CSN Insiders NBA Notebook: What's best for Warriors isn't best for NBA fans

CSN Insiders NBA Notebook: What's best for Warriors isn't best for NBA fans

AN ARENA NEAR YOU – Welcome to the latest edition of the CSN Insiders notebook. It’s impossible to look at the NBA season these days and not think about playoffs or ping-pong balls. We’ve got plenty of time to talk about the lottery, so we’ll focus this week’s notebook on the former.

As much as teams want to be playing their best this time of year, they also want to go into the postseason as rested as possible.

The San Antonio Spurs have set the tone for this by sitting key players from time to time, often falling on the night of a nationally televised, hyped matchup.

But the Golden State Warriors took it to another level in resting four of their top-six players (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala) in a national televised matchup against – who else? – the San Antonio Spurs. And remember, they were already without Kevin Durant (knee) so this game had the potential to get ugly real quick.

Indeed, it was that kind of game as the Spurs had no trouble in beating Warriors 107-85.

It’s not hard to understand why Kerr would make such a decision. The San Antonio game was their 10th since the All-Star break, seven of which were on the road.

And of those three games at home, two came right after the break.  

He’s trying to win a title and he knows he needs his best players at their peak health-wise in the playoffs.

And with the grind that they were nearing the end of schedule-wise, there’s a certain amount of logic to his decision.

But here’s the problem.

What’s best for the Warriors isn’t necessarily what’s best for the NBA’s fan base which is getting tired of shelling out big bucks to see stars who don’t play because their coach felt they needed a night off.

And when you look at this 10-game stretch, had Kerr sat them for one game after their Feb. 28 at Washington, his players would have had four days off before returning to the floor which is one day less than they’ll have after skipping out on the Spurs game this past weekend.

But what makes the resting of players late in the season stink so much is that coaches often choose to do it for road games, knowing full well that game may be the only shot fans in that market get to see the marquee players of opposing teams.

“I genuinely feel bad for the fans who bought tickets to see Steph, Klay and Draymond play, but I have to do what I have to do,” Kerr told reporters after the game. “Our team has been through the ringer here the last couple of weeks. The travel has really worn us out. We needed to get through this game and I’m really happy those guys will get several days rest before our next game. We needed to do this.”

And the league needs to do something before fans decide to take matters into their own hands; specifically, their wallets.

There are only so many of these late season superstar no-shows fans will stomach before they’ll take their entertainment dollars and become no-shows themselves.

This week we start off with the hottest 1-2 punch in the NBA right now, John Wall and Bradley Beal. Or is it Beal and Wall? CSN Mid-Atlantic J. Michael gets us up to speed on the Wizards’ dynamic duo which has fueled one of the best in-season turnarounds we have seen this season.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

BEAL LEADING WIZARDS’ MAGICAL TURNAROUND THIS SEASON

After 10 games post-All-Star break, Bradley Beal has taken what he still considers a snub to the next level.

He’s averaging 28.3 points on 53.6% field-goal shooting, 44% from three-point range, 85.7% free throws, 3.9 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.2 steals.

His backcourt mate John Wall hasn’t been half-bad, either. His shooting percentages have dipped slightly but he’s at 24.4 points and 11.9 assists.

“They play both sides of the basketball,” coach Scott Brooks said. “They can score. They can help the team score with their play-making.”

The Wizards are averaging 115.1 points per game since the break, third-best in the NBA. – by J. Michael

 

SANDERS IN, BOGUT OUT

We hardly knew thee, Andrew Bogut!

Bogut’s career as a Cleveland Cavalier didn’t even last a minute - seriously.

The veteran big man, who signed with Cleveland after being waived by Dallas, suffered a broken bone in his leg just 58 seconds into this debut for Cleveland and was later ruled out for the rest of the season.

Still in need of rim protection, the Cavs waived Bogut and signed Larry Sanders who hasn’t played in an NBA game in two years.

“Everyone deserves a second chance and it looks like he wants to get back to playing the game he loves," LeBron James, speaking to reporters, said of Sanders recently. "You don't know how much you can get out of a guy that's been out so long, but I'd love to see it. Why not?"

At this point, adding Sanders is a high-reward, low-risk addition for the Cavs.

He replaces Bogut who gave them a whopping 58 seconds of court time, so it’s not like he’s got huge shoes to fill.

And if he can play even remotely close to the level he was at prior to walking away from the game, this will be a great addition for Cleveland not only now but also going forward.

Cleveland reportedly signed him to a two-year deal with a team option for next year. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

DISCIPLINE ISSUES IN ATLANTA?

The Hawks already punished starting point guard Dennis Schroder for being late in returning to the team after the All-Star break.

Now comes word that Thabo Sefolosha was benched recently because he was late to a shoot-around before playing the Raptors.

For a team that’s trying to find an identity through what has been a season of transition (Al Horford signed with Boston; Jeff Teague was traded to Indiana; Kyle Korver was traded to Cleveland), something like this doesn’t help.

Despite the suspensions, the Hawks are still finding ways to play winning basketball.

After finishing in a four-way tie for the third-best record in the East last season, the Hawks aren’t that far off a similar pace this season. They have won three straight and are currently fifth in the East. … The status of Mike Dunleavy is unknown as the Hawks try to compete for a top four seed. He has been out indefinitely since last month because of right ankle inflammation. Dunleavy was injured while playing with the Cleveland Cavaliers but was acquired in a trade for Kyle Korver. He’d missed four games before the deal was made. Not passing a physical has been known to void transactions (see Donatas Montiejunas trade from the Rockets to the Pistons being rejected last year) but Dunleavy’s injury seemed minor. – by J. Michael

 

RAPTORS IN TROUBLE WITHOUT KYLE LOWRY?

