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5 Up, 5 Down: Joel Embiid has been fully processed

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5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA as it stands on alternating Monday mornings.

There is lots to be interested in as this young season records its first 20 games. Yes, the Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t as good as we thought they’d be and the Boston Celtics are … mystifying. But so too have a slate of injuries muddled the middle of the pack in the Western Conference and that’s before we get to any of the fun stuff like demanding trades on social media.

Yes, the 2017-18 NBA season has already been exciting and as we touch base for our first edition of 5 Up, 5 Down it’s time to reflect back on some of the best and worst things that have gone on this season.

Let’s get to it, shall we?

5 Up

Tony Parker is back (and the Spurs are still 3rd)

Tony Parker officially announced that he’s coming back to an NBA floor, which is heartening for San Antonio fans. He’s been out since last year with a quad injury, and the team is still somehow in 3rd place. The West is chocked full of injuries this year, so adding back a player — even a waning one like Parker — will always help.

The Pistons are … good?

It’s never fun to fault runs like the one going on in Detroit because of sample size. We’re now a quarter of the way through the season so it’s time to say it: I think the Pistons are good. Put it this way — if I told you before the season started that Charlotte would be twice as many games back as Detroit to start December, you probably wouldn’t have guessed that the Hornets weren’t even a playoff team in this scenario.

Joel Embiid is fully processed

Everybody loves this cat, and they should given how good he’s been this year coupled with the success of the Philadelphia 76ers. He’s played in 16 out of 18 games and maintained his staggering advanced numbers from last year. If he stays on the court and the Sixers make the playoffs, I assume Sam Hinkie will parachute from the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center during lineups for the first postseason game. Plus, his social media game has only grown stronger.

The NBA supports Colin Kaepernick

At least some folks do. LeBron James has been supportive of the former NFL quarterback turned civil rights activist and charitable donor. So too has Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy. We didn’t get anthem protests like we anticipated to start the year in the NBA, but it appears players and coaches still aren’t afraid to speak their minds.

The one and done could finally be on its way out

This rule hurts players and has the appearance of mitigating risk for NBA teams in the draft while propagating an amateur system that doesn’t pay fair value for labor. I’m still not 100% convinced the league’s own risk protection doesn’t also flip some franchises out of top players by forcing them to abstain from the league and pushing them to subsequent drafts. Many one-and-done players don’t pan out in either case, so I’m not sure the rule is having its intended effect anyway. Let’s go already.

5 Down

Kawhi Leonard is still out

It’s always good when your Hall of Fame, seen-it-all-coach says he’s never seen an injury like yours, right? Tony Parker coming back before Leonard feels like some kind of ominous signal that I’m too afraid to broach this early in the year. At least San Antonio fans can clutch their, uh, 19 championship rings for comfort while they wait.

The Blazers keep winning by accident

Washington certainly did their part to stink up the joint on Saturday, but Portland beat both the Nets and Wizards this weekend sort of by mistake. This came despite late game missed FTs, dumb fouls, and slow offensive possessions in the final two minutes. CJ McCollum — good in a panic, apparently — is Portland’s saving grace this year. The Blazers 3-1 record on the road this trip is asking for a regression to the mean. The Blazers offense needs to figure it out.

We need to restart this season and set injuries to OFF

Wrap your star player in bubble wrap and stick him in a downtown penthouse loft filled to the brim with packing peanuts. Even that might not work, he might chafe his skin on the styrofoam and be out 4-6 weeks. Paul Millsap, the aforementioned Leonard, Gordon Hayward, Patrick Beverley, Mike Conley — just about every team has suffered an injury to a key player. The middle of the West is a mess because of it, although the upside might be that March becomes even more interesting than usual as a bunch of .500 teams try to fight their way back with healthy stars.

Derrick Rose might be donezo

This is sad if only from an empathy perspective. Imagine having won the 2011 NBA MVP only to spend the next six years deep in the bowels of a training center with nothing but a bosu ball and a physical therapist named Clint to keep you company (in this scenario I also assume Clint won’t stop talking to you about the benefits of ketosis). That’s basically been Rose’s life after multiple injuries, and him taking time away from the Cavaliers is a major bummer.

