Three things to know: All-Star teams are set; Team LeBron is stacked


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) The All-Star teams are set… and Team LeBron is stacked

If you’re picking from 24 of the top players in the game — as LeBron James and Kevin Durant did Thursday night when picking their teams for the All-Star Game this Sunday in Atlanta — you can’t really go wrong. There are no bad choices.

But damn, Team LeBron is STACKED.

LeBron used his first pick on reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, the one after that on former MVP Stephen Curry, and it went from there. What did Antetokounmpo think?

Here are the All-Star Game teams:

Team LeBron

• LeBron James, captain (Lakers)
• Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)
• Stephen Curry (Warriors)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Ben Simmons (76ers)
Chris Paul (Suns)
Jaylen Brown (Celtics)
Paul George (Clippers)
Domantas Sabonis (Pacers)
Rudy Gobert (Jazz)

Team Durant

Kyrie Irving (Nets)
Joel Embiid (76ers)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
Bradley Beal (Wizards)
Jayson Tatum (Celtics)

James Harden (Nets)
Devin Booker (Suns)
Zion Williamson (Pelicans)
Zach LaVine (Bulls)
Julius Randle (Knicks)
Nikola Vucevic (Magic)
Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)

Durant (who will not play in Atlanta due to the hamstring issues that have sidelined him for weeks) did what every captain of an All-Star team has done — used his picks first on his teammates. He took Irving with his first pick of the starters, then Harden with his first pick of the reserves. The Nets are together.

The interesting twist of the process was Mitchell and Gobert of the Jazz being the last two players selected — Charles Barkley called it “slander” against the NBA’s best team so far this season. LeBron’s answer dumped salt on the sounds of Jazz fans:

“There’s no slander to the Utah Jazz,” LeBron said. “You’ve got to understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. As great as Karl Malone and John Stockton was, we would never pick those guys in video games.”


The All-Star Game — with the Skills Challenge and Three-Point Competition beforehand, then the Dunk Contest at halftime — takes place Sunday and will be broadcast on TNT.

2) Jrue Holiday caps wild ending, gets Bucks the win against Grizzlies

Ja Morant thought he hit the game-winner for the Grizzlies. Morant drove to his left, got into the middle of the lane, split the defense, got to the rim, and hit the acrobatic lay-up — Memphis was up 111-110 with :07.3 seconds left.

That was enough time for Jrue Holiday to do this.

The Bucks held on for the 112-11 win. It helped that Milwaukee was out of timeouts and was forced to play fast, which caught the Memphis defense scrambling, and Holiday took advantage getting to a spot he is comfortable.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 26 points, 11 rebounds, and eight assists, while Khris Middleton scored 22 and added 10 boards for Milwaukee. Morant scored 35, while Dillon Brooks added 23 points for the Grizzlies.

3) Damian Lillard is NBA’s best clutch player — scores 10 in a row to get Blazers win

He probably will not win it, but Damian Lillard has to be in any MVP conversation this season, in part because his clutch play has the Trail Blazers winning.

Lillard did it again on Thursday night. Sacramento hot just gotten a Harrison Barnes‘ layup and Buddy Hield three to go up 108-103 with 3:49 left. Then it was Lillard time — he responded with 10 straight points (including a couple of threes). With just more than a minute left, it was 115-108 Portland, and it would hang on to win.

Lillard finished with 44 points on the night.

More impressively, Portland is 21-14 heading into the All-Star break, having had to play most of the first half of the season without their second and third best players — CJ McCollum (who has been cleared for contact workouts and should be back not long after the break) and Jusuf Nurkic — both out with injuries.

Portland has been one of the “luckiest” teams in the NBA this season — it has the net rating of an 18-17 team (via Cleaning the Glass; Basketball-Reference suggests 17-18), but the Blazers have an additional three or four victories because Lillard keeps winning them clutch games.

Portland sits fifth in the West and needs to keep winning those close games to hold on to that spot after the break.

Brad Stevens confirms Joe Mazzulla will return as Celtics coach


Despite the sting of losing to the No. 8 seed Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals, don’t expect sweeping changes in Boston. Not to the Celtics’ coaching staff and not to the roster.

Celtics president of basketball operations Brad Steven made that clear in his end-of-season press conference. It starts with bringing back Joe Mazzulla, which was expected after he was given a multi-year contract extension during the season. Stevens was asked if Mazzulla was the right person to lead the Celtics after an uneven season (hat tip NBC Sports Boston).

