Mavericks star Luka Doncic and Hornets guard Devonte' Graham
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2020 PBT Awards: Most Improved Player

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The NBA regular season might be finished. Heck, the entire NBA season might be finished. Even if play resumes with regular-season games, there’d likely be an abridged finish before the playoffs (which will also likely be shortened).

So, we’re making our 2019-20 award picks now. If the regular season somehow lasts long enough to reconsider our choices, we’ll do that. But here are our selections on the assumption the regular season is over.

Kurt Helin

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

2. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

3. Devonte' Graham, Hornets

I was slow to come around to the idea of Luka Doncic going from Rookie of the Year to MIP. For this award, I tend to lean towards guys who have not reached their potential then make a leap to All-Star status (Brandon Ingram) or guys who come out of nowhere to play a big role (Devonte’ Graham). However, when you break this down, not only did Doncic make just a big a leap as them statistically, he made the hardest leap in the league, from good to franchise-cornerstone, elite player. It was very difficult to leave Bam Adebayo and Pascal Siakam off this list, this was a deep and deserving MIP class.

Dan Feldman

1. Luka Doncic, Mavericks

2. Devonte’ Graham, Hornets

3. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

I don’t care he’s in his second year. I don’t care he was drafted highly. I don’t care some believe this was “supposed to” happen. Luka Doncic went from good for a rookie to great for anyone – an amazing jump duplicated by only LeBron James.

That narrowly outpaced Devonte’ Graham, who came out of nowhere for the Hornets. He was out of the rotation last season. This season, he was on the outskirts of the All-Star discussion.

Brandon Ingram made huge strides as a shooter and in his all-around game – just in time to get paid.

This was an absurdly deep year for Most Improved Player. Trae Young followed Doncic’s arc, though hitting lower levels last season and this season with the Hawks. Duncan Robinson spent last of most season in the minor league then became a helpful starter on a good Heat team. Donte DiVincenzo went from bad to good, giving the Bucks a much-needed boost at shooting guard. A Young-Robinson-DiVincenzo ballot would be completely reasonable in many seasons.

Special shoutout to Raptors forward Pascal Siakam, who doesn’t deserve this annual award but keeps making year-over-year improvements that – in aggregate – are incredible.

I haven’t even gotten to Heat big Bam Adebayo, who didn’t make Rising Stars his first two seasons then became an All-Star his third season. He suffers from being solid the previous two years, even though he became more impactful as a versatile defender and broke out as a passing weapon.

Again, the depth of this field is preposterous.

Keith Smith

1. Devonte’ Graham, Hornets

2. Brandon Ingram, Pelicans

3. Bam Adebayo, Heat

It’s usually considered bad form to give Most Improved Player to a second-year player. NBA players are expected to make a major jump from their first to second years. However, Devonte’ Graham came out of nowhere. As a part-time rotation player as a rookie, Graham averaged 4.7 points on 28.1 percent 3-point shooting and 2.6 assists per game. As a surprising starter in his sophomore campaign, Graham shot 37.3 percent from behind the arc and averaged 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game. The Hornets weren’t good, but they were better than most thought, as they were on a 29-win pace. Graham was a big part of that.

Brandon Ingram was the centerpiece of the Anthony Davis’ trade for the Pelicans and he showed why. Ingram made the All-Star team for the first time and upped his scoring output to 24.3 points per game. He hit 38.7 percent from downtown on a career-high 6.3 three-point attempts per game. Ingram also improved his rebounding up to 6.3 boards per night, while also dishing out a career-best 4.3 assists per game.

Bam Adebayo was a first-time All-Star in 2020, as he flashed an improved all-around game. Adebayo was mostly a defender and rebounder in his first two NBA seasons. As a third-year player, he became a full-time starter and showed his box score stuffing chops. Adebayo averaged career-highs across the board with 16.2 points, 10.5 rebound, 5.1 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He also shot 56.7 percent from the field and played in all 65 of Miami’s games.

