Kurt Helin

DeMarcus Cousins, Nicolas Batum, Marvin Williams
Associated Press

DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis to be big men in All-Star Skills compeition

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You remember the All-Star Saturday skills competition, one of the better things on Saturday while we wait around for Zach LaVine to own the Dunk Contest. It’s a handful of guards dribbling around cutout defenders, passing to targets, and making a few shots.

This year, they are going to let the big men come and play.

A few reports have some bigs joining the event, and DeMarcus Cousins all but confirmed it.

This should liven things up; Anthony Davis and Draymond Green are skilled, plus there are other bigs in that mold. I like the idea, although it raises an interesting question. You can’t expect Cousins to be as fast dribbling end-to-end as John Wall or even Chris Paul, so are they going to modify the competition for bigs?

The good news out of All-Star Saturday is twofold: First, no more Shooting Stars competition (the one with WNBA stars and NBA alumni shooting from half court, the one Chris Bosh‘s team always won). Second, no Sting.

Lakers make veterans on roster available via trade

Los Angeles Lakers center Roy Hibbert (17) argues a call with referee Kane Fitzgerald during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Portland Trail Blazers in Portland, Ore., Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016. The Blazers won 121-103. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
Associated Press
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When the Lakers signed a series of veterans this summer — Brandon Bass, Roy Hibbert, Lou Williams, Metta World Peace — the idea was twofold. First, Lakers management believed this team was better than it actually is and that these veterans could play quality minutes, maybe even keep this team in contention for a playoff spot.

If the Lakers fell short of that — and they have, in spectacular fashion — then the Lakers would have trade chips to use at the deadline.

That has happened, as confirmed by Marc Stein at ESPN.

Ditto for the Los Angeles Lakers and a number of veterans on their roster: Roy Hibbert, Brandon Bass, Nick Young and Lou Williams. We should note, however, that Hibbert possesses the only expiring contract in that quartet. Bass holds a $3.1 million player option for next season.

What the Lakers are looking for in return is picks and young players — assets to help their rebuilding process. That said, none of the guys on that list are going to bring much in return, these are guys coming off the bench or not contributing a ton on a 9-39 team.

Still, playoff teams looking for veteran backup depth along the front line may well consider Bass as reasonable option — he’s shooting 55.4 percent and has looked like the decent to solid veteran that he is. Bass could well get moved, but not much is going to come back in return. Hibbert is struggling this season, but a team may take a small risk on him if the cost isn’t too high.

There also was a rumor Thursday that the Lakers would consider moving D'Angelo Russell. Take that with a full shaker of salt. This is more like the Lakers testing the trade market for a player with teams in need of a point guard. Would the Lakers trade Russell? Sure, if a team was willing to send back a boatload of quality talent/picks, but the price the Lakers would ask is going to be too steep for anybody sane.

If I were Lakers’ management, I would see the flashes of progress Russell has shown and wonder how that could grow under a coach better suited to player development. Russell has said he doesn’t even understand yet the questions he should be asking to make big leaps, and his coach is not a great communicator, which stunts everything. Give Russell another year, a chance to improve his shooting, and then he can better be evaluated.

Report: Kings willing to trade Rudy Gay, but there are conditions

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The Sacramento Kings are DeMarcus Cousin’s team, and the question for GM Vlade Divac becomes who are the best players to put around him to thrive? (Well, that and what’s the best system, and is George Karl the guy to execute that vision).

Rudy Gay may not be one of those guys.

Gay trade rumors have swirled around Gay for a while, and Marc Stein of ESPN confirms those, but says it’s not that simple.

Sacramento is said to be seeking a quality young player in return if it parts with Gay. Or a player they like with at least one year left on his contract after this season, which would give the Kings some insulation against trading for someone in February who turns around and leaves town in July. (Gay, 29, is scheduled to earn $13.3 million from the Kings next season before he’s forced to decide on a $14.3 million player option in 2017-18)….

Sacramento, for example, rejected New Orleans’ recent offer of Eric Gordon and Alonzo Gee for Gay before Gordon suffered a fractured finger that will keep him out until after the deadline. They don’t want to move him just for the sake of it.

That’s not shopping a guy, that’s being a prudent GM. If you can get younger and keep the talent level high, then you seriously consider a deal, if not you move along. That should be the case for everyone on the Kings’ roster not nicknamed Boogie.

