NBA Notes: Stoudemire to be limited in return

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NBA Notes: Stoudemire to be limited in return

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- Knicks coach Mike Woodson says Amare Stoudemire would be limited to about 10 to 15 minutes per game if he is able to return during New York's playoff series against the Indiana Pacers.

Stoudemire worked out again Thursday as he nears his return from right knee surgery. He played in 4-on-4 scrimmages and says he felt better than he did after playing 3-on-3 Monday.

The Knicks will wait to see how the veteran forward feels Friday before determining whether he will be in uniform Saturday for Game 3 in Indianapolis.

Stoudemire averaged 14.2 points in 29 games off the bench before surgery March 11 to clean up and remove tissue from his knee (see full story).

Ujiri named top executive
DENVER -- Even as Masai Ujiri accepted the NBA's executive of the year trophy from club President Josh Kroenke on Thursday, the Denver Nuggets general manager said he would have given it up gladly in exchange for a deep playoff run.

"It's a little bittersweet for me," Ujiri said at a news conference a day after the Nuggets' George Karl took the trophy for coach of the year. "I would trade that to be playing right now."

Ujiri, the first African-born GM in major American sports, built the Nuggets team that won an NBA franchise-record 57 games and went an NBA-best 38-3 at home before going down in the first round.

"There was an unbelievable energy in this city and that's why we had kind of a little disappointment when we lost to the Golden State Warriors, who's not such a bad team from what they are doing right now," Ujiri said. "We hope to kick their butts next year but they're not too bad right now. We understand we are a growing team. We knew there were going to be pains. This is part of the process and we'll continue to grow."

Ujiri assembled a team that had nine players average between 8 and 16.7 points and the city, the Nuggets' fans and the organization embraced the club's persona as a team without a superstar that nevertheless got the job done (see full story).

Kobe suit against his mother proceeds
CAMDEN, New Jersey -- Basketball star Kobe Bryant is playing some of his toughest defense yet, demanding his mother keeps her hands off his merchandise.

Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers guard, said in a court filing that he never gave his mother permission to sell mementos from his high school days and early professional basketball career.

Bryant is in a court battle over whether hundreds of items -- from high school jerseys to trophies and championship rings -- can be auctioned off.

Pamela Bryant said the NBA star told her the memorabilia was hers. She arranged earlier this year to auction it off through New Jersey-based Goldin Auctions and received a $450,000 advance.

Last week, lawyers for the son wrote to the auction house demanding it cease the June sale. Goldin is suing to assert its right to sell.

In a filing Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Camden, Kobe Bryant says his mother acknowledged to him recently that she did not have permission to sell the items. The suit was filed there because the auction house is located in southern New Jersey (see full story).

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid not named All-Star starter, can still make it as reserve

Joel Embiid will have to hope NBA coaches trust the process.

Embiid on Thursday was not named a starter in the 2017 NBA All-Star Game. LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jimmy Butler locked in the three Eastern Conference frontcourt spots. Kyrie Irving and DeMar DeRozan rounded out the backcourt.

James (25.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 8.1 assists) and Antetokounmpo (23.7 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists) were locks as starters. That left Butler, Kevin Love and Embiid as the next in contention. Butler is a two-time All-Star averaging 24.8 points, 6.8 rebounds and 4.8 assists in 36.8 minutes for the 21-22 Bulls. Love is posting 20.7 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists in 31.6 minutes per game on the Eastern Conference-leading, 29-11 Cavaliers.

The Western Conference starting spots went to Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis. 

The voting was made up of fan votes (50 percent), player votes (25 percent) and media votes (25 percent). Embiid has a chance to be voted in by the NBA coaches, whose reserve selections will be announced on Jan. 26. 

Embiid would have been named a starter had the results been based on fan voting (50 percent). He finished third ahead of Love and Butler.

Embiid was in the running for a starting role during a breakout rookie season. He is averaging 19.9 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 25.4 minutes per game. Even though his playing time is capped at 28 minutes, he ranks seventh among all players in scoring per 48 minutes. He is eighth overall in free throw attempts per game (7.9) and 10th in those made (6.2).

