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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Checking in: NBA All-Star break 2019

NBA All-Star weekend a refreshing break from the business of basketball

The NBA All-Star game kicked off this past Sunday from Charlotte, North Carolina amidst an electric atmosphere at the Spectrum Center, Team LeBron defeated Team Giannis 178-164. Kevin Durant finished with 31 points and seven rebounds, capturing his second career All-Star game MVP. Flashy dunks, step back threes and lots of smiles told the All-Star game’s typical story but was highlighted by a refreshing level of competition among the two teams.

In what is a concerted effort by the NBA to breathe life back into the sputtering All-Star weekend, this year’s marquee contest from The Queen City marks the second consecutive year the league allowed team captains to handpick their squads from a pool of eligible players. This new format puts players’ pride and bragging rights on the line, but is always boldly underlined by the fact that this sport is designed to be fun.

For a brief moment, the grueling 82-game NBA season comes to a refreshing pause — where competition is temporarily suspended and beefs can be squashed. The new format brings fans back to the driveway, back to the playground, only this time as spectators to a court flooded with the world’s most skilled hoopers.

All-Star weekend returns basketball to its purest form and most human principles, yet annually falls just days after the trade deadline — perhaps the most ruthless, non-human considerate period in a professional season. Players’ names float out in the NBA air, their abilities levied by the 30 general managers who use the deadline to shuffle rosters, offload contracts and bolster their rotations toward a playoff push.

Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes became the embodiment of deadline cruelty when he was traded to the Sacramento Kings during a game against the Charlotte Hornets last week. It’s rare that trades happen in this fashion, but they can, and it’s a reminder that most players in the NBA are disposable and can be considered business pieces as opposed to people. Nobody is safe, but the Barnes trade was hardly the most notable deal at this year’s deadline.

Teams in the volatile Eastern Conference fortified their rosters with bigger-name trades, while GM’s in the Western Conference remained relatively quiet with the exception of a few minor deals. The most noise throughout the deadline came from Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers, who ultimately struck out on trading for New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis despite reportedly offering the Pelicans multiple young players, draft picks and salary cap relief.

The Los Angeles Clippers sent Tobias Harris, Boban Marjanovic and Mike Scott to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for Landry Shamet, Wilson Chandler, Mike Muscala and four future draft picks. Harris is certainly the gold of the trade for the Sixers, who are hoping his improved three-point shooting and defensive prowess will be enough to push the team over the hump as they make a push for the Conference Finals.

The Sixers also acquired Orlando Magic forward Jonathon Simmons and a 2020 first round pick in exchange for point guard Markelle Fultz. Since being drafted first overall by the Sixers in 2017, Fultz has only played in 33 games due mostly to the inexplicable disappearance of his shot. Many are labelling the college phenomenon as an NBA bust, but the Magic are banking on the 20-year-old benefitting from a fresh start.

The Toronto Raptors dealt Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright and a 2024 second round pick to the Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for veteran center Marc Gasol. The Raptors are hoping that Gasol’s craftiness in the low-post will complement the perimeter play of Kyle Lowry and Danny Green. His ability to spread the floor should also give Kawhi Leonard more space to attack the basket and create for his teammates. Additionally, Gasol brings significant playoff experience, something the Raptors say will help them come April.

The Milwaukee Bucks traded Thon Maker to the Detroit Pistons as part of a three-team deal with the Pelicans that landed them three-point specialist Nikola Mirotic. Mirotic is averaging a career-high 16.7 points per game and shooting a formidable 36.8 percent from deep so far this season, converting 2.7 attempts a game — tied for ninth in the league. More importantly, he is a quasi-proven playoff contributor, something the Bucks need if they really want to make noise in the East.

In the 2018 Western Conference Semifinals against the Golden State Warriors, Mirotic was a constant threat, shooting 43.1 percent from beyond the arc. Milwaukee is hoping that his shooting will stretch opposing defenses and increase their offensive spacing, allowing the Bucks to play 6’11” Giannis Antetokounmpo at point guard for more minutes. And in an era of basketball dominated by the guard, it seems Mirotic may be the unlikely key to unlocking Antetokounmpo as a legitimate MVP candidate.

So far this season, Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.2 points, 12.7 rebounds and six assists per game. Currently, he’s ninth in the league in shooting at 58.1 percent from the field (first among ball-dominant players), but more importantly has led Milwaukee to an NBA-best 43-14 record at the break. But the NBA remains infatuated with big numbers, and at this point no player is putting up bigger ones than James Harden.

Harden is scoring at a rate unseen since the dominant days of Wilt Chamberlain, leading the league with 36.6 points per game, 31 straight (and counting) in which he has dropped 30 or more points. Despite a rough start to the season, and injuries to Chris Paul and Clint Capela, Harden’s play is keeping the Rockets afloat — and relevant — in the highly competitive Western Conference.

The trade deadline and All-Star break will be in the rear view when the NBA resumes regular season action on Thursday. Back to business.

Written by: Carson Parodi – sports@theaggie.org


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