Should it stay, or should it go, a new regular column focusing on some of the Association’s breaking news, rising trends and shining developments. The prior edition can be found here.
Keep: The televised All-Star Draft
Feelings are going to be hurt. Without a doubt, someone is not going to be pleased with their position and with the temporary moment of public vulnerability. But it’s going to be a ton of fun for the fans who badly, badly wanted to see captains Steph Curry and LeBron James assemble their literal super teams last year.
This year, chaos is on the doorstep. Luka Doncic, who is far from a lock to make the game overall, could be pushed into a captain spot by his legions of supporters and how the NBA and its players reacted to such an unexpected occurrence would be fantastic drama.
Derrick Rose and Dwyane Wade have the fans support but will coaches and players feel the same? In the era of social media, how will other players, perhaps those labelled, “snubs,” react to seeing players get invitations via reputation rather than merit? All of that and more could play out during a live broadcast of the draft. The honest truth is, the draft’s likely going to be more entertaining than the actual game.
Swap: The direction of the Wizards franchise
For the second year in a row, the Washington Wizards have showed renewed vigor when John Wall was absent. It’s not that Wall is a bad player, it’s that Beal can do more. Beal is capable of running the show and is not best purposed off-ball, awaiting Wall’s next kickout.
The Wizards have hard decisions ahead. This is not a title team. Not close. Not with Wall, not without him. Not with Dwight Howard or Trevor Ariza, or any other small adjustment that could be made. They need to change the direction of the franchise and they can do that one of two ways.
Option 1: Trade John Wall for whatever is available, start to clean up the books and re-tool around Bradley Beal and possibly Otto Porter.
Option 2: Tear it all down and trade Beal, who far and away has the most value. Beal would likely net a haul; he’s young, he has two years left on his deal after this season concludes and he’s very clearly playing at an All-Star if not an All-NBA level.
If the Lakers miss in free agency, they are going to be desperate to bring in a second star. The Celtics, who many thought were the League’s best bet to bring down the Warriors this season, are struggling and have failed to get a jump out of Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum. And as with Davis, if a star is on the block teams will come out of the woodwork.
The Wizards have options, running it back is not a good one.
Keep: Denver Nuggets first place stock
In a future edition, we might just tackle how for real the Nuggets are come the playoffs but for the moment, let’s focus on their regular season triumphs.
The first-place Nuggets are 29-13 and have led the beastly Western Conference amidst injuries from, well, everyone. Isaiah Thomas and Michael Porter Jr. have yet to play. Will Barton has missed 38 games. Gary Harris has missed 17 and Paul Millsap 12.
Nikola Jokic might not be a sexy MVP vote, but his name should be on the ballot. The center is averaging 19.7 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 7.5 APG and is fifth in the League via ESPN’s offensive real plus-minus metric.
The Nuggets continue to win big games, earning wins in contests against the Warriors, Raptors, Thunder, Rockets, and Spurs amongst others. The Rockets just lost Capela for 4-6 weeks, the Warriors once again seem uninterested in regular season success and the Oklahoma City Thunder are working through kinks in the former MVP’s shooting stroke. As the Nuggets recuperate, bringing contributors both old and new into the fold, look for this team to maintain the dominant position above their inter-conference rivals.
Swap: Patience for the panic button in Los Angeles
Best case scenario: LeBron James comes back healthy next week, and the Lakers rattle off 10 of 12, finish the year strong and force the Pelicans hand behind the scenes this offseason. All of it, of course, culminating in an AD and LBJ pairing.
Why that’s not likely: The Pelicans have no incentive to help the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers youth has not sparkled with James or without him—the value isn’t there. A Brandon Ingram package gets less enticing day by day as potential is less imagined and the reality of the present is confronted.
The Oklahoma City Thunder came out of nowhere to snag Paul George, as did the Toronto Raptors with Kawhi Leonard. Keep an eye on the Boston Celtics, Sacramento Kings, Denver Nuggets and Philadelphia 76ers if Davis is actually on the block this summer. With a player of Davis’ caliber, this will not be a one-team show.
Second best-case scenario: Kevin Durant ride-shares with James to Staples Center. However, Durant has stated that playing with James comes with sacrifice and why would he leave Golden State (where he’s in the driver’s seat) to deal with similar or equally painful narratives behind James in Los Angeles?
Leonard is allegedly more likely to sign with the Clippers than the Lakers. Klay Thompson leaving Golden State is a pipe dream. Jimmy Butler? Klay Thompson? Kyrie….never mind.
The Los Angeles Lakers aren’t even a lock to make the playoffs at the moment (currently one game ahead of Sacramento for the last spot) and if James is gone another month, their ticket is far from guaranteed at all. The Lakers need to be active at the deadline and look to make things happen before the hail Mary pitch is the only option.
Swap: Trying to quantify exactly what James Harden is doing and just enjoy
If you’re like me, an NBA history buff with a need to place everything on the NBA pyramid of accomplishments, this tear from Harden has been exponentially hard to digest.
On one hand, he’s shredding defenses like tissue paper as the Rockets rack up wins. On the other, he plays a brand of basketball that can lack aesthetics and feels greatly aided by generous spacing, insane pace and ample foul calls.
Has he been better than Steph Curry in 2016? Kevin Durant in 2014? Dwyane Wade in 2009? Kobe Bryant in 2006? It’s impossible to know and the thought exercise while initially deeply amusing has become maddening.
Here’s what I know. Over his last 14 games, (the same number Bryant played in the legendary month of January back in 2006.) Harden is averaging: 40.2 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 9.6 APG and his team is 10-4 over that stretch. We should all be able to enjoy that and let it play out, let’s save the offseason for the historical debates.