For years, the NBA was searching for host All-Star cities, with many team owners uninterested because of the financial commitment. But the list of interested cities has apparently grown, likely because of the sports’ increased international appeal and the number of NBA-sponsored and independent events that surround the weekend.
Boston’s mayor, Michelle Wu, is apparently supportive of a city bid, giving the Celtics momentum. But the process is just beginning and the NBA requires a substantial commitment from not only the host team but the host city.
Yet, it’s not all on the Celtics whether this becomes a reality.
All-Star cities have to have a number of amenities, such as ample hotel rooms, an available convention center, and a nearly two-week open block of time when no other events are scheduled for the facilities. That means not only does the Celtics’ schedule have to be adjusted, but that of the Bruins and the other events that occur annually at the Garden.
The Celtics would also need to secure a second arena — such as Agganis Arena — for other events, such as team practices, the Celebrity Game, and a G-League game.
The NBA would not compensate the arenas for securing those open time blocks, meaning a considerable financial commitment — or possible loss — from the owners of venues.
The Grousbeck ownership group has begun the application process. What may be an obstacle is the NBA’s desire to secure another warm-weather city.
Since All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles in 2018, the game has been played in Charlotte, Chicago, Atlanta (moved there because of COVID-19), Cleveland, with next year being at Salt Lake City and then Indianapolis. The NBA would prefer a city with potentially better weather in February before pivoting back to Boston.
Boston also has stiff competition, with several other cities having shown interest. The NBA also likes to reward cities that have opened new arenas. The league would love to host an All-Star Game at San Francisco’s Chase Center and the Clippers’ new arena, which is scheduled for completion in Inglewood, Calif., in 2024.
Another obstacle for the Celtics is the state’s lack of a sports commission. In other cities’ All-Star bids, the state’s sports commission would take control of the bid and create revenue streams and means of satisfying the NBA’s requirements. The Celtics, by contrast, are the central figure behind Boston’s All-Star efforts.
The good news for Boston is that it’s accustomed to hosting large events and conventions, and there are plenty of amenities and attractions that make it a top candidate, as well as the city’s basketball history.
TD Garden has not hosted a major All-Star Game since the Bruins hosted the NHL classic in 1996, when it was the FleetCenter.
The Celtics are hoping that a three-year notice is plenty of time to clear schedules that will allow All-Star Weekend to make a return after 60-plus years.
The decision won’t occur for months, but it appears the Celtics are on their way to bringing the NBA’s premier midseason event back to Boston after a long absence.
What’s the ‘best’ way to vote?
This past week, the NBA released the names of the finalists for its postseason awards. Marcus Smart of the Celtics received the first, the Defensive Player of the Year award. Smart was the top candidate most of the second half of the season and he edged Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges and Utah’s Rudy Gobert.
But, contrary to popular belief, media members who select the winners are not given voting guidelines. In other words, voters are allowed to determine their choice by their own assessment, which can lead to confusion.
This is especially the case for the Most Improved Player award. Three All-Stars — Memphis’s Ja Morant, San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray, and Cleveland’s Darius Garland — were named the finalists, meaning they received the top three voting totals.
But what exactly constitutes “Most Improved”?
Formed in 1986, it essentially replaced the Comeback Player of the Year award, and the original idea was for the award to be presented to a rising player who made the most strides. But in recent years it has been presented to players who have taken the next step in their careers, but also made natural progressions.
For example, the Knicks’ Julius Randle received the award last season after his scoring average increased to 24.1 from 19.5. New Orleans’s Brandon Ingram won the award in 2019-20 when his scoring average jumped to 23.8 from 18.3.
Is that notable improvement or natural progression? This voter selected Golden State’s Jordan Poole as Most Improved. Poole, in his third season, saw his role expand greatly in place of an injured Klay Thompson, averaging a career-best 18.5 points on 36.4 percent 3-point shooting. Poole was the 28th overall pick out of Michigan in 2019 and is considered a rising star.
Portland’s Anfernee Simons received my second-place vote. He had languished before this season, a slow-developing prospect who never played college basketball, but he experienced a breakout season as a first-time starter, averaging 17.3 points per game after 7.8 the previous year.
That is this reporter’s idea of “Most Improved.” It’s difficult to view Morant, a former Rookie of the Year who is approaching super stardom, as Most Improved because his improvement window wasn’t that large because he was already talented.
The NBA doesn’t feel the need to clarify exactly what “Most Improved” means or who should be qualified for the award, so the ambiguity will continue.
It’s similar to Most Valuable Player, but that confusion has existed for years. Is the MVP the best player in the league or the player who is most valuable to his team?
Michael Jordan spent at least 10 years as the league’s best player, but he only won five times. Is Giannis Antetokounmpo the league’s best player? Probably so. But he is unlikely to win a third MVP award because reigning MVP Nikola Jokic of Denver and Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid have carried their teams to the playoffs this season.
The Suns’ Devin Booker could be considered the best player on the best team, but he’s unlikely to garner many first-place votes.
The solution could be voting guidelines, but the NBA does not appear interested in any limitations. The voters will make their own decisions.
The NBA said in a statement: “We’ve long believed that voters should determine the criteria they use in casting their ballots.”
Clippers’ window seems to be closing
The Clippers knew they would be hard-pressed to make a serious run in the Western Conference without Kawhi Leonard, who tore his ACL during last year’s playoff run. Paul George also missed three months with an elbow injury and trade-deadline acquisition Norman Powell broke his foot and did not return until late in the season.
