Big3 going live, looks to make big step forward in second season

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The inaugural season of the Big3 felt a little bit like the 1970s NBA — the games were physical, player conditioning was not always up to modern standards, and the biggest games were shown on tape delay. At least with the Big3 the shorts were longer.

Then we all know what happened to the NBA in the 1980s — Magic and Bird ushered in an era of increased talent around the league, the popularity exploded, and soon the games were not only live but must-watch viewing for sports fans.

The Big3 plans to follow in those footsteps.

In its second season — a barnstorming-style tour which tips off June 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston — Big3 games will be broadcast live every Friday Nights on FS1 (or Fox), and those games will see a lot more talent on the court:

Amar’e Stoudemire. Nate Robinson. Metta World Peace/Ron Artest. Baron Davis. Carlos Boozer. Chris “Birdman” Anderson. That’s just to name a few new faces, joining returnees such as Chauncey Billups, Brian Scalabrine, Kenyon Martin and more (plus coaches including Julius Irving, Charles Oakley, and newcomer Michael Cooper).

“I think the talent level’s a lot better, I think people are going to be in shape,” Andre Owens, the No. 1 pick in the Big3 draft of Scalabrine’s Ball Hogs, told NBC Sports. “And Trilogy (last year’s champion), they got a target on their back. Every game Trilogy plays, people going to try and go after them.

“But the talent level is so much better than last year, and people are going to be in so much better shape. It’s going to be interesting.”

It was something Ice Cube — one of the league’s co-founders — predicted: A lot of good former NBA players were on the fence about his new venture, but once they saw it succeed for a season they were ready to jump in. About 100 players showed up for the Big3 tryouts this season, even though only about 19 could get drafted.

“I just can’t wait to get out there and play,” Artest told NBC Sports. “I just got back into the gym and I’m excited about it. Ice Cube was able to pay to start this thing with his successful career. I’m going to get out there live on Fox on Friday’s I’m very excited about it.”

Those new stars had better not expect deference.

“It’s not your name it’s your game — you got to have real game,” said Owens, who was top five in the league in scoring, rebounds, and assists last season. “You can’t hide it.”

That talent level and the more prominent names will bring more eyeballs to the games, more people tuning in to the production. Going live with that was something the Big3 would not have been ready for in its rookie season, admitted league co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz. They were learning as they went on how to make it work, how to keep the energy up in sold-out major arenas.

“The learning curve, as with any new business, is tremendous,” Kwatinetz said. “Even though it is generally the sport of basketball, 3-on-3 really is its own game with its own strategies, and part of what we learned is the game would really evolve and be something different….

“We made a fair amount of changes after Game 1 (last season)…” Kwatinetz said, noting the first day of games too five-and-a-half-hours. “By the time we went live (on Fox Sports) for the finals, we had learned so much about camera angles and pacing, and how to stage a live event so it would look great on TV.”

The changes they made over the course of the season — such as dropping the games from first to 60 down to 50 — were often about pacing on and off the court. The idea was to keep the energy up in the arena — shorter breaks between games filled with in-house entertainment, and the lower score meant players had to keep up the energy and pace during play, making the product more entertaining.

The nonstop energy needed meant players getting back in the gym early was one theme for season two — players from last season admitted they didn’t grasp the conditioning level needed to play a competitive game of 3-on-3 to 50. It may be half-court ball, but the player movement is constant and players have to be two-way guys.

“The games were quicker, faster, quicker turnaround from offense to defense,” Kwatinetz said. “Less dead time, just things that kept the pace up.”

“It was definitely real basketball,” Owens said. “It’s a little harder than 5-on-5 in that you’ve got to be able to score and you’ve got to be able to play defense. If you can’t do all that you’re going to be exposed. And the contact and the physicality of the game was very intense, so it was definitely harder than 5-on-5.”

The physicality of the league was something the fans and players liked — the Big3 felt a lot more like 1990s era basketball than 2018. Guys were given leeway to bang on each other like the old days, or a good playground game. Players loved it.

