Lance Stephenson leads list of three biggest All-Star Game snubs from each conference

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There are only 12 All-Star Game roster slots per conference, and there are more than 12 deserving players.

Somebody is going to be left off — we like to call it a snub, but most of the time it’s more like splitting hairs between good players. You pull on of these guys off the coach’s list of All-Star Game reserves to get your guy on and the fans of the player yanked will cry snub. And the circle of life continues.

Still, it’s a little frustrating this year because the coaches chose to play it safe and go with veterans like Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki and Joe Johnson over exciting young players. I had hoped the coaches would be more daring and less conservative. But alas…

Here are the three biggest snubs from each conference

EASTERN CONFERENCE

• Lance Stephenson, Indiana Pacers. He is the guy who does a lot of shot creation for the team with the best record in the NBA — coach Frank Vogel told Pro it wasn’t his plan coming into the season to have Stephenson playing this big a roll in the offense, but his play demanded it.

“I wanted to expand his role,” Vogel said of Stephenson this week. “What I envisioned was getting him out early, bringing him back to play with the bench unit and running offense through him. That sort of expanded when he started producing with the starting unit. So obviously, we’re a balanced team and we’re going to go to the hot hand so to speak, or to whoever is making the most efficient plays. With the second unit that’s who we’re going with, but a lot of times with the first unit he’s been great too.”

Stephenson averages 14.2 points a game, 7.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists a game. He has a true shooting percentage of 56.3 percent (a few percentage points above the league average). The argument against him is he is just a cog in the Pacers’ system, he could be the fourth or fifth offensive option at times. And that he could be more efficient. Maybe. But for an exhibition game — and for rewarding the best first half players — I’d rather have Stephenson on the court instead of Joe Johnson.

• Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic. This was one of those splitting hairs decision compared with DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors (who made the team). Afflalo is the guy the other team schemes to stop on one of the weakest rosters in the league — he has a usage rate of 23.8, the highest of his career. And he’s scoring 20 points a game (also a career high) while having a true shooting percentage of 58.6 percent. He’s not a nice player putting up good numbers because he has to on a bad team, he’s a very good player putting up efficient numbers despite defenses gearing up for him.

(Yes, you could make a case that Kyle Lowry is more deserving than Afflalo. I’m not going to, but you could.)

• Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons. This is a tough one because I want to see the young players but the veterans who made the Eastern Conference frontcourt — Chris Bosh, Joakim Noah and Roy Hibbert — are all deserving. And I love the addition of Paul Millsap, who ha balled so hard for the Hawks this season. Drummond is averaging 12.6 points a game on 60 percent shooting (he should get more touches, but this is the Pistons) and 12.7 rebounds a game.

WESTERN CONFERNECE

• Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns)/Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies). I am combining these two because while both deserve to go both may get to — Kobe Bryant is out for sure due to his knee injury, and Chris Paul may be out due to his shoulder injury. These two guys should be the replacements. (The league office and Commissioner Adam Silver get to make the call on who is selected as a replacement.)

Dragic is averaging 19.7 points and 6.1 assists a game to lead the offense of the biggest surprise team in the NBA this season. It was thought when Eric Bledsoe went down the Suns would fall apart, but Dragic has stepped up and been an All-Star level player.

Mike Conley quietly orchestrates the Memphis offense and is scoring 18.2 points a game, dishes 6.3 assists a game, is shooting 37.3 percent from three to help them space the floor, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game.

• DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings. This is the kind of exciting big man I’d like to see in the All-Star Game — he is averaging 22.6 points and 11.6 rebounds a game and at age 23 you can make a case he’s been the best center in the West this season. Yes, he makes some bad decisions still, at other times still battles bouts of laziness, but he is maturing and he is a force.

• Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans. He is averaging 20.4 points on 51.9 percent shooting and he grabs 10.4 rebounds a game, plus he leads the NBA in blocked shots at 3.3 a game — and he has 21 blocks combined in the last two games he played. He can score a variety of ways and, most importantly for this kind of exhibition game, he is the best transition big in the NBA right now. And he’s the hometown guy for this All-Star Game. I really wanted Davis to make the cut.

Karl-Anthony Towns: “I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time”

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A few years back, Minnesota looked like a team on a fast rise in the West, mostly because Karl-Anthony Towns looked like a young dominant force starting to come of age in the league.

It hasn’t worked out that way, even though Minnesota finally made the playoffs back in 2018. Andrew Wiggins has not developed into a No. 2 options (even though he is getting paid like a No. 1 option), Towns has not consistently owned the defensive end, and under Tom Thibodeau there were a lot of chemistry issues highlighted by Jimmy Butler blowing up last training camp and essentially torpedoing the season before it started.

In today’s NBA news cycle, driven by rumors and speculation about player movement — and the player movement itself — all those issues in Minnesota has people looking at Towns. That despite the fact his five-year max extension just kicks in this season.

Towns isn’t looking to move. There’s a new coach (Ryan Saunders) who Towns has a good bond with, there’s a new head of basketball operations (Gersson Rosas) who is aggressive and who Towns likes, and the two-time All-Star center told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic he is happy right now in Minnesota.

“The biggest thing when you have that conversation [about a star switching teams] is you say, ‘Is he happy here?’” Towns said. “I’m tremendously happy. I love my front office. I love my coaching staff. I think we’ve made great moves and great changes. I love the culture we have here. If you want to leave, you have to be miserable somewhere. I am not there. I’m planning to be in Minnesota for a long time.”

