April 30, 2016, 2:00 pm
One Big Thing: The Western Conference playoffs we should’ve had
You know the story. For a while now, it’s been ‘the East is a much weaker conference; the West is loaded’ and the like. This year the narrative flipped a little bit, with the bottom half of the West looking a lot weaker than we’ve come to expect.
However, there’s no denying that the West is home to the big guns of the NBA; with four of the top five or six legitimate contenders (I’ll let you decide as to whether the Clippers or Raptors are #5) residing out West.
At one point we were looking at a team chasing the best season ever and another approaching a perfect home record and it wasn’t even the same team. The West might be top heavy this year, but it definitely has the heavy hitters.
Claims of the West’s unfairness used to be reserved for runners-up or teams further down the standings who would have seemingly trampled their way through the East or, at the very least, punched their playoff ticket. In a lot of ways, that’s still true. I’d be hard pressed to pick Cleveland or Toronto over any of the Warriors, Spurs or Thunder.
Even at the playoff fringes, I’d take Utah over Detroit and Indiana in a heartbeat (we won’t talk about what that might imply for my beloved Raptors). Maybe even a properly coached Sacramento team or the Nuggets if they catch some breaks, but that’s a different story for a different time.
In the past it’s been easy to look at teams who get bounced from the Western Conference playoffs and think about the alternate timelines where different groups get to the finals. From KG’s Timberwolves to the run and gun Suns to Carmelo’s Nuggets and the Deron Williams-led Jazz, there’s a bevy of interesting units that could’ve given the Finals a fresh face.
Every year these ‘would-be’ teams would fall to the Lakers, Mavericks or Spurs — the same bullies taking everybody’s lunch money each and every year.
The Thunder have been a jacked-up version of a ‘would-be’ squad, even making a brief appearance on top before the Spurs and Warriors starting chipping their logos into the Mt. Rushmore of great NBA teams.
With all due respect to the lower seeds, Round 1 was always just the appetizer. The West’s final four would be our main course. Two historic teams, one squad with a superhuman duo and the almost-contending All Stars we all love to hate.
This year it isn’t the quality and depth of the West that’s unfair. It’s that life isn’t fair, nor predictable.
It’s just assumed that guys can go through thousands of minutes of basketball without a scratch — that they can play through minor bumps and bruises and still perform. Think about every collision; every hard screen, every contested rebound, every dive for a loose ball.
Now extrapolate that over the course of one season. Of two. Keep going, but add international competitions. Add college, high school, and AAU. Add casual pickup basketball too. Maybe they got hurt during those, maybe they didn’t. But they got hurt now. All that to set up what’s looking like hoops nirvana and it’s gone in a flash. A wet spot on the court that somehow dodges those giant mops.
A swipe at the ball and that’s it — a swipe at the ball! That’s when the body fails you. During the innocuous. Right now, of all times. We were ready for the ultimate basketball show and with a snap of the fingers half of it disappears.
We’ve heard it so much it’s cliche — life isn’t fair. Usually the weight of that statement falls on some poor team that was almost good enough to get over the top.
The two- and three-seed matchup between Oklahoma City and San Antonio has thankfully been spared from any series-shifting news. The Thunder are probably lucky to get past Dallas in five games, as the amount of chippy and borderline dirty play would’ve only increased moving forward.
Maybe San Antonio could have used a more competitive warmup series, but I doubt rust comes into play. I have the utmost confidence in this matchup being great. Both of these teams are a delight to watch and it’s going to be a big time duel. Let’s keep those guys in bubble wrap until the series starts because right now it’s the clear main event on the card.
June 6, 2020, 9:40 pmTrae YoungPG, Atlanta Hawks
The eight NBA teams left out of the remainder of the season proposed to play a summer league with televised games to help the development of younger players.
The teams are concerned that the extended time off from playing organized basketball for their young players. Hawks owner, Tony Ressler told Ramon Shelburne that "Nine months is too long without organized basketball. I think the league has heard that loud and clear. We are pushing to remain competitive. That's what our players want. We were desperate to have something that helps us to stay competitive." It's encouraging that the eight NBA teams seem to be on the same page with playing games before the start of the 2020-2021 season. This would likely only include younger players, so it would be an interesting opportunity to monitor emerging prospects.
June 6, 2020, 9:20 pmZach LaVineSG, Chicago Bulls
Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun Times reported that the Sixers' assistant coach, Ime Udoka, is the front-runner to be hired as the Bulls' new head coach.
New president Arturas Karnisovas and GM Marc Eversley are looking to part ways with current head coach Jim Boylen. This will likely be a positive for younger players on the Bulls' roster as Boylen seemed to have a disconnect with them. Raptors' assistant coach Adrian Griffin is also in consideration to be the Bulls' coach.
Source: Chicago Sun Times
June 6, 2020, 9:08 pmMeyers LeonardC, Miami Heat
Erik Spoelstra said that Meyers Leonard (sprained left ankle) is "feeling great".
Leonard has been steadily recovering given the extra time off with the season being suspended. It was reported by Sports Illustrated back in April that he would be ready to return when the NBA season resumes and it appears that is still the case with Spoelstra's latest comment. Leonard will be a role player for the Heat with limited minutes, which makes him unreliable for fantasy.
