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Six-time NBA All-Star Pau Gasol returning to Spain to play for Barcelona

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Pau Gasol is returning to Spain to play for Barcelona, with the team announcing that his deal runs through June 30, 2021.

The 40-year-old big man began his professional basketball career with Barcelona in 1998-99, spending four seasons with the club before making the jump to the NBA with the Memphis Grizzlies in the 2001-02 season, and was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.

“I’m happy to return to the club where I began, and I’m excited about this new opportunity: I hope to contribute to the first team very soon. I want to thank Barca and its technical staff for making it possible to join them,” Gasol said in a statement.

On Saturday, Gasol had denied Spanish media reports that he had reached a deal with Barcelona, writing on Twitter that he remained “focused on my recovery and I am not ready to get back to competing just yet.”

Gasol has been trying to regain his fitness to be ready to play in his fifth Olympic Games. He said last year that he needed to play this season to give himself a chance of making it to Tokyo. He is a three-time Olympic medalist with Spain.

Gasol, a six-time NBA All-Star, won two championships with the Los Angeles Lakers after being traded to Los Angeles from Memphis in 2008. He also played for the Chicago Bulls, San Antonio Spurs and Milwaukee Bucks and has career averages of 17 points and 9.2 rebounds.

He last played in the NBA in the 2018-19, finishing the season with Milwaukee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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NBA commissioner Adam Silver says fans should consider All-Star Weekend a ‘television-only event’

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said fans should think of the upcoming All-Star Weekend in Atlanta as a “television-only event,” and once again discouraged fans from traveling to the game, which is being played without fans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The message within the NBA community is that we’re going to be operating in a mini bubble,” Silver said in an interview with ESPN on Wednesday. “There will be no NBA functions [for fans] to participate in. We appreciate their support and hope they’ll watch our All-Star Game on television … this is a television-only event in Atlanta.”

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has repeatedly discouraged fans from travelling to her city for the game and asked bars and nightclubs not to throw parties.

Still, a number of events purporting to have a connection to the game have been planned. The city of Brookhaven, a suburb of Atlanta, recently made national headlines when its City Council approved a measure extending pouring hours in its bars and restaurants to 4 a.m. this weekend.

“I think in terms of the nightlife in Atlanta, the state of Georgia has made a decision to keep its restaurants and clubs open,” Silver said. “That’s their right to make that decision. All we can do, on behalf of the NBA, is commit to them that we will not be participating in any way, in that nightlife.

“Our players are going to be in a work-quarantine protocol while they are in Atlanta.”

Players participating in the game and other All-Star related competitions are flying in on private planes and will be subject to the same enhanced health and safety protocols the league has operated under this season. While several star players have publicly complained about having an All Star weekend amidst the ongoing pandemic, each of these conditions was collectively bargained with the NBA Players Association.

Silver said he appreciated the personal sacrifice made by everyone in the NBA since March 11 of last year, when the league shut down indefinitely following a positive test by Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

From the players, coaches and staffers who spent months away from their families to complete last season in the bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, and the strict health and safety protocols they’ve had to follow this season. To the NBA’s fans, who have continued to support the league, and owners, who have lost billions in revenue.

“The ability to operate in a pandemic has required an enormous amount of shared sacrifice,” Silver said.

“The players and the coaches are front and center, but there are thousands of people behind the scenes who are making, who are enabling the NBA to continue to operate. And many of them are making tremendous sacrifices in their lives. In some cases, working in 24 hours shifts because of the nature of the PCR testing we’re doing …and travel schedules and quick decisions that need to be made in terms of contact tracing and quarantining, it’s never ending.

“It really has taken all of our collective will.”

Silver said it will take that same collective will to address the myriad challenges the league still faces at this stage in the pandemic.

This week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that the state would fully re-open businesses and drop its mask mandate, beginning March 10. Individual businesses can still choose to require masks, however.

The three NBA teams, the Dallas Mavericks, San Antonio Spurs and Houston Rockets, who play in Texas will still be subject to NBA health and safety protocols for fans, just as they are in other states that have NBA markets — Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma — but do not have mask mandates.

“We’ve set our own standards,” Silver said. “In certain cases, we’ve deferred to public health officials. And in others, we believe we need to follow a national standard.

“I also recognize, and this may be even more true as we go into the future, that the United States is a big country, and it may be appropriate to have different rules in different jurisdictions. If that’s the case, we’re hoping those decisions are based on what the best health and safety information is in those communities. “We’ll continue to work with national public health officials and local health officials to determine what those are. But so far, we believe we’ve struck the right balance. Roughly half of our teams, at this point, have fans in their arenas. We haven’t, to the best of our knowledge, had a single issue in terms of spread around among fans in our arenas.”

In addition to rapidly changing re-opening plans across the country, the NBA will soon have to address how the ability to vaccinate players, coaches and staffers will impact its protocols.

That too, will be collectively bargained with the Players Association, Silver said.

“We and the player’s association are in agreement that no one should be mandated to take the vaccine,” Silver said. “My recommendation, my strong recommendation, not just to our players, but based on all the information I have, is that people should get vaccinated.

“But I recognize that these are individual decisions. I haven’t been vaccinated yet, but I will, as soon as it is my turn.”

Silver pointed to a recent CDC announcement that vaccinated people do not need to be quarantined if they are exposed to someone with Covid-19.

“That will make a big difference in this league,” Silver said. “We’ve been transparent about the positive cases we’ve had since the season has begun. But there’s also another category of players who have had to quarantine based on contact they’ve had with positive players.