What makes Towns happy is he can see the plan now — and it’s finally to build around him. Towns is the top dog and this summer the Timberwolves made a push to land D'Angelo Russell to be his No. 2 (since it’s not Wiggins). That, however, fell short as Russell is in Golden State. (For now at least, if the fit with Stephen Curry is not right Russell could be on the move, and Minnesota would be interested.) Still, there was an organized plan of attack and a shuffling around of players to give Minnesota more flexibility. Towns says he is comfortable this is a franchise on the right path. Even if it’s going to take some time to get there.

In a deep West, Minnesota looks to be a team on the outside of the playoff chase that needs a lot of things to go right to get in it. They have some good players, but also a lot of youth and questions.

“We all can’t rush in and think we’re going to win 75 games right now,” he said. “We have to take it day by day. We have to be patient with the process and accept the process and go through the cycles. I think we’re going to have a really good team and we have to go out there every single night and try to accomplish it. My job as a leader, I’ve got to get the best out of every single player.”

Marcus Smart, Thaddeus Young reportedly added to USA Basketball training camp roster

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Elite NBA players have not dropped out of playing for Team USA like this since 2004, when nobody wanted to play for Larry Brown and rumors of potential terrorism in Athens had the NBA’s best backing out.

For the 2019 World Cup in China, USA Basketball has watched James Harden, Anthony Davis, Tobias Harris, Bradley Beal, Eric Gordon, and CJ McCollum all back out, robbing the American team of a lot of star power. Zion Williamson, who was projected to be part of the “select team” of young stars Team USA goes against also dropped out.

The Americans were down to 14 players heading into training camp (12 will be chosen to travel to China), and they needed more players. Enter Boston’s Marcus Smart and Thaddeus Young, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Don’t be surprised if another veteran name or two is added before training camp opens.

Smart and Young are a couple of smart selections, elite defenders who can shut down the best wing players on other teams (and in FIBA competition only a couple of teams have more than one top-flight wing player to handle).

So who is on the USA roster now? Let’s break it out by position:

GUARDS:
Damian Lillard
Kemba Walker
Kyle Lowry (questionable coming off thumb surgery)
Marcus Smart

WINGS:
Khris Middleton
Donovan Mitchell
Jayson Tatum
Harrison Barnes
Kyle Kuzma
PJ Tucker
Thaddeus Young

BIGS:
Andre Drummond
Myles Turner
Brook Lopez
Kevin Love
Paul Millsap

(We could argue about whether Mitchell is a guard or a wing, if Tucker is a big or a wing, but you get the basic picture.)

After Lillard, that roster does lack star power.

But the USA talent pool is so deep that it will overwhelm all but a couple of teams in the tournament. Serbia — led by Nikola Jokic and Bogan Bogdanovic — is the biggest threat to the USA and has good depth. Spain is impressive as well, but older.

The USA is and should be the World Cup favorite, but an improved rest of the world and a depleted USA roster is going to make things a lot more interesting in China.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

Tim Duncan joins Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with Spurs

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The Tim Duncan era in San Antonio is over quite yet.

The future Hall of Famer has been added full time to Gregg Popovich’s coaching staff with the Spurs, the team announced Monday.

“It is only fitting, that after I served loyally for 19 years as Tim Duncan’s assistant, that he returns the favor,” Popovich said.

Duncan was around the Spurs practice facility a lot last season, helping out informally. Now it is formal.

Expect more bank shots from the Spurs big men next season.

Duncan was at the heart of the Spurs historic NBA dynasty the past couple of decades. The future Hall of Famer is a five-time NBA champion and three-time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 15 times NBA All-Defensive teams, 15-time All-Star, and way back when the Rookie of the Year. However, his impact was greater than just that insane resume, he was the guy who set the tone and the work ethic for those Spurs teams. Duncan worked as hard as anyone, won as much as anyone, but did it without trying to draw attention to himself. If fact, he wanted to deflect it.

The Spurs will be competitive for a playoff spot in the deep West this season — they still have LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan, plus Dejonte Murray gets healthy and returns — but are poised to start a rebuilding process in the coming years.

We will see if Duncan wants to be part of that, or if he is only around while Popovich remains the coach (somebody has to go to dinner with Pop). But he has earned the right to pretty much any role he wants.

The Spurs also announced that Will Hardy will be added to the bench as an assistant coach.

“Will Hardy is a talented, young basketball mind who has earned a great deal of respect from everyone in the organization thanks to his knowledge, spirit and personality,” Popovich said.

Report: Tobias Harris won’t play for Team USA in World Cup, either

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The theoretical lineup of players who’ve withdrawn from consideration for Team USA’s FIBA World Cup roster just gained frontcourt depth.

So far, we had:

Add Tobias Harris.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Harris is a real loss. He’s a good player whose ability to blend with other good players – as he showed with the 76ers last season – would’ve made him particularly helpful on Team USA.

The Americans still have other forwards available – Khris Middleton, Jayson Tatum, Harrison Barnes, Kyle Kuzma, Paul Millsap, P.J. Tucker. But none match Harris’ combination of talent and frontcourt versatility.

USA Basketball is down to just 14 players for its training camp next month:

The U.S. almost must add more players to the pool.