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NBA PM: The Market for Lance Stephenson

A look at the teams who could be interested in Lance Stephenson if he does hit the trade market.

Yannis Koutroupis

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The Market For Lance Stephenson

A lot of NBA players have had a career that can be compared to a roller coaster ride, filled with highs and lows. That holds true for Charlotte Hornets guard Lance Stephenson more than most, though.

The 24-year-old was a high-profile recruit in high school, but joined the Cincinnati program with some off-court concerns and a little bit of baggage. After a solid freshman year in which he averaged 12.3 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists, Stephenson opted for an uncertain future as a pro over the chance to play his way into the first round as a sophomore with an expanded role. His inconsistency on the floor, and red flags off of it, caused Stephenson to fall to 40th overall to the Indiana Pacers.

In his third year, Stephenson exploded into one of the league’s most productive shooting guards. This is after two years of staying out of serious trouble and accepting a minimal role without causing any issues. The Pacers took a gamble on him that the rest of the league wasn’t willing to, and it paid off for them.

But, when it came time to pay Stephenson, resurfaced character concerns brought his stock down. From a statistical standpoint, he was worthy of a max contract that players less effective than him were receiving. But no team was willing to make that kind of commitment to him. The Pacers offered him a five-year deal, but at $44 million it was well short of what Stephenson felt was his true value. They followed up that offer by quickly signing C.J. Miles and making it clear to Stephenson that the deal on the table was as good as it was going to get.

With his future as unclear as ever, Stephenson waited for free agency to play out and eventually saw the Hornets emerge as his most serious suitor. They were a young team coming off of a surprise playoff run in need of an upgrade at his position. It seemed like a match made in heaven by the basketball gods. The deal was for less money overall than what the Pacers’ offered, but for slightly more annually. It was also just a two-year pact with a team option for the third year, giving Stephenson the opportunity to hit free agency again as a more mature and proven 27-year-old when the cap should be close to $20 million higher than it is right now.

Yet, so far, it hasn’t been working out. The Hornets have been one of the most disappointing teams in the league, with Stephenson earning the same honor, if you want to call it that, from an individual standpoint. There have already been rumblings that the two sides could be interested in a split, but according to Shams Charania of Real GM, they’re remaining committed to each other right now. It’s a small sample size, but Stephenson is playing better through three games here in the month of December, but what’s ultimately going to determine his fate is where things stand come the trade deadline in February.

With an annual salary of $9 million and the ability to shed his contract after next season, Stephenson is actually a good value contract even based on his underwhelming production so far. His potential to turn things around and get back to the level he was playing at with the Pacers makes the idea of acquiring him even more enticing, assuming the Hornets don’t ask for the moon and the stars in return.

It’s going to take a team in a real unique situation to be willing to take on Stephenson. According to Charania, there are four or five teams out there that have expressed interest in Stephenson to the Hornets. The Brooklyn Nets jump off of the page as they proven veterans they’re willing to let go of and young talent to pair them with as well. Stephenson is a Brooklyn native and the Nets have a clear track record of being willing to take risks. The nearby New York Knicks need talent any way they can get it, but it’s hard to imagine a team with all of their issues looking at Stephenson as a possible solution.

The Dallas Mavericks were one of the other teams involved in the final bidding for Stephenson. In the end they spent their cap space on Chandler Parsons, though, and they never seemed too sure about pairing up Monta Ellis with Stephenson in what would be a potentially explosive (in a bad way) combination. With how well Ellis has been playing right now and other more pressing needs, they don’t seem like a likely destination anymore.

Stephenson would be really intriguing on the Atlanta Hawks, and they have the expiring contract of Paul Millsap that matches Stephenson’s outgoing salary of $9 million, but they’re playing so well right now and that’s a major shake up to make when the chemistry is so strong. If they’re really honest in their valuations of themselves, though, they have to know they’re a piece away and that Millsap could be gone at season’s end.

