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NBA AM: Paul Battling for 76ers Roster Spot

Brandon Paul talked to Basketball Insiders about fighting for a roster spot at Philadelphia 76ers training camp.

Alex Kennedy

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During NBA Summer League, it’s no secret that many players like have a good time. After all, many of these prospects are in their late teens or early 20s and this is the first time that they get to experience anything close to the NBA lifestyle. In fact, for some it’s the only time.

In July, Las Vegas clubs are often full of very tall men wearing NBA warm-ups (players love donning these out in public since they’re extremely comfortable and, more importantly, let everyone know, “Oh, yeah, I play for the team. No big deal…”). Even for unknown players who are just on a Summer League contract, it’s relatively easy to get V.I.P. treatment and free drinks at a club by playing the NBA card. Many players know this and enjoy their time in Las Vegas.

However, some players want nothing to do with the extracurricular activities and treat Summer League like a business trip. Take Brandon Paul, for example. At 25 years old, he played in both the Orlando Summer League and Las Vegas Summer League this year, and he entered each event with one thing on his mind: Earn an NBA contract.

Paul isn’t a wide-eyed kid who’s excited to be around the NBA festivities. He has played Summer League in the past, suited up in the NBA D-League and even had stints in Russia and Spain. For Paul, Summer League wasn’t about enjoying the Las Vegas nightlife and partying. This was his chance to show NBA executives, coaches and scouts what he can do on the court, how he carries himself and why he belongs on an NBA roster this upcoming season.

Last July, Paul wasn’t able to participate in Summer League due to a shoulder injury, making him even hungrier to shine this time around. He did just that, and his professional approach paid off.

Paul played for the Charlotte Hornets in the Orlando Summer League. He scored double digit points in his first four games, including a 17-point, 11-rebound, two-assist, two-steal, two-block outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder that impressed NBA decision-makers. He was confident and comfortable on the floor, and he carried himself like a veteran. With Charlotte, he ultimately averaged 15.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting 39.1 percent from three-point range.

The Philadelphia 76ers liked what they saw and asked Paul to join them in Las Vegas. Once he arrived and got acclimated, he did well and made his presence felt all over the court. He had an 18-point, six-steal, two-rebound outing against the Brooklyn Nets. In a win over the D-League Select Team, he had 20 points, six rebounds and two steals in 24 minutes (while shooting 4-6 from three-point range). Over the final three games of Summer League with Philadelphia, Paul averaged 16.3 points, 3.3 rebounds and three steals in 25 minutes per game.

Philadelphia was so impressed that they signed Paul to a partially guaranteed contract. He will attend training camp with the 76ers on a $543,471 salary (of which $155,000 is guaranteed). It’s worth noting that Paul’s $155,000 is more money than Robert Covington, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant, T.J. McConnell, Shawn Long and James Webb have guaranteed to them in their own partial or non-guaranteed deals.

At first glance, it may seem like Paul is a long shot to make Philadelphia’s roster. After all, they have 20 players coming to training camp. However, a closer look reveals that only 11 of those players have a fully guaranteed deal – meaning there’s an opportunity for Paul and others to make the team and even carve out a spot in the rotation. Given the Sixers’ needs in the backcourt, Paul felt confident betting on himself with this situation.

At the very least, Paul will earn a six-figure payday for his camp commitment, which then would likely lead to a spot with the Sixers’ D-League affiliate (the Delaware 87ers) and the possibility of a midseason call-up. Philly clearly likes Paul’s game, so this could be a smart route for him to take.

After thriving in Summer League, grinding in the D-League and going abroad to Russia and Spain, the 25-year-old guard is closer to achieving his NBA dream than ever before.

Basketball Insiders caught up with Paul to discuss his professional journey, why he chose to sign with the 76ers, what he can bring to Philadelphia’s roster, what he learned overseas and much more.

Alex Kennedy: What was the moment like when you officially signed with the 76ers? I know you’ve been working toward this for a long time, so how did it feel to achieve that goal?

