The Nets, “Community,” and the darkest timeline

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In the Community (Thursdays this…. sometime in the coming months… on NBC!) episode “Remedial Chaos Theory,” the writers took the ol’ alternate timeline theory and spread it out like a Nuggets fast break. The concept is simple. The cast of man characters are at an apartment, sitting around a table. The door buzzer buzzes with the arrival of the pizza guy. Someone has to go all the way downstairs to get it. The main character, Jeff, rolls a die to determine who will go get the pizza. Abed, the so-meta-it-hurts character who is constantly referring to how the characters are interacting in a show, comments that Jeff has now created six alternate universes (there’s actually seven, since Jeff is purposefully excluding himself by rolling the die). The rest of the show goes through what happens in those six varying timelines.

Observe:

Now some things happen in almost every timeline (Britta trying to sing “Roxeanne” and getting shut down by Jeff, Jeff getting injured, etc.) because some things are inevitable, but the branching system of scenarios speaks to the consequence of both decision and random, unstoppable luck.

And this is a lot like what is happening with the New Jersey Nets at the moment.

There are two ways of looking at this. Either they already rolled the die, so to speak, prior the season, in not acquiring Dwight Howard before the Magic took him off the market (or “off the market” if you’re into that kind of thing), or they’re facing rolling the die this season with whether they can get him at the deadline or not.

If the die has already been cast, this is, in fact, the darkest timeline.

Brook Lopez? Broke his foot. Kris Humphries? Shoulder injury. Deron Williams? Can’t shoot, and looks like he’s just about checked out… five games in. The rest of the roster? Abject disaster. They won their opener against Washington, after being down 21. That should have been a sign right there, and says more about the Wizards than the Nets. Since then it’s been a steady string of beatdowns.

And that’s how insane all of this can be, with the way teams can shift dramatically within the course of a matter of days following a decision. This is one of the few elements of the NBA that are actually a reflection of real life, where similarly any decision you make can impact the next and the next. In essence, a butterfly flaps its wings and the Nets lose Deron Williams after having traded the farm for him.

Let’s explore some possibilities.

Reality 1: The Nets neglected to trade for Howard when they had a chance, and now that Lopez is injured leading to a deep hole for them to dig out of and more wear and tear for Williams handling the load along with the short-term injury to Humphries, the result is Howard becoming turned off by the prospect of the Nets and not approving a trade there. He either departs in free agency or via trade to Los Angeles or Dallas. The result? The Nets are crushed beyond all reason and are somehow left with an even worse team than they had the year they were epic bad back in 2009. It was an inherent risk when trading for Williams before he sought out the Nets, essentially gambling that you could build around Williams, then striking out on the big name addition.

Reality 2: The Nets pulled in a third team back in mid-December and the result is Deron Williams and Dwight Howard anchoring a new Nets team. With just those two and a pile of bones, the Nets are able to make a steamy delicious basketball stew going into their first year in Brooklyn. This is obviously not our reality.

Reality 3: King is somehow able to pull of such a trade between now and the deadline. Nets fans have reminded me approximately 700 times that King loves to involve three and four teams in a trade, somehow never commenting on the fact that very rarely has he been established as the winner in such a trade. But let’s say he’s able to. From there the question is whether just Deron Williams and Howard, along with either Humphries or Marshon Brooks (it’s assumed one or both would have to be moved in any deal), along with likely Hedo Turkoglu (who’s actually playing surprisingly well this season) is enough to make a foundation to convince Williams and Howard to stay. Let’s say it does. The Nets become perennial contenders with Howard and Williams, though facing the same struggles as the Knicks in regards to building a team around the two guys with little else (again, besides Humphries or Brooks, and potentially Anthony Morrow if they hang on to him).

Reality 4: The same as the above happens but the half-season run ends with the Nets narrowly missing the playoffs, Howard decides he hates the cold and he and Williams both book it in free agent, leaving millions and millions of dollars on the table. (Nets fans call this “the impossible nightmare” due to the money they would have to surrender.) The Nets in this scenario lose everything they gave up in the Utah deal (picks, Derrick Favors, Devin Harris), and whatever they give up in the Howard trade (picks, Lopez, and having to take on Turkoglu’s salary) and wind up with nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. They have all the cap room in the world but will have struck out on the following players in free agency or trade talks: Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Carlos Boozer, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams, Dwight Howard.  At that point you’re running out of All-Stars to try and buy yourself. This is, in fact, “the darkest timeline.” And the monkey probably steals King’s pen.

