Players explain dunks they had ready in case they advanced to the final round of the Dunk Contest

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HOUSTON — Only two contestants out of the field of six advanced to the final round of the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday, and Terrence Ross and Jeremy Evans were the ones who earned their way there to get a shot at this year’s title.

That means we had other capable dunkers who had to have some spectacular stunts prepared in case they were the ones battling it out for that championship trophy in the main event of All-Star Saturday night.

It turns out, there were some pretty good ones left on the shelf.

“I had between the legs from the free throw line [ready], and I was going to try to dunk from the top of the key,” James White said, and did so rather nonchalantly given the athleticism that would be required to pull either of those feats off.

White is a YouTube dunk contest legend, and a veteran champion of these types of events in the past. But he simply didn’t have it in this one, and missed over and over again participating for the first time in the NBA’s slam dunk showcase.

“I usually don’t miss dunks,” he said. “Usually that’s the one thing I do, I make the dunks on the first try. But tonight, they weren’t going down.”

White was clearly having trouble holding onto the ball, and said he tried switching but still couldn’t get enough of a handle to be able to do what he’s become famous for.

“I couldn’t grip the ball at all, man,” he said. “Both basketballs. I tried to switch balls the second dunk, and that basketball didn’t even bounce. So when I was coming out for my approach to go dunk, the ball was going everywhere.”

Kenneth Faried got some good ones to go down, but he too struggled and missed all of his tries during one of his official attempts. His plans for final-round dunks were even more intriguing.

“I was going to go under both legs,” Faried said. “If I made it, I was just going to do basically double under the legs. Then, I was going to jump over the panel of judges.”

Now that would have been impressive. But what was the plan exactly, logistically speaking?

“It was going to be more of them sitting down over the Sprite thing,” he said. “I was going to jump over them, sit down, and drink a Sprite.”

As an added bonus, that one might have gotten him a nice opportunity for a personal sponsorship.

“No, not really that,” Faried said. “I wanted to do it because it was called the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest.”

Gerald Green also struggled to complete a dunk attempt, but the one he was trying was by far the most adventurous of the bunch. He opened things up by cutting down the net, before trying multiple times to throw it down with one hand, then catch the ball as it came through the hoop with the other hand and dunk it again while still in midair.

He actually did pull it off, but after his time allotment had run out and all of his official attempts had been exhausted.

While Green did not ultimately advance, his plan for what he had ready was among the most inventive.

“I was going to do a dunk where I involved Paul George and Lance Stephenson,” Green said. “It was going to be something like the halftime show, but without the trampoline.”

I needed some clarification.

“It was going to be to where, Lance was going to throw Paul an alley-oop off the glass, Paul was going to catch it, jump pretty high and throw it, and then I come out of nowhere and put it between my legs [before dunking].”

Ah, now it made sense.

Green was asked why he kept trying a dunk with such a high degree of difficulty with his time running out, and after already missing it so many times. He had no regrets with the way he chose to play things out.

“I wanted to try something that was really hard,” Green said. “That’s always been me. Even with the dunk my second year when it was in New Orleans, when I dunked without my shoes on, I didn’t really get a good score. But dunking with no shoes on is very difficult, so I wanted to try something that was just as difficult. That’s how I grew up watching dunk contests.”

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.