Toronto General Manager Masai Ujiri may have called Kyle Lowry’s right wrist surgery a temporary setback, but they’re in danger of dropping farther down the standings than anticipated.

Currently, the Raptors’ skid has included them 15 of their last 25 games as the Boston Celtics continue to put more and more distance between themselves and the Raptors for the best record in the Atlantic Division.

While there are a number of problems Toronto is grappling with now that Lowry will be out for a significant amount of time, too much one-on-everyone basketball has been a problem.

The Raptors’ reliance on so much isolation basketball from DeMar DeRozan to get buckets has strangled the offense without Lowry, their All-Star point guard there to help distribute and take off some of the scoring burden.

“DeMar is going to get his offensive game going no matter what, so we can’t just rely on him to carry us throughout the whole game,” coach Dwane Casey said recently. “We can’t just give him the ball and just go stand in the corner and be like, ‘Take us home.’”

In a 104-89 loss to the Miami Heat, the Raptors had an NBA-low seven assists on 33 field goals. In a loss two weeks ago to the Wizards, they were stuck on three assists in the fourth quarter until garbage time allowed them to inflate it to 11. The franchise low is six. – by J. Michael

 

WESTERN CONFERENCE

SPURS’ ALDRIDGE (HEART) OUT INDEFINITELY

Injuries are a given that every team has to go through to some degree.

But the absence of San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge is a much more serious matter.

He is out indefinitely because of what team officials describe as “a minor heart arrhythmia.”

“Somebody says a heart, you start thinking a little more possible long-term kind of stuff, that’s a little scary,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after San Antonio’s 112-102 loss at Oklahoma City last week, a game in which Aldridge told the team that “he felt a little odd.”

This was not the first time that Aldridge had a heart-related issue.

As a rookie in 2007, Aldridge was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome which is when extra electrical path in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat.

Aldridge’s heart condition was known when he came into the NBA, but wasn’t considered too serious because whenever he had an episode it didn’t keep him sidelined for very long.

Still, even with it not being a major setback in the past, that doesn’t make it any less scary for Aldridge or his teammates.

“It's a sensitive issue, so we want to make sure that he's fine," Spurs guard Manu Ginobili told reporters over the weekend. "The most important thing is to have him healthy. We'll wait as long as is necessary for him to feel secure and sure, and the team, too." – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

PARSONS SUFFERS YET ANOTHER KNEE INJURY

The Memphis Grizzlies were hopeful that Chandler Parsons’ long history of knee problems was a thing of the past.

Nope.

The veteran forward finds himself once again sidelined because of a knee-related injury. The Grizzlies announced that the 6-foot-9 forward is out indefinitely due to a partial meniscus tear in his left knee.

This is Parsons’ third injury to his left knee in three years, the kind of track record that no player wants to claim as their own.

You have to wonder just how many times can the 28-year-old work his way back on to the floor after what’s believed to be a season-ending injury.

“To suffer a setback like this after working so diligently to rebound from the injury to his right knee is obviously tough. That said, we know he will continue to work tirelessly to return to the court with his teammates and contribute,” said Memphis General Manager Chris Wallace. “Chandler has the full support of myself, Coach Fizz and the entire team and we are all focused on getting him healthy.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

GIBSON MAKING MOST OF STARTING ROLE WITH THUNDER

When the Thunder traded for Taj Gibson from Chicago, it became a matter of when – not if – he would be inserted into the starting lineup.

Head coach Billy Donovan made the call prior to the Thunder’s 102-92 win over San Antonio on March 9.

The move had a two-fold objective: To provide more toughness and experience with Gibson with the first unit, while strengthening the bench by pairing former starter Domas Sabonis with Enes Kanter

And to prove it was no fluke, Gibson helped Oklahoma City knock off Utah 112-104. Gibson had 15 points on 7-for-9 shooting along with six rebounds. Just as important, the Thunder were +22 when he was on the floor – tops among all players. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

RUBIO QUIETLY LEADING TIMBERWOLVES’ PLAYOFF PUSH

Karl-Anthony Towns has been playing at an all-NBA level since the All-Star break. And Andrew Wiggins has elevated his play of late as well. But Minnesota clawing its way back into the playoff picture has been fueled by the defense with major contributions from Ricky Rubio.

Since the All-Star break, Rubio has a defensive rating of 99.0 – almost 10 points better than his defensive rating this season.

With Towns’ ability to protect the rim and Rubio doing a better job defensively at the point of attack, it has been instrumental in the Timberwolves being one of the NBA’s top defenses since the break.

Minnesota’s defensive rating of 100.0 since the All-Star break is second in the NBA only to San Antonio (98.6).

Seeing Rubio on the floor let alone making a major impact, was not how this season was supposed to play out for Minnesota.

They drafted Kris Dunn with the fifth overall pick, a player many anticipated would be a rookie of the year candidate.

But Dunn’s minutes have been few and far between, in large part because of Rubio’s play which has been better than expected. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

CLIPPERS GETTING RIGHT AT THE RIGHT TIME

Injuries and inconsistent play have both been common themes with the Los Angeles Clippers this season. They lost four of their first five after the all-star break and have since bounced back with wins in four of their last five.  Not including Monday’s game against Utah, the Clippers close out the season with 10 of their last 15 games at home which bodes well for a team that’s looking to fight off Utah for the No. 4 seed and with it, home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The Clippers have won each of their first two matchups with two remaining.

But before the Clippers can even begin to think about that final stretch of games, they must somehow navigate their way through a stretch in which they play seven games in 11 days that began with Monday nights’ game against Utah.