Reality 5: The Nets suddenly turn things around. Williams get healthy and back in form, and puts together an MVP season. Alongside Kris Humphries who heals and Brook Lopez who not only recovers at full strength, but actually learns to crash the glass, the Nets take off like a rocket, shocking the world by not only making the playoffs as the sixth seed, but upsetting the New York Knicks in the first round! After this heartwarming season, Dwight Howard is so sold on the team, that he not only signs with New Jersey, but takes less money up front in order to allow the team to grow. This is the Nets version of Troy and Britta getting together. Also, you’d have to be high to think this happens.

Reality 6: The Nets did trade for Howard back in early December, but the match between he and Williams was so terribly bad that it flamed out after one year. Deron Williams re-signs, but Howard heads elsewhere in a sign-and-trade. Bizarre.

The point in all this is that so much of the Nets’ future depends on how December 9th through mid-March go. The Nets have to manage to not scare off Howard, and to pull off the trade, and have it work out, in order for everything to fall into place. But at least they have a management that is actively pursuing rolling the die. Because the worst thing you can do is be a bystander and watch as chaos unravels your world without your having had any say in the matter.

“Evil Dwight and Evil Der-on!”

Pacers head to Cleveland looking to put pressure back on Cavaliers

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CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are in no better position to pull off a historic upset in this first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers than when they awoke Sunday morning.

The Pacers had a chance to put the Cavs, at the time reeling with playoff inexperience and the crushing weight of expectations with LeBron James, squarely behind the eight ball in this series by winning Game 4.

But Indiana fell behind by a huge deficit in the first half for the second consecutive game, erased it in the third and early fourth quarters again, but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Kyle Korver and James made enough plays down the stretch for the Cavs to win, 104-100, tying this series at 2-2 with Game 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland.

James has never lost a first-round series in 12 previous playoffs. Now, he has two of the next three games at home to try and keep his streak alive.

“I think just tying the series up and coming back home is something we feel good about,” said Kevin Love, who like every other Cav not named James has mostly struggled in this series. “We feel like it’s a best-of-three type series and at the end of the day, if it comes to it, we have two games at home. We like our advantage and we’re going to use that to our advantage (Wednesday) night.”

The Pacers trailed by 17 at halftime of Game 3 but steamrolled the Cavs in the second half and pulled out a 92-90 win behind 30 points from Bojan Bogdanovic, a playoff career high. They were down 10 through two quarters in Game 4 but fought back and were ahead 93-91 with 3:49 remaining before Korver connected on two deep 3s.

Indiana won Game 1 behind a playoff career-high 32 points from Victor Oladipo, who has struggled since (19-of-53 shooting in the last three games). Domantas Sabonis played a big role in the Pacers’ comeback Sunday, scoring a playoff career-best 19 off the bench.

The Pacers are getting the best night of someone’s playoff career almost each game of this series, and it’s been good enough for two wins. Then again, the Cavs’ two wins were by a combined seven points, and outside of James (32.5 ppg this series) almost no one is scoring.

Love is the next closest at 12.0 points in this series and JR Smith is third with 10.0 points.

“We’re not losing confidence,” point guard Darren Collison said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “This team is the defending Eastern Conference champions. Whatever you want to say about them, this is a very good team. They’ve been through a lot over the last few years. We’re fine. There’s no need to overreact or panic. We’re going to go into their building and we’re going to give the same effort.”

The Cavaliers say point guard George Hill (back spasms) is questionable to play in Game 5. He missed Game 4 with the same injury — four injections before the game were not enough to ease the pain to the point where he could play.

Jose Calderon started for Hill on Sunday and scored five points in 19 minutes. The Cavs are 24-9 this year (regular season and playoffs) when Calderon starts.

Hill is the only player on either team listed on the injury report. But Love suffered an injury to his left thumb in Game 1 and it’s affected him. He’s shooting 17-of-47 in the series with 11 turnovers. Catching and gripping the ball have been obvious problems.

“I’ve been able to get up a lot of shots,” Love said. “I think initially it was painful and in the few days that followed, but now it’s kind of subsided and I’m just getting my feel back in my left thumb.”

Report: Kawhi Leonard to return to San Antonio around exit interviews. Then…

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Nobody is sure how the Kawhi Leonard situation is going to play out with the Spurs. As is the nature of the NBA, the GMs of other teams are starting to circle the Spurs like vultures, on the chance that this time Gregg Popovich cannot smooth out the relationship with his star player and needs to trade him. Leonard spent the playoffs away from the team, working out and talking to doctors in New York while “his group” shielded him from attempts from San Antonio to reach out.

Now has come the time for the sides to talk, and that will happen soon reports Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News.

What happens during and after that meeting is anyone’s guess.

