Triple Zeros: L.A. Trae
NBA: L.A. Trae | Half-Man, All Amazing, All-Legend
NFL: Ford *OKs Kap | Russ: Get AB
“Even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. That quote from Marie von Ebner sticks out as much of the conversation about returning has centered around Brooklyn Nets mercurial point guard, Kyrie Irving. Some peers have responded, but are they even disagreeing? That’s what you would think if you only saw it through the lens of social media.
Tweets get crafted to maximize the impact (see: likes and retweets) all the time. But in this instance, leaving out an entire part of Irving’s comments has led to a backlash that seems fueled more by his reputation than the actual content.
“I don’t support going into Orlando,” Irving told the players. “I’m not with the systematic racism and the bullshit. … Something smells a little fishy. Whether we want to admit it or not, we are targeted as black men every day we wake up.” – per Shams Charania
His reported words prompted responses from several other players including Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, who said “Hoopers say what y’all want. If @King James said he hooping. We all hooping. Not personal only BUSINESS.” His reference to LeBron James is fair because he regularly practices his activism while playing. But Irving’s comments weren’t really speaking to the ability to do both.
Former players-turned-analysts Jay Williams and Kendrick Perkins also spoke against Irving, with the latter going so far to say “He’s not a powerful voice; he’s a popular voice” and that “All he’s doing is ruffling the feathers for no reason. The NBA is going to continue.” That’s tough coming from a retired player and still misses Irving’s message.
All of this is in addition to some prominent commentators like Stephen A. Smith. But it has been Houston Rockets guard (and coach’s son) Austin Rivers’ reply via a lengthy Instagram post that has gotten the most publicity. The well-stated rebuttal spoke of being able to both play and affect social change. It also said that for the majority of the players in the league, sitting out isn’t feasible as “99% of the NBA hasn’t made the money” Kyrie has.
But there is a problem: Irving AGREES with him. And any other player that wants to return, for that matter. It’s just that his reputation has preceded him.
The former Cleveland Cavalier and Boston Celtic earlier opined about the freedoms players would have when in the NBA’s “bubble”. Those concerns included spa treatments and were roundly met with virtual side-eyes.
This time was different, though. Yes, Irving said that he would rather focus on social justice reform. But he also said something else that has gone underreported.
“If it’s worth the risk, then let’s go and do it,” Irving said on the call, sources said. “But if you’re not with it, it’s OK, too. We’ve got options for both ways. Let’s just come to a middle ground as a family.” – per Chris Haynes
Irving said, “There’s only 20 guys actually getting paid, and I’m part of that. Let’s not pretend there’s not a tiered system purposely to divide all of us.” Some say Irving has is backward and that the max contract system keeps the disparity in check, but again they are missing the point. Players who have yet to land that contract would logically be less inclined to rock the boat.
See, an important bit of information to remember is that Irving was voted as vice president of the NBPA. That means raising the concerns of the many, no matter how trivial, to the attention of the few most powerful is quite literally his job. So while you may think some of the points were silly, that doesn’t mean they weren’t brought up in private.
That’s the other part that seems be getting swept away. With all the talk of what the stars want (we already know the likes of LeBron, Kawhi Leonard, Chris Paul, and Anthony Davis want to return), the dissenting voices have already been drowned out.
Lakers big Dwight Howard, well-traveled and mercurial in his own right, has voiced support for Irving. He went even further suggesting the NBA needn’t return until “we get things resolved.” Lakers guard Avery Bradley also spoke up on the call in which Irving aired his grievances.
Donovan Mitchell spoke about the dangers of returning after a layoff and is pushing for insurance for players. CJ McCollum voted ‘no’ to returning but also warned players of potentially contentious negotiations when the CBA expires should players sit out. Kyle Kuzma is also seeking insurance but flat out said, “Some of us want to hoop and compete don’t get that twisted.” He too seems to have only heard part of Irving’s argument.
That’s what is so telling about the backlash Kyrie has received. It is disproportionate to what he said.
He rightfully expressed issues that, as we see, aren’t necessarily his own. This is especially true with the increase in the number of cases in the host-state of Florida. But even more than that, he left the door wide open to continue the season if that is what the majority want.