“Yeah, I think he is,” Stevens said. “I thought he did a really good job with this group. Everybody’s going to overreact to the best players and coaches after every game. That’s always the way it is. We know that going in, so we have to be able to judge things on the whole.

“He’s a terrific leader, he’ll only get better at anything that he can learn from this year, because he’s constantly trying to learn. And he’s accountable. Those leadership qualities are hard to find. I know they’re easy to talk about, but when you can show all those through the expectations and the microscope that he was under, that’s hard to do. Our players, our staff, everybody around him believe(s) in him, and we’ve got to do our best to support him going forward.”

The expectation is that veteran coaches — ideally at least one person with NBA head coaching experience — will be added to Mazzulla’s staff to help with the maturation process of the young coach. But he will be back.

Stevens also was asked about Jaylen Brown, who is eligible for a supermax extension of around $295 million over five years (his making All-NBA made him eligible for 35% of the salary cap). Stevens was limited in what he could say due to (archaic) tampering rules.

“I’ve had nothing but great conversations with Jaylen, but we can’t talk about all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I’m not allowed to talk about the contract details, let alone the extension because it’s not of that time yet right now. His window is between July 1 and October or whatever it is.

“But I can say without a doubt that we want Jaylen to be here. He’s a big part of us. We believe in him. I’m thankful for him. I’m really thankful for when those guys (Jayson Tatum and Brown) have success, they come back to work. And when they get beat, they own it and come back to work. I know that’s what they’re about, and that’s hard to find. Kinda like what I talked about with leadership earlier. Those qualities aren’t for everyone. Jaylen had a great year, All-NBA year and he’s a big part of us moving forward in our eyes.”

Despite Brown’s struggles against the Heat, it’s a no-brainer for the Celtics to retain the 26-year-old All-NBA player entering his prime. They should offer him the full supermax, and his public comments made it sound like that’s what he expects. Mess around in negotiations and try to get Brown to take less than the full max and then the threat of Brown leaving becomes more real. Only one player has ever rejected a supermax extension: Kawhi Leonard when he was trying to force a trade. (If Boston puts the full 35% max on the table and Brown rejects it, then the game changes and they have to trade him this summer, but don’t bet on him walking away from more than a quarter of a billion dollars).

There will be changes on the Celtics roster, but expect Brown and Mazzulla to return.

Purdue’s Zach Edey headlines list of players to withdraw from NBA Draft

Fairleigh Dickinson v Purdue
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The winner of the 2023 John R. Wooden Award and the Naismith College Player of the Year Award is headed back for another year in the college ranks. And it’s the right move.

Zach Edey headlines the list of 181 players who withdrew their names from the NBA Draft, and he is headed back to Purdue for another season. He confirmed it on Twitter in his own way.

Edey averaged 22.3 points a game on 60.7% shooting and 12.9 rebounds a game last season for the Boilermakers, and his measurements at the NBA Draft Combine were hard to ignore — 7-3¼ barefoot, with a 7-10½ wingspan. However, his lack of elite athleticism, questions about his ability to defend in space, and an old-school, near-the-basket game are not natural fits with where the NBA is trending. He was expected to get picked in the back half of the second round (meaning no guaranteed contract), if at all.

With that, he made the right decision to return to college. If the Toronto native can arrange a new student visa that allows him to better capitalize on NIL money, a return to Purdue is likely the right financial decision as well.

Here are some of the biggest names among the 181 who withdrew from the NBA Draft (via Jonathan Givony of ESPN), with all projected to go after No. 40 or later:

Trey Alexander (Creighton)
Reece Beekman (Virginia)
Adem Bona (UCLA)
Jalen Bridges (Baylor)
Tristan da Silva (Colorado)
Zach Edey (Purdue)
Coleman Hawkins (Illinois)
DaRon Holmes (Dayton)
Josiah-Jordan James (Tennessee)
Dillon Jones (Weber State)
Judah Mintz (Syracuse)
Dillon Mitchell (Texas)
Terrence Shannon (Illinois)

The NBA Draft takes place on June 22.

