- As we enter the dead of the NBA off-season, Andrew Sharp and Jeremy Woo take a look back at the summer that was and discuss NBA topics.
The biggest NBA news of the week was a trade between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets for the rights to Joffrey Lauvergne, a sign that the league is in the depths of its off-season. But that doesn't mean we've stopped thinking about basketball. To pass the time, Andrew Sharp and Jeremy Woo traded e-mails reviewing free agency, the Olympics, and more.
1. OK, we've had nearly two months to process Durant to the Warriors. How did you feel at the time? Has it changed? How long will it be before this feels normal?
Jeremy Woo: I don’t know if it’s just the numbing effect of staring at the Internet every day or what, but I still don’t have a great Kevin Durant opinion. Is that acceptable? I guess my first reaction was mostly surprise. It was heavily padded by trying to process the Bulls signing Rajon Rondo, which felt like codeine being injected directly into my temples. I recall scanning that Players’ Tribune essay looking for a team name, and then I may have blacked out.
I actually think this is going to get real pretty quickly, because we’re going to be completely oversaturated with awful Warriors takes for nine straight months and have no choice but to accept the state of things. Golden State is going to score a ton of points. The defense probably won’t be as good. After that bad Finals defeat and with a long season ahead, I don’t think this is a recipe for 73 wins again. They just need to pace themselves and get it right in June this time.
Really, the hardest part of all of this is wrapping my head around what the Warriors are really going to look like, and I don’t feel like staring directly into the sun for another month.
2. So yeah, the Durant thing is still a little weird. It was a very Black Mirror kind of off-season. Rank the following items in order of shock value: 1) KD in a Warriors uniform, 2) Derrick Rose in a Knicks uniform, 3) Dwyane Wade in a Bulls uniform, 4) Kobe Bryant in a suit, 5) Tim Duncan in a XXL white Gap T-Shirt and cargo jorts.
Andrew Sharp: We need Duncan to get a job in the Spurs front office, because we need every Spurs game to cut away to him sprawled out in a luxury box in a massive pair of jorts. With Kobe, he's been wearing $3,000 suits forever, so nothing about that will be weird—nowhere near the infamous LA Times photoshoot or his not-infamous-enough throwback jersey phase.
With Rose and Wade, that won't be all that strange to me, because we've processed stuff like this in the past. Wade is in his "Joe Montana on the Chiefs" or "Emmitt Smith on the Cardinals" phase. Rose on the Knicks probably represents the sobering nadir of his fall from grace, like Penny Hardaway on the Knicks, or Steve Francis on the Knicks, or Tracy McGrady on the Knicks.
We're used to mentally separating these eras from the "real" memories of players like this. It'll be weird, but it's part of a familiar cycle.
Durant on the Warriors is a different category. I just... There is no precedent. This was the biggest star of the biggest threat to the best team, and now he's just added to their roster out of nowhere. I know we all know this, but it seems like the initial wave of takes and counter-takes and counters to the counter-takes may have distracted us from appreciating the baseline insanity. Weren't he and Westbrook making fun of Stephen Curry's defense like five minutes ago? How did this happen? October will be weird.
3. Let's talk about the guys who didn't move. Looking at the NBA right now, give me the player from this group who is most likely to be traded in the next 12 months: Blake Griffin, Jimmy Butler, Russell Westbrook, DeMarcus Cousins, Carmelo Anthony.
Woo: This is tricky. These all feel like off-season moves more than deadline moves, because the teams involved are either trying to contend, pretending to try to contend, or the Sacramento Kings. So I guess Boogie, by process of elimination. I think Westbrook is a safe enough bet to stay in one place after how well the whole not-leaving-OKC thing has gone for him.
I kind of doubt Blake gets traded because Doc Rivers is too stubborn, and it’s not much of a secret that Griffin is the fragile thread keeping this Clippers iteration together. If Blake walks, Chris Paul is definitely walking, DeAndre Jordan might walk anyway, and if they leave, I don’t think Doc has the patience to lead a rebuild. If he convinces Blake to stay, or if he thinks Blake might stay, or if he’s concocting a new plan to trap Griffin in Santa Monica against his will on the eve of July 1, 2017, then I think the Clippers hold.
Butler came this close to getting traded on draft night and may have been my pick a month ago. I still don’t think the Bulls have any idea if they’re rebuilding or not. There’s some obvious stealth-tank potential for them this season. There’s a scenario where things go awry, Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade leave as free agents, and with the cupboard already bare, the Bulls make a deal in June or July. Any Melo trade scenario is probably similar: the Knicks have to suck enough that he finally smells smoke and does what he probably should have done two summers ago.
