It all feels pretty much normal now, doesn’t it? It’s the first week of May, and we have: LeBron treating the Air Canada Centre like a rental property; the Warriors strutting out to a 2-0 series lead over New Orleans, thanks in part to the return of Steph Curry and despite the ongoing dominance of Anthony Davis; the Wizards watching from home by the second round; and the Rockets having decimated the league’s best defensive team of the second half of the season (and subsequently falling in Game 2, calling into question Houston’s bona fides).
By most accounts, even after one of the most exciting first rounds in recent NBA playoff memory, everything is pretty much going according to plan. Everything, that is, except for the other Eastern Conference Semifinal, featuring two young-ish teams boasting a wealth of talent and assets. It wouldn’t have been totally unreasonable to expect either the Philadelphia 76ers or the Boston Celtics to be in their current positions, but to have done it like this, each in their own, singular ways, is as impressive as it is foreboding.
“I am Toronto.”
With these three words, and a reported $139 million, Compton native and All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan took his seat at the table of the NBA’s leader in latitude, the modern king of the midrange having found comfort in an uneasy Eastern Conference all the more unsettled by the various fluctuations that the summer of 2016 carried with it. DeRozan’s empathy for the frozen North made for great newspaper fodder, but it did not alleviate the worry that fans of his team, the Toronto Raptors, had at the time concerning their franchise’s future.
As has become the standard, that relief would arrive the following summer, when All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry inked his own $100 million deal to stay in Canada. Along with DeRozan, Lowry represents Toronto’s best chance at viability in an Eastern Conference long dominated by LeBron James’ regular season malaise giving way to humdrum playoff dominance. By seizing control of the #1 seed in the East, along with several high-profile wins, including those against Houston, Cleveland and a back-to-back drubbing of dark horse Process favorites the Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto has edged its way into something like favorability, edged on by a modernistic offense and an ability to rise to the occasion.
Akrotiri Thera Fresco, c. sixteenth century BCE
Likely dating back to the first interaction between civilizations of Homo sapiens from different geographic origins, the trade system is both as simple and complex as one wants it to be. An entity has something; another entity has another thing; each one wants what the other has, giving up as little as possible in order to gain it. With the exception of a few law-making scandals here and some ethical creativity there, that is all trade has ever been, whether it be Mycenaeans utilizing the Danube River, or your possibly drug-addled stockbroker gambling your retirement on the latest cryptocurrency.
Though the exchange of humans themselves largely, mercifully went out of fashion over the past two centuries, it remains a compelling means of business in the public arena of professional sports. We watch the games for a variety of reasons, but in the age of social media, reaction has become nearly as important as action. A team wins, and another loses. The former has to maintain its formula, while the latter has to figure out an antidote.
For the Oklahoma City Thunder, Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign was the coldest consolation prize for the first season since moving from Seattle spent without Kevin Durant. To paraphrase ESPN staff writer Royce Young, as eye-poppingly ostentatious as it was, for the Thunder to succeed with him, Westbrook’s 2016-’17 season can never happen again. The Monolith needed help, and on Tuesday, that help officially arrived.
Wake up, wake up wake up wake upppppp! Break out your favorite Starter jacket from the ’90s and saddle up, because the NBA is back tonight. Three games usher us out of the humdrum summer and firmly into fall, where all of our favorite professional basketball players await to push the bounds of reality beyond any of our preconceived notions.
The reigning champion Cleveland Cavaliers welcome the not-reigning-anything New York Knicks to Cleveland, suddenly the epicenter of North American professional sports, where Carmelo Anthony will get to watch the likes of J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert receive their championship rings. Afterward, the re-tooled and reloaded Golden State Warriors host a Tim Duncan-less San Antonio Spurs while the Utah Jazz visit Portland. With one eye on the proverbial jump ball and another drifting ever so slowly toward the Larry O’Brien Trophy, we take a moment – just one, lest we think too hard about the Bulls – for a thought on each team. As always, best of luck to everyone, especially anyone in a contract year. May you swindle a billionaire out of a few million.
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images
Last Thursday, the NBA’s trade deadline came in like, if not necessarily a lion, then a tiger cub exploring wilderness without its mother for the first time, but it went out like Dwight Howard – generally functional, marginally compelling, much more infuriating and with its movers likely coming away with the impression that they are all champions, no matter what.
While arguably the biggest move of the day involved Orlando sending Tobias Harris to the Pistons for Brandon Jennings and Ersan Ilyasova and was more or less functionally about basketball, a number of less-heralded moves seemed to speak to the cultures of the teams involved: Cleveland traded for Channing Frye to hedge against Kevin Love questions, Oklahoma City nabbed Randy Foye as a more stable proxy for Dion Waiters in the backcourt and the disappointing Wizards ended up with the annoyed Markieff Morris. None of these says “cultural fit” so much as it does “cultural change,” but sometimes in the NBA, as in life, a move is good for the soul.
Wake up, dust off your finest Jordans, throw on a pair of sunglasses and tell the world to deal with it, because the NBA is finally back on your television tonight. Three games featuring five playoff teams from a year ago, including the defending champion Golden State Warriors, return us to the hardwood. So much has transpired this offseason, it can be easy to get caught up in it. Such is life in the 24/7/365 NBA, if you allow it to be.
We can only say and think so much about basketball, however, without there being any games. Before the first tip-off of the season (Cavs/Bulls or, if you prefer, Hawks/Pistons, tonight at 8 pm), let’s spare a thought – not necessarily a prediction, though there will be more than a fair share of those – to each franchise, in alphabetical order. Some of them may be painfully obvious or extremely misguided, because I guess I don’t think about the Minnesota Timberwolves nearly enough. Anyway, best of luck to the following teams, especially the Knicks. Those dudes are gonna need it.
The NBA announced its All-Star starters this week, with a certain pair of Spanish hermanos at the forefront. Interestingly but not surprisingly, Steph Curry beat out LeBron James and Anthony Davis as the highest vote-getter, and the Eastern Conference has an entirely new backcourt for the first time since 2000. Elsewhere, Kobe Bryant, destroyer of efficiency ratings, has become Kobe Bryant, destroyer of his own rotator cuff, and LaMarcus Aldridge’s injury has the Blazers reeling.
Jennifer Stewart – USA Today Sports
Potential realized is one of the most satisfying aspects of watching sports. It’s the reason we have embraced Peyton Manning as a national treasure and also why Derrick Rose could end up being the inspiration for a Greek tragedy. What we have seen from DeMarcus Cousins this season already far surpasses the monumental steps he has taken each year since his days at Kentucky, and the Sacramento Kings are a delightful surprise as one of the best teams in the West coming out of the gate. Elsewhere, history repeats itself for LeBron James, and watching Rajon Rondo is always fun – always.
Now that we’ve undoubtedly relinquished our New Year’s resolutions to the pain of reality, we can return to the one constant in this twisted life: J.R. Smith is a raging lunatic. The NBA’s most notorious night owl has been benched, and the Knicks have subsequently begun winning with much more frequency than we saw in the 2013 portion of this season. Elsewhere, the maniacal genius Rajon Rondo has hinted at a possible return to the court on Friday night, and the Eastern Conference has a fourth viable team that is playing over .500 basketball – an excellent defensive squad in the Atlantic Division, of all places, which is where we turn our attention this week.
As we inch closer toward 2014, we see some light in a dark, injury-filled NBA winter. This is Damian’s world, and we’re all just living in it. Blazers gonna blaze. Meanwhile, Ray Allen has made the right choice, as he has been wont to do throughout his career. Also, Omer Asik is about to make some fantasy owners, and one actual owner, very happy.