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Nets could have point guard conundrum between D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie

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DETROIT – With D'Angelo Russell sidelined by a knee injury much of last season, Spencer Dinwiddie stepped in as the Nets’ starting point guard and played better than the more ballyhooed Russell ever has. Russell could do nothing but watch as another viable contender emerged for the job everyone assumed was Russell’s to grow into.

But Russell says he wasn’t fazed by Dinwiddie’s breakthrough season, which earned Dinwiddie third place in Most Improved Player voting.

“Guys are thirsty for opportunity in this league,” Russell said. “You give guys an opportunity that have prepared for it, they’ll take advantage of it.”

Russell might as well have been talking about himself, too.

After years stuck losing and surrendering its first-round pick, Brooklyn suddenly has two young point guards with potential to handle the starting job long-term. Big decisions near on both players.

Russell has the better pedigree. He was the No. 2 pick in the 2015 draft and acquired for a haul – the No. 27 pick last year’s draft (which the Lakers used on Kyle Kuzma), Brook Lopez on an expiring contract and cap space used to absorb Timofey Mozgov‘s toxic contract.

Dinwiddie was a second-rounder in 2014. He washed out with the Pistons and Bulls then played in the D-League.

But Dinwiddie has closed the gap. While questions swirled about Russell’s maturity and work ethic in Los Angeles, Dinwiddie was grinding with a motivation to return to the NBA.

Yet, Dinwiddie said he doesn’t see himself competing with Russell.

“Not at all,” Dinwiddie said. “No. 2 pick. Franchise PG. Future and all that good stuff.”

Maybe Dinwiddie is just toeing the company line. Russell has reclaimed his starting role entering the season, sending Dinwiddie to the bench.

That’s probably the right move. Russell’s ceiling his so much higher. While Dinwiddie’s virtue is his steadiness, Russell brings dynamic scoring and playmaking ability. He can create shots and throw passes Dinwiddie would never dream of.

But Russell also gets himself into trouble with turnovers and forcing jumpers. His creativity and shot-making lag behind his perception of those skills. Dinwiddie is also a much stauncher defender.

Maybe it’s just fine 25-year-old Dinwiddie is ahead of 22-year-old Russell. Point guards tend to develop later, and Russell’s leap could be coming this season.

That’s why it’s hard to see Russell agreeing to a rookie-scale contract extension before Monday’s deadline. There’s a canyon between his production and potential. Most likely, he’s heading toward restricted free agency this summer.

Dinwiddie will become eligible for a contract extension Dec. 8, three years after he signed his current deal. But unlike Russell – who could theoretically sign an extension for a max salary – Dinwiddie’s extension is capped at about $47 million over four years. Though it’s possible he could draw more in unrestricted free agency next summer, Dinwiddie – who has only once and only barely exceeded a minimum salary in his career – sounds open to locking in sooner. Not that he expects an offer.

“If Sean Marks calls to give me a contract extension, I’ll take it,” Dinwiddie said. “But until he does, I’m looking forward to being a free agent.”

Dinwiddie’s doubts about the Nets general manager’s plan seem valid. Even if Brooklyn wants to keep Dinwiddie, there’s value in doing it through free agency. If not extended, he’ll count just $3,146,575 against the cap until re-signed. The Nets could use their cap space then exceed the salary cap to re-sign him to a higher salary through Bird Rights. If extended, he’d immediately count next offseason at his 2018-19 salary.

Russell said playing for a new contract “always” motivates him. He’s definitely positioned to cash in with a strong year. One of the big external threats who could override even major progress from Russell – Kyrie Irvingeffectively took himself off the market.

Dinwiddie, on the other hand, said he’s more focused on the court than motivated by his contract situation.

“That’s all I can really afford to look at,” Dinwiddie said. “You look at my role – second-round pick, out the league, now back in the league, obviously good season, don’t matter, back on the bench, all that other stuff. So, all I’ve got to do is continue try to help our team win games.”

If he isn’t discouraged by his move to the bench, Dinwiddie should do that and press Brooklyn’s decision-makers.

Would you rather have Russell or Dinwiddie? (Yes, that’s a real question.) If Russell and assuming Dinwiddie would come cheaper, would you rather have Russell or Dinwiddie plus the additional salary-cap flexibility?

The Nets could keep both beyond this season. They have plenty of room to spend. Maybe Russell emerges as the starter and Dinwiddie settles in as backup. Or, even if it’s harder to see Russell accepting it, vice versa. The two can play together at times.

More likely, the Nets are heading toward a decision between their point guards. It could be revealed through contract extensions, in free agency or even later. But based on where Dinwiddie was last season and where Russell wants to get, Brooklyn might not be big enough for the both of ’em.