Also disappointing so far this season, the Denver Nuggets have a long-term hole to fill at shooting guard unless Gary Harris becomes the answer or they re-sign Arron Afflalo. If they’re not sure they’re willing to pay the price to do so, swapping him for Stephenson makes a lot of sense.

Believe it or not, the San Antonio Spurs would be one of the few organizations that would have enough confidence in their program’s structure and the character in their locker room to look past a lot of the fears that scare most teams away from Stephenson. They made inquiries on J.R. Smith earlier in his career and also traded for Stephen Jackson when concerns about his coachability were at their peak. But, coming off of a championship run with their chemistry as good as it has ever been and all of their significant pieces returning, there’s basically zero chance they’d even consider the possibility. If there was the belief in the front office that they were a piece away, though, they’d be monitoring Stephenson’s situation.

The three teams that seem most likely to trade for Stephenson are the New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. The Pelicans and Kings are in need of a boost for a potential playoff run at the two guard spot, the Pelicans especially. Meanwhile, the Lakers are in shambles with Kobe Bryant ripping his teammates in practice today as they sit near the bottom of the Western Conference. All things seem to be on the table in that situation.

So, while the Hornets and Stephenson are committed to each other right now, there’s definitely a market for him that they could cash in on if things continue to go as horrifically wrong as they have during the first quarter of the season.

The Shoe Game’s Best Kept Secret

When it comes to shoes in the basketball world, the brand name and look trumps just about everything. The Crazy Lights by adidas and the first basketball-playing approved low tops by Nike created some stir about performance, but really, when basketball players of all ages are looking for a new shoe to hoop in, the decision making process doesn’t include much other than who endorses the shoe, how it looks and, of course, price.

The major shoe companies have somewhat of a lock on the market. There’s not a lot of room for grass root, up and coming smaller companies to carve their niche. However, Ektio is doing so by providing a shoe that helps you in a way that no other shoe does. Put simply, every time you wear Ektio’s you play with the support and preventative care that you would have to get taped or wear and ankle brace to receive otherwise.

Rick Barry, a Hall of Famer and the father of one of the most talented and accomplished families in the sport of basketball, dealt with ankle issues in his career, and in short order after checking Ektios out, became one of their biggest believers.

“I got a call from [Ektio creatore] Dr. Katz,” Barry said to Basketball Insiders. “He called me about the shoe. I said, ‘That’s really interesting, if it really works I wish I had it when I played cause I had a number of ankle sprains in my career. Send me a pair and let me see what I think.’

“I said wow. This is pretty good. I got my youngest son to wear it. Kids can be picky, but he wore it and I saw it prevent him from breaking his ankle. He’s a very high leaper. He came down so awkwardly there was no way for the shoe to help protect him from spraining his ankle because it was such a crazy fall on someone’s foot that his foot was totally turned over. The doctor said to me, ‘I can’t believe your son didn’t break his ankle. He had no instability in it. For him to have turned it over and have a sprain and not a break, I’ve never seen this.’

“I said ‘Wow’ and I told him about the shoe and he said that’s the reason. To be honest I wish he could wear it in college now instead of the fact that they have a deal with a shoe manufacturer and has to wear their stuff. I make him take them to school and tell him, ‘If you’re not going to get taped have the Ektios on to protect yourself.’ He didn’t have them on or get taped and he sprained his ankle. I’ve seen first hand how it works and it’s pretty cool.”

“For the dollar you spend for a shoe today, it’s probably the best bargain out there. None of these [other] shoes, regardless of the price, do anything to protect you from a sprained ankle and it’s the most prevalent injury that occurs in the game of basketball so isn’t it worth it if you’re serious about the game to wear the only shoe that has patented technology to help protect you from the most prevalent injury in the game. It makes no sense if you’re serious about the game to not wear this shoe. I’d be wearing it today, if I had a contact with a shoe company and they brought this to me I would go to them and say, ‘Hey you guys need to go buy the rights to this because this is the shoe I want my name on, this is the shoe I want to wear.’ If they wouldn’t do that I’d say, ‘Fine I want out of my contract and buy the company because if I was playing today I’d be able to afford it.’”

