Three Stars: Paul George on the rise

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There’s nothing quite like the phenomenon of watching a young player ascend to stardom. When a young player bursts on to the scene and starts making extraordinary plays routine, he captures our imagination. How good could 22-year-old Paul George be? Who does he remind us of? Potential is enticing on its own, but when it’s paired with production our minds really start to race. We don’t know where George will end up in his career, but for right now, let’s settle for ranking him with two surprise performances from an entertaining Tuesday night in the association:

Three Stars: Jeremy Lin – (28 points, 9 assists, 5-for-8 from deep)

Speaking of taking the world by storm, let’s talk about Jeremy Lin. No one understands the rise to stardom quite like Lin, who has seen the highest of the highs in his Knicks days and some low valleys with the Rockets. Lin has suffered the fate most talented “fresh” players do — they become popular, everyone loves them, and then people start to pick at their weaknesses and bring them back down to earth. While Lin hasn’t been on the level he was last year, he hasn’t exactly been a bust either. He’s nifty off the dribble, good in the pick-and-roll, and has pretty quick hands defensively. Lin’s biggest problem is his shooting stroke, but tonight it was no problem at all. Lin connected on career-high five 3-pointers against the Warriors, leading the way in a record-tying night for the Rockets.

Second Star: Samuel Dalembert – (35 points, 12 rebounds, 17-for-21)

This has to be the most random scoring performance of the year, right? Milwaukee Bucks center Samuel Dalmbert has played in 26 games this season, averaging 15 minutes a game and 5.7 points. But tonight against the Nuggets, something got into ‘ol Sam and he went off. Dalembert rattled off a career-high 35 points in 27 minutes on an incredible 17-for-21 shooting night, regularly knocking down the little 15 footer he’s honed for years. Dalembert blew his previous career-high of 27 points out of the water, but the Bucks melted down in the fourth quarter and allowed the Nuggets to storm back. It’s a shame the game of Dalembert’s life was wasted by Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis, who combined to go 11-for-36 for 24 points and 9 turnovers.


First Star: Paul George – (29 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists)

Anytime you have to tell people to stop with the comparisons to an all-time great, you’re doing pretty well:

George is playing with an unreal confidence offensively right now, and it’s reflected in his personal numbers and Indiana’s big nights recently. In the last 10 games, George is averaging nearly 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4.5 assists a contest. Indiana, meanwhile, has scored over 100 points in 6 of their last 10 games, which is almost unthinkable earlier in the season. George’s ability to get his shot off late in the clock is a huge factor for Indiana, and his ability to use those long limbs in transition and dunk everything doesn’t hurt either. With Danny Granger set to return soon, it will be interesting to see how the new George co-exists with such a high usage player like Granger. Will he defer, or will he continue on his scoring warpath? We’ll have to wait and see, but for now, just try and enjoy the overall display George is putting on.

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.