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NBA Saturday: GMs On The Hot Seat?

With the NBA season coming to a close in just a few more weeks, several general manager chairs could open up and there are a lot of quality candidates that could fill them.

Steve Kyler

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GM Watch: Who’s Got Next?:  Last summer there were six new general manager named in the NBA, one of the largest shifts in leadership the league has seen in some time. While there will likely be some significant moves made among NBA front office this summer, the number of open jobs won’t be nearly what it was a year ago.

Here are some of the jobs that could come open, and some of the names that might fill them:

Joe Dumars (Detroit Pistons): The Pistons and Joe Dumars look headed for a divorce and, according to sources close to that situation, the feeling may be mutual. Dumars is in the final year of his contract, so parting ways with Dumars won’t exactly be a firing, rather an option not to renew or give him a new deal. There has been a little friction between Dumars and Pistons ownership and it’s been brewing for some time. Since buying the team in 2011, Tom Gores has installed more checks and balances around Dumars and has sought advice outside of Dumars on an increasing basis.

Sources close to the situation say Gores has built his own relationships with his young franchise players and has been moving toward a change at the top for some time.

So for the Pistons it’s not “if” the Pistons part ways with Dumars, it seems more like “when.” To Dumars’ credit, he’s done an amazing job identifying and drafting talent, he has simply struggled to put a culture, specifically a coaching staff, on the floor to maximize it.

It seems fairly clear the Pistons will be in the market for new leadership at the top and on the bench this summer.

»In Related: The History Of The Detroit Pistons Draft

Dell Demps (New Orleans Pelicans): The New Orleans Pelicans are a tough situation to read, mainly because new ownership doesn’t see the world like most NBA owners do, and that’s because of their history and success in the NFL. They are not exactly patient with the growing pains of the NBA, where it’s much harder to go from worst to first.

Pelicans general manager Dell Demps and head coach Monty Williams were given multi-year contract extensions in 2012 that locked both into the organization through the 2015-16 season. That has not stopped the rumors of change from floating around the team, specifically as it relates to Williams’ future as the head coach.

Demps regrettably might be part of a top-down organizational change and that would be unfortunate. Demps has had some wins in his time in New Orleans, but with the team failing to meet expectations this year, and the question marks on the roster, will ownership stay the course or will they make a major change?

The Pelicans look like a team that needs one more season to come together. However with ownership somewhat impatient with the process and with fans clamoring for change, it’s unclear what the off-season will hold for Williams and in some regards Demps as well.

There is a scenario where Williams is out and Demps remains, but there are some that believe if one goes, the other won’t be far behind.

»In Related: The History Of The New Orleans Pelicans Draft

Gar Forman/John Paxson (Chicago Bulls): Take this one with a grain of salt. For as much success as the Bulls have had on the court, there have been well documented issues off the court, specifically between the front office and head coach Tom Thibodeau. There have been countless reports of Thibodeau wanting out of Chicago this summer, which would be devastating for the Bulls organization. Thibodeau is arguably the best coach the Bulls have had since Phil Jackson, so the question becomes does it evolve into a “me or them” scenario for Bulls ownership?

The tandem of Gar Forman and John Paxson have made some solid moves not only in the draft but in locking in core players early, while finding solid value contributors in free agency.

If the Bulls can’t sort through things this summer, there is a scenario in which ownership may have to choose between the front office team that’s in place and their head coach.

Despite all their successes, it’s hard to argue that the Bulls could find another coach that’s as good as Thibodeau. Since Jackson, the Bulls have swung and missed on coach after coach and given how their draft picks have blossomed under Thibodeau, changing the front office may be smarter than changing the coaching staff.

It will be an interesting summer for the Bulls. Sources close to the process contend that too much is made about a rift between the two staffs, but you have to wonder is this a ‘where there is smoke…” scenario and if it is, who is left standing when it’s all said and done?

»In Related: The History Of The Chicago Bulls Draft

David Griffin (Cleveland Cavaliers):  The Cavaliers made a mid-season change at the general manager spot, ousting Chris Grant and replacing him with assistant general manager David Griffin. The Cavaliers have gone 14-13 since the change after going 17-33 to start the season.

Under Griffin’s watch the team has been playing far better basketball and the dysfunction that had marred the club seems to have subsided.

