It would be difficult to talk about the current state of the NBA without talking about Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets, a team many thought would have a rebound season with a healthier roster, have been in the news for all the wrong reasons: They parted ways with their head coach Steve Nash after a 2-5 start to the season; they suspended Irving for “failure to reject anti-Semitism”; and their number one goal to replace Nash is Ime Udoka serves a season-long suspension for an improper relationship with a Boston Celtics employee.
This week our panel of NBA reporters – Rick Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman – looked back at how the Nets had dealt with their PR nightmare and previewed what to expect in the coming weeks.
They also discussed the biggest storylines elsewhere in the NBA and, more importantly, on the court.
1. Have the networks done enough to punish Kyrie Irving? Why or why not?
Weitzman: To be honest, I’m so exhausted by this whole thing that I can’t think about Irving’s anti-Semitism anymore. I wrote quite a bit here that covers my thoughts and feelings. Short version: The Nets waited too long and let Irving get away with too much. but Your testimony The announcement of his suspension was great. So I give this to them.
Books: Not even the Nets are sure. That’s why they left it open – it’s five games, but the hint is that it could be more. What is the problem. All of this feels reactionary to public sentiment, not a team taking action to curb inappropriate behavior. I can’t help but think the Nets will decide if five games is enough depending on whether the world is ready to see Irving back on a basketball court.
Rohlin: I agree that the networks have waited too long. But I also commend them for finally taking a stand. It’s no coincidence that Irving immediately apologized on Instagram. It will be interesting to hear what Irving says during his next press conference. So far he has been uncompromising, defensive and dismissive. I guess the nets need to see his demeanor and tone of voice change dramatically in private before we see him publicly.
Kyrie Irving apologizes after suspension
The Brooklyn Nets suspended Kyrie Irving without pay for failing to “state unequivocally that he has no anti-Semitic beliefs.”
2. Is there a world where the Nets would thrive without Kyrie Irving?
Weitzman: They are just 2-6; they were not successful with him either. Goodbye forever.
Books: In the next five games? On paper? Secure. They are currently playing against a team with a track record, the 4-3 Mavs. They’re on the road for five of the games, giving them a chance to circle their floats and help each other get past them if they feel like it. But they haven’t shown any signs of solidarity so far this season and their troubles stretch well beyond Irving, particularly where the expectations are. They are currently considered the worst defensive team in the league. Half the roster has worse defensive stats than Irving, and it’s not because he plays defense – his rating is by far the worst of his career as a non-defender. Irving is a mess. So the nets are collective.
Rohlin: No team has had as much drama as the Nets. So far this season Steve Nash has been fired, Kyrie Irving has encouraged anti-Semitism and Ben Simmons has been injured. At the moment this team is broken. I don’t see them changing things any time soon.
3. Can do that sixes keep your head above water James Harden out?
Weitzman: I think Harden missing a month will kill their chances of finishing with the top seed in the conference, something I thought they would be capable of entering the season. But they still have Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey is looking great and the defense is getting better and better. They will be fine.
Books: If the waterline is .500, their heads are not over it now. I actually think they could get better if they focused more on Joel Embiid like they were last year before Harden came on board. Also, their problems revolve around defense and – *check my notes* – Harden has never been a defensive pivot. The biggest issue will be Harden’s reintegration after a month without him.
Rohlin: Embiid kept the team afloat last season without Ben Simmons. He’s able to do the same while Harden isn’t around. He needs to get the team back on his shoulders until Harden returns. The biggest issue here is that Embiid and Harden will experience a major lag in building much-needed chemistry and continuing to learn each other’s games, which could slow the team’s progress across the board.
4. Buy or sell Russell Westbrooks Production from the bank? Why or why not?
Weitzman: Neither? Both. I think we can all agree that a bench role is what Westbrook is best suited for at this point in his career. Let him come in, shove the ball in the open ground, get some simple buckets, yada yada. But this Lakers team is utterly broken and flawed, and it doesn’t matter if Westbrook comes off the bench or starts — as long as they’re shooting from deep under 27 percent, they don’t stand a chance at anything.
Books: Definitely buying this mini resurgence. It allows Westbrook to play a fairly basic role he’s familiar with – P&R ball handler with a big roll to the rim. Westbrook has always been best with the ball in hand and either/or options A or B: shoot or dish/lob my big man. He’s a tough 2v2 player. A full-fledged 5v5 ground general à la Chris Paul? Not his forte. Figuring out how to play effectively against or with LeBron, and to a lesser extent Anthony Davis, is just too complicated. I’ve been told by someone who has worked closely with him in the past that the key to getting the best out of Russ is to be clear about what you want from him. Don’t ask him what he’d like to do – it makes him nervous because he assumes you don’t really know what’s best for him or the team. He may not love the role, but he will play it to the best of his ability.
Rohlin: It was the best move Lakers coach Darvin Ham could have made. Westbrook looks so much more comfortable in his new role. His game has opened up, he’s more aggressive and plays with a lot more joy than we’ve seen since he joined the team. After swallowing his pride and accepting that he wouldn’t start, Westbrook felt a newfound ease – and his on-pitch production has greatly improved. In the last two games he is +18.
Lakers win second straight win with Russell Westbrook off the bench
Colin Cowherd commends the Lakers for adjusting despite a narrow win over an exhausted Pelicans team.
5. Which young star has made the biggest leap this season?
Weitzman: How about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s playing so well the Oklahoma City Thunder have to come to terms with an injury to get him off the floor so they can’t win games anymore. The tanking Thunder currently stands at 4-4. They won so many games because Gilgeous-Alexander was unstoppable. He averages 32.3 (!) points, plus 6.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He shoots a ridiculous 54.5 percent from the field. It feels like he’s been around forever, but Gilgeous-Alexander is still only 24 years old. He’s proving himself to be someone who can take the Thunder to the next level – once management decides it’s ready to turn around and actually try to win games.
Books: SGA is a good choice. Do we count Lauri Markkanen as young? If so, that’s my choice. He’s the Jazz’s top scorer and plays with an aggression we’ve never seen him outside of a Finland national team jersey. He has 20 dunks in nine games — the most he’s ever had in a season before that was his rookie year, 63 in 68 games. That’s just a reflection of how assertive he was.
Rohlin: Does Giannis Antetokounmpo count as a young star? If so, I will go with him. He’s been nothing short of spectacular that season, leading the Bucks to their only undefeated record (7-0) in the league. He had the highest scoring of his career in the last four games, averaging 33.6 points and 12.7 rebounds per game. If he continues to play at this level you can expect to see him on TV in June.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.
Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
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