Ranking the dunks

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The 2011 All-Star Dunk Contest was one of the best  dunk contests in recent memory. There was pageantry, creativity, innovation, and some of the most memorable dunks we’ve seen in years. Blake Griffin won the contest with a dunk that was more about theater than amplitude, but the dunks that led to that point were almost uniformly strong. Without further ado, let’s rank each of the twelve dunks that made up the 2011 Dunk Contest:

#12: JaVale McGee, Off-the-backboard alley-oop

After Blaker dunked over a car, JaVale McGee needed to do something special to pull out a win. He didn’t. McGee was apparently planning to do a stuffed-toy based dunk for his finale, but Ibaka had done one earlier in the evening. After doing a weak imitation of Vince Carter’s reverse 360 windmill, McGee simply threw the ball off the backboard to himself and threw down. It would have been impressive on a fast break, but it wasn’t the type of dunk that wins dunk contests.

#11: Blake Griffin, Side-of-the-backboard windmill

After a couple of misses on his second dunk of the first round, Griffin finally put home a windmill home off a Baron Davis pass from the side of the backboard. It was thrown down with force, and would have been one of the better dunks in most other contests, and a 46 wasn’t a terrible score for it. But the fact that a gospel choir and a Kia were both waiting in the rings for Griffin does raise some questions about why Griffin’s dunk got a better score than DeRozan’s first slam. I mean, it’s hard to find that much outrage about something as entertainment-focused as the dunk contest, but Blake was definitely making it to the second round.

#10 Serge Ibaka, stuffed animal-grab reverse dunk

Ibaka’s dunk was impressive enough, although missing it the first time required the dunk clock to be stopped so that the stuffed animal could be re-attached to the rim. Ibaka’s mix of theatrics and pure athleticism was more than enough to silence the people wondering why he was invited to the contest in the first place, but it wasn’t quite enough to get him to the second round.

#9: Blake Griffin, the Kia dunk

This was the most controversial dunk of the night. The novelty of rolling a car out onto the stadium, bringing in a gospel choir, and having Baron Davis throw an alley-oop pass through a moonroof made the build-up to the dunk one of the most electrifying moments in dunk contest history — everybody at Staples Center was holding their collective breath. However, the dunk itself was (understandably) pretty plain, and it was hard to shake the feeling that Ibaka, McGee, and DeRozan all could have done the same dunk without much trouble if they had gone to the trouble of getting the props.

#8: JaVale McGee, Reverse rock the cradle dunk

McGee has a special combination of height, wingspan, and leaping ability, and his first dunk of the finals round showed just how physically gifted McGee is. McGee took off from one side of the key, ducked under the backboard, then reached back to dunk the ball from where most big men are setting up for a jump hook. Absolutely amazing stuff.

#7: DeMar DeRozan, East Bay Funk Remix

Believe it or not, this dunk got the lowest score of any dunk on Saturday night. It’s hard to know why — DeRozan missed his first few cracks at this dunk, but he still threw down a through-the-legs dunk on a pass that was thrown behind the backboard. That’s an incredible slam, and the 44 it ultimately received did not do it justice.

#6: JaVale McGee, three-ball dunk

Major, major points to JaVale for his innovation on this one. The degree of difficulty was high, and he gets bonus points for bringing out his mother. However, McGee took more than a few events to finish this dunk, and it didn’t have the sheer power that the night’s best dunks did. JaVale’s dunk is easy to appreciate, but the best dunks are a more visceral experience.

#5: DeMar DeRozan, “The Show Stopper”

Almost everything about this dunk was clean. Good toss, high degree of difficulty, excellent power, completed on the first try. And Darryl Dawkins’ coaching job was beyond reproach. Not a life-changing dunk, but a very good dunk that was perfectly executed.

#4 Serge Ibaka, Free-Throw line jam

Somebody tries to dunk from the free throw line every year, and it’s almost always disappointing. The dunk has been done before, and players are simply bigger and more athletic than they were in the heyday of Dr. J or Michael Jordan, which takes a lot of the novelty away from the dunk. Just because MJ’s free-throw line dunk was the most memorable dunk of all time doesn’t mean that duplicating it will bring instant adoration.