Source: Miami Herald
June 6, 2020, 7:13 pmAl-Farouq AminuPF, Orlando Magic
Al-Farouq Aminu (right torn meniscus), "most likely will not be healthy enough to return," when the season resumes according to the Orlando Sentinel.
Aminu had season-ending surgery in early January and shed his brace in March. There some some speculation he could return due to the extra time off but in an interview this week, Magic president Jeff Weltman didn't give any indication Aminu was close to a return saying, “Not a whole lot of news there. As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab." With Jonathan Isaac in the same boat as Aminu, expect Khem Birch and James Ennis to continue splitting the frontcourt minutes opposite Aaron Gordon.
Source: Orlando Sentinel
June 5, 2020, 10:31 pmKyrie IrvingPG, Brooklyn Nets
According to Adrian Wojnarowski, Kyrie Irving (right shoulder) could conceivably join his Nets' teammates in Orlando when they return to play later this summer, albeit as an inactive player.
There was really never much of a possibility that Irving would return to action in 2019-20 unless the season got pushed back severely. After the arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in late February, the Nets tentatively said they expected to have him back in time for preseason workouts in the fall (which will now likely take place in November or later). That still seems like the likely scenario, even given the long pause the league was forced to undergo. Caris LeVert had shown flashes of brilliance again this season after he returned from injury, so he and Spencer Dinwiddie will evidently be shouldering the ball-handling duties when the Nets take the floor in Orlando.
Source: Adrian Wojnarowksi on Twitter
June 5, 2020, 10:09 pmKevin DurantSF, Brooklyn Nets
Kevin Durant (right Achilles) confirmed on Friday that he will not take the court for the Nets when they return to play in Orlando in late July and early August when they close out the 2019-20 season.
Given the extended pause to the current season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there were many who believed the Nets could plausibly try to bring back both Durant and Kyrie Irving from their respective injuries in order to make a push for a championship later this summer. Evidently, Durant will remain out of the equation for the Nets as they look to close out the season on a high note. "My season is over," Durant said. The Nets currently sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference and will have to maintain that position in order to avoid the planned play-in bracket to decide the eighth seed after the initial eight final "regular season" games. Durant has never seemed likely to play, even with the pandemic disrupting the season, and it seems as though he won't be playing for the Nets in Orlando. Much crazier things have happened, though.
Source: The Undefeated
June 5, 2020, 9:38 pmKelly Oubre Jr.SF, Phoenix Suns
Kelly Oubre Jr. (torn right meniscus) will be able to take the floor for the Suns when the NBA returns to play in Orlando on July 31, the team's owner Robert Sarver said on Friday.
This is phenomenal news for the Suns, as Oubre had really been having a breakout season for the Suns (18.7 PTS, 6.4 REB, 1.5 AST, 1.3 STL, 0.7 BLK and 1.9 threes per game in 34.5 minutes) prior to going down with a torn meniscus in late February. He was originally expected to miss the rest of the 2019-20 season, but due to the pandemic he has recovered and will evidently be fully functional for a team that currently sits in 13th place in the Western Conference. They will have quite the uphill battle to force their way into the playoff field in August, as there will only be eight regular season games played before the playoffs are set.
Source: Arizona Sports
June 5, 2020, 9:22 pmJonathan IsaacPF, Orlando Magic
The President of Basketball Operations for the Magic, Jeff Weltman, said Friday that the team does not expect Jonathan Isaac (left knee) to return when league play resumes, but that they will also be letting his rehab program dictate his timetable.
Isaac has been sidelined since the beginning of January after a serious injury to his left knee.
He was scheduled to be re-evaluated in 8-10 weeks but the impact of the coronavirus has muddled things up with many players, Isaac included. The Magic don't want to risk Isaac's immediate future, as he is under contract for one more season and is eligible for a qualifying offer prior to the 2021-22 season. With the Magic sitting in eighth place in the East and looking a (potential) fight for the right to face Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs as the eighth seed in August, the Magic brass may opt to keep Isaac out until the beginning of next season. That seems likely, at least.
Source: 96.9 The Game on Twitter
June 5, 2020, 5:37 pmKawhi LeonardSF, Los Angeles Clippers
Marc Stein is reporting that the NBPA has agreed to continue negotiations with the league for a 22-team restart to the season.
Stein also noted that not everything is settled at this point, and more items need to be agreed upon before the NBPA is ready to sign and proceed forward with the resumption of games. It sounds like we're still on a path to an agreement, but the NBPA still has a few points to clarify before it is all said and done. Stay tuned.
Source: Marc Stein on Twitter
June 5, 2020, 5:29 pmLeBron JamesSF, Los Angeles Lakers
Shams Charania is reporting that the NBPA informed players that they will be tested on a nightly basis for COVID-19 and a positive test will result in quarantine for a minimum of seven days.
The resumption of play will also include 2-3 preseason games and a bubble of 1600 total people. Players will not have tracking devices on them but they are expected to stay in the bubble for the entire period. Everything is gradually coming together and the schedule for the return to play is becoming more and more clear for all parties.
Source: Shams Charania on Twitter