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NBA Power Rankings: League gearing up for the 2nd half of the season

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USA TODAY

NBA Power Rankings: League gearing up for the 2nd half of the season

The NBA season has just went past the halfway point, with it being clear which teams should be buyers and sellers with the NBA trade deadline fast approaching. The Bulls have been obvious sellers, netting two second round picks for Justin Holiday in their recent deal with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Outside of Chicago, the Lakers have floundered without LeBron James and could be looking for a change very soon to shake up their season. Their lack of shooting has continued to rear its ugly head this year and they could use some floor spacers rather it be on the buyout market or via trade.

The aforementioned Grizzlies are dealing with the fact that they are slipping in the standings, and reports have stated that franchise center Marc Gasol is considering opting out of his player option to become a free agent at the end of the season. They will be faced with a tough decision pretty soon about what direction their franchise is going in, with a top-8 protected draft pick being owed to the Boston Celtics this year.

And among the elite teams in the league, the Warriors and Nuggets appear to be set to fight it out for the top seed in the Western Conference, and both have different sort of reinforcements on the way.

The Nuggets are still waiting to see if rookie Michael Porter Jr. and Isaiah Thomas can provide any sort of value—if either is to return this season—to their balanced lineup.

 And the Warriors have All-Star center DeMarcus Cousin slated to return on January 18 against the Clippers. Both possible returns could have big effects on the Western Conference playoff race, with the Cousins return having the possibility to make the already explosive Warriors near unguardable.

As teams around the league get ready for the second half of the season, check out where they rank in our latest power rankings right here.

Michael Jordan toy collector gives story behind the rarest of his figurines

Michael Jordan toy collector gives story behind the rarest of his figurines

The rarest Michael Jordan toy in the world you’ve probably never seen or heard of. That’s because it was never released.

Jordan Cohn and BJ Barretta of Radio.com got to the bottom of that age-old — though rarely asked about — mystery by interviewing Joshua De Vaney, the most prolific purveyor of Jordan toys in the world. 

De Vaney hails from Australia, and a perusal of his Instagram page reveals a trinket closet of staggering scale.

In the interview, De Vaney pinpointed the rarest of the bunch to be this rather unassuming batch of figurines, which were manufactured by a company called Ohio Art.

De Vaney told Radio.com they’re prototype models of a Jordan-themed H.O.R.S.E. game from 1987 that never made it to production.

“I got into contact with the Ohio Art archives department which told me… that there were only 48 of these available, and I was in possession of 33 of them at the time,” De Vaney told Cohn. “That’s when he was looking at leaving Nike. And the reason why that’s so important is because the shoe that this toy is wearing is a Nike Air Ship.”

In fact, they’re so difficult to procure that even Michael Jordan himself couldn’t get his hands on them. De Vaney told Radio.com he recently shipped one to Michael’s second-oldest son Marcus, bringing his collection from 33 to 32.

Now, as reported by Radio.com, he’s on a mission to bring his collection to the United States, and expand its platform.

“For me, it’s truly about getting my collection over to the States either to be exhibited in museums… (or) I would like to donate it to Michael,” De Vaney said in the interview. “So I’m certainly not out trying to make a dollar off of it, I would just like to give this to Michael as part of his legacy for people to enjoy.”

A noble mission, and one that will be fascinating to track, if De Vaney’s social media account is any indication of how his passion for Jordan runs.

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Breaking down the challenges and possible solutions to fan-less NBA games

Breaking down the challenges and possible solutions to fan-less NBA games

The NBA still has a long list of considerations to parse through before attempting to relaunch its season — so many, in fact, that a final resolution plan may not emerge from a highly-anticipated Board of Governors call reportedly scheduled for Friday.

This should register as a relatively low priority for now, as the league navigates an unprecedented global health and economic crisis, but the question of game presentation is one that will eventually need addressing. Without fans in arenas, silent games are a prospect that would pose unique challenges to both athletes and broadcasters — even setting aside the financial ramifications of losing gate proceeds (which, according to a recent estimate, account for 40% of the league’s revenue) through the end of this season. 

“I think it would take a little bit of competitiveness out, because obviously I think the fans and atmosphere make a big thing about the game," Zach LaVine said of the possibility of empty-arena games back on March 7.

"What is the word 'sport' without 'fan'?" LeBron James said on an episode of the Road Trippin’ podcast in March. "There's no excitement. There's no crying. There's no joy. There's no back-and-forth… That's what also brings out the competitive side of the players to know that you're going on the road in a hostile environment…”

Those grievances shouldn’t be quickly dismissed by the NBA or observers. A more engaged player population makes for a better product, and in a time of great financial strife for the league, setting a compelling scene (see: the litany of inventive playoff formats being floated) and attracting as many eyeballs as possible will be all-important.

From the broadcast side, the absence of a sonic wall separating those at home from those on the court also has the potential to soil an already precarious endeavor. For some, listening in to on-court verbal sparring could add a layer of entertainment. Sports fans, after all, are voyeuristic creatures — look to the atomic interest in “The Last Dance,” mic’d up videos and miscellaneous behind-the-scenes content as evidence of that. But to players, coaches, league officials, broadcast partners and many others, there’s potential for downside. The unfiltered sounds of NBA action aren’t exactly tailored to family viewing.

“I don’t know who I’d be more worried for, the players or referees at this point,” NBA referee Scott Foster said on NBA TV (via Tim Reynolds) when asked what challenges officiating without fans could pose. “I know I don’t want everything we normally say to each other going out. 

“I think we’re going to need to really talk about and analyze what is OK for the public to hear and how we’re going to go about our business.”

For potential solutions to the latter, the NBA could turn to leagues that have already resumed play. FOX, for example, has experimented with piping artificial crowd noise into its broadcasts of the recently-returned Bundesliga, to mixed reaction. 

At a glance, it works! There are blind spots, of course. Even with a controller toggling crowd reactions to coincide with the tenor of the match (i.e. a groundswell of sound upon a scored goal), glitches in timing could come off disingenuous, as could robotic roars for a visiting team. Pans of the stands still reveal droves of empty seats. But it restores some semblance of normalcy for those watching while mitigating against rogue vulgarities leaking into television feeds.

What it doesn’t solve is the athlete gripe. As Raphael Honigstein of The Athletic reported on Twitter, Bundesliga has not attempted funnelling that artificial noise into actual stadiums. Some teams have experimented with cardboard fans in seats in an attempt to cultivate a less apocalyptic game-night atmosphere and recoup some funds (for one match, Borussia Mönchengladbach reportedly charged 19 euro for fans to have a cutout of themselves attendance). But it feels unlikely this would satiate James’ concerns.

 

As with all matters surrounding a return bid, the NBA will need to get creative in appeasing all parties. Perhaps that means flying blind with in-arena sound experimentation. But as Sam Quinn of CBS Sports recently noted, the acoustic capacity of Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex’s courts (which contain approximately 20,000 seats) are likely ill-equipped to handle even simulated noise equivalent to an NBA arena.

Still, don’t expect the league to settle for totally silent games on television, of which the novelty could prove fleeting and the profanity jarring. Where they ultimately turn remains to be seen, as does both the format and safety of a hypothetical resumption.

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