Kobe MVP mission was entertaining, just like All-Star Game should be

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It was obvious Kobe Bryant was going hard after the MVP three minutes into the game.

That’s when, with the score tied just 6-6, Kobe got the ball in the right corner, drove baseline on Derrick Rose, the help defense was late and he went up-and-under for the kind of reverse jam he probably hasn’t done in a game in years. Many years.

“You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP,” Amar’e Stoudemire said of Kobe. “He was not passing the ball at all.”

Kobe looked energized — he had five dunks in the game and good luck remembering the last time he did that — and admitted later he wanted to put on a show for the hometown fans. He finished with 37 and flirted with the record for most All-Star Game points (44 by Wilt Chamberlain).

Elsewhere LeBron James had a triple double (29 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists — the only other guy to do that in the All-Star Game was Michael Jordan). Amar’e Stoudemire was flying in and throwing it down to the tune of 29 points. Everybody was looking to lob to Blake Griffin.  Kevin Durant dropped 34 including the dagger three late (on an actual Kobe pass in the clutch, so you knew it was an exhibition).

The West won the 2011 All-Star Game 148-143, but nobody will remember the score. They will remember Kobe got his fourth All-Star MVP award (tied for most ever). They’ll remember his dunks. They’ll remember LeBron’s all-around game and Stoudemire’s dunks. They’ll remember Rihanna and Kanye at halftime. They’ll remember it was close at the end.

They’ll remember it was fun.

Which is exactly what it should be — an entertaining exhibition with some fond memories for later.

That drives some people crazy. They want it to feel like a regular season game — you know, with defense. Maybe some set plays in the half court rather than transition and isolation. A little teamwork. Some off the ball movement. They want to change the All-Star Game to make it mean something.

Why?

There are plenty of games that matter. There are plenty of meals, we need a little dessert. There should be a time and a place for the best athletes go just have fun and show their skills off. There’s a time to let them pretend they are on the playground and show off a little.

Some have suggested the NBA do what baseball does — have the conference that wins the All-Star Game get to be home team for the Finals.

“And just discount the 82 regular season games an just base it all on one game?” Kobe asked about that idea. “No, I think it’s fine the way it is. You can’t take it over the top with seriousness and all that.”

Same thing with the idea the NHL went with this season — name a couple captains and let them pick their team from the guys lined up on the wall. While that certainly is playground I’m not sure that works as well in basketball (especially when you think of the influence that agents and shoe companies and the like would try to exert over the process).

Don’t mess with what works. The game got a little competitive in the fourth quarter, and that added to the fun. The game was not clean, but energetic through the end. Well, Kobe wasn’t energetic at the end —  “Those dunks took my legs from me” — but Durant was knocking down threes and they were able to get enough stops on LeBron and Stoudemire for the West to win.

Is the NBA All-Star Game some cotton candy in the middle of the season? Yes. So what? Sometimes cotton candy is pretty damn tasty.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.

Rumor: Lakers hired Jason Kidd to lure Giannis Antetokounmpo

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New Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he wanted Jason Kidd because Kidd is a good coach.

Steve Popper of Newsday:

the person familiar with the Lakers process said something else: that Kidd was brought to Los Angeles to attract Giannis Antetokounmpo to the Lakers when he becomes a free agent in two years when the Bucks star could become an unrestricted free agent.

Things I believe:

1. This plan probably wouldn’t work. Not only does Antetokounmpo appear happy in Milwaukee, he has specifically said he could never see himself playing for Los Angeles. And though I believe Antetokounmpo respected Kidd while Kidd coached him, look at the Bucks now. They’re so much better under Mike Budenholzer. You think Antetokounmpo is itching to play for Kidd again after seeing the other side?

2. The Lakers might just try this wild plan anyway. Remember when they were waiting to hire a coach in 2014 so free agent LeBron James could pick? Aside from signing LeBron last year, who seemingly had his eye on Los Angeles for years and for reasons other than basketball, the Lakers have struck out on star free agents. The franchise is getting desperate.

3. People want to believe the Lakers would do something crazy like this, and that makes the rumor spread faster – whether or not it’s true. The Lakers, because of their stature, tactics and general manager have made many enemies around the league. Plenty of folks are enjoying piling on.