Brandon Paul: “It was great, real humbling. Just thinking about all of the stuff I went through and all of the hard work I put in – especially this past summer – it was just a really exciting moment. It didn’t really come as a shock, but it was hard to put my thoughts in words when I got the call from my agent, Adam Pensack. It’s a great feeling.”

Kennedy: After your performance in Summer League, there were quite a few teams showing interest in you. How did you decide on the 76ers?

Paul: “I just felt like, all around, it was the best decision for me to come in and compete. They obviously have a young roster and I kind of bring in a little bit of maturity to that roster. Obviously, I’m relatively young as well. But around those guys, I’m kind of the older one and I’m a little more seasoned because I played overseas and in the D-League. I think I can bring a little bit of toughness and maturity to the roster.”

Kennedy: You played in Russia and Spain. How was your experience overseas, and how did it help you grow as a player and as a person?

Paul: “I mean, it’s definitely tough for a player coming out of college to go overseas and kind of build their resume over there. A lot of guys feel like if they don’t get the NBA right away then it might not happen; I just had the mindset of staying positive and staying the course. I definitely think it helped a lot. It helped shape me as a player and as a man. I learned a lot about myself because you have a lot of alone time when you’re living more secluded. Your family and friends aren’t around – it’s just you and your team – so I definitely think playing over there helped me grow a lot more.”

Kennedy: You had to overcome a number of obstacles to get to this point, from going undrafted to dealing with various injuries. How frustrating were those setbacks at the time, and does it make your current success even sweeter?

Paul: “It was definitely frustrating – especially because the injuries occurred at, I would say, some of the worst times. Every time I had another opportunity, a setback happened. Everyone’s got their story and I’m just kind of building mine up. I think the mental aspect was a lot tougher than it was physically. The rehab was brutal, but from a mental point, you’re kind of like, ‘Why does this keep happening? Is it going to happen again?’ I have a good circle around me, though, and I just stayed positive no matter what. People were asking me questions about it like, ‘How do you feel?’ and I just kept speaking positively. I think that helped me get to where I am right now.”

Kennedy: You’ve always had a chip on shoulder and used different slights as motivation. What’s your mindset entering training camp with the 76ers?

Paul: “I just have to go in and do what I do. I’ve always been a hard worker and I’ve always prided myself on working harder than others around me. It’s not about trying to prove anything – that’s just really all I know, that’s how I grew up, that’s what I was taught. I plan on competing every single day and just showing guys that it’s nothing personal, it’s just basketball. When I go out there, I got a team out there, but it’s not about making friends. It’s about playing and getting yourself better and getting the team better. I just want to go out there and just kill every day and prove myself. I want to prove to the staff that I deserve a roster spot.”

Kennedy: It seemed like that was your approach in Summer League too. You weren’t messing around out there – you were looking to take someone’s job.

Paul: “I unfortunately missed some opportunities the last couple summers because of injuries, so just getting the Summer League opportunity with Charlotte and then Philly was a great experience and I appreciate all of the help they gave me.

“I knew when I was going to Vegas that it was just another opportunity to open some eyes up. Every day you step on the court, it’s a job interview and I used it. I wanted to prove myself – regardless of who was in the stands – that I’m an NBA player who can do multiple things for a team.”

Kennedy: For fans in Philadelphia who may not know your game all that well, what will you bring to this 76ers team?

Paul: “They’ll get a guy who competes extremely hard and enjoys playing both ends of the floor. I understand that 90-93 percent of individuals in the league are role players and I’m ready to come in and just do whatever role I need to in order to help the team be successful and help myself be successful and continue to build my resume. I’ve been known as a scorer my whole career and I score the ball at a high level, but at the same time I’m capable of guarding multiple positions and I definitely use my length to my advantage. I think that as I continue this process I’ll be able to show more and more people my capabilities as an athlete and as a pro.”

Kennedy: It seems strange to say, but you’re one of older guys on this Sixers squad at 25 years old. With your maturity and experience playing professionally, are you looking to take on a leadership role and helping some of these young guys in Philly?

