All-Star Game

And-Ones: Jokubaitis, Banton, LeBron, R. Paul

Point guard Rokas Jokubaitis has declared for this year’s draft, Lithuanian journalist Donatas Urbonas tweets. Jokubaitis is currently ranked No. 42 on ESPN’s Best Available list. Playing for Žalgiris Kaunas of the Lithuanian Basketball League and the EuroLeague, the 20-year-old averaged 7.0 PPG and 2.5 APG in 20.9 MPG in 31 games this season.

We have more from the basketball world:

  • Nebraska’s Dalano Banton has declared for the draft, according to his Twitter feed. The sophomore swingman averaged 9.6 PPG, 5.9 RPG and 3.9 APG last season. Banton played a season at Western Kentucky.
  • LeBron James‘ agent, Rich Paul, explained in a feature written by the New Yorker’s Isaac Chotiner why his top client didn’t skip this year’s All-Star Game after expressing dismay about playing the game during the pandemic. “You have to value what drives our business,” Paul said. “All-Star weekend is a very important part of our business. To not have the All-Star Game, or not have all-stars playing in the All-Star Game, I think that would be a form of doing bad business. You don’t have to like it, and you don’t have to always feel up to doing something.”
  • In the same piece, a current NBA general manager said James’ decision to leave Cleveland for Miami, which ushered in an era of player empowerment, was the “worst thing” to happen to not only the NBA but sports in general. “Player empowerment is a catchall for the fact that the league has done a terrible job of empowering teams,” he said. “The players have all of the leverage in every situation. I think it’s the worst thing that ever happened to professional sports on all levels.” 

And-Ones: ASG, Embiid, Simmons, J. Young, Singh

When word broke on Sunday that Sixers stars Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons had been ruled out of the All-Star Game due to being in close contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus, there was some concern that the NBA was at risk of its worst-case scenario – a COVID-19 outbreak at All-Star weekend – playing out. However, Embiid and Simmons didn’t have any contact with their fellow All-Stars and the game was able to take place as planned, with no other players affected.

Now, the NBA is expressing confidence that its mini-bubble in Atlanta for the All-Star Game was a success. As Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press writes, the league said in a statement on Monday that all players, coaches, and officials involved in the event were tested three times in Atlanta, including right before the game, and there were no positives.

As for Embiid and Simmons, there’s no indication so far that their close contact with a barber who tested positive will result in positive tests for them as well. Head coach Doc Rivers said after the game that his two stars continued to register negative tests and that he hopes that continues for a few more days (Twitter link via Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer).

“Both of them, their biggest concern would be if they could play the first two games when we get back,” Rivers said, per Reynolds. “So we don’t know the answer to that yet. That’s going to be really important for us. It would be tough to start the second half of the year and not have either one.”

Here are more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Former NBA first-round pick James Young has signed with Hapoel Tel Aviv, the Israeli team announced today (Twitter link; hat tip to Sportando). It’s the second stint in Israel for Young, who played for Maccabi Haifa in 2019/20. The veteran wing played for the Westchester Knicks in this year’s G League bubble but hasn’t appeared in an NBA game since 2018.
  • In an in-depth piece for HoopsHype, Yossi Gozlan explores what each team can and should do at the trade deadline, including which clubs can afford to be aggressive buyers or sellers, and which ones have more limited trade options.
  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post takes a closer look at 20-year-old G League forward Princepal Singh‘s goal of becoming the first Indian-born player to appear in an NBA game, and why his development is important for a league trying to establish a foothold in India.

Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons Won’t Play In All-Star Game Due To Contact Tracing

10:53am: Embiid and Simmons have been ruled out of tonight’s game, a source tells Wojnarowski (Twitter link). Their pre-game session with the media has been canceled, tweets Steve Popper of Newsday.

10:48am: The barber has returned a second positive test, according to Wojnarowski (Twitter link). The final decision will be up to the NBA, but it appears likely that Embiid and Simmons will be held out of tonight’s game.

10:13am: Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons may be forced to miss tonight’s All-Star Game because of contact tracing, tweets Shams Charania of The Athletic. Both players were exposed to a person who likely has COVID-19 before they arrived in Atlanta, sources tell Charania.

The exposure involves the players’ personal barber, who tested positive for the virus and will take another test, Charania adds (via Twitter). Embiid and Simmons flew to Atlanta on private planes and had no contact with other players or anyone else in the bubble atmosphere surrounding the game.

The Sixers teammates will do media sessions from their rooms prior to the game, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski (Twitter link). A decision on whether they will play will be made once the barber’s condition is more certain.

Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers, who will coach Team Durant, confirms the reports and tells Marc Stein of The New York Times that “it’s not looking great” for Embiid and Simmons to participate (Twitter link). Both players are currently isolated in their hotel rooms. Rivers is waiting for guidance from the league and isn’t sure if Embiid and Simmons will have to remain in Atlanta if they are not permitted to play, adds Tim Bontemps of ESPN (Twitter link).

“I would feel more for them if they had COVID,” Rivers said. “They get to make the team still, and they’re on the team … But you want to play and them being in a jersey.” (Twitter link from Mark Medina of USA Today)

Embiid is a member of Team Durant, while Simmons was drafted by Team LeBron, so both teams will have 11 players if the two 76ers stars can’t participate.

Both players are having exceptional seasons for the Sixers, who lead the East with a 20-12 record. Embiid is among the mid-season favorites for MVP, averaging 30.2 points, 11.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks through 30 games. Simmons averages 16.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.6 assists per night and is one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.

It’s not clear how the potential exposure to the virus will affect their availability once the season resumes. Philadelphia doesn’t play again until Thursday night, and both players may be required to quarantine if the barber’s positive test is confirmed.

Mike Conley Replaces Devin Booker In All-Star Game

Jazz guard Mike Conley has been named by Commissioner Adam Silver to replace injured Suns guard Devin Booker on Team Durant in Sunday’s All-Star Game, according to a league press release.

It’s the first All-Star appearance for Conley, who is in his 14th NBA season. He’ll also sub for Booker in the 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game.

Conley is averaging 16.1 PPG and 5.7 APG in 29 games this season for Utah, which has the league’s best record at 27-9. He joins Jazz teammate Donovan Mitchell on Team Durant. Another Jazz starter, Rudy Gobert, is on Team LeBron.

Booker will miss the All-Star extravaganza due to a left knee sprain.  He had been named as an injury replacement for Lakers forward Anthony Davis.

According to NBA rules, when a player selected to the All-Star Game is unable to participate, the Commissioner shall choose a replacement from the same conference.

All-Star Teams Drafted By LeBron, KD

All-Star team captains LeBron James and Kevin Durant have each finished picking their squads for the March 7 All-Star game, via a live broadcast on TNT.

For the first round of the All-Star draft, the two former MVPs alternated picks among their fellow starters. With the first pick, James drafted reigning two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo. James’ Lakers frontcourt mate Anthony Davis will of course be absent as he continues to rehabilitate strained right calf injury.

A strained left hamstring will keep Durant off the floor during the actual All-Star game on Sunday, as well, but he still had the honor of making picks by benefit of being one of the two players receiving the most fan votes, along with James. Durant chose his fellow Net Kyrie Irving with the No. 2 pick.

When it came time to make picks for the second round of 2021 All-Star reserves, Durant drafted his other All-Star Nets teammate, James Harden. Meanwhile, James chose Damian Lillard, also his first pick from among the reserves in 2020.

Rudy Gobert (Team LeBron) and Donovan Mitchell (Team Durant), both players for the team with the best record in the NBA, the 27-9 Jazz, were the last two picks of the draft. James addressed the decision from his perspective on the broadcast, as recounted by Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“I just want to say something, because there’s no slander to the Utah Jazz,” James said. “But you guys got to understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. Even as great as [Hall of Fame Jazz power forward] Karl Malone and [Hall of Fame Jazz point guard] John Stockton were, we never would have picked those guys. Never.”

Here’s a full recap:

Team LeBron

Team Durant

NBA Announces 2020/21 Rising Stars Rosters

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the pared-down nature of the NBA’s 2021 All-Star weekend, a Rising Stars Game showcasing the league’s top rookies and sophomores won’t be played this year.

However, the league has still announced the rosters for the event, via NBA Top Shot, naming the 20 players who would have been selected to participate if the game was taking place. Here are those rosters:

U.S. Team:

World Team:

The 20-man group includes eight rookies and 11 sophomores. The 20th player, Porter, made the cut as a sophomore since he missed his entire rookie season in 2018/19 due to an injury — this is technically his third year of NBA service.

Simons, Stanley, Toppin To Compete In Dunk Contest

Anfernee Simons of the Trail Blazers, Cassius Stanley of the Pacers, and Obi Toppin of the Knicks will compete for the annual Slam Dunk title at halftime of the All-Star game on Sunday at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, the NBA announced in a press release.

Simons, a 6’3” guard, is averaging 8.2 PPG in his third NBA season. Stanley is a 6’5″ rookie guard on a two-way contract after being selected in the second round last fall. He recorded a maximum vertical leap of 44 inches in the 2020 draft combine. Toppin, a 6’9″ rookie forward and lottery pick, is averaging 4.6 PPG in 25 games off the bench.

The 3-Point Contest, which will be held prior to the game, has a lot more star power. Suns guard Devin Booker and Warriors guard Stephen Curry, former winners of the long-ball contest, head the list of participants. The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the Bulls’ Zach LaVine and the Jazz‘s Donovan Mitchell round out the six-man field.

