LeBron James, Kevin Durant captains; NBA names All-Star Game starters

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Kevin Durant is back this season — and back at the top of the All-Star list.

Thursday, the NBA announced the starters for the 2021 All-Star game, a one-day event in Atlanta on March 7. The event may look and feel a little different because of the pandemic, but one thing has not changed:

The fans want to see LeBron James and Kevin Durant.

They got the most fan votes in each conference and will be the captains who select their All-Star teams, following the playground-style draft the NBA has used in recent years. First, the pair will choose their starters from the group of players listed below, then they will pick their reserves (who will be announced next Thursday and are selected by the coaches).

Here are the 2021 All-Star Game starters, as voted by the fans (50%), media (25%), and players (25%):

Western Conference

Stephen Curry (Warriors)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
• LeBron James (Lakers)
Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)

Eastern Conference

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
Bradley Beal (Wizards)
• Kevin Durant (Nets)
Joel Embiid (76ers)
Kyrie Irving (Nets)

Here are some notes on the selections:

• The “snub” controversy centers around Damian Lillard.

The fan portion of the vote (which counts for half) had Lillard as the third guard, outside the starting two behind Curry and Doncic. Both the media and players had Lillard in front of Doncic (both Dan Feldman and I had Lillard as a starter, as discussed in this week’s PBT Podcast). That left Lillard and Doncic tied in total points, but the fan vote breaks ties, so Doncic will start.

Lillard is a lock to make the team as a reserve. That’s not going to satisfy angry Blazers fans who didn’t think there was even a debate to be had.

• In the East frontcourt, Boston’s Jayson Tatum was fourth in the voting, followed by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (both from Miami).

• Among East guards, James Harden (Nets) was third, followed by Zach LaVine (Bulls) and Jaylen Brown (Celtics, the media had him second and a starter in front of Irving).

• In the West frontcourt, Anthony Davis (Lakers) was fourth, but he will likely not play in the game as he recovers from his strained calf. Paul George was fifth in the voting and Zion Williamson sixth.

• This is LeBron’s 17th All-Star appearance, third most all time (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has 19 appearances, Kobe Bryant 18). LeBron also has been a captain every year there has been teams chosen in this pick-your-team style.

• The All-Star day in Atlanta will feature a skills competition and three-point contest before the game, with a dunk contest at halftime. The game will have the Elam Ending used last year, where a final target score is set rather than having a timed fourth quarter.

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.

Cavaliers reportedly extend Dean Wade for three years, $18.5 million

Pregame of Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers
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This could be a steal for the Cavaliers — Dean Wade could be the starting three for the Cavaliers by the end of this season and he’s got a genuine upside.

The Cavaliers have extended Wade for three years, $18.5 million, a story where multiple sources were on top of it, including Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Wade’s counting stats aren’t eye-popping — 5.3 points a game and shooting 35.7% from 3 — but he is a quality wing defender who has improved as a floor spacer (sometimes setting picks and popping out). He’s a two-way player who has put in the work and could pass Isaac Okoro on the depth chart this season.

The Cavaliers have four All-Stars who will undoubtedly be starting for them — Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt, Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley up front — and the looming question is at the three. Wade has a chance this season to step into that role.

Which makes extending him at a little over $6 million a season a potential steal for the Cavaliers.