Russell Westbrook, Isaiah Thomas lead All-Star Game reserves; Joel Embiid left off list

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After the fans/media/players picked the NBA All-Star Game starters, the tough job falls to the coaches: Pick the seven reserves for each side. Hard because each squad has about a dozen deserving guys, and while a few on each side are no brainers it also means some difficult cuts.

Cuts will be taken as snubs and blow up online. Because that is an annual NBA tradition like overhyped Christmas Day games.

Here is who the coaches selected.

WEST reserves:

Guard: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)
Guard: Klay Thompson (Golden State)
Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento)
Frontcourt: Draymond Green (Golden State)
Frontcourt: Marc Gasol (Memphis)
Wild Card: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers)
Wild Card: Gordon Hayward (Utah)

Chris Paul would have been an All-Star except for his injury, that cleared the way for Thompson or Hayward. The Clippers got an All-Star anyway with Jordan, but him over Rudy Gobert may be the biggest snub. There are two first-time All-Stars on that list, Jordan and Hayward.

Biggest snubs: Damian Lillard (Portland), Mike Conley (Memphis), Rudy Gobert (Utah), C.J. McCollum (Portland), LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio), Eric Bledsoe (Phoenix), Karl-Anthony Towns (Minnesota)

EAST reserves:

Guard: Isaiah Thomas (Boston)
Guard: John Wall (Washington)
Frontcourt: Paul George (Indiana)
Frontcourt: Paul Millsap (Atlanta)
Frontcourt: Kevin Love (Cleveland)
Wild Card: Kyle Lowry (Toronto)
Wild Card: Kemba Walker (Charlotte)

No Joel Embiid. As I wrote the other day, he is way more fun to watch — and would have been more entertaining in New Orleans for the ASG — than Millsap, but you have to remember who was casting the ballots: Coaches. What do they like to see? Guys who play every day, guys who have paid their dues and improved over their careers, guys with a high hoops IQ, and players with subtlty to their games. That’s Millsap, it’s not Embiid.

If a player in the East backs out of the game due to injury (as usually happens to one spot, someone mildly rolls an ankle and decides to take the game off) look for Embiid to get named a replacement by Adam Silver.

This is the first time since 2004 Dwyane Wade hasn’t been named to the team, and the first time since 2009 Carmelo Anthony missed the cut. The only first-timer on the list was Kemba Walker.

Biggest snubs: Joel Embiid (Philadelphia), Kristaps Porzingis (New York), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Dwight Howard (Atlanta), Hassan Whiteside (Miami).

Just as a reminder, here are the All-Star Game starters (as selected by a combined vote of the fans, players, and select media members).

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Stephen Curry (Golden State)
James Harden (Houston)
Kevin Durant (Golden State)
Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio)
Anthony Davis (New Orleans)

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Kyrie Irving (Cleveland)
DeMar DeRozam (Toronto)
LeBron James (Cleveland)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Milwaukee)
Jimmy Butler (Chicago)

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.