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    LeBron James and Stephen Curry Test Different Paths Back to N.B.A. Peak

    James’s Los Angeles Lakers revamped their roster in a bid for another championship. For Golden State and Curry, familiar faces were just fine.LOS ANGELES — On the cusp of his 19th N.B.A. season, Carmelo Anthony belongs to a new team but harbors the same ambitions: winning his first championship. In that regard, he is not alone on the Los Angeles Lakers, a collection of veterans who will form one of the league’s most curious experiments.“We have too much experience on this team to think anything other than we’ll figure it out,” Anthony said. “But it all takes time.”After a winless preseason, the Lakers will get going in an official capacity on Tuesday night, when they play their season opener against the Golden State Warriors, a franchise that has recently gone about its business in a decidedly different way.While the Lakers have been a tear-down project — LeBron James, who signed with the team in 2018, is the longest-tenured player on the roster — Golden State has been busy remodeling while keeping intact the essential core from its not-so-distant championship era, all in the hope of staging a resurrection with the help of some new pieces.Two teams. Two approaches. And an early-season, but much-anticipated, litmus test at Staples Center on the viability of each.“I think we’ll be ready,” Anthony said. “You can feel it.”Russell Westbrook, at 32, adds a scoring punch to a team with several old-for-the-N.B.A. veterans.Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated PressThe Warriors — remember them? — are running it back with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and, eventually, Klay Thompson, whom the team expects to return by late December or early January after he missed the past two seasons with injuries. Thompson tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the 2019 finals, then ruptured his right Achilles’ tendon last November.“It doesn’t work without Klay,” Curry said in an interview last week. “So there’s definitely anticipation. And we feel like we’ll have three seasons in one this year: this first chapter until he gets back, reintegrating him into the fold, and then the playoff chase down the stretch. So there’s a lot to look forward to.”Without Thompson — and largely without Curry, who broke his hand and missed all but five games — Golden State hibernated through the 2019-20 season, finishing with the worst record in the league. Last season, as the team continued to groom prospects like Jordan Poole, a first-round draft pick in 2019, and Juan Toscano-Anderson, who came out of the G League, the Warriors went 39-33.Now Golden State is nearly whole. And the team has welcomed the reappearance of a familiar figure: Andre Iguodala, a key cog in the team’s five straight trips to the finals, from 2015 to 2019, which produced three championships.“We built something special here,” said Iguodala, who has rejoined Golden State after spending most of the past two seasons with the Miami Heat.While Iguodala was gone, Golden State experienced its share of turbulence. But the franchise maintained a sense of stability. Curry and Green were still around. Thompson would be back at some point. And Steve Kerr, now entering his eighth season as the team’s coach, was at the helm. The pieces were there. It would just take some time for them all to coalesce again.“Our expectations are definitely higher this year than they have been the last couple of years,” said Kerr, whose team went 5-0 in the preseason. “It’s a really fun group to coach.”The Lakers will be playing under an even brighter spotlight after overhauling their roster (again) this summer. They signed Anthony, traded for Russell Westbrook and acquired veterans like Kent Bazemore, DeAndre Jordan, Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo while jettisoning the bulk of their personnel from last season. Gone are many of the role players from their championship run in 2020: Kyle Kuzma, Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.The Lakers are not big on continuity, demonstrating a willingness to sacrifice draft picks and young players for name-brand stars of a certain vintage. If there is urgency, it stems in large part from the fact that James is 36 and has struggled with injuries in recent years. No athlete can operate at the height of his powers forever, not even James. And so the Lakers have gone about mortgaging their future in pursuit of another championship now — if they can create chemistry in short order while avoiding more health problems.“I think our basketball I.Q., our talent and our skill will, for the most part, get us there,” Anthony said, “and then, the cohesiveness of being together and playing together will take us over the top. We understand where we want to be and where we’re going to be, but we’re not there yet.”Draymond Green, right, provided a critical defensive complement to the offense of Stephen Curry, left, during Golden State’s championship runs.John Hefti/Associated PressThe team has acknowledged that it will be a work in progress. As James put it before the start of training camp, “I don’t think it’s going to be like peanut butter and jelly to start the season.”Any mention of preseason basketball ought to come with the disclaimer that the games are fairly meaningless. But the Lakers did go 0-6, which was enough to raise some important questions: Is this a hodgepodge roster? Can a team this old withstand the rigors of an 82-game regular season? And, perhaps most important, can Westbrook and James, two ball-dominant players, coexist in a productive way?Frank Vogel, the team’s coach, said he had no such concerns.“There’s definitely a willingness for those guys to share and sacrifice,” he said, adding, “It’s tough to get 15-plus-year vets to be completely serious about the preseason.”For his part, James said Monday that he had fully recovered from the ankle injury that slowed him toward the end of last season — “I didn’t do much basketball for the first two months of the summer,” he said — and that he was ready for a fresh start, one that will come against an opponent that, unlike the Lakers, hopes to reach into its past. More

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    LeBron James Laughs at Your ‘Old’ Lakers Memes. After His Nap.

