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5 Up, 5 Down: At this rate, we won’t have any All-Stars left to play the game

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

How do we even start this week? There’s too much to cover, and I got snubbed from the All-Star Game yet again. Expect to see me send out many crying laugh emojis over Twitter as my compatriots get picked before me as replacements.

It seems like we’ve been trudging along toward the trade deadline since I ran out of candy from my stocking. Winter is typically like this where I live in the Pacific Northwest, but the experience has been worsened by the fact we’ve had extreme highs and extreme lows atypical for this part of the NBA season. I assume this is because the regular season heard us talking about how the offseason in the NBA is so much better and decided to do something about it. So without further ado.

5 Up

Blake Griffin got traded to Detroit, of all places

This is like a trade that happens between two teams you don’t control in NBA 2k around six years into a MyGM mode career. It’s weird, and insane, and would totally never happen in real life. But here we are, and Griffin is now a member of the Detroit Pistons. There’s lots of early talk about how this could be a path to mediocrity for Detroit and that it’s probably better than the alternative. I’d be OK with that. I’d just like this to avoid the most likely scenario, where an aging Griffin doesn’t play more than 60 games each year and it becomes very sad.

LeBron James isn’t likely to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers this summer. Perhaps the Pistons can shed some cap space and get LeBron to head to the Motor City? I’m just looking at all our options here in our new video game existence.

The Atlanta Hawks have Hot Sauce from And 1 Mixtape dropping fans

The Hawks have been doing this for some time and these videos just keep getting better and better. I know people like the Big 3 but maybe we should all just be getting back into And 1?

The Hawks have random fans try to guard Hot Sauce. 😂

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Joel Embiid: All-Star

Look, there was a time where it seemed likely that Embiid would never play enough games to give us a glimpse of what he could be. He was ripe to be another Greg Oden, so getting him into an All-Star Game was paramount. He’s now there, and he deserves to be. This is one of the best things to happen, even if Philadelphia fans are slowly becoming obnoxious after years of ineptitude.

Whatever happened with that Nikola Mirotic trade

So by last count, the Mirotic to the New Orleans Pelicans thing fell through because he smartly didn’t want to give up some guaranteed money via a player option. That’s the right move, but the fun part is understanding that if newsbreakers were tweeting that the deal was getting done, it must have been some kind of late-game shock to have Mirotic refuse. He’s been just sitting there as the most obvious candidate for a trade for months, and we got so close to seeing him switch jerseys. This league, man.

David Blatt’s troll backfiring

A bunch of people on Twitter and in comment sections didn’t quite seem to understand the circumstances when former Cavaliers coach David Blatt opened his mouth and served himself up on a platter for the basketball world to see. Cleveland had just let an opponent score 148 points, and so Blatt — coaching an all-star game — decided to say on TV that he hoped his own team did not let that happen to them. His opponent then scored 151. Blatt’s comment, meanwhile, was unprovoked. It was also at an All-Star game, so Blatt knew the chances of being hoist by his own petard.

“It was at an all-star game, it didn’t count!”

Exactly. That was why it was so funny.

5 Down

Everyone is injured

Hide your wife, hide your kids, they’re injuring everybody out here. Just since I started this column Kevin Love decided to up and break his hand. He’s going to miss the All-Star Game. John Wall is getting knee surgery. DeMarcus Cousins is done for the year. If you were an NBA GM right now you’d be considering what brand of packing tape to buy so you could bubble wrap your franchise star up until March. Someone pause the game, open the menu, and turn injuries to OFF.

We didn’t get to watch the All-Star Game draft

Look, it’s understandable from the NBPA’s part that they’d like to protect the reputations and feelings of their players. It’s just that from a basketball fan perspective, that’s undeniably wack. Save for Joel Embiid, each one of these NBA All-Stars is making huge money in team salary alone. That’s not even counting endorsements. Like that gif of Woody Harrelson wiping his tears with money from “Zombie Land” any player getting selected last for the All-Star Game should have his feelings assuaged by millions of dollars. This is also why I never pay attention to the “X player is a TOUGH GUY MURAGHH” talk. Ok, so are they tough guys or are they too sensitive to get picked last in gym for the first time since 5th grade?

