Three things to know: All-Star Game fits ‘grab the cash’ season theme


The NBA season is in full swing, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Planned All-Star Game fits theme for season: Grab the cash

De’Aaron Fox doesn’t want it. “I’m going to be brutally honest, I think it’s stupid. If we have to wear masks and do all this for a regular game, what’s the point of bringing the All-Star Game back? But obviously, money makes the world go round so it is what it is. I’m not really worried about, if I’m voted in, so be it.”

LeBron James doesn’t want it. “I have zero energy and zero excitement about an All-Star Game this year. I don’t even understand why we’re having an All-Star Game… Five days [in March] from the fifth through the 10th, an opportunity for me to kind of recalibrate for the second half of the season. My teammates as well. Some of the guys in the league. And then they throw an All-Star Game on us like this and just breaks that all the way up. So, um, pretty much kind of a slap in the face… I’ll be there if I’m selected. But I’ll be there physically, but not mentally.”

Fox and LeBron said out loud what a lot of players are thinking.

It doesn’t matter. An NBA All-Star Game is happening on March 7 in Atlanta.

Some will argue this is a bad look for the NBA. Hosting a large gathering of players — with some fans in the building, the game is in Atlanta where fans are in the State Farm Arena and even courtside — is a potential superspreader event. At a time most of the nation is not hosting large events, the NBA is putting one on, and that is putting the players at risk.

Not really. At least not more than every other game. Having 30+ players (24 for the All-Star Game plus participants in the Dunk Contest and Three-Point Contest) plus coaches and staff is not going to be that big a deal because those players and staff will be tested daily, have protocols that keep them in their rooms, and otherwise work to limit any potential spread of the disease. For invited players, it will feel the same as a regular season game.

For the other 400 players, they have five days off to go party in a Las Vegas pool, hang with their friends in a club, or otherwise scatter across the country to spend time large groups of people and not face the same protocols. There will be a post-break spike in cases around the league, but likely not from the players headed to Atlanta.

Fox and LeBron both also understand the reality of why there is an All-Star Game this year (after the league canceled one):

Hosting an All-Star game isn’t stupid; it’s grabbing the available cash.

That has been the underlying theme to this entire NBA season: Make as much money as you can in upside-down times, mitigate the financial losses, and be ready to move on to a more traditional next season starting in October.

The NBA is a business, and like most businesses around the country, it has taken a punch from the coronavirus and the necessary lockdowns to save lives. The league and players union agreed to a short turnaround and starting games before Christmas (and ending before the Olympics in July) because it made them the most money. It’s what the broadcast partners and sponsors wanted, so the league made it happen.

The All-Star Game is a highly-watched showcase event — both in the United States and globally — and it makes a lot of money for Turner Broadcasting (which puts it on TNT) and the sponsors attached to it. The NBA is a business grabbing all the cash it can this season and having an All-Star Game means more money in the bank for sponsors. So it is happening.

Whether LeBron and the players want it or not.

2) Speaking of LeBron, he had a triple-double, passed Wilt Chamberlain in record books during win

Denver has been on a roll, having won 6-of-7, including snapping Utah’s 11-game win streak coming into Thursday night. For all it had done right, Denver got the chance to benchmark itself against the defending NBA champions.

Those champions still have LeBron James.

LeBron scored 27 points with 10 rebounds and 10 assists to help the Lakers pull away in the fourth quarter for a 113-92 win over the Nuggets.

During that, LeBron passed Wilt Chamberlain to move into third on the NBA’s all-time field goals made list.

One early February game does not define a season or a potential playoff meeting between these teams. It does serve as a reminder that the Lakers roll out two of the five best players in the world every game, and that gives them a real chance to win.

3) Do players who have already had COVID-19 have a better chance of being added to rosters as mid-season replacements?

If a team is looking to add a free-agent player mid-season, it’s to cover for an injury or fill in a need for some reason. What teams don’t want is to bring in that player then have him miss time due to the coronavirus.

In an interesting bit of reporting, our old friend Tom Haberstroh, writing for True Hoop, got some sources to say that teams are looking for players who have already had COVID-19 for their mid-season replacements.

But the web of [NBA coronavirus] rules includes—two teams and the NBA, itself, confirm—a loophole for players who have tested positive within the last 90 days. They can join your team after only a two-day quarantine. Otherwise newly signed players would have to be properly quarantined for six days, or in some cases even longer, before taking the court. (One such example: The Brooklyn Nets signed guard Iman Shumpert this past Saturday and he still hasn’t been cleared)…

An agent told TrueHoop that he heard from the Celtics, who were looking for, in the agent’s words, “a free agent center who had recently recovered from COVID-19.”

An NBA general manager who spoke with TrueHoop put it this way: “[Getting COVID-19] is, unfortunately, like getting a FastPass at Disney World.”

There are no official statistics on how many players have had and recovered from the COVID-19, and the league has kept it that way. It does not have a different set of rules on the road or before games for players who have had the disease because it would incentivize getting the disease, which is a moral hazard on multiple levels.

But apparently it’s an advantage to have had the disease if a guy wants to get signed as a free agent.

Welcome to the 2020-21 NBA season. At least we’re having an All-Star Game.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.