(And no, Cousins is not available via trade — owner Vivek Ranadive still loves him, and you don’t trade your most popular, biggest draw player the season before you move into a new arena. So you can stop trying to dreaming up packages, Celtics fans.)

The Kings are in a fight for the last playoff spot in the West with Utah and Portland and the owner wants to make the postseason after a nine-year drought — they are not going to make trades that have them stepping backwards.

Come Feb. 19, the day after the trade deadline, Gay is probably still pulling on a purple jersey for Sacramento. The rumors about him are not going to stop, but there is a clear evaluation system for those now — the Kings’ aren’t just going to take on junk to dump him. That was never the plan.

Five Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Bulls bank on Jimmy Butler’s playmaking

Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, left, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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LOS ANGELES —We understand, if you’re Megyn Kelly you didn’t have time to catch any NBA games Thursday. Even if that would have been a better use of your time. So here is what you need to know from a Thursday night around the Association.

1) Jimmy Butler‘s playmaking key to Bulls’ evolution. Pau Gasol is still incredibly skilled at age 35 and is going to put up points nightly. Derrick Rose may not be able to take over a game the way he did pre-injuries, but he can still carve up a defense for stretches. Both did just that against the Lakers Thursday — Gasol had 21 points, Rose 16 points and five assists (and he was inserted back in the game in the fourth to quell a Lakers’ push to make it a game again).

But it is Jimmy Butler’s playmaking that turns Chicago from “nice team” into a real threat.

That was evident Thursday in the Bulls’ win over the lowly Lakers Thursday, a 114-91. Butler led Chicago with 21 points and 10 assists, and he was the one that changed the dynamics of the game.

“He did everything for us tonight,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “In that first quarter he got three steals in a row, which led to three baskets, that was huge for us. We’re putting the ball in his hands a lot, not just in isolation situations, but we’re also putting him in a lot of ball screens, he’s just making the right play and the right read, and he’s continuing to get better in that role.”

“Guys were spacing the floor well whenever I’d attack,” Butler said. “I mean, the right play was to make the pass, and they made the shot. I think it makes my job easier, Pau’s job easier, Derrick’s job easier when we’ve got guys who can space the floor and really make shots like that.”

You know it’s going to be Butler’s night when Mark Wahlberg shows up at Staples Center wearing Butler’s Jordan gear (Butler wears Air Jordans).

Playmaking against the Lakers’ league-worst defense is one thing — it was a good way for Hoiberg to break E’Twuan Moore into the starting lineup — but the Bulls have bigger tests on this seven-game road trip they just started, beginning Saturday in the same building against the Clippers. If they are going to keep winning, if they are going to be a threat in the East, it’s going to be because Butler the playmaker keeps showing up and playing like this nightly.

2) Toronto is legit, wins 10th in a row. The wait is over. All season there’s been a waiting game — who is going to break out of the pack and become a clear second best team in the East? Butler’s Bulls looked like that team for a while, but they have lacked consistency.

The Raptors have answered the challenge with a 10-game win streak, reaching that number by knocking off the Knicks 103-93 Thursday. Kyle Lowry looked very bit the All-Star starter, coming off the high pick and attacking — not just looking for buckets, he kept the ball moving. Lowry just made smart decision after smart decision, on his way to 26 points and 10 assists. DeMar DeRozan — also an All-Star — chipped in 26 of his own. The bigger key was the Raptors defense was sharp all night, the recognition and rotations were crisp — Toronto had 11 blocks, 7 steals on the night.

There’s a “you still have to prove it” element to the Raptors — they looked pretty good at points last season, only to get swept out of the first round by the Wizards. This franchise has only made the second round once and has never gone past that point. This looks like the year that changes. They look like the second best team in the East. They look legit.

3) Ryan Anderson drops 36, Pelicans knock off Kings. Remember a week ago, when we all said “check out Sacramento, they are the eight seed out West — they might have gotten it together enough to make the playoffs.” Since then they have lost three straight and are now the 10 seed. Thursday night they helped the Pelicans up Ryan Anderson’s trade value, letting him drop 36 on them as it was New Orleans who looked like a team that wants that last playoff slot in a 114-105 win. (I know, officially the Pelicans say they aren’t shopping Anderson, but they are taking calls about him from other GMs about him, so this is a matter of semantics.) Yes, Anderson was hitting threes against the Kings (five of them), but was getting shots at the bucket and shooting 50 percent from the midrange. When all his shots are falling, he’s tough to stop. And his value just goes up.