Plus, if they aren’t going to televise it, why even have a draft? Nobody is asking for the teams to get mixed up between conferences. That’s not the way the All-Star Game becomes more competitive or interesting. Who told the NBA that? Here I am, all worked up over the worst event during All-Star Weekend. Do we have any self-destructive Cavaliers news to calm me down?

The Cavaliers want NBA players to give them money

Cleveland reportedly had a deal fall through for George Hill because Hill wouldn’t agree to a potential buyout should LeBron James leave this summer. Good for Hill. As Dan pointed out earlier, this has happened before. Ty Lawson did this very thing when he went from Denver to Houston, losing $12 million in the process. If Cleveland doesn’t want to pay the price, they don’t get the spoils. Asking players to straight up give them back money they owe under contract is ridiculous.

The whole Kawhi Leonard fiasco

I don’t even know what to think about this one. I don’t put a lot of credence into the back-and-forth about Leonard wanting out of San Antonio. The first guy to say he wants off the Spurs was LaMarcus Aldridgea notoriously finicky star — and even then Gregg Popovich could convince him to stay. Leonard wanting to leave the guy who turned him into an NBA Finals MVP is crazy. Injuries and pain can aggravate your emotional state, but I just don’t buy it. Not yet. More concerning is that Leonard’s injuries are racking up and that he’s still not playing. Again, I’m not concerned for his long-term health just yet, but the fact that San Antonio could squander a Top 4 seed in the West if they don’t get him back would be a major blow as the Spurs’ championship window begins to finally close.

The All-Star Game winners get more money now (but it doesn’t matter)

The NBA upped the money to the winners of the All-Star Game by $50,000, and cut the losing money in half. First of all, this isn’t that much money to top-level stars. Joel Embiid would probably dig $100,000 but that’s only 12 minutes of regular season play to LeBron James. This needs to either be a whole extra grip of cash, or there needs to be a catch to it. The NBPA stands in the way of most of the fun options — like having the losers pay money out of their own pockets right there on the floor after the game — but there are some left.

What about bonuses for each block? $15,000 per swipe ought to do it. Or statistical team bonuses for multiple key defensive indicators. Keeping true shooting percentage under a level equals $100,000 to each player, say, and they could stack. With all that sweet gambling money coming into the NBA in the future, the league could afford it.

All I know is you can’t give NBA players what amounts to student loan debt after taxes get taken out. NBA players have watches more expensive than that.

Kings GM Vlade Divac: ‘My team is a super team. Just young’

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
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The Kings drafted Marvin Bagley No. 2 last night (seemingly for bad reasons, which doesn’t at all eliminate him from being the right pick but makes it less likely he is). He’ll join a young core also comprised of Bogdan Bogdanovic, De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson and Harry Giles.

That group excite you?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac isn’t reducing expectations.

Lina Washington of ABC 10:

To be fair, in 2012, the Warriors were coming off a 23-43 season with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson already on the roster and had just drafted Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes. Everyone would’ve laughed at calling Golden State a “super team, just young” then. But those four (plus Andre Iguodala) eventually led the Warriors to a championship.

But, really: Nah.

Entering the 2016-17 season, then-Knicks guard Derrick Rose said, “They’re saying us and Golden State are the super teams.” We mocked Rose relentlessly, and of course, the Warriors went 73-9 while New York finished just 32-50.

How long until Divac’s young super team reaches even 32-50?

Spurs GM still optimistic relationship with Kawhi Leonard can be salvaged

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — General manager R.C. Buford acknowledges star forward Kawhi Leonard is unhappy with the Spurs.

He remains optimistic the relationship can be salvaged.

Leonard has requested a trade from San Antonio because he is unhappy after missing most of last season with a right quadriceps injury. Buford would not comment on “speculation” of a trade demand, but agreed there is a fractured relationship between Leonard and the only franchise he has played for.