After talking to Barry about the product, I had to try it for myself. I grew up playing organized basketball every year from when I was 5-18 years old. However, at 26 now, my playing days are pretty far removed. One of the excuses I always blamed that on was my fear of getting hurt and spraining my ankle specifically, because I dealt with several of them during my playing days and know how troublesome they can be to recover from. Dealing with a sprained ankle is a nightmare, but in school I had ample time to rest and rehab them – a luxury that I no longer have in the real world. But, the safety and comfort that Ektio provided me convinced me to get back out on the hardwood a couple times a week. I kept a weekly diary over the last month to detail my own first-hand thoughts of Ektio’s revolutionary product.

Week 1: First thing I must say is that this is not your average shoe. I’m admittedly lazy, that’s why I haven’t played in so long, so it’s a bit of an adjustment to go from slipping on shoes with pre-tied knots to going through the loosening and tightening process that comes with wearing Ektios. If you’ve ever had your ankle taped, though, or gone through the process of lacing up a brace every time you play, it takes significantly less time to get these on than either of those preventative measures. They’re a little bit heavier than the shoes I’m used to wearing and playing in, but I hardly felt waited down or immobile.

I won’t go into details at the risk of embarrassing myself, but my unanticipated return the court was far from glorious. The score was probably 3-2 before I started feeling exhausted, but I almost forgot midway through that I was actually testing new shoes. Within a few plays, I was comfortable in them as if I had been wearing them forever. The shoes passed their first test, but I didn’t have the endurance or stamina to test them with hard drives to the rim, trying to explode and finish in traffic or much of anything really outside of running, turning it over and call phantom fouls.

Week 2: Either the competition was down or I’m getting some of my touch back, because this week I felt a lot more effective and capable out on the court. I didn’t do anything of note to make it seem like I had any real ability to play basketball last week, so nobody really noticed me or my Ektios. Now that I’m making some things happen, people are starting to ask me about the shoes. Wearing the Alexios, the third generation of Ektio basketball shoes which you can see below, I got a lot of compliments and surprised faces when I told them that it wasn’t a major brand shoe. I got even more when I explained the benefits to them, and how much I liked playing in them. I’m pretty accustomed to putting them on now and I’m able to do so a lot faster than I initially was. Also, I’d like to think I’ve put some miles on them at this point, and the material has held up really well. They still have that new aura to them.

Week 3: My first-hand experience of how beneficial Ektios really occurred this week. It was almost like déjà vu to the final practice before the first game of my senior year. I fancy myself a decent leaper (I’ve dunked more than just a donut in my lifetime) who can finish above defenders. Back in 2005, during a 3-on-2 fast break drill, I came right down on the foot of a teammate trying to take a charge and contest the shot. My ankle rolled and the feeling of pain was so intense and gut-wrenching that I can still remember it to this day. Although I didn’t miss any time, it was weeks before I was back at 100 percent and I had to wear a brace the rest of the year. This time, in almost the exact same fashion on a fast break, there was someone set and squared up as I was filling the lane and looking to finish in transition (yes, people try to take charges in pickup games where I play at – I hate it too), I came right down on his foot and felt my ankle starting to roll – only it couldn’t. The protection wouldn’t allow it. I was filled with fear and expecting pain, but it never came. In seconds, I was running back up the court and incredibly thankful that I had the Ektios on. Without them, the fears that kept me away from the game so long, would have come to fruition.

Week 4: In as true of a sign of full disclosure as I can provide, laziness took back over for me. I played a lot of basketball in my life, and just lacked the desire to keep playing after three weeks and a sprained ankle scare. I have a lot of respect for how much work it takes to be good at the game of basketball, and the competitor in me just couldn’t continue to take the court while knowing that I wasn’t putting in the work I needed to in order to have the kind of success I wanted. So, I decided to put the Ektios to a different test that they don’t market themselves for: wearing them out socially. I combined them with a nice pair of jeans and a button up with a similar color scheme. I used “I’m trying out these new shoes” as a conversation starter for why I was out that night, and was once again really impressed with the feedback and compliments I received. Not only will these be my go-to hooping shoes if I ever get that itch again, but they’re in my regular shoe rotation from this point on.