On top of that, Rivers is trying to balance that pursuit of the No. 4 seed in the West with trying to manage his player’s minutes so they get the proper amount of rest between now and the playoffs.

“It’s just dicey,” Rivers told reporters recently. “We’re just trying to do the best we can.” – by A. Sherrod Blakely

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Trade deadline winners and losers

CSN NBA Insiders Notebook: Trade deadline winners and losers

AN ARENA NEAR YOU –  The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, so the rosters you see now are pretty much what you’re going to see for the rest of the season.

Of course there will be some teams that will bolster their roster via buyout candidates, but most of those players will have a very defined and to a greater extent, limited role with whatever new team they sign with for the rest of this season.

So who were the winners and losers during this now-completed trade season?

Our CSN Insiders examine which franchises really cleaned up during the trade season, and which teams got taken to the cleaners in addition to looking at a few teams that struck gold during the buyout season as well as some that stood pat and why that was a good – or not so good – idea.

We start off North of the border where Toronto pulled off a pair of trades that in the eyes of many league executives and coaches, probably addressed their biggest needs going forward and should solidify them as a top-four team in the East with the potential now to go as high as the number two spot.

CSN New England’s A. Sherrod Blakely takes a closer look at the Raptors deal, how it paid off almost immediately and what it means for the Eastern Conference going forward.

 

TRADE DEADLINE WINNERS

 

Toronto Raptors

By adding Serge Ibaka, the Raptors were able to address the increasingly obvious need for them to upgrade their power forward position. Ibaka was traded from Oklahoma City to Orlando because they didn’t want to pay him a near-max salary this summer. And the Magic, realizing he wasn’t a good fit for them going forward, cut ties just months after acquiring him.

Playing with the Raptors has Ibaka in a familiar position, one that he enjoyed years of success in with the Thunder. Back then, it was Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook’s team, with Ibaka as a really good No. 3 guy. In Toronto, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are Ibaka’s Durant-Westbrook all over again and that’s a good thing. In his first game as a Raptor, Ibaka had 15 points and seven rebounds in Toronto’s win over Boston.

Considering Ibaka was going to be a player Toronto planned to pursue this summer when he becomes a free agent, acquiring him now makes the Raptors the odds-on favorite to sign him.

He wasn’t the only new guy for Toronto that gave the Celtics problems.

P.J. Tucker, acquired from the Phoenix Suns, had a near double-double against Boston with nine points and 10 rebounds.

The numbers they put up help, but even more important is they provide a heightened level of toughness which multiple league executives and coaches that CSNNE.com has talked with since All-Star weekend, said was sorely lacking on their roster.

If the Raptors manage to climb the Eastern Conference standings and play their way into a deep postseason run, these two trades will be seen as instrumental in making that happen. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

Houston Rockets

The Rockets bolstered their playoff push in a single trade by landing former Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams from the Lakers. They sent Corey Brewer and a first round pick to Los Angeles in the deal. Williams gives the Rockets another high-scoring guard to complement James Harden and Eric Gordon. The addition of Williams’ instant spark off the bench can make a difference in the grind of a postseason series. – by Jessica Camerato

 

Los Angeles Lakers

They traded their most effective player, Sixth Man Lou Williams, for a player (Corey Brewer) and Houston’s unprotected No. 1 draft pick. The biggest upside might be that the loss of Williams makes LA an even weaker team and therefore improves its own draft positioning. If the Lakers continue on the lottery-bound path they are on, it would mark the fourth consecutive season they will have a lottery (top-14) selection. – by Monte Poole  

 

Oklahoma City Thunder

OKC needed a shake up if they had any hope of making noise in the postseason. They traded two young players in Joffrey Lauvergne and Cameron Payne, along with veteran Anthony Morrow to the Bulls for Doug McDermott, Taj Gibson and a second-round pick.

McDermott instantly improves the small forward position for Oklahoma, giving them a high end shooting option for Russell Westbrook to kick to. Gibson is a solid veteran big that defends and rebounds either as a starter or off the bench.

The Thunder gave up two young pieces in the deal, but they are in “win now” mode as they try to move up in the Western Conference standings. And while there were certainly more high profile moves made at the trade deadline, the Thunder can now set their sights on being more than just a team in the playoffs. These additions give them the kind of depth that’s required in the postseason to potentially knock off a higher-seeded team. – by James Ham

 

Orlando Magic

If you factor in all that the Magic gave up to acquire Serge Ibaka, only to trade him away for a good but not great player in Terrence Ross, there’s not a lot to like about the deal, right?

Not true.

Trading away Ibaka on many levels was a classic example of addition by subtraction.

The trade of Ibaka has allowed the Magic to play Aaron Gordon at his correct position at power forward.

The glut of forwards/centers had coach Frank Vogel trying to force Gordon to play at small forward which didn’t suit his strengths. He lacks the ball-handling and shooting to make that a natural transition.

“Everybody is now in their right position,” Vogel said. “Aaron being a four is better for him. He did well at the three defensively, but he’s better at the four.” – by J. Michael

 

Golden State Warriors

They took calls but made none of their own. The Warriors own the league’s best record, its No. 1 offense and its No. 1 defensive rating. They have no glaring needs. They may explore the buyout market if there is an intriguing candidate, but there is zero urgency. – by Monte Poole

 

Washington Wizards

The addition of Bojan Bogdanovic isn’t the sexiest deal to be swung during this trade season, but it meets what has clearly been one of Washington’s biggest weaknesses – depth.

Specifically, Washington needed to add a scorer off the bench which is exactly what Bogdanovic has the skills and talent to provide.

