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Gilbert Arenas signs to play in Big3 this season

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Big3 co-founder Ice Cube knows marketing and has been upfront from the start — his young league needed star power. After a first successful season they got more of it for year two: Amar’e Stoudemire, Nate Robinson, Metta World Peace/Ron Artest, Baron Davis.

Cube has also said from the start that the more former NBA players saw the league, the more they would come around. Name guys would want to compete — players fans will pay to watch.

Gilbert Arenas is one of those guys. And he’s in.

Agent Zero explained why he is in now to the Washington Post.

“I think a lot of people watched the first year to try and figure out the speed of it, and when I watched it I was like, ‘Whoosh, they’re really going, they’re really playing basketball.’ So I don’t think I’m trained and prepared for that sport right there,” Arenas said of passing on the league over its first two seasons. “It’s one of those things where I need to train like I’m playing in the NBA again ’cause I’m not gonna let them get the best of me. So I got four and a half months” to get ready for this season.

Also in for this season is Lamar Odom.

The Big3 is growing, expanding to 12 teams for the upcoming season and now playing on two nights per week, with 18 total stops on the tour. Lisa Leslie — the four-time Olympic Gold Medalist and three-time WNBA MVP — is joining the BIG3 as coach of the new expansion team Triplets. There has been demand at the gate, but the Big3 lost its television deal with Fox Sports and now is looking for a new television partner.

Knicks’ fans chant “Free IT” as Isaiah Thomas sits on Nuggets bench

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Well played, Knicks fans.

Denver went into Madison Square Garden Friday night to be the latest team to defeat the Knicks. Isaiah Thomas, out of the rotation in Denver, was the only dressed player not to play for the Nuggets. That did not sit well with Knicks fans.

Denver has better on court options than IT — Monte Morris should get Most Improved Player votes — but I hope he gets fully healthy and lands somewhere next season where he gets a chance to show what he can still do.

Lonzo Ball severs ties with co-founder of Big Baller Brand

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LaVar Ball is the face of the Big Baller Brand, the shoe and apparel line that sponsors the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball and has been a successful marketing brand.

Alan Foster, a co-founder and part owner of BBB, served as the business manager, the guy behind the scenes. He has been a long-time friend and confidant of the Ball family.

Now Lonzo Ball has cut ties with Foster over inappropriate use of funds, something Ball confirmed in an ESPN story by Ramona Shelburne and Paula Lavigne.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball has severed ties with a co-founder of Big Baller Brand over concerns that the longtime family friend has a criminal past and also has not adequately accounted for the whereabouts of roughly $1.5 million from Ball’s personal and business accounts.

Ball told ESPN that he believes that Alan Foster, a friend of Lonzo’s father for almost a decade who owns 16.3 percent of Big Baller Brand, had “used his access to my business and personal finances to enrich himself. As a result, I have decided to sever all ties with Alan, effective immediately.”

According to documents and emails reviewed by ESPN, questions about Foster’s business decisions and communication were first raised last fall to Lonzo and LaVar by Lonzo’s financial adviser.

That advisor noticed the missing $1.5 million, and as Lonzo and others started to pull on that thread everything unraveled. If you want the details, Shelburne and Lavigne did great reporting on the issue.

A lot of players have family members or close friends as part of their “team” in one capacity or another. There’s nothing wrong with that — LeBron James has used that model to great success, although his friends worked, learned, and became well qualified in the areas they handled.

What’s smart is what Ball did — have someone independent who checks the books, does the taxes, and makes sure that the family/friends actually have the players’ best interest at heart. The stories of those that don’t are long and legendary, unfortunately.

Ball remains out for the rest of the season for the Lakers, recovering from a grade three ankle sprain and bone bruise. He will recover and be able to work out this summer.

Donovan Mitchell turned to James Harden, Kobe Bryant for advice on early season struggles

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Players that have elite rookie NBA seasons often plateau at the start of — or during all of — their second season. The leap in adjusting to the NBA that often players make in their second or third season tends to happen earlier for these elite rookies, meaning they already made their jump. Also, defenses are now aware of them and are focused on them.

It happened to Utah’s Donovan Mitchell — in November and December his offensive net rating was less than a point per possession. He had a below average true shooting percentage of 51 in November and 47.3 in December. Mitchell told Michael Shapiro of Sports Illustrated that Jazz coach Quin Snyder warned him this was coming, that he was the first thing in the scouting report and defenses would be focused on him, but being told that and experiencing it are two different things.

