Portland Trail Blazers
Portlandia! It’s about time Dame and C.J. got some help. Lillard and McCollum may be the best backcourt in the association (sorry John Wall and Bradley Beal), but that isn’t going to front. Nik Stauskas and Evan Turner help. But if Rose City really wants to bloom and blaze a trail than it’s time to take a page out of legend Bill Walton’s Grateful Dead loving songbook and keep it in the family like Luke. Gary Payton II can relate. The son of the glove hands the PDX something the Lakers (South Bay or L.A.) will soon wish they never let go. And Seth Curry may not be his big brother or even his dad Dell. But with those Curry hot shooting genes in the house at this point I’d give a roster spot to one of Steph’s kids.
Mile-High natives can breathe a sigh of relief. Denver have finally struck gold in the post ‘Melo area. Surrounding one of the L’s most underrated superstars in The Joker, Nikola Jokic with a pair of hands like Jamal Murray and Will Barton is a master move. As is getting the likes of Mason Plumlee and Gary Harris in a youth of tomorrow team that still has a veteran core in the middle thanks to All-Star, all-time big man Paul Milisap. And who knows just how much spark plug Isaiah Thomas will prove all the Cav and Laker LeBron’s who wrote him off wrong. Remember he’s still only a season removed from the star player that was worthy of trading with for King James’ former running mate Kyrie. But the real superstar potential lies with Michael Porter Jr. who at this point can be that push that promises playoffs. In the Nevada desert right now Denver looks better than a box of six McDonalds nuggets at the end of a hell of a night.
Butler did it. He’s gone and asked for a trade. So it looks like the Minnesota Timberwolves won’t be a Jimmy thing for long. Best in the King revolution of this new player power generation that they ship him now before he burns them like Hendrix’s guitar in free agency. At least Butler has been of service and duty by sacrificing a big pay day by doing the right thing and requesting something in return for his services, instead of just being free to retire to somewhere else next year and leaving the hungry Wolves with a sink full of dishes. And Minny could clean up in response, getting some big talent to surround Karl-Anthony with. As it’s still Townes’ town after all. Canadian Wiggins is still a budding star and fallen one Rose looks to be blooming in preseason. As free as his dreads and the feeling of being out the spotlight to play however he wants to play. Tyus Jones could be next up and this young team is still Jeff Teague deep in this league. But Thibs’ boys look more and more like they are resembling the Bulls these days. As joining Derrick and Taj Gibson is former All-Star Luol Deng who has been “playing” for the Lakers the last few campaigns. But who knows what this milk carton player can do once he’s opened up. He’s far from spoilt. But these T-Wolves are for talent. Now who and how do they choose?
Oklahoma City Thunder
Carmelo may be gone. But the NBA’s latest big-three was a trilogy that ended up looking like it was being ‘Taken’ for a ride. No matter how much it had a special set of skills. Who knew Paul George would still be here however? Certainly no one in L.A. But in OKC he is the perfect compliment for Russell Westbrook, who is going to dynamite dominate the ball and the hoop on any given night…or play! You forget this team still has talent like Dennis Schroder, Nerlens Noel and of course Steven Adams under the rim. The only question remains in the fallout of this ‘Mission: Impossible’ for the title is how long will this fuse last before it burns out? Or everything explodes!?
Salt in the wound for anyone who loves Gordon Hayward to see what happened to him after leaving the Jazz in the first game of the season last year for the Boston Celtics. But everyone loves happy endings, even when it comes to break-ups. And he and the Jazz will be back hitting high-notes like Rudy Gobert does blocks off the glass. Even if not in collaborating concert together. Hayward proved to a post Malone and Stockton generation that Utah could pick and roll and move on. And in less then a year they have done exactly that with someone who many see as the real rookie of the year in Donovan Mitchell. Mitch could at least go one-on-one with Simmons. Now we don’t need to wait and see how the potential of Dante Exum or Derrick Favors turns out. The Jazz have a superstar right now who they can trumpet as their brass.
Golden State Warriors
Forget Hollywood and new Laker LeBron taking over another 23 in M.J. to star in ‘Space Jam 2’. As those Monstar’s live in California now too and they have hold of the ball. The San Francisco (Golden State) Warrior Splash Brothers have a new nickname now they’ve added another franchise player to their starting five. At this point their bench could literally be Bugs Bunny and Bill Murray and it wouldn’t matter. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green AND DeMarcus Cousins?! I’m done! So it appears is everyone else.
