All-Star Game

Eastern Rumors: Embiid, Wade, Kander, Magic

Joel Embiid‘s ability to work out this summer without restrictions may turn out to be the Sixers’ biggest offseason improvement, as Derek Bodner of The Athletic details. Embiid has always been in rehab mode from foot or knee injuries during his previous offseasons, Bodner notes. This summer, Embiid has been working with renown skills coach Drew Hanlen to refine his offensive game, which could vault Embiid into a greater level of dominance and consistency, Bodner continues. Hanlen has put a great emphasis on making Embiid virtually unstoppable in the low post while also creating more open looks for his teammates and committing fewer turnovers, Bodner adds.

We have more from around the Eastern Conference:

  • If Dwyane Wade returns to the Heat, he’ll be part of the rotation, according to Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Adding Wade to the backcourt would create a logjam that would likely cut dramatically into Tyler Johnson‘s minutes, Winderman adds. Wade has indicated if he plays next season, it will be with the Heat.
  • Former Pistons strength and conditioning coach Arnie Kander has turned down a position with the franchise but will remain in a consultant’s role, Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press tweets. Kander, who worked with the team for 23 seasons, has given the front office input on its search for a new medical director and has also been involved in Reggie Jackson‘s offseason training, Ellis continues. Last season’s director of sports medicine and head trainer, Jon Ishop, is no longer with the organization, Ellis adds.
  • The Magic will not host the All-Star Game until at least 2024, Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel reports. The franchise put in a bid to host the 2023 All-Star Weekend and were informed by league officials that another location will be selected, Robbins continues. The sites for the next three All-Star Games have already been set, starting with Charlotte next season, and Orlando can’t host in 2022 because of a major convention in the city, Robbins adds.

And-Ones: All-Star Draft, Team USA, G League

While it’s not clear how much the new format was responsible for the NBA’s best and most competitive All-Star Game in years, commissioner Adam Silver was happy with the result, telling ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne that he was appreciative of the players and thought the game was “incredible.” Silver also suggested that fans’ biggest complaint about this year’s All-Star draft format will likely be addressed for next year’s event.

“When we sat with the union and we came up with this format, we all agreed, let’s not turn something that’s 100% positive into a potential negative to any player,” Silver said. “But then … maybe we’re overly conservative, because then we came out of there, and the players were, ‘We can take it. We’re All-Stars. Let’s have a draft.’ So it sounds like we’re going to have a televised draft next year.”

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

Kemba Walker Replaces Kristaps Porzingis On All-Star Team

Hornets point guard Kemba Walker has been named as a reserve from the Eastern Conference for the 2018 NBA All-Star game, the team announced in a press release. Walker joins Team LeBron, replacing Knicks star Kristaps Porzingis, who suffered a season-ending torn ACL on Tuesday.

Walker, 27, is in his seventh NBA season and will appear in his second consecutive All-Star game. In 51 games this season, Walker has averaged 22.6 PPG, 5.8 APG, 3.4 RPG for Charlotte. Walker’s name circulated in trade rumors leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline but he ultimately stayed put with the Hornets.

Injuries have hit Team LeBron hard as Walker is now the fourth replacement to join the squad. Kevin Love (broken left hand) was replaced by Heat guard Goran DragicDeMarcus Cousins (torn Achilles) was replaced by Thunder forward Paul George; and John Wall (knee surgery) was replaced by Pistons center Andre Drummond.

Contestants For Three-Point, Skills, Dunk Contests Announced

The NBA has announced the participants for the Three-Point Shootout, Skills Challenge, and Slam Dunk Contest set to take place the night before the 2018 NBA All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

The Three-Point Shootout will include Wayne Ellington (Heat), Bradley Beal (Wizards), Devin Booker (Suns), Paul George (Thunder), Eric Gordon (Rockets), Tobias Harris (Clippers), Kyle Lowry (Raptors) and Klay Thompson (Warriors). Thompson (2016) and Gordon (2017) have won the competition the past two years.

In the Skills Challenge, the contestants include Jamal Murray (Nuggets), Kristaps Porzingis (Knicks), Joel Embiid (76ers), Al Horford (Celtics), Spencer Dinwiddie (Nets), Lauri Markkanen (Bulls), Donovan Mitchell (Jazz), and Lou Williams (Clippers). This lineup includes three 2018 All-Stars with Porzingis (the defending Skills champion), Emiid, and Horford. The field also includes two rookies with Markkanen and Mitchell.

Finally, the Dunk Contest features Aaron Gordon (Magic), Victor Oladipo (Pacers), Larry Nance Jr. (Lakers) and Dennis Smith Jr. (Mavericks). Gordon is going for his first Dunk Contest victory in his third attempt. Oladipo competed in the 2015 Dunk Contest; Nance will follow in his father’s footsteps to compete in the event; Smith, a rookie, is entering his first.

Goran Dragic To Replace Kevin Love In ASG

The Heat finally have an All-Star, with the NBA announcing today in a press release that Miami point guard Goran Dragic has been named to the All-Star Game as a replacement for injured Cavalier Kevin Love. Dragic will join LeBron James‘ squad for this month’s event.