“That’s how I play, I put my hard hat on and I’m physical,” Owens said.

The rules of the half-court league — including the much-discussed four-point shot from certain spots on the court — cater more to the mind of a 35-year-old player more than just the speed of a 22-year-old player, organizers said.

“These guys, when it comes to tactics and strategy, and understanding the skills of basketball, they are way beyond what the first or second or third year NBA player is capable of doing,” Kwatinetz said.

But for the players, much of the motivation is the same that has always driven them — pride and ego.

“(Players are) definitely better prepped because they understand that the magnitude of this is just growing,” Owens said of the second season. “You’re playing in big arenas and packed houses and ain’t nobody want to be exposed on TV and in front of friends because they know how serious it is. And you got to be in shape, like I said everything is magnified. You’ve got to be able to play, and if you can’t play you’re going to get exposed.”

The Big3 is making strides on other fronts. They have a new sponsorship deal with Adidas. They will be doing a Young3 event every Thursday in whatever city they are in, reaching out to youth in the area.

Last year, the Big3 found a market — basketball fans would pay for a little nostalgia as long as the product was still good.

Now they are ready to find out just how big that market really is.

Warriors’ reportedly showing no urgency to trade D’Angelo Russell

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It’s been the same story since Golden State did a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn last summer that brought them back D'Angelo Russell on a new max contract.

Around the league, executives with other teams expect the Warriors to trade Russell, questioning how he fits long-term with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Golden State itself, however, has pushed back on the idea it just got Russell to trade him and they want to see if a three-guard rotation can work.

Come Dec. 15, Russell — and most players signed this summer — become eligible to be traded. The Warriors still appear to be in no rush, reports Sean Deveney of Heavy.com.

“If it is something that they’re going to do quickly, like before the end of this month, I wouldn’t say they’re pushing for it,” one general manager said. “Maybe they have a deal in mind, maybe they’re sitting on something and laying low. But I’d be surprised. That’s not how they’d approach it, I’d think. You want to create a market if you are going to trade a player like him, you want to pit teams against each other, drive up the price. You don’t want to lock into one deal. But the market thing, that’s not really happening yet. They’re not pushing the market for him.”

What is the motivation for Golden State to move Russell now, or at the February trade deadline, as opposed to next June around the draft? Or next July? There isn’t, unless some team approaches them with a Godfather offer. This season is a lost cause for the Warriors, and next season they are going to be looking for veterans to help them win now more than rookies to develop.

Russell has averaged 22.3 points a game and played well when healthy, but he has missed half of the Warriors games so far this season due to injury. That’s not exactly boosting Russell’s trade value, another reason to be patient.

Maybe the Russell trade drama ramps up after the season ends, but for now the Warriors continue to play it cool.

People with power within Knicks reportedly “obsessed” with Masai Ujiri

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In the latest sign of dysfunction in New York, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry didn’t show their face and talk to the media Saturday about the firing of coach David Fizdale. Instead, they sent interim head coach Mike Miller to a podium, by himself, to talk about the situation. It was awkward. It’s also not how well-run organizations handle things.

Mills and Perry are on the hot seat — and they should be. This 4-19 Knicks season is more on them and how this roster was built than Fizdale (who was not blameless in all this).

There have been rumors owner James Dolan may go after Raptors president Masai Ujiri to take over Knicks, and that is growing into an “obsession” with influential people, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That’s unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been ‘obsessed’ with – and ‘enamored’ by – the Raptors executive, per SNY sources.

In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy.

There is no evidence that Ujiri, the man who built Toronto into a champion, would seriously consider leaving the Raptors for the Knicks.

The real key to luring Ujiri to Madison Square Garden is “full autonomy.” No Knicks president has had it. Phil Jackson was told he had it, but he wasn’t able to bring in his people who pushed out some of the entrenched staff. Sources told me that other people considered for team president have asked for the power to clean out the front office and bring in their own guys, only to learn Mills and others would remain in positions of power.

