5 Up, 5 Down: Anthony Davis ain’t never shaving his unibrow


5 Up, 5 Down is a biweekly column featuring the best and worst from the NBA.

Seeds 2-5 in the Eastern Conference are on a combined 24-game win streak. I don’t know what to do with that information, other than relay it to you here and pray that everyone gets healthy over the next few weeks so as to make our playoff experience that much better.

With that said, there have been a spate of injuries that are working against us. Joel Embiid‘s got a broken face, Kyrie Irving‘s knee is all boogered up, and the Washington Wizards can’t stop slightly turning ligaments in their legs the wrong direction.

Still, it’s not all gloom and doom. Unless you’re a Utah Jazz fan. Then you might be a bit mad about this next part. Ok, let’s do it.

5 Up

Ben Simmons is Rookie of the Year

I love Donovan Mitchell. The comparisons of him to a more muscular, powerful Damian Lillard ring true. His style is there. And the Utah Jazz, on paper, have no business being 7th in the Western Conference the season after losing their franchise cornerstone in Gordon Hayward. But Ben Simmons is just … ridiculous.

The Philadelphia 76ers keep winning games even with Joel Embiid out due to injury. On the road, without Embiid, the Sixers beat the Charlotte Hornets by 17 on Sunday. Simmons posted a line of 20-15-8 without breaking a sweat.

The numbers support this too, by the way. Simmons leads Mitchell in VORP, netRTG, assist percentage, rebounding … the list goes on. Simmons is above Mitchell in both true shooting and effective field goal percentage despite the Sixers rookie going 0-for-11 from 3-point range this year.

And yes, Simmons is a rookie. Sorry, Utah. Take it for what it’s worth. If I’m a Jazz fan, I might want to stay under the radar for a little while out West. It’ll make it that much sweeter in Year 3 and 4 when Mitchell is damn near unstoppable.

LeBron James keeps breaking records

Enough about his workout regimen, I just want to wind back the clock and sit in some pure, cumulative statistical records for a while. We like to live in the world of nostalgia where it seems impossible that someone will ever be better than Michael Jordan. The fact is, if the republic doesn’t crumble into the earth and the rising sea doesn’t wash away Madison Square Garden, there’s hundreds of years of the NBA left to watch. Someone, at some point, is going to be better than Mike.

Meanwhile, LeBron James is passing the guy along with a bunch of other NBA greats in the record books. Recently, LeBron passed MJ for the most consecutive games of double-digit scoring. LBJ broke Mike’s record for years passed between All-Star MVPs, points scored in NBA Finals history, and career playoff points.

This is an era that we’re going to be nostalgic for later. We need to consciously soak it in as much as we can while it’s here. Who knows what the conversation will be in 10-20 years time. Perhaps we’ll be arguing whether anybody in 2038 can pass LeBron James in NBA history? I bet we will.

The Sixers are winning without Joel Embiid

Look, Joel Embiid getting hit in the face by Markelle Fultz felt par for the course in an NBA season that started with Gordon Hayward’s ankle exploding. So many guys have been hit by the injury bug, and The Process feels tenuous even as Philadelphia has made it clear they’re a playoff team this season.

Heck, what felt like the obvious move here was that Philly’s season would sort of unravel, and we’d all bask in loving the sadness that comes with being a sports fan. But, alas, we must continue to watch Philadelphia win. Yes, the Sixers racked up their 10th-straight win on Sunday — their third since Embiid went out with a fractured orbital bone Wednesday vs. the New York Knicks.

I think I’ve gone LaVar Ball blind

This is a personal thing, but perhaps you can relate: I’m pretty sure I have built new neural pathways in my brain over the past several months that allow me to completely ignore LaVar Ball. Honestly, unless Lonzo Ball gets blocked by someone and I’m actively glued onto Twitter, I barely even think about the Ball family anymore.

This, I assume, is what happens a couple months after the media saturation point is reached with a certain topic. It’s freeing. I hop on here and, oh, what’s that? Another Ball child has declared for the 2018 NBA Draft? This barely even registers anymore. I’m more enthralled by whatever it is James Harden is doing with his fingers after he dunks. The hell is that?

Call me when they start selling those plastic shoes for like $20,000.

Anthony Davis did a bad social media marketing thing

Anthony Davis shaved his unibrow on March 31. We all guessed it was an April Fool’s Day joke. Then, on April 1, it turned out it was. Only it was also somehow a commercial for Red Bull! Woo!

The problem with this video, if you haven’t seen it, is that it felt like something from half a decade ago. The perfectly positioned logos, the “accidental” drop of the phone while recording it. Everything was so telegraphed. Red Bull can do better than this, honestly, even for a social campaign.