The Suns have the ability to scorch this season. Phoenix’s always rise and superstar Devin Booker doesn’t have to chase The Admiral, Kobe or Wilt and score 70 points just for PHX to book a win anymore. He now has the likes of sophomore stud Josh Jackson and one of this years big rookies in big dipper DeAndre Ayton to give the Suns a big-three of tomorrow what’s set to run like Hall of Famer Steve Nash, The Matrix and Stat…STAT. And if that wasn’t enough this franchise of the future added another veteran leader, ready to go right now in Trevor Ariza. Who from Houston, elder statesmen joins this team that is growing more than Tyson Chandler’s James Harden impression. The desert isn’t dry anymore. And this team has sand.
There are more Kings in California than the one in Hollywood, but when will Sacramento see the throne again like the time Webber, Peja, Vlade, Christie and Bibby almost took Los Angeles from the Lakers? The Kings almost moved to L.A. too, amongst Orange County, of course Seattle and others. But right now it looks like they are going nowhere. Zach Randolph and Iman Shumpert can still ball out on any given night. But they are passing the rock and torch to a future that needs a bearer. Perhaps finally one of this years top lottery picks, Marvin Bagley III has the balls and bag to be just that. But then again if Buddy Hield, Willie-Cauley Stein, De’Aaron Fox and Justin Jackson all blow at the same time than Sacto is set to go loco in a league that almost forgot there’s still more cowbell when the fans get the only player prescription that can take them to levels where decibels can’t get much louder. Sleep Train wake up and get on board. You’re almost at your destination.
Los Angeles Lakers
Jordan, Julius, Isaiah, Nance Jr. Gary Payton. If this was the ‘Stranger Things’ days of the 80’s losing names like that would be like a dream team becoming an early Halloween nightmare. Word to Michael Myers. But when all this clears the cap to get a King in return for your deck then what more could you ask for? Well how about a gang of the most talented and misunderstood veterans in purple and gold? Including a Celtic legend (Rondo…finally), a James draft class wild card (Mike Beasley), someone who even huffed and puffed in his ear (the real wildcard of Lance Stephenson) and someone who the King wouldn’t even allow to follow him (the Warrior champ JaVale McGee, who judging from the first game of preseason is going to have a monster year above the rim. Just set the table and he’ll clean up. Feed him the rock). And with the big-three of the young core intact with next up, Brandon Ingram, last years Hollywood rookie reality star Lonzo Ball and the real steal of the draft and first year player of the year Kyle Kuzma. Not to mention Zupac Shakur and this years Summer League MVP out in Vegas, Josh Hart, President Johnson and Rob Lowe are pushing all their chips into the middle of the table. And we haven’t even talked about rookie Moe Wagner yet (but we will) for a team that drafts better than venetian blinds. Oh and there’s some guy called LeBron here too. Sounds like the basketball Gods have scripted the chosen one for a Hollywood ending. And we aint talkin’ ‘Space Jam 2’.
Los Angeles Clippers
Erm. Chris Paul gone. Blake Griffin gone. DeAndre Jordan? Gone! To Dallas of all places like he should have a couple of summers ago if CP3 and Blake didn’t intervene. “Hey! Stick around D! Let’s make this work”! Cue the Anthony Mackie in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, “well, this is awkward”, Black Widow and Bruce Banner gif. It looks like the battle for Los Angeles and who the STAPLE of downtown L.A. is back gold winning in Lakerland like a Paul for Pau nixing karma (yep…here I am letting it go). No matter how scary Patrick Beverly is to more than just an opening night rookie Lonzo. At least they have Sixth Man of every year Lou Will from the purple and gold. And getting one of the best centers in the L, Marcin Gortat to join one of the leagues best and underrated superstars Tobias Harris was a great move like the pick and rolls we are about to see set. But lets face it their best signing this year was Sports Illustrated top writer Lee Jenkins to an executive position. But even he can’t write them a happy ending out in Hollywood part two. These Clips look a lot different from the ‘Lob City’ look that took off from LAX years ago. Back then they had the sky-high confidence to cover up all the Lakers banners. Now they are back down in the cellars. At least the Clippers have found something that looks worse than their new look uniforms.
