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Overlooked no more, Donovan Mitchell ready for his time in All-Star spotlight

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Donovan Mitchell has been getting plenty of advice from teammates since he was named to the NBA All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest.

Problem is most of it was sarcastic.

“A lot of sarcastic advice, especially from Joe Ingles, telling me what he thinks I should do,” Mitchell told NBC Sports. “I watched his highlights from Australia. I don’t think he could jump over a phone book.”

Can Ingles even dunk?

“He can, he’s got one on the season,” Mitchel said, sarcastically defending his teammate. “We all pretty much jumped out of our seats like we were celebrating winning the Finals.”

Donovan Mitchell loves being one of the guys, joking around with teammates, but things are about to change for him. His star is about to get a lot brighter — Mitchell is going to be in the NBA’s spotlight during All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles this Friday and Saturday.

Mitchell has gone from almost overlooked 13th pick in the last draft — a guy Utah traded up to get because they believed in him — to the leader in the Rookie of the Year race averaging 19.6 points and 4.5 assists a night for Utah. That doesn’t mean casual fans know who he is. Not a lot of people tune in to see the Jazz play — they don’t get on national television much. Much like his team, Mitchell has flown a bit under the radar.

Not anymore. The Jazz are on an 11-game win streak led by Mitchell, who will be showcased All-Star Weekend in Saturday’s Dunk Contest and Friday’s Mountain Dew Kickstarter Rising Stars challenge. The high-flying dunks he was throwing down when not many were tuned in will be in Saturday’s brightest spotlight.

One year ago he remembers watching the Rising Stars and Dunk Contest in his dorm room at Louisville.

“So it’s kind of cool to be part of this game,” Mitchell said.

He’s also partnered with Mountain Dew Kickstarter to do a number of events around Los Angeles that weekend — raising his profile even further. Letting people see the funny, relatable guy behind the numbers and Utah hype. He felt it was a natural fit.

“One thing I don’t tell a lot of people, I used to drink Mountain Dew at Louisville, every day before practice,” Mitchell confessed. “It was my ritual… I used to drink it with a bacon and egg bagel. That was my morning, every morning at Louisville.”

The Utah Jazz training staff put a stop to that habit, but he still loves the drink.

Last June’s draft has turned out to be loaded and deep, but Mitchell’s breakout season has fans of 12 other teams saying “how did we pass on this guy?” Mitchell kind of expected it.

“I’ve always been a player who’s not really been talked about a lot,” Mitchell said. “Never really hyped coming out of high school — I was ranked top 50, but I wasn’t a name that was all over Ball is Life and all those platforms. Then coming into college I wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, I wasn’t one of those guys averaging 30.

“Playing under (Rick) Pitino, it’s grit and grind basketball, and that’s how I was perceived. That just adds to the chip I have on my shoulder.”

Mitchell mostly played the two-guard at Louisville, but last season when Cardinal point guard Quentin Snider got hurt, Pitino handed Mitchell the keys to the offense — and he turned heads by dominating.

“I think the biggest thing was just having confidence in myself,” Mitchell said of the stretch that turned the heads of some scouts — particularly the ones in Utah. “Obviously, when our starting point guard got hurt I played a lot of minutes at the one for nine to 10 games. Being 6’3”, you’re going to have to be a one in this league, and you have to defend ones.

“When NBA teams were looking at me, I don’t think the problem was the defensive end, they wondered if I could handle one, running the team, getting guys in the right spot. There was a point in time where, for myself, I didn’t know if I could do that in the NBA. The fact that (Jazz) Coach (Quin) Snyder has put the ball in my hands, and having a guy like Ricky Rubio, who is right next to me in the locker room, helping me every day has helped this transition. We watch film relentlessly, we work out relentlessly, I think that really helped me.”

Mitchell has proven he can be the guy in the spotlight — but again it was an injury that gave him a chance. When Rubio was injured earlier this season, Snyder gave him the keys to the offense. Mitchell had worked to get his efficiency up, and when given a chance he was ready and never looked back.

Back in October, Mitchell averaged just 9.3 points a game with a dreadful true shooting percentage of 40.9. Like a lot of rookies he looked overwhelmed. However, no rookie has made the leaps in efficiency that Mitchell has this season — by December he was averaging 23.1 points per game on a true shooting percentage of 61.1. Those numbers have come back to earth a little, but when the game is on the line during Utah’s current 11-game win streak that has vaulted them back into the playoff picture in the West, the ball is in Mitchell’s hands. He owned the end of a recent game against the Spurs.

Mitchell credits his teammates and a lot of hard work — from the film room to the weight room — for his quickly improved efficiency.

“I can watch (video of) Kyrie (Irving) finish off one foot. Obviously, I’m a two-foot jumper, I think that’s why my efficiency was a little bit down in college,” Mitchell said of changing how he left the floor on jumps. “Being able to finish off one foot — same foot, same hand, like non-traditional finishes — has helped me a lot. Finishing through contact, getting on a lifting regimen — I didn’t really lift much in college, I was more focused on losing weight — and just being able to work on my balance. There’s so many little things off the court, in training and in the weight room, that have helped me, and working on finishing around the rim.”

Mitchell watches film with and works out with Rubio a lot. Rodney Hood — traded at the deadline to Cleveland — also was a confidant.

“Rodney Hood’s been instrumental in kind of mentoring me throughout this entire season,” Mitchell said. “We play the same position, obviously, and he’s been really, really helpful. It’s his career, and he has he has a really big, big role in Cleveland, and I’m really excited for him.”