Plus, they didn’t even get the day right for the joke. You can’t start it on March 31. That’s now how it works, guys.

5 Down

Joel Embiid’s got a broken face

What did we do to the basketball gods to deserve this season? Are we going to get a season where everyone is miraculously healthy the entire time to balance things out? What does this have to do with the giant garbage patch in the Pacific ocean?

Starting to think that article about LeBron’s healthcare routine is nonsense. He’s clearly sucking the life force out of other players. At least Philly is still winning.

Vince Carter undercutting Patrick McCaw

This play was ugly for a couple of reasons. First, because Patrick McCaw was getting some run with Stephen Curry (and a bunch of other Golden State Warriors players) out.

Second, this one hurt because we’ve all either seen something like this or been part of something close to this. You’re in the heat of competition, and someone’s brain just goes completely blank for a minute and they do something so unimaginably stupid and out-of-character that it’s inexplicable. Vince Carter knew he did something dumb, and dangerous, and something that wasn’t sporting. McCaw sounds like he’s going to be OK, which is good news at least.

Kawhi Leonard vs. the San Antonio Spurs

Each week I say this is the last time I’m going to mention this, and then some other detail is added that puts it right back into contention as perhaps the biggest off-court storyline of the season. In a year in which the San Antonio Spurs need to take advantage of a dinged-up Golden State Warriors squad, the former NBA Finals MVP is on the bench.

Gregg Popovich mentioned this week that after Leonard returned from rehab in NYC that it’s sort of up to Leonard’s “camp” to decide when and if he’ll return to the floor. I don’t think this means a divorce between Kawhi and the Spurs, but it definitely complicates the interaction between the two sides when they go to negotiate a new contract this summer.

Isaiah Thomas and the Brinks truck

This one is tough. Isaiah Thomas is out with surgery, again, and that has major implications for whether he’s going to get a big, new contract this summer. Odds were already low, but with his hip ailing again Thomas might never get to back up the Brinks truck like he wanted.

It’s a hard situation to analyze because, with all his perceived gerrymandering, Thomas has painted himself as a sort of villain. In reality, he was the heart of the Boston Celtics last year and a legitimate MVP candidate. Now he’s gone all Year 1 LeBron James with the Miami Heat on us. It feels like he wants to be the bad guy.

A lot of guys have had problems with coming back from a hip injury, but so too have many returned as productive players. With time on his hands, let’s hope IT comes back healthy and adapted to a new team next year.

Kyrie Irving’s knee

Kyrie Irving — currently out after knee surgery — needs to come back healthy and quickly. Or maybe not, if you’re a Toronto Raptors fan. But the West, especially with a humbled Warriors squad, isn’t as deep as it seemed to be after several signings in July of 2017. There’s a real shot here to make the Eastern Conference playoffs — which includes a glut of watchable teams including the Indiana Pacers, Milwaukee Bucks, and Miami Heat — really compare in terms of competitiveness in the first and second rounds.

We need Irving back so the East can have another power squad. Boston is more than holding it together in Irving’s absence (they’re currently on a five-game win streak) but they need him come playoff time. We need him, especially if the top of the East stays where it is and we get a second round matchup between the Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Report: After backing out of agreement with Sixers, Nemanja Bjelica talking to Kings

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Nemanja Bjelica had found a comfort level in Minnesota, but when Tom Thibodeau pulled his qualifying offer — to sign Anthony Tolliver — it left the Serbian forward without a deal. Philadelphia raced in with a one-year, $4.4 million offer, and he took it.

Then on Tuesday, he backed out, saying he wanted to return to Europe with his family. What he said he wanted was stability, he told Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

“It’s not about coach or the Philly organization,” Bjelica told The Athletic in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “Brett Brown, he’s a great guy and a great coach. The most important thing for me is family and some kind of stability…

“I’m thankful for Philly for the opportunity, but I will always do what is the best for my family,” Bjelica said. “At that point, I was considering European life.”

Or, Sacramento. Which I am fairly confident is not in Europe. From Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Bjelica wanted stability, something that doesn’t always come easily in the NBA life. Clearly, Vlade Divac is pitching a longer-term deal of some kind to provide that stability for Bjelica and his family.

I get why he’s doing it — this is still a bad look for Bjelica and his agent. He gave his word, then backed out of the deal saying he wanted to play in another league. Now he’s talking to another NBA team, a competitor. I get it, teams are not loyal to players either, they lie to them too — just ask DeMar DeRozan — but it doesn’t make this move right. It’s not a great look for the Kings, either.

