The NBA All-Star break, despite some recent alterations, is hardly a break. It’s a long weekend in a bad way, what with media and promotional appearances on Friday, followed by, well, media and promotional appearances on Saturday, followed by the same on Sunday no matter what your role in the makeup of the showcase is.
Whether you’re in the actual All-Star Game proper or any number of the NBA’s sideshow events, there will be a microphone in your face and a suggestion to detail how, exactly, everything has gone wrong with the team you left behind in order to come to New Orleans.
No amount of fleur-de-lis ubiquity or King Baby creepiness can fully remove a player from what they know best, even if they don’t like what they’re aware of. They’re still on the Chicago Bulls. Their team still needs a power forward. There’s still beef, somewhere. They’re still on the trading block. They can’t quite escape, even with an All-Star weekend invite, their last team and/or coach.
They’re still on … the Knicks.
Poor Kristaps Porzingis. From Marc Berman at the New York Post:
“I’m here. I try to relax, but still thinking about season the whole time.”
Berman went on to ask, in his role for the paper, about Porzingis’ heretofore nonexistent chemistry with first-year New York Knicks point guard Derrick Rose (“We’re still trying to find that connection between us”), about his role in the triangle offense that has been foisted on his team (“we don’t really know it as well as we did last year”), his nagging health woes (“Achilles problems. From that point, I haven’t been struggling, but it’s up and down”), and his frustrations in trying to find consistent looks in an offense that already features Rose, All-Star Carmelo Anthony while (possibly) playing out of position at power forward (“Especially playing at my position, I might not get the ball a few times in a row.”)
Just a second-year (NBA) pro at age 21, Porzingis already has the caveats in place. He made a point to mention that he “love(s) the triangle” offense, that he’s still trying to “work on” his pairing with Derrick Rose in spite of a connection that shouldn’t “happen overnight,” and that overall he is “happy” as a member of the team that drafted him No. 4 overall in 2015.
That’s the gig, though. Even on a night where he got to run and jump his way toward 24 points and 10 rebounds in the World Team’s win over Team USA in the NBA’s annual Rising Stars Challenge on Friday, the stench of MSG is still going to tail him. Knick fans don’t really want to know how his screen and roll footwork fell in with Utah Jazz point guard Dante Exum in an exhibition game.
Porzingis’ “problem” is less pressing. The Knicks have dozens of issues to work through before they can even get to the status of their franchise stud, still under contract until at least 2019, with the league throwing every incentive it can to keep the incumbent young stars on the teams that drafted them via the ever-evolving rules in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The league is at home with these sorts of rules whether they’re helping keep Kristaps a star with the Knicks, or whether they’re ensuring that less celebrated players keep up a sense of continuity.
Eric Gordon hasn’t had that sense in a long, long time that seems rather atypical for someone just 28 years of age. After a tumultuous lone year at Indiana University, he toiled on the Donald Sterling-era, pre-Chris Paul Los Angeles Clippers before being dealt to New Orleans a half-decade ago.
Gordon attempted to leave the then-Hornets as a free agent in 2012 prior to NOLA matching the restricted free agent offer that Phoenix offered the hybrid guard. Stuck with a team he wasn’t drafted by and hadn’t intended on signing with, Gordon played out the string in Louisiana before finding happiness and health in Houston as a 2016 free agent signee.
Even while working through his most satisfying year as a pro, Gordon can’t help but look back on his regrettable past with New Orleans, with Saturday’s Three-Point Shootout (a contest that Gordon might be the favorite in) and All-Star Game taking place in the Crescent City:
“There was a little bit of dysfunction,” Gordon said. “My role changed a lot. If I would have had the same freedom that I had (in Houston), it would have been a different result. It’s always been a little dysfunctional, not just for me… everybody.”
Asked to elaborate on the dysfunction, Gordon said, “Things weren’t on the same page all the time. Like I said, my role’s changed, too. That’s something that I wasn’t expecting when I first got to New Orleans. Things happen and you move on.”
You’d like to move on, shooting (though that’s dipped of late) remarkably well for one of the league’s better surprises in 2016-17, but at least (for the first time since what probably feels like his high school days) at least the guard (signed through 2020) doesn’t have to worry about trade rumors.