LeBron James: On behalf of basketball community, we won’t miss Donald Trump’s viewership

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NBA players kneeled for the national anthem.

President Donald Trump called the protest – which is meant to call attention to racism, particularly through police brutality – “disgraceful” and said he stopped watching games.

And in yet another predictable turn in this news cycle, Lakers star LeBron James fired back at Trump.

LeBron:

I really don’t think the basketball community are sad about losing his viewership, him viewing the game.

And that’s all I’ve got to say. I don’t want to – I’m not going to get into a – because I already know where this could go, where it could lead to for tomorrow for me. I’m not going to get into it.

But I think our game is in a beautiful position. And we have fans all over the world. And our fans not only love the way we play the game – we try to give it back to them with our commitment to the game – but also respect what else we try to bring to the game and acknowledge what’s right and what’s wrong.

And I hope everyone – no matter the race, no matter the color, no matter their size – will see what leadership that we have at the top in our country and understand that November is right around the corner. And it’s a big moment for us as Americans. If we continue to talk about we want better, want change, we have an opportunity to do that.

But the game will go on without his eyes on it. I can sit here and speak for all of us that love the game of basketball. We could care less.

LeBron has frequently criticized the president. Trump has also criticized LeBron. That’s how it goes.

In this case (and others), LeBron has the moral high ground. Kneeling during the national anthem is a patriotic act designed to make the United States a better place for all its people to live – something far more noble than saluting a piece of cloth during a song.

However, LeBron is wrong to speak for the entire basketball community. A lot of people love basketball. They don’t all hold the same political views. Some care about remaining in the good graces of the president of the United States, whomever that is. Some even care about the approval of Trump specifically.

Is there a limit on how much you love basketball if you’d stop watching because of a peaceful protest before a game? Obviously. But there’s still room to love basketball and also care about other things.

LeBron doesn’t have to personally dignify people who care both about basketball and Trump. But LeBron shouldn’t try to speak on their behalf, either.

LeBron’s rebuke would have been powerful enough (and more fair) on its own.

 

Jazz forward Joe Ingles joins Grizzlies huddle, drapes arms over Memphis players (video)

Jazz forward Joe Ingles vs. Grizzlies
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Jazz forward Joe Ingles has no boundaries with huddles.

Ingles invaded the Grizzlies huddle today, even putting his arms around – and some weight on – Dillon Brooks and Grayson Allen. Gorgui Dieng appeared to notice the intruder just before the video cut away:

Beyond the hijinks, Ingles also scored 25 points – including 12 in the fourth quarter – to lead Utah to a 124-115 win.

NBA owners pledge $300M for empowering Black community

NBA Black Lives Matter
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The NBA put “BLACK LIVES MATTER” on the court and social-justice messages on jerseys. These are visible symbols that can draw attention to the fight for racial justice.

But NBA owners have the power to do more than make symbolic gestures.

NBA owners will do more.

NBA release:

The NBA Board of Governors announced today that it will contribute $300 million in initial funding to establish the first-ever NBA Foundation dedicated to creating greater economic empowerment in the Black community.  The Foundation is being launched in partnership with the National Basketball Players Association.

Over the next 10 years, the 30 NBA team owners will collectively contribute $30 million annually to establish a new, leaguewide charitable foundation.  Through its mission to drive economic empowerment for Black communities through employment and career advancement, the NBA Foundation will seek to increase access and support for high school, college-aged and career-ready Black men and women, and assist national and local organizations that provide skills training, mentorship, coaching and pipeline development in NBA markets and communities across the United States and Canada.  As a public charity, the Foundation will also aim to work strategically with marketing and media partners to develop additional programming and funding sources that deepen the NBA family’s commitment to racial equality and social justice.

