Associated Press

NBA promotes five referees, including two women, to full-time status

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Ashley Moyer-Gleich is eight years removed from playing in the NCAA Division II tournament. Natalie Sago officiated her first game six years ago, and the players were sixth-grade girls.

They’re in the NBA now – as part of one of the most elite sororities in the game.

Moyer-Gleich and Sago are among five officials who were promoted Thursday by the NBA to full-time status, making them the fourth and fifth women in league history to have that designation. They join former league refs Violet Palmer and Dee Kantner and current official Lauren Holtkamp as women to get formally hired.

“It’s difficult not to say Ashley and Natalie aren’t the second and third `women referees’ being added to the staff,” NBA vice president and head of referee development Monty McCutchen told The Associated Press. “But true equality comes when they’re just going to be `referees’ on our staff. And that’s what we’re really trying to achieve, this sense that their work warrants their advancement.”

The league also promoted Mousa Dagher, Matt Myers and Phenizee Ransom to the full-time level. Dagher further adds to the diversity of Thursday’s moves – he was born in Syria and moved to the U.S. as a 15-year-old in 2006. Myers spent more than a decade in the G League, and Ransom was there for six seasons.

“It’s such a momentous experience, to be working toward being part of the top of your craft and joining our staff,” Holtkamp said. “I’ll never forget getting the phone call and the same will be true for all five of these referees. And Natalie and Ashley, to know they’re joining our staff full-time, I’m beyond excited for them and what this means professionally and personally.”

Moyer-Gleich and Sago have both worked five NBA games this season – three regular season, two preseason. That was enough to confirm what McCutchen and other league officials have known for some time.

They’re ready.

“It’s been unreal, really,” said Sago, whose father has been a referee for more than 30 years. “It’s just been a very fast path for my officiating career and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’ve had great role models, Lauren being one, and other NBA referees at these camps who kept saying, `You’ve got something.’ And all of a sudden, bam, I got the phone call and it’s such an honor.”

Sago got the call from NBA senior vice president and head of referee operations Michelle Johnson as her flight from one G League game to another earlier this month was taking off. She had to wait nearly two hours before she could call her father to give the news.

Her rise was also rapid: She got spotted at a Division III game in St. Louis – a Sunday afternoon game before about 15 fans – about three years ago and invited to an NBA camp.

“It’s very unique, how quickly it’s happened,” Sago said.

There will be a day when Moyer-Gleich, Sago and Holtkamp – along with any other women who follow them, something that seems quite likely with 17 other women working games in the G League this season – will get judged like any other referee, without the `female’ disclaimer.

They all know that day isn’t here yet.

“Everything that we do, that’s in comparison to the same exact thing our male counterparts might do, will be magnified,” said Moyer-Gleich, a standout player at Millersville University in her native Pennsylvania before starting her ref career. “What we do will be held under a microscope. Right, wrong, indifferent, I have come to peace with that.”

Palmer worked 919 contests before retiring in 2016. Kantner refereed 247 games between 1997 and 2002. Holtkamp has been assigned 214 games, and former non-staff official Brenda Pantoja – who never made the full-fledged ranks – was part of seven crews in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.

The NBA has made hiring more women throughout the league a top priority, and that extends to the refereeing roster. Over the summer, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said it was “a bit embarrassing” that the league currently has only one full-time female referee.

“I know that I’m good enough,” Moyer-Gleich said. “I know I belong there.”

McCutchen and other top NBA executives agree. He stressed that there was no mandate to hire women. His charge, he said, was to hire the best refs, period.

“I am committed that this be egalitarian,” McCutchen said. “If you can do the work, if you can stand up to the standards of our league but not the standing of our players and apply the rules, that should be open to any package it shows itself in.”

 

Blake Griffin enjoying resurgence a year after trade to Pistons

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DETROIT (AP) — Blake Griffin doesn’t need to jump over any cars to be a hit in the Motor City.

A year after arriving in Detroit with his career at a crossroads, a more earthbound Griffin is doing all he can to shake the Pistons out of their decade-long malaise.

“He does a little bit of everything for us. Probably one of our better pick-and-roll players, passers, scorers, leader by example, just so many things,” Detroit coach Dwane Casey said. “His basketball intellect, for me, is one that’s been the most impressive of our players. I didn’t know that about Blake, because when you think about him, you think about the high-flying dunker and the muscular guy in the post, but there’s a lot more to that than just his dunking and athleticism.”

A month shy of his 30th birthday, there are fewer above-the-rim highlights but Griffin’s first full season with Detroit has been one of his best. He’s averaging a career-high 26.3 points per game while making strides as a perimeter shooter, and he earned his first All-Star selection since 2015.

Most importantly, he’s been able to stay healthy, and although the Pistons still have a losing record, they’re in the playoff race, largely because of Griffin.

“As a player, you always believe in yourself,” Griffin said. “I knew I had another level to go to, and being healthy was part of that. … But the beginning of the year, my goal isn’t to only make the All-Star team. It’s much more than that.”

In July 2017, Griffin agreed to a $171 million, five-year deal with the Clippers, the team that drafted him with the first overall pick in 2009. Less than a year later, he was abruptly traded – from glitzy Los Angeles to a Detroit franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 2008. It was a risky move for the Pistons, given Griffin’s high salary and the fact that he has only three seasons with more than 67 games played. They gave up a first-round draft pick in the trade, and when they missed the playoffs anyway, that was the end of Stan Van Gundy’s tenure as coach and president of basketball operations.

For Griffin, it was an inauspicious start to the Detroit portion of his career, and there’s been frustration this season as well. The Pistons are 26-30, tied for the final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference. Even if they do make the playoffs, they don’t look like a team ready to make a run.

