Three Takeaways from NBA Thursday: Stan Van Gundy is frustrated man

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Maybe Thursday was a rough day, but things always could be worse — you could be the guy who tried to snort cocaine during a traffic stop by police. But if, as part of your rough day, you missed what happened around the NBA Thursday, we’ve got you covered. Here is what you need to know:

1) Anthony Davis goes off leading Pelican’s win; Stan Van Gundy almost goes off after game.
Anthony Davis came out Thursday night and played like a guy who was pissed he could lose $23 million — he was not voted an All-Star Game starter. If he does not make one of the three All-NBA teams voted by coaches at the end of the season, he will not qualify for the “Rose Rule” on his max contract extension that kicks in next season, and it will cost him that $23 million. You’d be pissed, too. So Davis took it out on the Pistons, dropping 32 points on 23 shots, seven rebounds, and two blocks on them in a comfortable New Orleans win.

Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy was none too happy with his team’s effort in the loss.

Detroit is currently the six seed in the East, but they are just 1.5 games from falling out of the playoffs in a deep and crowded conference. Teams that close to falling out can’t be as inconsistent night-to-night as the Pistons have been. Interestingly, in his postgame comments, Brandon Jennings said Detroit misses having a veteran leader in the locker room that keeps guys focused and serious. Feels like he’s right about that.

2) Cavaliers get a quality win; Clippers get more questions. In the wake of getting run out of the building Monday by the Warriors (and losing to the Spurs last week), the Cavaliers’ have faced a lot of questions. What’s been surprising is their offense — which everyone expected to be dominant — was one of them. For a night anyway, the Cavaliers answered the questions on the offensive end Thursday — the team shot 50.6 percent, dished out 29 assists and picked up a 115-102 win over the Clippers. Every Cleveland starter finished in double figures scoring, led by J.R. Smith with 22 points. Kyrie Irving had 21 points, and Kevin Love added 18 points and 16 rebounds.

And when the Clippers did get the lead down to six in the fourth quarter, Cavs coach David Blatt — who before the game criticized the strategy — went to hack-a-Jordan, sending DeAndre Jordan to the free throw line and dragging the game down into the muck. Adam Silver, we’re looking to you to start leading on this issue.

Are the Clippers contenders? It’s a question Ben Bolch of the LA Times and I tackled in the latest PBT Podcast, but they didn’t look like it Thursday. Los Angeles had won 11-of-12 coming in and showed promise, but a tweet by Dan Wokie of the Orange County Register sums up the problem for the Clips against the top nine teams in the league.

The recent struggles remind me of the ones from the first month or so of the season, right Ben?


3) All-Star starters named, and it almost became the Zaza Pachulia show.
The official announcement of the NBA All-Star Game starters for the Feb. 14 game in Toronto were made Friday, and there were no major surprises. Here’s the list:

East: Dwyane Wade, Kyle Lowry, LeBron James, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony

West: Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard

Lowry and Leonard made a leap during the final week of voting (passing Kyrie Irving and Draymond Green) to become starters, but both of them are having All-Star level seasons so that’s not news. What would have been news was Dallas big man Pachulia’s push — he picked up nearly 200,000 votes in the final week and came within 14,000 votes of beating out Leonard and getting the start. That has already set some off questioning letting a fan vote pick the starters — relax people, it’s an exhibition. A show for the fans. Give the people what they want — even if what they want is Pachulia.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.