All posts by Josh Buckhalter

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In the Bubble, Not All Sweeps Are Created Equal

Sunday saw two teams eliminated from the postseason as Jayson Tatum and the Boston Celtics put Joel Embiid and what was left of the Philadelphia 76ers out of their misery. Later on, the Toronto Raptors looked very much like an apex predator in their drubbing of the “other guys” Brooklyn Nets.

It was the same fate for both teams; an unceremoniously early exit from what has otherwise been an exciting playoffs in the bubble. But make no mistake about it, it doesn’t mean the same thing for both teams.

Nets, 76ers Face Different Futures After Suffering Same Fate

Brooklyn’s Breakout Blocked

Ironically, it is the Nets, who allowed at least 34 points in every quarter, that have a brighter future.

They can at least hang their hat on the fact that next year Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will be on the floor and possibly challenging for an Eastern Conference Finals berth. Sure, they don’t have a head coach at the moment and the two aforementioned stars reportedly want to trade for a third star, but neither task is too tall.

Finding the right compliment on the floor is probably the tougher task. Not only for actual basketball reasons, but also the financial situation around the NBA after COVID…well, you know.

It may come as a surprise after seeing some of the playoff performances from the likes of Caris Levert (15.3 PTS/10.7 AST/6.0 REB) and Joe Harris (16.5 PTS/10.0 REB), that they feel the need to look outside for help. Don’t forget, they also have Spencer Dinwiddie who opted out of the restart.

If it made sense, Kenny Atkinson would likely still be the head coach.

Brooklyn is in a great position to make noise next year and beyond. This does make a couple of assumptions though.

For one, that Durant and Irving will work on the floor. But to be honest, that concern is probably minimal. While Irving can be a ball stopper, Durant’s insane efficiency should offset it. Even this is assuming Durant comes back as the same guy he was before his Achilles injury and that Irving can stay healthy.

Chemistry and health make this one of the most volatile situations in the NBA. The risk seems well worth the reward, though.

Considering the Nets lost each game by an average of more than 20 points (a number salvaged by only losing by five points in Game 2), adding Durant (29.1/7.7/4.0 in the playoffs) and Irving (23.5 PPG and 5.0 APG) should allay any fears the fanbase might have after this postseason.

Philly’s Process to be 86ed?

The Philadelphia 76er embarked on one of the most blatant tanking plans ever back in 2013. Seven years and three playoff appearances later, it may all be coming to an end. Getting swept by the Celtics is but a small part of the story. After all, when one of the two prized pieces from that years-long process, Ben Simmons, went out with knee injury, so did Philly’s title hopes.

This may have just accelerated the inevitable. Questions have lingered all year about the clunky offense, money wasted on Tobias Harris and Al Horford, and the fate of head coach Brett Brown.

Let’s start with Harris (15.8/9.5/4.0) and Horford (7.0/7.3/2.3), the prized free-agent duds. Harris’ numbers seem ok, but in addition to being paid like a 20 PPG guy, he shot 38.3% from the floor and 13.3% from deep. Horford was miscast and perhaps has lost a step.

They were overpaid (bet they miss Jimmy Butler) and misused by Brown.

But the greatest crime committed has been not getting the most out of the Simmons-Embiid combo to the point where breaking them up seems more likely than keeping them together any longer.

It isn’t just one of the stars either. Both Simmons and Embiid have been subject to trade rumors, largely due to there not being a consensus as to who is the more valuable piece.

Personally, the thought is that Embiid is probably the better talent but Simmons is the part needed to make it work. That is to say, no one is as dominant as Embiid when he’s right, justifying the comparisons to Shaq. But, in a guard league, Simmons is probably the more important piece when building a team.

That isn’t to say one can’t work without the other. Most solid point guards could utilize Embiid and pick and pop big would be successful next to Simmons.

On the contrary, it might point to how much they need each other, and Philly’s need to figure things out around them. There was too much effort put in to break these two up after they have had even a modicum of success. The better plan is for the 76ers to fee themselves of Harris and Horford.

But those contracts are albatrosses. Neither will return value and may even have to go at a severe discount. Does that improve Philly’s outlook moving forward? Probably not. That shifted the focus to where it’s been, Brown, who has now been fired.

They Say It’s the Same But It’s Not the Same

Yes, these teams faced the same fate but their futures are going in vastly different directions. Both will have someone new at head coach. But whereas the Nets will be adding two bonafide star players to a group that showed a little fight this postseason, the 76ers are trying to avoid de-processing. That’s tough.

All eyes on you, Indiana Pacers…

Washington Football Team, NFL Join the 21st Century

Monday, the sports world got to witness history being made as the Washington Football Team hired Jason Wright to be their team president. Wright, who spent six years as a running back for the Atlanta Falcons, Cleveland Browns, and Arizona Cardinals, becomes the first Black person to hold the position in NFL history.

Welcome to the 21st Century, Washington Football Team

Wright got an MBA from the University of Chicago, a psychology degree from Northwestern, and comes over from consulting firm McKinsey and Company. There he led the Black Economic Institute and developed their anti-racism strategies.

His business acumen and playing career make him a terrific fit for the position. That should not be up for debate. What is up for debate is how much credit the Football Team should get.

Washington and owner Dan Snyder have been under fire for decades for their old name and logo which they finally agreed to change this offseason under much pressure. The difference this time compared to other efforts was that it came from sponsors like FedEx making their voices heard. Snyder has even gotten calls from minority owners (some of whom were looking to sell their own stakes) to sell the team.

“If I could custom design a leader for this important time in our history, it would be Jason. His experience as a former player, coupled with his business acumen, gives him a perspective that is unrivaled in the league,” – Dan Snyder per CBS News

If Snyder’s quote above were how he felt, why did it take the sky falling for this to come to fruition? Why in the 100-year history of the NFL is Wright the first? He certainly isn’t the first to be qualified.

And that is where the issue lies. The timing of the move casts aspersions on Wright’s deserving of the role. Rather than focusing solely on his accomplishment warranting it, that shadow of a doubt will follow him just as it has many Black people who assume positions of power. That doesn’t just pertain to the NFL either.

In a league where 70 percent of its players are Black and have been predominantly so for quite some time, this is far overdue. Much of the talk around diversity in the NFL centers around coaching.

While that is a significant issue, getting faces like Wright’s in those upper-level positions is just as important if not more; as we can see, people often hire those who look like they do.

That isn’t to say there is a conscious effort to hire one race over another. Rather, all things being equal, comfort with a candidate is more times than not the tie-breaker. This is true for all peoples, we just see the extreme in the NFL, a league with a troubled past when talking race and inclusion in general.

So, yes, we should be celebrating Wright and his historic accomplishment. But we should hold off on lauding this as forward-thinking. After all, in 2020 some would have you believe they don’t see race. Those same people will point to this as a sign of the times changing. What they won’t say is that the decision had to practically be forced upon an organization that was averse to modernizing.

Now with Wright, head coach Ron Rivera, and assistant coach Jennifer King, Washington can finally say they have joined the 21st century. Congratulations!