Paul: “I think that’s something that the staff enjoys about me – that I’m seasoned. I played all throughout college, I played overseas for a couple of seasons and I have experience in the D-League. Those experiences help me to bring that maturity and the professionalism to this stage as well so any chance I get, I try to talk to them and pass on a little bit of my knowledge. I see myself as the rookie and the vet. Yes, it’s my first year on this stage, but at the same time it’s my fourth professional year so I’m not new to this.”

Kennedy: Two Drake lyrics in one answer! That was awesome.

Paul: “I just realized that. Literally as I said it, I realized it (laughs).”

Kennedy: Since Summer League, what has your offseason training been like?

Paul: “I’ve been all over the place training – Las Vegas, Charlotte, Chicago and now Philadelphia. It’s really just been a lot of rigorous workouts. I’m working on my explosion, my quickness, my shot consistency and being able to finish with contact.”

For more of our one-on-one interviews, check out our recent conversations with Boston Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell, Indiana Pacers guard Jeff Teague, Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum, Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Victor Oladipo, Atlanta Hawks swingman Kent Bazemore, New York Knicks guard Courtney Lee, Indiana Pacers center Myles Turner, Los Angeles Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr., Atlanta Hawks forward DeAndre Bembry, New Orleans Pelicans guard E’Twaun Moore and Sacramento Kings swingman Garrett Temple.

Alex Kennedy is the Managing Editor of Basketball Insiders and this is his 10th season covering the NBA. He is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.

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NBA Daily: Tyus Jones Thriving in Bigger Role

Minnesota’s Tyus Jones speaks to David Yapkowitz about his growing role with the Wolves.

David Yapkowitz

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It was the last game of the 2016-17 NBA season. The Minnesota Timberwolves had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention for quite some time. Their opponent that night, the Houston Rockets, had an impressive year and were on their way to the postseason.

Although the Wolves would go on to lose that game, 123-118, Tyus Jones came off the bench to have to his best game of the year. He would finish with 17 points on 66.7 percent shooting from the field, 75 percent from the three-point line, seven assists, four rebounds, two steals, and a blocked shot.

Jones had just finished up his second year in the NBA, which had gone a little bit just like his first; a few games played here and there followed by some DNP-CD’s. Rookie Kris Dunn was ahead of him on the depth chart at backup point guard for the majority of the year. That stat line he put up on the last night of the season, however, should have been a sign of things to come.

Now in his third year, and second playing under Tom Thibodeau, Jones has firmly seized the backup point guard spot. Thibodeau is notorious for playing short rotations, and along with Jamal Crawford and Gorgui Dieng, Jones has solidified himself as one of Minnesota’s most dependable reserves.

“It’s been good, I’m just trying to contribute to the team as much as possible,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I want to do whatever I need to do to help this team win more games.”

The Timberwolves have done just that so far. They won 31 games all of last season. This year, they already have 16 wins. They didn’t break that mark last season until mid-January. Jones’ impact on the Wolves this year has been a big reason for that.

His stats may not jump off the page; he’s averaging 3.9 points per game on 42.5 percent shooting, and 2.8 assists in about 17 minutes of play. But he’s become a reliable floor leader who is able to anchor the Wolves second unit. He’s also one of their best floor spacers at 38.2 percent from the three-point line, and he’s an improved defensive player.

“For me, having a little bit bigger role this year, it’s what I wanted,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just trying to make the most of it and take advantage of it.”

Jones has definitely taken advantage of his new role. Starting point guard Jeff Teague missed four games last month due to a sore right Achilles tendon. Aaron Brooks started in place of Teague for the first game he missed, but Jones was the starter for the next three.

In his first ever career start on Nov. 26 in a win over the Phoenix Suns, Jones had nine points on 50 percent shooting, four rebounds, seven assists, seven steals, and two blocks. The following game, albeit in a loss to the Washington Wizards, he finished with 12 points, four rebounds, and seven assists. In his final start before Teague returned, a win over the New Orleans Pelicans, he had his best game of the season with 16 points on 66.7 percent shooting, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.

