The three biggest All-Star snubs in each conference

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Now that the All-Star teams have been unveiled, it’s time for everybody’s favorite exercise: identifying which players got snubbed. The good news for these players is that at least one of them will be late adds. Kobe Bryant was voted in as a starter, and he’s out for the season with a torn rotator cuff, so that creates one spot in the Western Conference. Dwyane Wade is out indefinitely in the East, and he was named a reserve on Thursday, so that opens the door for another replacement. There is potential for other replacements to come up, if the likes of LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant, or Carmelo Anthony decide to sit with their current injuries.

In the meantime, here are three players in each conference that deserved to make it.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers): Lillard is the most surprising name to be left off. The Blazers have the third-best record in the Western Conference, and he’s rightly developed a rep as a cold-blooded clutch shooter. The problem is, there are way too many good point guards in the Western Conference. Should Chris Paul get left off? What about Russell Westbrook? The West has about 20 guys who are worthy of the 12 available spots.

DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento Kings): If LaMarcus Aldridge hadn’t put off his thumb surgery, Cousins would have been a lock. The biggest knocks against him are that he plays on a losing team (which isn’t exactly his fault, considering the Kings fallen off a cliff since the firing of head coach Mike Malone) and the 10 games he missed with a viral infection in November and December. But Kevin Durant has missed more games than he’s played, and he made the team. From a basketball standpoint, it’s hard to argue with Boogie’s credentials. He’s been among the best bigs in the entire league, putting up career numbers (23.8 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.6 blocks) and creating a matchup nightmare for every team he faces.

Mike Conley (Memphis Grizzlies): Conley should have made the team last year, and he’s having an equally great season this year. He’s just unfortunate enough to play the most loaded position in the loaded Western Conference. Lillard is already probably in line to be named a replacement ahead of him, and which of the guards that made it should be left off? It’s unfair that Conley got passed over again, but someone has to.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Kyle Korver (Atlanta Hawks): No team has sent four players to the All-Star game since the 2011 Boston Celtics with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo. But it’s hard to argue Korver doesn’t deserve a nod along with his teammates. He’s having a historic shooting season — his True Shooting percentage is 74.1 percent, almost four points higher than the single greatest TS% in history, Tyson Chandler’s 70.8 percent mark in 2011-12. And where Chandler and the other leaders in the category were big men who scored mostly around the basket, Korver is taking 5.8 three-pointers per game and shooting 53.4 percent from beyond the arc. He’s the most dangerous shooter in the world and he should be in the All-Star game.

Brandon Knight (Milwaukee Bucks): Not talked about much as one of the elite point guards in the league, Knight has quietly been the rock of a Bucks team performing well above expectations. He’s tied his career high averaging 17.9 points per game, become a reliable three-point shooter (40.8 percent from deep) and keeping Milwaukee in the playoff hunt despite the loss of Jabari Parker for the season. He’s going to get paid this summer.

Nikola Vucevic (Orlando Magic): There’s no chance Vucci Mane makes it, since the Magic aren’t a playoff team. But he’s putting up monster numbers, averaging 19.5 points and 11.2 rebounds. He’s made leaps as an offensive player and become an all-around threat in the post. The four-year, $54 million extension he signed in October is already looking like a steal.

Report: Celtics “most likely” offer Jayson Tatum a max contract after season

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This should not be a surprise.

Jayson Tatum is a cornerstone of the Celtics now and going forward: 23.6 points and 7.1 rebounds a game, an efficient 56.2 true shooting percentage, a shot creator, an athletic finisher at the rim, and a guy who shot 39.8 percent from three. Tatum was an All-Star in his third season and will draw third-team All-NBA votes (whenever those votes happen).

Tatum is eligible for an extension to his rookie contract after this season. Is he worth a full max contract? Yes, especially considering he is 22 and still improving by leaps each season.

ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on SportsCenter the Celtics are expected to offer Tatum the max (hat tip Bleacher Report).

“If Jayson Tatum is the superstar that they envisioned when they began this whole rebuilding process when they traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce for all of those draft picks hoping to land a player like this, we could see ‘Glory Days’ for the Celtics again. But it’s very much up in the air, and I’m gonna tell ya, they’re gonna have to pay him like it because after this season ends, he is going to get most likely a max contract. They’re going to bet that he becomes that player.”

It’s fair to argue that max contracts should be reserved for true alphas, true No. 1s and maybe a few No. 2 players on a team, and that Tatum has yet to prove he is one of those. Boston would be betting he becomes that player — but right now that looks like a good bet. More importantly, last summer the Celtics locked up Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown on four-year contracts, sign Tatum and the Celtics have a core that will have them at or near the top of the East for years.

