DeAndre Jordan fiasco finally gives Mavericks a reason to start over

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Just a few days ago, fresh off his biggest free-agent score in years, Mark Cuban told a Dallas-area radio station that this summer was do-or-die for the current era of Mavericks contention. They were either going to land a star free agent — as they had just done, luring DeAndre Jordan away from the Clippers — or blow it up and start over, something Cuban has been vocal about his aversion to in the past.

“If we got shut out, we weren’t going to just try to fill the roster,” Cuban said (via The Sporting News). “We had the discussion that if we couldn’t get a serious free agent, whether it was one of the guys still out there or some of the guys who already went, then it was time to take a step back.”

Yeah, so, about that.

In the most bizarre sequence of events the NBA has seen since the vetoed Chris Paul/Lakers trade in 2011, the Clippers emerged victorious from the wreckage of the Great Emoji War. Jordan is staying in Los Angeles, and the Mavs are left hanging like Jordan trying to get a high five from CP3, with a ton of cap space and nobody left to spend it on. In the short term, for a news cycle or two, it’s a disaster. But if this is the catalyst for Cuban and the Mavericks to finally embrace a full-on rebuild, it could be a blessing in disguise.

Let’s be clear about something: even with Jordan in the fold, the Mavericks weren’t going to be contending for a title this year. In fact, it was more likely that they’d miss the playoffs than make it out of the first round. The west is too deep for anyone outside of the Spurs/Warriors/Thunder tier to be a sure thing, and Dallas still had (and has) too many question marks on its roster. Their other marquee free-agent signing of the summer, Wesley Matthews, is coming off a torn Achilles, an injury that has historically been difficult to come back from. Starting small forward and master free-agent recruiter Chandler Parsons may or may not have had microfracture surgery on his right knee. Dirk Nowitzki has finally started to visibly decline. They still don’t have a clear starting point guard — they were linked to Jeremy Lin recently, but he’s off the board now, and they’re left to pencil in Raymond Felton for at least some of those minutes, which…no. Elsewhere, their depth is nonexistent.

With Jordan, the Mavs’ roster is essentially where it was last year, in the mix for an eighth seed and a first-round exit as they’ve been every year since the 2011 title run. Without Jordan, and with their other injury and depth concerns, they can hardly be considered a playoff team. And if they’re not a playoff team, now is the time to finally start what Cuban has put off for too long. It’s time to blow it up.

source: Getty Images
Getty Images

That won’t take too much work, as there’s not much of a roster to blow up. Parsons can opt out next summer, and if he’s healthy it’s all but a lock that he will. The Mavs will have barely over $20 million on the books besides that: basically Nowitzki and spare parts. They also have an added incentive to be bad if they want to add to that: they owe Boston their pick next year with top-seven protections. Eventually, they’re going to need another young foundational player to transition them to the post-Dirk era. And given their free-agency track record, their best bet to get one is in the draft.

Luckily, if a team is going to be bad in the west, this is the year to do it. Most of the west’s bottom-feeders have gotten significantly better this summer. The Lakers and Kings won’t sniff the playoffs, but they’ve both added legitimate talent to the mix. Utah and Phoenix will be in the playoff hunt. Minnesota is a year or two away from contending for the postseason, but they’ll be better with Karl-Anthony Towns next to Andrew Wiggins. If Denver doesn’t blow up its own roster, there’s enough talent there to be mediocre rather than outright bad. The bottom of the west is Dallas’ for the taking: they’re really only competing with Portland, who are in a similar position after losing four of five starters, including LaMarcus Aldridge.

Without the pressure to contend, the Mavs can bring Matthews along slowly. He’s supposedly ahead of schedule in his rehab from the Achilles injury, but he faces an uphill battle that hasn’t had very many success stories. They can sit him out the entire season if they want to. That probably won’t be necessary, but if they’re not fighting for a playoff spot, there’s no reason to rush him back when they’ve just committed $57 million to him over the next four years.