“Kawhi and his family mean a lot to the organization and to the community and while none of wish we are where we are, we’re going to do what we can to build the best relationship we can with him,” Buford said Thursday night as the Spurs made two late picks in the NBA Draft. “We’ll explore all of our options, but the first one would be to do what we can to keep Kawhi as part of our group.”

Leonard missed the first 27 games of the season but returned to play in nine games. He complained of discomfort and pain in the leg in his final game. Leonard sought an outside opinion after the Spurs cleared him to play, working with his own medical team in New York in an attempt to return to the court. The 6-foot-7 forward reportedly grew upset that the Spurs had questioned his rehabilitation process.

The Spurs listed him as out on their injury reports for much of the year citing “injury management.” While San Antonio was in the playoffs, losing in the first round to eventual repeat champion Golden State, Leonard was rehabbing in New York – which meant that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, when asked for the situation, deferred all comment to “Kawhi and his group.”

“I think all of us would wish that things would have gone differently,” Buford said.

The Spurs held a team meeting late in the season where veterans, led by Tony Parker, implored Leonard to return. Leonard said he was unable to due to the injury.

In the 2016-17 season, Leonard averaged a career-best 25.5 points and was third in the MVP voting. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP and two-time NBA defensive player of the year is due just over $20 million next season, and can become a free agent in the summer of 2019. He is eligible to sign a $220 million extension with San Antonio.

He is reportedly willing to walk away from that to play elsewhere, possibly in Los Angeles.

“I don’t know that timing is a factor in this from today … he’s under contract for another year, our goal is to keep him as part of our program for a long time,” Buford said.

 

NBA Draft Winners, Losers: Big nights for Phoenix, Dallas

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Let’s start with the obvious — this whole story is a fool’s errand. It really takes about three years to accurately assess who are the winners and losers in the NBA draft. Guys we thought were locks will turn out to be pretty pedestrian, guys we wrote off as projects down the board will impress. In three years, we’ll have a real sense of which teams read this draft well and nailed it.

But we don’t live in that world.

So here are my projections on the real winners and losers Thursday night in Brooklyn, starting with the guys who didn’t screw up the No. 1 pick.

 

Suns small icon Winner: Phoenix Suns.

It isn’t just that they didn’t screw up the top pick and landed in DeAndre Ayton, the guy most likely to be a franchise cornerstone star in this class. Although they did that. Also, it was their move later to trade their pick at No. 16 (Texas Tech’s Zhaire Smith) for Mikal Bridges — most likely the best “3&D” prospect in this draft (it cost them a future first via Miami). By the time everyone was trying to get an Uber outside Barclays Center the Suns had put together a starting lineup of Devin Booker, Bridges, Josh Jackson, and Ayton (plus a point guard to be named later). That’s a group worth watching — and they hired Igor Kokoskov as their new coach this summer because he’s strong on player development. It’s the start of something.

Phoenix also drafted French point guard Elie Okobo at 31 in the second round when a lot of teams thought of him as a first-round talent. Another smart move.

Loser: Michael Porter Jr.

A couple of weeks ago, Porter was mentioned as a potential No. 2 selection to the Kings. But after teams got a look at his medical reports from last Friday’s workout — remember, he missed all but three games at Missouri following back surgery — they backed off. Reports about his attitude didn’t help. Porter slid all the way down to Denver at 14. What that means to him besides getting to play at altitude in Denver: The No. 2 pick is slotted for a $7.3 million salary next season, the No. 14 makes less than $3 million. We’ll see if Porter can use this as motivation — and stay healthy.

One winner in this: The Denver Nuggets for grabbing him at 14. That is a good team (they just missed the playoffs) with strong players already where Porter can be brought along slowly without unreasonable expectations.

Mavericks small icon Winner: Dallas Mavericks.

