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Joel Embiid: Andrew Wiggins says Sixers will win East with Jimmy Butler

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Things weren’t exactly buddy-buddy between Jimmy Butler and fellow Minnesota Timberwolves stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins leading into the season. Butler was actively pursuing a trade, and the rep around the NBA was that he did not believe in the work ethic of either Towns or Wiggins.

Now Butler is headed to the Philadelphia 76ers, and the deal should be completed early this coming week. As Butler departs, it appears the tone has changed in Minnesota somewhat, at least publicly.

On Saturday night, Sixers big man Joel Embiid said that both Towns and Wiggins had talked to him and said that they thought Butler was going to fit into the Philadelphia culture.

Wiggins even went so far as to make a proclamation about the 76ers’ playoff hopes, according to Embiid.

Via ESPN:

“They thought that he was going to be good for us,” Embiid told ESPN after a 112-106 overtime loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. “They thought that we were definitely going to get along. He wants to win. Wiggs told me that he thought that we were going to win the East for sure.”

This could just be the Timberwolves youngsters feeling relieved that Butler is no longer clouding the situation around their franchise. Or perhaps they really do mean it? In either case, it will be massively interesting to see what happens with both of these teams moving forward.

The Timberwolves are just 4-9, but get some rotational help out of Robert Covington and Dario Saric through the trade with the Sixers. The situation with Tom Thibodeau is still tenuous, and expectations are for him to leave the franchise at the end of the year.

For Philadelphia, things remain complicated. Butler is a bonafide star and that should help them rise above the rest in the East. However, what the Sixers have desperately needed is more shooting and Butler is a ball-dominant player. Combined with Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz, it will be interesting to see how smooth they can get their offense to run even the tendencies of their top players.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.

Report: Hawks didn’t clear John Collins’ airplane dunk until shortly before dunk contest

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There were two memorable dunks in this year’s dunk contest:

The Hawks nearly stopped us from seeing that latter spectacle.

Brian Windhorst of ESPN on Saturday:

Now, there’s a little curve ball here. The last update that I had was that the Hawks hadn’t approved John Collins jumping over an airplane yet and that they were a little bit were worried that he was going to trip on it and injure himself.

After watching the dunk, I understand the Hawks’ reluctance. Collins broke the plane!

At least he seemingly emerged unscathed.

Report: Pelicans interim GM Danny Ferry trying to convince NBA to soften stance on Anthony Davis

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The NBA reportedly threatened to fine the Pelicans if they sat a healthy Anthony Davis.

Then, Davis got booed by New Orleans fans. He got injured in another game. The Pelicans fired Dell Demps as general manager and elevated Danny Ferry to interim general manager.

New Orleans is reportedly uncertain how to handle Davis the rest of the season. But a key step to changing course is gaining NBA approval, and that’s apparently what Ferry is seeking.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

There were strong signals in Charlotte that the Pelicans — with Danny Ferry now serving as their acting general manager in the wake of Friday’s firing of Dell Demps — intend to re-engage the N.B.A. this week in hopes of convincing league officials to rethink their stance about forcing them to play Davis.

A big question: What does Davis want? He failed to give a straight answer about about his long-term future, but maybe he can explain his desire for just the rest of this season. He previously said he wanted to play, but that was before he got booed and hurt – developments that could change his thinking.

If Davis wants to keep playing, the players’ union could take up his cause. That might not be a fight the league wants.

Heck, the league might still want Davis to keep playing, regardless. The injury risk was real when the league handed down its initial edict. Unemotionally, Davis’ shoulder scare shouldn’t change the calculus. Davis is in the midst of a great season. Him being a healthy scratch for a month-and-a-half would be a black mark for the NBA.

But NBA commissioner has had Ferry’s back before, even reportedly urging the Bucks to consider him for general manager after Ferry made a racist remark that ended his Hawks tenure. Maybe Ferry will convince the league in a way Demps couldn’t.

If so, attention to will turn to Davis and his desire to keep playing.

Dwight Howard reportedly to return to Washington D.C., start on-court steps in recovery

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The return of Dwight Howard should solve all the Wizards problems…

Low hanging fruit jokes aside, Howard was expected to be out two-to-three months for back surgery that happened at the end of November, that would have him back in the coming weeks, and he is now on his way back to the nation’s capital, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Howard played in nine games for the Wizards this season, scoring an efficient 12.8 points and grabbing 9.2 rebounds a game.

The Wizards have been starting Thomas Bryant, with Bobby Portis playing some five behind him, in recent games. How Howard fits into that when healthy will be a question for coach Scott Brooks.

The Wizards would need to make up three games and jump three teams in the final 24 games of the season to make the playoffs.