In addition to being the first All-Star appearance for Dragic, it will be the first All-Star nod for any player on the Heat’s roster. Miami is currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference with a 29-22 record, despite not having any players who had been All-Stars at any time in their NBA careers — until today.

Dragic, 31, is enjoying another productive season for the Heat, averaging 17.0 PPG, 4.8 APG, and 4.1 RPG, with a .437/.351/.757 shooting line. He’s the third injury replacement named to the All-Star Game, joining Paul George, who replaced DeMarcus Cousins, and Andre Drummond, who will sub in for John Wall.

Dragic beat out the likes of Ben Simmons and Kemba Walker, among others, for the right to be one of this year’s 12 Eastern Conference All-Stars. As the NBA’s announcement explains, the Heat point guard “received the most voting points from NBA head coaches among Eastern Conference players who were not selected as reserves or already named as an injury replacement.”

NBA Increases Bonuses For All-Star Winners

In the wake of 2017’s NBA All-Star Game, a 192-182 contest that featured the usual lack of defensive effort, the NBA made changes to the format, moving away from the East vs. West matchup. According to Marcus Thompson of The Athletic, the league has also made another under-the-radar tweak, as players on the winning team will now earn $100K rather than $50K.

ESPN’s Chris Haynes goes into more detail on the change in a story of his own, noting that the difference between the bonuses for the winners ($100K) and losers ($25K) is significantly wider than it was before. The league presumably hopes to make the game a little more competitive by adding that extra incentive to win it.

According to Haynes, many All-Star players actually weren’t aware of the increase in bonus money for the winning team. However, several All-Stars who spoke to ESPN and were informed of the additional incentive believe it should have an impact on the level of play on the court.

“I would like to think so,” Celtics big man Al Horford told Haynes. “I think guys will definitely take the game more seriously. In the last couple of years, the games haven’t been good, and we’re all aware of that. Regardless of that, I think guys are going to come out and compete. But that’s a big incentive, for sure. We’re going to be diving for loose balls out there.”

Kyrie Irving added that the jump from $50K to $100K represents a “huge difference,” with Klay Thompson suggesting that “it will definitely help.” Stephen Curry was also in favor of the change, though he had a few other thoughts on how to improve All-Star weekend.

“An idea I have is shortening the day. The entire game day is the biggest drag for us,” Curry said to ESPN. “Media [obligations], sponsorship appearances, [extravagant, prolonged] All-Star introductions. It’s obviously a made-for-TV event. After all that, then there’s the game. That’s a lot. But all the changes should help make the game a little better.”

2018 NBA All-Star Game Reserves Announced

Kristaps Porzingis, Victor Oladipo, Bradley Bealand Karl-Anthony Towns will join Joel Embiid (voted in as a starter) as first time All-Stars after the league announced its reserves for the 2018 contest (via NBA.com).

In addition to Towns, Russell Westbrook, LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Damian Lillard, and Klay Thompson got in as reserves in the Western Conference.

In the Eastern Conference, John Wall, Kyle Lowry, Al Horford, and Kevin Love join Porzingis, Beal and Oladipo as reserves.

The league previously announced that the format for this year’s contest will differ from how its been in the past. The two players with the most tallies from the All-Star starter vote will be named as captains and they will draft a team from the remaining starters and reserves. LeBron James and Stephen Curry earned the honors of being names captains this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan, Kyrie Irving, and Embiid were named starters alongside James in the East. Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Durant, and James Harden were selected along with Curry to be the Western Conference All-Stars.

The West has several notable players who didn’t receive an invite, including Paul George, Chris Paul, and Lou Williams, while the East also had a few snubs, such as Andre Drummond and Ben Simmons.

Do you agree with this year’s All-Star selections? Would you have liked to see another player in the game? If so, who are you leaving out? Please let us know your thoughts in the comment section below. We look forward to what you have to say!

Celtics Rumors: Thomas, All-Star Game, Irving, Schedule

Celtics GM Danny Ainge is baffled by Isaiah Thomas recent criticism of the team’s former medical staff, he said in a weekly radio interview that was relayed by Ben Rohrbach of Yahoo Sports. Thomas called out the Celtics in an ESPN interview, saying he would have sat out last postseason if he knew he’d have a long-term recovery from his hip injury. Speaking on 98.5 FM The Sports Hub, Ainge said he was blindsided by the comment. “As you remember, he had a pretty special playoff run, including a 53-point game, but I really don’t remember what he’s referring to,” Ainge said. The Celtics did not retain their trainer and strength coach but Ainge declared it had nothing to do with their handling of Thomas’ injury.