    The Los Angeles Lakers have five players who are at least 35 years old, including the 36-year-old James. Older, wiser, championship?LeBron James has seen the memes and read the punch lines.“The narrative about our age,” he said, “I kind of laugh at it. I actually do really laugh. I’m not just saying that.”The Los Angeles Lakers are old. They are the N.B.A.’s Traveling Wilburys, an aging rock star collective hoping to produce one more chart-topping album. Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan have more mileage between them than a 2003 Honda Civic. Carmelo Anthony, 37, recalled first getting to know James, 36, when they were high school standouts — way back in the previous millennium. At 32, Russell Westbrook is comparatively spry.It all could make for an all-encompassing disaster. Or it could be an extraordinary success. But the Lakers will not be boring.“I don’t think it’s going to be like peanut butter and jelly to start the season,” James told reporters on Tuesday ahead of training camp. “But that’s all part of the process.”As change swirls around him, James remains the franchise’s central force. On the cusp of his 19th N.B.A. season and his fourth with the Lakers, he has had an eventful tenure in Los Angeles. Year 1: an injury-marred season for James that the Lakers punctuated with a losing record. Year 2: the death of Kobe Bryant, followed by a championship run in the league’s pandemic-era bubble. Year 3: more injuries and a first-round playoff exit.Ahead of Year 4, James donned a hard hat as the Lakers underwent a hefty renovation. Only James, Anthony Davis and Talen Horton-Tucker remain from last season, though a couple of familiar faces — Howard and Rajon Rondo, both 35 — are back after helping the Lakers win a title two seasons ago.“It was exciting helping put this team together this summer,” said James, who might as well have a front office role.In his own small way, James reinvented himself, too, by slightly slimming down at this august stage of his career.“He’s made the decision to come back a little bit leaner,” Rob Pelinka, the team’s general manager, said last week. “And I think that’s going to translate in his explosiveness and his quickness.”Pelinka said he had outlined three objectives ahead of the draft and free agency: Add playmakers, find more shooting and, finally, shift back to employing two defensive-minded centers to both augment Davis’s presence in the post and remove some of the physical demands on him. Pelinka wound up raiding a warehouse of vintage All-Stars.“A lot of times when you put a group of players together — a group of talent like we have — it doesn’t work out,” said Anthony, who spent last season with the Portland Trail Blazers. “But I think where we’re at in our careers and understanding what we have to do, understanding the sacrifices that we all have to make in order for us to work, that’s the beauty of the actual journey that we’re about to go on.”Russell Westbrook, who is from the Los Angeles area and played at U.C.L.A., was traded to the Lakers from the Wizards in August.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated PressCarmelo Anthony spent the past two seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers before joining the Lakers this summer.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated PressWestbrook, a former winner of the N.B.A.’s Most Valuable Player Award, spent last season with the Washington Wizards before he was traded to the Lakers in August. Westbrook called it a “blessing” to be playing in Los Angeles, where he grew up. James said he and Westbrook had been “tied at the hip” since the summer.“I think it’s because we both understand and know what it takes in order to win, and obviously LeBron knows what it takes to get to that next level,” Westbrook said.To that end, the Lakers have already managed to avoid a potential distraction dogging several other teams, including the Nets and the Golden State Warriors: Pelinka said the Lakers would be fully vaccinated by the time they open their season against Golden State on Oct. 19.“I know that I was very skeptical about it all,” James said. “But after doing my research and things of that nature, I felt like it was best suited for not only me but for my family and my friends, and that’s why I decided to do it.”At the same time, James said he would not his use his public platform to urge others to be vaccinated.“I don’t feel like for me personally that I should get involved in what other people should do for their bodies,” he said.It was not a topic that James seemed to relish, though the spotlight will presumably settle on the Lakers’ wild on-court chemistry experiment soon enough. And there will be a feeling of urgency for everyone involved.There is not much of a clear future for the Lakers, at least not in the painstaking let’s-make-sure-we-plan-beyond-this-season sense. In acquiring the likes of Davis in 2019 and Westbrook this year, the Lakers have traded away several promising players and an armada of first-round draft picks. The idea has been to win now, no matter the cost.But the aging process is undefeated, and there are obvious concerns about the Lakers’ durability. James, so indestructible for much of his career, has been hampered by injuries in recent years, and Davis limped through the team’s abridged playoff appearance last season. For his part, Pelinka sought to downplay the suggestion that the Lakers were brittle by citing the example of Tom Brady, who, at 44, is still quarterbacking football teams to Super Bowls.Amid the doubts and the questions about the Lakers, Anthony can make out a path that leads to a championship ring, which would be his first. There were moments in his career, he said, when he considered the possibility of teaming up with James, one of his closest friends. The opportunity never materialized. Perhaps neither player was ready for that to happen, Anthony said.“But here we are now,” he said. “Timing is everything.” More

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    Andre Iguodala Plans to End His Career With Golden State

    Iguodala said he plans to return on a one-year deal after a detour to the Miami Heat. “The opportunity to end it here was just something special,” he said.Andre Iguodala found himself in recent months in discussions with his few N.B.A. peers remaining, the ones who sculpted paralleling journeys, from being teenagers to experiencing parenthood, from playing for free in high school gyms to playing for millions in front of thousands. More

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    After Bonding Over Basketball and Biking, a Big Loss