The Wizards haven’t ruled out another move in the free-agent market to help with the bench with a possible playoff run looming.

Trey Burke hasn’t been adequate as John Wall’s backup, Tomas Satoransky might not be ready for the role yet and Kelly Oubre hasn’t done the job behind Otto Porter.

The next move, if there is one, could be for the best player available but a creator with the second unit is desperately needed. – by J. Michael

 

LOSERS

Sacramento Kings

The Sacramento Kings hit a hard reset button on All-Star Sunday, dealing center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi to the New Orleans Pelicans for a package that included rookie Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and a first and second round pick.

Sacramento received below market value for their franchise cornerstone and started a youth movement that was long overdue. They now have four first round picks from the 2016 NBA Draft and potentially two first round picks in the highly touted 2017 NBA draft.

The Kings sat just a game and a half out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff chase at the time of the move. They have been raked over the coals in the media for their handling of Cousins, including making promises to not only keep the star big, but hand him a $219 million extension this summer. They chose to reboot the franchise, calling for an improved culture. – by James Ham

 

Philadelphia 76ers

They had a logjam in the frontcourt with too many bodies, and they managed to clear it out a bit by trading Nerlens Noel to Dallas for Andrew Bogut, Justin Anderson and a heavily protected 2017 first-round pick.

But that in itself doesn’t make this a good deal.

In fact, it was one of the worst deals made at the trade deadline and here’s why.

They knew Bogut would seek a buyout immediately, so whatever benefit he could have provided in terms of his play, was out the window.

Move along to Anderson, a late first-round pick in 2015 who has shown signs of being a 3-and-D kind of player. He’s a solid addition, but Noel is a better player and has significantly more upside.

But the saving grace is the draft pick right?

Nope.

The pick will likely wind up being a second-rounder this year and in 2020.

So just to recap: Philly gave away a starter in Noel, and in return they wind up with a wing player who may play his way into the regular rotation eventually along with a pair of second round future draft picks. Knowing this deal will make the Sixers a weaker team, it’s almost like Sam Hinkie never left. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

Los Angeles Clippers

Their pursuit of another wing shooter came up empty, as did their perpetual search for a legitimate small forward. On the other hand, as a group that has been crippled by injuries to key players, they’ll be happy to have a healthy starting five once Chris Paul is back and effective. – by Monte Poole

 

New York Knicks

So, the Knicks are all still there. Between Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose, at points leading up to the deadline it seemed like a player could be on the move. In the end, the team remained intact. No better, no worse, just the same. Which in this season, the same isn’t necessarily the best outcome. New York needed to make a move to shake up a roster that’s once again underachieving. No one expected the Knicks to be among the top three or four clubs, but they were seen at the very least as a legit playoff contender. Of course there’s still time for them to get back in the postseason picture. But with all the drama surrounding this team, it’s unlikely their direction will change anytime soon which means another season ending without a playoff berth – by Jessica Camerato

 

Boston Celtics

This team has been fireworks-in-waiting for years now, seemingly on the cusp of a big deal that ultimately turns into a big dud. It’s hard to be critical of a team that has endured as many injuries as they have this season and still find themselves in second place behind the NBA defending champion.

Because of their lofty position, the Celtics’ focus was primarily on landing a major player like Chicago’s Jimmy Butler or Indiana’s Paul George.

The Celtics struck out on both of those guys and wound up keeping their current roster intact.

Adding insult to injury, two players – Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker – were both players Boston was in the mix for in terms of signing only to get serious love from Toronto which traded for both players. When the Celtics opened their post All-Star break portion of the schedule in Toronto, Ibaka and Tucker were huge factors in the game’s outcome. The Celtics did try to get in on acquiring the soon-to-be bought out Andrew Bogut only to learn that he’s likely signing with Cleveland. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 


BUYOUT WINNER

Cleveland Cavaliers

Indeed, the rich will get richer in the East with the Cavaliers on the cusp of adding both Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams who became unrestricted free agents. Bogut is nearly complete with a buyout after he was traded to Philadelphia from Dallas, while Williams was waived by the Mavericks when they could not find a partner to swing a trade for his services.

With Bogut, the Cavs add one of the best defensive centers in the NBA. Injuries have limited his impact this season, but the load he’ll be asked to carry is relatively small compared to what the former No. 1 overall pick has been tasked with elsewhere.

As for Williams, he gives them a ready-to-roll backup point guard. When Kyrie Irving takes a rest, LeBron James has often been shifted to being the primary ball-handler. But the addition of Williams gives the Cavs another choice coming off the bench of a player who has played this game for a while and has a solid understanding of how to run a team effectively. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

 

 

DENNIS SCHRODER OFF TO A ROUGH START AFTER ALL-STAR BREAK

When the Hawks opted to move on from Jeff Teague, the assumption was that Dennis Schroder was ready to be the starting point guard.

Coming out of All-Star break, Schroder has served a one-game suspension for not reporting to the team on time and then was benched for the first half of the next game because he missed the team bus.

Going into Monday, the Hawks had a three-game losing streak by a total of 53 points.

“We continue to hold our entire roster, all of our players, accountable,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “Our culture is important to us. Respect for your teammates is important to us. That’s our job and that’s our organization’s job is to continue to build on our culture.” – by J. Michael

 

KNICKS WAIVE JENNINGS, ROSE NEXT?