4) All-Star Game reserves selected. You the fans chose the starters for each conference for the All-Star Game Feb. 14 in Toronto. The reserves are chosen by the coaches, and those were announced on Thursday night. Here’s who got an invite:

Western Conference: Draymond Green (Golden State), Anthony Davis (New Orleans), DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento), LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), Chris Paul (LA Clippers), Klay Thompson (Golden State), James Harden (Houston).

Eastern Conference: Paul Millsap (Atlanta), Chris Bosh (Miami), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Jimmy Butler (Chicago), John Wall (Washington), Isaiah Thomas (Boston), DeMar DeRozan (Toronto).

5) Pau Gasol felt snubbed from All-Star Game (and he was not alone). Putting together that reserve roster is hard because a handful of deserving guys are going to get snubbed. At the top of the 2016 list is Damian Lillard. But the Bulls’ Gasol — who has averaged 16 and 10 this season, and was fourth in the fan voting, losing a starting spot to Carmelo Anthony by 316 vote — is a proud man who also felt left out.

“A little disappointed, to be honest,” Gasol said about not getting an invite to Toronto. “But I’m not making the decisions, I’m not picking (the team), that’s not my job to do. All I can do is go out every night and prove the player I am. It’s unfortunate, but congrats to the guys that have been selected…. I think I’m still one of the elite players in this league and I’ll try to continue to be for as long as I can.”

If there is an injury to an Eastern Conference big selected for the game, expect Gasol to be the replacement. Commissioner Adam Silver gets to make that appointment, and he has traditionally gone down the order of the fan vote to fill spots — which puts Gasol next in line.

Anderson scores 36, leads Pelicans past Kings, 114-105

New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson (33) shoots over Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein (00) during the second half of an NBA basketball game in New Orleans, Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016. The Pelicans won 114-105. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Associated Press
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Ryan Anderson tied his career high with 36 points and New Orleans beat the Sacramento Kings 114-105 on Thursday night, the Pelicans’ sixth victory in eight games.

The Pelicans won despite the absences of newly named All Star Anthony Davis, who suffered a concussion on Monday night, and Tyreke Evans, who has right knee tendinitis. Jrue Holiday had 25 points and eight assists for New Orleans, while Norris Cole had 17 points and a career-high 10 assists.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, making his first NBA start, added 14 points.

DeMarcus Cousins had 26 points and 10 rebounds for the Kings, who have lost three straight. Ben McLemore added 26 points for Sacramento and Rajon Rondo had 17 points and 15 assists.

Kings associate head coach Chad Iske stood in for head coach George Karl, who was out sick.

New Orleans, which lost 11 of its first 12 games this season, is now 17-28 and just three games behind Portland for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Pelicans’ only two losses in the past eight games came by two points at Memphis and by one point at home to Houston on Monday night.

The Kings, who trailed by as many as 19 in the second quarter, were as close as five in the third period when James Anderson‘s driving layup made it 82-77.

But Ryan Anderson responded with his fifth 3 of the game, and New Orleans steadily rebuilt its lead to 19 again when Cole’s driving bank shot made it 101-82 with less than eight minutes to play. Sacramento never got closer than eight after that.

Despite missing two of their top three scorers in Davis and Evans, New Orleans raced to an 18-point lead in the first quarter, when Ryan Anderson scored 18 of his points on 8-of-12 shooting, highlighted by a pair of 3s and an array of mid-range turnaround jumpers.

The lead grew to 19 when Holiday’s 3 made it 42-23 early in the second quarter.

Cousins, who had nine points in the second quarter, helped Sacramento briefly whittle its deficit to single digits before Anderson hit a step-back jumper to give him 30 points in the first half and push the Pelicans’ lead back to 11.

Rondo’s free throw cut New Orleans’ lead to 63-53 at halftime.

TIP-INS

Kings: Rondo reached double-digit assists for his 14th straight game, tying the franchise record set by Nate “Tiny” Archibald in 1972. … The Kings fell to 8-14 on the road, where they have lost two straight.

Pelicans: Alonzo Gee scored 10 for New Orleans. … The Pelicans, plagued by injuries all season, sent out their 21st different starting lineup of the season. … The Pelicans improved to 1-5 when Davis does not play. … New Orleans had at least 10 3s for the 18th time this season, compared with 14 all of last season. It was also the Pelicans’ sixth game in the last eight with 10 3s.