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NBA AM: Faried Happy The Rumors Are Over

Nuggets big man Kenneth Faried says having his name out of trade rumors has helped spark his amazing March… Kobe Bryant not at all happy with where things stand in LA.

Steve Kyler

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The Return Of The Manimal:  Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried has had a tough season. A tougher season than he expected, especially coming of a 2013-2014 campaign in which he genuinely felt he would become more of a focal point for the team. During the offseason Faried had told other players he expected to be an All-Star this year and when it came time to talk contract that he was a max contract type player.

The NBA sometimes has a funny way of humbling you, and Faried found out this season that what you think will happen often doesn’t.

Faried who thought he’d be the focal point for the Nuggets this season not only found himself outside the game plan on many nights, he also found himself in the middle of trade rumors all season that clearly effected his game, even if he doesn’t like to admit it.

“It didn’t really get to me,” Faried said to Basketball Insiders. “It was just like if it’s gonna happen, then let it happen already. If it not then shut up about it and leave it alone.”

Faried is having an impressive March, scoring 21.1 points per game and grabbing 10.1 rebounds on 64.5 percent shooting from the field. It’s clear something has changed for him.

“I feel kind of disrespected,” Faried said joking and smiling at the notion that something has changed.

“I’m just playing basketball, having fun and enjoying myself. There is no stress of basically having to worry about if I am getting traded; trade talks or rumors. It’s just pure basketball right now so I am having fun and enjoying that.”

Faried’s teammates talk about his energy level being higher and that he is being more assertive and more aggressive.

Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson says he’s been trying to help Faried find opportunities, especially in the paint.

“He has been more aggressive,” Lawson said. “When he gets in the post, I gave him a suggestion like when he does his jump hook instead of fading away from the contact, go get it. That’s how like Kevin Love gets his fouls, Blake Griffin, they create the contact a little bit. Ever since he’s been doing that his points been going up.”

Faried says having the trade talk out of the way for the time being and the support of his teammates has been the biggest change in his game.

“I feel free. I feel like myself,” Faried said. “I feel like I am back in high school again or college, just playing basketball; getting post ups and touches. Everybody around me; teammates, coaches and family believe in me. When I get the ball, hey I know how to score down there and I know what I am doing.”

The Nuggets are currently ten games out of the eighth seed in the West with 18 games remaining on the schedule. Making the postseason now seems like the longest of long-shots and there is a sense of ease from the players that the final stretch of games is simply about learning and growing as players.

“The locker room is a little bit light, everybody is having fun. Smiling,” Lawson said. “Look, Faried is even dancing and he can’t even dance.

“We’re all young, so a little bit more coaching, everybody just getting on the same page… We’re young players getting game time experience; you know Evan (Fournier) and Quincy (Miller) and just gelling more as a team.”

If the standings hold true the Nuggets will be looking at a draft pick in the 10 to 13 range, mainly because they have the rights to the New York Knicks draft pick, which currently projects lower than their own, which would in turn go to the Orlando Magic.

»In Related: The Top 100 NBA Draft Prospects.

The Nuggets won’t have a lot (or any) breathing room under the salary cap with what projects to be $65.5 million in contract commitments next season. This will also be the summer in which they can extend Faried’s rookie scale contract, but given the season of rumors he’s had to endure the odds of him getting a monster deal this summer seems small, especially if he still believes his value to been near the NBA maximum.

»In Related:The Denver Nuggets Salary Cap.

Faried has played well over the last few weeks, but it seems more likely than not that more trade rumors are in his future. That’s just how it goes in the NBA.

Kobe’s Not Happy:  The LA Lakers announced yesterday that guard Kobe Bryant won’t return to the court this season as he continue to rehab from a broken bone in his left leg just below his knee.

In a released statement famed Laker trainer Gary Vitti said: “With Kobe’s injury still not healed, the amount of time he’d need to rehab and be ready to play, and the amount of time remaining in the season, we’ve simply run out of time for him to return. However, Kobe will have the entire offseason to heal … and we look forward to him being 100% for the start of next season.”