Lakers rumored to prefer sign-and-trade options for D’Angelo Russell, eye Fred VanVleet

2023 Play-In Tournament - Chicago Bulls v Toronto Raptors
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D'Angelo Russell helped the Lakers turn their season around after the All-Star break. He provided needed shot creation at the point, averaged 17.4 points per game while shooting 41.4% from 3, and generally fit nicely on the court. However, his limitations — particularly on the defensive end — were exposed in the playoffs, especially by the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

Russell is an unrestricted free agent and the Lakers are faced with choices: Re-sign him, let him walk, or maybe find a sign-and-trade that can bring back a player who is a better fit for a Lakers roster with championship aspirations next season. The Lakers would ideally like the sign-and-trade option, suggests Jovan Buha of The Athletic.

My read on the situation is that the Lakers would prefer to use D’Angelo Russell in a sign-and-trade, but I’m not sure the market is there.

Landing Kyrie Irving for Russell is shaping up to be a pipe dream, especially with Dallas unlikely to help Los Angeles out. Fred VanVleet, a Klutch client, looms as a possibility, but adding him would require Toronto to agree to terms with Russell (or take on the Beasley and Bamba contracts).

Forget about a Kyrie Irving sign-and-trade with the Lakers for Russell, that appears off the table (unless the Lakers add so many sweeteners Dallas can’t say no… and didn’t the Lakers just gut their roster for a guard in Russell Westbrook?)

Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times adds this.

Fred VanVleet’s name has been mentioned since even before he joined Klutch Sports, though the Lakers could again be in a position where they’d be forced to part with one or more draft picks in a deal. Russell’s postseason struggles were probably a little overblown after a disastrous Western Conference finals, but expect the Lakers to look at upgrade options. There’s still a chance Russell returns on a good deal and the Lakers actually get the continuity they’ve spoken about building.

VanVleet has a $22.8 million player option he is widely expected to opt out of seeking more money and years. He averaged 19.3 points and 7.2 assists a game last season, is a respectable defender, and is a former All-Star and NBA champion.

The questions start with, what are Toronto’s plans? They have yet to hire a new head coach after firing Nick Nurse, and there isn’t a sense of whether they will try to re-sign VanVleet, extend Pascal Siakam and run it back, break the entire thing up, or travel a middle ground reworking the roster. Dreams of a sign-and-trade only work if the Raptors play along. And, if the Raptors come around to consider a sign-and-trade for VanVleet, do they want Russell in that deal? Plus, the Lakers likely have to throw in the last first-round pick they can trade to get Toronto even to consider it.

All of which is to say, it’s a long shot VanVleet is a Laker. Not impossible, but not likely.

The smart money is on the Lakers re-signing Russell and considering trade options at next February’s deadline or next summer, if they feel it’s time to move on.

Celtics’ Payton Pritchard reportedly wants a trade this summer

2023 NBA Playoffs - Boston Celtics v Miami Heat
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Payton Pritchard saw his role as a reserve guard with the Celtics shrink this season, which may have had less to do with the changeover to Joe Mazzulla as coach and more to do with the addition of Sixth Man of the Year Malcolm Brogdon.

Either way, Pritchard doesn’t like it and wants to be traded this offseason, reports Jay King and Jared Weiss of The Athletic (in a must-read breakdown of the Celtics’ season and where they ultimately fell short.

With the new onerous CBA rules looming after next season, the front office will likely have to decide in the next 12 months whether it can afford its expensive veteran depth. Payton Pritchard has made it clear he hopes to be traded this summer, according to multiple team sources, so will the Celtics move him if they trade one of their core guards?

Pritchard may not get his wish for the financial reasons mentioned by King and Weiss — Boston has some hard decisions to make coming up. For next season, the Celtics are already $4 million into the luxury tax with 12 people on the roster, and that is without re-signing Grant Williams (if they can) or thinking about the super-max contract Jaylen Brown is about to sign that will kick in for the 2024-25 season. With the draconian threat of the second “lead” tax apron looming in a year, the Celtics must trim salary. One way to do that this summer is to trade one of Marcus Smart, Derrick White or Malcolm Brogdon, which is what is widely expected to happen around the league.

With one of those three gone, minutes open up for Pritchard, who has a team option for $4 million next season. That’s a great value contract the Celtics likely want to keep.

Meaning Pritchard may not get his wish to be sent out of Boston, but if he ends up staying, he should see more run next season.