The Foundation will focus on three critical employment transition points: obtaining a first job, securing employment following high school or college, and career advancement once employed.  Through contributions, the NBA Foundation will enhance and grow the work of national and local organizations dedicated to education and employment, including through investment in youth employment and internship programs, STEM fields, job shadows and apprenticeships, development pathways outside of traditional higher education, career placement, professional mentorship, networking and specific partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“On behalf of the NBA Board of Governors, I am thrilled to announce the creation of the NBA Foundation,” said NBA Board of Governors Chairman and Toronto Raptors Governor Larry Tanenbaum.  “All NBA team governors recognize our unique position to effect change and we are committed to supporting and empowering young Black men and women in each of our team markets as well as communities across the U.S. and Canada.”

“The creation of this foundation is an important step in developing more opportunities for the Black community,” said NBPA President Chris Paul.  “I am proud of our league and our players for their commitment to this long-term fight for equality and justice, and I know we will continue to find ways to keep pushing for meaningful institutional change.”

The Foundation will work directly with all 30 teams, their affiliated charitable organizations and the NBPA to support national organizations and their local affiliates as well as local grassroots organizations to facilitate sustainable programming and create change in team markets.

“Given the resources and incredible platform of the NBA, we have the power to ideate, implement and support substantive policies that reflect the core principles of equality and justice we embrace,” said NBPA Executive Director Michele Roberts.  “This Foundation will provide a framework for us to stay committed and accountable to these principles.”

“We are dedicated to using the collective resources of the 30 teams, the players and the league to drive meaningful economic opportunities for Black Americans,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver.  “We believe that through focused programs in our team markets and nationally, together with clear and specific performance measures, we can advance our shared goals of creating substantial economic mobility within the Black community.”

The 30 NBA teams will be members of the NBA Foundation with its eight Board of Directors comprised of representatives from the NBA Board of Governors (four board seats), players and executives from the NBPA (three board seats) and the league office (one board seat).  The Foundation’s board will oversee all business affairs and provide strategic direction with respect to programming and grantmaking.

This is great.

Trail Blazers reportedly tried recently to get Trevor Ariza to join them in bubble

Trail Blazers forward Trevor Ariza
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Trevor Ariza opted-out of playing for Portland in the NBA’s restart so he could spend time with his son. Due to a custody case, he had a limited window to visit and he chose family over basketball.

However, as his custody window shifted and Portland started to look at a deeper playoff run — and maybe a matchup with the Lakers in the first round — some Trail Blazers players tried to get Ariza to come to the bubble after all. If Zion Williamson and others could leave the bubble for family emergencies, why couldn’t Ariza be let in, the players asked?

That plan didn’t work out, reports Chris Hayes of Yahoo Sports.

But because his visitation period had been amended with a conclusion date now near the start of August, there was some optimism among the players that Ariza might be allowed into the bubble to further strengthen their chances of a deep playoff run. If the Trail Blazers were to snag the final playoff spot, they would face LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the first round and a pesky Ariza would have been useful guarding James.

The possibility was explored, but sources said the Trail Blazers had to have previously applied for a hardship waiver or a late-arrival form for Ariza to be considered for entry into the bubble. Even if those steps were taken, the league would have likely denied the request because Ariza chose to opt out, wasn’t included on the restart roster, and didn’t arrive with his team on July 9.

The league put together strict rules about who could and couldn’t be inside the bubble — rules agreed to by the players’ union. Those rules are working at keeping the virus out. The league was not going to bend the rules for Portland now.

Ariza chose time with his son and wanted it bad enough to give up between $1.1 million and $1.8 million in salary (depending on how far the Trail Blazers got). Nobody should knock that choice; it was his to make, and picking family is never the wrong option.

Ariza is under contract for $12.8 million with Portland next season, but only $1.8 million of that salary guaranteed next season. If Portland wants to reduce payroll, they can buy Ariza out and make him a free agent at age 35. There would be suitors, Ariza has proven to be a helpful glue guy on good teams.

That glue just can’t help Portland this season.