Brandon Jennings had expressed a desire to join a title-contending team. Well he got his wish – partially anyway – when the New York Knicks waived him on Monday. The eight-year veteran will surface with another team, but the question is where? The Cavaliers may have an agreement in principle with Deron Williams who was waived by Dallas, but could they have a change of heart and pursue Jennings instead? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News reports that the Knicks might also be interested in waiving Derrick Rose. The Knicks are a bad team and judging by some of the moves being made by the front office, they’re not going to be better anytime soon. – by A. Sherrod Blakely

'Melo plays the waiting game as trade deadline approaches

'Melo plays the waiting game as trade deadline approaches

AT AN ARENA NEAR YOU -- Welcome to the latest and greatest edition of the CSN Insiders Notebook.

The rumor mill is starting to get hot and heavy with some of the game’s biggest names being talked about as being on the move.

At the top of the list these days is the New York Knicks and their star player, Carmelo Anthony.

Our CSN Philly Insider, Jessica Camerato, has the latest on how 'Melo is handling this latest round of trade rumors.

'MELO ON THE MOVE?

Who will Carmelo Anthony be playing for after the trade deadline?

Anthony holds a no-trade clause with the Knicks, but his time in New York seems like it will be coming to a close. If the Knicks find a team that Anthony agrees to, this could mark the end of the 'Melo era in the Big Apple.

The Clippers have emerged as the main suitor for the 14th-year veteran, who is averaging over 22 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists this season. Now comes the challenge of finding a third team to make a deal work.

So far the Cavaliers and Celtics -- two enticing destinations for a player looking to win -- reportedly have said they are not interested. This leaves Anthony waiting out his time on a losing Knicks team while he waits to see what the front office does before mid-February.

"You've got to deal with that, even though I try not to read it. And everywhere you go, even if you don't hear about it, somebody is telling you about it, somebody is saying something," Anthony said, via ESPN.com. "It can be mentally draining, mentally fatiguing."

ATLANTIC DIVISION

Simmons recovery on track: While there's no timetable for Ben Simmons’ return, the number one pick in last June’s NBA draft continues to make progress in his rehab from a Jones fracture in his right foot.

Simmons had a scheduled scan with the operating specialist last week in New York. The results showed his recovery is moving along as expected. As part of that recovery, Simmons began one-on-one activity at the Sixers training complex. He competed “very slow” at about “80 percent,” according to Sixers head coach Brett Brown, against Delaware 87ers forward James Webb.

“If you said it’s 20 percent, 10 percent I’d get thrilled,” Brown said. “I can’t wait to coach him. I really can’t wait to coach him.” 

-- Jessica Camerato

Crowder's play standing out lately: Jae Crowder has far exceeded the expectations many had for him when he came to Boston two years ago as a throw-in during the Rajon Rondo trade with Dallas. His play of late has been really good, which has only added to the reluctance on Boston’s part to include him in any trade.

In his last nine games, Crowder has averaged 18.8 points, 6.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from 3-point range.

The Celtics were contacted by the New York Knicks regarding a possible deal involving Carmelo Anthony. If they're open to the idea of adding 'Melo -- which, at the time of this writing, they are not -- they would most likely have to include Crowder in the deal. He's not untradeable, but his versatility, production and extremely team-friendly contract will make it difficult for the Celtics to part ways with him.

– A. Sherrod Blakely

Is Sullinger the answer to the Raptors' big-man needs? The recent skid by the Toronto Raptors only highlighted what many NBA execs have been saying all season: Toronto has a good team, but title contender? Nope.

And the Raptors know this, which is why they’re in the market for an impact power forward.

Could they already have him and not know it?

Jared Sullinger was supposed to be that guy, but foot surgery has kept him off the court until recently. And let’s just say the early returns have not been encouraging, which is why the Raptors are open to trying to acquire another power forward such as Atlanta’s Paul Millsap.

In his first five games, Sullinger averaged 4.0 points and 2.6 rebounds while shooting a woeful 25.8 percent from the field and 18.2 percent on 3’s. The Raptors recently announced he would do a rehab stint with their Development League affiliate, the Raptors 905.

“I tell them all the time, when I come back I’m gonna bring one thing and that’s probably rebounding right now,” Sullinger told CSN’s Abby Chin recently. “Just because everybody is in midseason form. It’s gonna take time for me to fit in, know where my shots are, kind of know the offense.” 

– A. Sherrod Blakely

Nets among teams to 'rest' healthy players: It’s hard to imagine that the Brooklyn Nets won’t finish this season with the NBA’s worst record. And yet you will still find some nights where some of their best players -- and I use the word ‘best’ very loosely -- are on the bench in street clothes.

Like San Antonio, Atlanta, Memphis and others throughout the league, the premise is to make sure players are relatively healthy as can be as they near the end of the season and prepare for the playoffs.

And then there’s the Nets, who are not only going to fail to make the playoffs but can’t even cash in on the one benefit to being a bad team -- a high pick in that upcoming year’s NBA draft.

The Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry trade in 2013 netted Boston several picks, which included the right to swap this year’s pick. At this point, that pick is looking like the top overall selection.

So no playoffs and no lottery pick and guys still getting time off to rest?

Nets guard Randy Foye is among those who likes the approach taken by GM Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson, who came from San Antonio and Atlanta, respectively.

“I think fatigue injuries [result from] back-to-backs or three-in-four-nights where you don’t feel anything, but at the end of the day, you’ve strained a hamstring or pulled a muscle or something like that,” Foye told Newsday. ‘I think the way we’re doing it right here is pretty smart. We’re building toward something.”

– A. Sherrod Blakely

CENTRAL DIVISION

Drama takes center stage with the Bulls: Drama, thy name is the Chicago Bulls.

First it was Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler calling out their teammates for a perceived lack of commitment, then Rajon Rondo calling out Butler and Wade on Instagram for their leadership style.

Then there was a team meeting, fines, pseudo-punishments and a blowout.

Well, a blowout loss to the Miami Heat Friday night.

