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!”

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.

Anthony Davis challenging Michael Jordan as best opening-game player on record

AP Photo/Michael Wyke
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Anthony Davis called himself the NBA’s best player.

He sure backed it up last night.

Davis posted a 32-16-8-3-3 to lead the Pelicans to a 19-point win over the Rockets, considered by many to be the NBA’s second-best team. The performance immediately vaults Davis to the forefront of any MVP discussions.

But for him, it was just par for the course. Davis has repeatedly dazzled in season openers. When 18-6-2-3 qualifies as the dud, you know Davis is doing something right.

Davis’ box scores in New Orleans’ first game each season:

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That makes Davis’ average season-opener game score 24.1, one of the best ever. Only Michael Jordan has a higher mark on record (since 1983, as far back as Basketball-Reference records go; minimum: three games).

Here are the leaders:

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Obviously, Davis cares more about how he finishes than starts. The Pelicans have made the playoffs only twice with him, getting swept in the first round in 2015 and falling in the second round last season.

But it should be clear by now: Davis comes to play as soon as the season tips.

PBT Extra: Boston can be team to dethrone Golden State Warriors

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I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve seen it on NBA Twitter. I’ve debated it with sports talk radio hosts.

“This NBA season is already decided, nobody has a chance against the Warriors.”

Not true.

Boston has a shot, as I get into in this PBT Extra.

Absolutely the Warriors are the odds-on favorites to win it all, if healthy they should three-peat. They were my pick. But I believe Boston has a legitimate shot to dethrone the Warriors — they have the wing athletes, the switchability on defense, the scoring, the versatility. A Boston/Golden State Finals is going six or seven games… if we get there. It’s just day two of a long season.

But I believe in Boston.