But because of his history of being me-first and that whole flat-earth thing, people readily dismissed what he said. The best part is that they are all agreeing with Rivers even though he said the exact reason why Irving was speaking out against returning amid all the civil unrest in the country.
“Not saying that basketball is a cure for that but basketball can maybe provide a distraction.”
The distraction is the part Irving (and Howard) are trying to avoid. And it’s already happening as we see the push to return ramp up even amid continuing concern over COVID-19 and protests. But all the other stuff is true too and that’s the issue. We are so busy trying to pick a side, that we forgot we are all on the same side. No person has embodied that more than Kyrie, the NBA’s broken clock
Well, good people, we had our final dance of the 10-part documentary “The Last Dance” last night and what a dance it was. It lived up and surpassed the hype leading up to its early release. For the last five Sunday evenings, we’ve been treated to an intimate inside look into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ’90s. Did it leave you wanting more? I know it did for me, it could’ve been 10-20 more and I’m here for it.
The timing of this documentary also added to the aura of Jordan. In typical MJ fashion the light is shining brightest on him like there are 1.1 seconds left in the game, he has the final shot, and the entire world is holding its breath. Same as his first retirement announcement in ‘93 on a Wednesday morning or his first game back in ‘95. What better time to have this series air than during a global pandemic with sports halted and the world salivating for any sports content? Enter Michael Jordan.
We know the documentaries main focus was Jordan but it’s about the team as well. Chicago definitely had the supporting cast that helped with the six championships Mike led them to. The show did a great job highlighting the diverse characters of the team. It revealed things about some players even die-hard fans didn’t even know. We knew about the star power of arguably the greatest number-two player in history Scottie Pippen and the best rebounder in league history Dennis Rodman aka the Worm. Pippen was also the only other Bull that was with the organization for all six championships so his role was vitally important to the team’s success.
Their backstories were the intriguing part, Scottie coming from very humble beginnings and his fractured relationship with the general manager the late Jerry Krause. The biggest takeaway was that Pip also is probably the most grossly underpaid superstar ever. Rodman was that wild card, the rockstar of the team. His off the court life was legendary within itself! He leaves the team during the season for a 72-hour whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas with Carmen Electra and gets back to play with no problem. If that’s not crazy enough how about right after a finals game getting on a private plane to appear on WCW Nitro and missing practice the next day. Things that NBA players wouldn’t think about doing today.
Steve Kerr was another player that played a key role, hitting big shots (see Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers). His career-defining shot though came in the ‘97 Finals Game 6 when he hit the game-winner to give the Bulls their fifth title, this one over the Utah Jazz. Besides these great moments, Kerr surprisingly was the teammate that could most relate to Jordan with tragedy. Both men’s fathers were murdered. Per Kerr’s account they never spoke about it. But that was their silent connection.
The Jordan brand was birthed back in 1985 when Nike first introduced the Air Jordan. At the time nobody knew it but a trail was blazed. Countless other endorsements derived from MJ’s game. Gatorade, Chevrolet, Hanes. Just like the NBA, anything that was associated with the Jordan name turned to gold. Pre-Jordan, the NBA was in 80 countries. When he retired it was over 200. Not to mention the Chicago Bulls 90’s teams are considered the creme de la creme of NBA franchises.
The success of Jordan has allowed the players of today to be some of the highest-paid athletes in sports. Even guys that sit at the end of the bench averaging about seven minutes a game got it made. It’s also allowed the likes of Lebron James and Steph Curry to be their own brand. There’s no doubt Jordan was the force that started the power change from the owners to the players.
Going into the Last Dance docuseries, most people considered Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time. A recent AP poll has him ranked as the most popular athlete in America, even after being retired for 17 years. After watching it I think it proved he’s head above shoulders of his NBA peers. That’s no knock on the other greats, it’s just that MJ carved out a section in history where only he can stand.