Embiid had obstacles, though, when it came to the voting: rookie status, 28-minute restriction, limited games played (29) because of his allocated workload, and the Sixers’ record.

Even though the All-Star Game highlights individual achievements, team record is often taken into consideration. The Sixers have won seven of their last nine games (see story), but still stand well below .500 at 14-26.

When it came to the players’ vote, it is hard for a rookie who hasn’t even competed against every team in the league to make a strong enough impression for another player to influence their perception of the top talent. Embiid finished outside of the top five in the players' vote, behind James, Antetokounmpo, Butler, Paul George and Kristaps Porzingis. Meanwhile, the Sixers' big man finished fifth in the media vote.

Embiid and the Sixers were very active in pushing for the fan votes. Embiid received the social media support of celebrities including Triple H, Kevin Hart and MLB MVP Mike Trout, among others. The Sixers promoted Embiid through a Shirley Temple campaign based on his favorite drink.

Embiid picked up major steam in the last week of voting. He had trailed Love by 16,028 fan votes in the second returns on Jan. 12.

He took to Twitter to express his gratitude.

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

Dario Saric hitting his stride, altering games on Sixers' second unit

There was skepticism as to whether or not Dario Saric would ever play for the Sixers. He spent two years overseas after the team acquired him on draft night 2014, and as each month passed, more and more uncertainty grew around his future in the NBA.

Saric told the Sixers all along that he would come to Philadelphia. He urged them, I will play for your team.

The 22-year-old rookie (and that term should be used loosely given his lengthy professional career) is proving the wait was worth it.

“They said he was never coming back,” Joel Embiid said. “But Dario’s here and he’s making big plays for us.”

Saric is averaging 9.7 points and 5.9 rebounds in 24.1 minutes this season. That includes a transitional period wherein Saric was moved in and out of the starting lineup and shifted from power forward and small forward as the Sixers experimented with different rotations. Saric looked out of sorts and frustrated with himself at times. The newness of the league, team and system took its toll on the player who is his own toughest critic. 

Saric's numbers are up since Brett Brown locked him in to the second unit. He is averaging 11.0 points and 6.7 boards during the Sixers' 7-2 stretch. 

“If Joel Embiid weren’t in the league, you’d have to talk about him in consideration for Rookie of the Year,” Brown said. “There is an appeal that he has developed, I feel, from our fans. They respect him. How can you not? He is so blue collar. I think the plays he makes, the effort-based plays, the physical plays just count for everything. ... I hope that he recognizes we appreciate his passion and we appreciate how he plays.”

Saric put on a show in the fourth quarter of the Sixers' statement win over the Raptors Wednesday. He had a pair of blocks in under a minute, including one against Jared Sullinger which sent Embiid into a frenzy on the bench (video here)

“Dario never blocks shots and he had two in a row,” Embiid said. “Especially at the rim like that, blocking Sullinger, that’s the type of play we need. The crowd obviously got into it. I’m just glad he’s here with us like he promised he was going to be after two years.”

Saric followed up the blocks with an offensive rebound and layup that pushed the Sixers' lead back up to six points. He topped off his fourth-quarter spurt with a three-pointer from T.J. McConnell to put his team up seven. 

“Every guy has their own job,” Saric said. “Sometimes you can do it better but always you need effort. You've to give 100 percent, try to fight, try to win. Give everything that you have in that moment. Your whole body, just move it. ... I had a good game. Sometimes the game gives you open shots. Sometimes it gives you a situation where you cannot do nothing. I tried to come and bring some energy. I tried to change the game in that way.”

Saric finished with eight points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. He hadn’t recorded two blocks since Nov. 9 against the Pacers. 

“I think Dario is the key to helping us secure that win, big-time,” Nerlens Noel said. “I think he really took that game more toward our favor.”

There were bound to be growing pains for Saric with all the massive challenges involved in playing in the new league. His basketball world has been flipped upside down in less than a year, not to mention his adjusting to life outside of Europe. It took some time but Saric is hitting his stride, and it is led by his disciplined mindset.

“Sometimes when you're doing bad and you don't have an opportunity to do something, (you have to) give the team its energy," Saric said. "I tried to bring some kind of energy and I did that good. I don't know. Maybe it's because I want to win the game. That's the easy answer."