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Basketball Insiders Week in Review 12/21

Basketball Insiders looks at some of the articles from last week in case you missed any the first time around.

Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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The Russell Westbrook Revival

By Moke Hamilton

Russell Westbrook curled around Serge Ibaka, simultaneously using him to screen off his primary defender and neatly receiving the handoff. Like a running back, Westbrook hid behind Ibaka for a split second before going back from where he came, but this time, with the basketball in tow.

Westbrook beat Iman Shumpert to the corner, hesitated when Quincy Acy showed and then, like freight train, exploded with a quick first step and accelerated down the baseline. Shumpert was left in his wake.

As he approached the basket, Westbrook showed no signs of attrition. There was no trepidation, no hesitation and no doubt.

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Are The Kings Targeting George Karl?

By Steve Kyler

While this one seemed a little out of left field, the Sacramento Kings decided to part ways with head coach Mike Malone. The truth behind the curtain is, this one wasn’t nearly as shocking as it may seem despite the Kings’ hot start and somewhat improved situation.

Malone is a defensive-minded coach that was hired by new Kings owner Vivek Ranadive before he had hired his front office. There was a sense at least initially that Malone would be dictating a lot of the structure of the Kings, however over time that’s changed somewhat dramatically.

Ranadive has become much more hands on. He is much more involved in the day-to-day than your typical NBA owner in a very Mark Cuban kind of way. Malone’s defense-first mindset has been problematic for Ranadive for some time.

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Lillard, Blazers are Winning and Feeling Confident

By Joel Brigham

The Portland Trail Blazers have been good for a few years now, but something about this current squad looks really, really good, and All-Star point guard Damian Lillard thinks he knows the reason why.

“It’s our confidence,” Lillard told Basketball Insiders. “Last year we surprised people and might’ve even surprised ourselves a little bit, but we won a playoff series without home court advantage.”

Confidence through success, however, is only a part of Portland’s maturation this year. Humility is another part of it.

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Greg Monroe’s Limited Market

By Yannis Koutroupis

Like most of the players who signed this offseason, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe became eligible to be traded today. As a 24-year-old versatile big man who has been good for 15 points and nine rebounds a game over the last four seasons despite the turmoil surrounding him, you would think teams would be beating down the Pistons’ door to acquire him. However, his situation is quite unique and it limits his market significantly.

Monroe was a restricted free agent last offseason, which gave the Pistons the right to match any offer he received. The Pistons made him a long-term offer, the value of which is unknown, but it was clearly shy of the max and Monroe decided to decline. There were other teams, specifically the Portland Trail Blazers and Phoenix Suns, who voiced an interest in trading for him but the Pistons held all the cards. They wanted great value in return in any sign-and-trade deal and had the rest of the league believing that they would match any offer for him to the point where Monroe was eventually forced to accept a $5.5 million qualifying offer.

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Playoff Sleepers in the Eastern Conference

By Cody Taylor

The quarter mark of the NBA season is here and we are beginning to see which teams are alive in the playoff chase. In the Eastern Conference, there hasn’t been any one squad that has identified itself as the top team, as the top five are all within four games of each other. The Hawks and Cavaliers have been two of the hottest teams in the league as of late, as the Hawks have won nine out of their last 10 and the Cavaliers have won eight of their last. It appears to be a safe bet that some combination of the Raptors, Wizards, Hawks, Bulls and Cavaliers will make up the top five seeds in the East, leaving the last three spots up for grabs.

Currently the Bucks, HEAT and Nets occupy the six-through-eight spots in the East with the Magic, Celtics and Pacers right behind them. The Bucks have been one of the biggest surprises in the league thus far as they’ve won 12 games after winning just 15 all of last season. Given their youth and inexperience, it remains to be seen if they’ll be able to keep up their strong start so they could fall out of the picture at some point. The HEAT, meanwhile, are battling injuries with Josh McRoberts possibly missing the rest of the season and Chris Bosh out indefinitely with a calf injury. They’ve won just three out of their last 10 games and have one of the worst defenses in the league and are quickly falling in the standings.

With that being said, here are three teams that could sneak into the playoffs:

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Kobe Bryant Remains A Double-Edged Sword

By Jabari Davis

Like most things involving the NBA’s third all-time leading scorer, Kobe Bryant’s recent and admittedly over-blown decision to publicly chastise his teammates was predictably met with both an understanding nod by some and the usual disdain and criticism of others. This is nothing new for Bryant, as the 19-year veteran has probably been the most polarizing sports figure over the last decade and a half.

