Like the Bobcats before them, the Hawks couldn’t do anything against the defense of the Orlando Magic in game one. The Hawks were a top-five team in offensive efficiency in the regular season, but that number was more the product of a low turnover rate and high offensive rebound rate than it was the product of effective shooting by the Hawks. As John Hollinger pointed out earlier today, the Hawks are an isolation-heavy team in the half-court — that approach worked for them in the regular season, but it isn’t going to get it done against Dwight Howard and Co.
The NBA said next season would begin on Christmas at the earliest.
But get it straight: That’s a best-case scenario.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, via CNN:
My best guess is that – even though, as you said, it will be the 2020-21 season – is that season won’t start until 21. We said a week or so ago that the earliest we’d start is Christmas of this year, but the more I’m learning – even listening to Dr. Fauci this morning – I continue to believe that we’re going to be better off getting into January. The goal for us next season is to play a standard season – the other part of your question – 82-game season and playoffs. And further, the goal would be to play games in home arenas in front of fans. But there’s still a lot that we need to learn in terms of rapid testing, for example. Would that be a means of getting fans into our buildings?
February seems like a reasonable expectation. But so much is changing with our handling of coronavirus. Predictions are weak at this stage.
But when will it be safe for fans to attend games? How long will owners and players be content to wait while making practically no revenue? At some point, will it be better to play games and draw some revenue?
Assuming next season begins on a date the NBA doesn’t want to use as its start date going forward, how will the league get its annual calendar back on track if not reducing the schedule length? Fewer off days? Shorter offseason?
Like with many things, coronavirus creates many difficult complications.
Now, that incident during the 1999 lockout is getting detailed like never before.
On one particular day, both O’Neal and Bryant arrived at Southwest College, ready to play. It was the first week of January, not long after the Kobe-is-the-next-Jordan piece ran in L.A. Magazine. Some other Lakers were in attendance, as was Olden Polynice, the veteran center who’d spent the preceding four and a half seasons with Sacramento. He was hoping the Lakers would sign him to a free agent contract, and had been told that Mitch Kupchak, the team’s general manager, was planning on showing up. Though they’d battled for years, Polynice and O’Neal enjoyed a friendly relationship. “All I wanted to do was go there and play with Shaq,” Polynice recalled. “The Lakers were my favorite team as a boy. It would have been a dream. I wanted to show Mitch I was serious.”
The players straggled in, loosened up, stretched, shot some jumpers. They proceeded to divide into teams — some guys over here, some guys over there. O’Neal and Polynice — dueling 7-footers — were on different sides. “Kobe was on my squad,” Polynice recalled. “Opposite Shaq.”
It was just another run, until it was no longer just another run. As he was prone to do in pickup, O’Neal called a series of iffy fouls whenever he missed a shot.
“I’m tired of this s—,” Bryant finally said. “Just play.”
“One more comment like that,” O’Neal snapped, “and I slap the s— out of you.”
A few possessions later, Bryant drove toward the rim, leaned into O’Neal’s body, and scooped the ball beneath his raised arm and into the hoop. It was a pretty move, but nothing otherworldly.
“F— you!” he screamed at O’Neal. “This is my team! My motherf—ing team!”
It felt edgy. Everything stopped. “He wasn’t talking about the pickup team,” Polynice recalled. “He was talking about the Lakers.”
O’Neal wasn’t having it. “No, motherf—er!” he screamed. “This is my team!”
“F— you!” Bryant replied. “Seriously — f— you! You’re not a leader. You’re nothing!”
What did he just say?
“I will get your ass traded,” O’Neal said. “Not a problem.”
Several of the participants stepped in to separate the two, and the game eventually continued. But it no longer felt even slightly relaxed or friendly. “We probably went up and down the court two more times,” Polynice said. “Kobe goes to the basket, scores, screams at Shaq, ‘Yeah, motherf—er! That s— ain’t gonna stop me!'”
O’Neal grabbed the ball in order to freeze action.
“Say another motherf—ing word,” he said, staring directly at Bryant.
“Aw, f— you,” Bryant said. “You don’t kn–”
O’Neal slapped Bryant across the face. Hard.
“His hands are huge,” said Blount, who was playing in the game. “The noise was loud.”
Here is Polynice’s recollection: “Then Shaq swung again at Kobe, but he missed. S—! I run over and grab Shaq, because I’m big enough to do so. And Shaq keeps swinging, but everything’s missing because I have his arms. I’m grabbing on to Shaq, holding on for dear life, yelling, ‘Somebody grab Kobe! Seriously — somebody grab him!’ Because I’m holding Shaq and Kobe’s taking swings at him. At one point Shaq gets an arm loose and he pops me in the head. Seriously, no good deed goes unpunished. And I’m telling you, if Shaq gets loose he would have killed Kobe Bryant. I am not exaggerating. It was along the lines of an I-want-to-kill-you-right-now punch. He wanted to end Kobe’s life in that moment.”
