Blake Griffin won last year’s dunk contest in an exciting and memorable way that most think will be difficult to top by any of the contestants participating in the event this year. Jumping over a car isn’t something we see every day, and last year, JaVale McGee said he had no shot to top it unless he jumped over an airplane next.
This year’s group of relative unknowns — Paul George, Jeremy Evans, Derrick Williams, and Chase Budinger — are going to have a tough time keeping the event interesting if they don’t bring some serious creativity to the Amway Center on Saturday night.
We caught up with Griffin Friday morning at the Rising Stars Challenge practice, where he had some advice for the contestants, commented on Jeremy Lin (that’s going to be a theme this weekend, unfortunately), and let us know what his favorite hoops movie is (again, All-Star weekend is a media free-for-all, so lots of “wacky” questions).
Report: Jimmy Butler won’t ‘coddle’ Markelle Fultz
"Somebody that's close to Jimmy Butler told me Markelle Fultz is done. Jimmy is not going to sit there and coddle him. Jimmy is going to be like, 'I was homeless at one point in my life. … You're a No. 1 pick, and you can't get your shot right?'" — @Chris_Broussardpic.twitter.com/LA9fJTHLc3
If this is someone who knows how Butler treated Towns and Wiggins and is just assuming how Butler will treat Fultz, this is worthless. Anyone who knows even a little about Butler could make that guess.
But if this is someone who spoke to Butler about Fultz specifically, this would carry massive significance.
Fultz is unique. He shot well in college then had his form completely fall apart before his rookie year. He doesn’t need tough love. He needs someone to help him assess the underlying trauma beneath his problems. He needs to be built up and develop confidence.
That wasn’t at all Butler’s approach with other teammates. Maybe Butler will adjust to Fultz’s atypical circumstances. I hope he does.
But the possibility of Butler worsening Fultz’s issues can’t be overlooked.
Scouts’ take: Jimmy Butler will help Philadelphia most at end of games
Butler is an elite two-way player, a top 10 NBA talent. Where will his game help the Sixers most? Defense is the first thing that comes to mind: Having Butler and Ben Simmons assigned to the two-best perimeter players of the opposition, with Joel Embiid backing them up, has the potential to be lock-down. Philadelphia already has a top-10 defense this season and this trade could make them exponentially better.
The 76ers have struggled to score late in close games at times, a function of their primary ball handler, Ben Simmons, being a suspect shooter. They were out-executed by the Boston Celtics in crunch time during the playoffs last season. Joel Embiid is off to a fantastic start to the season, but he’s shooting just 35 percent in clutch time this season because it can be hard for the big man to create a shot when the defense is set up to deny him.
Butler leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring this season and has a long history of shot-making in winning time.
“He brings something to Philly that they just don’t have, which is an experienced playmaker who can demand the ball and demand attention. That probably will make it easier on the rest of their guys,” one scout said. “JJ Redick can do that a bit, but he can’t create like Jimmy. It’s one of the rarest things in the NBA. From that standpoint, they hit a home run in this deal. There just aren’t many players like that available.”
That theory likely will not be put to the test by the Magic on Wednesday night.
It makes sense on paper, though. Embiid is not going to create his own shot without a play design to help out (and he’d be doubled quickly in the post), and with Simmons the defense is going to lay back and cut off driving lanes. Butler changes the late game dynamic.
It’s going to be interesting to watch this new big three in Philly meld, and to see if they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to fulfill the potential of this roster.
Minnesota owner: “I think we saw Jimmy had an agenda and we had to work around that”
Coach and team president Tom Thibodeau rightfully deserves a lot of the blame for how the Jimmy Butler situation played out — and dragged out — in Minnesota. Thibs believed he could win with this core, as they had done the season before, and that winning would cure a lot of ills. Instead, the Timberwolves are 4-9 to start the season.
However, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has to take some of the blame here, too. He didn’t come in and force Thibodeau to make a decision — when he could have had a better deal (in my opinion) with Miami for Josh Richardson, the Heat’s 2019 No. 1 pick and Dion Waiters as cap filler — but dragged it out and had to settle with the Sixers. After another few weeks of drama.
“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve. I can’t exactly answer why,” Taylor said. “The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team. Maybe that was affecting guys more than they even knew themselves.”
“We have to play at least 10 games and then we would see which teams were meeting their goals, which teams weren’t and the teams that weren’t we thought we would have a better chance to negotiate,” Taylor said. “We were preparing ourselves to do this anyway. But certainly, I guess if we would’ve won all five games out there, it might have been different.”
Taylor said he was “not satisfied” with the 4-9 start of the season, though he added, “I don’t think it was all under our control. I wish it would’ve been more under our control, but I think we saw Jimmy had an agenda and we had to work around that.”
Taylor admits the plan was to hope a struggling team at the start of the season would come in with a better offer, and that sort of happened with the Rockets coming up with the four first-round pick idea (which was not really a great deal for Minnesota, considering they had to take back Brandon Knight‘s contract and there were tough protections on the last two picks).
Taylor was non-committal on Thibodeau’s status, saying he would be evaluated as things went along. Around the league, few believe Thibodeau will keep his job long after this season ends.
In the deep West, that 4-9 start is going to make getting into the playoffs difficult. One thing to watch for the rest of this season: with Butler gone does Karl-Anthony Towns get back to playing like an All-NBA player and take control of this team? They heed him to.
Jimmy Butler in starting lineup, Markelle Fultz out Wednesday for Philadelphia
The change bumps Markelle Fultz out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. And that’s a good thing. He’s looked better — or, at least, less bad — for stretches the ball in his hands creating off the pick-and-roll, but when starting with Simmons and Embiid he had to work off the ball a lot more. Leading a second unit is just a better fit for him, and he can attack downhill getting to the rim. It’s a fit as much as anything is a fit with Fultz right now.
The new starting five should be lock-down defensively (especially with the soft first game against Orlando, the third worst offense in the NBA this season). With two strong on-ball perimeter defenders in Simmons and Butler, with Embiid backing them up protecting the rim, the Sixers should be able to slow down any team’s wing/guard production (and in a playoff series that defense can be a matchup nightmare for opponents).
Offensively, the Sixers really need Chandler to step up and knock down threes and space the floor, because the Sixers do not have enough shooting. They also lack depth. General manager Elton Brand has some work to do to round out this roster, and he knows it.
There is a real excitement in the air around the Sixers now. And there should be.