Blake Griffin jumps Dunk Contest over car, into new era of spectacle

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The days of the Dominique tomahawk are gone. The Jordan cradle dunk is a dinosaur. Throwing it off the backboard to yourself is passé.

Blake Griffin dunked over a car while a gospel choir sang at midcourt. And he is your 2011 Slam Dunk Contest champion. It was impressive and entertaining.

That, my friends, is where we are headed with the dunk contest.

Saturday night the four participants — Griffin, JaVale McGee, DeMar DeRozan and Serge Ibaka — used props, skits and showmanship to make the dunks spectacle. It was made-for-television. This wasn’t just four band members in jeans and T-shirts rocking out, it was a Kanye West concert. It was pure spectacle with some dunks thrown in.

And it was the most entertaining contest in years.

It’s how things will be for years to come. Say you miss the old school Dunk Contests all you want, the event has evolved.

“A lot of the things that are possible have been done, you know what I mean?” Griffin said after the contest. “So it’s tough to come up with something that nobody has ever seen before. That’s always the big thing. Everybody is like ‘Oh it’s going to be something nobody has ever seen’ but you kind of have to use props for that. It’s kind of become — it’s kind of moved toward that.”

“All of us definitely came prepared,” said runner up JaVale McGee. “We came with props and everything. We all came for entertainment because we definitely didn’t want to be another disappointment for the Slam Dunk Contest like the year before was.

Last year, after the year of Dwight Howard’s show, guys went old school. Few props, just athleticism on display. The event got panned as dull.

Griffin is spot on — we’ve pretty much seen it all. Serge Ibaka executed a dunk taking off from the free throw line and couldn’t get a perfect score from Dr. J (who was one of the judges).

But he didn’t just do the dunk. The Congo native came out to Kanye music with people carrying African-colored flags. The flag carriers lined his path to the free throw line.

It was like that through the first two rounds — two of the best rounds the contest has ever seen. Ibaka grabbed a stuffed animal hanging on the rim with his teeth while dunking. McGee dunked three basketballs at once (John Wall assisted on that).

McGee even had them bring out a second backboard, lined up right next to the first, so he could dunk on both at once.

There was still the crazy athleticism — on Griffin’s first dunk of the final round he put his arm through the rim and hung there on his cocked elbow for a while. DeRozan got a perfect score without props and just leaping and spinning. McGee dunked from behind the backboard having to duck his head out of the way.

But that alone is not enough anymore. The contest has evolved. More importantly our expectations have evolved. It is a show. It is a spectacle. Just being athletic is not enough; you have to be an entertainer.

Could you argue that some dunks were better than the winners, that someone got robbed? Sure. Knock yourself out. I’ll even agree that with fans voting for the finals Blake Griffin won this thing a month ago. But that’s all besides the bigger point.

This dunk contest forever changed the game. Don’t accept if you don’t want to be a showman. In-game dunks don’t cut it here, this is an exhibition and the bar has been raised.

In the end, Griffin had the biggest spectacle of the night — Baron Davis lobbing an ally-oop out of a sunroof to Griffin leaping over a Kia while a gospel choir sang R. Kelly. The dunk contest has never seen anything like it.

It moved the needle and now there is no going back.

Brad Stevens says Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward should be fully cleared by Aug. 1

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Everyone watching the Boston Celtics in the playoffs kept thinking the same thing: Add Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward back into this lineup next summer and — bang — instant contender.

That leads to the question: Just where are Irving and Hayward on their recovery tracks? Glad you asked.

That’s a good sign for the Celtics. And for fans of good basketball.

One word of caution: Progression when adding stars into a system is not necessarily linear. Or, to put it more plainly, throwing superstars who need the ball in their hands into the mix comes with its own set of adjustments and challenges, things do not always go smoothly or as planned. There could be some fits and starts as the Celtics figure things out next season. (And that’s not even getting into the Kawhi Leonard rumors, which are legitimate but also a long way from reality as of today.)

If you were going to trust one coach to figure it out and get guys to buy in, Brad Stevens would be your guy. The Celtics are rightfully going to enter next season as the bar to clear in the East (free agency depending). Just don’t expect things to go smoothly from day one, because that’s just not how basketball or life work.