Free Jahlil Okafor

The basketball fan in me wants to scream about what the Sixers are waiting for because I’d like to see Greg Monroe Okafor play actual basketball. Of course, Philadelphia is just trying to do their best Bill Belichick impression here and wait out the market to get their top return. It’s hard to imagine how interest on Okafor hasn’t already bottomed out by now, so maybe the whole thing has backfired and the Colangelos are up a creek. They apparently have lowered the asking price, so maybe we get this trade sooner rather than later. In any case, I can’t wait to see Okafor in a Nets uniform. He’s going to look great.

Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis still not talking off court

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The Bulls are 5-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury suffered when Bobby Portis punched him in the face during a preseason practice. Mirotic and Portis are both excelling individually, and Chicago has outscored opponents by a whopping 34.3 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court.

Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com:

When asked if the two former combatants have spoken yet, Mirotic said, “We did on the floor. We’ve always spoken because we need to have good communication.” As for whether they’ve talked off the floor, however, Mirotic was succinct in his response: “No.”

I guess Mirotic hasn’t completely moved on, though he said he did. But that’s fine. How could someone get past a teammate punching him in the face?

Importantly, this is becoming just a regular NBA problem. The extent of that practice punch was practically unprecedented. But plenty of players have loathed teammates while making it work on the court. That happens more than people realize.

Mirotic and Portis can make this their status quo – at least the on-court cooperation. I’m not convinced Chicago will keep winning like this.

Watch Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ short film (video)

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Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in a letter called “Dear Basketball,” which was made into a short film.

Now, on the day the Lakers retire his Nos. 8 and 24, you can watch it. It’s quite beautiful:

Double number retirement fitting for Kobe Bryant

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Kobe Bryant’s career truly occurred in two acts.

He was Shaquille O’Neal’s super sidekick for three championships. Then, Kobe led the Lakers to another two titles himself after Shaq departed.

He was an athletic, high-flying slam-dunk-contest champion. Then, he became known for his cerebral play and footwork.

He faced trial for rape in Colorado (the case was ultimately dismissed, and he settled civilly), blame for Shaq getting traded and criticism for being too selfish when the Lakers struggled in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure. Then, Kobe – still beloved by his fans – again became a socially acceptable marketing force.

His 2007 trade request serves as the more accurate intermission point, but his 2006 jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24 works well enough. He had a Hall of Fame career in No. 8 then a borderline Hall of Fame career in No. 24. Think Tracy Mcgrady’s career followed by Bernard King’s – but it was just Kobe followed by Kobe and with far more postseason success.

Here are the win-share leaders with a single franchise during Kobe’s career:

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So much about Kobe is excessive – his accolades, his shot selection, his reputation as clutch. He had an all-time great career, but the myth outpaces reality.

Yet, Kobe becoming the first player with two numbers retired by the same team – which the Lakers will do at halftime tonight – feels incredibly appropriate. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Kobe had time to succeed then succeed again in an extravagant way only he could manage.

He was dedicated and disciplined, flashy and fastidious, No. 8 and No. 24

Warriors will watch Kobe Bryant’s numbers get retired, Lakers might not

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The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 at halftime of their game against Warriors tonight.

The road team won’t miss it. The home team might.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Lakers coach Luke Walton, via Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation:

“I hadn’t thought much about [watching the ceremony],” Walton said Sunday. “We’re still deciding how we’ll approach halftime.

“Our first priority is still the job that we have. I’m sure there’s going to be some halftime adjustments we need to make against the Warriors. We’re toying with a couple different ideas to let guys at least see part of it.”

Kerr seems like a pretty cool guy, someone who understands what truly matters. This will be a historic moment, and that can take priority over watching video for one night in a long season.

But he also has the luxury of coaching an all-time great team. Even with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston injured, the Warriors are favored.

Walton has a young team that needs every break it can get. But he too should embrace the significance of the ceremony. His franchise is.

After reportedly initially being scheduled for pregame, the ceremony will occur at halftime. The NBA implemented a hard 15-minute limit on halftimes this season. Any team not ready will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty. So, lengthy speeches tonight could hinder the current team on the court. And that’s well worth the cost of doing business.

In the same regard, current Lakers watching Kobe’s ceremony would gain pride in being a Laker. There’s real value in that, probably more than in going over adjustments for a December game during a season very likely to end outside the playoffs regardless.