The season ended abruptly when the Clippers lost their win-or-go-home play-in game to the Pelicans after George tested positive for COVID-19 the day of the game.
The Clippers are hoping for better health next season, but is that all that’s necessary for Los Angeles to make a title run?
The gathering of Leonard and George for a dynamic duo just hasn’t worked. They blew a 3-1 lead to the Nuggets in the bubble, ruining the anticipated Western Conference finals matchup with the rival Lakers.
Last year, the Clippers were able to beat the Jazz in the conference semifinals without Leonard, but they weren’t good enough to overcome the Suns. Next season will be Year 4 and it could be do or die for the Leonard-George combination.
“You know, I think we all feel some pain,” Clippers general manager and former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank said. “There’s some misery and a little disappointment because the group dealt with so much adversity this season and battled so hard, not just through injuries but through all the different challenges that we faced.
“So much just for the benefit, our players, [coach] Ty [Lue], the coaching staff, [owner] Steve [Ballmer], our fans, just really wanted to see the group in the playoffs. So it’s hard.
“We watch all these playoff games because there’s a lot of learning to be done, but you do watch it with a degree of emptiness and envy. But I also think fuel for a great offseason to build great momentum into a great season next year.”
Frank hopes that the experience the supporting cast received with larger roles will enhance the roster when Leonard and George are healthy. The Clippers have two impending free agents — Robert Covington and Isaiah Hartenstein — but their core will return. Leonard and George aren’t free agents until 2024-25.
Frank would not say if Leonard would be ready by Opening Night, but it’s been nearly 11 months since his injury and he should return if on a normal ACL recovery schedule. George played at an All-Star level when he returned from the elbow injury, and Lowell native Terance Mann and former BC standout Reggie Jackson played major roles without the superstar duo.
“Having them come back, you now get your two play-starters, regular season, postseason, those guys are going to start 60 percent of our possessions,” Frank said. “Reggie has some on-ball juice. He gives you that. And then Terance, as we saw after the trade . . . he had a huge bump up. There’s a direct correlation. The ball was in his hands, so he has some on-ball juice that we can continue to develop.
“Isaiah from his standpoint does some different things. Norm is another on-ball engine.”
The roster is good enough for a deep playoff run — if the Clippers can get some good luck.
“You’re constantly evaluating just the balance of play-starters, play-finishers, connectors, and then look, to win a championship, we do need our best players to be healthy,” Frank said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t win a lot of games, but to win a championship, which is the goal, we’re going to need an element of good health from our best players.”
The perception is the Leonard-George pairing has been a failure. When Leonard agreed to leave the Raptors for the Clippers in July 2019, and then requested that the team acquire George from Oklahoma City, it was supposed to shift the power in the West. Instead, the Lakers and the Suns have manned the West. The Clippers have not been a factor.
“What people on the outside say about you, good or bad, like you can’t control that, so underdog, favorite — everyone is going to have an opinion,” Frank said. “Like to me, that doesn’t steer you. What would steer you is your internal motivation to get the most out of individually what you bring and then as a team how it all fits together, but it’s what you do on the floor, in the film room, in the weight room, in the medical space, nutrition. All those things add up. They all matter. Sleep, film study. It all matters.
“There’s the outside noise, so to speak, but the outside noise, whether it’s good or bad, it moves on.”
“To me, you can’t live minute by minute by what other people are saying. You have to internally be able to monitor and be honest with each other. That’s part of — like the best teams, and this isn’t just in sport, but they’re really player-led. Like you need a great coach, trust me. I have the highest level of respect for the coaching profession. But, like, what’s going on in that locker room and guys holding each other accountable, or women holding each other accountable, like in the WNBA, but you’ve got to be able to tell the truth, take the truth, and live the truth. Those are critical to doing something special.”
Rivers is the winner thus far
The 76ers’ playoff success thus far may have secured Doc Rivers’s job for next season and beyond.
Rivers’s status became tenuous after the stunning conference semifinals loss to the Hawks last season. But the fact Philadelphia has been able to endure the loss of Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, and Andre Drummond ― while point guard Tyrese Maxey has flourished in the methodical dismantling of Toronto ― has helped Rivers.
The Lakers would love to talk to Rivers about their vacant coaching position, but it’s highly unlikely he would return to Los Angeles, especially if the 76ers make a run to the conference finals.
A player who is sure to cash in during free agency is Brooklyn guard and Boston native Bruce Brown, who has flourished in a swingman role. Brown scored 23 points in Game 2 of the first-round series against the Celtics and has turned himself into a solid 3-point shooter, staunch defender, and slasher. Brown is in the final year of his contract at $4.3 million per season. The former Wakefield High School standout is likely to earn in the neighborhood of $10 million per season because of his skill set, including his impressive defense on a bigger Jayson Tatum . . . The hamstring injury suffered by Devin Booker could affect the entire landscape of the Western Conference playoffs. Depending on how much time Booker misses, the Suns will be hard-pressed to advance out of the West. The Suns have played well without players such as Booker and Chris Paul, but asking the supporting cast to thrive in a postseason situation is a more arduous task. The Warriors are now completely healthy and blew away the visiting Nuggets in the first two games of their series. As for the Nuggets, they are likely to wait until next season to make a real run in the West with Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray still recovering from major injuries. Organizations such as the Nuggets and Nets have to determine whether to bring back star players coming off major injuries during high-intensity postseason games, which are nothing like even the highest level of practice.