To learn more about Etkio and order a pair for yourself click here!

NBA All-Star Voting Underway

The NBA and Sprint will tip off NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 today in New York City, the official host city of NBA All-Star 2015. Balloting begins at 2:00 p.m. ET.

This afternoon during rush hour, the NBA and Sprint will celebrate the start of balloting with voting fan stations outside of Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center. NBA Legends Darryl Dawkins, Earl Monroe, Gary Payton, and Mitch Richmond will greet fans and commuters and encourage them to cast the first votes at the special NBA-themed voting booths.

NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 presented by Sprint gives fans around the world the opportunity to vote daily for their favorite players as starters for NBA All-Star Game 2015. The official NBA All-Star Ballot presented by Sprint will include all current NBA players for the first time ever. Fans will continue to select two guards and three frontcourt players when choosing the starters for the 2015 NBA All-Star Game, but can now vote for any current NBA player.

As part of the NBA’s all-digital program, fans can vote on NBA.com, through social media networks including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblog in China, via SMS text, and the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications.

New to this year’s program is SAP, which will integrate daily stats into the online ballot. Fans can sort players on the NBA Ballot by their current stats from NBA.com/stats powered by SAP HANA. SAP will also host a new feature on NBA.com/stats called the SAP NBA All-Star 2015 Game Predictor. After fans vote, they will be able to see how the East and West starters they picked would match up. The game predictor will compare player statistics and compute a game score based on the fan’s picks.

How to vote:

• The NBA.com ballot is available in 11 languages on NBA.com/asb. Voters can fill out one full ballot per day on NBA.com/asb from a desktop or mobile browser.
• Twitter voting allows fans to tweet a vote for 10 unique players each day throughout the All-Star balloting period. The tweet, retweet, or reply must include the player’s first and last name, along with hash tag #NBABallot.
• Facebook voting allows fans to post a status from their personal Facebook accounts. The posts must include the player’s first and last name, along with hash tag #NBABallot. Fans can post votes for 10 unique players per day.
• Fans can use Instagram to vote by posting an original photo, using #NBABallot and the player’s first and last name in the photo caption. Fans can vote for 10 unique players per day.
• SMS voting by texting the player’s last name to 6-9-6-2-2 (“MYNBA”) on any wireless device. Fans can vote for 10 different players per day, per phone number, via SMS voting by sending 10 separate SMS messages, each one with a different player’s last name. Message and data rates may apply.
• NBA fans can also access the ballot and vote through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications, available on Android and iOS. Fans can fill out one full ballot per day, through the NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint application, the most comprehensive app in the marketplace for NBA fans.

Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. ET, featuring Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kenny Smith. The special will air prior to TNT’s exclusive doubleheader featuring the San Antonio Spurs at the Chicago Bulls (8 p.m. ET) and the Brooklyn Nets at the Los Angeles Clippers (10:30 p.m. ET).

About NBA All-Star 2015
NBA All-Star 2015 in New York City will bring together some of the most talented and passionate players in the league’s history for a global celebration of the game. The 64th NBA All-Star Game, which will take place Sunday, Feb. 15 at Madison Square Garden, will reach fans in 215 countries and territories in 47 languages. TNT will televise the All-Star Game for the 13th consecutive year, marking Turner Sports’ 30th year of All-Star coverage, as well as the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, Feb. 13 and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night on Saturday, Feb. 14, which will both take place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Other events at Barclays Center include the NBA Development League All-Star Game presented by Kumho Tire and the NBA Development League Dream Factory presented by Boost Mobile on Sunday, Feb. 15, airing on NBA TV. Madison Square Garden will host Friday night’s ESPN-televised Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game.

Yannis Koutroupis is Basketball Insiders' Managing Site Editor and Senior Writer. He has been covering the NBA and NCAA for seven years.