“It was a dream, I’m just trying to make the most of it,” Jones told Basketball Insiders about being a starter. “Once again, take advantage of the opportunity and just do my role.”

Although Jones only spent one season playing college basketball before entering the NBA draft, it was the program he attended that’s allowed him to make a seamless transition. He played at Duke under Mike Krzyzewski during the 2014-15 season, winning a national championship alongside fellow NBA players Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, and Quinn Cook.

“It’s the best program in the country. Coach K is the best coach, arguably ever, to coach the game,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “There’s nothing comparable on the college level, playing at Duke. They’re the brightest lights, so that helps prepare you for the next level.”

The Wolves are a team that hasn’t made the playoffs in over a decade. It was the 2003-04 season, to be exact. This year, however, they are hoping to change that. They currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference, fighting for the right to host a playoff series in the first round.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs, that’s our goal right now,” Jones told Basketball Insiders. “Each year, we’re trying to get better. We’re still trying to take that next step. This organization hasn’t been to the playoffs in a number of years.”

With Jones playing a pivotal role, the Wolves’ playoff drought looks like it will be coming to an end very shortly.

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NBA Most Valuable Player Watch — 12/12/17

Dennis Chambers updates the latest MVP watch rankings.

Dennis Chambers

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The NBA season is coming in hot on Christmas Day games, and before we know it the new year will arrive as well. As the second half of the season starts to come into sight, more stability among the league’s MVP candidates will prevail.

By now, most of the frontrunners for the award have staked their claim of consistent dominance over the last eight weeks of the NBA season.

For our list here at Basketball Insiders, the same names make up our ladder from the last MVP race installment. A slight juggling of the order is the only new wrinkle. Thus far, these individuals have put themselves ahead of the pack.

A full season in the NBA is a long race, but through the first few laps, these are the MVP leaders.

stockdown456. Steph Curry (Last Week: 3)

Coming in at No. 3 on the last list, Steph Curry sees a bit of a tumble in the standings. Unfortunately for Curry, he’s suffering from a sprained ankle that is going to cause him to miss some time. Fortunately for the Golden State Warriors, they’ve won three straight games without their star point guard.

This doesn’t discredit the type of season Curry is having, or his brilliance on the court when he’s healthy, but the fact that the Warriors have enough firepower to sustain his absence damages his claim to the most “valuable” player throne.

Nevertheless, for the Warriors to truly fulfill their championship potential, Curry needs to be healthy and playing. Otherwise, the Warriors aren’t as lethal as they could be.

Barring a complete meltdown from his ball club, Curry’s spot will likely continue to drop slightly as he sits on the bench watching his team win games without him.

stockup455. Joel Embiid (Last Week: 6)

Almost the exact opposite of Curry, the Philadelphia 76ers don’t seem to have a prayer at winning basketball games that Joel Embiid sits out of. Luckily for the city of Philadelphia, though, that hasn’t been nearly frequent of an occurrence as past seasons.

The on/off numbers for Embiid are staggering. On both ends of the court, no less. Without their big man, the Sixers’ offensive rating drops off by more than five points and their defensive rating sees a 10-point spike in favor of their opponents.

In short, it’s worse for the Sixers when Embiid is tweeting rather than playing.

After missing back-to-back games over the weekend, Embiid’s value became more apparent to the Sixers. Among a myriad of injuries, Embiid’s was felt the heaviest as his team posted a defensive rating of 111.6 to the Cleveland Cavaliers and then a 130.2 the next night to the New Orleans Pelicans.

Both figures are a far cry from the 102.9 rating the team records with Embiid on the floor.

Much like Curry, the Sixers will need Embiid on the court moving forward to live their best life. So long as he is resting on back-to-backs, or sitting with back soreness, the Sixers won’t be as fortunate as the Warriors to pull out wins.

stockup454. Kyrie Irving (Last Week: 5)

Masked Kyrie joined Untucked Kyrie this season as another alter ego capable of taking the NBA and Twitter by storm on a nightly basis.