    Mark Eaton and Rudy Gobert, paint protectors past and present for the Utah Jazz, had built a relationship of mutual admiration and respect.Mark Eaton did not connect with Rudy Gobert because they were both big men from a small-market franchise known for their immense shot-blocking presence. Not exclusively, anyway.Eaton and Gobert, paint protectors past and present for the Utah Jazz, bonded over a love of bike-riding, too.In August 2016 in Las Vegas, at a National Basketball Retired Players Association function, Eaton was introduced to a Frenchman named David Folch, who specialized in making custom bicycles for tall riders and had been referred to the association by the Hall of Famer Bill Walton. Eaton was so excited that he hopped right onto Folch’s sample bike and began pedaling through the corridors of the hotel.“He had a big smile on his face as he’s coming back and, with that deep voice, he’s telling me, ‘I feel like a kid — I haven’t felt like this since I was 10,’ ” Folch said in a telephone interview.Within a year, Eaton had arranged for Gobert to meet the 6-foot-6 Folch to get a DirtySixer bike of his own, outfitted with 36-inch wheels for a frame that, as Folch described it, comes with “everything oversized and everything proportionate” for N.B.A.-sized cycling enthusiasts. Gobert was quickly hooked and would soon have his own custom bike to join Eaton for occasional rides. He later ordered 15 bikes from Folch as presents for his Jazz teammates.I recently wrote about Gobert’s trying year in the spotlight after he was the first N.B.A. player known to test positive for the coronavirus. The piece included a passage about how Eaton had become a mentor to Gobert. Eaton shared the story of their first 7-footers-only bike ride and a subsequent tour of Eaton’s Park City, Utah, home, where Gobert spotted Eaton’s Defensive Player of the Year Award trophies from 1984-85 and 1988-89. Gobert vowed that day to win one, too.“Now he has two of his own,” Eaton said in our March conversation.Gobert is widely expected to soon be named the winner of the award for the third time, but Eaton sadly won’t be here to see it. Last Friday, on his second bike ride of the day, Eaton was found lying unconscious on a roadway after a suspected crash near his home in Summit County, Utah. Eaton was taken to a hospital, where he died that night. The state’s medical examiner’s office has yet to announce an official cause of death.Eaton became a mentor to Rudy Gobert, and inspired Gobert to try to win the Defensive Player of the Year Award, a trophy Eaton won twice in his career.Getty ImagesSorrow spread quickly around the league on Saturday because Eaton, just 64, was a beloved figure in N.B.A. circles, as much for the way he campaigned for retired players as for his own unlikely rise from the community college ranks to an 11-year career with the Jazz that peaked with one All-Star selection (1988-89). It was also the latest in a string of devastating bike accidents involving N.B.A. figures, adding to the anguish felt last October, when the longtime Houston Rockets scout BJ Johnson was killed on a ride in Houston. In March, Shawn Bradley, the 12-year veteran center, announced through the Dallas Mavericks that he had been paralyzed in January after a vehicle struck him during a ride in St. George, Utah.Gobert dedicated the Jazz’s Game 3 victory in Memphis on Saturday night to Eaton. The 7-foot-4 Eaton often told the story of his struggles at U.C.L.A., where he barely played in two seasons, until the iconic Wilt Chamberlain watched him in a few practices and told him to focus on dominating around the rim instead of trying to match the mobility of faster opponents. Eaton repeatedly passed the same message on to the 7-foot-1 Gobert, who, like Eaton, was not an instant force in the N.B.A., after Denver selected him with the 27th overall pick in the 2013 draft on Utah’s behalf.“I feel his presence,” Gobert said after the Game 3 win, adding that he could imagine receiving his customary postgame text message from Eaton that read, “Way to protect the paint, big guy.”My personal memories of Eaton are equally fond. As a basketball-loving resident of Orange County, Calif., it was impossible for me not to be schooled on the Eaton fairy tale — how he had been spotted by a coach from Cypress (Calif.) Community College while working as a mechanic and had been talked into joining the team, at age 20, after he had given up the sport. Eaton was earning an annual salary of $20,000 at Mark C. Bloome Tires, but he showed enough promise at Cypress to be drafted by the Phoenix Suns with the 107th overall pick in the fifth round of the 1979 draft, before deciding it would be wiser to transfer to U.C.L.A. rather than trying to go directly to the pros.The Jazz selected Eaton in the fourth round of the 1982 draft at No. 72 overall after his virtually nonexistent Bruins career. In his third N.B.A. season, he blocked 5.6 shots per game to set a single-season league record that still stands. His last season as an active player with the Jazz (1992-93) narrowly preceded my first season as an N.B.A. beat writer (1993-94), but Eaton also holds a distinction found in only one record book — mine. He was the first N.B.A. player I ever interviewed.Rudy Gobert, left, David Folch, center, and Mark Eaton, right, in November 2017.Courtesy of DirtySixer BikesDuring the summer of 1989, as a part-time correspondent for The Orange County Register while attending Cal State Fullerton, I was dispatched to cover the N.B.A.’s annual summer league at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. I had spent months pestering an assigning editor, Robin Romano, who graciously put up with my badgering. Summer league in those days was nothing at all like the monster enterprise we see now, with big crowds in Las Vegas and cameras everywhere. Established N.B.A. writers rarely covered it — especially those based in Southern California accustomed to long playoff runs reporting on the Showtime Lakers.Romano fought for me to get the assignment, partly because I had besieged her with reminders that, thanks to my overseas ties and full-fledged N.B.A. nerdity, I was already well acquainted with the Lakers’ little-known first-round draft pick from Europe: Vlade Divac. Yet it was Eaton I encountered first in the L.M.U. hallway as I entered the gym, and I approached him, terrified, for an interview — and without any good questions or even a story angle.Eaton had just made his lone All-Star appearance five months earlier and, if I remember right, was not even playing that day as one of the veterans known, in that anything-goes era, to drop in unannounced to get some run. As a 20-year-old neophyte, I just figured I better interview an N.B.A. All-Star because I saw one. To my relief, Eaton couldn’t have been nicer about my lack of preparation or know-how as I held my tape recorder as high as my meager, trembling wingspan could manage.He got me through it. I recounted the tale for him more than once in recent years and, when we last spoke nearly three months ago for the Gobert piece, Eaton made sure to remind me: “I love your story about Loyola.”Video of that interaction, had it existed, wouldn’t be nearly as compelling as the footage of Eaton pedaling in the halls of a Vegas hotel, or the great clip that has been circulating of Eaton smothering a drive to the basket by the former N.B.A. player Rex Chapman with his right palm without jumping. Yet Eaton’s compliment, coming from the gentle giant who had one of the best back stories in N.B.A. history, is one I plan to hang on to.The Scoop @TheSteinLineCorner ThreeLarry Nance Jr. had a little support from his father, the three-time N.B.A. All-Star Larry Nance Sr., during the 2018 slam dunk contest.Bob Donnan/USA Today Sports, via ReutersYou ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. (Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.)Questions may be condensed and lightly edited for clarity.Q: The 1996-97 Charlotte Hornets had Glen Rice and Dell Curry on the roster. Their kids, Glen Rice Jr., and Stephen and Seth Curry, all reached the N.B.A. so those Hornets had two dads of future N.B.A. players. Has