Mike D’Antoni is either a genius or a madman. But what are you going to call him when his Houston Rockets finally soar past the Warriors? This coach has unleashed more Point Guards than when he gave the ball to Steve Nash in seven seconds or less and told him to Forrest Gump. Former Sixth Man of the Year and Three-Point Contest champ Eric Gordon, last summers big free agent signing Chris Paul and of course your reigning Most Valuable Beard, James Harden. But fear here as there is more. Sure losing Ariza will put them in arrears. But they’ve just added one time and maybe still superstar Carmelo Anthony to a big-three than will hopefully work better than OKC. If that doesn’t take them over the edge and Golden State than perhaps a core of Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker, Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight, Nene and a cherry on the blown out cake top dunk of Gerald Green will. These Rockets are ready to rock back in their best in association black. Houston is everyone elses problem now.
San Antonio Spurs
Forget Kawhi Leonard, all that drama and the fact that he’s now crazily up here north in Toronto for a second. Because this might be it for Pop. The era that he and The Admiral, David Robinson set sail has finally left port. The original big-three born from the twin towers is no more. One of the greatest Spurs in Iceman to T-Bot history, Manu Ginobili now joins Tim Duncan with a fishing pole. Whilst Tony Parker is now with the Hornets. What the?! And if that wasn’t enough Kawhi has now gone from mild-mannered to what the hell we’ve just seen over the last year. The professional mood and calm of Timmy has now gone, no matter how much LaMarcus Aldridge looks like a clone of the San An android. Looks like former Toronto star DeMar DeRozan traded here for Leonard better start a new standard for these Spurs to click again and back into place. As Patty Mills, Pau Gasol and Rudy Gay will all have their day too soon. But what of the wild hair and play of Lonnie Walker IV going forth? Maybe it’s time for a radical new look in this new age. Better call Becky with the good coaching.
New Orleans Pelicans
Cousins joining Kentucky family Anthony Davis out in the Big Easy always looked like it was either going to be huge, or hard pressed to last long. But after a SLAM cover injury curse that saw no limit and a zero jersey dedication from A.D. at the A.S.G. that was truly something, no one thought it would all be over so quickly for the new generation Duncan and Robinson. But as DeMarcus swaps the swamp for the bay and gold with the Warriors, the Pelicans swap ‘cat for ‘cat. As another wild Kentucky alumnus joins Anthony’s frontcourt. Leaving the crowning gold of LeBron’s Lakerland even though rumor had it that Davis might make that opposite switch back, it’s time for Julius Randle to show the league how good he really is and can be. Not to mention how much the Lake Show are missing upfront. And he has plenty of star company in the returning Holiday and the power potential of pick-ups Jahlil Okafor and Elfrid Payton. But this team lives and dies with the bill of Anthony Davis’ big numbers and by their seasons fourth quarter, whether the French Quarter big bucks will decide if he stays or goes next summer.
Big in Japan. Yuta Watanabe might just be the rookie that Kyle Kuzma’s the 2018/2019 NBA season. Taking these Grizzlies from grit-n-grid to neon shine. Sure this seven footer won’t be bigger than Elvis, but he may just rock Memphis as he rolls down court. Rising like the Grizz fanbase in the Far East. Once compared to the Kings, Mavs and Spurs but now taking over all of them as the modern model for Western Conference consistency, you see that in lifers like Marc Gasol, Mike Conley Jr. and the dotted line of Chandler Parsons. But Tennessee needs a new project like Timberlake to take them out of the woods…swiftly. Yuta it’s you!
Dirk isn’t done. Far from it. I see no fat lady. But when Nowitzki says no more, Luka Doncic will be the Maverick that will keep Dallas shooting like J.R. or J.J. off the bench. Watch out Porzingis unicorns! The next internationl superstar ready to run right now is the future face of this franchise. That is unless last years high-flying rookie Dennis Smith Jr. doesn’t jump over him as this sophomore star stud baptizes the new rook in the chess positioning for power in practice. There’s more star power in all-vets Harrison Barnes, Wesley Matthews and new addition a year or two removed from what should have been in DeAndre Jordan too. The Mavs have finally got their man. But Dirk is still it until this champ goes for another chip. You thought it was just a one off? Well this team right now has what it takes to go for one last run for the ring for their number 41, who wants one more banner to be raised next to that jersey. Then like the Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum desert swagger at the end of ‘Independence Day’ you can light up the Cuban’s.