Irving, despite suffering an injury to his face that forced him to wear a protective mask a la Rip Hamilton, still has the Boston Celtics atop the league standings with his MVP campaign so far this season. Over Irving’s last 10 games, he’s averaging 25.8 points on 53 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. Over the course of that same span, the Celtics are 7-3.

Just to strengthen his already solid MVP claim, the Celtics went into Chicago Monday night to play the Bulls without Irving, as he sat out of the game with a quad contusion. All the league’s best team preceded to do was lose 108-85 to the league’s worst team.

At this point in the season, MVP candidates have their statistics in place. As viewers and fans, we really get to see the difference they make on their teams during the games that they aren’t playing, and Monday night for the Celtics was a microcosm of Irving’s season-long importance to the success of their team.

stockup453. Giannis Antetokounmpo (Last Week: 4)

The Greek Freak is still putting up absurd numbers, keeping him right in the conversation for Most Valuable Player. On top of his gaudy production, the Milwaukee Bucks are starting to pile up some wins as well.

Winning six of their last seven games — the only loss coming to the Celtics where Antetokounmpo put up 40 points, nine rebounds, and four assists — the Bucks currently hold a 15-10 record and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.

It’s been well-documented up to this point how effective Antetokounmpo is for Milwaukee from a numbers standpoint. If he can really start translating those performances into wins over good teams, the narrative of him winning the award may begin to revert back the dominance it held over the first few weeks of the season.

As it currently stands, though, Antetokounmpo is ahead of the rest of the pack before a pretty sizeable gap at the two spots above him.

stocknochanges452. LeBron James (Last Week: 2)

After having his Cavaliers’ 13-game win streak snapped by an unconscious Victor Oladipo, LeBron James returned to business as usual by defeating the shorthanded Sixers without Kevin Love by his side. He did so in typical Year 15 fashion, posting 30 points, 13 rebounds, 13 assists, and three steals.

No big deal.

That’s the mantra for James’ 15th year in the NBA: Do it all, and do it well. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that many projected coming into this season, and Irving is out doing his thing in Boston. But for the King of the NBA, after a month of rough basketball, he seems to be figuring it all out for his club and putting them in the positions they need to be in to be successful.

Since the start of Cleveland’s winning streak up until the game against Philadelphia, James is averaging 27.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.5 assists, 1.4 steals, 1.1 blocks, 55 percent shooting from the field and 44 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

His team is 14-1, Irving is in Boston, and Isaiah Thomas is on the bench.

Year 15 may very well end with James getting MVP number five.

stocknochanges451. James Harden (Last Week: 1)

The only man standing between James and his fifth MVP is the man who’s setting the league on fire trying to get his first.

James Harden is recreating his stellar season from a year ag but improving it, somehow. Harden’s averages are incredible: 32 points, 9.5 assists, 5.1 rebounds, 40 percent from downtown, and a 31.6 player efficiency rating.

Not to mention he’s led the Houston Rockets to a 21-4 record, and looks to be a real threat at knocking off the Golden State Warriors.

What Harden is doing on the defensive end is what is brining his game, and his MVP case, to the next level. Harden is posting his lowest defensive rating is four years and coming up big on D in crunch time situations.

On Monday night against the Pelicans, Harden came up with a clutch steal with under a minute to go (his sixth of the night) to extinguish a New Orleans rally and put the icing on his 26-point, 17-assist performance.

LeBron may be having an MVP season, even by his standards, but Harden’s performance this year thus far is keeping the King at arms length of the MVP crown.

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NBA DAILY: What Is Really Wrong With The Thunder?

The Thunder continue to struggle to string together wins. What’s the problem in OKC?

Steve Kyler

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At Some Point It Just Doesn’t Work

The Oklahoma City Thunder continue to be middling, despite having the star level talent it takes in the NBA to be exceptional. With the clock ticking in the wrong direction, is it more likely that this combination of players won’t work, or is there something bigger at play worth considering?

