Biggest 2016 NBA All-Star snubs: Damian Lillard, Kevin Love and more

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The NBA announced this year’s All-Star reserves on Thursday, and for the most part, they got them right. LaMarcus Aldridge was the only one that seemed to come out of nowhere, but if the idea is to reward winning, the Spurs should have more than just Kawhi Leonard in the game. Still, every year there are players who deserved to get in and didn’t. Here are just a few from this year’s crop:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Damian Lillard (Portland Trail Blazers): It’s an absolute shock that Lillard didn’t get in, even with the number of good point guards in the west. The Blazers were supposed to be one of the worst teams in the league this season after losing four of their five starters, and instead they find themselves in position to make the playoffs. Lillard’s usage has skyrocketed from 26.9 to 31 percent and his shooting efficiency has seen only a minor drop-off despite the increased responsibility. He should have made it.

Dirk Nowitzki (Dallas Mavericks): This Mavericks team wasn’t supposed to be this good. A lot of that can be attributed to Rick Carlisle’s coaching (he has to be the Coach of the Year frontrunner at this point), but Nowitzki has been as solid as ever. He’s shooting 39.8 percent from three-point range on 4.4 attempts per game, his most since the 2002-03 season. His defense is lacking, which you’d expect at his age, but offensively, he’s still a force.

DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers): The Clippers have kept winning without Blake Griffin, and Jordan’s impact on the defensive end is a big part of why. He’s unstoppable around the basket, leading the league for the fourth straight year in field-goal percentage.

Marc Gasol (Memphis Grizzlies): The Grizzlies have flown under the radar despite rebounding from a horrendous start to the season, but Gasol is having yet another excellent year. Statistically, he’s right in line with where he’s been the last few years, and he’s still an outstanding defender.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Kevin Love (Cleveland Cavaliers): Usually, the best team in a conference gets more than one representative in the All-Star game. Kyrie Irving has only been healthy for a month, which we knew would cost him if he wasn’t voted in as a starter, so Love is the pick here. Despite the concerns about his long-term fit in Cleveland, he’s putting up solid numbers, averaging 15.7 points and 10.8 rebounds in just 32.3 minutes per game, his fewest since his second year in the league.

Al Horford (Atlanta Hawks): With the Hawks’ out-of-nowhere No. 1 seed finish last year, it seemed like the narrative that Horford was “underrated” was permanently put to rest. Not so much. Horford was a clear All-Star last season, and his stats this year are virtually identical. The Hawks are in position to get a top-four seed in the east.

Nicolas Batum (Charlotte Hornets): The Hornets couldn’t ask for more than Batum has given them, especially in the wake of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s season-ending injury during training camp. Batum has rebounded from a couple of down years in Portland to have a career-defining season in Charlotte, averaging career highs in points (14.9) and assists (5.3). He may not have made the All-Star team, but he’s going to get paid this summer, be it by the Hornets or someone else.

Pau Gasol (Chicago Bulls): Gasol hasn’t been quite as good as he was last season, when he was a deserving All-Star starter, but he’s having a solid statistical year and the Bulls are a top-four team in the East. This isn’t a truly egregious snub, but putting him in would have been totally defensible.

Reggie Jackson (Detroit Pistons): Andre Drummond was always going to be a lock to make it, but his pick-and-roll partner deserves some consideration too. Jackson has backed up an $80 million contract that some questioned when he signed it, helping to propel Detroit into the playoff conversation for the first time since 2009.

Watch Alex Caruso monster dunk, LeBron and Laker bench reaction

Alex Caruso dunk
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Alex Caruso has sneaky hops. Fans relate to him because he doesn’t look like an NBA player — he doesn’t really give off the vibe of one when you see him hanging out in the Lakers’ locker room either — but watch him on the court and he is more athletic than people realize. Alex Caruso can sky and throw down a dunk.

Just ask the Denver Nuggets.

The best part of this? The reaction of LeBron James and the Lakers bench.

The Alex Caruso dunk was part of an 8-0 Laker run right as LeBron went to get some rest. Denver had done a good job early being right with the Lakers by controlling the pace and limiting the Lakers in transition. That fell apart in the second quarter, fueled by Denver’s seven second-quarter turnovers (13 for the half), which allowed the Lakers to get out and run.

And Caruso to dunk, firing up the team.

Kevin Durant: ‘Knick fans, those Knicks media, they bothered me the whole year’

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No, I never planned on it — going to the Knicks. That was just the media putting that out there… So around February, as I was thinking, I didn’t want to be the savior of the Knicks or New York. I didn’t care about being the King of New York, that never really moved me. I didn’t care about being on Broadway or that s***.”

“I’ve seen the Knicks in the Finals, but kids coming up after me didn’t see that. So that whole brand of the Knicks is not as cool as let’s say the Golden State Warriors, or even the Lakers or the Nets now. You know what I’m saying; the cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Kevin Durant has not held back from taking shots at the Knicks since signing with Brooklyn. Saturday, Durant turned his attention to Knicks fans and media.

Durant appeared on rapper Joe Budden’s podcast Saturday and, among other things, fired shots when asked if he could “leave the Knicks alone.” (Hat tip Nets Daily.)

“What you mean? They bothered me for a whole year! I was just trying to chill and just play and worry about my season. All the Knick fans, those Knicks media. They bothered me the whole year. But when it’s my time to talk about it, I gotta shut up now? I’ve been wanting to ask these questions for a year. Now that I’m available, it’s a problem?”

Before his free agency, the conventional wisdom around the league was that Durant was headed to the Knicks, possibly along with Irving or another star (there was a lot of smoke on the topic). Durant denied that after the fact. Either way, there certainly was anticipation in Manhattan, which means Durant was reading about it in the media and seeing it on social media. Durant pays attention to all that, and it doesn’t motivate him (it seems to have the opposite effect, actually).

Durant made his choice, and he went to the more stable organization right now, the one with the better foundation of players. Now he and Irving have to win, which will not be that easy with Durant coming off a torn Achilles.

That doesn’t mean he’s done taking shots at that team just over the bridge.

Steve Nash on Kevin Durant: ‘I plan to use him in all five positions’

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What makes the Brooklyn Nets potentially dangerous next season is not just the elite talent on the roster — talent coming off injuries, but championship talent nonetheless — but the versatility of it. Kyrie Irving has handles as good as anyone in the league, won the Three-Point Shooting Contest seven years ago, and can create looks with the best of them, but he also is dangerous off the ball. Caris LeVert can play anywhere on the wing and even some small-ball four in a pinch. Spencer Dinwiddie can play on- or off-ball.

And then there is Kevin Durant, as versatile a player as the league has seen.

New Nets coach Steve Kerr has plans for him, as JJ Reddick’s The Old Man and the Three podcast (hat tip to SNY).

“Kevin, with his length, is a matchup problem for everyone,” Nash said. “Kevin can play all five positions, and I plan to use him in all five positions.”

That’s smart — and that’s what the regular season is for. Coaches need to experiment with lineups and test ideas during the season, even if it costs them games, to be better prepared for the playoffs.

With Durant, Irving, LeVert, Jarrett Allen, and a roster filled with whatever other offseason moves the Nets make, the Brooklyn roster will have talent and versatility. Will the key players be healthy enough — and will they stay healthy — will be the bigger question facing Nash and his team.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.