If anything, what is actually surprising is the contingency that somehow expects Bryant to change his ways this far into a Hall of Fame career. Not that additional adjustments couldn’t have at least opened the door for a smoother transition into the next era of Los Angeles Lakers’ basketball but, again, an expectation of that makes us ask: just which Bryant have you been watching all of these years?

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George Karl Interested in Kings Job

By Alex Kennedy

When the Sacramento Kings shockingly fired head coach Mike Malone, one of the first potential replacements that started being mentioned on the rumor mill was George Karl.

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro worked with Karl in Denver, and Sacramento’s decision-makers (including owner Vivek Ranadive) want the team to play an up-tempo style of basketball and get out in transition, which is Karl’s strength.

The 63-year-old head coach remains available, doing a variety of broadcasting jobs such as providing analysis on ESPN and hosting a radio show on Sirius XM NBA Radio while he waits to get back into coaching. Shortly after he was fired by Denver back in June of 2012 (right after he won the NBA’s Coach of the Year award), he told Basketball Insiders that he wanted to resume his coaching career at some point, preferably with a team in the Western Conference.

Yesterday, on his radio show, Karl addressed the rumors about him possibly coaching the Kings and admitted that he’s interested in talking with Sacramento’s management at some point.

 

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Unintended Consequences of Malone Firing Could Help Kings

By Nate Duncan

Under the stewardship of owner Vivek Ranadive, the Sacramento Kings have quickly established a reputation as perhaps the NBA’s most unconventional franchise. Since he took control in May 2013, Ranadive hired his coach before his general manager, signed Carl Landry to a four-year deal for the full mid-level exception, gave DeMarcus Cousins a max extension, traded for analytics pariah Rudy Gay and let Isaiah Thomas walk for the reputedly inferior Darren Collison. All of these moves drew varying degrees of criticism, although many (particularly Cousins, Gay and Collison) have achieved better results than many commentators anticipated.

Even those unconventional moves did not augur the latest head-scratcher, the firing of coach Michael Malone after only a season and a quarter. The consensus is that Malone did not deserve to be axed—he had the Kings playing .600 ball before Cousins missed the last nine games with viral meningitis. The doormat Kings had improved defensively on an individual and team level, especially with Cousins in the game. And Cousins, Gay, Collison and Ben McLemore had all shown significant improvement, on track for the best seasons of their careers so far.

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Down Goes Bucks’ Star Rookie Jabari Parker

By Lang Greene

There are plenty of surprises around the league that have been uncovered during the first quarter of the 2014-15 campaign. The Charlotte Hornets’ implosion, Detroit’s plummet deeper into the Eastern Conference basement and of course all of the drama unfolding in the land of the New York Knicks – all showing that preseason scripts are rarely followed to the letter.

The Milwaukee Bucks have also been a surprise. A pleasant one to their fan base, in fact. In 2013, the franchise won a grand total of 15 games. This season, fortunes have reversed, as the club already has 13 victories and would be the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed if the playoffs started today.

However, the positive momentum starting to build in Milwaukee took a huge blow on Tuesday night when the franchise announced rookie forward Jabari Parker suffered a torn ACL in his left knee and would miss the rest of the season.

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Let’s Trade Nets Guard Deron Williams

By Jesse Blancarte

Last week, ESPN.com’s Marc Stein and Ohm Youngmisuk reported that the Brooklyn Nets are prepared to trade each of their star players, including Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. It’s still not clear whether each of these players will be dealt this season, but it seems likely that at least two out of the three will be traded.

The most talented and accomplished player of the bunch is point guard Deron Williams. He was selected to the All-NBA Second Team twice (2008, 2010), is a three-time All-Star (2010–2012), and has career averages of 17.4 points, 8.6 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game. For several seasons, Williams was considered to be one of the two best point guards in the NBA, along with Chris Paul. However, since being traded to the then-New Jersey Nets in early 2011, Williams has struggled through injuries, inconsistent play and has fallen short of the lofty expectations that came with his arrival in New Jersey.

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Breaking Down the Rajon Rondo Trade

By Jessica Camerato

After less than two months, the first major move of the 2014-15 NBA season is here.

On Thursday evening the Boston Celtics traded Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to the Dallas Mavericks for Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder, a conditional first round draft pick, a 2016 second round draft pick and a $12.9 million trade exception.

The move demonstrates the different directions of each team. The Mavericks are contending for a title now while the Celtics are rebuilding for the future. Here is a breakdown for both sides.