The Lakers made Bryant available to the media yesterday and while Kobe tried to be optimistic, the tone of the press availability turned sour with Bryant taking shots at his team’s management and the notion that the team should hold the line and wait for 2015.

Bryant said he’s struggling with all the losing and not being able to be on the floor and its making him grumpy.

“I feel like killing everybody every time I go to the arena,” Bryant said to reporters. “I’m on edge all the time. I feel it. I feel (the pain of losing) more than anyone in the organization. It drives me absolutely crazy.”

Bryant who is known as one of the hardest workers in the NBA says he believes he’ll be ready to go next season and that he doesn’t expect a lot of drop of in his game.

“I don’t want to say I’ll be back at the top of my game because everybody is going to think I’m crazy, and it’s the old player not letting go sort of thing,” Bryant said. “But that’s what it’s going to be.”

Bryant was also clear that he wouldn’t have a lot of patience or interest in another losing season like the one the Lakers have endured this season.

“Let’s just play next year and let’s just suck again?” Bryant said. “Absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. Right? You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

»In Related: The LA Lakers Salary Cap.

There has been a prevailing belief that the Lakers would add a top level prospect from the draft this year and attempt to preserve as much cap flexibility as possible to be ready for free agents in 2015 that could include HEAT star LeBron James, Boston guard Rajon Rondo and Wolves’ forward Kevin Love.

Bryant isn’t overly interested in that game plan and wants to see a vision for the team crafted this summer.

Bryant suggested that it was time for the internal feud between Jim Buss, the head of basketball operations for the Lakers, to work things out with Jeanie Buss, who runs the business side of the franchise. The two have had a very public dysfunction for some time, something Kobe believes hampers the franchises ability to have a cohesive direction.

“You have to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “Start with Jim and Jeanie. How that relationship plays out. It starts there in having a clear direction and clear authority. Then it goes down to the coaching staff. What’s Mike [D’Antoni] going to do? What do they want to do with Mike?”

That opened end question about head coach Mike D’Antoni reinforces some reports that Bryant has had enough of D’Antoni as a coach and would like to see a change this summer.

Bryant is one of the few players in the NBA that’s has a defined No-Trade clause in his contract. Given Bryant’s age, his recent injuries and the $48 million owed after his two-year extension this season, the Lakers and Bryant seem stuck with each other. So it will be interesting to see how the Lakers respond to the desires of their franchise player.

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told David Leon Moore of USA Today Sports, that he didn’t think there were any quick fixes coming for the Lakers pointing to the current Collective Bargaining Agreement as making it hard to poach talent from other teams.

“Patience is the key,” Kupchak said. “With the new collective bargaining agreement, there are no quick fixes. You cannot outbid teams for star players.

“The one thing we feel is not a good thing is to be saddled with contracts of players that put us in the middle of the pack,” he said. “That’s a danger in this league.”

The Lakers are positioned to land a fairly solid draft pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, but Kupchak warned that a draft pick isn’t always the answer and accepting or encouraging losing to enhance that pick isn’t something the franchise is endorsing.

“To think the draft can save your franchise, we just don’t think that way,” Kupchak said. “We just don’t. Whatever happens happens. If we end up with a high pick or a mid pick or a late pick, a lot of players have been picked in the middle or late first round that have turned out to be great players, and a lot of guys who have been picked one, two or three haven’t worked out. Just because you think the higher the better is always the case, it’s not always the case.”

»In Related:A Scout’s Take On The 2014 NBA Draft.

The Lakers are currently 22-42 on the season, which is a .344 record on the season. If that number holds true over the final 18 games of the season, this will be the worst season since the franchise began playing in LA in 1960. As a franchise, this would be the third worst season ever. The Minneapolis Lakers logged at .264 season in 1957-1958 and a .333 season in 1959-1960.

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, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton , @JCameratoNBA and @YannisNBA.

Steve Kyler is the Editor and Publisher of Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA and basketball for the last 17 seasons.