Mark Cuban and company traded up from No. 5 to No. 3 and landed Luka Doncic — the player they had highest rated on the board. This is a win for the Mavs and for Doncic because he lands with a brilliant Xs and Os coach in Rick Carlisle who will put him in positions to succeed, plus Doncic gets mentored by Dirk Nowitzki. This pick also is a strong move because he should pair well with young point guard Dennis Smith Jr. — Doncic can run the pick-and-roll at times with Smith cutting and moving off the ball, and in the reverse Doncic has a good catch-and-shoot game. Dallas has options for playmaking now.

Also, nice second-round pickup of Villanova point guard Jalen Brunson. That’s a high IQ player who can step in as a reserve and help immediately.

Loser: Robert Williams.

The Texas A&M big man has the talent of a late lottery pick — the Clippers met with him a couple of times — but concerns about his attitude and work ethic saw him plummet all the way down the board to 27. Will he use this as motivation to play with a high motor all the time, or will he continue to coast? If he brings it, he could be the steal of this draft. That brings us to…

Celtics small iconWinner: Boston Celtics (because they got Robert Williams).

This was an Oceans 9 level robbery (that’s the next movie, right?) for Danny Ainge this late in the first round. At No. 27 you’re usually just hoping to get a guy who can develop into a role player in a few years. Williams is much more than that, he has the tools to be an elite NBA defender, and in college he was a defensive and rebounding force. In the NBA he’s going to be a rim running big, ala DeAndre Jordan — except Jordan fulfilled his potential. It’s up to Boston to get that out of Williams (and it’s up to Williams himself to work), but if they do this was another brilliant Ainge pick.

Loser: Golden State Warriors.

They tried to buy into the second round as they did a year ago and pick up someone who fits their style — and this year they had $5.1 million to do it (more than the $3.5 million a year ago). However, other GMs remember how much heat the Bulls front office took for selling their pick to Golden State last year and watching the Warriors draft Jordan Bell — Mr. “cash considerations” was playing a role in the NBA Finals. No GM wanted to repeat that mistake. No early second-round pick for the Warriors this year.

However, their first-round pick of Jacob Evans was a good one, he’s the kind of versatile wing player who fits into their rotation.

Winner: Puma.

The German soccer cleat maker shoe and apparel company wanted to get back into the basketball game, and the did it with a splash — their guys Ayton and Bagley went No. 1 and 2. That’s going to be a lot of free publicity and a lot of eyes on their players starting in Summer League and beyond. The company also landed guys with real potential in Michael Porter Jr. and Zhaire Smith.

Oh, and they hired Jay-Z as well. That’s a good week whatever else happens.

Winner: NBA Twitter

The guys in suits up the executive food chain tried to put an end to Woj bombs this year — ESPN was trying to clamp down on their news breakers Tweeting out the picks before they happened (as had been the case for a few years, with Twitter often two or three picks ahead of Adam Silver and the broadcast). Other major news breakers (such as Yahoo’s Shams Charania) agreed to play along. We all thought we would have to wait around for Adam Silver to saunter up to the table.

But if there is one thing NBA Twitter has taught us it’s that it will not be contained. It breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously. NBA Twitter, uh… finds a way.

Before long Twitter picks were leaking and Twitter was a pick ahead of the broadcast again, and Adrian Wojnarowski was dropping bombs, cleverly not saying who the pick was but….

NBA Twitter is the best.

Lonnie Walker’s Spurs hat appears as if it’s floating above his head (photo)

AP Photo/Kevin Hagen
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Basketball players don’t wear hats.

White Men Can't Jump (1992)

OK, scratch that. NBA players don’t wear hats.

But it has become tradition for draft picks to don a cap of the team that selected him.

So, even though Lonnie Walker‘s hair looks like this (via AP):

Pittsburgh Miami Basketball

…he put on a Spurs hat when they selected him No. 18:

NBA Draft Basketball

Even Elfrid Payton did a much better job cramming his do into his hat on draft night:

Walker, an athletic shooting guard who underperformed at Miami, was a surprising choice by San Antonio. The Spurs generally prioritize basketball intelligence over athleticism (though, to be fair, that’s hardly an absolute).

But no matter how Walker fits in San Antonio goes, it probably won’t be more awkward than this.