Still, Ibaka’s free-throw line jam was the best one in recent memory. Ibaka, the underdog of the field, came out followed by people holding flags for South Africa and Kanye West’s “Power” blaring over the loudspeakers, and the theatrics made Ibaka’s dunk more interesting without distracting from it. Ibaka took off from well beyond the free throw line, with his toe barely grazing the white line, and his dunk was one of three dunks that were completed on the first try. James Worthy somehow saw fit to give the dunk an eight, and three other judges gave it a nine, but Dr. J himself recognized just how impressive Ibaka’s slam was when he gave him a perfect 10. (Note: the choice between this dunk and DeRozan’s “show stopper” was the hardest on the list — I could easily see them being switched.)

#3: Blake Griffin, Tornado Dunk

After McGee pulled off his incredible double dunk, some people began to wonder how Griffin could follow that jam and live up to his hype as the most exciting in-game dunker since Vince Carter. They quickly got their answer. Griffin went up with one hand like he was trying to pull off a standard 360 jam, then switched to two hands, sped up his rotation in mid-air, and attacked the rim with force. Even though Blake missed his few attempts of this dunk, his misses were enough to show just how much explosion, amplitude, and power he puts into every one of his dunks.

#2: Blake Griffin, Off-The-Backboard Elbow Dunk

The height. The power. The timing. The precision. The fact that he threw it down successfully on his first try. The moment you realized he was still hanging on the rim after throwing it down. The ice pack he’s going to need for that elbow tonight. What a dunker. What a dunk.

#1: JaVale McGee, Double Dunk

JaVale McGee’s wingspan and leaping ability allow him to do dunks that should not be possible. How did he get the idea to put two hoops alongside of each other? How did he time an alley-oop while dunking another ball? Is anyone else in the league physically capable of pulling off that dunk? Most dunk contest “props” are there to hinder the contestant and distract people from the fact that the dunk is relatively simple — McGee used a prop to give himself an opportunity to show what he is capable of.

Blake’s body of work in the dunk contest was better than McGee’s, and the power he put into his dunks was something to behold. However, McGee’s first dunk was an incredible athletic feat that also redefined what is possible, and that’s why it was the best dunk of the evening.

Report: Price tag on Phoenix Suns could be more than $3 billion

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In 2004, Robert Sarver bought the Phoenix Suns for a then-record $401 million.

When Sarver sells the team now — pushed to do so following the backlash prompted by an NBA report that found an 18-year pattern of bigotry, misogyny, and a toxic workplace — he is going to make a massive profit.

The value of the Suns now is at $3 billion or higher, reports Ramona Shelburne and Baxter Holmes of ESPN.

There will be no shortage of bidders for the team, with league sources predicting a franchise valuation of more than $3 billion now that revenue has rebounded following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and with a new television rights deal and CBA on the horizon. Sarver purchased the team for just over $400 million in 2004.

Saver currently owns 35% of the Suns (the largest share), but reports say his role as managing partner allows him to sell the entire team (the minority owners have to comply, although they would make a healthy profit, too). Sarver also decides who to sell the team to, not the NBA or other owners.

Early rumors of buyers have included Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), Bob Iger (former Disney CEO), Laurene Powell Jobs (widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, she has a 20% share of the Washington Wizards), and others. There have been no reports of talks yet, and Sarver does not need to be on a rushed timeline.

Meanwhile, a contending Suns team tries to focus on the season despite the owner selling the team, Jae Crowder not being in training camp and pushing for a trade, and Deandre Ayton does not sound happy to be back with the Suns.

Steve Nash on his relationship with Kevin Durant: ‘We’re good’

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In an effort to gain leverage for a trade this offseason, Kevin Durant threw down a “either the coach and GM are gone or I am” ultimatum.

Now coach Steve Nash (and GM Sean Marks) are back in Brooklyn, on the same team and trying to build a contender together. Awkward? Not if you ask Nash, which is what Nick Friedell of ESPN did.

“We’re fine,” Nash said after the Nets’ first official practice of the season on Tuesday. “We’re good. Ever since we talked, it’s been like nothing’s changed. I have a long history with Kevin. I love the guy. Families have issues. We had a moment and it’s behind us. That’s what happens. It’s a common situation in the league.

“We all were hurting, seething, to go through what we went through last year, not being able to overcome all that adversity. Sometimes you lose perspective because you expect to win, but the reality is we were able to talk and discuss what we can improve on from last year. And also keep perspective. We went through a ton of stuff.”