Michael Porter Jr. says his injury situation “got exaggerated a lot”

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If healthy, Michael Porter Jr. might be as talented as anyone in this draft. He’s a 6’11” wing or small ball four who can shoot from the NBA three-point line and has the athleticism to get up and down the floor then finish with authority.

But health is a concern. There was the back injury which forced a microdiscectomy surgery that forced Porter to miss all but three games last season. Back injuries in big men are tricky things and can linger. Then last week there was an off-again-on-again workout and medical evaluation with the pause due to a hip issue. Was that soreness tied to the back issue?

In an interview on ESPN radio, Porter played down the injury concerns.

Former Missouri freshman Michael Porter Jr., who had issues with his hip and back, said Monday that he’s “feeling great” and wouldn’t dismiss the idea of working out for teams this week ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft.

“It’s a possibility,” Porter said on The Will Cain Show on ESPN Radio. “I feel good. … I got evaluated. I let the doctors come in and do all their tests on me. I’m feeling good. I think the teams are comfortable, but I might get a couple workouts in.”

As for last week’s hip issue.

“It was just a little sore, so I told [my agent] my hip was kind of sore and he just wanted to shut it down for a couple of days,” Porter said. “And then people took that and kind of ran with it, saying, you know, my hip was injured, I couldn’t get out of bed. … None of that was really true. I was just sore and I wanted to take a couple of days off. So that’s all that was.”

Porter is the mystery man in this draft — and those guys always seem to rise and have someone fall in love with them. It’s hard to imagine Porter going lower than eighth, but he has been linked to teams as high as the Kings at No. 2.

Porter is the kind of player that some team lower in the draft may fall in love with and be willing to trade up to the top five to snag him. The health is the question. An NBA front office member who has seen Porter’s medical reports described them to NBC Sports as “fine.”

There are also concerns about Porter’s grit and toughness. He has the reputation of having been insulated and having been a bit of a diva, what happens when he gets to an NBA team where he is not the first (and, at first at least, maybe not the second) option. What happens when he has to play more of a role and have it not be about him and his touches? Teams are asking about that.

Despite the concerns, there will be a team taking him in the first half of the lottery. It could be a home run. Or… that’s what makes the draft interesting.

Report: As expected, Jamal Crawford declines $4.5 million player option with Minnesota

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Jamal Crawford wants a bigger payday, and after a solid season scoring 10.3 points per game for Minnesota last season, he might get it despite a tight market. That’s why what happened on Monday was expected.

Crawford opted out of the final year of his contract with the Timberwolves, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Jamal Crawford has declined his $4.5 million player option for next season and will become a free agent, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Crawford, a three-time Sixth Man of the Year, will become one of the top reserve scorers on the open market after facing Monday’s deadline to decide on his option.

The concern for teams is that Crawford is 38 and already showing some decline in his skills and game. Crawford can still be productive, but teams will be leery of offering more than two years guaranteed on his contract. And for a guy who comes off the bench — even a three-time Sixth Man of the Year — teams are not going to spend big.

Crawford may also just be looking for a new team chemistry and role, something at this stage in his career he should be able to get.

Enes Kanter’s father sentenced to 15 years in jail in ongoing political dispute

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The dictatorial Turkish government has issued an arrest warrant for Knicks big man Enes Kanter because he is an outspoken opponent of Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kanter is not foolish enough to go home to be arrested (and likely tortured), he may never see his homeland again.

Kanter’s family had to disavow their son and his beliefs. That apparently was not enough. Kanter’s father, Mehmet Kanter, has been sentenced to 15 years in prison in Turkey for “membership in a terror group,” the country’s official news agency reported Monday.

Enes Kanter believes to be a politically motivated attempt to go at him. Kanter released this statement.

The Turkish government’s shots at Kanter are not new. Last summer the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport while he was abroad, forcing American diplomats (with some help from the NBA) to step in and prevent him from being sent back to his native country and arrested.

All of this is because Kanter is a follower of the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania. Turkish president Erdogan — who is essentially a dictator now, and runs a country where human rights abuses are rampant — blames Gulen for masterminding a failed 2016 coup attempt in Turkey, and used that as an excuse for a crackdown and consolidation of power.

Using or dividing family members to try to gain political advantage or make a political statement is abhorrent, anywhere it happens. Unfortunately, Kanter is caught in the middle of it and there is little he can do.