But anyway, Boogie Cousins. Sacramento has been a flaming crater of frustration ever since he landed there years ago. We can keep watching the Kings pretend to be a happy family, but at this point, there’s incentive for both sides to cut their continued losses and move on. Thing is, you have to think that if the Kings had received the right offer by now, this would have already happened. The market may not be booming. I’m going to keep holding out for someone to break the bank for Boogie, and yet I won’t be shocked if Vivek Ranadive and Vlade Divac never make a move and he just walks in two years. Was this whole thing unnecessarily circuitous?
4. Speaking of Boogie... You were in Rio, and we all saw how well those guys all got along off the court. DeAndre Jordan probably smiled more than he did the entire 2015–16 season. Call it now: What’s the most unlikely (or unholy) on-court alliance that could potentially spring from the Olympic team?
Sharp: Hmmmmm. No two players were closer than DeAndre Jordan and Durant, but they've been that way for years. Everyone loved 'Melo. Jimmy Butler was popular, too—my favorite moment of the trip came during one practice when he and Cousins were debating how many syllables were in the word "legendary" (Boogie was adamant that that it was two—LEGEN-DARY. If you're accent is country enough, I think this is correct).
Anyway, if the question is unholy alliance, the pair that jumps out is Draymond Green and Boogie. It seems like they bonded early on, and both were complimenting each other throughout the two weeks in Rio. In other words, after the Warriors win two titles and set all-time records for threes the next two years, they will sign Boogie to play next to Draymond, and also set the all-time record for technicals. When this happens, remember Rio.
Bonus question: What was (were) the rarest basketball jersey(s) you saw in Rio?
Sharp: OK, so the whole time, Chris Chavez and I kept track of various jerseys we saw throughout the Olympic park, and I assume that's why you asked. Beyond the smattering of Carmelo and LeBron James and Manu Argentina jerseys at every game, a few others we saw:
• Bismack Biyombo, Raptors
• Reggie Miller, Pacers
• Jordan, Bulls (bootleg, with orange-ish coloring)
• Magic Johnson, Lakers
• Ben Simmons, Sixers
• Scottie Pippen, Bulls
• Patrick Ewing, Knicks
• Monta Ellis, Warriors
• A Spurs jersey for someone named "Felipe" (possibly a customized tribute to Felipe Lopez?)
• Joe Dumars, Pistons
• Allen Iverson, Grizzlies (this was our winner. I'm not even sure you can find one of these in America.)
One other story: At one point Chavez met a Lithuanian guy at a track event and, braindead from exhaustion, he said, "You're from Lithuania? You guys must love Kristaps Porzingis."
Lithuanian: "Uh, no. That's Latvia."
Lithuanian: "But we love Kristaps Porzingis."
5. Back to America now. Rookie Media Day was last week. Do you have a favorite rookie yet? Who's in the mix so far?
Woo: The correct answer to this question is Guerschon Yabusele, but he’s playing in China this season, for some reason. Boston could have at least stuck in him Spain, right? This raises a lot of red flags I’m extremely uncomfortable with and refuse to acknowledge further. We can circle back with Guerschon in a year.
For now, the heartfelt answer is definitely Tyler Ulis, even though he’s totally going to get buried behind the eleven other Kentucky guards on the Suns roster. I saw Tyler play for the first time in the summer of 2013, when he was only like 5’6” and Illinois-Chicago was his one scholarship offer. Things changed quickly. Everyone should be rooting for Ulis to stick in the league.
I really don’t know how fair a shake Ulis is going to get in Phoenix, although it helps that he’s Devin Booker’s best friend. I plan to enjoy my OG Ulis fandom for the next decade while also growing an ironic mustache, drinking cold brew by the gallon on these Brooklyn streets and hopefully paying off my college loans. Honorable mention goes to Thon Maker, who is the only athlete who's ever left a crowded room so we could hear each other better over the phone during an interview. Shoutout Thon.
6. Not to get too morbid here, but how concerned should we be about the possibility of a lockout? Nobody’s talking about it, and there’s not much incentive for owners or players to not make tons of money, but there are definitely some sticking points that have to be figured out.
Sharp: This is tricky because we shouldn't jinx anything. That said... [knocks on wood] I think there will definitely be a new CBA, and there may also be a lockout, but I'd be amazed if the NBA misses any games. The players association and the owners both have reasons to renegotiate after the past few years, and with Adam Silver and Michele Roberts at the center of this, you have two shrewd, incredibly thorough leaders who will look for every advantage they can find to improve their side of the deal.