On the court, Bjelica is a fit with the Kings in that he can be part of the rotation with Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles and the rest of a crowded Kings’ frontcourt. Bjelica provides needed floor spacing and shooting — I really like him as a player. I liked him in Minnesota and wish Thibodeau trusted him more, I liked the idea of how he fit in Philly, and I would like him in Sacramento.

But this is just awkward.

DeMarcus Cousins on Warriors: “This was my nuclear bomb. My last resort.”

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A year before, DeMarcus Cousins was a lock max player, a guy the New Orleans Pelicans could not let get away. A guy with options. A guy about to make not just life-changing money but family generational changing money. DeMarcus Cousins was at his peak.

But on Jan. 30, everything changed. Cousins tore his Achilles tendon.

Come July 1, 2018, the phone was not ringing, team executives were not lined up at 12:01 to meet with Cousins and his agent. Crickets. There was nothing. The teams Cousins called were not making offers and were not interested — including the Pelicans.

So Cousins got in touch with Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry. The rest is history.

All through free agency and his recovery, SHOWTIME Sports has been making a documentary — titled “THE RESURGENCE: DeMarcus Cousins” — that will air on the cable network at a date and time yet to be announced. They just released the video above (WARNING: NSFW language) and if the access and honesty they got in this clip is any indication, it is going to be must watch.

Check out the fantastic video above, courtesy Showtime. And be ready for when this hits the airwaves (or streaming, for most of us).

Five big takeaways from Kawhi Leonard trade to Toronto


Everyone woke up Wednesday morning to an NBA bombshell — Kawhi Leonard being traded to the Toronto Raptors in a deal centered around DeMar DeRozan. That’s a lot to absorb before the first cup of coffee.

This was far from perfect but as good a deal as San Antonio was going to get. It’s not equal value, the Spurs wing defense just got a lot worse, but with other teams keeping their best assets out of trades the Spurs got a player who was an All-Star and All-NBA (second team) last season, one who keeps them relevant for a few years (until Gregg Popovich likely retires). This delays the impending rebuild a couple of years. And, they sent Leonard out of the West.

Here are my five big takeaways from the blockbuster trade:

1) The Toronto Raptors won this trade. This was a bold and smart move by the Raptors on multiple levels. While the Lakers, 76ers, Celtics and everyone else slow-played this trade — or only offered picks and young players for a rebuild the Spurs did not want to start yet — Raptors GM Masai Ujiri jumped in with both feet and gave the Spurs something they wanted in DeRozan, an All-Star player who keeps them in the playoffs and dangerous right now. That was enough.

There are two key reasons this trade works for the Raptors (it’s a solid double, if not a home run). First, they didn’t give up much outside DeRozan — just Jakob Poeltl (who did show promise in his two years in Toronto) and a top-20 protected pick in the down 2019 draft. Toronto got to keep OG Anunoby, Fred VanVleet, and Pascal Siakam, the young group of players they are high on. If Leonard is healthy — something we do not know for sure, he could be slowed slightly and be merely good rather than transcendent — Leonard is an upgrade over DeRozan and the4 Raptors are a threat to the Celtics at the top of the East.

Second, now the Raptors have a season to try to both win a ring and win Leonard over. The ring may be a lot to ask, but if Leonard is playing like an MVP again a trip to the Finals is certainly not out of the question. And once there, anything can happen.

The attempts to win Leonard over long-term probably will fail, but the Raptors get to take their shot. Toronto is a city a lot of players love to visit, the Raptors have a large and passionate fan base (all across Canada, they are a national team), and the Raptors are going to win a lot of games. Toronto also has more money: The Raptors can offer Leonard a five-year, $189.6 million contract next summer, the most any other team can put on the table is a four-year, $140.6 million. ($140 million is a lot less than the $221 million the Spurs could have guaranteed.) The model is Paul George in Oklahoma City, but the difference is George was open to the idea of staying from the moment he stepped off the plane (where Thunder GM Sam Presti made sure there were a lot of Thunder fans to cheer and greet him). Leonard likely is not so open minded.

If Leonard bolts next summer, then the Raptors took their big swing and start a rebuild (that they have discussed internally in the past year). It’s not a massive setback.

2) Kawhi Leonard — and his uncle/management — did not get what they expected or wanted. Around the league, there is a lot of talk about Leonard’s Uncle Dennis/advisors wanting to build a marketing empire around the 27-year-old entering his prime. To get an idea of their plans, think about what LeBron James or Russell Westbrook have with their brands. The sense was Leonard’s team felt the small market of San Antonio and the team-first style of the Spurs were holding them back. (Leonard’s stoic personality is a bigger part of that problem, but we’ll table that discussion for now.) Plenty around the league think those close to Leonard fanned the flames of discontent surrounding the injury and treatment until it was a full-blown fire and Leonard decided he wanted out of town.