But in the end, there were no regrets as Wade said he’d have no issues working and playing with Rondo despite Rondo’s feelings. And Wade stuck to his sentiment even through the firestorm.

“When you’re a leader, certain things you do and say aren’t always going to be the popular thing in the locker room,” he said. “As a leader, sometimes you can’t be liked. It’s the harsh truth and harsh reality. I’m probably not liked in this locker room today. I’m OK with that.”

And with all that, the Bulls are still holding onto a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

– Vincent Goodwill

James wants more help in Cleveland: Drama seems to carry in the Eastern Conference, or even more specifically the Midwest, as LeBron James again laid down the gauntlet for what he perceives is a lack of help from the Cleveland Cavaliers management and ownership.

James, in his 14th year, is averaging a league-leading 37.5 minutes per game -- not a great sign for a 32-year old who’s played deep into June every year since 2011.

After a losing streak that included a puzzling loss to a New Orleans Pelicans team playing without Anthony Davis, James said to reporters, “I just hope that we're not satisfied as an organization."

The Cavaliers have the highest payroll in the NBA and have paid the luxury tax in the two years since James’ return from Miami. Yet they've suffered $40 million in operating losses, according to Forbes Magazine.

And with his relationship with owner Dan Gilbert always being a point of contention, one wonders if the Cavaliers will continue to press forward with personnel moves or try to save a few bucks. If so, will James try to save his ailing body before the playoff run? 

– Vincent Goodwill

Dumars interested in return to NBA: Hall of Famer Joe Dumars has been synonymous with the Detroit Pistons for 29 years, starting with being drafted in 1985 all the way through his playing career and run as president of basketball operations before his reign ended after the 2013-14 season.

Dumars has laid low from the public eye since but confirmed he wants to get back into the NBA in a podcast with the Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski this week.

“Actually, it’s been great,” Dumars said. “The run in Detroit was tremendous on a lot of levels -- on and off the court. I enjoyed every moment of it. Twenty-eight, twenty-nine straight years, I enjoyed every moment of it. But then sometimes, it’s time to turn the page and have someone else come in and do this and carry that load.”

Dumars led the Pistons to a championship in 2004, another Finals appearance in 2005 and was at the helm of a team that went to six straight Eastern Conference Finals from 2003-08.

His run in Detroit ended when he admitted he should’ve rebuilt instead reloaded, but his resume is as stacked as anyone not with an NBA job -- and better than most who have jobs currently.

He should be back in the NBA and fairly soon.

– Vincent Goodwill

Robinson III to compete in Slam Dunk Contest: Indiana Pacers second-year forward Glenn Robinson III hasn’t hit the league by storm in the way his father, Glenn “Big Dog” Robinson did two decades ago as one of the league’s most deadly scorers.

But Robinson III can get up and above the rim in a way his father never could, so it’s no shock to see him enter his name into the participants of All-Star Weekend’s Slam Dunk contest in New Orleans in the middle of February.

Robinson will be the third Pacer in franchise history to enter the contest, and the small-town Pacers have had decent moments for Robinson to live up to. Paul George was part of a winning combination in the 2014 dunk contest with John Wall, and who could forget Terence Stansbury in the 1987 dunk contest with his “Statue of Liberty” dunk that’s been remembered through time.

So basically, Robinson II has more footsteps to follow, and he’s used to it by now.

– Vincent Goodwill

NBA potentially impacted by President's temporary ban: The Milwaukee Bucks are mired in a terrible losing streak, but recent world events have put that in the background as Thon Maker’s status has come into question with President Trump’s temporary ban on the entry of non-American citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Maker was born in Wau, Sudan, which became part of an independent South Sudan in 2011. Sudan is one of the seven banned countries, along with Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen.

With the NBA having several players who fit this description, the league has to get on top of this and league spokesman Mike Bass issued a statement Saturday saying, “"We have reached out to the State Department and are in the process of gathering information to understand how this executive order would apply to players in our league who are from one of the impacted countries. The NBA is a global league, and we are proud to attract the very best players from around the world."

– Vincent Goodwill

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Wall-Beal backourt clicking: John Wall wishes Bradley Beal could be an All-Star with him, and after an offseason in which he raised eyebrows by admitting to CSNmidatlantic.com that they had a tendency to “dislike” each other, they’ve smoothed out their differences. . . which is a big reason why the Wizards are 27-20.

The backcourt is having its best season together, and individually, as Wall and Beal are averaging career highs in multiple categories and defending as well as in duo in the league.

“People say we couldn’t get to this road together. Whatever dislikes we had with each other we put that to the side when we stepped between those lines because we know how much we both want to win, how competitive we are,” Wall told CSN after being selected to his fourth consecutive All-Star Game. “I know I can’t be John Wall without Bradley Beal, and Bradley Beal can’t be (himself) without John Wall.”

– J. Michael

Heat's waiters serving up better plays, wins: With Rodney McGruder, Willie Reed and Luke Babbitt in the starting lineup -- and no Hassan Whiteside -- the Heat won their sixth game in a row entering the weekend to give themselves hope though they’re still mired at the bottom of the East.

Babbitt, who Tony Allen of the Grizzlies admitted he voted for as an All-Star, plays reserve minutes to score 22 points during the streak has had an impact if you believe in plus-minus ratings. With him on the floor, the Heat have been on the positive side five times.

But it’s the clutch shot-making of Dion Waiters that has keyed the hot streak as he beat the Warriors with a three and slammed the door shut with one vs. the Nets. Miami is 5-15 without him. They’re 12-15 with him.

Waiters only makes $2.9 million when he signed as a free agent and is surely going to opt out of his second year to test the market.