“Coach Snyder stressed to me that this year was going to be a lot different, and it was one thing for me to hear, and another thing for me to go through it,” Mitchell said regarding Utah’s poor start. “It’s one of those things you really have to go through, to experience. They kind of anticipated this happening, I didn’t. But to have the support of my teammates through the early part of the season was really special, and really helped get us back to where we need to be.”

So Mitchell reached out for help, speaking to James Harden, Chris Paul, and Kobe Bryant. They all had similar advice — get to the free throw line more.

“This year, it’s different. I have to be locked in for every moment, they make it so tough on every possession,” Mitchell told The Crossover. “But the words I’ve received from James [Harden], from Kobe [Bryant], Chris Paul, it’s helped me understand that. I think in my rookie year, I was really taken aback. This year I came seeking advice….

“Changing my pace and making an effort to get to the free-throw line, that’s something James [Harden] is great at and Dwyane Wade talked to me about as well,” Mitchell said. “To hear that from them and then trying to follow their advice really helped me get back on track.”

In November and December, Mitchell averaged 4 free throw attempts per game (which was in line with his 3.8 attempts per game as a rookie). However, since Jan. 1 that is up to 6 a game — and the Jazz are 24-11. (Part of that is the Jazz had a very tough early schedule that has softened up considerably since.)

That Mitchell is reaching out and seeking help from the best is a good thing — it shows his drive, his desire to improve. That is what is going to help him take the next step (although another good playmaker next to him to relieve some of that defensive attention wouldn’t hurt).

Round 2: Raptors, Thunder meet in Toronto after wild one in OKC

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Toronto Raptors needed overtime to win at Oklahoma City on Wednesday night after squandering a 19-point lead.

Now they see what they can do at home when the teams meet again on Friday night.

The Raptors, who led by as many as 19 points during the third quarter, still led the Thunder by 11 with less than 2:30 to play in regulation on Wednesday. But the Thunder tied it at 110 on Russell Westbrook‘s driving layup with 4.8 seconds to play.

The Raptors, however, rebounded to dominate the overtime 13-4 as the Thunder’s Paul George watched from the bench after fouling out with 19.9 seconds left in regulation. Toronto won the game 123-114.

“You’ve got to finish regardless of the circumstances or whatever is going on,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse told reporters after the game. “You just have got to keep playing. A lot of times when you blow a big lead and go to OT that momentum has already gone to the team that got it to OT and you go flat. We didn’t. We came out and really played, especially on the defensive end and that’s a really good sign.”

The Thunder will be trying for a better start Friday night.

“We were playing from behind too much,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said after the game Wednesday. “I mentioned about the adversity and the challenges. This is a really, really good team, and you just can’t really have lapses for a quarter or coming out of the locker room because you end up having to play from behind.”

The Thunder got 42 points and 11 rebounds from Westbrook. Pascal Siakam led Toronto with 33 points and 13 rebounds while Fred VanVleet scored 23 points starting at point guard for Kyle Lowry, who was out with a right ankle injury. Lowry has been declared out of the game Friday.

The Thunder have lost four games in a row.

“The start of the third we did not do a good enough job defensively,” Donovan said. “We had turnovers, possessions that were not great offensively. We made enough plays to get ourselves back in the game. I give our guys a lot of credit. We were out of the game with two minutes to go.”

The Raptors have won two in a row and are coming off a solid defensive effort Wednesday.

“Everyone talked, everyone was in the gaps, everyone was unselfish,” Raptors center Marc Gasol said. “They are going to make shots but we have got to finish it off. … It’s a learning lesson and later on in the playoffs that can cost you a game and you don’t want that happening in the playoffs.”

In the overtime, Gasol said “we picked it up a little more.”

“We had that lead late in regulation and then we didn’t make stand. They made some tough shots at the same time,” he added.

A key factor in the outcome was the poor free-throw shooting by the Thunder (15-for-29, 51.7 percent).

“We’ve got to shoot better than 51.7 percent from the free-throw line,” Donovan said. “I think we’re getting answers to things that we’re going to have to do at a high level.”

The Raptors had Serge Ibaka back in the lineup Wednesday after he served a three-game suspension for fighting. He had six points and nine rebounds in a reserve role with Gasol starting and scoring 10 points and grabbing six rebounds. The Raptors have yet to determine who will be the regular starting center.