First off, what else was Nash going to say? He knows the power dynamic in the NBA, and Durant has far more leverage than he does — not enough to get Nash fired this summer, but still more than the coach.

Second, Nash could be telling the truth from his perspective. NBA players and coaches understand better than anyone this is a business and things are rarely personal. Grudges are not held like fans think they are (most of the time). Nash saw Durant’s move for what it was — an effort to create pressure — and can intellectually shrug it off, reach out to KD and talk about the future.

What this brings into question was one of the Nets’ biggest issues last season — mental toughness and togetherness. Do the Nets have the will to fight through adversity and win as a team? Individually Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nash and others have shown that toughness in the past, but as a team it was not that hard to break the will of the Nets last season. Are their relationships strong enough, is their will strong enough this season?

It feels like we will find out early. If the wheels come off the Nets’ season, it feels like it will happen early and by Christmas things could be a full-on dumpster fire. Or maybe Nash is right and they are stronger than we think.

Billy Donovan to choose Bulls’ starting PG during training camp

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Speaking at Chicago’s media day, Bulls head coach Billy Donovan said he will choose his starting point guard over the course of training camp. Lonzo Ball was expected to reprise his role as the starter, but he recently underwent arthroscopic surgery on his troublesome knee and raised some eyebrows at media day when he said he couldn’t run or jump. Simply put, there is no guarantee we even see him at all this season.

Donovan is fortunate that he has a plethora of options though, as Goran Dragic, Alex Caruso, Ayo Dosunmu and Coby White will all battle it out. “We’ll have to see how these guys gel and mesh once training camp starts and we start practicing,” Donovan said. “But I think we have enough back there that we can get the job done from that standpoint.”

Dragic is the most “seasoned option” to use Donovan’s own words and would be the safe pick, but at 36 years old, he doesn’t exactly raise Chicago’s ceiling. Plus, Donovan already hinted at managing his minutes throughout the season.

Alex Caruso is Chicago’s best defender and is going to play a massive role whether he starts or comes off the bench, although the latter seems more likely since he’s not a natural point guard.

Coby White showed improvement as a shooter last season, hitting 38% of his triples. However, it’s no secret that his name has been in the rumor mill and the Bulls hardly mentioned him at media day.

With that said, I think Ayo is the dark horse to start after showing some serious promise during his rookie season. In 40 starts, Ayo put up 10.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds, 1.1 triples and 1.1 steals and was one of the best perimeter defenders on the team. Zach LaVine went out of his way to hype up Dosunmu at media day as well, so you have to love his chances of running away with the job.

Anthony Davis says his goal is to play in all 82 games

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Anthony Davis played 40 games last season, and 36 the season before that. Charles Barkley has nicknamed him “street clothes.”

In a critical season for him and the Lakers, the biggest question with Anthony Davis is not his skill set and if he can be elite, but how much can the Lakers trust him to be on the court? Davis said on media day his goal is to play all 82 games (speaking to Spectrum Sportsnet, the Lakers station in Los Angeles).

A full 82 may be optimistic, but Davis saw last season as a fluke.

“Last season, I had two injuries that you can’t really control. I mean, a guy fell into my knee, landed on the foot,” Davis said earlier at media day. “And the good thing for me is that the doctors after they looked at us, they could have been, like 10 times worse.”

Davis talked about his workout regimen, getting his body both rested and stronger for this long season, knowing more will be asked of him. New coach Darvin Ham wants to run more of the offense through Davis, but all the Lakers’ plans are moot if Davis and LeBron James are not healthy and on the court for at least 65 games this season.

“The focus of my game is being available…” LeBron said Monday. “Availability is the most important thing in his league and to be able to be available on the floor.”

Ham has to walk a line of pushing this team to defend better, show a toughness it lacked last season, and make the playoffs in a deep West while keeping his stars’ minutes under control. In a league all about recovery, the Lakers need to prioritize that, too.

“Just being efficient with how we practice, how we manage shootarounds, how we manage their minutes,” Ham said Monday. “I don’t need ‘Bron or Ad playing playoff minutes in October, November, December.”

It’s the first days of training camp, everyone is feeling good, everyone is rested, and everyone is optimistic. The real tests for the Lakers and Davis start in a few weeks — and just how much will the Lakers’ stars play.