– J. Michael

Another rebuild in Magic's future? A team built to be defense-first is failing miserably, and the Magic lost even more offense with Jodie Meeks being knocked out indefinitely following right thumb surgery.

“It’s everybody,” Bismack Biyombo said after Orlando gave up 128 points to the Celtics which made for 100-plus in 14 of 15 games. “Our efforts are not good enough. We talk about the right thing. Everybody says the right thing but we’ve got to hold each other accountable . . . It's embarrassing to be out there.”

Another restructuring seems to be in order for a roster with good pieces that don’t fit. For Meeks, he hasn’t played a full season since 2013-14 with the Lakers and he only has played 24 games after missing the start of this season with injuries.

– J. Michael

PACIFIC DIVISION

Kings falter at home, fall out of playoff spot: After a 1-6 homestand, the Sacramento Kings embarked on a season-long eight-game road trip that included three sets of back-to-backs. Six games in, the Kings are holding their own with wins over the Pistons, Cavs and Hornets. Following Tuesday’s game against the Rockets, the Kings return home where they will play 11-of-13 at Golden 1 Center. They do not leave the Pacific time zone from February 1-March 5 . . . Rudy Gay, 30, underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon on Monday in New York. According to Dr. Martin O’Malley, Gay is expected to make a complete recovery in time for training camp before the 2017-18 season . . . DeMarcus Cousins is an All-Star again. The 26-year-old big man will make his third straight appearance in the annual event next month as a Western Conference reserve. Cousins is posting huge numbers across the board, but over his last 18 games, he’s handing out 6.2 assists per game. Not bad for a 6-foot-11 big man.

– James Ham

Durant the player is good, but the actor . . . In their fourth month as Warriors teammates, Draymond Green finally is willing to admit he is not impressed with Kevin Durant.

As an actor, that is.

Green recently re-watched “Thunderstruck,” a 2012 comedy in which Durant plays himself, a star for the Oklahoma City Thunder whose talents are switched with those of his biggest fan, a 16-year-old aspiring hoopster who previously couldn’t make a simple layup. Durant, meanwhile, becomes as hopeless as the kid once was.

“I’ve seen it multiple times,” Green said. “But that’s the first time I’ve seen it since KD was my teammate, though. I thought it was bad before. But now that we’re really close, I can really voice my opinion on it.

“It was bad, man. It was really bad. Oh, it was bad.”

Identifying “He Got Game” and “Coach Carter” as his favorite hoop movies, said his review was less a knock on Durant than on the movie, which is intended for children.

“I’m not saying KD is a bad actor, I’m saying that was a bad movie,” Green said. “Somebody else should give him another shot, though.

If somebody brought me a movie (script), I would have probably done it too. But after seeing his first movie, if somebody brought me a script like that now, I wouldn’t do it.” 

– Monte Poole

Doc Rivers willing to trade his son Austin? It could happen any day, any hour, any minute. Clippers coach/president Doc Rivers could bring Knicks star Carmelo Anthony to Los Angeles.

And Rivers’ son, Austin, the team’s backup point guard behind Chris Paul, reportedly is among the players that intrigue the folks in New York. Would Doc trade his son for a player entering his twilight years?

“Listen, I would trade anyone,” Doc Rivers told ESPN. “You have to be willing to do that, so -- and (Austin) would be one of them, and any of them would be one. But I don’t want to trade any of our guys. I like our team.”

The Knicks have essentially placed Anthony in a “for trade” ad. The veteran forward, however, has a no-trade clause in his contract. He’d have to approve any deal.

Because the Clippers one of the few teams Anthony would agree to join, there have been discussions regarding a deal. At issue is with whom, exactly, are the Clippers willing to part. Rivers and veteran guard Jamal Crawford are among the names.

Can Doc resist? 

– Monte Poole

Will Kobe return to Lakers . . . as a coach? Coach Kobe?

Retired Lakers legend Kobe Bryant in a recent radio interview made it clear he’d be available to assist his former team, which sits in the Western Conference cellar.

“The Buss family knows I’m always one phone call away,” Bryant told ESPN Radio.

Though LA coach Luke Walton is a former Lakers teammate of Bryant and consistently expresses admiration for the future Hall of Famer, he’s not sure the timing is right for a dose of Kobe.

“It depends in what capacity he will come in and help,” Walton told reporters. “After losing by 40, he’s not the first guy I’m calling.

“Kobe is more about tough love. At that moment, I didn’t need tough love. I didn’t hear (Bryant’s comments), but it’s good to know he’s here for us.”

Insofar as Bryant, who retired after last season, is notoriously intense, the concern is that might alienate a talented young team seeking growth under a first-year head coach. 

– Monte Poole

SOUTHWEST DIVISION

Harden continues MVP chase: James Harden went off for a historic 51-point, 13-rebound, 13-assist triple-double on Friday against the Sixers. With those remarkable numbers, he became the second player to record two 50-point triple-doubles in a single season, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Remember, we’re not even at the All-Star Break yet.

Of those 51 points, Harden scored 19 points in the third and 17 in the fourth. He finished with a stat line of 16-of-28 field goals, 6-of-11 3-pointers, 13-of-14 free throws, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, 5 turnovers, 4 fouls, 2 steals and 1 block in 39:09.

"Tonight was me just scoring the basketball, being aggressive," Harden said after the Rockets’ 123-118 win. "They were doing a really good job of not leaving our shooters and so I had to make plays."

– Jessica Camerato

Gasol plans to stay with Spurs: Pau Gasol intends to opt in to his $16 million player option for next season with the Spurs. The 36-year-old big man is currently out of action after undergoing surgery on his left hand. He is expected to miss 4-6 weeks with the injury.