Elsewhere, they have plenty of flexibility. They can take on other teams’ bad contracts to pick up extra draft picks. The next time an opportunity comes up like the recent Kings-Sixers trade, Cuban is in as good a position as Sam Hinkie to snag a Nik Stauskas-type prospect for nothing.

The Mavs haven’t dealt with anything like this since Cuban bought the team in 2000. It’s to his credit that they’ve always been competitive under his watch, always in the playoff mix and always in the mix to land the top free agents, even if that part of it didn’t usually work out. Now, in the wake of Jordan bailing, in the twilight of Nowitzki’s career, and without much young talent to speak of, it’s time to face the reality that an impressive 15-year run has come to an end. Starting over is going to be rough, but Cuban understands long-term payoff as well as anyone. He’s built a rock-solid organization and infrastructure in Dallas, one that’s better positioned than most to handle a rebuild. But that’s the reality he’s been handed.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.

Magic center Mo Bamba had coronavirus

Magic center Mo Bamba
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Mo Bamba has fallen behind Khem Birch as the Magic’s backup center (to Nikola Vucevic). At the NBA’ resumption at Disney World, Bamba has played in only two of Orlando’s four games, receiving just four and six minutes. Magic coach Steve Clifford cited the 22-year-old’s conditioning.

Bamba wants you to know the full story: He had coronavirus.

Josh Robbins of The Athletic:

Bamba received word of his positive test on June 11

The illness temporarily robbed him of his senses of smell and taste, made him unusually fatigued and caused muscle soreness.

“Part of me is reading the temperature of the room and just knowing that there are definitely going to be questions, and sometimes you’ve just got to address them with honesty,” Bamba said. “In this case, I think it’s best for them to have that context and have that understanding of what, exactly, is going on.

“I want people to know that I’m still working as hard as ever, if not even harder, and I’ll get through this.”

Bamba thought he had endured the worst by the time the Magic entered the NBA bubble on July 7. But the false positives required him to have an additional three-day in-room quarantine while his teammates practiced together on July 9, July 10 and July 11.

I appreciate Bamba being so forthcoming. It was easy for people to suspect he didn’t train properly during the hiatus. Though medical privacy should also be valued, transparency often alleviates the worst suspicions.

At least 54 NBA players have tested positive for coronavirus. Does that number already include Bamba? It’s unclear.

After going quiet during most of the shutdown, the league has announced the number of players who’ve tested positive since June 23. Maybe Bamba continued to test positive on June 23 or later. Or perhaps he’s an additional case from the quiet period. There definitely were some cases in that timeframe.

False positives are an issue – an unavoidable one. It’s unfair Bamba was stuck in his hotel room, not training, longer than necessary. But the NBA can’t risk allowing a potentially contagious player into the bubble. Better to err on the side of safety.

The No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA draft, Bamba improved steadily from an underwhelming rookie season. He still needs more work to become a quality NBA player. This is a setback, and one that makes him unlikely to contribute much the rest of this season. Hopefully, he’ll be able to pick up next season where he left off when this season got suspended.

Three Things to Know: What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) What’s next for 76ers without Ben Simmons?

“This one stings, for sure.”

That was 76ers coach Brett Brown, who has had to deal with a lot of injuries to players during his tenure in Philadelphia. But this one hurts a little more because of the timing. The Sixers will be without Ben Simmons for a while after he suffered a subluxation of the left patella — his kneecap essentially dislocated then popped back into place — against Washington.

The 76ers were adjusting to playing Simmons at power forward during the restart in Orlando. Now there are just questions.

How long will Simmons be out? That’s the big one and the answer is nobody knows for sure. The Sixers are evaluating treatment options. As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes notes, Allen Crabbe had the same injury earlier this year and missed 11 days (three games), but he had no damage to the ligaments or rest of the knee. That’s the most common outcome for this injury and it would have Simmons back around the start of the playoffs. However, if there is any ligament damage, Simmons could be out much longer. (The early reports were the MRI came back clean, but that doesn’t tell us much about the real level of damage other than it wasn’t severe.) Philadelphia has always been cautious when it comes to bringing its stars back from injury.