In other news regarding the Celtics:

  • The team hasn’t hosted an All-Star Game since 1964 but owner Wyc Grousbeck is hoping to change that, Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe reports. The team has been reluctant to apply for hosting the annual event because of the way the league distributes tickets but Grousbeck is willing to accept its terms. “We can’t get all of our fans into the game, all of our season ticket-holders,” Grousbeck said. “We have a season ticket-holder wait list and relatively few of our season ticket-holders would be able to come to a game that we host. But nonetheless, we’re going to get a (application) package and see if we can work something out.” The earliest that could happen is 2022 because the league has already booked other venues prior to that year.
  • Coach Brad Stevens has managed Kyrie Irving‘s minutes and the star point guard is fine with that approach, according to A. Sherrod Blakely of NBCSports.com. Irving is averaging 32.2 MPG, compared to 35.1 MPG in his last season with the Cavaliers. “Whatever is needed, I’m willing to do for the team,” Irving told the assembled media. “And I know Brad will echo the same things, so I trust what he’s got going on.”
  • Fatigue is a factor in the Celtics’ inconsistent play of late, Chris Forsberg of ESPN notes. Boston has endured a front-loaded schedule  in which it plays half of its games in 79 days, Forsberg points out. The Celtics will play their final 41 games over a 97-day stretch.

Atlantic Notes: Sixers, Celtics, Stauskas, LeVert

For all the talk about “The Process,” the Sixers are lagging behind several other organizations that started rebuilding around the same time, writes Keith Pompey of The Philadelphia Inquirer. The first year of former GM Sam Hinkie’s plan to collect high draft picks was 2013/14, when the team posted the league’s second-worst record at 19-63, trailing only the Bucks. The Magic were next, followed by the Celtics, Jazz, Lakers, Kings, Pistons and Cavaliers. Cleveland has won a title since then, aided by the return of LeBron James, while Milwaukee, Boston, Utah and Detroit have all turned into perennial playoff contenders.

The Sixers, on the other hand, continue to flounder. They lost their fifth straight game Saturday and have dropped nine of their last 10. Center Joel Embiid remains a health risk, with back tightness and knee problems forcing him to miss eight of the team’s first 32 games. While other teams were able to improve through trades and free agent signings, Pompey notes that Philadelphia didn’t receive much in return for lottery picks Nerlens Noel and Jahlil Okafor, while the team’s first significant opportunity in free agency is coming next summer.

There’s more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Celtics are hoping to host their first All-Star Game in more than a half century, according to Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. The game hasn’t been in Boston since 1964, partly because of concerns that season-ticket holders wouldn’t have access to their regular seats, but Washburn writes that management is proceeding with plans to apply for hosting privileges. “We are going to ask for an application package and we’ll see what happens,” said majority owner Wyc Grousbeck. The next available opening is 2022.
  • The trade that brought Okafor to the Nets reunited former college teammates Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, writes Tom Dowd of NBA.com. They were part of a talented freshman class that helped Michigan reach the NCAA title game in 2012/13. The former college roommates now have adjoining lockers at Barclays Center. “First class organization,” Stauskas said. “I love it here. I think the thing that I enjoy most is how seriously they take skill development. They’re huge on getting better every day, especially taking care of your body.”
  • The Raptors have the second best record in the East and are winning without excess wear and tear on their star players, tweets Bobby Marks of ESPN. Because of an improved bench, Kyle Lowry is playing 32.9 minutes per night, his lowest total in five seasons, and DeMar DeRozan is at 34.3 minutes, the lowest since he was a rookie.

Central Notes: All-Star Game, Frye, Mirotic, Pistons

After today’s announcement that the Pacers will host the 2021 All-Star Game, the Cavaliers have been assured that they will be an all-star host soon afterward, reports Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com“Cleveland is a great basketball city with some of the NBA’s most passionate fans and we look forward to holding our week of NBA All-Star events in Cleveland in the near future,” read a statement from NBA Deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, who promised that the game will be coming to Cleveland “in the near future.”

Quicken Loans Arena is going through a $140MM renovation, and the Cavs were hoping to be named All-Star hosts in 2020 or 2021. David Gilbert, chief executive officer for the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission, said up to 14 cities were competing for the 2021 game.

There’s more tonight from the Central Division:

  • Cavaliers center/forward Channing Frye is making changes to his game to earn more playing time, relays Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Known primarily as a long-distance shooter, Frye has taken the ball to the basket more often this season. “I said, ‘Well, two Finals and I haven’t played a whole lot so I have to evolve something,'” Frye commented. With free agency approaching next summer, Frye is averaging 4.5 points in 13 minutes per game.
  • In four games since returning to the Bulls, Nikola Mirotic has shown why he won a starting job during preseason, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. Mirotic had 29 points and nine rebounds tonight as Chicago, which was a league-worst 3-20 in his absence, improved to 4-0 with him in the lineup. “He does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the box score,” said coach Fred Hoiberg. “He’s in the right spot defensively, he’s in a stance, he knows where to be, he understands the game plan.”
  • Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy is hoping to shake up the team after a seven-game losing streak has brought Detroit back to the middle of the Eastern Conference, writes Rod Beard of The Detroit News. Van Gundy recently replaced Stanley Johnson with Reggie Bullock in the starting lineup, and he indicated more changes are coming tomorrow, although they may not involve personnel. “It won’t be anything like a new offense, but we will shift our priorities a little bit in terms of play-calling — run some things more, run some things less and not run some things,” he said. “Our offensive approach hasn’t been as good as it could be to help these guys. Nothing different defensively; we just have to play it harder and better.”