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5 up, 5 down: I want to trust the Trail Blazers so badly

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

A lot has happened since we last spoke, dear readers. The 2018 NBA All-Star Game came and went, I think the Cleveland Cavaliers traded me to New Orleans, and there seems to be a major shift in how people are thinking about the Houston Rockets as title contenders.

However, it’s all about the little things in the NBA — especially in the regular season — so let’s get into the broth and see what this soup is made of.

5 Up

The Portland Trail Blazers are third in the West

Look, the Blazers started off the season in typical fashion. They were up and down, finishing the 2017 calendar year close to .500. They’ve now been damn near unstoppable since mid-January, and they’re looking good despite having one of the most difficult schedules remaining — not to mention a bunch of outstanding tiebreakers.

Ed Davis has been great, Moe Harkless has jumped out of his funk and earned a starting role, and rookie Zach Collins looks like the big man of the future in Rip City. That’s without saying anything about Damian Lillard, who would be the Player of the Month in February if Anthony Davis weren’t playing on the moon.

The team looks and feels more confident in the final six minutes or so of games, a leap from what Blazers fans may have experienced earlier in the year. They’re still not close to the level of the Houston Rockets or Golden State Warriors, but it’s entirely possible we could finish the year saying Portland is legitimately the third or fourth-best team in the West without batting an eye. Even if it all falls apart Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers, that feeling is different for Portland.

J.R. Smith threw soup at a guy

In no other league does this stuff happen. JR Smith, he of “You trying to get the pipe?” fame, came through for us once again. Where other leagues need their playoffs to produce attention-grabbing headlines it’s the dregs of the regular season in the NBA that lends us the best stuff. J.R. Smith threw soup at an assistant coach and, although it should probably be viewed through the lens of incorrigible workplace behavior, is actually sort of funny.

Plus, it’s rumored he threw chicken tortilla soup. That’s not even a Top 10 soup. Everything about this story was a curveball. Don’t tell me how your sport is better than this.

The response by the NBA to that Fox News lady

Some career potstirrer said some thinly-veiled, vaguely racist things about LeBron James over on a channel you would expect that sort of thing to come from. That’s not super surprising. What was heartening was how folks stepped up around the NBA to show the ignorance of Laura Ingraham. Everyone from Jaylen Brown, to Kevin Durant and Gregg Popovich had their opinion heard.

If anything Ingraham’s comments created an increased awareness and impact of LeBron’s charitable work, character, and community impact. What a master strategist.

Boban Marjanovic getting his shine

Boban is sort of an NBA Twitter mascot, and people want him to get some run despite playing for the LA Clippers. Marjanovic straight up took over a game against the Denver Nuggets recently, nearly matching the Nuggets in scoring during a 13-minute swing starting in the third quarter.

There’s been all kinds of stories about how Marjanovic is actually extremely efficient, but since he doesn’t get as much playing time as we’d like it’s hard to see those per-36 numbers tally out in real time too often. We got it against the Nuggets, which is all we ever hoped for.

We could always use more Boban. You know, have him really explore the space.

Sexy Sax Man

To be honest with you, I’d never heard of the Sexy Sax Man until the Sacramento Kings hired him to come out during a game against the Utah Jazz as a means of distraction during pregame lineups. Turns out this is a viral video from all the way back in 2011 (shoutout to the Kings for an Internet culture deep cut) and it’s pretty funny. I think the joke is mostly that the saxophone is a awful instrument. What’s the saying? “Play the saxophone. Go to jail. It’s the law.”

I think that’s it.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8XrwpUZg8k4&w=560&h=315%5D

5 Down

They didn’t actually fix the All-Star Game

It’s nice that everyone collectively decided the All-Star Game was fun this year, but the league didn’t actually fix anything. What happened was the mid-season annual was just as boring and uncompetitive as it always is until the final period. Scratch that, if you look at the play-by-play it wasn’t actually a game until Paul George hit a 3-pointer for Team LeBron with SIX MINUTES LEFT. Team Steph was up by 13 points before that happened and it wasn’t anything to shake a stick at.