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Will Phil Jackson be Able to Practice Patience?

By Tommy Beer

Let’s start with the recognition of the fact that the hand Phil Jackson was dealt was not ideal.

When Jackson was named President of the New York Knicks, back on March 18, the Knicks were at the tail end of a bitterly disappointing season. The undermanned roster Jackson inherited finished the 2013-14 season with a 37-45 record, missing the playoffs in the watered-down Eastern Conference.

Heading into the summer of 2014, it was understood that, in some respects, Jackson’s hands were tied due to the Knicks being well over the salary cap. Nonetheless, there we still important decisions to be made.

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Who Are the NBA’s Best Centers?

By Mary Stevens

Back in the day, centers were often looked at as the cornerstones of many winning NBA franchises. While they might not be the main focus when building a contender today, they are still an important piece. Basketball Insiders talked to a number of NBA centers to get their thoughts on their peers. Using that information as well as stats, we put together this list of the best centers around the league:

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Let’s Trade Pistons Forward Greg Monroe

By John Zitzler

On Monday, Jesse Blancarte offered up a number of possible trade scenarios involving Nets point guard Deron Williams. Along with Williams, the Nets have made Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson available and seem ready to unload some their top talent after starting 10-14.

Today we take a look at another big name who may be on move, Detroit Pistons forward Greg Monroe. After spending this past summer as a restricted free agent, Monroe and the Pistons were unable come to terms on a long-term deal. Not landing the lucrative contract he had in mind, Monroe settled for the $5.5 million dollar qualifying offer from the Pistons. His acceptance of the qualifying earned Monroe a no-trade clause, giving him the power to veto any deal that isn’t to his liking. No matter where Monroe finishes the season he will once again be in line for a big payday, a factor that will weigh heavily for any team considering acquiring the young big man since he will lose his bird rights with any trade, meaning they re-sign him without going under the cap.

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Kyle Cape-Lindelin is based out of Portland, OR covering the NBA while being one of the newsline editors and contributor to "Out of Bounds."

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NBA Daily: Rich Cho Out As Charlotte Hornets GM

The Charlotte Hornets opted to not move forward with GM Rich Cho and are expected to pursue former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

Buddy Grizzard

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The fateful moment for Rich Cho came days after he was hired as GM of the Charlotte Hornets in June of 2011. With the NBA Draft coming up just nine days later, Cho started work on a three-team trade that would land Charlotte a second top-10 pick to pair with its own ninth pick, which was used to draft franchise cornerstone, Kemba Walker.

In that draft, Klay Thompson went 11th to the Golden State Warriors and Kawhi Leonard went 15th to the Pacers. Of the 17 players selected after Bismack Biyombo, whom went to the Hornets with the seventh pick, 12 are regular contributors on current NBA rosters. The Orlando Magic are currently being outscored by 11.6 points per 100 possessions with Biyombo on court, a rotation-worst.

Today, Hornets owner Michael Jordan announced that Cho is out as Charlotte’s GM.

“Rich worked tirelessly on behalf of our team and instituted a number of management tools that have benefited our organization,” said Jordan in a press release. “We are deeply committed to our fans and to the city of Charlotte to provide a consistent winner on the court. The search will now begin for our next head of basketball operations who will help us achieve that goal.”

While the failure to obtain Thompson, Leonard or any of the other numerous impact players in the 2011 draft will always mar Cho’s record, falling to the second pick in the 2012 NBA Draft will continue to haunt the Hornets. Despite a brutal 7-59 record in the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, which set the record for lowest win percentage in an NBA season (.110), the New Orleans Pelicans won the right to the first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft and selected Anthony Davis.

The Hornets selected Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the second pick. Although the 2012 Draft wasn’t nearly as deep as 2011’s, the Hornets still left players like Bradley Beal (third) and Andre Drummond (ninth) on the board. Either player would have been an outstanding compliment to Walker, who remains with the team despite rumors of his availability leading up the the trade deadline.

“I feel like I’m going to be in Charlotte,” said Walker at his All-Star media availability. “So that’s where I’m at, that’s where I’m playing. So I never really sat and thought about any other teams.”

Walker made his second All-Star appearance after Kristaps Porzingis suffered a season-ending ACL injury.

“I wish K.P. hadn’t gotten hurt,” said Walker. “Everybody hates to see guys go down, especially great players like him. But when I was able to get the call to replace him, it was a really good feeling.”