“I think, for example, to accept that a vaccinated player doesn’t have to quarantine will be very liberating. In addition, we have a fairly complex set of rules in place now that in many cases require twice-a-day lab testing of our players to ensure that we can avoid spread. It may be the case that when players are vaccinated, that we’re able to loosen up the testing schedules and therefore give players more freedom.

“But I also respect that not everyone will see it the way we do. And ultimately, this is an individual decision that players need to make.”

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LeBron James takes Giannis Antetokounmpo first in 2021 NBA All-Star draft; Utah Jazz stars go last

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The past two years, LeBron James couldn’t have Giannis Antetokounmpo on his All-Star team, because the two of them were captains of their respective squads.

But this year, with Kevin Durant getting the other captaincy opposite James, he made sure he would be playing alongside the NBA’s two-time reigning Most Valuable Player by taking him with the first overall pick of Thursday night’s All-Star Game draft on TNT.

“I just try to pick players that can complement one another,” James said before taking Antetokounmpo to begin Wednesday’s draft, when asked why he has won the first three times he has been a captain. “We’re out on the floor, just try to play the game the right way. It’s an All-Star Game, so it’s going to be some shenanigans out there, but for the majority of the game we just play the right way and try to get a win.”

The leading vote-getters from the Eastern and Western Conferences then went back and forth in selecting the remaining starters for next month’s game, as voted on by a combination of fans, players and media members.

James and Durant each then chose seven reserves. The final two players on the board ended up being Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert of the league-leading Utah Jazz. Mitchell was eventually selected by Durant; James took Gobert.

The Jazz are at the top of the NBA with a 27-9 record, and their two All-Stars going last caused some controversy on the TNT set. James attempted to defend himself and Durant for how things shook out.

“I just want to say something, because there’s no slander to the Utah Jazz,” James said with a smile. “But you guys got to understand, just like in video games growing up, we never played with Utah. Even as great as Karl Malone and John Stockton were, we never would have picked those guys. Never.”

TNT analyst and NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley then gave James a hard time for his drafting acumen, saying, “LeBron says he needs some size, and he has 7-5 Gobert, and he takes 6-2 [Domantas] Sabonis,” drawing plenty of laughs from everyone involved.

This is the first time one of the captains won’t be participating in the game, as Durant is out until after the All-Star break due to a hamstring strain that has sidelined him since early February. So with Celtics forward Jayson Tatum replacing Durant in the starting lineup — meaning there were nine players to choose from as starters — Durant wound up with the final two picks of the starting group, and then got the first pick of the reserve round.

Ultimately, James went with Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic and Nikola Jokic to start alongside him in Atlanta on Sunday night. Durant’s starting group will be his Brooklyn Nets teammate Kyrie Irving, Joel Embiid, Kawhi Leonard, and St. Louis natives — and close friends — Bradley Beal and Tatum.

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Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell are picked last by Team Durant and Team LeBron respectively in the 2021 All-Star draft.

In the reserve round, Durant’s first pick was his other teammate, James Harden, followed by Devin Booker, Zion Williamson, Zach LaVine, Julius Randle, Nikola Vucevic and Mitchell. James, meanwhile, took Damian Lillard, Ben Simmons, Chris Paul, Jaylen Brown, Paul George, Sabonis and Gobert.

There also were picks that frustrated both men, with Durant needing to pause for a moment after wanting to take Simmons, and James saying he’d hoped to get Williamson.

Before the two of them picked teams, TNT aired a clip of Durant and James talking to each other right before Durant’s All-Star debut at the 2010 game in Dallas.

“I was nervous to talk to Bron in that little sequence right there,” Durant said with a laugh.

They both also announced their choices for the charities the teams will play for Sunday, with Team LeBron playing for the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Team Durant playing for the United Negro College Fund.

“For us to be able to shed light on that program, shed light on those kids, it means a lot to me and my foundation and the things we do in my hometown,” James said in explaining his choice.

“It’s just an honor to get to represent so many people and use this platform to help advance education [for] our youth, just the world in general,” Durant said. “So we’re looking forward to it.”

While Durant won’t be playing in the All-Star Game, James — despite sitting out Wednesday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, the first game he has missed this season — will be on the court.

“I’m good,” James said, when asked how he’s feeling. “Obviously it’s a long season, and want to make sure my body, my mind is as fresh as possible going into the second half of the season. So, it’s been a good first half, and hopefully it can be a better second half, so looking forward to the final stretch.”

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New Orleans Pelicans’ Zion Williamson out for Thursday’s game; still on for NBA All-Star Game, sources say

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NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson will miss Thursday night’s contest against the Miami Heat because of irritation in his right fifth toe, but sources told ESPN that he is still expected to play in Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game.

Pelicans coach Stan Van Gundy said the toe irritation is something Williamson has been trying to play through recently.

“It’s one of those things that’s just continued to get a little bit worse,” Van Gundy said. “Obviously, a lot of minutes last night and the whole thing. So it got worse. But it’s been something that he’s had.”

Williamson will be a part of Team Durant in the All-Star Game.

Williamson played 38 minutes in Wednesday night’s loss to the Chicago Bulls. Though he finished with 28 points, he was upset that he shot just 8-of-16 from the free throw line. After the game, he spent roughly 40 minutes getting up extra shots on the Smoothie King Center floor.

Thursday night will mark the second game Williamson misses this season but only the first for an injury-related issue. He missed a game on Jan. 13 in Los Angeles against the Clippers because of an inconclusive COVID-19 test.

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