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VIDEO: Tobias Harris – 2018 NBA All-Star

New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

Basketball Insiders

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New LA Clipper Tobias Harris talks about the trade from Detroit, his mindset after being traded a few times and more.

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Rest Assured, the 1-16 NBA Playoff Format Is Coming… Kinda

Based on Adam Silver’s comments, it’s safe to assume that the NBA will soon reformat the playoffs.

Moke Hamilton

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If there’s one thing Adam Silver has proven in his four years as the NBA’s Commissioner, it’s that he isn’t afraid to do things his way.

And if Silver has his way, the league will eventually figure out how it can implement a system that results in a more balanced playoff system. On Saturday, though, he revealed that it’s probably closer to a reality than many of us realize.

During his annual All-Star media address, Silver admitted that the league will “continue to look at” how they can reformat the playoffs to both ensure a better competitive balance throughout and pave the way for the league’s two best teams to meet up in the NBA Finals, even if both of those two teams happen to be in the same conference.

“You also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in the Finals,” the commissioner said on Saturday night.

“You could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the conference finals or somewhere else. So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

Since Silver took over the league, he’s been consistent in implementing dramatic changes to improve the overall quality of the game. Although Silver didn’t take over as the league’s commissioner until 2014, he was instrumental in getting the interested parties to buy into the notion that the “center” designation on the All-Star ballot was obsolete.

As a result, beginning with the 2013 All-Star Game, the Eastern and Western Conference teams have featured three “frontcourt” players, which essentially lumps centers in with forwards and eliminates the requirement that a center appear in the All-Star game. That wasn’t always the case.

From overhauling the league’s scheduling to reducing back-to-back games to implementing draft lottery reform to, this year, eliminating the traditional All-Star format which featured the Eastern Conference versus the Western Conference, it’s become clear that Silver simply “gets it” and isn’t afraid to make revolutionary changes if he deems them to be in the overall best interest of the league.

At this point, everyone realizes that something needs to be done about the league’s current playoff system.

Last season, for example, the Western Conference first round playoff series featured the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder squaring off against one another. Only one series—the Los Angeles Clippers versus Utah Jazz—went seven games.

Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the first round series that were contested weren’t exactly compelling.

The Cleveland Cavaliers steamrolled the conference to the tune of a 12-1 run to their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals. It wasn’t the first time that the public questioned the wisdom behind separating the playoff brackets by conference, but the dominance of the Cavs and LeBron James specifically (who is expected to win the Eastern Conference for the eighth consecutive time this season) has caused renewed scrutiny.

The most common solution offered to this point has been to simply take the 16 best teams across the league, irrespective of conference, and conduct the playoffs as normal.

From afar, this solution seems simple enough, but the obvious concerns are twofold.

First, if the Celtics and Clippers, for example, were pitted against one another in a first round series, the travel would be considerable. Private charter flight or not, traveling is taxing, and the prospect of having to make five cross-country trips over the course of a two-week span would certainly leave the winner of such a series at a competitive disadvantage against the opponents they would face in subsequent rounds, especially if the future opponent enjoyed a playoff series that was contested within close proximity.

Atlanta to New Orleans, for example, is less than a one-hour flight.

Aside from the concerns about geographic proximity, the other obvious issue is competitive balancing of the schedule, which seems to be an easier issue to fix.

Using the Pelicans as an example, of the 82 games they play, 30 are played against the other conference—in this case, the Eastern Conference. The other 52 games would all be played within the conference. If playoff seedings were going to be done on a simple 1-16 basis, the scheduling would have to be realigned in a way to essentially pit all teams against one another evenly. It wouldn’t be fair for a team like the Celtics to be judged on the same standard as the Pelicans if the Celtics faced inferior teams more often.

On Saturday night, Silver revealed that the league’s brass has been thinking about this and is trying to find a solution, and in doing so, he may have tipped his hand.