Before we dive too far into this, keep in mind the Thunder have played their 26th game, and are just a half a game out of the eighth spot in the West. Equally, they are also three and a half games behind the fourth-seeded Minnesota Timberwolves, so the sky is far from falling. In fact, they have won four of their last six games, including wins over the Spurs and Timberwolves, which only makes the Jekyll and Hyde of all of this even more frustrating.

All of that said, what’s really wrong with the Thunder? Here are some thoughts:

Not Enough Touches

The Oklahoma City Thunder are dead last in the NBA in touches per game as a team at 384. To contrast that number, the Philadelphia 76ers lead the league in touches at 480.9 touches per game.

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook accounts for 94.4 touches per game, while forward Carmelo Anthony accounts for 61.3 touches with swingman Paul George bringing in 56.0 touched per game. Those three players account for 211.7 of the Thunders 384 touches per game.

That’s not as bad as you would think watching the Thunder play, but what it does illustrate is that neither Anthony or Paul are getting the volume of touches both are used to getting before joining the Thunder. It’s also why neither seems to be able to get into a rhythm on a game to game bases. They have had their moments individually, but it been far from consistent.

It’s more than fair to say that the Thunder offense isn’t generating enough touches to maximize what George and Anthony bring to the table. When the Miami HEAT brought their “Big Three” together, one of the biggest challenges they faced was how to generate the touches to get all their guys in a rhythm and rolling.

That seems to be the biggest part of the problem with the Thunder.

Russ Has To Be Russ

When you look at the Thunder’s “convincing wins” those wins in which they look like an elite team in the NBA, Russell Westbrook plays like last year’s MVP.

The problem for the Thunder is it seems Russell is trying to get other players, specifically Anthony, often to the detriment of his team and his own game. When Westbrook puts his head down and plays his game, the Thunder tend to come out on top.

Westbrook never seemed to have this problem playing with Kevin Durant, and maybe that’s why Durant opted to leave, but Westbrook seems to be trying too hard to get others going.

Where’d Offense Go?

The Thunder continue to talk about how good they are defensively, and that’s a real thing. They are currently the ranked second in the NBA’s defensive rating category. They rank second in point allowed per 100 possessions at 103, just behind league leader Boston at 101.6 points per 100 possessions.

There is no doubt their defense is keeping them in games, but what’s killing them is the long stretches of sub-par offense, many times in the fourth quarter where their offense comes to a grinding halt.

Some have suggested that head coach Billy Donovan simply isn’t creative enough for the construct of this roster. Looking at the stats this far into the season, there may be something to the idea that the Thunder, offensively, just are not creative enough to maximize the potential of their star players.

It’s Not A Selfish Problem

The easy answer on the Thunder is to say they are simply selfish players. There is enough historical evidence on Anthony and Westbrook to support the idea, however, if you really look at the Thunders’ games, it’s actually the opposite. Westbrook likely isn’t selfish enough; it’s likely why he’s struggling from the field on the season.

Part of the offensive problem may be Westbrook’s shooting. His averages this season is markedly down from a year ago—39.6 percent this season from the field versus 42.5 percent last season. Westbrook is also 31.1 percent from three this year versus 34.3 percent from three last season.

But Westbrook is not alone, George is tying his second worst season from the field at 41.8 percent shooting. Anthony is having his worst year as a pro from the field at 40.4 percent.

All three are producing some of their lowest efficiency ratings of their careers, so it’s not just one guy doing so much more than the other. None of them are playing particularly well together.

It’s easy to look at the Thunder and label them one thing or the other; there are enough polarizing personalities on the roster to draw the labels. The truth of the matter is the Thunder just are not very good or efficient offensively, and until they find a way to make that part work, they will likely continue to be middling.

That’s going to make things fairly tough on the Thunder front office, because come the February 9th NBA Trade Deadline, the Thunder may have to cut bait on some players before they potentially lose them in free agency for nothing. The trade deadline is only about 60 days away, believe it or not.

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, @MikeAScotto, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, and @Ben__Nadeau .

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