Chicago, All-Star 2020 blows in the Windy City for Kobe
Like Eliot Ness, that’s what Common’s city of Chicago is when it comes to this court. All greatest of all-time thanks to the statue outside the United Center that they have to bring in from the cold when ice gets in it’s cracks like the veins of new Minnesota Timberwolves cold front player, D’Angelo Russell (he should be here. These lost Lakers are just glad Brandon Ingram is). Forming a duo with Karl-Anthony Towns as dynamic as that one of Star Marbury and the uncut gem of Chi-towns own Kevin Garnett heading for the Hall.
And just like the Big Ticket, the Rose that grew from concrete and the way of Wade who was moved to tears, the rapper slash actor, author and Microsoft poet Common (who fittingly won MVP of the Celebrity Game in his city. Even after Kenny ‘The Jet’ Smith said “c’mon Common you can’t even dunk donuts in coffee” after giving Dwight Howard’s athletically graceful, camera flash freeze, cheese smile, spin dunk an 8 (Kobe?)) put on for his city like Barack Obama and of course the statue of the G.O.A.T. M.J. with a poetic rap that waxed lyrical on hoops history and it’s nuanced nostalgia.
Shouting out the real King MLK and Kobe before Magic made a moving speech, all players behind him dressed in warm-up white and Jennifer Huston brought the not a dry eye in the arena, house down with her tribute that beat the hardwood like the commercial Dr. Dre one for this California love in Chicago, like the National Anthem of treasure Chaka Khan in a 23 jersey.
Common also had rhymes for each player introduction for all those who would take to the floor dribbling across the Chicago skyline, as he rocked the mic like fellow Chicagoland legend Chance The Rapper halftime and injured All-Star Dame Lillard, who still got to play this weekend as Dame D.O.L.L.A. The first player to perform on this stage of Basketball’s Grammy’s, bringing out ‘Tha Carter’ himself Lil’ Wayne and a Mamba Forever leather that we all want to cop for this year’s Winter jacket.
From saying “Sixteen-time all-star, three-time NBA champion/ We continue to witness his reign / One of the greatest to play the game/ From the Los Angeles Lakers, LeBron James”, to “A four-time all-star / He handles the rock like Gibraltar / From the Boston Celtics / Give it up for Kemba Walker”.
But hey, I’ve got one for you all, “like the Beard and the Brow he runs the show/so where the f### is Alex Caruso”.
But to the beat of his own raps and his milk carton brother Kanye, even if every event was set off by the “GO” vocal of guitar hero John Mayer on his Common collaboration with ‘Jesus Is King’ walking God, Mr. West (from the bam, bam Bam Adebayo BAM Skills Challenge bucket win. To the Buddy Hield buzzer beating on the last ball of the last rack, Devin booking, beating and winning the Three-Point Shootout (still one of the best and most underrated events of the weekend)), this night of all the All-Stars was all about the one who should have been in the crowd cheering with his daughter courtside.
From Superman, Dwight Howard returning and bringing back the red cape out of the phone booth, with 24 on the chest, to Man Of Steel and former Lex Luthor like enemy Shaq filming on that old camcorder again. In one of the best but most controversial dunk contests that saw an all 50 and 7-foot-5 Tacko leaping Aaron Gordon robbed again like when he cleared the mascot (seriously I don’t mean to leap to conclusions, but these guys need to get over jumping over things…literally. Only Leonardo DiCaprio gets over this many people).
This time by the South Beach, bringing the Heat in the Windy City, tornado storm of Derrick Jones Jr. Air Gordon won’t be back (thanks for that judges. Dwayne Wade said in the Skills Challenge his mind can be changed…ain’t that the truth), but let’s hope the backboard ball touching, Woody Harrelson Venice Beach wear honoring Pat Connaughton will be. Because white men can jump too in an epic exciting weekend of Chicago, 2020 that in the Olympic year of Tokyo, 2020 showed all the world’s a Basketball stage like the Rising Stars game (Konichiwa Hachimura).
For the main event of the biggest weekend on the schedule itself Team LeBron all wore number 2 on their blue jerseys for GiGi and Team Giannis 24 forever for Kobe (a bald Khris Middleton even sometimes from the nose bleeds making it look like Mamba was there…which spiritually he was like his mentality), to another LeBron like Kobe dunk running the floor like Bean and the 24 second shot clock that decided the fourth quarter of an entertaining All-Star Game that was more than the legendary lay-up line and was actually a competitive affair.