The Spurs will only move Leonard as a last resort, and they have two things on their side. First, Gregg Popovich, who has maintained a healthy relationship with his star pupil through all of this. LaMarcus Aldridge told Popovich he wanted to be traded last summer, and over the course of some dinner meetings and self-reflection, Popovich was able to both keep Aldridge in the fold and put him in positions to be an All-NBA level player this season. The key is that both sides were willing to talk with an open mind, are Leonard and his advisors open to that?

Second, the Spurs have the ultimate hammer — the $219 million designated veteran extension (the contract James Harden and Russell Westbrook signed this year). Put that on the table and Leonard will sign it. The question is will the Spurs put it out there? Probably not if Leonard makes it clear he doesn’t want to be in San Antonio any longer. That’s when the trade talks start to gain traction.

But we’re not there yet. Not even close. Let the meetings play out first.

Back home, Thunder try to avoid elimination against Jazz

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City was built this offseason around three All-Stars with the hopes of contending for the Western Conference crown.

The Utah Jazz started the year 18-26 without center Rudy Gobert. However, Gobert returned and the Jazz rolled off 11 straight wins into Valentine’s Day with the help of a surprise rookie of the year contender.

One more win and the Jazz will reach the second round for the second straight year. They’ll send the Thunder home with a second straight first-round exit — despite Oklahoma City’s overhauled, star-studded roster.

After losing the first game on the road, Utah won decisively in each of the past three games, including a 17-point victory in Game 4 — a game the Thunder called a must-win in Salt Lake City.

“It’s the playoffs, it’s gonna be war,” Utah point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a triple-double in Game 3, told the Salt Lake Tribune after Utah’s 113-96 victory in Game 4. “We know that it’s gonna be another war next game. We just have to be tough but at the same time, mentally ready for that.”

Game 5 is set for 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who averaged 20 points per game during the regular season, has averaged 27.6 points during the past three games — taking his play to another level to lead a balanced Jazz attack that has five players averaging in double figures. Mitchell, who was the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft, has scored 110 points through the first four games, the most by a rookie in his first four games since Michael Jordan’s 117 in 1985, according to nba.com.

“To be honest, a lot of this is surreal. I’m just taking it game-by-game and not really getting caught up in the big picture,” Mitchell told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “Just focusing on game-by-game. My teammates have helped me out a lot as far as that goes. But we’re playing together.”

Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook picked up four fouls before halftime in Game 4 and was fined $10,000 for an altercation with Gobert late in the game. Luckily for the Thunder, he was not suspended following his altercation with the Utah center.

Westbrook’s foul trouble has hardly been the Thunder’s biggest issue.

Oklahoma City was inconsistent much of the year, but it has had to contend with shooting woes from offseason acquisition Carmelo Anthony, who has hit just 25 percent of his 3-pointers in the first four games of the playoffs.

“We gotta win, nothing to it,” Anthony said after the Game 4 loss. “We’ve just gotta win. We can sit here and say what we gotta do, or what we didn’t do or what we did do, but it comes down to having the will to win that game Wednesday and forcing a Game 6 back in Utah.”

Winning in Utah won’t to be easy, where the Jazz have won six straight. Oklahoma City has to get back to Salt Lake City first and stave off elimination. But Utah hasn’t lost three straight games since Gobert’s return to the lineup in mid-January.

“Every game’s been physical,” Gobert said to reporters. “We just got to watch the tape, see how much better we can get and get ready to play basketball.”

Any end to one-and-done rule remains a couple of years away

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Condoleezza Rice and the Commission on College Basketball released their much-anticipated report and…

Yawn.

We’ll see how much the NCAA wishes to police itself and ban coaches caught cheating from the sport, or to do anything that would stem the flow of money from shoe companies and boosters into college hoops. Will the NCAA make an organizational shift to focus less on enforcement and more on involvement with players before they get to college?

One thing the report wants is an end to the one-and-done rule with the NBA, and it issues some veiled threats about getting back together and coming up with new recommendations if the NBA and its players’ union does not act within a year. Yawn. The NBA will continue to work toward this at its own pace, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN notes.

Allowing guys to go back to college if not drafted — even if they had an agent — is a good step.

The NBA will move at its own pace with reforms to its draft rules, and we are still years away from that (if the owners can be herded into a consensus in the first place). This commission’s report changes none of that, and without the NBA and players’ union’s cooperation the commission can’t accomplish some of its goals anyway.

The NBA is moving toward ending one-and-done, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had said they were waiting on this report to take the next steps down that road. With the assistance of the NCAA, the league could move to something more akin to the baseball model (players can be drafted out of high school to the NBA, but if they go to college they have to stay two or three seasons). However, this remains years away. For now, players such as Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III will continue to be one-and-dones. Nobody likes it, but it is the rule for now.