “He’s mobile, he can guard, and he’s very athletic.

“That’s what you need to be. The slower big man is kind of easing out a little bit. If you’re slower, you need that outside touch, it’s very important. But a guy like him, his athleticism helps him survive.”

Bosh hits the nail on the head. The day of Mark Eaton clogging the paint are gone — and it’s because of changes to the rules and changes in players.

The rules changes in 2004 were the first dominoes in what has become a modern NBA — no more hand checking on the perimeter so that skill could show through, and zone defenses were allowed. That first rule means if you have a big who can create a little space and get a shot off on the perimeter, he’s going to be able to operate — think Nowitzki and his one-legged fadeaway.

The zone defense means you’re not just going to be able to throw the ball to a big in the post and let him go to work — if you’ve got a strong post player I can have a defender fronting him and another helping behind before there is even an attempt at an entry pass. It becomes very had to get the ball to a big just standing on the block if the defense makes stopping that a priority. That puts value on bigs who can come out and set the pick then pop out for a jumper — Marc Gasol, Pau Gasol — or can be a beast rolling to the rim (the Clippers’ Jordan).

Bottom line, you must have some versatility to your game.

Modern NBA bigs have that versatility because they grew up idolizing and modeling their game more after Kevin Garnett and Nowitzki than Shaq (because nobody gets the physical gifts of a Shaq but once every generation or three). Today’s bigs come into the league with a range of skills (or, at least, a foundation of them for teams to build on) that allows a coach to use them in different ways depending upon the matchup.

All this doesn’t mean that these bigs don’t want to see the center designation return to the All-Star Ballot. Don’t bet on that happening (although at Adam Silver’s address it was said it would remain on the All-NBA ballot).

And if you ask DeMarcus Cousins, the center position isn’t going anywhere.

“I think the center position is very much alive…. It’s a trendy league, that’s what’s trendy right now,” Cousins said of small ball. “I’m sure that changes again down the road…

“We got a lot of great bigs coming in — Karl-Anthony Towns, Jahlil (Okafor) — there’s a lot of great talent coming up, so we shouldn’t disrespect the position.”

Report: Charlotte trades for Courtney Lee in three-team deal

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 23: Courtney Lee #5 of the Memphis Grizzlies looks on against the Washington Wizards in the second half at Verizon Center on December 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Washington Wizards won, 100-91. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Charlotte Hornets are the eight seed in the East but have lost their best wing player in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist for the rest of the season following another shoulder surgery.

Enter Courtney Lee.

The Hornets have acquired Lee in a three-team deal still being finalized, a trade first broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

Let’s break this down by team.

Charlotte gets a guy in Lee who can help them make a push into the playoffs — he is a 3-and-D guy who will fit well next to Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum on the perimeter. What they gave up is not something they felt was a critical part of the future.

Miami lands a veteran backup guard in Brian Roberts but mostly gets Chris Andersen off their books to save some money (it lowers Miami’s luxury tax hit by more than $2 million).

Memphis has me wondering: is this the first of several moves as sellers? Maybe not, there are certainly justifiable things in this deal for Memphis. Landing Andersen makes sense in that it gives them another big with Marc Gasol now out with a broken foot. They don’t have their first-round pick this season (top five protected), so they are not tanking. They get a project in P.J. Hairston and a couple of picks. This is a small step back, but Lee was going to be a free agent this summer. On the other hand, if the Grizzlies are going to make big changes this would seem the first step.

Probably not, the Grizzlies like their core and want to keep Mike Conley this summer, but it’s something to watch.

Report: Chris Bosh has returned to taking blood thinners, hopes to play this season

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 26:  Chris Bosh #1 of the Miami Heat looks on against the Brooklyn Nets during their game at the Barclays Center on January 26, 2016 in New York City.   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 Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Chris Bosh admitted he was a little down, having to pull out of the All-Star Game in Toronto. He had been looking forward to the weekend in the city where his NBA started to grow, even laughing about still getting booed at times.

But when he pulled out due to a strained calf, there was concern from the beginning that this could be part of the return of the blood clot issue that last season got to his lungs, threatened his life, and kept him out of the team’s final 30 games.

It is blood clots, and doctors are on it quickly this time, reports Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press.

Bosh was asked about the potential for the return of clots on Saturday in Toronto and tried to play it down to those of us pressing on the topic.

“I tried to treat it and all these things, but it’s just one of those funny things where if you feel like it’s not really turning a corner, you know calves can turn into really major, major problems,” Bosh said of his decision to pull out. “Any other circumstance, I’d try to push through it, but it just didn’t make any sense to do it.”