That’s just what happens when you win the game on a free throw (157-155, King over Freak) as Laker and hometown Chicago hero Anthony Davis did the honors after filling the stat sheet with the game on the line. But, the All-Star MVP now beautifully renamed the Kobe Bryant award went to another Los Angeles King in Clipper Kawhi and his 30 points. Who dedicated his award to the late legend it’s named after, as fans had their fill of their favourite weekend of the mid-season they love like the hearts of a mid-Feb Valentine.
Just don’t ask him what he had for dinner.
For Team LeBron. For Kobe. For GiGi.
Canadian’s rise to the occasion at 2020 NBA Rising Stars game
Without a doubt, one of the brightest spots of the NBA All-Star Weekend, is the Rising Stars game.
Since it’s inclusion in the 1994 All-Star game in Minneapolis, it has seen multiple formats and renditions — becoming a fertile playground for “phenoms” and “sensations” to showcase their gifted basketball talents to a global audience.
Orlando Magic point guard Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway won MVP of the inaugural edition of the rookie challenge game which at the time featured a true all-rookie affair with the likes of Chris Webber, Sam Cassell, Isaiah Rider taking on Jamal Mashburn and Nick Van Exel.
Toni Kukoc + Dino Rađa first International Players
The original 8-player team rosters comprised of only two international players – both Croatian/ Yugoslavian greats Toni Kukoc and Dino Rađa made the phenom cut.
In addition to Kukoc and Rada, and up until 2000, when the NBA made it’s first format change, from a all-rookie game to a rookie versus sophomores soiree — the game had only featured a grand total of nine (9) non-American players. Arvydas Sabonis (Lithuania/1996), George Zidek (Czechoslovakia/1996), Vitaly Potapenko (Ukraine/1997), Zydrunas Ilgauskas (Lithuania/1998), Michael Olowokandi (UK/Nigeria/2000) and Dirk Nowitzki (Germany/2000) helped provide a blueprint for international expansion.
Steve Nash first Canadian selected in 1997
Steve Nash broke the Canadian trend and became the country’s first representation at the event, playing alongside Lakers’ great Kobe Bryant in the 1997 rendition. Winnipeg, Manitoba’s own Todd MacCulloch added his name to the list in first year of the new millennium, and twelve (12) years later Tristan Thompson (2012-2013) started what is now an eight-year streak of Canadians in the NBA’s Rising Stars’ Game.
Andrew Wiggins opened the flood-gates winning the MVP trophy in 2015 with an electric 22-point performance. Jamal Murray topped his scoring efforts with one of the best games in the events’ history with a 36-point, 11 assist MVP outburst in 2017.
History of Canadian’s NBA Rising Stars Game
Back then it was hard to imagine the impact that the NBA would have internationally, and across Canada. Despite multiple formats and various renditions, there’s little to no doubt that the idea of what has now become the World versus USA game has been a large contributing factor to the multiplier effect.
Record four Canadians in 2020 World vs. USA game
Now in its 26th year and in the sixth edition of the it’s latest format, the 2020 game showcased a record four (4) Canadian’s. Rookies RJ Barrett of the New York Knicks, Brandon Clarke (Memphis Grizzlies), Nickeil Alexander-Walker joined sophomore Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the NBA’s Tupac themed “me against the world” game.
Barrett poured in a game-high 27 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 steals. Clarke, arguably the steal of the 2019 NBA Draft was equally impressive with 22 points and game-high 8 rebounds on 11-of-15 shot attempts. Gilgeous-Alexander razzled and dazzled his way to 16 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists while his cousin Alexander-Walker added 6 points, 4 assists and 2 steals.
The Canadian’s contributions helped Team World race out to a 39-30 first-quarter lead over Team USA. A big second-half surge saw the all-American squad turn a 81-71, 10-point half-time deficit into 151-131, 20-point victory.
Outcome aside, the game featured a bevy of highlights including an impromptu dunk contest in the last minute that included some big time dunks by Brandon Clarke and RJ Barrett.
With such an impact internationally and responsible for giving many rising Canadian basketball players their first true taste of NBA All-Star weekend — it will only be a matter of time before one or two of them makes the leap from Saturday to Sunday like Nash did, becoming an official NBA All-star — five years after his appearance in the Rookie Challenge.