Kobe Bryant thinks you should be voting younger guards into All-Star Game

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You want Kobe Bryant to start in the All-Star Game… well, maybe not you personally, but people do. Like that guy in front of you in line at Starbucks this morning. Blame him.

Fan voting has Kobe Bryant well out in front as a starting guard for the West in the 2014 All-Star Game. Chris Paul would join him as a starter, and they both have a healthy lead over Stephen Curry, Jeremy Lin, James Harden and everyone else down the list.

Sunday night Kobe Bryant said he wasn’t sure if he would be back in time for the Feb. 16 All-Star Game in New Orleans, something reported by ESPNLosAngeles.com.

And while he’s flattered, Kobe says you really should be voting for the younger guards.

“I really enjoy watching what the younger guys are doing and how they’re performing,” said Bryant, who was second among Western Conference players in the latest round of All-Star voting, which was released on Dec. 26. “Even though there’s so much respect from me to be able to go out there and play for the fans, I’d much rather see the young guys play in the game because they’ve obviously put the work in to be in it. I’d much rather go out there and see them participate.”

Asked when he’d make a decision on whether to play in the game if he was voted in as a starter by the fans, Bryant said, “I probably won’t be able to come back soon enough to put my stamp or make my mark on the game, so my advice would be to focus on these younger players, the Damian Lillards of the world, because they’re more than deserving to be playing on that weekend.”

I’m with Kobe here — I’d rather see a lot of Curry, Harden, and Lillard. Heck, I’d rather even see more Ricky Rubio.

However, last time votes were released Kobe had 723,031, Lillard 105,880. Even Curry is about 250,000 votes behind Kobe. You guys want to see him. Kobe trailed only Kevin Durant for most votes in the West, he’s going to get voted in as a starter.

If Bryant returns to playing for the Lakers before the All-Star break, it will be interesting to see what the league says if he tries to beg out of playing in New Orleans. Their general rule is if you are healthy enough to play for your team than you can play in the All-Star Game.

The game is an exhibition — a heavily watched one and Kobe remains one of the league’s biggest stars. This isn’t a case of Vince Carter giving up a starting spot so Michael Jordan can have one last hurrah (Carter surrendered his starting spot to Jordan in Jordan’s final year), this is a very popular Kobe with only a few All-Star games ahead of him. The league will want him out there if he can go, even if it would like to showcase the up and comers too.

Shaq donates a year’s rent to a paralyzed Atlanta boy

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ATLANTA (AP) — Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal has donated a year’s rent in a new home to an Atlanta woman whose 12-year-old son was paralyzed in a shooting at a football game.

O’Neal tells WXIA-TV  that Isaiah Payton’s family had been living in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t accessible for people with disabilities.

“It’s just sad. It could have been any one of us,” Shaq told the Atlanta station. “It could have been my son. It could’ve been your cousin. She was living in a one-bedroom apartment with her two boys, so we found her a house in a nice area.”

Now they have a home in a good neighborhood. He says he’s helping furnish the home and will pay its rent for the next year.

Isaiah was shot through the spine in August after a football scrimmage between two high schools. Sixteen-year-old Damean Spear also was wounded and treated for minor injuries. Isaiah’s mother, Allison Woods, has said relearning how to care for Isaiah meant she had to leave her job, adding financial stress to her emotional turmoil.

Jazz reportedly extend contract of coach Quin Snyder, locking him down well into future

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Quin Snyder has evolved into one of the best coaches in the NBA (and my pick to win Coach of the Year this season). He’s built a development program and system in Utah that has turned Rudy Gobert into a two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Donovan Mitchell into the face of a franchise, and Joe Ingles into a guy other teams covet. His players like and respect Snyder, and he has worked well with the front office of Dennis Lindsey and Justin Zanik.

So the Jazz are locking him up with a contract extension beyond the two seasons remaining on his deal. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder has agreed to a long-term contract extension, league sources tell ESPN. Snyder had two years left on his deal, and a new contract extends multiple years beyond that term, sources said.

After upgrading the team’s talent base over the summer, locking Snyder into an extension had been a top organizational priority.

Jazz fans should be ecstatic about this.

Snyder has built a system team in Utah, one that moves the ball beautifully on offense, and that has been tough to defend in the regular season, with the Jazz winning 50 games last season. Utah has made it to the second round of the playoffs the past two seasons, but when the level of play made that leap a lot of the system gets taken away by good defenses, and the Utah offense became Donovan Mitchell against the world. It didn’t work, Mitchell (still just 22) wasn’t fully ready and there was not enough shooting around him.

This past summer, the Jazz added Mike Conley at point guard and Bojan Bogdanovic on the wing, two excellent shooters who also can create off the dribble. Expectations are high in Utah.

Whatever happens, Snyder is their coach now for a long time.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says he learned from Kawhi Leonard: “He was calm”

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Milwaukee was up 2-0 in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals on Toronto, having won those games by an average of 15 points. Giannis Antetokounmpo had scored 54 points, pulled down 31 rebounds, dished out 11 assists, and was looking every bit the MVP.

Then the games shifted to Toronto, Kawhi Leonard took over — including guarding Antetokounmpo more — and the Raptors rattled off four straight wins to take the series on their way to the NBA title. The Greek Freak still averaged 20.4 points a night in those final four games, but the buckets were much harder to come by.

Milwaukee returns this season as the Eastern Conference favorites and legit title contenders, in part because of what they learned from that loss. Antetokounmpo told Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports he learned a lot directly from Leonard in that series.

“I learned a lot from him,” Antetokounmpo said. “He knocked down free throws. He was calm. When double-teams came, he was swinging the ball but getting it right back. He was aggressive. He was calm but he was on a mission.”

Leonard is the living embodiment of the old John Wooden axiom “be quick, don’t hurry.” He’s not rushed, he’s rarely forced into shots he doesn’t want to take or plays he doesn’t want to make.  That’s true of all champions on some level. LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan all bring an inner calm.

If Antetokounmpo brings that to his game, the Bucks are one big step closer to a title.

Domantas Sabonis on trade rumors: ‘I know exactly how the Pacers feel about me now’

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The Indiana Pacers have started to explore the trade market for Domantas Sabonis. There are logical reasons for this: Sabonis is good (he was second in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season), yet he and the Pacers are nowhere near agreement on a contract extension, and the Pacers already paid big money for Myles Turner to be their center, how much do they want to pay Sabonis, too?

That’s sound logic if you’re in the Pacers’ front office.

If you’re Sabonis, it can feel like a slap in the face to a guy who put in a lot of sweat and passion for the franchise. That’s what Sabonis sounded like in this quote, via Scott Agnes of The Athletic.

The Pacers are not talking about the report, which started with the well connected and reliable Sam Amick at The Athletic.

Pacers’ brass needs to talk about this with Sabonis (and likely already have, behind closed doors). If the Pacers trade him, it’s likely not until after Dec. 15 at the earliest (when most players signed this summer can be included in a deal) and probably closer to the February trade deadline. That’s a lot of season to play out, and Sabonis remains a vital part of the Indiana rotation.

There is likely to be a lot of interest in Sabonis on the market. However, because he’s a center (a position teams are careful not to overspend on in today’s market) and in the last year of his rookie deal — meaning he becomes a restricted free agent next summer and gets more expensive — teams are not going to overpay for him. Right now the Pacers are asking for too much and interested teams are lowballing their offers. The sides will meet in the middle.

That middle could shift if Sabonis has a rough start to the season. Both sides need him to play well and feel comfortable, whatever is going on with the business side of his contract.