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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.

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NBA Daily: James Harden on the new All-Star Format and Chris Paul Being Snubbed

James Harden shared his thoughts on the new All-Star game format and teammate Chris Paul not being selected as an All-Star

James Blancarte

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver made a bold decision to alter the All-Star game format. By allowing the two highest voted players in each conference to be team captains, Silver did away with tradition and the usual West versus East format. While there were a few complaints about the switch, fans were seemingly more vocal about the decision to not televise the selection of players by the team captains.

Well, the results are in and praise for new format has been nearly universal. With players more invested in the new format, and perhaps the $100k per player bonus for the winners, the effort level was up, plays were being drawn up and executed and defense made a surprise appearance in an exciting game that came down to the final possession.

2018 NBA All-Star and Houston Rockets guard James Harden spoke about the All-Star game and the new format.

“I think it is exciting. You get an opportunity, you know, for a mixture of guys to play on the same team together. We’re trying to win though, it’s competitive,” Harden stated. “Obviously, the All-Star game has a lot of highlights but we’re trying to win, we’re going to go out there and prove we’re trying to win.”

Harden, who played for Team Stephen, did not get the win. However, Harden also made it clear that playing in the this year’s All-Star game meant even more having grown up in Los Angeles.

“To be able to play in the big boy game means a lot. I grew up, especially being from LA, you grew up watching Kobe, watching Shaq every single year. You see how fun, you see how exciting it was,” Harden said. “Now to be here, to be in the city is more special.”

While Harden made it a point to talk about what it means to play in Los Angeles, another factor he seemed excited and appreciative about was being the first player picked for Team Stephen.

“Man, that’s a great feeling. Just because in middle school I was the last pick. So, to be the number one pick in the All-Star game, that’s what the swag champ is for,” Harden said.

Harden wasn’t universally positive about All-Star Weekend. Specifically, he was not happy about being the only Rockets All-Star – especially considering Houston’s standing in the Western Conference playoff race.

“I have a lot to say about that. What are we talking about? Everyone knows Chris Paul is with the Rockets and the Rockets have the number one [record]. How does that not happen?” Harden asked rhetorically. “It’s frustrating. I know he’s frustrated. He never brings it up. That’s why I did say what I said. He’s never going to bring it up. But, I’ll defend for him. He should be here with me in LA as an All-Star.”

Harden had some success as he led his team in minutes and logged 12 points, eight assists and five rebounds. He spoke after the game and confirmed the reconfiguration of the All-Star game produced a competitive game and a fun product for the fans.

“Felt great. I hope all the fans enjoyed [the All-Star game] as well. It was very competitive. Guys got after it from the beginning of the game. Usually All-Star [games] there are a lot of dunks, a lot of freedom. Tonight was intense,” Harden said.

Harden was not wrong with his conclusion that there was less freedom. With less freedom and better defense played, Harden went 5-19 from the field and 2-13 from three-point range while finishing the game without a single free throw attempted. The lack of free throws may have irked Harden, who is renowned for his ability to get to the line (9.9 free throw attempts per game this season). Adding to that frustration, Harden had the opportunity to put his team ahead with a three-pointer late in the game but failed to connect on the shot. Unsurprisingly, Harden expressed his disappointment with the result.

“I was pissed we lost. I’m still mad,” Harden stated.

On the final play of the game, while ignoring Harden, Curry kept the ball with the chance to tie the game. Curry dribbled into a LeBron James/Kevin Durant double team. Curry wasn’t able to get a shot off and Harden was left with his hands up waiting for a pass and a chance to win the game that never came.

Looking toward next year, Harden was asked if as a possible captain he would prefer to have the player selection two weeks before or right before the game. He thought about it and then smiled.

“Probably right before the game,” Harden answered.

Commissioner Silver has spoken on the subject and is sending strong signals that next year’s selection will be televised. That will potentially add another layer of excitement to the new All-Star game format, which is already paying off for the NBA.

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