an N.B.A. roster ever had more than two? — Steven Friedlander (Knoxville, Tenn.)Stein: A comprehensive breakdown of N.B.A. rosters with the most N.B.A. dads was not readily available, but some consultation with the Elias Sports Bureau found multiple teams in the 1990s that had at least three players whose sons made it to the N.B.A., too.Golden State in 1991-92: Tim Hardaway (Tim Hardaway Jr.), Rod Higgins (Cory Higgins) and Jaren Jackson (Jaren Jackson Jr.)Cleveland in 1993-94: Higgins, Larry Nance (Larry Nance Jr.) and Gerald Wilkins (Damien Wilkins)Golden State in 1994-95: Manute Bol (Bol Bol), Hardaway and HigginsPortland in 1995-96: Harvey Grant (Jerami and Jerian Grant), Arvydas Sabonis (Domantas Sabonis) and Gary Trent (Gary Trent Jr.)Portland in 1997-98: Rick Brunson (Jalen Brunson), Sabonis and Trent.Another memorable example: As my pal Mike Lynch from Stathead noted, Henry Bibby (Mike Bibby), Joe Bryant (Kobe Bryant), Mike Dunleavy (Mike Dunleavy Jr.) and Harvey Catchings (whose daughter Tamika Catchings starred in the W.N.B.A. and was just inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2020 class alongside Kobe Bryant) all played for Philadelphia in 1976-77.Q: Have my Hornets finally turned a corner? Can LaMelo Ball’s exciting style help us attract free agents? Will Michael Jordan be willing to break the bank again on a proven player after the signing of Gordon Hayward? — Glenn Gibson (Mount Holly, N.C.)Stein: Ball’s presence could help some, but it’s a stretch to describe Charlotte as any sort of emerging free-agent destination or to suggest that the Hornets’ standing in the league has changed after one season that ended with a blowout defeat in the play-in tournament.Mitch Kupchak, Charlotte’s president of basketball operations, said in an interview with me last week — and when he did a season-ending news conference with local reporters — that the Hornets were pleasantly surprised to win the Hayward sweepstakes in November. Kupchak was initially skeptical that Hayward would decline a player option with Boston for the 2020-21 season worth nearly $35 million to come to small-market Charlotte.Given that the Hornets committed to a four-year deal to Hayward worth $120 million, this isn’t the time to question Jordan’s willingness to spend. That deal was widely regarded as an overpayment given Hayward’s age (31) and injury history. Yet I hold firm on what was covered in last week’s newsletter about Jordan’s limited presence around the team.Understandable as it was for Jordan to be distant throughout a season played through the pandemic, I remain convinced that he needs to be more visible and involved to boost the Hornets, because his star power is such a difference maker.Q: Another collapse? From a franchise perspective, sure, but Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis weren’t even teenagers when the 2006 finals happened, so I doubt they give it much thought. — @BrettChisum from TwitterStein: Fair point. Tuesday’s piece wasn’t intended to suggest that Doncic and Porzingis have been weighed down in their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers by memories of what happened to the Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks in the 2006 N.B.A. finals against Miami.But I still think “another” applies, as I used in a tweet to promote the story, because (as you also noted) this is a franchise — and a fan base — that will never forget what happened in 2006. Dallas’s inability to win a single playoff series since the 2011 finals triumph over Miami that avenged the 2006 loss factors into that.Like it or not, if the Mavericks lose this series to the Clippers after taking a 2-0 lead on the road, it will dredge up talk of the worst collapses in league and, yes, franchise history.Numbers GameGiannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks got their playoff revenge on the Miami Heat this year.Sam Navarro/USA Today Sports, via Reuters37.3It’s hard to believe now, given the depths of his struggles against the Hawks, but Julius Randle averaged 37.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 6.7 assists in three regular-season games against Atlanta. Although Randle had his best game of the series in the Knicks’ Game 4 defeat (23 points, 10 rebounds and 7 assists), his 7-for-19 shooting performance inspired derisive chants of “Play-off Randle” and “over-rated” from Atlanta’s fans. Randle, who last week won the N.B.A.’s Most Improved Player Award, has missed 53 of 73 shots from the field in the series. The Hawks had the league’s 18th-ranked defense during the regular season.16.1Milwaukee’s overtime victory against Miami in Game 1 of their first-round series did not exactly suggest that the Bucks were poised to sweep the Heat. The Bucks pulled out a victory in the series opener despite shooting a dreadful 5 for 31 on 3-pointers (16.1 percent). The Heat shot 20 for 50 from long range in the 109-107 defeat and were never again close in the series, absorbing three further defeats by an average of 26.7 points per game in a stunning reversal from the teams’ second-round matchup in last season’s bubble playoffs at Walt Disney World.49Jayson Tatum’s 50 points last Friday in Boston’s Game 3 win over the Nets marked the fourth time in 49 days that Tatum had scored at least 50 points. He also scored 53 points in an overtime victory against Minnesota on April 9; 60 points in an overtime victory against San Antonio on April 30; and 50 points on May 18 in a victory over Washington in an Eastern Conference play-in game. Only five other players in Celtics history have scored 50 points or more in a playoff game, and none of them were named Larry Bird or Bill Russell, according to Stathead: John Havlicek (54 in 1973), Isaiah Thomas (53 in 2017), Ray Allen (51 in 2009), Sam Jones (51 in 1967) and Bob Cousy (50 in 1953).37Portland’s Carmelo Anthony, who ranks 10th on the N.B.A.’s career scoring list with 27,370 regular-season points, turned 37 on Saturday. The only player older than Anthony to see game action in these playoffs was Miami’s Andre Iguodala, according to Stathead, who turned 37 in January.14Despite losing Denver’s Jamal Murray and Oklahoma City’s Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to injury, Canada Basketball named 14 N.B.A. players to its 21-player roster for its Olympic qualifying bid. That means Canada Coach Nick Nurse, of the Toronto Raptors, has more N.B.A. players than roster spots (12) at his disposal, which is a first for any nation apart from the United States since professionals were granted permission to participate in Olympic basketball in Barcelona in 1992. Canada must win a six-nation Olympic qualifying tournament in Victoria, British Columbia, from June 29 to July 4 to join the United States in the 12-team men’s basketball Olympic field in Tokyo.Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. More

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    A New League’s Shot at the N.C.A.A.: $100,000 Salaries for High School Players

