Biggest winners and losers at the All-Star game

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The All-Star game is an exhibition first and foremost, and when players are trying harder to entertain the crowd than they are to play good basketball, it’s hard to put too much stock into the results. Still, this year’s All-Star game was one of the most entertaining and competitive games in years, and a few players did put on virtuoso performances while others struggled. Without further ado, let’s take a look at who had the best and worst All-Star Game:

Winner: Kobe Bryant

On Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant shot 8-24 and committed 7 turnovers in a loss to one of the worst NBA teams in decades. On Sunday night, a rested, motivated Bryant torched the best players in the Eastern Conference for 37 points, and was probably the player most responsible for making the game unusually competitive.

Kobe wasn’t interested in trying to pull of behind-the-back passes, intricate Alley-oops, left-handed threes, or any of the other shenanigans that usually take place in the All-Star game; he was taking Dwyane Wade to the post, getting back on defense, and throwing down some of the most vicious dunks he’s had in years.

Bryant was, by his own admission, exhausted by the time the fourth quarter came around, but still had enough in the tank to seal the game by preventing the East from pulling down a key rebound with seconds left to play. Bryant didn’t break Wilt Chamberlain’s All-Star scoring record, but he did more than enough to win his fourth All-Star MVP and elevate the level of the game as a whole.

Loser: Dwight Howard

Howard played 21 minutes on Sunday, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember any of them. Howard showed little interest in playing offense or defense, didn’t block a single shot, and half of his four field goal attempts were from beyond the arc. That’s not what you want to see from Dwight Howard.

Winner: Kevin Durant

Durant bounced back from his embarrassing three-point contest with a vengeance. Kobe was the only player to have scored more than Durant, who looked like he was in a groove for most of the game and ultimately closed the game out by scoring seven points in the final 2:18 of play.

Losers: Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan

It’s hard to call KG and Tim Duncan “losers,” but they helped prove that the All-Star game is not the ideal environment for aging big men who make a bigger impact on defense than they do on offense. KG does get some points for being the loudest cheerleader on either bench, even when he was cheering on LeBron James.

Winner: Amar’e Stoudemire and Blake Griffin

The All-Star game WAS made for big men like Stoudemire and Griffin. Griffin dunked all over the court, managed to record five assists, and got the crowd chanting for him in fourth quarter, while Amar’e racked up 29 points with an efficient mix of dunks, jumpers, and drives to the basket.

Losers: Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony

New York rumors have been circling Carmelo and, to a lesser extent, Williams all weekend — both of them seemed distracted, and they combined to shoot 6-17 from the field on Sunday.

Winner: LeBron James

LeBron’s team didn’t get the win, but he recorded the second-triple double in All-Star history and made the game competitive again with a series of awe-inspiring drives to the basket. It’s hard enough to stop LeBron in a game played at a normal pace with normal defensive intensity — with the speed of the game ratcheted up and the defense a bit lax, James is impossible to stop.

Winner: Russell Westbrook

Westbrook’s line wasn’t amazing, but he had some of the most incredible plays of the night — a rim-rocking dunk in transition, a nasty crossover on Dwyane Wade that set up a step-back jumper, and an incredible scoop shot. This year’s All-Star game was one of the best in years, and the play of guys like Westbrook, Durant, and Blake Griffin is a sign that there are more great All-Star games to come when the next generation takes over.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.