He’s the epitome of taking your skill and sculpting greatness from it. There also was the example of sacrifice. To be successful in any endeavor it takes sacrifice and putting your all into that you wish to succeed in. One of the most profound things that I heard Mike say was at the end of the last episode. That all you need is “hope” to spark that fire within you.
The calendar has turned to March and the madness is about to begin. Yes, that might have been a reference to college basketball but that still doesn’t change for the NBA. Last week I covered the Eastern Conference.
The playoffs bracket in the West is closer in terms of playoff positioning, but the Los Angeles Lakers sit at the top led by all-time great LeBron James. Can we consider LeBron a legend even though he is still active? We can get to that next week when I’ll be diving into some of the more debatable topics this league provides its fans.
The Lakers have a sturdy 5.5-game lead on the Los Angeles Clippers who many consider the favorite to come out of the West. The Clippers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks are all separated by 5.5 games. These last few weeks could help win homecourt advantage for certain teams that thrive in there home arena.
Home-court advantage is going to be critical. If Denver gets home court over the Thunder (which would happen if the playoffs started today). Both teams are significantly better at home than on the road. Think about if Oklahoma City stole home-court advantage and was able to win their first-round series. That could change the outlook on the franchise.
The current seventh-seeded Mavericks actually boast a 21-11 road record, so they could play spoiler in a series. Luka Doncic is built for the playoffs. They might lose their first-round series, but there will be fireworks because of the Mavericks averaging 116 PPG, which ranks third in the NBA.
Other potential suitors for that eighth and coveted spot are the Portland Trail Blazers, San Antonio Spurs, and New Orleans Pelicans. All of these teams sit no more than four games back. The most compelling story is the upstart Pelicans who are led by rookie sensation Zion Williamson. But we have to respect what Memphis has done here. Their schedule after the all-star break was second in difficulty, and with a little over a month to go, they have a solid three-game lead. The Grizzlies are led by another rookie sensation in Ja Morant.
Look at the top-seeded Lakers. They have two of the top-five players in the league. Some are here to argue that Giannis Antetokounmpo is the best in the league and I have no qualms about it. I would be remiss to say that LeBron is still the number one player in the world given his incredible IQ, distribution, and understanding of the game and what needs to be done to win a title.
At this point, we are tired of LeBron and it skews our view on him in terms of greatness. In any best-of-seven series, the Lakers will have an all-time great as the best player on the floor. But will his supporting cast be able to do enough to get him to the finals?
The number-one threat to the Lakers returning the NBA Finals is the Clippers. After an intense six-game series where the upstart Clippers pushed the Warriors to the brink with inspiring play, free-agency ended with them having acquired the defending Finals MVP in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, a two-way superstar who could help the Clipper reach the promised land. The Clippers have the star power and defensive prowess to wear the Lakers down and are 2-0 against their cross-town foe.
But this reporter has seen this before. Who remembers when the 2011 Chicago Bulls went against the Lebron James led heat? Yes I know, we have different levels of stars. And Leonard and George are lengthy defenders who can combat LeBron. But when it comes down to it in a best-of-seven, give me LeBron.
The Nuggets and Rockets are third and fourth in the Western Conference. The Nuggets main question still remains. Do they have the star power to get to the finals? Simple answer. No.
Denver is a good team, don’t me wrong. But right now they would face the Thunder in the first round; no easy out. In the second round, they would face the Clippers. They don’t have the bodies to guard the likes of Leonard and George. The athleticism of the Clippers would be too much.
The Rockets are a gimmicky team trying to beat you by spreading the floor and being unconscious from the three-point line. They have the superstar power to get to the Western Conference Finals but those stars haven’t punched their ticket to finals since 2012. That was when James Harden and Russell Westbrook were with the Thunder.
Throughout a seven-game series, the Rockets will be worn down. If they come out of the first round, they’ll be minced meat for either the Lakers or Clippers. The bottom-four teams in the playoffs have young (to a degree), up-and-coming teams that will have their title window soon. Just not quite yet. The Thunder are the surprise of the season.