Divvying up players basically at random is sort of interesting but it didn’t “fix” anything. In the age of lifetime shoe contracts and $153 million extensions for the Mike Conleys of the league, I’m actually not convinced the All-Star Game needs to or should be competitive anymore. Don’t even play the game. Just do the 3-point contest and then have all the All-Stars compete in a Chopped tournament or something. I want to see what kind of appetizer Kyle Lowry can make out of haricots verts, gummy worms, dried herring, and Smucker’s Uncrustables®.

Philadelphia and Cleveland are in billboard wars

The recession hit us a decade ago, yet people are out here spending real American dollars on billboards to convince basketball players to sign with their team. Have you people learned nothing? You should be converting the money you spend on billboards into precious metals and panic rooms, both buried deep under your garage.

There’s nothing the city of Cleveland can do to convince LeBron James to stay there. On the other hand, there’s also nothing the city of Philadelphia can do to convince LeBron James to sign there. The factors that will influence The King’s decision this summer will be out of anyone else’s control because that’s the place LeBron is at in his career. It’s a function of things both having to do with basketball and not, and things for the current, future, and distant future.

If you want to spend money on something dumb send me an e-mail and I’ll give you my account number for my student loans.

Kawhi Leonard is STILL injured … and he has no new shoe deal

This is a recurring 5 Up, 5 Down topic that has to get retired. I would prefer this to end the old fashioned way, with Kawhi Leonard stepping on a basketball floor and becoming a complete hassle as he leads a team made of him, Patty Mills, and some 34-year-old rookie to the Western Conference Finals.

Instead, Leonard has been toying back and forth with returning this year, and there’s some questions about whether that has any influence on his shoe deal with Jordan Brand stalling.

Just get him back on the floor. Please. We’ve had enough injuries to stars, O Basketball Gods!

Marc Gasol seems … unhappy in Memphis

The Grizzlies are like the version of the Chris Paul Clippers that you didn’t actively hate. I mean, they ground you into a fine powder each game, but it was a kind of grinding you had to respect. Mike Conley is out, and despite some nice development by the Grizzlies young players, Memphis isn’t any good.

That’s taken its toll on Gasol, who said quite pointedly about that development that the Grizzlies are an NBA team and, “not the D-League.”

The Gasol era seems to be coming to an end in Memphis and indeed the whole fate of the organization seems up in the air given that Robert Pera could be selling his share of the team sooner rather than later. What a way to go out.

Kobe Bryant won an Oscar

Kobe is one of the greatest Los Angeles Lakers of all-time. He’s one of the best players in NBA history. He’s got five championships to his name. He’s also got an Oscar as of Sunday night after producing what amounted to a commercial about his retirement from the NBA.

Bryant hired one of the most well-known Walt Disney animators and John Freaking Williams to create his “Dear Basketball” animated short, which took home the trophy over several other nominations. The cartoon is part of Bryant’s big swing at career revisionism (which is working by the way) along with his “Musecage” series and “Canvas” shorts.

While “Dear Basketball” itself isn’t a specific reimagining of Bryant’s career, the Oscar he obtained for it is part of the larger move by Kobe to legitimize himself as a “storyteller”. His continued softening of the edges of his career is something to keep an eye on. No doubt this will only embolden him.

Vince Carter wins NBA Sportsmanship Award

Hawks forward Vince Carter
Jason Miller/Getty Images
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Vince Carter’s 22-year NBA career ended amid the chaos of coronavirus, preventing him from getting the deserved fanfare.

But fellow players will send Carter into retirement with the NBA Sportsmanship Award.

NBA release:

NBA players have selected Vince Carter as the recipient of the 2019-20 NBA Sportsmanship Award, the NBA announced today.

Carter, who spent the 2019-20 season with the Atlanta Hawks, announced his retirement from the NBA in June after playing a league-record 22 seasons.  He receives the Joe Dumars Trophy as the winner of the NBA Sportsmanship Award.  Dumars, a two-time NBA champion and Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, played 14 NBA seasons and won the inaugural Sportsmanship Award in the 1995-96 season.