Bryant was undeterred. “You’re soft!” he barked. “Is that all you’ve got? You’re soft!” Blount begged Bryant to stop talking. “You’re not helping,” he said. “Just shut up.” The altercation was finally broken up when Jerome Crawford, O’Neal’s bodyguard, walked onto the floor and calmed his friend down. O’Neal was furious. “You can’t touch him in practice,” he wrote of Bryant. “He’s acting like Jordan, where some players thought you couldn’t touch Mike. Whenever somebody ripped Kobe, he’d call a foul. After a while, I’m like, ‘Listen, man, you don’t have to start calling that punk s—.'” As he walked from the court, Polynice looked at a shaken Kupchak and said, loudly, “You should sign me just for that.”
Bryant said that fight brought O’Neal’s respect. Of course, they still had their differences. But they won through their squabbling. That commitment to team success and the success itself have endured.
He can say the same about the Boston Celtics, too.
Crowder and fellow Heat teammate Kelly Olynyk are both in the East title series for the second time. Their first time was in 2017 — when they were Boston teammates under coach Brad Stevens. And it isn’t hard for Crowder to see the similarities between Stevens and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
“Oh, the No. 1 thing that sticks out to me is the attention to detail,” Crowder said. “Both coaches have preached that and pushed that with their teams, respectively. You need that at this level. You need that at this time of the year, because both teams really know exactly what they’re trying to get to. It’s just about the level of detail that you’re doing it and how much you’re imposing your will.”
The Celtics lost that 2017 series to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and neither Olynyk nor Crowder ever played for Boston again when that postseason run ended. Crowder was traded in the summer after those 2017 East finals, part of the deal that brought Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston. Olynyk left Boston in the same summer, signing a three-year contract with Miami with a player option for next season tacked on as well.
Stevens remains fond of both players, and even now — with the Celtics trying to beat the Heat — he says he’s happy for Olynyk and Crowder.
“I think they’re both great competitors, great people,” Stevens said. “They impact winning. It’s not a surprise they’re doing it again.”
Spoelstra has a bit of familiarity with a key member of the Celtics, albeit on a different level. The Heat made a big push to sign Gordon Hayward in 2017, even getting him to visit Miami on what became a bit of a whirlwind free-agent tour that summer. Hayward ended up signing with Boston; that was largely why Miami got Olynyk that summer, because the Celtics had to rescind the qualifying offer made to him in order to help clear the space needed to sign Hayward.
“We loved the meeting with Gordon,” Spoelstra said in 2017. “There’s a reason why we recruited him.”
All the moves have worked out for everyone involved. Most of the Celtics who were on that 2017 team aren’t there now, so it’s not like Olynyk and Crowder are facing off with their old team — just their former franchise.
“I mean, there’s definitely similarities … they’re two of the best coaches in the league, and to be successful in this league you’ve got to do some of the same stuff,” Olynyk said. “But they do have their differences as well and that’s what makes them unique and that’s what makes our two teams different.”
“I think the similarity is definitely just the attention to detail that they both coach with, and they push it to their groups tremendously,” Crowder said. “I think that’s a hell of a compliment to both coaches.”
There is not going to be a G-League Showcase in Las Vegas right before Christmas. At least not in the traditional sense.
However, the G-League reportedly is considering a tournament-style showcase event while the NBA will be between seasons. This tournament would include the Ignite select team of highly-touted draft prospects getting paid, skipping college, and spending a season working on their game. All that according to Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Sources: The NBA G League is seriously discussing tournament featuring the elite Ignite team — led by Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga — and other teams (undrafted players, etc.) in a bubble environment in November/December. Decisions are still fluid.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) September 22, 2020
The key line here: Decisions are fluid.
The 2020 NBA Draft is Nov. 18. After that, nothing is set in stone; there is no official start date for free agency and no date for the start of next season (although the buzz around the league continues to say February, maybe even March). This G-League tournament would be a way to show off players to general managers/scouts/executives, which means it needs to occur when those people can attend. Until more of the schedule is set, nobody is sure when that will be.
The Ignite team, which will train in Northern California (Walnut Park), is stacked with a number of potential high picks — including Daishen Nix, Jonathan Kuminga, and Jalen Green — and they will be coached by former NBA player/coach Brian Shaw. No doubt the G-League would like to give them and others a chance to shine, but the coronavirus will make finding the right time a challenge. Then the league has to create a bubble again. It’s not cheap or easy.
That said, it could happen. Keep an eye out.