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyA New League’s Shot at the N.C.A.A.: $100,000 Salaries for High School PlayersThe Overtime Elite league proposes that providing a salary and a focus toward a pro career might be more appealing than college basketball’s biggest programs.Aaron Ryan, Zack Weiner, Dan Porter and Brandon Williams, executives of the sports media company Overtime and its new basketball league, aim to change the career pathway for young stars.Credit…OvertimeMarch 4, 2021Updated 9:49 a.m. ETA new basketball league backed by a sports media company is entering the intensifying debate over whether student athletes should be paid, by starting a new venture offering high school basketball players $100,000 salaries to skip college.The league, Overtime Elite, formed under the auspices of the sports media company Overtime, would compete directly with the N.C.A.A. for the nation’s top high school boys by employing about 30 of them, who would circumvent the behemoth of college sports.Overtime will offer each athlete, some as young as 16, a minimum of $100,000 annually, as well as a signing bonus and a small number of shares in Overtime’s larger business. The company will also provide health and disability insurance, and set aside $100,000 in college scholarship money for each player — in case any decide not to pursue basketball professionally.The trade-off is major: The players who accept the deal will forfeit their ability to play high school or college basketball.“People have been saying things need to change, and we are the ones changing it,” said Dan Porter, the chief executive of Overtime.Overtime is diving into an argument that has roiled American sports for generations — whether it’s appropriate for pro sports leagues to lure young athletes out of high school and college with big checks, or for colleges to exploit the talents of athletes for big money without compensating them beyond attendance costs.Since the 2006 draft, players have not been able to go directly to the N.B.A. after high school — they do not become eligible to be drafted until the year they turn 19 or at least one N.B.A. season after their high school graduation year.For decades, the N.C.A.A.’s rules on amateurism, now under challenge in courts and in state legislatures, have held back a swell of money from flooding toward young elite athletes. The system has always had fissures, and they have grown in recent years as federal and state lawmakers and the N.C.A.A. have considered some changes to let athletes earn some more money.You may not have ever heard of Overtime — especially if you are, say, over 30 — but if you are a sports fan you have almost certainly seen its videos.If a crazy highlight or moment from a high school game floated across one of your social media feeds, it was probably filmed by Overtime. If you saw any dunks from Zion Williamson before he played for Duke, they were probably filmed by Overtime. The company says its videos are viewed almost two billion times each month.Overtime, which was founded in 2016 and got an early investment from David Stern, the former N.B.A. commissioner, has made connections with young prospects by building its presence in high school gyms across the country, where filming rights are essentially free and the competition not nearly the same as the ever-shifting battle among media behemoths to televise college and professional sports.Overtime’s videographers are recognized by the players. Laurence Marsach, more commonly known as Overtime Larry and the host of many Overtime videos, is highly popular among fans of youth basketball. The Overtime “O” logo is a stamp of approval online, with teens and tweens even throwing it up in the background of their videos.The new league, Overtime Elite, most resembles soccer academies in Europe and elsewhere. The players, and possibly their families, will move to one city — Overtime says it is selecting between two choices — to live and train together. Overtime will hire education staffers to teach the athletes and help them get high school diplomas. A basketball operations division will include coaches and trainers and will be led by Brandon Williams, the former N.B.A. player who was also previously a front office executive for the Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings. The commissioner is Aaron Ryan, a former longtime N.B.A. league office executive.No players have been signed yet — so as not to ruin their eligibility during the current high school basketball season. But Porter and Zack Weiner, Overtime’s president, are confident that many of the top players ages 16-18 will join.“We think our system will be amazing for their basketball development,” Weiner said. “Will every single player make the N.B.A.? Maybe not every single one of them, but the large majority will become professionals.”But there are almost as many risks as there are benefits for the young athletes. Most start-up professional sports leagues, no matter how innovative, fail. Overtime Elite will require tens of millions of dollars to operate on the scale its founders envision, but if it does not succeed, its athletes could be left with nowhere to play.“We are genuine in really investing in hiring really serious and legitimate people to run every aspect of the company,” Porter said. “I don’t want to mess around with kids’ lives. I don’t want people to mess around with my kids’ lives. There is a moral obligation that goes with that.”Weiner said the company is “extremely well capitalized” to launch the league. Overtime, Porter added, raised a “meaningful” amount of cash in a previously undisclosed funding round last fall, and planned to use it to pay players, hire employees and lease housing, office, gym and education spaces.Some details on what the league will actually look like or how fans can watch are still unsettled. There will be no permanent teams, but instead dynamic rosters within the league, and Porter and Weiner envision some sort of barnstorming tour of Europe. Games will no doubt be viewable online, but Overtime promises the games themselves and content around them won’t look too similar to typical basketball telecasts.Overtime Elite isn’t the only basketball league that spies opportunity in the shifting rules around amateurism and a desire by players to get paid immediately. David West, a former N.B.A. player, has started the Professional Collegiate League, and the N.B.A.’s development league has recently begun courting top 18-year-olds who want to skip college altogether on their way to the N.B.A.But Overtime Elite is the first serious league aimed at paying high school players, LaVar Ball’s failed Junior Basketball Association notwithstanding.Porter and Weiner talk down the idea that they are challenging high school state athletic associations, the N.C.A.A., high school coaches and the many other entities invested in the current system.“We are not against the N.C.A.A.” Carmelo Anthony, an Overtime investor and member of its board of directors, said in an interview. “We are not against the N.B.A. We are not trying to hurt those guys or come at them. We want the support of the N.B.A. and N.C.A.A. Eventually we are going to need those guys anyway.”Carmelo Anthony during his championship run at Syracuse in the 2002-3 season.Credit…Kevin Rivoli/Associated PressAnthony has an interesting perspective on Overtime Elite in part because, for all of the trade-offs of college sports, he is one its most visible success stories. He played college basketball for one season with Syracuse, won the N.C.A.A. tournament for the university’s first championship, improved his draft stock and got a huge boost in name recognition.