* * * * * *

As a multinational conglomerate, the NBA values the inclusion of as many markets as possible. Wanting to improve the overall quality of the product, though, there are interests that may not align fully.

What’s obvious with this year’s All-Star game is that the NBA has found a way to balance the two.

Rather than eliminating the conference designations altogether and simply choosing the “best” 24 players to be in the All-Star game, the league still chose All-Stars based on their conference, but then distributed them within the pool to allow for better competition.

That’s exactly what Silver revealed the NBA is considering doing with the playoffs. It makes perfect sense, and it’s probably just a matter of time before it’s implemented.

A report from ESPN notes that the idea that the league is kicking around would essentially do exactly what the league did with the All-Star selections with the playoff teams: choose the best from each conference, then disburse them in a way that allows for competitive balance. 

The proposal would have the league’s teams compete as they normally do and would still feature the top eight teams from each conference getting into the playoffs.

Once the teams are qualified, however, they would be re-seeded on a 1-16 basis and crossmatched, on that basis.

It’s not perfect, but compromises never are. The travel issues would still persist, but the league would accomplish two goals: the less dominant conference wouldn’t be underrepresented and discouraged from competing, but the two best teams would still be on opposite ends of the bracket.

An NBA playoffs that featured 11 or 12 teams from the Western Conference would be a ratings nightmare for the league. Eastern Conference cities are less likely to stay up past midnight during the week to watch playoff games, and less competitive markets would frown at the prospect of having to compete against the other conference for a playoff spot. For many small market teams, the millions of dollars generated from a single playoff game often has a significant impact on the team’s operations, so there would naturally be discord.

This system would at least eliminate that contention.

On the positive side, it would allow for the Rockets and Warriors, for example, to meet in the NBA Finals. In both the NFL and MLB, geography hasn’t been a determining factor on which teams battle for the league’s championship.

Why does it have to be in the NBA?

* * * * * *

With the league having begun regular season play earlier this season, at the All-Star break, most teams have played about 57 games. A lot can change over the final 25 games of the season, but if the seeds were frozen today and the league took the top eight teams from each conference and then crossmatched them, the Los Angeles Clippers would be the team that got the short end o the stick.

Although the Clippers have the 16th best record in the league, they would be the ninth-seeded Western Conference team and would thus be eliminated from postseason contention by the Miami HEAT. The HEAT have the 17th best record in the league but are the eighth-best team in the Eastern Conference, so to preserve the conference weight, the HEAT would win out.

This is what the seedings and matchups would look like…

(1) Houston Rockets versus (16) Miami HEAT

(2) Golden State Warriors versus (15) New Orleans Pelicans

(3) Toronto Raptors versus (14) Philadelphia 76ers

(4) Boston Celtics versus (13) Portland Trail Blazers

(5) Cleveland Cavaliers versus (12) Denver Nuggets

(6) San Antonio Spurs versus (11) Oklahoma City Thunder

(7) Minnesota Timberwolves versus (10) Milwaukee Bucks

(8) Washington Wizards versus (9) Indiana Pacers

Here, the Celtics would face the nightmarish scenario of having to travel to and from Portland for their playoff series, while virtually every other series would feature much more friendly travel (especially the Spurs-Thunder and Raptors-Sixers).

The Cavs would have a very tough road to the Finals, having to beat the Nuggets, Celtics and Rockets if the seeds held. The Celtics would have a similarly tough road, as they’d have to get past the Blazers, Cavs and Rockets.

At the end of the day, the Rockets and Warriors would be aligned in such a way as to avoid one another until the championship, but each of the two would face daunting competition. The Rockets would have to go through the HEAT, Wizards and Celtics, while the Warriors would have to face the Pelicans, Timberwolves and Raptors—again, assuming the seeds held.

It would be a benefit to all observers.

One of the unintended consequences of implementing this system would be to make every single game count. If the Celtics were able to move up to the second seed, for example, their road to the Finals, in theory, could become much much easier, comparatively speaking.

The end result would be less resting of players during the course of the season and certainly less instances in which star players take the final week of the regular season off in other to be fresh for the postseason.

