The Extra Pass: 2013-14 Eastern Conference All-Star reserve picks; plus Thursday’s recaps

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The 2013-14 All-Star game in New Orleans is still 30 days away, but the starters will be announced January 23rd and the reserves will follow on January 30th. There’s only a few days of voting left, and since I’m not good with hashtags or 140 character limits or following directions, I thought I’d put my ballot here instead.

For the sake of this particular exercise, we’ll defer to the last balloting returns for the starting lineup in the Eastern Conference. There’s no use fighting the machine, y’all — we have to roll with the fan vote. Here’s how the last results looked:

East Starters (Fan Vote)

Backcourt: Dwyane Wade, Kyrie Irving

Frontcourt: LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony

With those players as the starters (not the worst you’ve done, fans), let’s get to the reserves. In case you’re unfamiliar with the format, the reserves include two backcourt, three frontcourt and two wildcards to fill the 12-man roster.

East Reserves

Backcourt: John Wall and Lance Stephenson

This is a surprisingly loaded position given the general ickyness of the Eastern Confernece.

Wall should be a shoe-in, as he’s averaged career-highs in points (19.7) and steals (2.0) while leading the conference in assists (8.6). It doesn’t hurt that his biggest flaw is finally being covered up a bit, either, as he’s shooting a halfway respectable 32 percent from behind the arc. The Wizards have been truly awful when he’s off the court this year, for what that’s worth. He deserves his first appearance.

Stephenson, meanwhile, has been an absolutely electric playmaker for the Pacers (5.3 assists) and a constant triple-double threat. Considering there are only two elite teams in the conference, it would be awfully tough to ignore Stephenson during his dynamic campaign, even if the reputation hasn’t come with the improved production quite yet. His flashy style of play is perfect for this setting.

Frontcourt: Roy Hibbert, Chris Bosh, Andre Drummond

You could probably just mash the rosters of the Heat and Pacers together and roll the ball out there, right?

Hibbert doesn’t put up big lines every night, but he leads the conference in blocks per game (2.6) and he’s the anchor of the best defensive team we’ve seen in quite some time. It would be a crime if he’s left off because he’s not a big scorer. Very few players make as big of an impact on the game as he does.

Bosh is absurdly consistent — just look at his per 36 minute scoring numbers in his last four seasons in Miami:

2010-11: 18.5 PPG
2011-12: 18.4 PPG
2012-13: 18.1 PPG
2013-14: 18.4 PPG

Point being, not much has changed. He’s solid, if unspectacular, but he’s crucial to everything Miami does. Bosh’s All-Star appearance streak (eight straight going into this year) isn’t going to be interrupted, especially without anyone really knocking down the door for his spot.

Drummond may be the surprise pick of the bunch, but he’s just been so dang productive. The second-year big man leads the league in offensive and total rebounding percentage, he’s first in the East in field goal percentage, third in blocks and behind only James, Anthony and George in PER in the East. It’s early, of course, but he’s more than earned his spot.

Wildcards: Arron Afflalo and Joakim Noah

Afflalo is still my pick for Most Improved Player in the league, even if he’s slowed down a bit as of late due to injury. Orlando’s ineptitude may hurt his chances, but virtually no one scores nearly 21 points per game as efficiently as Afflalo has this season. He’s never been an All-Star before, but with career-highs in nearly every statistical category, this is definitely his best shot.

I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself for leaving Noah off my ballot. Somehow, despite everything, the Bulls still have the second best defense in the league in terms of efficiency, and it’s Noah making that happen. With overall numbers very similar to his All-Star campaign last year, Noah should just squeeze in as a hat-tip to his undying effort, even in a clearly lost season.

Just Missed The Cut

Michael Carter-Williams is facing an uphill battle, as he’s on a bad team and he’s a rookie. Still, 17.6 points, 7 assists, 5.9 rebounds and a conference-leading 2.7 steals a night is no joke. Yes, the pace helps the raw numbers, but the degree of difficulty MCW is facing as a top-option for opponents to key in on in a point guard heavy league should be factored in as well. It’s unlikely he gets named, but he’s played well enough to be a reserve.

It was awfully hard to leave DeMar DeRozan off my ballot, especially since he’s come on so strong as of late with Rudy Gay out of the picture. DeRozan’s raw numbers (20.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 3.5 APG) aren’t all that dissimilar to Afflalo’s (20.8 PPG, 4.4 RPG, 3.9 APG), but DeRozan’s true shooting percentage of 51.3 percent can’t touch Afflalo’s 58.6 percent mark. Is Afflalo’s efficiency enough to account for the fact that DeRozan plays for a team with a winning record (!) in the East? Maybe, maybe not. I won’t be too upset either way — it’s a tossup between those two.