After trading Westbrook and George, everyone thought the team would tank to hopefully draft their next superstar. That is not the case. Chris Paul and company are having a fantastic season and look to ruffle some feathers in the first round. Utah is a defensive dynamo led by Rudy Gobert. Unfortunately, they do not have enough pop to get to the finals. Hopefully, they’ll see Donovan Mitchell pop in the playoffs again. The Jazz are just hoping to advance to the second round.
As for the Mavericks and the Grizzlies, the only thing I want to see is the blossoming of Doncic and Morant. These two young players are on another level, and I hope to see them raise their game in the playoffs. Doncic has been in big moments for nearly a decade and you can tell in his early career he has the makings of being something special. He is currently averaging 28.5 points per game, 8.8 assists, and 9.3 rebounds.
Ja Morant is the Rookie of the Year in my opinion. Trust me I love Zion just as much as the next guy. But Ja has been nothing short of special for this upstart Memphis bunch and a playoff appearance in his rookie season is nothing but a sign of great things to come.
It is March and that can only mean one thing. The basketball world will come into the focus with the NCAA tournament and the NBA playoffs to follow shortly after. These are all the things I am looking for in this year’s playoffs. If you read last week’s article I chose the Boston Celtics, and for this week. I believe the Lakers will meet them in the NBA Finals, and the winner will be in next week’s article.
If you have anything you want to discuss you can hit me up on twitter @illiniRyan7
With no Lebron James in the playoffs (much to the chagrin of many), Kevin Durant has an opportunity to solidify his place as the best player in the NBA. It is a conversation that many believe is long overdue. Now before anyone gets riled up, let’s take inventory of why this is significant. Several factors make this a bigger deal than most people realize.
For starters, the obvious cause for pause is the team that Durant plays for and the players he plays with. Steph Curry is a two-time (and first unanimous) MVP. Klay Thompson is one of the best two-way guards in the NBA. And Draymond Green is the heart and soul of the group as well as a solid defender himself. But Durant, Durant is the difference.
Sure, the Warriors won a title without KD. They also came back from down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals against Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016. Golden State would go on to lose the ensuing Finals against Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That led to a parking lot phone call from Green and the rest is two more Larry O’Brien trophies for the Dubs with two Finals MVP awards for Durant.
Despite averaging 25.8/7.1/5.4 while slashing .524/.384/.883 during his time in the Bay, Durant has often been looked at as the ‘1A’ to Steph’s ‘1’. When looking at the numbers since Durant joined the Warriors, one might conclude that they are more equals than any sort of hierarchy. Curry’s 26.3/4.9/6 (.476/.424/.911) since they became the ‘Hampton’s Five’ rivals Durant’s output and even exceeds it in some aspects.
When parsing the numbers, however, the two superstars’ playoff numbers paint a different picture altogether. During the two championship runs with both Curry and Durant, the former averaged 26.9/6.2/6.1 and slashed .468/.407/.919. The latter put up 28.8/7.8/4.5 on a .514/.379/.898 line. What we see is while Curry is still a key component, but Durant’s scoring and rebounding (i.e. more scoring opportunities) set him above his teammate.
Detractors (and Curry truthers) will almost certainly point out Golden State’s 25-9 record sans KD. Compare that to their 19-15 record minus Steph and the opinions start to formulate. Aside from the two interestingly missing the exact same amount of time the two years prior to this one, Golden State appears to miss the presence of the Chef more.
The problem is, all the missed game data is from the regular season. And we have already shown the disparity between the two in the postseason. But barring injury (please, no) there will be no sample size to draw from in the playoffs. So how can we determine who is the more important factor? This could be a case of Occam’s razor.
If the simplest answer is usually right, what is it? It is this: Kevin Durant is the most important player to the Golden State Warriors championship aspirations. Now, that’s not to say that the Warriors would fall off a cliff if Durant were not there (more on that later). But for as good as the Dubs are as a whole they are, for the most part, not iso players.
For all the talk of beautiful basketball, Durant is one of only nine players to average at least three iso attempts per game during the regular season. Of those nine players, only two (Lebron and John Wall) failed to make the playoffs. When things slow down in the playoffs, teams need players that can get their own shot. Steph and Klay only had 1.3 and 0.9 attempts, respectively.
