The Extra Pass: Clearing out my All-Star notebook, including fixing the dunk contest

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Four days in New Orleans left me about 20 pounds heavier (at least it feels that way, time to mix in a salad) and with a notebook full of thoughts and tidbits that didn’t find their way into other posts. So, here is a notebook dump.

• Paul George said after the All-Star Game Frank Vogel’s plan was to put him on Chris Paul — particularly down the stretch — and force the ball out of his hands, even if that meant the ball went to Kevin Durant because LeBron James would pressure him. It worked.

• The other thing that sparked the East comeback — Joakim Noah in the paint. His play allowed pressure on the wings. Vogel said he thought about going back to Roy Hibbert in the paint, but Noah was playing so well he stuck with the hot hand.

• Frank Vogel told his team in the second half they needed to get back and play defense. “They all laughed at me,” he said. “I did say it with half a smile, and they all laughed at me.”

• Yes, the dunk contest needs a lot of work — the new format does not work. You can be sure the league saw the reaction to All-Star Saturday and realize things didn’t work. To me the ultimate problem is that ultimately the Dunk Contest, the Skills Competition, the Three Point Shooting contests are individual events and trying to shoehorn them into a made-up East/West competition just dulls the whole thing down.

• Here’s my idea for fixing the Dunk Contest: I liked the head-to-head idea, but if you’re going to do that go all the way. Invite eight dunkers (maybe include the winner of the D-League Dunk Contest), have them dunk once to seed them 1-8, then just have an eight man dunk tournament. The weird format in place Saturday, how it ended seemed sudden. A tournament, that we get. And the winner has to do multiple dunks under pressure.

• If you’re complaint is “there’s not enough defense in the All-Star Game” get over it. This is an exhibition.

• James Harden with an honest answer about how close the Rockets are to contending: “To be honest I’m not sure. We’re feeling pretty good, we’re on a winning streak, it may take another step or two but we’re gonna figure it out and we’re gonna play hard.”

• Trombone Shorty just rocks.

• Gary Clark Jr.’s national anthem rendition was spectacular.

• Stephen Curry on the Warriors in the second half: “We learned a lot and obviously we haven’t played to our potential so far, when it comes to playing at home and playing to our potential. Those experience toughened us up, we’re a team that’s going to come back.”

• Most surreal moment of the weekend for me: Pushed the elevator button in my hotel to go down to the lobby, the door opens and there stands Artis Gilmore.

• Dwyane Wade on taking it easy All-Star weekend: “I actually got it from other vets and how they approached the All-Star Game, how they let the younger guys kind of go out there and enjoy themselves and get feel for the game and have fun. So you know me I just kind of chilled a little bit, did a little less than I normally did, and just really enjoyed the weekend.”

Report: Clippers trading Wesley Johnson to Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca

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The Chris PaulBlake GriffinDeAndre Jordan era already ended in L.A.

Now, the Clippers are losing the very last player from their 2016-17 team (just two years ago!) – Wesley Johnson, who’s being shipped to the Pelicans for Alexis Ajinca.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Johnson ($6,134,520) has a slightly higher salary than Ajinca ($5,285,394) with both players in the final year of their contracts. As long the Clippers have to waive a player, they’d rather drop the cheaper one.

The Clippers actually had to shed two players before the regular-season roster deadline. They’re also releasing Jawun Evans, the No. 39 pick last year. The point guard just didn’t acclimate to the NBA quickly enough to beat out Sindarius Thornwell and Tyrone Wallace. Though waiving Evans was probably the right move now, I wouldn’t write him off entirely.

Ajinca, on the other hand, has no place in a shrinking NBA. The 7-foot-2 30-year-old can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been productive when on the court.

Johnson fell out of favor with Clippers coach Doc Rivers, but the Pelicans desperate for a small forward. Though Johnson wouldn’t be an exciting addition for most teams, he’s worth the low cost – the $849,126 difference between his and Ajinca’s salaries – to New Orleans, where he might actually be a significant addition.

PBT Podcast: MVP, Rookie of Year, other awards plus NBA playoffs, Finals predictions

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Will James Harden repeat as MVP or will someone else — LeBron James, Anthony Davis — grab the award away from him?

Luca Doncic and Deandre Ayton seem to be the favorites for Rookie of the Year, but could Trae Young or Jaren Jackson Jr. push their way into the conversation?

Who will win Coach of the Year? Is Jamal Murray a guy to watch for Most Improved Player?

Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports discuss all the major awards plus get into playoff predictions in this latest PBT Podcast. Can Charlotte sneak into the final playoff slot in the East or is Detroit going to take that? Are the Spurs going to miss the playoffs in the West for the first time in 22 years? And are the Warriors a lock to win it all? (Hint: They are not.)

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Report: Suns signing Jamal Crawford

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The Suns are desperate for a point guard.

How desperate?

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I wouldn’t assume Phoenix plans to play Crawford at point guard. Perhaps, he’ll be an off guard. But the possibility is scary – whether the fear comes from playing Crawford out of position or the possibility he’d actually be the Suns’ top point guard.

It’s questionable whether the 38-year-old can help in either backcourt spot. He doesn’t attack the rim like he used to, and his defense has become even more porous.

Though he declined a $4,544,400 player option with the Timberwolves, there’s a reason he remained a free agent so long. He’ll likely settle for the minimum with Phoenix, one of the NBA’s bottom teams.

The Suns now have 14 players with guaranteed salaries on standard contracts, three with small or no guarantees (Richaun Holmes, Isaiah Canaan and Shaquille Harrison) plus Crawford. The regular-season standard-contract roster limit is 15. So, it’ll be interesting to see whom Phoenix drops in the next day. The Suns reportedly applied for a disabled-player exception for Darrell Arthur.

The Suns might try to spin this as adding veteran leadership. But they already have Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Tyson Chandler. How many veteran leaders do they need?

They need a starting-caliber point guard. Crawford isn’t it. At best, they realize that and have other plans for him.

Charles Barkley says he hasn’t worn underwear in a decade

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Charles Barkley can’t control everything, like whether the Magic hire him as general manager.

But he can control his underpants, as he explained on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.