Mitchell is going to get noticed this weekend, and he wants people to get to know him the person — not just as a guy who dunks.

“Outside of basketball, I’m a relatable guy, and I think partnering with Mountain Dew will allow people to see that,” Mitchell said. “I think I’m funny, I think I’m liked by people. So I’m going out there to show people how I am, my character off the court, how I handle myself, I’m not a jerk or a wiseguy or anything. I’m just relatable. Every kid I see I sign the autographs. Anything like that to show people how I am off the court and not the guy they kind of hear about but don’t really see.”

They’re about to see him now.

 

Rumor: Spurs won’t trade Kawhi Leonard to Western Conference team

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants the Spurs to trade him, ideally to the Lakers or Clippers.

Chris Sheridan of Get More Sports:

He is not going to Los Angeles…or any other destination in the Western Conference, sources are telling GetMoreSports.com.

Leonard has some leverage in that he can tell any non-L.A. team that he has no interest in signing an extension after his current deal expires in a year, and that may end up diminishing the value of offers Eastern Conference teams are willing to make.

But if you think that bothers Popovich, you don’t know Popovich. The guy would gladly take 75 cents on the dollar for Kawhi if he could ship him out of the West — even if that upsets Kawhi.

There are two choices here:

The Spurs are a well-run organization that will manage this crisis as effectively as possible.

or

The Spurs will outright refuse to trade Leonard to a Western Conference team.

It can’t be both.

If the Spurs trade Leonard, they should take the best offer they get – no matter who makes it. Teams like the Celtics and 76ers have better assets to dangle. But if the Lakers and Clippers are the only team with assurances Leonard will re-sign next summer, they could offer more, even assembling a package from a shallower pool of assets.

The Spurs shouldn’t worry where Leonard lands. But that doesn’t mean they won’t worry where Leonard lands.

Report: Celtics believe Kyrie Irving happy in Boston

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Chris Mannix reported Kyrie Irving, when he played for the Cavaliers, told teammates of his desire to play for the Knicks. In the same discussion, Mannix speculated on the Celtics’ fear of Irving leaving in 2019 unrestricted free agency. Asked about his future in Boston, Irving gave a cryptic answer.

There’s just no good way to resolve this until summer 2019. As Irving knows, a contract extension is illogical. The largest extension he could sign, beginning July 1, would be four years, $108,053,240 ($27,013,310 annually). If he waits until 2019 free agency, he could re-sign for a projected $188 million over five years (about $38 million annually) – and even more if he makes an All-NBA team next year. In that case, his max would project to be $219 million over five years (about $44 million annually).

So, the Celtics must ride this out – or trade Irving before he gets to free agency. How do they feel about his future with Boston?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

A league source said Friday that the Celtics believe Irving is happy in Boston and would like to be with the team long-term, but that there are no certainties.

This is probably correct. Irving clearly wanted out of Cleveland, so him longing for a spot on the Knicks made more sense then. Overall, Irving seems happy in Boston. A noncommittal answer from someone whose brand is mysterious ideas doesn’t set off alarms.

That said, also file this under: What else are they supposed to say? The Celtics maximize Irving’s trade value if everyone believes he’s happy and not a flight risk who should be preemptively traded.

The Celtics must closely monitor Irving’s satisfaction with them. If it seems he might leave, they ought to look hard at trading him first.

But it really seems the Celtics aren’t anywhere near that point. If they are, they’ve bluffed well.

J.R. Smith’s Game 1 Finals jersey up for auction

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It was the moment that defined the 2018 NBA Finals.

The score was tied with 4.7 seconds left when George Hill missed his second of two free throws, but J.R. Smith made an impressive play to get the offensive rebound — then tried to dribble out the clock like the Cavaliers were ahead.

Now, you can own Smith’s Game 1 jersey — the one he was wearing when he made a play so thoughtless LeBron James broke his own hand punching a whiteboard in frustration over it. It’s available on the NBA auction site. The bidding goes on for three more days, until June 21.

As of Monday morning, the current bid is $3000.

A Warriors’ fan is going to buy this thing, not a Cavaliers fan. They are still trying to repress this memory.

Kevin Durant’s dad wrote him a nice letter for Father’s Day

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Kevin Durant and his father didn’t have the best relationship growing up. Wayne Pratt, father of the Golden State Warriors star, left Durant and his family when the sharpshooting Finals MVP was just one year old.

Pratt was in and out of Durant’s life, and eventually they reconciled. Now, Pratt is important part of Durant’s career and business decisions.

As several players decided to celebrate their fathers and the national day of recognition on social media, it was actually Pratt who decided to write a letter to his son. In a post on The Undefeated, Pratt spoke about how he was grateful to have Durant as a son and to have reconciled with him.

Via The Undefeated:

I regret missing out on your first day of school, your first haircut, holidays and the first day you picked up a basketball. But I thank God daily for creating the opportunity for us to reconnect. I’m so thankful for you opening your heart at such a tender time. Every parent-child relationship has its ups and downs and we are no exception. I feel fortunate that we have learned how to successfully navigate life’s mistakes. Thank you for forgiving me and allowing us to have the great relationship we have today.

Go back and read the full letter, it’s worth it. Seeing the vulnerability between two grown men living a real, complicated, and adult situation like this is humanizing. Plus, it appears to have had a positive ending for Durant and his pops.

Hope all you dads out there had a good one on Sunday.