A lot of the air went out of the Hawks’ balloon when Al Horford went down for the season, but Paul Millsap is undoubtedly one of the best active players to never be named to an All-Star game. With a career high in points (17.4) and some surprising three-point range added to his already varied arsenal (1.1 3PM, 39.4 percent), Millsap might get some of that same “last man standing” and veteran love that Noah will, even if Drummond is the superior choice statistically.

Al Jefferson deserves some sort of reward for being a part of the 7th ranked defense and keeping the Bobcats in the playoff picture, but it’s probably not an All-Star selection. Watch out though — he’s a big name that opposing coaches plan for heavily, which will at least put him the conversation.

—DJ Foster

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Nets 127, Hawks 110: Joe Johnson put up 26 points in the first half to carry the Nets, then Brooklyn started the second half on an 11-2 run and Bob’s your uncle they had an easy win. Credit Paul Pierce who was making the right pass with the ball in the first half then put up 10 points in the third as the Hawks tried to crack down on Johnson (who also moved the ball well when the defense focused on him). Jeff Teague led the Hawks with 16 points but on 4-of-13 shooting. Basically the Nets dominated the NBA’s annual game in London, which Sir Paul McCartney was at — that’s his second Nets game this season, I hope someone got him a T-shirt.

Pacers 117, Knicks 89: Carmelo Anthony kept the Knicks close for the first quarter with his 18 points (he finished with 28) plus the Knicks did a good job of getting out in transition and getting their shots up before the Pacers set their defense. Then in the second quarter it all changed — the Pacers started attacking rather than settling for jumpers, their made shots let them get back and set their defense, and the Knicks didn’t shoot above 39 percent in any quarter the rest of the way. Plus, Lance Stephenson happened — he had 13 points in the second quarter on his way to 28 in the game

Thunder 104, Rockets 92: Houston put up 73 points, hit 12 threes and seemed to do no wrong in the first half, led by James Harden’s 16. Mostly it worked because of the threes. I’m not sure what team came out of the locker room after the break, but it wasn’t the same one — Houston shot 19.4 percent overall and scored just 19 points. Houston is a roller coaster, where Kevin Durant is a steady rock and poured in 36. Serge Ibaka was key with 21 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks.

—Kurt Helin

Spurs disbanding all-female dance team in favor of co-ed hype team

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Is this the wave of the future?

Since then newly-minted owner Jerry Buss started the Laker Girls’ in 1979, all-female dance teams have become standard around the NBA. However, with how things are now viewed through the prism of the #metoo movement, and reports on how NFL cheerleaders were treated in places such as Washington and Miami, a lot of professional sports teams are re-thinking the concept of female dance teams.

The Spurs are apparently doing away with theirs, to be replaced by a 35-person co-ed “hype team.”

The Spurs have not said officially that this is the end of the Silver Dancers. “Lack of interest” is an odd reason to give — is there suddenly less interest now than there was five years ago? A number of teams have both female dance teams and co-ed “spirit” or “hype” teams.

Far more likely, this is about perception in what is a conservative state and marketplace.

The question is will this become a trend, both around the NBA and professional sports. As the teams try to evolve and make more dynamic their in-arena experiences, are the dance teams going to fade from view?

Just something to keep and eye on going forward.

Just a reminder: Spurs hope to repair relationship with Kawhi Leonard, offer-him $219 million

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It’s everyone’s favorite parlor game around the NBA: Where will Kawhi Leonard play next season? Philadelphia? Los Angeles? Somewhere else? Fans of 29 teams are posting their trade scenarios online, while GMs of 29 teams privately have tried to come up with offers that could tempt San Antonio.

The most likely answer: San Antonio.

While the relationship between Leonard and the Spurs is frayed — and with the people close to Leonard and in his ear seemingly trying to push him out the door — the Spurs would rather keep one of the five best players in the NBA (when healthy) in-house. From Tom Osbourne of the San Antonio Express-News.

Still, the Spurs hope to meet with Leonard and his representatives soon in a bid to mend fences and pave the way for Leonard to come to terms on a five-year $219 million supermax contract that he will be eligible to receive starting July 1. If attempts to patch up the relationship fail, the Spurs will be forced to explore trading a player coach Gregg Popovich once labeled “the future face of the franchise.”

