Big3 could become hoops fans annual summer fling

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There was a time when the NBA almost went dormant during the summer. After the Finals ended in June there was the draft and a little rush in early July with free agency, but by the time Summer League started — back when it was at the Pyramid in Long Beach, Calif. — few fans cared or showed up, and the league was on a hiatus until fall. Baseball owned the summer.

Now the Summer League is in Las Vegas and selling out the Thomas & Mack center at nearly 20,000 people, plus the games are televised nationally. Interest in free agency is up as moves are analyzed online, and this summer throw in a Kyrie Irving trade request — plus some Carmelo Anthony drama — and the league never quieted down.

The appetite for hoops is robust even in the off-season — and that’s where the Big3 came in and got its foot in the door this summer.

The new league founded by Ice Cube and Jeff Kwatinetz brought some nostalgic names, some physical play, and some 3-on-3 basketball (with a four-point shot) to 10 arenas around the USA — and it worked. It exceeded expectations. The games were entertaining in person, the league averaged 11,000 people in the building every weekend, and Fox Sports was happy enough with the FS1 broadcasts (delayed a day) to pick up their option for the second season.

“In a lot of ways, it was definitely a ‘show me’ year,” Ice Cube told NBC Sports. “Some people actually told us they would wait to see how we did this year before they would want to be a part of it. We knew trying to introduce something this new would have people kind of taking a wait-and-see approach.

“But, at the same time, I know a good idea when I hear it.”

That idea caught on with players quickly — and they have spread the word to other former NBA players.

“People were trying to see if this was a joke or how serious it is, but now the retired players are seeing this game and they’re excited about what is taking place,” 11-year NBA veteran Mike James said. “So from this year to next year, you’re going to see more familiar names playing in this league, you’ll see more ex-superstars that played the game. And then you’ve got guys on their last leg in the NBA, they got something to look forward to.”

“What do we have to do to get players that people want to see to join the Big3?” Cube asks. “That’s our goal.”

The Big3 had stars, although the biggest names — Allen Iverson, Dr. J, Charles Oakley — largely coached. That may change in future seasons (and there will be future seasons). Lamar Odom attended the game in Los Angeles and expressed some interest. Paul Pierce’s name has come up, as has Tracy McGrady. I’m not sure if a Kobe Bryant-level star will suit up (maybe Kevin Garnett would), but guys just a couple of years out of the league might. Players such as Kenyon Martin and Al Harrington were singing the praises of playing in the league.

“One group I didn’t have any problem convincing (about 3-on-3 basketball) was the pros themselves,” said Roger Mason Jr., the former NBA player who is the Big3 commissioner. “The one thing I knew as a former NBA player is that 3-on-3 basketball was something that we played often during the season. A lot of times you didn’t have the guys, the bodies to play 5-on-5 (at practice) but 3-on-3 is something that we do, we compete at a high level and I knew those battles, which fans had never seen, if seen, had a high chance of success.”“As far as players, we feel if we build a great league they will come,” Cube said.

“As far as players, we feel if we build a great league they will come,” Cube said.

The games certainly were competitive — and that’s what the players said they loved.

“Just an opportunity to compete,” James said of why he came back. “When you leave the game, I know the thing I missed the most wasn’t the team camaraderie, it wasn’t any of those things, it was the competition. And here it is, guys that are not playing NBA basketball, but that don’t mean they necessarily aren’t playing basketball, and this gives us a stage to be able to showcase ourselves without going overseas, or going on another stage.”

There were some moments where you could tell these older players mentally knew what they wanted to do on the court but were no longer able to physically execute it the same way. However, they adjusted, and as the season wore on the level of play improved.

What many old-school fans — including Ice Cube himself — liked was the physical style of play. Some of the loudest cheers at the Los Angeles tour stop were when Oakley stepped on the court and was his old enforcer self (racking up fouls and a flagrant).

“I think what caught on with the Big3, more than the names, was the game. Was the style of how the Big 3 is played, which is a style that’s familiar to those of us who have been around sports for a minute,” Cube said. “It’s back-to-the-basket big boy basketball, so I think that is catching on as well because you can’t really see that style anymore in the NBA or in college. I think it’s a pleasing style of play… it’s how they play when they ball…

“I believe people are going to fall in love with Big3 basketball, and not necessarily for who plays but for how they play.”

Stars have always been what sold the NBA, and the challenge for the Big 3 is that often Cube was the biggest star in the building. The next step for the league is to bring in names that allow Cube to transition away from being the face of the league.

“I think time will do that,” Cube said. “As people see the Big3 come around each year with different players. Each of the players we have in this league has a fan base in their own right. Not everybody came to see Allen Iverson play, some people came to see Mike Bibby play. I think as we’re around, and guys start to come right off the NBA court onto the Big3 court, to me, inherently, the players you want to see will be in the Big3.”

The Big3 learned from its first year. It had a good fan experience at the game, but now they want to improve and grow it. Same for the television broadcast.

What will not change is the barnstorming style — one day of games each week, every Sunday, with all the stars and teams coming to one city and arena for a day of hoops.

“To me, that’s the model for success, to go from city to city to city and bring the Big3 to each arena where you can see a lot of your favorite players,” Cube said. “We understand the nostalgic factor in this and we don’t want to lose that by having two teams here and two teams there. To me going city to city is a great plan and we can go anywhere in the world, basically, and play. If you can envision what that can be in the years to come, it’s a lot of possibilities.”

There is space in the basketball calendar for a little summer fling and trip down memory lane. Fans who attended the Big3 in person who I spoke with thought it was worth it, and that word of mouth is how a league gets built.

“We are full of basketball history, and we respect basketball history, and we’re going to honor basketball history,” Cube said. “So anybody who wants to be around that is going to have a good time at the Big3.”

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

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The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”