Who should be the All-Star Game reserves? Here’s our picks.

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Now we know the starters for the All-Star Game in New York Feb. 15.

We also know that Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr will be the coaches. We know that Ariana Grande will be the halftime entertainment. We know that some confused out-of-town fans will take the train to Penn Station then still ask someone how to get to Madison Square Garden from there.

What we don’t know is who will be the reserves for the All-Star Game. With the starters in place the coaches from around the league vote to round out the rest of the field. Those reserves will be announced officially Jan. 29. But we’re not that patient, so we’re giving you our picks today. The entire team at ProBasketballTalk — Kurt Helin, Brett Pollakoff, Dan Feldman and Sean Highkin — have made their selections, and while we agree on some we also discuss below where we disagree.

Like the coaches do, we picked two backup guards, three backup front court players and two wild cards.

(For the record, we are not dealing with the Kobe Bryant injury in this post, nor potentially LaMarcus Aldridge. It is very likely Kobe will be out of the All-Star Game, at which point Commissioner Adam Silver gets to pick his replacement on the team, while Steve Kerr would pick who will start in his place.)

WESTERN CONFERENCE

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Kurt: This is just a brutal set of choices — it’s not that just there are guys like Klay Thompson, Mike Conley, Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki who just missed my cut, it’s that guys like Tony Parker or Monta Ellis are deserving and can’t even get close to serious consideration. The West is just overloaded with talent. The hardest call for me was whether or not to include Kevin Durant on the team — he’s been amazing when he’s played but missed a lot of time. In the end, I just can’t keep the second best player on the planet off the squad if he’s healthy, and clearly he is.

Brett: The West is just too stacked this year, which means plenty of deserving players will end up getting shut out. Klay Thompson and DeMarcus Cousins are the biggest snubs, and of course, guys like Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan would get in if the talent pool was more diluted. I don’t see Klay usurping any of the guards, and if Cousins gets in, it may be at Howard’s expense. But I simply couldn’t justify leaving any of the guys I selected off of the roster.

Dan: With my criteria, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook were slam-dunk choices, where others might debate whether they’ve played enough. Very little separated DeMarcus Cousins, Tim Duncan, Chris Paul and Damian Lillard (in) and Dirk Nowitzki and LaMarcus Aldridge (out). Because I’m not worried time missed, I also gave serious to Kawhi Leonard, whose impact on the Spurs in limited action is unquestioned. Klay Thompson wasn’t too difficult an omission, which says a lot about the West. And if Thompson didn’t come that close, other seemingly reasonable candidates like Mike Conley, Tyson Chandler, Gordon Hayward, DeAndre Jordan, Derrick Favors, Goran Dragic and Draymond Green didn’t have much of a chance.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

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Kurt: Finding enough representation for the Hawks was the challenge, because you can argue they should have four guys. I couldn’t select Kyle Korver over Jeff Teague and I couldn’t leave off any of the other guards — Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler have been fantastic and deserved their spots, and without LeBron in Miami Wade has stepped up his game this season.

Brett: You could make a case for the Hawks getting four players in — I mean, the team has won 27 of its last 29 games. But Bosh is worthy, so Horford (regrettably) just misses the cut.

Dan: Kyrie Irving vs. Jeff Teague was my toughest decision in this process. Teague has been better this season, but I pick All-Stars based on which player I believe is best at this moment. That’s still Irving, who has a stronger track record but has been (somewhat fairly, somewhat unfairly) tainted by the Cavaliers’ early struggles. By the same logic, I wasn’t going to punish Kevin Love for Cleveland marginalizing him.  Nikola Vucevic, Kyle Korver, Kemba Walker and Andre Drummond also drew consideration.

Australian NBL pumps breaks on report LaMelo Ball has bought a team

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It was a stunning headline, especially considering LaMelo Ball is just 18:

He bought a team in the Australian National Basketball League, specifically the Illawarra Hawks, the team he played for some last season. It’s an insane story.

And it’s not quite true. At least not yet. The NBL released a statement that pumped the breaks on the idea of a sale to Ball and his manager, Jermaine Jackson. Part of the statement reads:

“The league can confirm LaMelo Ball and his management had discussions about being involved with the club while he was playing in the NBL last season. At this point we are continuing to work with current licence holder Simon Stratford on a number of options for what we hope will be a fruitful outcome for Illawarra and the NBL.

The NBL has final approval on any transfer of licence and no application has been made to date. The NBL has no further comment at this stage.

Did LaMelo and his manager jump the gun? Or, is this a negotiating ploy by the NBL and Stratford to get more money by jacking up the price on a sale?

Those two follow a host of other questions, including what percentage of the team would Ball and his manager own? What would their involvement be?

Ineligible for college stateside, Ball chose to play in Australia under the NBL’s Next Stars program. It worked, he’s projected to be a top-five, maybe top-three pick. He left the NBL after suffering a season-ending foot injury, although that came under a cloud of criticism from Hawks owner Stratford.

The ultimate revenge would be to buy the team, if that is actually happening.

Doc Rivers’ reaction when Clippers traded for Lou Williams, “I was not having Lou”

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Lou Williams is integral to the Clippers’ title dreams.

Since coming to the Clippers, he has averaged 20.6 points a game off the bench, twice winning Sixth Man of the Year, and his pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell is as smooth and dangerous a combo as there is in the league. Come the playoffs, while teams are trying to deal with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, Lou Williams will be a change of pace scorer with a second unit that can quickly tilt the game towards Los Angeles.

