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Which NBA player will heroically wear Christmas sneakers all season long?

We have that and more in Thursday’s NBA newsletter.

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NBA: Golden State Warriors at Cleveland Cavaliers Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve told you the NBA is unwinding its draft age minimum, eventually going back to allowing players to jump straight into the league out of high school. On Monday, we even explained some ways this might be implemented. On Wednesday, the NBA announced a deal with USA Basketball, the players’ union, and the NCAA to offer more developmental and lifestyle coaching to the best young American players and offer chances for NBA scouts to check them out.

This doesn’t speak directly to the reversal of the 2005 age minimum rule, but as Ricky O’Donnell writes, it builds an infrastructure the NBA thinks it needs before it re-opens the prep-to-pro floodgates. In fact, this deal allows NBA scouts to take a closer look at current high school freshmen, who would be draft-eligible if the league ends the age minimum in 2022.

It’s commendable that the NBA is taking time to build the infrastructure to make this second prep-to-pro era a success. It remains amazing that the NBA ended the previous era so abruptly, without concern for how it would destroy the basketball ecosystem that had been created.

WNBA Playoffs Schedule

Dream at Mystics, Game 3, 8 p.m. ET on Friday, ESPNEWS and NBA TV
Series tied 1-1
Game 4: Sunday on ESPN2 at a time to be determined

Storm at Mercury, Game 3, 10 p.m. ET on Friday, ESPNEWS and NBA TV
Seattle leads 2-0
Game 4 (if necessary): Sunday on ESPN2 at a time to be determined

Here’s an Albert Lee analysis of the Tuesday Game 2s. Remember that these are best-of-five series. Elena Delle Donne is, thankfully, just questionable and not flat out for Friday’s Mystics game.

Links Galore

Seerat Sohi on Manu Ginobili’s basketball legacy. Marc Spears on the impact Manu had on the Spurs’ and NBA’s Latino fandom.

Oh boy, Nick DePaula reports that NBA players no longer have color restrictions on in-game sneakers. It’s now Christmas yearround! Unleash the hypebeasts.

The Milwaukee City Attorney is now blaming Sterling Brown for being assaulted by cops after a parking violation. The Bucks continue to support Brown, although whether that support is anything more than public statements is unclear.

Natalie Nakase explains how she became a Clippers coach.

New DraftExpress mock draft for ESPN Insider subscribers.

Zion Williamson could be a sneaker star.

I wrote about the Sixers’ odd decision-making about picking a new decision-maker, and when it could backfire.

Stephen Curry on gender equality in sports and running a basketball camp exclusively for girls.

We haven’t met since Diana Taurasi’s incredible comeback attempt in Game 2 of Storm-Mercury. Holy smokes. That game-tying three was perfectly Taurasi. Here’s Shea Serrano on Taurasi’s brand of magic.

Kevin Durant has reached his zenith. Marcus Thompson wonders what’s next.

Why Sue Bird remained in Seattle instead of chasing a WNBA superteam.

Jonathan Tjarks asks if we’re sure the Bucks aren’t NBA Finals contenders this season. Are we sure of anything, really?

For The Athletic, Danny Leroux explains why 2019 free agency will be interesting beyond the star players and surplus cap space.

Dan Devine with a key piece on LeBron’s The Shop and getting comfortable with discomfort.

Out: Phillips Arena. (I honestly have to look up the spelling every time.) In: State Farm Arena.

Inside the Spurs’ new “hype team” auditions.

Oh good, bad actors on social media are making up fake WNBA player quotes about pay disparity, which are then getting shared by more mainstream outlets. Good job, everyone. Way to go.

And finally: a brilliant look at how Manu and his legendary bald spot evolved in NBA 2K over the years.

Be excellent to each other.