“Going to college and playing college basketball is what it is,” he said. “It never will change. The concept of Overtime Elite is not to disrupt that, but to give these kids opportunities because they are taking control of their own brands and what they do, and social media becoming so powerful. Why not embrace that?”Perhaps the biggest challenge for Overtime, besides convincing enough elite players to join its league and enough consumers to watch high school basketball, is the floodgates opening to alternative ways for players to make money while also playing for high school and college teams.Under rising pressure from Washington and the nation’s statehouses, some of which have already approved legislation to require defiance of existing N.C.A.A. rules, the association spent months crafting new policies only to postpone votes that were planned for January.The turmoil within the N.C.A.A. is unfolding as the Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments this month about whether the association may limit education-related benefits for top football and basketball players. And on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have been circulating a range of proposals that could set a national standard for name, image and likeness rules, including some particularly aggressive ideas to give athletes a bigger slice of the industry’s profits (Congress is not expected to act imminently and no proposal has advanced beyond a committee).The political forces were already complicating the long-term strategy of the N.C.A.A., which makes most of its money from its signature men’s basketball tournament. Overtime Elite, if it can succeed, would make the N.C.A.A.’s chase for players even more difficult.Alan Blinder More

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    NBA All Star Game Predictions: Picks and Snubs

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The NBA SeasonVirus Hotspots in the N.B.A.The Friendship of LeBron and Anthony DavisThe N.B.A. Wanted HerMissing Klay ThompsonKobe the #GirlDadAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyPredicting N.B.A. All-Star Picks and SnubsThe usual All-Star Game debates — who’s in, who’s out — have a new component this year during the coronavirus pandemic: Should the game happen at all?The Utah Jazz are the best team in the West, and their stars — including Donovan Mitchell, fourth from left — have earned a spot in the All-Star Game. The question is, though: How many of their stars will make it?Credit…Jamie Schwaberow/Getty ImagesFeb. 17, 2021, 3:00 a.m. ETIf you enjoy spirited discourse about N.B.A. All-Star matters, this is your year.There is the ongoing debate about the wisdom of holding even a scaled-down version of the event in Atlanta amid the coronavirus pandemic, which continues to disrupt the regular-season schedule. There is also the traditional wrangling over who should claim the 12 All-Star spots in each conference — as spirited and layered as ever in a season marked by game postponements, mostly empty arenas and more parity than usual in the standings.Fan balloting ends Tuesday at midnight, Eastern time. All-Star starters will be revealed Thursday night on TNT, with the reserves, as selected by the league’s coaches, to be announced next Tuesday.Here is our annual projection of the rosters featuring my unofficial reserve sections:Eastern ConferenceThe Nets’ Kyrie Irving, left, and Bradley Beal of the Wizards, right, are each having career seasons in the Eastern Conference.Credit…Brad Penner/USA Today Sports, via ReutersLikely StartersFrontcourt: Kevin Durant (Nets); Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks); Joel Embiid (Sixers)Backcourt: Bradley Beal (Wizards); Kyrie Irving (Nets)Durant, Antetokounmpo and Embiid have such sizable leads in fan voting (and rightly so) that we can proclaim them starters. Beal (2,528,719) was the leading vote-getter among guards, over Irving (2,104,130) and James Harden (1,829,504), as of last week’s balloting update, which was pleasing to see.Beal missed out last season on All-Star and All-N.B.A. honors despite averaging 30.5 points per game. He is averaging 33.1 points per game this season while facing even more attention from defenses. A starting nod, if you can get past the Wizards’ 8-17 record, would be a nice makeup call for a player who has pledged his loyalty to a franchise that is floundering in its attempts to build around him.The Celtics are in a skid, but Jaylen Brown, front center, and Jayson Tatum, right, have proved talented enough to keep Boston fans from losing all hope.Credit…Brian Fluharty/USA Today Sports, via ReutersSure-Thing ReservesKhris Middleton (Bucks); Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown (Celtics); Bam Adebayo (Heat); James Harden (Nets)The Bucks packaged an array of trade assets to acquire Jrue Holiday from New Orleans in hopes of persuading Antetokounmpo to sign a five-year, $228 million contract extension. Antetokounmpo did sign in the end — on the 31st of 37 days he was eligible to do so — but Holiday’s arrival appears to have sparked Middleton just as much. Lest anyone suggest Holiday had supplanted him as Milwaukee’s clear-cut second star, Middleton is shooting (and playmaking) better than ever.Tatum and especially Brown have also ascended to new levels as two-way forces and, because of their promise, give the Celtics reason to avoid plunging into full-blown panic mode after a 5-10 skid dumped them to fourth in the East.The Heat have two undeniable All-Stars, but their 11-16 record has me fearing Jimmy Butler could get passed over by voting coaches on a technicality: Butler missed 12 of Miami’s first 27 games. Adebayo, by complementing his defensive versatility with an improving jumper and a vastly improved free-throw stroke, should ensure that last season’s East champions have at least half the representation they should.And, yes, Harden still counts as an All-Star automatic for me — disruptive as his behavior was in Houston during the season’s first six weeks in an ultimately successful bid to coerce the Rockets to trade him.Julius Randle had 44 points for the Knicks on Monday, continuing a strong season that should earn him his first All-Star honors.Credit…Jason Decrow/USA Today Sports, via ReutersWild CardsGordon Hayward (Hornets); Julius Randle (Knicks)The Hornets were mocked for giving Hayward a four-year, $120 million contract in free agency after his three injury-plagued seasons in Boston. Hayward has responded with some of the strongest across-the-board play in his career, alongside the exciting rookie LaMelo Ball, to establish the Hornets as an unexpected playoff contender.Perhaps I let romance sway me on both picks here, but it’s true: I also went with the Knick! The Knicks’ competitiveness is an even bigger surprise than Charlotte or anything else we’ve seen in the East, and Randle, along with the first-year coach Tom Thibodeau, has been a cornerstone of that competence.Even before Randle’s 44-point masterpiece Monday night in a victory over Atlanta, I couldn’t resist being swept up in his 23.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 5.6 assists per game while shooting a career-best 40.6 percent from 3-point range. Those benchmarks have been sustained by only one player for an entire season: Larry Bird.It’s difficult to say what more Chicago’s Zach LaVine could have done to deserve a spot in this year’s All-Star Game.Credit…Mike Dinovo/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe SnubsFrontcourt: Nikola Vucevic (Magic); Domantas Sabonis (Pacers); Jerami Grant (Pistons); Tobias Harris (Sixers); Jimmy Butler (Heat)Backcourt: Zach LaVine (Bulls); Trae Young (Hawks); Malcolm Brogdon (Pacers); Fred VanVleet (Raptors); Ben Simmons (Sixers)LaVine, Vucevic, Young and Sabonis were especially tough to omit. Like Randle, LaVine is surely wondering what more he has to do when he is averaging 28.