Meanwhile, the unproductive cap smoothing discussions could be an indication that we're headed for a lockout as both sides dig in and look to prove their mettle (this will be the first CBA for both Silver and Roberts). Still, the "shrewd leader" factor helps here. Both Silver and Roberts are smart enough to pore over the cracks in the existing deal, but they are also smart enough to realize how well-positioned the NBA is right now, and likely too smart to risk jeopardizing the business by missing any actual games. Here's hoping. [knocks on wood again]
7. One question for next season: You wrote a great piece about Jabari Parker after All-Star Weekend last year. How do you feel about the Bucks right now? What's the realistic goal for Jabari and Giannis Antetokounmpo? What happens if things don't work this year?
Woo: First of all, thanks for the flattery. Milwaukee is extremely tough to peg right now, because it seems like almost everyone in the East is trying this season. That roster composition is a bit of a mess. As much as point Giannis worked last year, I still think it’s better suited as a change of pace thing. Part of that is because you can see him totally devouring bench lineups, and part of that is because of Jabari.
This doesn’t mean it won’t or can’t work. That’s because all the stuff about Jabari being a great teammate and person is completely true. He Paul Pierced his way into a floating baseline role last year and did exceptionally well—just not that many people paid attention. And he’s capable of way more. The thing to watch for with the Bucks is how his role expands this year, and how that affects Giannis. It will take some sacrifice from the whole team for this to happen. I think Jabari’s usage will increase and won’t be shocked if he leads the team in scoring. I can feel a leap coming.
They’re also both still so young. I don’t think things have to be perfect for the Bucks right this second. Making the playoffs and almost beating the Bulls two years ago might have been the worst possible thing for them in terms of unfair expectations. Even if they don’t make a ton of noise, watch for the flashes and hope that front office stays patient. I hope we get to watch this happen before anyone makes any drastic calls.
8. Give me your tea-leaf reading of the John Wall/Bradley Beal feud. What rumors are you buying? Can Scott Brooks patch this up? Are the stars crossed in D.C.? As a fan, is it better or worse that this has gone totally public?
Sharp: It's been pretty funny this summer: Every time anyone around the NBA has mentioned that the spike in salaries could frustrate stars who were already under contract, without fail, the first person they mention is John Wall. And, lo and behold! Next thing you know John Wall is in an alley telling the world he's not worried about other people's money. Go Wizards.
As a fan, though, that initial interview wasn't quite as dramatic as it seemed. It just confirmed that John Wall is human. Why shouldn't he be side-eyeing all of this? He's making $40 million less than Beal, a player who's never been to an All-Star Game, may have a minutes limit for the rest of his career, and started less than half of the games last season—while Wall played the entire year, led the team in scoring, assists, and minutes, and was rewarded with bone spur surgery from which he's spent all summer recovering. All of these were known issues before things went public, so I'm not any more concerned a week later.
Big picture: The future of the roster depends on whether Beal can stay on the court. If he can play 70-75 games, he's a better version of C.J. McCollum, and the Wiz will be in good shape. I'm already talking myself into Scott Brooks and you can't stop me. Of course, if Beal can't stay healthy? Then the Wizards are paying $127 million to the new Eric Gordon as a franchise cornerstone. In that scenario... they are totally and completely screwed, and we can begin a campaign to Free John Wall.
Now let's say a prayer for Brad Beal's bone density, and finish on a lighter note.
9. Compare your own summer to an NBA off-season: Low-key and uneventful (Clippers), full of reckless spending (Blazers), borderline indefensible (Bulls), wandering the wilderness looking to be loved (Dion Waiters), or someone else?
Woo: I stayed inside a lot, tried to spend beneath the salary cap, made some very half-assed decisions and ended up roughly where I was one year ago. So, uh, I’m the Nets.
10. I’m gonna throw that last one back at you, because we should all have the opportunity to publicly self-identify as the Kings if we want to. What team describes your summer?
Sharp: It was pretty chaotic. Lots of work travel. Several weddings. Two bachelor parties. I stupidly scheduled a vacation during the Durant sweepstakes. And in the middle of all this, I've been planning a wedding of my own, which happens next week. Plus, the Olympics. I’m not sure I would ever do all this again, but now that I’m on the other side, I’ve never felt more alive.
My summer was the Sixers.