Everyone wins.

No, there’s no perfect solution, but just as the league has found a clever way to serve multiple interests as it relates to the All-Star game’s competitiveness, Silver has revealed that the league is at least considering following suit with the playoffs.

Best bet?

It’s only a matter of time before we see it actually see it happen.

It simply makes too much sense, and if there’s one thing the commissioner has already proven, it’s that he isn’t afraid of changing tradition.

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NBA All-Star Saturday Recap

Brian Slingluff recaps All-Star Saturday from Los Angeles.

Basketball Insiders

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Basketball Insiders is here to recap an eventful All-Star Saturday that led to three first-time champs in the various skills contests. Let’s get right to it.

Taco Bell Skills Challenge

In Saturday night’s Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the “Bigs” team, boasting 3 All-Stars, set out to claim a third straight title. The competition kicked off with Joel Embiid coming from behind to best Al Horford, and sharpshooter Lauri Markkanen swishing his first 3 point attempt to eliminate Andre Drummond. On the Guard side, Buddy Hield had an early lead before losing out to Spencer Dinwiddie, and Jamal Murray upset hometown favorite Lou Williams.

In the semifinals, Markkanen was able to dispatch Joel Embiid, who struggled with the pass portion of the competition, and Dinwiddie topped Jamal Murray by making his first 3 pointer for the second consecutive round.

In the Final round, Dinwiddie finally missed a 3 pointer, but it did not matter as he finished with a wire to wire victory over Lauri Markkanen. Dinwiddie, competing in front of his friends and family, was able to end the Bigs’ two year win streak in impressive fashion.

JBL Three Point Contest

The event started off with Tobias Harris scoring a solid 18 points. Wayne Ellington was next, sporting the hot new alternate Miami Vice jersey. Ellington started off cold and heated up on his last three racks, ending up with a score of 17. Devin Booker and former three-point champion Klay Thompson tied for a round-high 19 points. Paul George, Bradley Beal, and Kyle Lowry struggled from the start and never found a rhythm, falling short of making the championship round. Defending champion Eric Gordon never got it going, and would not defend the title, scoring only 12 points.

In the Championship round, Tobias Harris was on fire through the first 3 racks, but quickly got cold, scoring 17 points. Devin Booker was next and could not miss, scoring 28 points, leaving Klay Thompson a high number to match. Thompson fell just 3 points short, and Devin Booker was crowned the 2018 JBL Three Point Champion.

Verizon Slam Dunk Contest

The final and most anticipated event of the night started with Donovan Mitchell bringing out a second hoop, bouncing it off the second backboard and finishing with an impressive windmill dunk, scoring a 48. Victor Oladipo followed with a difficult look-away alley oop dunk attempt that he was unable to complete, totaling 31 points from the judges. Dennis Smith Jr. had a nice reverse double pump that got 39 points and Larry Nance Jr., in a throwback Phoenix jersey, payed homage to his father’s cradle dunk, nailing it almost exactly for a score of 44 points.

Oladipo started the next round of dunks by borrowing Chadwick Boseman’s Black Panther mask, and scoring 40 points with a tomahawk windmill dunk. Smith Jr. hit a seemingly impossible reverse 360, through the legs, switching hands dunk for a perfect score of 50. Nance Jr. pulled off a Vince Carter level windmill, nearly missing a perfect score. Mitchell jumped over comedian Kevin Hart to advance to the finals against Larry Nance Jr.

In the Finals, Nance started things off with a windmill alley-oop with some help from Larry Nance Sr., garnering a score of 46. Mitchell completed the difficult one handed alley-oop he had attempted in the previous round, scoring a perfect 50. Nance Jr. answered with an incredible double pass off the backboard dunk, scoring yet another 50 points.  Mitchell ended the contest with a Vince Carter tribute dunk, coming out on top by just two points. It capped off an exciting Saturday night, setting things up for the main event on Sunday, Team LeBron versus Team Stephen.

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