Deserving or not Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade among All-Star starters in early voting returns

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It’s your game fans. The NBA All-Star Game is an exhibition filled with the players you vote to see.

Whether those players deserve the honor based on their performance the first half of the season or not. Sometimes the most deserving guys don’t make the cut while guys hobbling through the season do.

Which brings us to the early returns for this year’s NBA All-Star Game voting. Kobe Bryant — who has played in just two games this season — and Dwyane Wade (who has missed a number of games and is having arguably his worst season since his rookie year) would be starting if the early voting returns hold form.

And know that these first results pretty much always hold form. Maybe there is one change but that’s usually about it.

It’s not who I’d put on my ballot, but here are the starting five through the first round of voting (which opened last month and runs through Jan. 20). Remember that you vote for two backcourt and three frontcourt players, it is not broken out by position anymore:

EASTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS:

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade (Miami Heat), Kyrie Irving (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Frontcourt: LeBron James (Miami Heat), Paul George (Indiana Pacers), Carmelo Anthony (New York Knicks)

As we told you before, that will make LeBron James the defacto center on that team, matched up on Dwight Howard.

Those five likely stand. In the frontcourt those three have a healthy lead over Roy Hibbert who is fourth. In the backcourt Derrick Rose is third but he is injured and out, John Wall is fifth but already a couple hundred thousand votes behind Irving.

WESTERN CONFERENCE STARTERS:

Backcourt: Kobe Bryant (Los Angeles Lakers), Chris Paul (Los Angeles Clippers)
Frontcourt: Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City Thunder), Dwight Howard (Houston Rockets), Blake Griffin (Los Angeles Clippers).

You had to know even if Kobe didn’t play yet he’d be a top vote getter, and he is second in the West and third overall (LeBron is just ahead of Durant by a couple thousand votes for the top spot). Stephen Curry is third in the West and could make up the ground to catch CP3, but not Kobe.

If we see a switch, don’t be surprised if it is Kevin Love catching Blake Griffin for the third spot on that front line. Love is within 20,000 votes and could make up that ground and start if there is a push for him.

There’s a lot of other things we could pick apart — Steve Nash got more votes than Damian Lillard? — but it’s all kind of moot. Fans vote for the starters, a vote of the coaches around the league picks the reserves.

Voting for the All-Star Game — held Feb. 16 in New Orleans — is open through Jan. 20. Fans can cast their ballot a number of ways: By texting the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”); by visiting NBA.com/asb on any wireless device; or by going to nba.com/asb from a desktop or mobile browser.

Here are the top 10 vote getters

Eastern Conference

Frontcourt
1. LeBron James (Mia) 609,336
2. Paul George (Ind) 489,335
3. Carmelo Anthony (NYK) 424,211
4. Roy Hibbert (Ind) 208,369
5. Chris Bosh (Mia) 156,364
6. Kevin Garnett (BKN) 102,825
7. Joakim Noah (Chi) 75,229
8. Jeff Green (Bos) 55,912
9. Luol Deng (Chi) 54,340
10. Tyson Chandler (NYK) 51,738

Backcourt
1. Dwyane Wade (Mia) 396,279
2. Kyrie Irving (Cle) 365,712
3. Derrick Rose (Chi) 272,410
4. John Wall (Was) 124,851
5. Ray Allen (Mia) 99,464
6. Rajon Rondo (Bos) 80,889
7. Deron Williams (BKN) 44,282
8. George Hill (Ind) 42,536
9. Evan Turner (Phi) 33,605
10. Mario Chalmers (Mia) 32,996

Western Conference

Frontcourt:
1. Kevin Durant (OKC) 607,407
2. Dwight Howard (Hou) 295,120
3. Blake Griffin (LAC) 292,925
4. Kevin Love (Min) 275,506
5. Tim Duncan (SA) 217,271
6. Anthony Davis (NO) 149,579
7. Pau Gasol (LAL) 133,199
8. LaMarcus Aldridge (Por) 132,818
9. Andre Iguodala (GS) 109,745
10. Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 89,093

Backcourt
1. Kobe Bryant (LAL) 501,215
2. Chris Paul (LAC) 393,313
3. Stephen Curry (GS) 327,449
4. Jeremy Lin (Hou) 240,404
5. James Harden (Hou) 198,667
6. Russell Westbrook (OKC) 149,065
7. Tony Parker (SA) 112,423
8. Ricky Rubio (Min) 63,096
9. Steve Nash (LAL) 60,782
10. Damian Lillard (Por) 55,847

Karl-Anthony Towns denies Jimmy Butler rift due to Butler sleeping with Towns’ girlfriend

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Karl-Anthony Towns reportedly won’t sign his contract extension until the Timberwolves handle the Jimmy Butler situation, which escalated with Butler’s trade request.