Who starts for Philadelphia while Simmons is out? That’s one Brown has to decide by today (Friday) and the game against Orlando. He could plug Al Horford back into the starting lineup — the Sixers were +1.4 points per 100 possessions this season with Embiid and Horford on the court together without Simmons (it was -0.7 with all three and the floor spacing was a mess). Or, Brown could keep Horford on the bench and go with another wing such as Matisse Thybulle or Furkan Korkmaz.

Philadelphia seems locked into the six seed in the East (they are one game back of five seed Indiana with four to play, but the Pacers beat the Sixers last Friday and have the tiebreaker, so it is in practice a two-game lead).

Philadelphia is 6-5 this season without Simmons, and while they can plug other players into the four they will not have Simmons’ elite defense, nor his passing skills, and the new player will not be the same threat in transition. Philadelphia is just not the same threat in the East without Simmons.

2) Portland is in control of ninth seed in West after win, New Orleans loss

There is going to be a play-in series in the West — and Portland is going to be in it.

That much seems obvious after Thursday’s action, where Jusuf Nurkic was dunking on Bol Bol and Portland was picking up a 125-115 win over Denver.

That win has Portland half a game back of  Memphis for the eighth seed in the West — and the 0-4 Grizzlies face a tough game against the Thunder Friday. The West could be tied by Saturday morning.

Portland looks to be a lock for the play-in.

Can anyone else crash that party? Sacramento earned it’s first win in the bubble on Thursday, knocking off Zion Williamson and New Orleans, meaning now both the Kings and Pelicans sit 2.5 games back of the Grizzlies with four to play. Both need to win out and hope Memphis continues losing to have a chance to get into a play-in with Portland.

The undefeated-in-the-bubble Suns and the Spurs both sit two games back of the Grizzlies and with a chance to make a play-in. Just as with the Kings/Pels, the Suns and Spurs essentially need to win out and count on the Grizzlies continued stumbles to have a chance.

Memphis controls its own destiny. But without Jaren Jackson Jr., and with Ja Morant struggling from three, a sharp turnaround is needed.

3) Milwaukee wraps up No. 1 seed in East

This was expected, but the Bucks made it dramatic. Miami led this game by 23 points in the first half, but both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton turned it on — both finished with 33 points each — and Milwaukee came back to get 130-116 win. With that, the Bucks officially wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the East.

While this is good for the Bucks — who now get an easy first-round playoff matchup against Brooklyn or Orlando — they know they will be judged on the playoffs. This is a Finals-or-bust team. And Milwaukee fans don’t want to think about the options for bust.

Milwaukee has eased into games in the NBA restart, not worrying about wins now and rather being healthy and firing on all cylinders when the games matter. They have that luxury with the lead they built up in the East, but they need to flip the switch eventually. As they did coming back on the Heat.

Kemba Walker was ‘very serious’ about Knicks at one point in free agency

Kemba Walker practice
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Kemba Walker is a New York guy — born in the Bronx and attended Rice High School in Harlem.

Now Walker admits he seriously considered going home during his 2019 free agency and playing for the Knicks, but their inability to land another star ultimately led him to look elsewhere. Walker went on The Ringer’s R2C2 podcast with Ryan Ruocco and CC Sabathia and was asked whether he considered coming home.

“To be honest, yes. Yes, very serious. Very… Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks was one of my top priorities, actually, because I was thinking they were gonna get another player, but it didn’t work out.”

You can hear Kemba Walker pause and carefully choose his words in talking about the Knicks and why he decided to choose Boston instead.

As for that other player, I’d bet the rent that’s Kevin Durant. The two-time Finals MVP had been linked to the Knicks for much of the season, but when KD ultimately surveyed his options — and got together with Kyrie Irving — they chose the better foundation of players and more stable culture of Brooklyn. No Durant going to New York, Waker started thinking Boston.

That another All-Star/All-NBA level player was drawn to the Knicks speaks to the lure of New York City — players want to play there. Elite players. But they want to win more, and the Knicks with Tom Thibodeau have to build a foundation and culture conducive to winning. Do that and the stars will come.