He added he wanted to get team doctors and specialists to look at it. They did, and that’s why he’s back on medication.

He hopes to return to the court this season; it’s unclear if he will be healthy enough to do so.

This throws a blanket of uncertainty over the Heat — both in the short term running up to the trade deadline, and long term with how the franchise is built. Pat Riley has a lot on his plate now.

But that pales in importance to the health of Bosh, one of the kinder and more thoughtful players in the NBA. We wish he and his family nothing but the best.

Orlando trades Tobias Harris to Detroit for Brandon Jennings, Ersan Ilyasova

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 22:  Tobias Harris #12 of the Orlando Magic looks toward the bench during the game against the Charlotte Hornets at Amway Center on January 22, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. 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 Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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Stan Van Gundy has wanted to put together an athletic “four-out” Pistons team — Andre Drummond dominating the paint and four athletic guys who can shoot the rock and defend on the wings.

He got a whole lot closer to that ideal with a deadline trade with Orlando that should help both teams. It was broken by Michael Scotto of SheridanHoops.com and the Associated Press (and since confirmed by the teams).

I love this move for Detroit — it may help them make the playoffs this season, but even if it doesn’t it helps them become a dangerous team down the line. It’s a good one for the Magic, too, as Scott Skiles gets guys he trusts while opening the door for more Aaron Gordon minutes.

The Pistons can start Reggie Jackson at the point, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, and Stanley Johnson at the two, three, and four, allowing them to switch almost anything on defense, plus get out and run some in transition. Harris’ scoring is down (13.7 points per game this season) and he is struggling from three (31.1 percent) but shot better last season (36.4 percent). I am in the camp that part of his regression was he just didn’t fit or feel comfortable in Skiles offense, that given better spacing and a chance to attack gaps in a defense he can return to form. To be fair, not everyone sees it that way, plenty think Harris played over his head in a contract year — he signed a four-year, $64 million contract extension last summer — and that he isn’t that good. We shall see, but I believe Harris is a great fit in SVG’s system.

More than that, I think that as this young Pistons core grows together over the next few seasons, they become very dangerous and very interesting. This was like a July free agent move (because of Harris’ contract) at the deadline. They still have depth and other questions to answer down the line, but this team has the potential to be scary.

For Orlando, this is a trade that frees up a lot of money — Brandon Jennings is a free agent this summer and only $400,000 of Ersan Ilyasova‘s contract is guaranteed. Skiles coached both of those players in Milwaukee, and the pair can stabilize the Magic bench while Skiles plays Elfrid Payton (they are not sold he is the future at the point, Jennings could win the spot), Gordon, and other young players heavy developmental minutes. It’s a solid trade for Orlando with an eye to the future.

Report: Bulls, Raptors talked Taj Gibson for Patrick Patterson trade

Taj Gibson

The Toronto Raptors believe with a serious upgrade at power forward they can challenge Cleveland atop the East. The Chicago Bulls need to start reshaping their roster, especially in the frontcourt.

That had the two sides considering a trade, reported by Zach Lowe of ESPN, but those talks stalled. He goes on to discuss the challenges Toronto faces in making that upgrade they want to see at the four.

Chicago and Toronto had initial discussions on a Taj GibsonPatrick Patterson swap that would give Chicago yet another stretch power forward and trim its tax bill, but those discussions appear to have led nowhere so far….

You can understand why (Raptors GM Masai) Ujiri might be wary of trading a first-round pick for Ryan Anderson, Thaddeus Young, Gibson, Kenneth Faried or Markieff Morris. None of those guys changes your life as a franchise…. Horford is a different story. It would take almost everything in the Toronto’s arsenal to get him, but if they manage it, the Raps would have a good chance of re-signing him, sources say. Still, such a bold move is unlikely.

But even those non-Horford guys are better than what Toronto has, and that incremental improvement might be the difference in a quarter, a game, or a series for a team with ugly postseason demons.

The fan base in Toronto wants a move — and it is time. This is a team that, with an All-Star level four can push Cleveland. With a lesser upgrade at the four Toronto should see the Conference Finals (although an Anderson trade creates the same defensive questions that the Luis Scola/Jonas Valanciunas has now). They are not going after Morris, but any of those other guys is an improvement.

I think Toronto makes a deadline move, and Gibson would be a rock-solid upgrade for them. He defends, he boards, he scores efficiently, and he plays hard every time out. To use a baseball analogy, Gibson is not a home run, but he’s a solid single they could stretch into a double. Having Scola is more like hoping for a walk. That’s not going to do it for a team that needs a playoff series win or two.