Jahlil Okafor, working in Friday’s Rising Stars game, hasn’t just had to worry about trade rumors, the guy couldn’t even play basketball last week after his Philadelphia 76ers deemed his presence too risky to sign off on, while the team came thisclose to dealing him to either Chicago, or the host city he’s currently working in.
A veteran of the process in more ways than one, Okafor sighed his way into another weekend’s worth of trade rumor chatter, this time within the setting of what should be a league-wide celebration:
“I really don’t know what’s going to happen. Honestly, I checked the city out, because it is in the back of my head. But I’m trying to do my best to enjoy this weekend.”
Could you lend a small bit of insight on, say, what would happen if you were traded here, to New Orleans, to pair with Anthony Davis in the Pelicans front court?
“That would be a lot of fun,” Okafor said. “Me and Anthony are both from Chicago. He is somebody that I played against in high school, somebody that I consider my friend.
“I would enjoy playing with him if that was the possibility. But like I said, I’m just unsure about what is going to happen.”
What about returning home to Chicago, to play for his hometown team?
“I wouldn’t be mad at being home in my home city,” he said. “But like I said, I really have no idea what is going to happen.”
Jahlil Okafor has no idea what is going to happen.
One would think the hometown angle, moving into Chicago to act as a hoped-for savior for a team currently working without a rudder, would be a salve. Alas, the Bulls hardly feel familial – what with Dwyane Wade counting the days until he can leave his hometown as a free agent this summer, with trade rumors surrounding the team’s cast of disappointing also-rans, and with Jimmy Butler working as a prime trade target during the best year of the All-Star’s career.
Okafor might not want anything to do with this mess. Jimmy Butler, just trying to keep time …
TFW you're Bonnie Raitt's bass player pic.twitter.com/XYHHkqOboB
— Kelly Dwyer (@KDonhoops) February 17, 2017
… can relate:
“Nothing I can do about it,” he said when asked about if there’s talk about trade rumors. “Control what you can control. Why talk about it? Why worry about it? If you’re here, you’re here. If you’re not, you’re not.”
“I don’t know if I deserve to be traded. That’s not in my job description,” he said. “I’m just here to play basketball to the best of my ability. If I’m here, I’m here.”
He’s in New Orleans for a break that, until the No. 7-seeded Bulls gets its act together, just won’t hit until the summertime – when Jimmy Butler can disappear from a lifestyle that features mandatory media sessions from fall until spring.
We’d feel slightly sorry for Butler and Okafor, and their lacking teams, were it not for the great drama of the weekend surrounding Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, and ex-teammate and current Golden State Warriors maestro Kevin Durant. Both have taken on the impact of Durant’s 2016 free agent departure in different ways this season, and with the two acting as teammates yet again during Sunday’s All-Star Game, every phone in New Orleans is currently straining to feature the both of them in the same frame:
Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook continue to avoid one another. pic.twitter.com/bfeDwsRLRZ
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 18, 2017
Via the Score, Durant spoke on ESPN’s SportsCenter on Friday, pointing out that he’s not exactly tripping over the cables in an attempt to catch up with Westbrook from across the stage:
“If it happens organically, it does, but I’m not planning to do anything. … If it happens, it does. If it doesn’t, it’s no big deal.”
“I’m going to handle All-Star weekend like I always do. Get in and get out. Do everything I’m supposed to do. Play the game and have some fun. I ain’t come here for it to be any drama or have a heart to heart with anybody,” he explained.
It’s true that the All-Star weekend is hardly the place for what is probably a needed heart-to-heart – the second week of July would have probably been a better time for all this – as this isn’t why anyone is in New Orleans this weekend. That’s still not stopping GSW’s Draymond Green, ever the conciliatory chap, from attempting to help mend fences (via For the Win):
— FanSportsClips (@FanSportsClips) February 18, 2017
This is not the weekend to mend fences, to make nice, or to run from the awkward. Even Laker Nick Young, 31-year old veteran and Three-Point Shootout hopeful, couldn’t even resist sending a deserved dig the way of Byron Scott.
The ex-Lakers coach is a former Three-Point participant, but the perpetually jesting Young told reporters that he didn’t “know if Byron would tell me the right thing to do” when it came for advice for the long-range sniper. Some ten months after Scott’s firing, and some three years since Nick Young tuned him out, and Swaggy can’t help but toss a shot out there.
The NBA’s All-Star Weekend in New Orleans appears to be the place to go when you want to leave absolutely nothing behind.
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