Each NBA team nominated one of its players for the NBA Sportsmanship Award, which is designed to honor a player who best represents the ideals of sportsmanship on the court.  From the list of 30 team nominees, a panel of league executives selected one finalist from each of the NBA’s six divisions.  Current NBA players selected the winner from the list of six finalists, with more than 250 players submitting their votes through confidential balloting conducted by the league office.

Full voting (with first-, second-, third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place votes and voting points):

1. Vince Carter (Hawks): 143-70-34-13-4-2-2,520

2. Garrett Temple (Nets): 22-78-63-52-25-26-1,746

3. Steven Adams (Thunder): 34-57-41-52-58-24-1,632

4. Harrison Barnes (Kings): 24-25-75-48-35-59-1,418

5. Langston Galloway (Pistons): 23-22-29-60-79-53-1,244

7. Tyus Jones (Grizzlies): 20-14-24-41-65-102-1,016

What a nice honor for Carter, who gracefully aged from high-profile star to veteran mentor.

Heat: Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic doubtful for Game 2 of NBA Finals

Heat players Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic
Jim Poorten/NBAE via Getty Images
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Bam Adebayo‘s and Goran Dragic‘s injuries… not looking great for the Heat approaching Game 2 of the NBA Finals.

Heat:

This is a disaster for Miami. The Lakers dominated Game 1, and now the Heat have two starters hobbled at best. At worst and more likely, Adebayo and Dragic are out.

Adebayo would be the bigger loss. Miami was completely overmatched when facing Anthony Davis without a center. Kelly Olynyk and Meyers Leonard can try to keep up, but they’re far from great solutions.

At least the Heat have more options at point guard. Kendrick Nunn can get an elevated role (especially after excelling in garbage time of Game 1). Jimmy Butler can become the de facto point guard. Tyler Herro can also play the position. But Dragic was playing so well during Miami’s run through the Eastern Conference. This is also a major setback.

 

Report: Tyronn Lue ‘early favorite’ to become Clippers head coach

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Doc Rivers is gaining momentum in the 76ers’ coaching search.

As for the job Rivers left behind with the Clippers… Clippers assistant and former Cavaliers head coach Tyronn Lue, unsurprisingly, has the inside track.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Clippers are planning to interview other candidates, starting soon, sources said.

The New Orleans Pelicans are planning to interview Lue in the near future too, sources said.

Lue would be a sensible hire. He has championship experience, which would help the Clippers hit the ground running in a make-or-break season before Kawhi Leonard and Paul George can become unrestricted free agents. Lue managed stars in LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. The Clippers must improve their chemistry around their stars. And the last time Lue got promoted from assistant to head coach, his team won a title.

New Orleans also has an appealing job. But the Clippers are far closer to championship contention. And if both teams want Lue, I bet Clippers owner Steve Ballmer would outspend Pelicans owner Gayle Benson.

Still, the Clippers are conducting a coaching search. Other candidates could emerge. This isn’t necessarily Lue’s job for the taking.

How long would he wait on L.A. if the Pelicans make an offer? Lue has shown he values being entrusted.

Report: 76ers focused on Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni in coaching search

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The 76ers appeared focused on Mike D’Antoni in their coaching search.

Then, Doc Rivers surprisingly became available.

The former Clippers coach met with the 76ers and is now in the center of the conversation.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

For the Sixers now, the focus is on Rivers and D’Antoni, a source told ESPN. A decision is expected this week.

Rivers would be an easier fit with this roster than D’Antoni, whose style doesn’t appear to work as well with both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Rivers also looks like he’d help Philadelphia take the next step.

But that seemed like it’d be true with the Clippers and wasn’t.

Tyronn Lue’s candidacy with the 76ers has clearly faded. Could he join the Clippers, Rockets or Pelicans? If Philadelphia hires Rivers, maybe D’Antoni still lands with the Pacers?

Rivers’ availability has definitely thrown a wrench in the coaching carousel.