Kevin Durant keeps building up superstar accolades with second All-Star MVP

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CHARLOTTE – When Kevin Durant won All-Star MVP in 2012, he was asked whether he considered himself a star, a label he had resisted.

“I wouldn’t say that just yet,” Durant said. “Hopefully. Hopefully soon I can say that.”

The notion was silly then. Durant had already made two All-NBA first teams and finished second for MVP.

But that All-Star MVP started to change how Durant presented himself. He made another All-NBA first team, again finished second for MVP and led the Thunder to the NBA Finals that season.

“In 2012, I started to feel like I started to hit that elite level,” Durant said. “All that stuff in one year was pretty exciting to me.”

The hits have kept rolling since.

Durant has added an MVP, two titles and two Finals MVPs. Tonight, he claimed another All-Star MVP. The Warriors star scored 31 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead LeBron James‘ team to a 178-164 win.

“I just keep trying to rack them up, I guess,” Durant said.

That’s seven years between his All-Star MVPs. Few players sustain that elite level – starring among stars – so long. Only LeBron James (12 years), Michael Jordan (10 years), Kobe Bryant (nine years), Oscar Robertson (eight years) have gone so long between their first and last All-Star MVPs.

Durant, 30, appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Of course, the impending question: Where? Durant can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, and this weekend included plenty of speculation.

Tonight’s game gave Knicks fans reason to fanaticize. New York’s presumed targets with its double-max cap space, Durant and Kyrie Irving showed strong chemistry. Half Durant’s baskets were assisted by Irving, who sent five of his six assists to Durant (the other an alley-oop to former teammate LeBron).

Asked which of his All-Star teammates he best meshed with, Durant refused to name one.

“You don’t really have to do too much when you’re playing with so many great players,” Durant said. “You can do what you’re just best at.”

Team LeBron starts playing defense first, comes from 20 down to win All-Star Game

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Midway through the third quarter of Saturday’s All-Star Game, Team LeBron started to care.

Down 20 at one point early in the third, Team LeBron came out of a mid-quarter timeout with a different energy. The “bench” guys on the court started defending with the kind of relative intensity usually reserved for the final minutes of this exhibition (when it’s close), the players on the bench were standing and cheering like it was a playoff game, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal started knocking down everything, and the game just shifted. It culminated when Damian Lillard tied the game up with a 35-foot three.

Team LeBron kept up the momentum, owned the fourth as Durant went 3-of-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, and Team LeBron got the win 178-164.

“It was our second unit that came in — Dame, Klay, Brad Beal, LaMarcus, Ben Simmons, KAT,” LeBron said after the game about what turned the momentum. “They came in and just changed the whole complexion of the game. We got stops, and, obviously, Dame and Klay caught fire from beyond the arc, and that allowed us to get back in the game.”

Durant was named MVP, a clear choice with his second-half play in particular.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 38 points and 11 rebounds, while Paul George showed anyone that hasn’t seen him this season how well he’s playing — MVP conversation level — on his way to 20.

This All-Star Game opened with the level of defensive intensity we have come to expect in All-Star Games. Which is to say none.

Well, except when Stephen Curry was guarding Klay Thompson.

The one guy who was intense from the start was Antetokounmpo, who scored the first six points for Team Giannis. He didn’t slow down on his way to 20 first-half points, plus he had one of the game’s great highlights on a bounce pass alley-oop from Curry.

Antetokounmpo wasn’t the only Buck hot to start, Khris Middleton entered the game midway through the first quarter and drained three shots from beyond the arc in a row. In the first nine minutes of the game, the Bucks were beating Team LeBron 28-27.

The favorite crowd moment of the first half was when future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki walked on the court and splashed a couple of threes.

Dwyane Wade was the other Commissioner addition to the game, which means for one last time we got Wade throwing the alley-oop to LeBron.

Curry struggled late, going 3-of-11 in the fourth, but he still got to rub it in Thompson’s face a little.

“It was good to see Steph knock that shot down over Klay, because Klay is always talking trash to him,” Durant said after the game.

Team Giannis was in control most of the first half and was up 13 (95-82) at the half, not that 13 points is much of a deficit in the All-Star Game. Not when one team started to care.

Stephen Curry gets four-point play after Klay Thompson foul, Curry does some taunting

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry is enjoying going against Klay Thompson. Maybe a little too much.

In the first half, Curry was matched up on his Warriors’ backcourt mate and enjoyed that Thompson missed the shot.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the game tight, Curry drained the contested three and drew the and-1 on Thompson — and did a little taunting.

That’s some All-Star fun.

Stephen Curry bounces alley-oop way above rim, Giannis Antetokounmpo slams it down (video)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry bounced this so high!

I suppose it helps that Giannis Antetokounmpo has such ridiculous reach.