New format — and Team LeBron — big winners in 2020 All-Star Game

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CHICAGO — “Throughout the whole fourth quarter and at the end of the game, everybody was like, ‘That was pretty damn fun.'”

LeBron James is right; that was fun.

And dramatic. And entertaining. And the best All-Star game in recent memory.

The NBA’s format changes to the All-Star Game — starting each quarter at 0-0 with money for charities on the line, then the target point ending — were the biggest winners of the 2020 All-Star Game. It changed the game from something that had been a soulless exhibition in recent years to something competitive and entertaining.

“It was dope,” Jimmy Butler said. “Damn sure got to compete at the end. It’s still fun to go out there and be known as one of the best players in the world in this league. Hopefully it stays like that.”

After this dramatic ending, Butler will get his wish and this format will be back.

Team LeBron beat Team Giannis 157-155, reaching the target number of 157 on a free throw from Chicago’s own Anthony Davis.

That ending didn’t feel satisfying, especially after the best All-Star Game anyone could remember.

The fourth quarter had everything: The fans in the arena were on their feet and loud like a playoff game. Joel Embiid tried to take a charge. Kyle Lowry did take a charge on Kawhi Leonard. Chris Paul and Kyle Lowry were barking at the officials over calls. Coaches were calling for reviews.

Giannis Antetokounmpo blocked LeBron.

Then the Greek Freak blocked a Davis shot. Then he blocked LeBron again.

It was a fourth quarter that was tied 152-152, making it a first-to-five game. In the end, it became next basket wins — and Davis got that basket.

Kawhi Leonard, who finished the night with 30 points, shooting 8-of-14 from three, walked off with the just-named Kobe Bryant All-Star MVP award.

“I had a relationship with him. Words can’t explain how happy I am for it,” Leonard said of winning the MVP the first year it was named after Kobe. “Able to put that trophy in my room, in my trophy room, and just be able to see Kobe’s name on there, it just means a lot to me. He’s an inspiration in my life. He did a lot for me.

The night started with a stirring pregame tribute to Kobe from Magic Johnson and Jennifer Hudson, and then Common came out with the best player introductions this game has seen in a long time.

Team LeBron pulled away in the first quarter — in part due to a string of Jimmy Butler turnovers — and won it 53-41 on a quarter short on great highlights. Leonard led all scorers with 12 points, going 4-of-4 from three. Davis had 9 points and captain LeBron had 7.

The best highlight of the second quarter? Chris Paul dunked. He finished a Russell Westbrook alley-oop.

It’s like seeing a unicorn. He hasn’t done that in a game since 2016, LeBron said it caught everyone by surprise, but CP3 has a bounce in his step this season.

Leonard kept draining threes, he had 25 points at the half and was 7-of-10 from three, but team Giannis led early on in the second quarter and pulled away late to take that frame. It was capped off by a Trae Young half-court buzzer-beater.

That had each team winning a quarter — so both charities, Chicago Scholars and After School Matters, each had $100,000 — and the overall score was 92-83 Team Giannis at the half.

The third quarter is when things got interesting.

Midway through the third, the intensity started to pick up a notch, started by Team LeBron caring on defense. The third was the first time one of these quarters was close and it led to real drama down the stretch. A Russell Westbrook bucket tied the quarter with :45 seconds, then a Rudy Gobert dunk put Team Giannis up by two. Nikola Jokic answered with a three to put Team LeBron up one with 22.9 seconds left. That led to Nick Nurse taking a strategic timeout, but Kyle Lowry lost the ball out of bounds, which forced Team Giannis to foul Westbrook, who made one-of-two, giving Team LeBron a two-point lead and Team Giannis a chance.

Trae Young threw a lob that Gobert finished to tie the game up with 2.2 seconds remaining. A Westbrook runner clanked off the rim and the quarter ended a tie. (The charity money rolled over to the fourth quarter.)

At that point, adding 24 points to Team Giannis’ three-quarter total, 157 became the magic number. Team Giannis needed to score 24 to get there, Team LeBron 33.

And then it was on.

You can bet this format will be on again next year when the All-Star Game heads to Indianapolis.

Duke’s Cassius Stanley declares for 2020 NBA Draft

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Two Duke players, point guard Tre Jones and big man Vernon Carey Jr., are expected to be in the 2020 NBA Draft and be taken in the late first-round or early second. We talked about them on the recent PBT Podcast breaking down some of this draft class.

Now a third Duke player, wing Cassius Stanley, has thrown his name in the mix.

“It was an absolute joy to coach Cassius this season,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said in a statement. “I want to congratulate him and his great family on this decision. I’ve seen Cassius grow both as a player and person here at Duke, and I can’t wait to see how his career develops at the next level. Any NBA team will be very fortunate to get such a mature young man who is not only an incredibly-gifted athlete but a leader that wants nothing but the best for himself and his teammates.”

Stanley is projected as a second-round pick, but his incredible athleticism could get a team to use a late first-round pick on him.

Stanley is a 6’6″ wing and it’s his elite athleticism that will get him drafted as a potential 3&D wing. He averaged 12.6 points per game and shot 36 percent from three as a freshman (but on only three attempts a night). His athleticism gives him potential as a defender. The challenge is he relies on that athleticism, something that alone will not set him apart at the NBA level, he is not a shot creator for himself or others, and he struggles to shoot off the dribble. He can finish in transition, but at the next level nearly everyone can do that.

