J Alexander Diaz/Los Angeles Lakers via NBA.com
Dearly beloved, the NBA season is once again upon us, beginning with a doubleheader featuring Celtics/76ers and Lakers/Trail Blazers on TNT Tuesday night. It felt like centuries ago that Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors disposed of the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second NBA Finals sweep of LeBron’s career, and that we all took it with a benign shrug because the sun was corrupted, and the walls were falling in anyway. James Harden, the reigning MVP, lost grip of a 3-2 Western Conference Finals lead that could’ve been his own coronation. People were rioting in the streets over the definition of the word “rookie.” It was anarchy.
You may remember that, once upon a time, many centuries and heartless regimes ago, there was a simple game that giants played involving one round, orange object, two baskets and 94 feet of freedom. It was a simpler time, even though the stats were already advanced.
Below, there will be no “Which NBA team most closely mirrors your favorite airline perk,” or “NBA All-Star candidates-as-Wu Tang Clan affiliates.” Flashy graphics are limited because we spent the entire budget on donating to a GoFundMe for Joakim Noah’s stretch provision. As a small favor to you, I also promise to spend the absolute least time here on the Golden State Warriors, who will almost undoubtedly win the forthcoming NBA championship for the fourth time in five years. So, without further ado, let us basketball.
Elton Brand was last an active NBA player less than two years ago. He put up 4.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 1.1 assists in seventeen games, including one start, with the 2015-’16 Philadelphia 76ers, which won exactly 10 games, only one ahead of the all-time NBA record for fewest victories in an 82-game season, held by the 1972-’73 Sixers. He wasn’t especially good, but neither was anybody else on that team. Shout out to leading scorer, then-rookie and soon-to-be journeyman Jahlil Okafor for throwing up 17.5 points and seven rebounds a night; your efforts were well-regarded in Manayunk, I’m sure.
A native of Peekskill, New York, and well-traveled otherwise via his not-quite-journeyman-like career in the NBA, Brand would qualify as the Wooderson-like guy who has seen some things, if the NBA were a teen sex comedy. Following his retirement, the second and final he would announce, he was immediately appointed to various player development positions within the Sixers organization before, on Tuesday, being announced as Bryan Colangelo’s non-burner account replacement as Philadelphia’s general manager. By bringing in a relative veteran of The Process, this puts the fittingly weird cap on a strange but bountiful summer for a team on the cusp of Eastern Conference pre-eminence.
I found myself in a rather unfamiliar position on Monday night, one with which eggs the world over are, or at least affect being, familiar. I was laughing at the absurdity of something I’d read on the internet and should’ve been upset about, not my preferred state by any means but a go-to coping mechanism for the daily nuisances-cum-societal atrocities which inhabit most of our lives. All this during a mostly delightful World Cup, no less.
After a whirlwind first two days of NBA free agency, the dust seemed to have settled for the night when, like a child inadvertently popping your balloon, Yahoo Sports’ Shams Charania, the next-gen Adrian Wojnarowski, broke the news that broke the camel’s back: free agent center DeMarcus Cousins, a four-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA player late of the New Orleans Pelicans and currently undergoing rehab for a torn Achilles tendon, had signed with the Golden State Warriors for one year at the taxpayer mid-level exception of $5.3 million. All hell hasn’t broken loose; it’s ripped the door off and is eating it out of amusement.
Lonnie Walker, with a fan/Kevin Hagen, AP
There are two incontrovertible truths about the NBA Draft, the 2018 edition of which occurred Thursday night, with which only the most high-minded blowhards and low-minded rubes refuse to agree: one, that it ought to be abolished entirely, allowing incoming rookies to enter a special free agency period before standard free agency; and two, that nobody knows exactly how players are going to pan out upon arrival to the league, all your Tracy McGrady and Darko comparisons be damned.
On the first, many others have pontificated in much better fashion than I could in this space, right now. It would be complicated to implement something like a rookies-only free agency period, particularly with the value of draft picks present and future as they are in the NBA, but it would not be impossible. Perhaps something like ratioed salary cap allowances, in which each draft pick is worth a certain amount of money under the salary cap, or even simply straight cash, homie, could do the trick, but I’ll leave that to those with more money and power than subway rats and their constituents possess.
David Richard/USA Today Sports
One timeout was all that separated the Cleveland Cavaliers from potentially, vitally making this a series. We were so close. We were as close to Heaven as we’ll ever be. But JR Smith had other ideas.
Somewhere between Chris Paul’s hamstring injury in Game 5 and their dubious, NBA playoff-record streak of 27 consecutive missed three-pointers in the second half of Game 7, the Houston Rockets lost the best chance any team was going to have of felling the Golden State Warriors. It was foolish for any of us to doubt them – not that all of us did, mind you, but some did – and now, the team which stands to define a generation sits four wins away from its second straight title and third championship in four years.
The proposition was always thus: beat the Warriors, a team with four current All-Stars, five probably Hall of Famers and a wealth of role players to fill in the gaps, four times in seven tries. Even after the Rockets won 65 games, grabbing the top seed and home court advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, it was never a real possibility that Golden State would lose until and unless such a catastrophe actually happened.
After going down 3-2 and entering halftime of both Games 6 and 7 down by double-digits, Golden State calmly and mechanically worked its way back, outscoring Houston 64-25 and 58-38 over each game’s second half, respectively. As always, the Warriors were able to turn to all of their other stars if one didn’t shine so brightly. That didn’t turn out to be a problem.