Exactly what a max contract will look like this coming off-season after the coronavirus hit to the league’s finances is another question, one nobody has an answer to right now. Under the old cap, it would have been $181 million over five years (and if he made All-NBA teams it could jump to $218 million), but those numbers don’t apply to the new reality. Even if Tatum signs the max offer this summer, he will make his $9.9 million next season then be paid whatever the max is for him starting in the 2021-22 season (and again, it’s impossible to say what the league’s finances will be at that point).

Pay the man his money.  Expect Boston to make the offer whenever the offseason arrives.

Zion Williamson’s attorneys work to avoid him answering questions about improper benefits at Duke

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MIAMI (AP) — Attorneys for NBA rookie Zion Williamson seek to block his former marketing agent’s effort to have the ex-Duke star answer questions about whether he received improper benefits before playing for the Blue Devils.

In a Florida court filing last week, Williamson’s attorneys say those questions are “nothing more than a fishing expedition aimed at tarnishing Williamson’s reputation” and designed to “maximize potential embarrassment and media coverage in an attempt to improperly gain settlement leverage.”

“Plaintiffs’ irrelevant and invasive requests are designed to harass and not calculated to lead to discovery of relevant evidence,” Friday’s filing states.

It is the latest exchange in the fight over the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick’s endorsement potential.

Prime Sports Marketing and company president Gina Ford filed her lawsuit last summer in Florida, accusing Williamson and the agency now representing him of breach of contract. Williamson filed his own lawsuit a week earlier in North Carolina to terminate a five-year contract with Prime Sports after moving to Creative Artists Agency LLC.

Ford’s attorneys had submitted questions this month asking whether the New Orleans Pelicans rookie or anyone on his behalf sought or accepted “money, benefits, favors or things of value” to sign with Duke. Those filings – offering no evidence of wrongdoing by Williamson or his family – sought answers within 30 days to establish facts under oath in the pretrial discovery process.

Williamson’s attorneys seek a stay while appealing the December denial of their motion to dismiss the Florida case based on lack of jurisdiction, or a protective order as an alternative.

At the heart of the dueling lawsuits over Williamson’s marketing rights is this: Williamson says the contract he signed with Prime Sports is illegal under North Carolina’s Uniform Athlete Agent Act (UAAA) because Ford was not registered with North Carolina to negotiate with amateur athletes (which Zion was at the time, having just played for Duke). Ford and Prime dispute that, saying this was a legal and binding negotiation.

One key reason NBA may return with 22 teams: Players want regular-season games

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Nothing is set in stone about an NBA return — at least not until next Thursday — but momentum seems to be building behind a plan that would bring 22 teams to the Orlando bubble.

That plan brings every team within six games of the playoffs when the season was halted into the competition, a total of 22 teams (13 from the West and nine from the East, the playoff teams plus Portland, New Orleans, Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, and Washington). There would be some regular-season games played, likely five to eight, followed by a play-in tournament for the final playoff seeds, then the playoffs with full seven-game series each round. Exactly what that play-in tournament would look and if the NBA would stick with the conference playoff alignment or seed 1-16 is up in the air (although the conference alignment seems to have more backing).

Why that plan? For one, it gets more cities and more fan bases involved — and it happens to bring Zion Williamson and the Pelicans into the mix, a big television draw. It also could help a few teams reach a 70-game broadcast threshold with local broadcasters.

Mostly, however, the players want it because they get some games under them before the playoffs start, something Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported on at ESPN.

Regardless of how many teams are ultimately included in the playoffs, the National Basketball Players Association has consistently stressed that it wants several regular-season games to be played prior to the start of the playoffs, sources said. That has been a prevailing sentiment among several contending teams that prefer a tuneup before beginning the postseason, sources said.

A lot of players — influential players — have pushed for some regular season or meaningful games before the playoffs start. It’s about health, as trainers told us at NBC Sports, go from zero to 100 jumping straight into the playoffs and teams are asking for injuries. Players understand that.

Maybe only 20 teams end up in Orlando, that plan is on the table as well, but either way expect some regular-season games before the playoffs start. If the powerful players want it to happen, it will.

PBT Podcast: 2020 NBA Mock Draft crossover podcast, Part Deux

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We’re back at it… and not just drinking beer during a podcast. Although we do that, too.

For the third consecutive season, Rob Dauster of College Basketball Talk and I collaborated for a first-round mock draft. Rob knows the prospects better than anyone; I provide some knowledge about what the teams might be looking for. The result is a unique listening experience breaking down who will be picked where based on fit.

The first ten picks can be found over on the College Basketball Talk feed.

Here we finish off the lottery and run through the entire rest of the first round.

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.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.