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.

Clippers reportedly plan on playing Kawhi Leonard more than Raptors did last season

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Kawhi Leonard was the poster child for load management last season.

The Raptors essentially let him set his own schedule in a return from the quadricep tendon issue that cost him the previous season (and, ultimately, helped ruin his relationship with the Spurs). Leonard played in just 60 regular season game — and it worked. He was a force in the playoffs, leading Toronto to its first-ever title and winning Finals MVP again.

So the Clippers are going to follow that same script, right? Nope. Expect to see more Leonard, according to Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times.

There are likely a couple of reasons for this. One is that Leonard may be feeling a little healthier and that he can take on more now. With a deep Clippers roster (especially once Paul George returns from his shoulder surgeries) it’s also possible the Clippers can limit Leonard’s in-game minutes, he averaged 34 a game when he played, which was top 20 in the league.

The bigger factor is the West is so deep with good teams the Clippers simply can’t have him sit as much and still get a good seed. Toronto could let Leonard rest and still won 58 games and had the two seed. That’s not how the West — with the Lakers, Rockets, Jazz, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, and Warriors — is going to go. The Clippers are going to need Leonard to win games most nights, and they certainly want to get a top-four seed and be home to start the postseason.

Leonard may play more early in the season and get more rest on the back half, once George returns to form and takes over some of the load on the wing. But he’s going to play.

The Clippers simply need him.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.