The timing of that meeting has been slowed in part because of the death of Popovich’s wife and everyone involved understandably giving him all the space wants. It will happen.

Can the relationship be salvaged? Maybe, $219 million can mend a lot of fences. There are things the Spurs can and would be willing to do to promote Leonard more (although that all starts with him getting out of his comfort zone and building his brand, starting with speaking more in public). Also, Gregg Popovich was able to sooth LaMarcus Aldridge‘s ego when the big man demanded a trade, and not only did the player stay he had an All-NBA level season. Popovich and Leonard still have a strong relationship.

Is that enough? Time will tell, but people around the league think at best it’s a coin flip. Things are not good right now. However, the Spurs will get the first crack at fixing this before they are forced to consider a trade.

Julius Randle’s camp not convinced he’s a Laker priority

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Last November, Julius Randle walked into Staples Center wearing a sweatshirt that said: “pay me.”

Yet he and the Lakers could not come to terms on a rookie contract extension — the Lakers could have had him starting at $12.4 million a year, but wanted to keep their cap space and options open. Now, it’s going to cost a lot more to keep the restricted free agent who averaged 16.1 points per game on 55.8 percent shooting with eight rebounds a game. There are rumors that the previous contract negotiations left a bad taste in Randle’s mouth and he wants out.

Lakers’ fans want Randle back. The Lakers still have rights to match any offer and the front office has said Randle is a priority. Randle’s camp is not so sure about that last part, they haven’t seen the evidence, reports Tania Ganguli at The Los Angeles Times.

Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka told The Times on Friday that the Lakers’ front office is constantly in touch with Julius Randle’s representatives, and there has been “a mutual exchange of interest and hoping that we can work something out for both sides.”

Randle’s camp is unsure of how mutual the interest has been.

“We still have no indication of where Julius stands among the Lakers’ priorities, or if he is a priority at all,” Randle’s agent Aaron Mintz said Saturday in response to Pelinka’s comments. “We are looking forward to the marketplace in July, when we will get a clear picture of Julius’ future.”

That is negotiation posturing by Mintz, no doubt. He might as well have said, “show me the money.”

Don’t expect other teams to wait around on Randle offers while the Lakers figure out their free agent possibilities — Paul George, LeBron James (probably not him) — come July 1. Other teams are interested (Dallas among them) and are going to try to move quickly to force the Lakers’ hand.

Once those other offers are on the table, we’ll see where the Lakers’ priorities really are.

Rumor: Dallas to target big men — Cousins, Jordan, Randle — in free agency

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The Dallas Mavericks have been hunting for a center ever since they thought they had DeAndre Jordan, right before the Clippers locked him in a house and forced him to change his mind (that’s not really how it went down, but it makes a better story than the truth). It’s why Dallas has been linked to Mohamed Bamba in the draft — a big, defensive-minded, rim runner who could develop into a great pick-and-roll partner with Dennis Smith Jr.

However, the Mavericks may not want to wait for Bamba — or any other young big — to develop.

Expect the Mavericks to go after one of the name big men on the market in free agency this summer, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer from the NBA Combine in Chicago.

Ever since word spread in league circles in March that Dirk Nowitzki would return to the Mavericks for his 21st season, there have also been rumblings that the Dallas front office will look to make additions this summer that can put the team back on a winning track. The Mavericks can create space to sign a max free agent, and multiple league sources expect them to pursue a trio of big men: DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, and restricted free agent Julius Randle.

Jordan has not yet officially opted out of the $24.1 million he is owed next season by the Los Angeles Clippers (although most observers expect him to). It is possible Dallas and other teams are not going to offer that much per season for Jordan, but if he can get three years starting at closer to $20 million per that’s a lot more guaranteed money. Also, does he want out of Los Angeles now that Blake Griffin and Chris Paul are gone and will he take a little less per year to get to a new team?

We know Dallas likes him and Jordan has a relationship with Mark Cuban and Rick Carlisle from the last go around.

How much money and how many years would Dallas be willing to risk on Cousins coming off a torn Achilles? More than the Pelicans (who don’t have the money to replace Cousins with anywhere near that level player if he bolts)?

Randle showed a lot of promise as a bully inside who can run some pick-and-roll with Smith, but do the Mavericks want to try to outbid the Lakers (which leads to the question of what other free agents Los Angeles might get and how much they are willing to pay to keep Randle)?

We know this, Mark Cuban does not sit quietly on the sidelines of free agency. Expect the Mavericks to be aggressive players this summer.