Another fateful moment in Cho’s tenure came during the 2015 NBA Draft. According to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, the Boston Celtics offered the 15th and 16th picks, a future protected first rounder from the Brooklyn Nets and a future first from either the Grizzlies or Timberwolves in exchange for the ninth pick, which Cho used to draft Frank Kaminsky.

“If it was such a no-brainer for us, why would another team want to do it,” Cho asked rhetorically in defense of the Kaminsky selection, according to Lowe.

Years later, it’s evident that the Celtics dodged a bullet when both Charlotte and the Miami HEAT rebuffed its attempts to move up and draft Justise Winslow. The latter has not panned out while Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, the players Boston subsequently selected with Brooklyn’s picks, have developed into starters.

Chris Mannix of Yahoo! Sports reported in the first week of February that Charlotte may target former Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for a high-ranking role in the organization with Cho’s contract set to expire. Kupchak, like Jordan, is a former UNC star. Kupchak would join Jordan’s UNC teammate and Charlotte assistant GM Buzz Peterson.

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The G-League is a Path Back to the NBA

The G-League has become an avenue for several player types toward the NBA, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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When the NBA first instituted their development league, its main purpose was two-fold. The first was to give experience to young players who perhaps were not seeing regular playing time on their respective NBA teams. The second was to give undrafted players a chance at getting exposure and ultimately getting to the NBA.

With the growth in size and popularity of the development league, now known as the G-League, it’s begun to serve another purpose. It’s become a place for older veterans who have already tasted the NBA life to get back to the highest level of basketball that they once knew.

One player in particular who has a wealth of NBA experience is Terrence Jones. Jones is currently playing with the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of the Golden State Warriors.

Jones was originally drafted by the Houston Rockets with the 18th overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was part of a vaunted class of Kentucky Wildcats that year, which included Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Doron Lamb, and Darius Miller. During his four years with the Rockets, he emerged as a dependable reserve and part-time starter. He averaged 9.5 points per game on 49.5 percent shooting and 5.3 rebounds.

“It was just a lot of excitement and a lot of joy, being part of the Houston Rockets was a lot of fun,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “We had great memories and great seasons, a lot of up and downs, I just enjoyed the journey.”

Jones’ dealt with injuries his last two season in Houston, and when he was a free agent in the summer of 2016, the Rockets didn’t re-sign him. He was scooped by the New Orleans Pelicans, however, and he made an immediate impact for them. Prior to the trade deadline, he played in 51 games for the Pelicans, including 12 starts while putting up 11.5 points on 47.2 percent shooting, and 5.9 rebounds.

When the Pelicans acquired DeMarcus Cousins, however, they cut Jones. He didn’t stay unemployed for long, though, as he was signed by the Milwaukee Bucks to add depth for a playoff run. He was unable to crack the rotation, though, and the Bucks cut him as well before the playoff started. After a brief stint in China, he’s now back stateside and using the G-League to get back to the NBA.

“That’s the goal. Right now, I feel I’ve been playing pretty well and just trying to help my team get wins,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I think I can play multiple positions offensively and defensively. Whether that’s creating plays for myself or for others, I think I can help contribute on the offensive end.”

He’s been the second-leading scorer for Santa Cruz with 19.9 points per game. He’s pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and even dishing out 4.5 assists. In the G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team at All-Star Weekend, he finished with eight points on 50.0 percent shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals. He’s definitely a name to watch for as NBA teams scour the market for 10-day contract possibilities.

Another player who’s had a taste of the NBA is Xavier Silas. Silas is currently with the Northern Arizona Suns, the affiliate of the Phoenix Suns. He went undrafted in 2011 and started his professional career in France. That only last a few months before he came back the United States and latched on with the Philadelphia 76ers.

He played sparingly with the 76ers and was ultimately cut before the start of the 2012-13 season. Since then, he’s played summer league with the Bucks, and been in two different training camps with the Washington Wizards.

“It was amazing, any time you get to go and play at the highest level, and I even got to play in the playoffs and play in the second round and even score, that was big,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “It was a great time for me and that’s what I’m working towards getting back.”

While his professional career has taken him all across the globe from Israel to Argentina to Greece to Germany and even Ice Cube’s BIG3 league, he sees the G-League as being the one place that will get him back to where he wants to be.

He’s done well this season for Northern Arizona. He’s their third-leading scorer at 19.3 points per game and he’s one of their top three-point threats at 39.9 percent. At the All-Star Weekend G-League Challenge against the Mexican National Team, Silas had a team-high 13 points for Team USA including 3-5 shooting from three-point range.

