These should be your All-Star Game reserves

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The fans have spoken — the 10 NBA All-Star Game starters have been chosen. And as we said before, good on ya. The fans did well this time around.

The way this works is the fans pick the five starters, then the coaches (or more likely an assistant coach, or the video guy, or the team PR guy) pick the next seven. Then David Stern gets one last pick, because he is David Stern.

We’re not sure who the coaches will pick, but here’s who they should pick. Or at least who would be on our ballot if we were a coach (or an assistant coach, or the video guy, or the team PR guy).

Eastern Conference:

Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks, center): Dude is blowing up this season and nobody noticed. He’s still scoring (16.3 per game) but doing it with the best shooting percentage of his career (57 percent). His rebounding is still strong, but his assist percentage is way up while his turnovers are way down. Horford is another guy who exemplifies why the ballot needs to be changed.

Chris Bosh (Miami Heat, forward): Averaging 18.2 points and 8.6 rebounds, and if you don’t think he’s key for Miami you haven’t watched the last couple games with him out.

Kevin Garnett (Boston Celtics, forward): The anchor of the best team in the East so far. He is moving like the old KG this season, and that should scare teams come the playoffs.

Paul Pierce (Boston Celtics, forward): Scoring 19 points a game to lead the Celtics and shooting a better-than-Ray Allen 51.4 percent. This isn’t really even a question, unless you are Josh Smith’s mom.

Ray Allen (Boston Celtics, guard): Bill Walton was doing the Boston broadcast of last night’s game and said this of Allen’s jumper: “Flawless … like Yosemite Falls coming right through the rim.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

Rajon Rondo (Boston Celtics, guard): I can’t wait to see him throw an ally-oop to LeBron in transition. Maybe the best passing point guard in the game, and he’s improved his game enough to be here easily.

And yes, four Celtics get in.

Carlos Boozer (Chicago Bulls, forward): He’s only played 27 games since returning from a hand injury, and he’s missed games since… and he’s still the best player in the East for the final spot. You can make a case for Joe Johnson or Josh Smith out of Atlanta, there’s a buzz for Raymond Felton. I would not be livid with any of those. But for the guy who has been the best when he played, it’s Boozer for me.

As tough as that last pick was, it’s nothing like choosing the reserves for the…

Western Conference:

Pau Gasol (Los Angeles Lakers, forward): He probably should have been chosen over Carmelo Anthony by the fans, but Gasol should get to start anyway when Gregg Popovich names him to step in for Yao Ming. Gasol still the most fundamentally sound big in the game.

Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks, forward): This is another gimmee — until his injury he was in the running for league MVP. Plus, we need someone in this game to shoot a lot of contested long two pointers… wait, forgot we already had ‘Melo.

Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, forward): The best rebounder in the game. Nifty footwork that gets him good looks. The game should be about rewarding excellence and Love has been that this season, even if it took Kurt Rambis a while to realize it.

Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers, forward): Tough call with LaMarcus Aldridge, Lamar Odom and David West all being very deserving. At the end of the day the All-Star game is an exhibition, and while I might pick West first for a playoff game I’ll take Griffin first in this setting.

Manu Ginobili (San Antonio Spurs, guard): The best player and leading scorer on the best team in the league. Another must from the coaches.

Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City Thunder, guard): If the Thunder are a better team this season, Westbrook is the reason why. He has taken a leap forward.

Deron Williams (Utah Jazz, guard): He is the Utah Jazz, and the Jazz are pretty good (well, except for the past couple weeks, but we’ll overlook that for these purposes). Debate if he is the best or third best PG in the game, but he is certainly an All-Star.

Yao Ming’s replacement (David Stern will fill this roster spot): Tim Duncan (San Antonio Spurs, center, er, forward): Yes he’s older, the scoring and offense now flow through Ginobili and Parker. Yes, Tyson Chandler is a legitimate consideration here. Duncan still anchors the defense, rebounds and gets key buckets for the league’s best team. He has earned the spot.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-

Stephen Curry on playing in 2020 Tokyo Olympics: ‘That is the plan, for sure’

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It wasn’t just one thing that had the USA finishing seventh in the recent FIBA World Cup in China, but there was one overriding factor — the USA did not send it’s best players. That’s no knock on Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Jaylen Brown and others who sacrificed and certainly gave it their all for Team USA, but we see this every NBA playoffs and now in international ball — the level of play of the top 10 or so players in the world is just different, it  changes and wins games. It takes them to win an NBA title, and now that is true of the gold medal.

Expect some of those elite players to suit up for Team USA in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Stephen Curry is in the front of that line, he told Rachel Nichols of ESPN.

“That is the plan, for sure. You know, obviously knock on wood, you don’t want any injuries or things like that to interfere…

“Definitely wanna go. I’ve never been on the Olympic team. I’ve been on two World Cup championship gold-medal teams. But the Olympics is the experience that I want. And next year will hopefully be it.”

Draymond Green also has said he wants to suit up for the USA in Tokyo.

This was to be expected. As has been written about before here at NBC (and in numerous other publications), it was poor decisions by the international governing body FIBA — in their quixotic quest to have the basketball world cup rival the soccer version — that hurt the USA’s roster, as well as the rosters of other teams around the world.

FIBA moved this World Cup to 2019 — one year before the Olympics — instead of 2018, when it would have traditionally fallen. This shift kept a number of players away. To play for Team USA is a six-to-seven week summer commitment, during the offseason when players are trying to rest, get their bodies right, relax a little, and spend time with friends and family. Putting the World Cup and Olympics in back-to-back years (and FIBA would love to kill 5-on-5 at the Olympics, but that’s another discussion) had players choosing between the two events, and for Americans the Olympics are always going to win that fight. Also, FIBA scheduled this World Cup for early September, so it ran right up against the start of training camps around the globe, with little break for the players. That was another strike (the Olympics next year run late July to early August, and you can catch it all on NBC).

Expect a number of other elite players to want to head to Tokyo. While USA Basketball president Jerry Colangelo has talked tough about players who backed out this year, there is no chance he says no to an Anthony Davis/James Harden/Kawhi Leonard level player if they want to go. The USA wants gold and it needs its best players.

Such as Curry.

Wizards’ Isaiah Thomas out 6-8 weeks following thumb surgery

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With John Wall out likely for the season, the Washington Wizards are going to lean on Ish Smith and Isaiah Thomas to handle point guard duties (although Bradley Beal will have the ball in his hands a lot and do plenty of playmaking, too).

Now the Wizards will be without Thomas through training camp and into the start of the season after surgery Wednesday to repair a ligament in his thumb, the team announced. The injury happened during a regular workout Monday at the team facility.

“This was an unfortunate setback for Isaiah, but with his resolve and the top care he will receive from our medical team, we expect him to make a full recovery,” said Wizards General Manager Tommy Sheppard in a statement. “In the meantime, he will continue to mentor our young guards and have a positive impact on the team as we start training camp.”

After Smith and Thomas, the only point guard on the roster is undrafted rookie Justin Robinson (on a non-guaranteed contract).

This is a fluky, unfortunate injury for Thomas, who has battled through years of hip and other injuries and is looking forward to the chance to prove himself with the Wizards. Thomas went to Washington for the opportunity, and that will still be there, but missing camp is a setback.