In talking to sources close to the situation, not only has Griffin instilled some confidence in the young guys, he has actively engaged not only with Cavs star Kyrie Irving, but troublesome guard Dion Waiters. His hands-on approach has resonated well with the Cavs and there is talk that he could remain in his position beyond this season.

That does not mean the Cavaliers won’t go shopping for an uber-experienced team president type. If they can’t find that proven star executive they are looking for that could woo free agents to Cleveland, staying with Griffin seems more likely than not.

No one involved in the situation really wants to talk about the summer while the Cavs are trying to grab that final playoff spot in the East, but it does seem more likely than not that Griffin stays where he is unless a real top-tier named executive surfaces.

»In Related: The History Of The Cleveland Cavaliers Draft

Chris Wallace (Memphis Grizzlies):  Despite popular opinion, the Memphis Grizzlies did not release general manager Chris Wallace last summer as most expected. Wallace signed a multi-year extension with Memphis back in the summer of 2010, and it’s believed this is the final year of that deal. The Grizzlies have built a new leadership group around CEO and managing general partner Jason Levien, who makes all the decisions on basketball operations.

Wallace was in the hunt for the Sacramento Kings general manager job last summer and it’s believed he’ll be out in Memphis this summer. It is possible the Grizzlies look to replace Wallace, who handles the day-to-day work of running the team, but it wouldn’t be out of the question for his duties to be rolled into the existing organizational structure. The Grizzlies hired long-time sportswriter and advanced stats guru John Hollinger last season as well as adding long-time agent and former coach Stu Lash to the front office to handle pro personnel.

Lash handles most of the conversations with other teams, while Hollinger, Lash and Levien work through the talent evaluation and acquisition process together. Wallace has played a role in that over the last year, but removing him from the process wouldn’t seriously impact how the team is run or the decisions that are being made.

The Grizzlies have looked at adding new personalities to their front office staff, so it’s not out of the questions that if Wallace is indeed out after this season that he is replaced, however its more likely that’s he’s replaced with an on-the-rise junior executive rather than a veteran front-office personality.

»In Related: The History Of The Memphis Grizzlies Draft.

Steve Mills (New York Knicks): With the arrival of Phil Jackson as the new Knicks team president, current general manager Steve Mills is going to take a different role in the process. It’s believed that Jackson, in addition to hiring a new coach this summer, will look for a day-to-day general manager type to handle running the team, while he oversees things from the top. This is not an uncommon arrangement. Larry Bird does the same in Indiana with Kevin Pritchard running the day-to-day. Miami’s Pat Riley does the same with Andy Elisburg, who runs the day-to-day for the HEAT.

Unlike most of the situations mentioned above, Mills will remain with the team, just with an adjusted set of responsibilities.

There has been a lot of talk in the press about Jackson selecting a front office type that he has a relationship with, however outside of former Suns executive Steve Kerr, there are not a lot of proven front office types connected with Jackson.

It’s clear that change is coming to the Knicks this summer, and that Jackson is going to make some staff changes. That means current executives like former Nuggets general manager and current Knicks executive Mark Warkentien may be on the way out.

»In Related: The History Of The New York Knicks Draft

So, with the hot seats identified, who are some of the names that could fill them?

Bryan Colangelo  With the success that the Toronto Raptors are having this season, Colangelo may get some level of validation on the job he did in Toronto. It’s unlikely that Colangelo is tapped for any of the jobs that are likely to come open, but he is clearly a name to watch over the next year or so. Say what you want about Colangelo’s moves, the Raptors are in a pretty good position going forward.

Stu Jackson  Before becoming the Dean of Discipline (Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations) for David Stern and the NBA, Jackson was the general manager of the Vancouver Grizzlies for six years. Jackson is now out from the NBA office and is something of a free agent. Jackson’s name has been kicked around in NBA circles and it’s possible he is a candidate for a team president job in the near future.

David Kahn  Don’t groan too loudly Minnesota fans. Kahn may be gone, but his name continues to surface as a possible team president for a would-be ownership group trying to buy a NBA team. It’s highly unlikely that Kahn is hired this summer, unless his group buys the team, but it does seem that Kahn is not finished in the NBA and he could be calling the shots of a team again fairly soon.