But when Williams first got to the Clippers, Doc Rivers was not thrilled.

Rivers talked about Williams on The Bob Ryan and Jeff Goodman Podcast (hat tip SI).

“When we traded for Lou, I was not having Lou,” Rivers said. “I saw a guy that kept getting traded. And I appreciated his offense, but not nearly, never thought it was this good… When he finally showed up three days before training camp, I was not having him. I was like, ‘We’re not gonna work’, you know?..

“I brought him up in the office and I told him my feelings,” Rivers said. “I said, ‘Lou, you’re one of these guys that wanna do whatever you wanna do, and you don’t want to buy-in. We asked everybody to come in. Everyone did except for you… I don’t know how this is gonna work.’ And he said, ‘I’ve been traded five years in a row. Why would I buy-in to you?’, and I didn’t have an answer.”

Both Williams and Rivers have bought into each other now. Williams has control of the offense when he is in and Rivers said he just wants Williams to “be in the right place” on defense. That defense leads to issues playing Williams at the end of big games, but used as a scorer Williams is tough to deal with.

He can still get buckets with the best of them.

 

For NBA coaches, the new game is a waiting game

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MIAMI (AP) — Orlando’s Steve Clifford figures he’s like every other NBA coach right now: Wake up, go to whatever now serves as the office, study his own team, maybe think about possible opponents, and resume planning.

Of course, nobody knows what they’re planning for — or when these plans will get used.

A stoppage in play doesn’t mean vacation time has arrived for NBA coaches, especially those like Clifford in position to take their teams to the postseason — assuming this pandemic-interrupted season is able to resume. They’re all spending more time at home, not able to run practices, but none seem to be sitting idly either.

“Not knowing the restart date is the toughest challenge professionally,” Clifford said. “Obviously, we’re all limited in what we can do, and basketball takes a back seat right now to family and health. But I will say this: When I talk to our guys, the one common question that comes up is ‘When do you think we can start again?’”

And that’s a question with no answer. The waiting game is the only game in town right now.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was coaching the fourth quarter against Charlotte on March 11 when the NBA announced it was suspending the season, a move made once it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert was the league’s first player to test positive for COVID-19. Spoelstra found out right after the final buzzer, as he walked to the Heat locker room.

He instantly realized that losing to the Hornets that night didn’t ultimately matter much. Spoelstra and his staff are holding Zoom meetings every other day, but he’s also enjoying the benefits of time away — getting more time with his two young sons, his wife and grilling for the family most nights — and is emphasizing to his coaches and players that this is a time to help those less fortunate.

He’s checking the news as well, on a limited basis.

“My routine is checking after dinner, and I usually get on my computer, watch a little bit of what’s going on,” said Spoelstra, who often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with “Stay Positive” and like many coaches he taped a video telling fans the importance of hand-washing and other precautions. “So, I’m staying abreast of the current status of things, but I definitely do not try to start my day that way and I do not obsess about it during the day.”

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle also went the video-message route, doing one for the going-stir-crazy crowd to demonstrate his “Balance, Balance, Shot Drill” that allows players to work on their shooting form even when they don’t have access to a court or a rim.

Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan took advantage of downtime to appear on a virtual coaches clinic, and had a safety message for those who attended — online, of course — before spending about an hour breaking down his philosophy.

This is the first in-season stoppage of its kind in NBA history, but Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is equating the unknown — in terms of when the next game will be — to what the league went through with lockout-shortened seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12.

His message to his staff: Things may be slow now, but when the suspension ends the pace of everything will be frantic. So while some projects like things in the video room and breakdowns of his roster are being tackled, Budenholzer is also having staff get ready for potential playoff opponents with a first-round series against either Brooklyn or Orlando likely for the NBA-leading Bucks.

“Things happen really fast, whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker,” Budenholzer said. “We can put a little bit of money in the bank now with preparation for first round but also if you go a little bit deeper, the East.”

For 30 teams, 30 coaches, there’s many ways to spend the down time.

And they all know that they’re in the same boat — waiting and wondering.

“It’s hard for all of us,” Clifford said. “It’s hard to set a plan for yourself that will have you ready. But that’s the parallel, not just for us, but for everyone around the world no matter what profession that you’re in.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci was a high school point guard

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You know Dr. Anthony Fauci as the guy trying to inject facts and reason-based decisions into the federal government’s response to the coronavirus epidemic. You’ve seen him, the guy with the Sisyphean task of standing behind President Donald Trump at press conferences and not reacting with shock or disgust.

It turns out he was a high school baller.

In a profile of Fauci, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Cohen wrote about Fauci the high school point guard, who led his 1-16 team to a win against Fordham Prep, led by future Knicks executive Donnie Walsh.

Classic point guard, excellent ballhandler, pesky defender. Six of his classmates and teammates described him as a tenacious competitor in short shorts and striped socks whose feistiness on the court defied some parts of his personality and reflected others.

That sounds like a young version of the person he is now.

Dr. Fauci is one of the people the NBA is listening to as it tries to figure out if or when the league can re-start and what its next steps might be. Right now, all of that is beyond the NBA’s control and more in the hands of the rest of us and whether we as a society follow Dr. Fauci’s suggestions.