With Lebron James’ Lakers eliminated from the playoffs, maybe now the national media will stop giving them so much attention. Who are we kidding, they’ll still be talking about Lebron’s leadership, Luke Walton’s future, and Anthony Davis all throughout the playoffs. But not here. Here we’re going to talk about four NBA story-lines that have nothing to do with the Lakers. This article has been composed from recent NBA news and trends. The stories are about playoff implications, revenge, recent injuries, surprise achievers, and more.
Dwayne Casey’s Revenge
The Toronto Raptors hold the 2 seed in the East and the Detroit Pistons are a half-game ahead of the Brooklyn Nets for the 6th seed. Why is this significant? The Toronto Raptors fired current Detroit Head Coach Dwayne Casey last season. He went on to win Coach of the Year without having a job.
Want some more excitement? The Pistons swept their season series with the Raptors 3-0. Granted, Kawhi Leonard missed one of those games and Kyle Lowry missed one of the others. Regardless, the Pistons won every game and Dwayne Casey has relished every moment of those victories.
Shall we add a little more? It is widely believed that the Raptors would need to make a real run in the playoffs to convince Kawhi Leonard to stay in free agency. Toronto traded beloved star Demar DeRozan for him and it would cost some jobs if it didn’t work out. If these two teams met in the first round of the playoffs, Dwayne Casey could get the last laugh on his old team with an upset and subsequently killing their chances of keeping Kawhi. Speaking of last laughs, let’s talk about Brooklyn.
DISCLAIMER: At the time this article is being written the Boston Celtics hold the 4 seed and the Nets hold the 7 seed. It is unlikely they would meet in the first round of the playoffs but we can dream, can’t we?
What is about to follow is my biggest fantasy in the NBA (besides a certain hometown team and certain Greek God delivering a championship). Everyone has heard about the ‘disaster’ trade Brooklyn made years ago with the Celtics. Yes, it slaughtered their future. No, it did not drastically improve their past. It has now been about five years since the trade. It is still widely talked about. This is for good reason, as the current roster wouldn’t look the same without the trade. Boston used the picks it got from Brooklyn to select Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, two of the most promising young players in the game.
It also used those assets to acquire Kyrie Irving, one of the best point guards in the game. Frankly, though, I’m sick of hearing about it. How sweet would it be if Brooklyn got some revenge?
Here’s how I picture it. The massively underperforming Celtics meet the overachieving Nets in the first or second round of the playoffs. The Celtics and Nets were 1-1 on the season and played their last game against each other on Saturday with the Nets taking the win.
Boston is in a similar situation like Toronto where it needs to convince Kyrie to stay. If Brooklyn beats them (or anyone does) in the first round, Kyrie is gone. Bet on it. The Celtics would be much less likely to trade tons of assets for Anthony Davis without Kyrie to play with him. So Brooklyn would effectively be cleaning up its own mess with erasing Boston’s endgame in using ‘that’ trade’s resources. It would be the sweetest poetic justice I can think of.
Enes Kanter Time?
If you didn’t know, Jusuf Nurkic suffered the NBA’s (seemingly) annual horrifying injury. Needless to say, he will be missing the rest of the season. It’s a shame too, as he was averaging career highs across the board. But this makes the signing of Enes Kanter off the buyout market that much more important.
Kanter actually has a little bit of history with the Blazers. After he was traded from the Jazz to Oklahoma, Portland actually signed him to a Restricted Free agent offer sheet. The Thunder ended up matching the contract, so he remained there. Since then he was traded to New York and bought out this season. There are obvious gaps in Kanter’s game. He’s too slow and doesn’t care much for defense. But he does have the ability to dominate a game.
The last time Kanter was receiving starter minutes for a team he averaged 14 ppg and 11 rpg. He had a slew of 20 and 10 games last season. Kanter could pick up where Nurkic left off, especially with a coach like Terry Stotts, and he’s done well so far. Look for him to play a large role in Portland’s playoff success.
New Orleans’ Collection of Outcasts
Man, New Orleans has been tough to watch this year. Between Anthony Davis playing half games (if he’s playing at all) and the team purposely tanking, I wouldn’t blame you for not even glancing in their direction. But the Pelicans have quietly collected a number of players that were cast out by other teams that have been overachieving this season.
Julius Randle never lived up to the billing of a top 10 pick in Los Angeles. He would show flashes of being a point forward with some around the rim offensive potential, but they were just flashes. All too often he would bring the ball up too quickly and turn it over. He also never developed any touch from outside the paint.
This season is different, however. Per game, he is averaging 21.3 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists. He is also shooting a respectable 33% from three. He has a Player Option for around $9 million for next year. He’s going to decline it. He’s only 24. Look for him to get paid this offseason.
Elfrid Payton actually went three spots (#10) later than Randle in the same draft. He too, did not live up to the billing of a top ten pick in Orlando (who does though?). Payton signed a one year, $3 million dollar contract with the Pelicans last offseason. He is now averaging (per game) 10.5 points, 7.4 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals.
He’s also shooting 34.5% from three, which was the biggest complaint about his game in Orlando (maybe second to his haircut). Most recently, he recorded six straight triple doubles. It turns out he may be a stud. He’s just 25. I don’t think he gets as paid as Randle (the league is living in a point guard surplus) but certain teams will pony up for his services.
Lastly, I want to talk about Christian Wood. This one hurts. Wood was waived by the Milwaukee Bucks after bouncing up and down the G League for most of the season. Wood dominated the G league, averaging 29.3 points, 14.1 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 2.2 blocks.
It was thought that he could be a legit NBA player but the Bucks had simply too many forwards to play him considerable minutes. So the Bucks waived him for a point guard they don’t play even with four guards shelved. The Pelicans smartly snatched him up. In the first game that he got considerable minutes in the NBA (31 minutes) he scored 23 points with 9 rebounds. He’s a real NBA player. And he’s 23. His small sample size means he won’t get paid but someone smart will be giving him a contract.
NOTE: Jahlil Okafor was considered for this but his per game stats are meh and the other players I mentioned have been better or more interesting. It seems, though, that there may be a place for Big Jah in the league after all.
Those are the four NBA story lines that interest me the most lately. Everyone is going to cover playoff runs, award races, and (of course) Lebron James. Why not focus on the other stuff for a little bit?