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.2 assists per game — and has Chicago in the playoff mix. Sportswriters love to dramatize the agony involved in these unofficial choices, but I don’t envy the coaches. In either conference.Western ConferenceGolden State’s Stephen Curry, left, is leading the backcourt fan voting in the West; the Lakers’ LeBron James, right, leads in the frontcourt.Credit…Jae C. Hong/Associated PressLikely StartersFrontcourt: LeBron James (Lakers); Nikola Jokic (Nuggets); Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)Backcourt: Stephen Curry (Warriors); Luka Doncic (Mavericks)James has played in each of the Lakers’ 28 games in an apparent bid to convince the Most Valuable Player Award voters who have bypassed him since 2012-13 that he is not coasting this season — even after the shortest off-season (72 days) in N.B.A. history. A slimmed-down Jokic is likewise a top M.V.P. candidate, with his gleaming stat line of 26.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 8.7 assists per game. Leonard, who held a narrow lead over Anthony Davis entering the final week of balloting, has been a two-way menace as usual.Damian Lillard has a slightly stronger claim to the West’s second backcourt slot than Doncic, given the Trail Blazers’ superior record even after losing CJ McCollum, another All-Star contender, to injury. Both, though, are locks to get an All-Star invitation no matter what.Utah’s Rudy Gobert, left, and Donovan Mitchell, right, are two of three strong candidates from the Jazz to make the All-Star team.Credit…Chris Nicoll/USA Today Sports, via ReutersSure-thing ReservesDamian Lillard (Trail Blazers); Anthony Davis (Lakers); Paul George (Clippers); Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell (Jazz)Lillard is here because we’re assuming that Doncic, who was voted in as a starter last season, will hold on to the West’s No. 2 backcourt post.Davis appears likely to miss the All-Star Game, now that the Lakers intend to be conservative in treating the nagging discomfort in his right Achilles’ tendon and right calf, but he has anchored the league’s top-ranked defense ably in spite of the injuries. Even accounting for the dip in Davis’s scoring and rebounding from last season and the legitimately worrisome decline in his free-throw shooting we detailed last week, it wouldn’t surprise me if West coaches picked Davis as a reserve to foist a harder choice — selecting an injury replacement from the usual long list of the snubbed — upon the league office.I’m keeping George among the locks because he is averaging 24.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game while shooting a robust 50.8 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from 3-point range. Where some doubt creeps in: George has been sidelined for the Clippers’ last six games by a foot injury and has missed almost a third of their schedule.Did you notice how deep we went into this discussion without mentioning the league’s hottest team? The Utah Jazz are 8-0 in February, 19-1 in their last 20 games and 23-5 over all. They will probably have at least two All-Stars, and they have three strong candidates: Gobert, Mitchell and Mike Conley. Gobert is the strongest of the three because of his defensive excellence and how much he helps his teammates at both ends with his screening and rim-running. Mitchell has found a new gear, while hamstring trouble has kept Conley out for the past five games.Chris Paul, left, is doing for the Suns what he did for the Oklahoma City Thunder last season: turning a veteran’s savvy into wins for a young team.Credit…Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports, via ReutersWild CardsMike Conley (Jazz); Chris Paul (Suns)This basically comes down to: Should the Jazz have three All-Stars, like the Nets, or do the Suns deserve two because of their surge to a top-four seed in the competitive West?Conley, 33, has never made it to the All-Star Game, and this might be his last good shot. Did I let that Hallmark story line (and Conley’s left-handedness) nudge me into a sappy call? Guilty.In my defense: It’s also true that Conley is an advanced-statistics darling whose role in Utah’s success has been undeniably pivotal. And I do think the Jazz should have three All-Stars, in tribute to their standing as one of the few consistently dominant forces in a season marred by so much unpredictability and abnormality.Going this route, though, leaves only one spot for two worthy Suns (Paul and Devin Booker) as well as New Orleans’s Zion Williamson, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox and San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan. All five have a strong All-Star case. I went with Paul over Booker because he has made such a cultural difference in Phoenix in his ever-efficient quarterbacking at age 35.De’Aaron Fox is having a great season for the Sacramento Kings, whose record (12-15) doesn’t quite capture his impact.Credit…Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports, via ReutersThe SnubsFrontcourt: Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram (Pelicans); Christian Wood (Rockets)Backcourt: De’Aaron Fox (Kings); DeMar DeRozan (Spurs); Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Thunder); Ja Morant (Grizzlies); Devin Booker (Suns)As the proud curator of an All-Lefty Team every August, it was painful to snub Williamson, who I’ve unfairly punished for his team’s struggles, and Fox, who hasn’t received enough shine for living up to a new mega contract. The same holds for DeRozan, who has quietly led the retooling Spurs to the top of the Southwest Division and, at 31, can’t count on future All-Star invites the way the other two can.Corner ThreeDenver’s Facundo Campazzo knew the transition to the N.B.A. would be difficult, but he has earned a spot in the Nuggets’ rotation.Credit…David Zalubowski/Associated PressYou ask; I answer. Every week in this space, I’ll field three questions posed via email at marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com. (Please include your first and last name, as well as the city you’re writing in from, and make sure “Corner Three” is in the subject line.)Q: Why do most teams rely so much on switching defensively? There are very few big men who can really defend guards, so I don’t understand why it is the main strategy. But I also confess that I am a huge fan of Facundo Campazzo, and I know that switching does not suit him. — Emanuel Suhotliv (Buenos Aires)Stein: Entering Tuesday’s play, N.B.A. teams were averaging 34.9 3-point attempts per game. Last season’s 34.1 per game is the record.Teams are constantly searching for answers to improve their pick-and-roll defense and combat the growing 3-point threat. “Drop” schemes, in which a big man sinks toward the rim on pick-and-rolls, are becoming more frequent and, yes, defenders are switching assignments on pick-and-rolls more than ever. The idea is that switching enables a team to rely less on making extra rotations to open shooters and to defend the ball with two players instead of all five