Rookie DeJounte Murray went scoreless in two minutes of action in the Spurs loss to the Pelicans on Friday. But in the four games leading up to the contest in New Orleans, the 20-year-old guard averaged 13.3 points, including a career-high 24 against the Nuggets on Jan. 19. … Jonathon Simmons has missed three straight games with a wrist injury.

-- James Ham​

Ferrell makes the most of last-minute opportunity: A day after signing a 10-day contract with the Dallas Mavericks, Yogi Ferrell found himself in an unexpected play . . .  the starting lineup.

“It was definitely very eye-opening for me,” Ferrell told reporters. “You know, when coach (Rick Carlisle) told me I was going to start, my mind switched and I made sure I was ready.”

He was indeed up for the moment, helping the Mavericks pull off a 105-101 upset of the San Antonio Spurs.

Ferrell had nine points along with seven assists and zero turnovers, in addition to tallying a pair of steals.

Among his nine points were a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to secure the victory.

Regardless of whether he sticks with the Mavericks or not, to get a last-second start and deliver how he did in the clutch … it’s exactly what you have to do as an undrafted player, to stick in the NBA.

– A. Sherrod Blakely

NORTHWEST DIVISION

Not the break that Kanter, Thunder were looking for: Enes Kanter, the high-scoring big for the Thunder was having a nice stretch of games before deciding to punch a chair during the Thunder’s 109-98 win over the Dallas Mavericks. Kanter, 24, will miss the next two months with a broken forearm, leaving Oklahoma City without their third-leading scorer.

The Thunder have won three in a row heading into Sunday’s matchup against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook posted three straight triple-doubles early in the week to give him 23 on the season. His streak was broken against the Mavericks, but he still managed to drop in 45 points, grab eight rebounds and dish out three assists in the win.

-- James Ham

Twitter beef between McCollumn and Parsons: There was quite the Twitter war last week in Portland between the Blazers’ CJ McCollum and Memphis wing Chandler Parsons after the Trail Blazers beat Memphis.

Parsons, who was pursued by the Blazers in free agency in July and offered $94 million before he opted to sign with Memphis, air-balled a 3-point attempt during the game.

After the game, the Blazers’ team authorized Twitter account sent out a video of Parsons’ air-ball, with a tweet that read, “To be fair, the NBA 3-point line is really, really far away from the basket.”

Parsons immediately retaliated, tweeting back to the Blazers, “good luck in the lottery show this year” in reference to the Blazers being 21-27 at currently out of the Western Conference playoff seeding.

McCollum then fired back at Parsons: “We hit the lottery by not signing you’’ in reference to Parsons being hobbled by knee problems this season.

Parsons tried to counter with a response aimed at McCollum: “Stop it. Technically, I hit the lottery.’’

When McCollum arrived at Blazers practice the next morning, his exchange was quite the topic. 

“A lot of jokes being made,’’ McCollum said. “I always have a sense of humor, so when I see something that I want to respond to, I respond. I felt like that was something I wanted to respond to.’’

Teammate Evan Turner, for one, said he nearly lost himself when he first read the tweets on Friday night while dining at Departure in downtown Portland.

“I knocked like everything over at the bar,’’ Turner said. “Everybody went crazy. I went crazy … threw my cellphone. It was unreal, man. It was crazy: On Chandler’s part, on CJ’s part … very funny. Hilarious.’’

McCollum said he knows Parsons in passing from a few encounters throughout the years. He said he made the response mostly because he was defending his team.

“It’s my team. I ride with my guys,’’ McCollum said.

Turner said one of the things that made the exchange so funny is knowing the personality of the two players involved. Turner said Parsons is very sarcastic and McCollum is usually very conservative.

“I’m surprised CJ said it because he is always so politically correct like he’s trying to run for president,’’ Turner said. 

-- Jason Quick


Hayward earns first All-Star selection: The Utah Jazz have been one of the surprise teams this season, and the play of Gordon Hayward has had a lot to do with that. That’s why it came as no surprise when he was selected by the Western Conference coaches as an all-Star reserve this season.

He becomes the first Jazz player to be named an All-Star since Deron Williams in 2011.

"My teammates, our coaching and support staff helped put me in this position," said Hayward. "We still have work to do but I'm excited about the direction we're headed. I look forward to representing Utah in New Orleans."

This season, he’s averaging 21.6 points and 5.7 rebounds – both career highs.

While the numbers are good, it’s the team’s success that certainly played a significant factor in the coaches selecting him as an All-Star.

Including games played Sunday, Utah (30-19) has the best record in the Northwest Division and are currently fifth in the West overall.

-- A. Sherrod Blakely

Lavine passes on Slam Dunk contest: There will be no sequel to what was one of the greatest slam-dunk competitions in recent memory. Zach LaVine, who defeated Orlando’s Aaron Gordon last year in slam-dunk overtime -- a first -- said he will not participate in the event next month in New Orleans.

“I feel like I’ve accomplished everything I could in the dunk contest,” LaVine told reporters. “I’m never saying I won’t ever do it again, but I’m focused on this (season). We’re getting close to being able to make the playoffs, and we have that on our mind. Getting the rest and I guess just focusing more on the game was a big thing.”

Gordon said he’s not sure he’ll participate in the slam dunk contest, either. And his reasons sound very similar to what ultimately led to LaVine deciding to not participate.

“I don’t know what else I have left up my sleeve or in the tank dunking-wise,” Gordon told reporters in Boston recently. “The other reason is, I’d like to focus on the Orlando Magic and game play. That’s the most important, the main priority right now.”

-- A. Sherrod Blakely