The Skills Challenge, which will also be held prior to the game, also has plenty of All-Star firepower. Mavericks guard Luka Doncic and Suns guard Chris Paul head that six-man listKnicks forward Julius Randle, Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis, Magic center Nikola Vucevic and Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington round out the field.

And-Ones: All-Star Game, Olympics, Dunk Contest, SPACs

Speaking to Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press, NBA commissioner Adam Silver went into more detail on why the league felt compelled to hold an All-Star Game this season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Silver, who has previously cited fan engagement as a key reason for not canceling the game, reiterated that point in his conversation with Reynolds.

“It’s the largest factor, the amount of engagement we get from our fans around All-Star,” Silver said. “Historically, in the modern digital age, we have roughly 100 million people vote for our All-Stars, and we came out about the same this year even with a shortened voting period.”

While Silver has insisted that the NBA is thinking about its fans, it’s safe to assume the league is also considering the interests of one of its largest broadcast partners, Turner Sports. The All-Star Game is one of TNT’s biggest annual events, and the network presumably pushed for the game to take place. If the game had been canceled, the league likely would’ve had to renegotiate aspects of its TV agreement with Turner Sports.

“My personal view is very few people do anything just for the money,” Silver told Reynolds. “But at the same time, while we’re clearly in a health emergency in this country, we’re also in the midst of an economic crisis and that extends to the NBA as well. There are tens of thousands of people who are dependent on the NBA for their livelihoods. So, for those who say we’re doing it for the money, they could say the same thing about our entire operation, about the fact that we’re even playing our season.”

Let’s round up a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • Team USA’s pre-Olympic camp in Las Vegas is scheduled to coincide with the NBA’s conference finals this summer, meaning one of the many difficult decisions USA Basketball will face relates to whether certain players are worth waiting for, Reynolds writes in another Associated Press story. The program is expected to have to make a handful of contingency plans as it prepares its roster for the Tokyo Olympics.
  • Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, Celtics swingman Jaylen Brown, and Hornets forward Miles Bridges are among the players who have turned down invitations to participate in the 2021 slam dunk contest, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Pelicans star Zion Williamson also passed on the event, Haynes adds (via Twitter). The NBA will officially announce the participants for this year’s dunk contest, skills challenge, and 3-point contest tonight.
  • In a story for The New York Post, Josh Kosman and Thornton McEnery explore how the NBA will have soon have to make a decision on how to handle “special-purpose acquisition corporations” (SPACs) that want to purchase shares of franchises. The Warriors approached the NBA about selling a minority stake in their team to such a company, but withdrew that request when the league put off a decision, per Kosman and McEnery.

Northwest Notes: Hill, Campazzo, Covington, Porter Jr.

Thunder guard George Hill‘s right thumb will remain in a hard cast for another week or two, Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman tweets. Hill underwent surgery on February 2nd. He hasn’t played since January 24. In 14 games this season, all starts, he has posted averages of 11.8 points and 3.1 assists. Hill is a trade candidate with the Sixers among the teams reportedly interested in the veteran.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets backup guard Facundo Campazzo and rookie Markus Howard have been added to the team’s injury report due to contact tracing, according to Mike Singer of The Denver Post. Both players are likely out through the All-Star break, though the Nuggets could appeal. Campazzo is doubtful to play against Chicago on Monday. He’s averaging 5.5 PPG and 2.3 APG in 16.3 MPG in his first NBA season.
  • Trail Blazers forward Robert Covington, the NBA’s lone player from a Historically Black College and University, is expected to take part in the Skills Challenge prior to All-Star Game, according to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears. Covington attended Tennessee State is the only active player from a Historically Black College and University. The league is highlighting HBCUs on All-Star Weekend.
  • Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. is establishing himself as part of a Big Three with Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, Singer writes in a separate story. The young forward is averaging 16.0 PPG and 7.8 RPG over the last six games and is focusing on trying to become a more complete player.

Kevin Durant Will Still Serve As All-Star Captain

Kevin Durant won’t play in next Sunday’s All-Star Game and he may not even travel to Atlanta for the event, but he will remain one of the team captains, according to Malika Andrews of ESPN.

Durant hasn’t played since February 13 because of a strained left hamstring, and the decision to have him skip the All-Star Game was made this week after a follow-up MRI. The Nets‘ medical staff believes Durant needs additional time to return to full strength.

Durant will continue with rehab and will be re-evaluated after the break. Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis was selected as his replacement for the All-Star Game, while Celtics forward Jayson Tatum will replace KD as one of the game’s 10 starters.

As captain, Durant will participate in the All-Star draft along with LeBron James to choose which players will be on each team. The event will be televised March 4 on TNT.