directly involved. Switching, when effective, reduces the scrambling teams have to do.I am a Campazzo fan who couldn’t wait to see him make the leap to the N.B.A., just like you, but everyone knew he was going to face major challenges adjusting to the league’s size, speed and athleticism. He has been pretty open about the difficulties, too, after making the move relatively late in his career (Campazzo turns 30 on March 23) and standing just 5-foot-10.I think it’s better to look at the situation this way: Denver wanted him in spite of the naysayers, and Nuggets Coach Mike Malone finds 12 minutes a game for him because he looks beyond the modest statistical production and likes Campazzo’s playmaking and tenacity so much. (I’m guessing by now you’ve seen the no-look pass from Campazzo against the Lakers on Sunday night that had me tweeting giddily.)If you expected the Nuggets to entrust him with as much offensive responsibility as Campazzo carried with Argentina’s national team, you are sure to be disappointed. Denver (and especially Malone) seems to be encouraged by Campazzo’s progress, and his fans back home should be, too.Q: I’d love to read more about the Tokyo Olympics and who will play for the United States if the Games go ahead. Have any players said they would be willing? — Brad (Adelaide, Australia)Stein: N.B.A. players aren’t asked often about the Olympics these days because the fate of the Tokyo Games remains uncertain. Some of the league’s biggest names are likely to be unavailable because the N.B.A. playoffs are scheduled through July 22 and the Olympics are set to begin the next day. U.S.A. Basketball is nonetheless confident it can assemble a roster capable of winning a fourth successive gold medal — one certainly stronger than that at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.The player pool U.S.A.B. has been assembling in recent weeks is expected to feature about 60 names, including on-the-rise players such as New Orleans’s Zion Williamson, Memphis’s Ja Morant and Atlanta’s Trae Young. U.S.A.B. has also petitioned the U.S. Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee and FIBA to scrap their usual rules and allow roster changes in July rather than mandating that rosters be pared to 12 players well before the Olympics begin.The Americans understand, though, that they will generate zero sympathy from their competition around the world if they are limited to choosing players from N.B.A. teams that miss the playoffs or exit the postseason early. Even after slumping to a stunning seventh-place finish in China under San Antonio Spurs Coach Gregg Popovich, nothing has changed: U.S.A.B. has by far the world’s deepest talent pool.A trip to the Olympics continues to be far more meaningful to America’s N.B.A. players than participating in the World Cup. Combine that with Popovich’s presence — which LeBron James has said will keep him interested in making his fourth trip to the Olympics even as he expects to make a long playoff run — and one surmises that the United States will be just fine.I’m sure you’re aware that the basketball officials in Australia, where you are, have taken a similar approach, naming a preliminary Olympic roster of 24 players that included 10 current N.B.A. players. Australia knows it has to cast the widest possible net because it can’t count on being able to field its first-choice 12 in Tokyo given this season’s atypical N.B.A. calendar on top of the usual injury issues and concerns.Q: Going back to the recent discussion about suggesting better names for the “baseball-style series” N.B.A. teams are playing this season, two games in a row against the same visiting team in baseball is a “set.” Three or more games is a series. — Terry ThomasStein: Admire the certitude with which you made your case, but I don’t think there are absolutes in baseball when it comes to “two-game set” and “three-game series.” Clarification from any baseball experts reading along is certainly welcome, but I’ve seen both terms used liberally.Either way, while I still don’t love “baseball-style series,” that phrasing carries more clarity for N.B.A. fans than “baseball-style set.” So I’m afraid that the search for better alternatives continues. (Or it’s futile at this point.)Numbers GameCarmelo Anthony has given Portland critical scoring off the bench while key players have been out with injuries this season.Credit…Craig Mitchelldyer/Associated Press10If the Los Angeles Lakers needed any additional incentive to be extra-cautious with the Achilles’ tendon injury that has been hampering Anthony Davis, they need only scan the data accrued by the noted injury tracker Jeff Stotts, who maintains InStreetClothes.com. There have been 31 full Achilles’ tendon tears in the N.B.A. since the 2005-6 season, according to Stotts. Ten of them (32 percent of cases) have occurred since the start of the 2018-19 season and have felled stars such as Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins and John Wall. Medical experts around the league have struggled to pinpoint why Achilles’ tendon tears are on the rise.9-3A positive omen for the team that polarizes opinion like no other in the league: Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving have played in only six games together, but the Nets are 9-3 this season against teams with .500-or-better records. No other team in the East has a winning record in such games, offsetting the damage of the Nets’ 7-9 record against teams with losing records. The 9-3 mark is second only to Utah’s 10-3.95-55The Spurs have flourished for years on their rodeo road trip, which sends them away from San Antonio every February while a stock show and rodeo take over their arena. But not this season: After the Spurs got off to a 2-0 start on the seven-game trip, with wins over Atlanta and Charlotte, the league postponed their next four games because of a coronavirus outbreak within the team. Since the 2002-3 season, when San Antonio moved into the AT&T Center, it has posted a record of 95-55 (.633) in rodeo trip games.17.0Portland’s Carmelo Anthony, 36, is averaging 17.0 points per game and shooting 42.5 percent from 3-point range in 24.6 minutes per game in February. The Trail Blazers need the added offensive punch with CJ McCollum (fractured left foot) and Jusuf Nurkic (fractured right wrist) sidelined by long-term injuries.432Blake Griffin’s last dunk for the Detroit Pistons came on Dec. 12, 2019, according to Stathead — 432 days ago. Shocking as the statistic sounds, it must be pointed out that Griffin, who turns 32 on March 16, scarcely played in 2020, thanks to stubborn knee issues that have plagued him since a stellar 2018-19 season in which he averaged 24.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. Griffin appeared in only five of Detroit’s final 41 games last season after his most recent dunk and has missed seven of the Pistons’ 27 games this season.The team said this week that it would stop playing Griffin between now and the March 25 trade deadline in hopes of finding him a new team via trade or perhaps buying out his massive contract (which pays Griffin nearly $37 million this season and nearly $39 million next season) to make him a free agent.Hit me up anytime on Twitter (@TheSteinLine) or Facebook (@MarcSteinNBA) or Instagram (@thesteinline). Send any other feedback to marcstein-newsletter@nytimes.com.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More