Stanley is a development project, but his athleticism makes him a good gamble for a team with a strong development program.

Nuggets GM Arturas Karnisovas reported early leader for Bulls’ top job

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What do the Bulls want in a new top executive? Near the top of the list: someone who can build an organization that drafts well and develops that talent. That’s why executives from Miami, Utah, and Toronto were high on the wish list.

Enter Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas, who has done exactly those things in Denver. Karnisovas is the early frontrunner, reports Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports.

Multiple sources told Yahoo Sports that Denver Nuggets general manager Arturas Karnisovas is the leader in the clubhouse…

Sources said [team president Michael Reinsdorf] wants someone who has a presence publicly, especially given the reticent nature of Paxson and Forman the last several years. The Bulls have embraced analytics the last few seasons but having someone who can discern how to apply the numbers against other basketball factors is important to Reinsdorf…

“He wants someone who’ll surround himself with smart people, a great talent evaluator. There’s a need to get better in the player development department, too,” a source told Yahoo Sports.

Karnisovas has worked mostly in the background in Denver, with Tim Connelly being the face of the basketball operations. That would be a big change for Karnisovas, but one he may be ready for.

John Paxson is helping Reinsdorf with the search, but Paxson reportedly will take on whatever role is asked — or step aside completely — to make things smooth for whoever takes over the organization.

While NBA taking big financial hit, rumor is salary cap will not see huge drop

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No NBA games are being played, no fans paying for tickets or buying arena beers, no revenue is coming in. The NBA playoffs will not start on time. If games are ramped up at any point in the next couple of months, it will not be in front of fans, just television only.

Which is to say, the NBA is taking a big financial hit right now. How much is impossible to say, but a billion is not out of the question.

The NBA is set up for the players and owners to split revenue, basically 50-50 (it’s more complicated than that, but it stays close to that range). If Basketball Related Income (BRI) drops around the league, then the salary cap drops and players get less money.

The league’s income is going to suffer, but the salary cap may not that much the NBA players union told agents in a call today, according to Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

What this implies is salary cap smoothing — the league would keep the cap artificially high in the short term, but when revenue spikes back up in the following years that rise will be artificially slowed a little to even things out. The idea is to smooth out the cap number rather than have wild fluctuations.

This is likely part of the negotiations going on between the league and players union over the force majeure clause of the CBA, which allows owners to reduce salaries if games are canceled. If the players give up salary now they don’t want to see future income fall too because the cap cratered for a season or two.

Most likely, the owners and players can work out a cap-smoothing compromise that works for both sides (something they could not do when the new NBA TV deal kicked in and the cap spiked back in 2016). The league’s cap projections were already reduced some by the loss of revenue from China following the Daryl Morey Tweet controversy, the missed games obviously will reduce it further.

How much further appears to be under negotiation.

Bulls’ John Paxson reportedly willing to play small role, or even step aside, for new front office

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It all seems a little too coincidental.

Early reports about a shakeup in the Bulls’ front office had John Paxson, the current vice president of basketball operations, retaining at least some power. There also was a push to help current coach Jim Boylen keep his job.

Then the Raptors’ Bobby Webster, Pacers’ Chad Buchanan, and Heat’s Adam Simon all dropped out of the running for the Bulls job.

Suddenly, there has been a series of reports that Paxson was willing to give up his power and is ready to play whatever role the new GM wants. There was this from K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago.

But the perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence, going kicking and screaming into the night, is simply wrong. Early this season, Paxson communicated his vision to ownership for a new-look, more modern front office. He initiated some of this need for change.

Michael Reinsdorf likely would have arrived at the same conclusion anyway and has taken the reins on addressing the issue. Well before news broke over All-Star weekend, he began performing due diligence and background on a wide variety of candidates.

Joe Cowley at the Chicago Sun-Times took it a step further.

A source told the Sun-Times on Tuesday that not only is Paxson all for stepping aside from his position and acting more as an adviser to the Reinsdorf family when the front-office restructure is finalized, but would completely step down from the organization if the Reinsdorfs and the new-look executive group deemed it better for the rebuild to continue.

Was the “perception that Paxson will be some hovering presence” just among fans, or did it exist among potential candidates, too? Each of the three candidates that dropped out have positons of some power in quality organizations, each is only going to leave for just the right offer, one with total control of the organization.

It all seems a little too coincidental that they all dropped out and then came the rash of reports about Paxson not wanting to retain power. Whether it was true or not Paxson was always willing to step aside, perception matters.

Chicago did interview Utah’s Justin Zanik, another experienced executive from a stable organization who could be a good fit with the Bulls. The Jazz have set up the kind of strong draft-and-development program (Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell, etc.) that the Bulls should try to emulate. The Bulls are also expected to interview Nuggets’ general manager Arturas Karnisovas and Magic assistant general manager Matt Lloyd.

With no games going on, there is no rush to make a hire by the Bulls, they have plenty of time for due diligence (as do the candidates). Chicago will want its new head man and his front office staff in place before what is likely a compacted draft and free-agency period, whenever that comes.