But for Griffin individually, the season has been a significant step forward. The man who once pulled off a two-handed dunk while jumping over the front of a car is a bit less of an athletic sensation in Detroit, but the blue-collar elements of his game are still plenty effective. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound Griffin can muscle his way to the basket and draw fouls, and he gives the Pistons another tough rebounder alongside Andre Drummond. Griffin is also leading the team in assists.

“I think for me, my job is to make his game as easy as possible on the offensive end. When I get him open, he usually makes the right plays,” Drummond said. “It’s a nightmare for teams. You’ve got to really pick your poison, who you really want to get going, and it’s scary when we both get it going.”

Griffin has expanded his offensive repertoire to include the 3-point shot in recent years. He has already made a career-high 134 3s this season, shooting a credible 37 percent from long distance.

“It helps a lot, especially in today’s NBA, with everybody spacing the floor a little bit more, and playing with a guy like Dre, who’s so effective inside,” Griffin said. “To be able to give him a little bit more space is a good thing. I always see guys working to expand their range, and when you do, you see them add years to their career.”

When Griffin joined the Clippers, he added some legitimacy and excitement to what had been one of the league’s most downtrodden franchises. Now the Pistons are a team that could use some buzz. The results recently have been mixed: Griffin has been terrific, but the team as a whole has remained mediocre.

But Detroit won four of five heading into the All-Star break, and if the Pistons do make the playoffs, they’ll have Griffin to thank.

“He’s thinking the game. He’s a couple steps ahead,” Casey said. “I’ve had a lot of great forwards, power forwards, and he’s right up there with the best, whether it’s Dirk (Nowitzki), (Kevin) Garnett, Detlef Schrempf – just a lot of great players that I’ve been around. He’s right in that category.”

 

Hawks GM: “If we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka (Doncic)”

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It was the Draft day trade that shook the NBA last June.

In a deal made agreed to before the picks were made, the Atlanta Hawks traded Luka Doncic, taken No. 3, to Dallas for Trae Young (taken fifth), and the Hawks got the Mavericks 2019 first-round pick (top five protected). It forever linked Doncic and Young in the minds of fans (fair or not).

Doncic has gone on to become a historically good rookie — averaging 20.7 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, he is the Mavs best player, is the runaway Rookie of the Year, and is already a star (who fans almost voted into the All-Star Game) — which has led to a lot of criticism for Atlanta in some quarters for not keeping the pick and Doncic. That despite the fact Young has played well after a slow start (20 points per game with 35.9 percent shooting from three in his last 20 games) and the Hawks got another pick in the deal.

On the Woj Pod with Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, Hawks GM Travis Schlenk said that the team would have drafted Doncic if they kept the pick (hat tip Real GM).

“Not a lot of people know this…if we stayed at 3, we would have taken Luka. We had worked with his agent, he did a physical with us that morning in New York…but then Dallas came in an hour or so before the draft. I told them all along that it would take another lottery pick for us to slide back, and that’s when the conversations got started.”

Interestingly, Schlenk added that the team’s analytics department, projecting into next season, played a big role in the deal getting done.

“Our analytics staff was predicting Dallas to finish 8th this year,” added Schlenk.

As of right now (and before the lottery shakes things up), the Mavericks are projected to pick ninth. If that remains, Dallas has a 20.2 percent chance to jump into the top four with the new lottery odds. Otherwise, the pick will go to Atlanta.

Despite Doncic’s play, it’s too early to fully judge the trade. How good will Young become? How high is Doncic’s ceiling? What happens with the future first-round pick, and who will the Hawks get with it?

For a rebuilding team like the Hawks, a second lottery pick to move back a couple of spots can make sense — so long as the guy your trading doesn’t become a superstar. Doncic may become that. Atlanta was higher on Young than many teams, and he has rewarded that faith of late, but how good will he ultimately be? It’s not quite a Sam Bowie pick, but some fans may ultimately see it that way if Doncic’s star continues to rise. However, as Schlenk explained, there were logical reasons to make the trade.

One last look back: Best dunks of All-Star Weekend (VIDEO)

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Defense? That’s one thing that rarely makes an appearance All-Star weekend.

Combine that with the game’s best athletes and what you get are three days of insane dunks.

The NBA put this together, the best dunks of All-Star weekend in Charlotte. Enjoy.

Wizards’ Bradley Beal: ‘Recruiting process is really going alright…I’m trying’

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LeBron James went out of his way to say he was not recruiting guys on his free-agent heavy All-Star Team.

Bradley Beal had no such hesitation, he tried to recruit guys, as he told Chase Huges of NBC Sports Washington.

“The recruiting process is really going alright. It’s going alright. I’m trying,” Beal said. “This is new for me. I’m definitely getting some ears and seeing what guys are looking for.”

Beal was too smart to name names — that would have brought a fine from the league — but he said some guys asked if he was happy where he was, while other guys he talked to about the possibilities in Washington.

The problem is while the Wizards will have some cap space after trading Otto Porter and Markieff Morris (and assuming they don’t pick up the option on Jabari Parker) but they will be nowhere near the max cap space needed to land the elite free agents at the All-Star Game (Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, etc.). Even the second-tier All-Star free agents such as Khris Middleton will get max offers. Same with players who just missed the game, such as Tobias Harris.

If the Wizards renounce free agents they can get to $9 million in cap space, stretch and waive Ian Mahinmi and they can get to $18 million. That’s the top end. Meaning the Wizards will have room to make moves for good rotation players, but with John Wall‘s supermax extension kicking in at $38 million next season flexibility is limited. Genuine upgrades will be hard to come by.

Predicting what Washington GM Ernie Grunfeld will do next summer is a fool’s errand, but Beal is doing his part to try and bring more talent into Washington.