So far this year in the playoffs, Durant is fourth in ISO attempts. Last year’s postseason he was third. Year one in Oakland was different, though; he ranked 20th. One interesting tidbit, he is actually taking fewer shots (3.6) in ISO this year but is shooting just 36 percent on those plays. That is down from 44 percent on 5.7 shots a game last year.
Golden State led the league in assists for the fifth consecutive season, even with Durant’s ISO usage. Clearly, he is by no means a ball stopper. But he is still just as unique a circumstance on his whole team as he is in the league as a whole. A team founded offensively on making the extra pass is largely reliant on a player that plays 1-on-1 at a rate three times higher than his next closest teammate. Every year since KD has arrived, his ISO attempts have risen as Steph’s have fallen.
You know who teams switch up philosophies for? Their best players. Just look at James and the Lakers. When wooing a franchise-altering type of talent, organizations acquiesce a little. Said talent (rightly) becomes the focal point within the scheme. Well, some players are so good they alter the way teams execute their scheme inherently.
Durant has impacted the Warriors in that very way. And it wasn’t through a hostile takeover. It was the gradual progression of his game meshing with the Golden State system and the ball finding the best player. They say “ball don’t lie” for a reason. But what about the man that many have said KD has been following in the path of, with conspiracy theorists even pointing to their championship poses as evidence.
Lebron is still in the NBA, despite the void his absence may have left in our playoff-lives. The King still, in year 16, averaged 27.4/8.5/8.3. That was better than his first years in Miami and returning to Cleveland. It is also better than Durant’s numbers, but is the gap wide enough to say James still reigns over the Association? We may have to wait till next year to get the definitive answer on that after the tumultuous season the Lakers had clouded the situation.
When Durant sat in front of the media gallery and made the proclamation, “I am Kevin Durant. You know who I am” I felt that. It felt like a player finally fully comfortable in his skin. His transformation from babyface to heel is well documented, but his acclimation to not being universally beloved was not as quick or smooth. Clashes with the media (and teammates) overshadowed a player’s game superseding the system he was determined to be a part of.
There are those who will argue Durant has been the best player in the NBA since 2014, his MVP-winning season when he averaged 32/7.4/5.5 with a .503/.391/.873 slash line. Since then he has averaged 27.5/7.3/5.3 at .514/.387/.881 clips. James has averaged 26.5/7.7/7.8 while shooting .530/.353/.712 over that same span. The numbers are again comparable, Durant scores more and with better efficiency from deep and the free throw line. Bron’s do-it-all game has him ahead in rebounds and assists and shooting a higher percentage from the floor.
In the playoffs, the discussion gets even more interesting. Durant, over the past two postseasons, put up 28.8/7.8/4.5 on .514/.379/.898 shooting. James has put up an insane 33.5/9.1/8.5 while shooting .550/.376/.725. Their head-to-head Finals match way back in 2012 favored a prime James (28.6/10.2/7.4, .472/.188/.826) over a third-year pro in Durant (30.6/6/2.2, .548/.394/.839), though the latter was the more effective and efficient scorer even then.
We can get into the off/on stats (hint: the Warriors are by and large better with Durant on the floor) but we already know the answers. Golden State’s best player is Kevin Durant. Curry may be their most important, but that is an entirely different conversation in my opinion. And that is where the KD’s path may take him away from the team he sacrificed more than Thanos to join.
The rumors have swirled all year that Durant may leave while seeing and hearing the stories and dustups with media and even the man who made that history-altering phone call from the parking lot. KD can be a tough person to get a read on. But even before becoming the hyper-sensitive turned at-peace superstar, he let it be known his goal was to be the best player in the NBA, a goal that seems impossible to achieve in the Bay.
No matter what he does, Durant will never reach the heights in the eyes of the public as long as he is on the Warriors. They will always be ‘Steph’s team’. That is why it makes so much sense for Durant to move on after achieving his goal of winning championships. It is also why the stories rubbed him the wrong way and why the spat with Green occurred. This feels like both the last hurrah for the Hampton’s Five, and in many ways, the start of the Kevin Durant-era in the NBA.