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.

Kevin Durant fined $25,000 for telling fan to “shut the f*** up”

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The percentage of players who would like to tell a courtside fan to “shut the f*** up” would be close to 100.

However, there are 25,000 reasons players don’t do that. Kevin Durant found out the hard way. During the Warriors loss in Dallas Monday, Durant was being heckled by fans along the baseline calling him “cupcake” (an old Russell Westbrook insult) and it got under KD’s skin enough that he told the fans to “watch the f****** game and shut the f*** up.”

The league office, it turns out, does not like it’s players talking to fans that way — at least when it’s caught on video — so Durant was fined $25,000 on Tuesday.

Fans taunting players with the hopes of catching a reaction on video is a growing trend in recent years around the NBA, and so far the league’s response to that has been to remind fans around the court they can be removed for what they are saying (with a postcard note on each seat).

Personally, if you choose to engage a player that way during a game, he has the right to fire back and say whatever he wants. If you want to get in the NBA trash talk game, you have to be able to take it, not just dish it. Those are not the ground rules, however, so KD gets a fine.

Only high schoolers who would’ve been consensus draft candidates to receive $125,000 minor-league offer

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The NBA’s minor league’s plan to offer players $125,000 salaries straight out of high school sparked two major questions:

  • Who will receive that offer?
  • Who will take it?

Former NBA player Rod Strickland and former WNBA player Allison Feaster will run the program, and they’re answering the first question.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA is limiting eligibility for the professional path program to prep players who would be considered consensus candidates for the draft if there were no early entry rule to prohibit them. Feaster will work with a group that includes Strickland and the NBA’s basketball operations and player development staffs to evaluate the potential players.

“It will be elite prospects with a readiness for a professional league,” Feaster told ESPN. “We want to target players who would not be going to a university if it weren’t for the NBA eligibility rule. That’s more or less what’s going to dictate this.”

Feaster expects a “handful” of players to be part of the initial group in the professional path. Feaster and Strickland emphasized that the program will be judicious in choosing those eligible for the pro path opportunity.

For reference, 17 high schoolers were picked in the final two drafts (2004 and 2005) before the NBA implemented its one-and-done rule. So, that suggests about 8-9 players annually will get offered the $125,000 deal.

That still leaves the other question: Who will take it?

Kevin Durant said he wouldn’t have. Shoe companies are still spending the most money, and they’re heavily invested in the visibility of college basketball.

But every prospect’s situation is unique. With Strickland and Feaster in place, we’ll soon see how players receive this new path.

76ers sound caught off guard about Markelle Fultz stepping away

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Markelle Fultz has played in all 17 of the 76ers’ games this season, starting until they traded for Jimmy Butler. A couple weeks ago, Fultz called himself generally healthy.

Then, Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the 76ers the guard wouldn’t play or practice until visiting a specialist Monday. Fultz will miss at least three games – against the Pelicans, Cavaliers and Nets.

76ers coach Brett Brown:

It’s kind of the first real sort of red-flag-type news.

This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard. But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. If that’s what it is, then we’ll support him.

76ers general manager Elton Brand:

We thought it was the regular bumps and bruises.

There’s nothing that we saw medically that didn’t allow him to play.

This yet another odd turn in a saga that already included plenty of contentiousness, animosity, rumors and cringe-worthy moments. At this point, it’s hard to be shocked by anything with Fultz.

It’s also hard to take the 76ers seriously when they suggest it seemed like business as usual. Fultz’s shot is disturbingly broken. There is clearly a problem. Maybe letting Fultz play without fretting over the issue was the right course, but how surprised can Philadelphia be that he took a more drastic measure?

Hopefully, the specialist helps Fultz identify and fix this issue.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

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Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.