Leonard (and his camp) reportedly are not happy campers right now.

The Spurs will have no response but a sly smile (they took the best deal on the table for them). Offers were not going to improve, and the Spurs did now want the zoo of bringing Leonard into training camp.

Leonard is a free agent next summer and can go to the Lakers or Clippers (or Knicks or Sixers or any other team he wants). However, to get the max contract he wants Leonard will have to prove he’s healthy and back to his MVP-level ways — and that means suiting up and playing for the Raptors. Sit out another year — via hold out or with the quad injury — and no team is going to jump in with a max.

3) DeMar DeRozan may be pissed now, but he will come around. Leonard wasn’t the only player unhappy with the trade — DeRozan had been loyal to Toronto, didn’t even meet with other teams in 2016, was active in the community, and was told at Summer League he would not be traded. Then, wham.

DeRozan has every right to be angry. Then he will get over it — the Spurs are maybe the most welcoming organization in the league. The city of San Antonio will embrace him. Most importantly, Gregg Popovich will understand DeRozan and put him in spots he likes on the court, places he can do damage. DeRozan will get to the line, make passes (he’s become a quality playmaker) and — at least during the regular season — make the Spurs a challenge every night.

San Antonio — with DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge — will be the kings of the midrange jumper, although both are pretty efficient at it. The Spurs wing defense will be unimpressive, something a little disturbing in a conference with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and now LeBron James. San Antonio will be no threat to Golden State or Houston, but they will be relevant. DeRozan will come to enjoy it.

4) The Lakers will just wait this out… and be a little nervous. Clippers, too. On the one hand, we saw this movie last summer: The Lakers choose not to put their best young players into a trade to secure an elite player because they believed said star will come to them in free agency. Only he didn’t, the next summer decides to stay put in the Midwest — without even meeting with the Lakers — and the Los Angeles misses out.

On the other hand, Leonard to the Raptors feels different from Paul George to the Thunder — George was open to the idea of playing with Russell Westbrook and seeing what the experience was like. As noted above Leonard is not happy being sent north of the border. It’s early, but good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks he stays long term. Next summer Leonard likely will bolt, and while the list of options could expand beyond the two teams in Los Angeles, that pair remains at the forefront. (As noted before, while the Lakers are the consensus favorites to land him, I heard from sources around the league that is no lock. The Clippers are in play.)

For the Lakers, even if they miss out on Leonard next summer, things still line up well: They have cap space, LeBron, and the market most players be in. They will land someone.

Still, the Lakers have to be a little nervous that things change with Leonard over the course of next season. Maybe it’s the Raptors, or maybe he likes the East and the idea of playing with Kristaps Porzingis, or maybe a million things. It should make them a little nervous, because in the NBA crazy things happen.

5) Just a reminder, loyalty in the NBA is dead. Next time you want to complain about how players are not loyal to teams/cities anymore, remember this move. Just a week ago in Las Vegas, Raptors officials told DeRozan to ignore the rumors, he was not getting traded. This is a player who — where Vince Carter and others tanked/pushed their way out of the city — embraced all things Toronto. He was active in the community. He spoke openly of wanting to be a Raptor for life and the greatest Raptor of all time. He was the willing face of their franchise.

They traded him anyway.

It’s a cold, cold business. Teams treat players like assets, and more and more players are treating teams the same way. Loyalty is nearly forgotten, and rarely rewarded,

It’s just fans that pay.

Report: Boston nearing agreement to retain Marcus Smart

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When free agency began, a lot of us said that the restricted free agent market was going to be tough — not a lot of teams had cap space to start with, and those that did were not targeting players where the offer could be matched. Zach LaVine got a deal, but other name RFA were waiting, Clint Capela and Marcus Smart being the biggest names on the board.

We may be able to cross Smart off that list soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is in the range of what the Celtics had wanted to pay him from the start, around $12 million a season.

Smart expected more — north of $17 million a season — and was frustrated that no offers sheets came in that would force the Celtics to match. He reportedly was “hurt and disgusted” that the Celtics didn’t come in and recruit him or make a larger offer. Welcome to a tight market, the Celtics had leverage.

Smart is one of the top defensive two guards in the league, a switchable defender who can guard any perimeter position, all of which fits with Brad Stevens’ defensive system. He also brings a high motor — he generates steals and gets to loose balls. Offensively he’s a liability — teams can help off him, daring him to shoot — but when healthy the Celtics have the players to cover that up.

This looks like it will get done and be a fair deal for both sides.