What’s the problem between the teammates?

Robert Littal of BSO:

Towns:

OK then.

Same company to appear on Trail Blazers jerseys, reportedly endorse Damian Lillard

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The Portland Trail Blazers have announced a multi-year jersey sponsorship deal with Performance Health, an Illinois-based company that manufactures products for the rehabilitation and sports medicine markets. The company will also reportedly endorse Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

A logo for the company’s product Biofreeze will be featured on the left shoulder of Portland’s uniform. With the deal, the Blazers become the 24th NBA team to include a corporate sponsor on its jerseys.

Biofreeze is a topical pain reliever. Snowboarder Shawn White and tennis player Sloane Stephens are among the product’s individual athlete endorsers.

The NBA first allowed jersey sponsorships last season. Trail Blazers President and CEO Chris McGowan said Portland was close to deals last year but they fell through, and so the team took its time in finding the right partner.

The Biofreeze logo will also be featured on the team’s practice apparel.

Report: Jimmy Butler wanted Timberwolves to add four years, $155 million to his contract this summer

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Jimmy Butler rejected the largest-possible extension the capped-out Timberwolves could offer him this summer – a four-year deal worth $100,514,631 ($25,128,658 average annual salary).

After all, his projected max in free agency this summer is about $190 million over five years (about $38 million annually) if he re-signs or about $141 million over four years (about $35 million annually) if he leaves.

But Minnesota’s extension offer wasn’t technically the largest possible this summer. Theoretically, the Timberwolves could have cleared cap space to renegotiate his salary upward then offered a richer extension based on his new salary.

And apparently that’s what Butler wanted – and didn’t get – before requesting a trade.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler was hoping for a renegotiation and extension of his contract this summer, one that would have raised his salary for 2018-19 to $30 million and added another four years and $145 million on to that.

The Timberwolves could have trimmed their roster to only their starters – Butler, Andrew Wiggins, Jeff Teague, Taj Gibson and Karl-Anthony Towns. That would have meant using sweeteners to unload Gorgui Dieng‘s negative value contract, dumping recent first-round picks Justin Patton, Tyus Jones and Josh Okogie and not using the mid-level exception on Anthony Tolliver. Only players who signed for the minimum could have still wound up on the roster.

Minnesota still wouldn’t have had enough cap space to renegotiate Butler’s salary up to $30 million.

Perhaps, Butler wanted the Timberwolves to take more drastic measures like trading Wiggins for little to no returning salary. But they clearly weren’t going to do that, and they’d long gone down the opposite road of adding salary. They weren’t coming close to clearing the $10 million of cap space necessary to raise Butler’s salary that much.

This is all raises questions about timing. Nearly every report on Butler’s wishes has gone out of its way to say contract concerns – not problems with Wiggins and Towns – were the primary driver of the trade request. But if that were the case, why now? Butler had to know for months he wasn’t getting his desired extension.

While his brother spars online with Jimmy Butler, Andrew Wiggins takes up fight with Stephen Jackson

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Jimmy Butler lit a fuse by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

Then, Andrew Wiggins‘ brother, Butler, Stephen Jackson and Wiggins himself all fanned the flames of the resulting fire.

Butler reportedly had problems with Andrew Wiggins last season, specifically Wiggins’ work ethic and defensive approach. Want corroborating evidence the Minnesota teammates aren’t simpatico? Wiggins’ brother, Nick Wiggins, tweeted (and deleted) “Hallelujah” to news of Butler’s trade request:

Butler – probably not coincidentally while working out – responded via Instagram:

Butler:

Hallelujah, keep that same energy

Then the retired Jackson acted out an elaborate scene in which Andrew – played by Jackson – copped to having no heart:

The real Andrew Wiggins didn’t like that and posted on Instagram:

Jackson responded:

If he didn’t like Butler giving him grief, Wiggins darned sure isn’t ready for heat from Jackson.