Steve Kerr  The word is that Kerr wants to coach and he may be Phil Jackson’s guy on the bench in New York. It is possible that Jackson creates a hybrid role for Kerr to fill not only his needs on the bench but also to handle some of the day-to-day leadership and guidance he is seeking in the front office. Running a team on the court and in the front office is a tough task even for the most proven of coaches, so it’s unlikely that Kerr being coach and GM makes a lot of sense, but it does seem like Kerr in New York next year is likely, especially if he wants the job.

Ed Stefanski  When Masai Ujiri took over the Toronto Raptors, Stefanski, who had handled a lot of the day-to-day for Bryan Colangelo in Toronto, was also let go. Stefanski is an able and savvy executive and would be an under-the-radar hire. Stefanski ran the Philadelphia Sixers for roughly four seasons and is a capable and knowledge candidate. Don’t be surprised to see his name kicked around, especially for a team looking for a solid day-to-day operator.

Dave Twardzik  Like Stefanski, Twardzik is a proven veteran front office guy. He last held the role of assistant general manager in Orlando under Otis Smith and is another under-the-radar kind of hire for a team looking for a proven day-to-day operator.

Mark Warkentien  It looks likely that Warkentien could be out in New York this summer. Warkentien has been doing a lot of the day-to-day work for the Knicks not only under current GM Steve Mills, but previously under Donnie Walsh and Glen Grunwald. Prior to joining the Knicks, Warkentien was the general manager of the Denver Nuggets. Warkentien would be an interesting hire for a team looking for a veteran leader or a strong day-to-day manager.

Larry Harris  Harris is currently a consultant and scout for the Golden State Warriors after running the Milwaukee Bucks for several years. Harris has a proven track record and truly has held almost every job you can hold in basketball. It’s more likely that Harris is tapped to be an assistant general Manager or a day-to-day operator for a team president type. Harris has been deeply involved in college scouting and the draft for the Warriors, so a young team that is looking to rebuild through the draft or is trying to find value players might look at Harris a little differently.

Jeff Weltman  Weltman recently joined Masai Ujiri in Toronto after several years with the Bucks. It’s unlikely Weltman looks at anything other than a general manager job, but when it comes to smart and savvy basketball guys, Weltman is top-tier. It seems inevitable that Weltman will be running a team and when you look at situations like the Detroit Pistons, don’t be surprised if his name surfaces as a candidate.

Brian Hagen  Hagen is another under-the-radar executive. Hagan could get some interest this summer. Hagan was with New Orleans for a number of years and has been with the Chicago Bulls as an assistant general manager since 2012. Hagan is another candidate that has held almost every role you can hold in basketball and is another possible day-to-day operator for a team looking for a solid front office type.

Troy Weaver  Weaver is one of the go-to-guys for Sam Presti in Oklahoma City. Weaver’s name was kicked around a lot last summer, and it’s very likely that he’ll get some interviews again this summer. Weaver was said to be a finalist for the Orlando Magic job two years ago, and it seems likely that he’ll be running his own team fairly soon. With the success that up-and-coming executives like Rob Hennigan and Ryan McDonough have had in rebuilding their teams quickly, Weaver becomes an interesting option.

Tommy Sheppard  The Wizards’ success this season should put Washington’s senior vice president of operations Sheppard back on the map as a general manager candidate. With more than 19 years of experience in the NBA, Sheppard is a hard working day-to-day manager type. While the trend may be to lean on younger more stat driven candidates, Sheppard is an interesting candidate especially for a team like Detroit, which needs a proven operator.

Scott Perry  While Rob Hennigan gets most of the credit for Orlando’s turn around and rebuild, a lot of the day-to-day work is being done by Perry. It seems like only a matter of time before a team scoops him out of Orlando, especially as the Magic start to turn the corner. It might not be this summer for Perry, but it does seem likely as things improve with the Magic, Perry’s stock will go up as well.

Mike Zarren  So who is the next uber-smart guy on the general manager radar? It’s likely Zarren, who is the Celtics’ assistant general manager. A few years ago, Zarren was in the running for the 76ers general manager job, so he has been on the front office radar for a while. He is absolutely an advanced analytics guru and one of the pioneers of some of the tools that teams use every day. Zarren is also the brain behind the much debated “wheel” NBA Draft system. Zarren is likely going to have his name linked to virtually every job that comes open, especially given the league’s growing tendencies towards analytics.

Six Things You Have to Read:  Every day we try to give you some other things to consider, so here are the things you need to read today:

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.

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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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