It’s isn’t just what he brings on the court that Silas believes makes him an attractive candidate for an NBA team. At age 30, he’s one of the older guys in the G-League and one with a lot of basketball experience to be passed down to younger guys.

“I think it’s a little bit of leadership, definitely some shooting. I’m a vet now so I’m able to come in and help in that aspect as well. But everybody needs someone who can hit an open shot and I think I can bring that to a team,” Silas told Basketball Insiders. “I think it’s the best place for anyone who’s trying to make that next step. We’re available and we’re right here, it’s just a call away.”

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NBA Daily: Lillard Playing For Something Bigger

Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard has his eyes set on a bigger prize than just being an NBA All-Star.

Steve Kyler

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Playing For Something Bigger

The NBA All-Star Game is a spectacle.

By design, the game is meant to be a showcase, not just for the players selected to compete, but for the league and all of its partners, on and off the floor. It is easy to get caught up in how players selected actually play, but the reality is while most see the game as important for a lot of reasons, Portland Trail Blazer star Damian Lillard understands it has to be put into perspective.

“I don’t think it’s fair to expect people to go out there and treat it like they are playing for the team they’re under contract for,” Lillard explained this weekend.

“It’s the one time in an 82-game season plus playoffs, preseason and training camp that we actually get a break. It’s necessary to take a mental break, along with a physical break from what we do every day. There’s nothing wrong with that, so I don’t think it’s fair to ask guys to go out there and play like it’s for the Trail Blazers. My loyalty is to my team; I got to stay healthy for my team. I got to do what’s best for my team. Obviously, go out there [during All-Star] and not mess around too much and that’s how people get hurt and stuff like that. You got to go out there and play and have respect for the game, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go out there and go crazy like it’s a playoff game.”

Lillard notched 21 minutes in Sunday’s big game, going 9-for-14 from the field for 21 points for Team Stephen, a roster that included three Golden State Warriors players. Lillard believes that eventually, he’ll get the chance to share the weekend, his third, with teammate C. J. McCollum.

“Each year you see teams are getting two to three, Golden State got four this year,” Lillard said. “But you look at it and say ‘why is that happening’ and it has a lot to do with team success. Me and C.J. just have to take that challenge of making our team win more games. I think when we do that, we’ll be rewarded with both of us making it. If we really want to make that happen, then we’ll do whatever it takes to win more games.

“I feel like this season we’ve moved closer in that direction. In the past, we haven’t even been in the position to get one, because I did not make it the past two years. I think if we keep on improving we’ll eventually get to the point that we’re winning games and people will say ‘how are they doing this’ and then hopefully our names come up. Hopefully, one day, it’ll happen.”

Another issue that got addressed during the All-Star Weekend was the growing tensions between the NBA players and the NBA referees. Representatives from both sides met to address the gap developing on the court, something Lillard felt was necessary.

“We’re all human,” Lillard said. “As competitors, we want to win. If you feel like you got fouled, you want them to call the foul every time. I think sometimes as players, we forget how hard their job can be. At the pace we play, it’s hard to get every call, and then you got guys tricking the referees sometimes, we’re clever too. It’s a tough job for them. I think when we get caught up in our competitive nature, and we forget that they’re not just these robots with stripes, they are people too. You have got to think, as a man if someone comes screaming at you every three plays, you are going to react in your own way. Maybe you’re not going to make the next call; maybe I am going to stand my ground. It’s just something that I think will get better over time. I think both have to do a better job of understanding.”

With 24 games left to play in Lillard’s sixth NBA season, the desire to be more than a playoff team or an All-Star is coming more into focus for Lillard, something he reportedly expressed to Blazers management several weeks ago.

“There are guys that have this record and guys that have done these things, and I want to at least get myself the chance to compete for a championship,” Lillard said. “If I get there and we don’t win it, it happens. A lot of people had to go see about Michael Jordan, a lot of people had to go see about Shaq and Kobe. You know, those great teams, but I have a strong desire to at least give myself a chance to be there. Take a shot at it.”

With All-Star out of the way, the focus in the NBA will switch to the race to the playoffs. As things stand today Lillard and his Blazers hold the seventh seed in the West and are tied with Denver, and just a half of a game back from the five seed Oklahoma City Thunder.

If the Blazers are going to make noise this post season its going to be on the shoulder of Lillard, and based on what he said, it seems he’s up to the challenge.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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