Owner James Dolan has stepped back from involving himself in basketball decisions in recent years, will he take the next step and let someone else fully run his basketball operations side without any pushback or interference internally?

One thing to watch with the Knicks going forward: Do they make any trade deadline deals? (That market really opens up soon, on Dec. 15 players signed this summer can be traded.) If New York does make a trade, is it a short-term boost kind of move designed to get wins now and maybe help save certain executive’s jobs, or are they trades focused on the long-term building of a winner? Since Jackson was in charge, the Knicks have done a good job not trading away their first-round picks, this would be a poor time to change that trend.

 

Myles Turner block, Julius Randle missed free throw with 0.1 left gives Pacers one-point win

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For the Knicks, under interim coach Mike Miller, this was a step forward. New York had been blown out by 37+ points their last two games, and that helped cost David Fizdale his job, but here they were with a chance to send the game to overtime late.

For the Pacers, this is just a win.

But that win came down to the final play — a blocked shot by Myles Turner then a missed Julius Randle free throw with 0.1 on the clock gave Indiana the 104-103 win.

“You get in those games, you’ve got to make another play and we just didn’t make another play,” Miller said, via the Associated Press. “Loved the effort. That was fun.”

A Jeremy Lamb and-1  had the Pacers up by six, 104-98, with 5:17 left. The Pacers would not score again.

What kept the Pacers alive was their defense — the Knicks shot 2-of-15 in the final 5:05 of the game, then with everything on the line Myles Turner came up with the game-saving block on Michell Robinson.

Julius Randle got the offensive rebound and was fouled when he went back up. That sent Randle — the Knicks biggest offseason signing — to the free throw line with 0.1 on the clock and the chance to force overtime. Randle hit the first, but…

There are no moral victories in the NBA, but this feels like one for New York.

For the Pacers, they will just take the win, thank you very much.

 

Russell Westbrook’s third-straight triple-double powers Rockets past Suns

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HOUSTON (AP) — On a night where James Harden‘s shots weren’t falling for three quarters, the Houston Rockets got big performances from those in supporting roles until the star stepped up late to close out the victory.

Harden scored 18 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and Ben McLemore added 27 points to help the Rockets outlast the Phoenix Suns 115-109 on Saturday night.

Harden had a tough shooting night through three quarters and was 5 of 19 overall and 1 of 10 on 3s with 16 points before getting going in the fourth. The game was tied with about 7 minutes left, and he scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-6 run that made it 102-95.

“That’s how deep we are,” Harden said. “We have a really good team and guys that can make plays and knock down shots. More importantly we were focused on our defense.”

Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his third straight triple-double and sixth this season. Harden finished 8 of 27, 3 of 17 on 3s and made 15 of 18 free throws.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 35 points after scoring a season-high 44 in an overtime victory at New Orleans on Thursday night.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams was proud of his team for staying in it until the very end.

“We have a mentality that we just don’t give in,” Williams said. “We’re playing young guys that are learning how to play against physical NBA men and that’s part of developing.”

The Suns cut the lead to five twice in the last 90 seconds, but both times Westbrook made a layup to extend the advantage. And the second time he was fouled on the shot and made the free throw to make it 114-106.

The Suns scored seven straight points, capped by a dunk from Kelly Oubre, to tie it at 85 with about 9 minutes left. After a timeout, Harden scored Houston’s first points in about three minutes on a layup to put Houston back on top.

It was tied again before Harden scored five points to give the Rockets a 94-89 lead. He stole the ball from Ty Jerome after that and was fouled by Booker on a drive, with Harden aggressively continuing forward and pushing Booker off the court. Harden later shoved Booker, and they both received technical fouls to the bewilderment of the Suns.

Harden made both free throws to make it seven points in a row and was fouled again after he stole the ball from Mikal Bridges. Harden made one of those free throws to make it 97-89.

“He finds a way to win the game,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “A lot of guys contributed. A lot of guys played well.”