Three things to know: Does Aldridge to Nets, Drummond to Lakers move championship needle?


The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Does Aldridge to Nets, Drummond to Lakers move teams’ championship needle?

The rich got richer in the NBA at the buyout deadline. Major market contenders — the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers — added the biggest name players on the cheap on this year’s buyout market. While there is a debate to be had about the equity of the system, we’re asking a different question:

Did adding Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge in Brooklyn, and Andre Drummond in Los Angeles, really move the championship needle for those teams?

For the Nets, not that much.

While Aldridge and Griffin are big names with 13 All-Star Game appearances between them, neither of them has played near that level for a couple of years — they got bought out for a reason — and they are not necessarily better than the guys the Nets have on the roster now. Griffin is a good passer and improved shooter who can still dunk and averaged 9 points a game since coming to the shorthanded Nets. Aldridge is a pick-and-pop threat who also will play a lot of center for the Nets, giving Steve Nash options.

But in a playoff series, the best hope is one of them can help with a specific matchup for a game, maybe two.

Neither Aldridge nor Griffin has the lateral movement left to defend well enough to help Brooklyn on the end of the court the team actually needs help (the Nets have to play more of a drop-back system with them and DeAndre Jordan). The reality is second-year backup center Nicolas Claxton is Brooklyn’s best center off the bench — he has broken out in recent weeks, and he’s the team’s best role-playing defender by a mile. He can switch picks onto guards and not get torched, something Aldridge and Griffin cannot say. If Claxton’s run is cut to get Griffin and Aldridge promised minutes at the five, opponents will celebrate it. Claxton brings a level of athleticism lacking in the Nets frontline that neither Griffin nor Aldridge have at this point in their careers.

When Brooklyn gets healthy and gets Durant back at the four, the minutes for Griffin should shrink. There could be ripple effects: To get Griffin minutes when Durant is playing, KD may have to slide to the three, taking minutes from Bruce Brown, who has played well for Brooklyn.

If Aldridge and Drummond getting run because it was promised and not because of their play right now, Brooklyn gets worse. The Nets’ best lineups this season have been smaller and some have seen Jeff Green at the five. We may see more of that come the playoffs, maybe more Claxton, but if those minutes need to go to Aldridge and Griffin because the minutes were promised, then the Nets did not improve.

The Lakers move the needle a little more with Drummond.

Drummond will be an upgrade over Marc Gasol, who continues to struggle this season and has been slowed as he recovers from COVID-19. In the short term, while LeBron James and Anthony Davis are out, the Lakers can run some offense through Drummond in the post and get a few buckets. When those guys return, Drummond has the chance to show he can thrive in a role — rebound, be a solid drop-back defender in the paint, get a few buckets playing off the stars, keep the ball moving. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said, “I think our team got a lot better.”

Drummond makes the Lakers better now, but he doesn’t really change this team’s championship odds. Not meaningfully.

The reality is by the time the Lakers get to the second round of the playoffs and beyond, Davis is the Laker playing the critical minutes at center. Drummond will be asked to slot into essentially the Dwight Howard role from the last playoffs, and we’ll see how he handles it. Maybe it works, and he helps as a big body in certain matchups (Jusuf Nurkic, Rudy Gobert, in the Finals maybe Joel Embiid or Jordan/Aldridge), but more Drummond is not the Lakers best lineup.

Drummond is a good pickup for the Lakers; he is an upgrade. He just doesn’t move the championship needle a whole lot.

2) Aaron Gordon looks like a comfortable fit in first game with Nuggets

Denver moved its championship needle at the trade deadline picking up Aaron Gordon.

How much and if it’s enough is a question not answered until May and June, but Gordon fit in well in the Nuggets offense on Sunday, scoring 13 points in a Nuggets blowout win and sliding right into a role that fit him as an athletic finisher.

Gordon was constrained at times in Orlando by the role he had to play — point forward at times — and the talent around him. He’ll get more open looks in Denver as the defenses focus on Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. It helps to have your first game with a new team be the soft landing spot of the bottom-10 Atlanta defense. Still, you can see the athleticism Gordon brings and his ability to finish above the rim, something Denver has lacked.

Gordon’s biggest role in Denver come the playoffs will be as a wing defender against the West’s elite, a role not truly tested in his first outing. But on Day One, Gordon looked like a good fit.

Also, there was a Bol Bol sighting on Sunday.

3) Bradley Beal keeps it very real talking to his AAU team.

Sometimes, young athletes need a kick in the….

Bradley Beal delivered it in no uncertain terms trying to get through to AAU players this week in a video caught by SLAM. He lays out the reality for them — if your dreams are about the NBA, you are trying to take my job (and the paycheck of 450 other guys), and I am not giving that up. He keeps it 100 about making the NBA.

If you’re wondering how that was received, at least one parent of a player on that team said it was needed.

Lakers’ LeBron James says he could need offseason foot surgery


LeBron James wanted back on the court. He saw the glimpses of what this current roster can do when healthy and focused — the same glimpses that have Laker exceptionalism running strong in Los Angeles — and he sees a West without a dominant team. Together those things mean opportunity.

LeBron could have shut it down when he felt something pop in his foot last month, admitting that two doctors told him to get surgery. However, the “LeBron James of foot doctors” told him he could be back this season — and he made that return Sunday. Still, LeBron admitted he could need off-season surgery.

“I don’t know. Right now, I don’t need it, so we’ll see what happens. I’ll probably get another MRI at the end of the season and go from there. But if I end up having to get surgery after the season, you guys won’t know. I don’t talk to you guys in the offseason, and by the time next season starts, I’ll be fine. I’ll be ready to go.”

As for what motivated him to get back on the court this season and not shut it down.

“Now we sitting at a chance to be able to… to hell with the play-in, we actually can be a top-[six] seed. That definitely changed my mindset on me coming back and trying to be a part of this, obviously, so — well, I don’t really want to say changed my mindset, it just enhanced what I was trying to do as far as my workouts, as far as my treatment and everything”

The Lakers sit tied for 9/10 in the West, one game below .500. While LeBron can say, “to hell with the play-in,” his Lakers would need help from the Clippers or Warriors to climb into the top six even though they are only 1.5 games back (time is short for L.A., if the Warriors or Clippers go 4-3 the rest of the way, the Lakers need to go 6-2 over their last eight). Los Angeles also is just a game up on Dallas for the 11 seed, and if the losses pile up they could fall out of the play-in completely.

With LeBron back, missing the play-in is unlikely. But having him back (and eventually a healthy D'Angelo Russell, who was out Sunday with a hip issue) also is no guarantee of wins — the Lakers still need peak Anthony Davis to compete. When he has a solid game of 15 points, nine rebounds and five assists (as he did Sunday), they lose. The Lakers need bubble Davis every night, or even if they make the postseason it will be short-lived.

Dončić dodges suspension, NBA rescinds 16th technical

Dallas Mavericks v Charlotte Hornets
Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

This was unexpected, especially after crew chief Kevin Scott said after the game last night: “Doncic was assessed a technical foul for his use of profanity directed at the officials in protest to a no-call that was correctly judged in postgame video review.”

The NBA league office reviewed the incident (as it does with all technicals) and rescinded what would have been Luka Doncic’s 16th technical.

That 16th technical would have triggered an automatic one game suspension. With it rescinded, Dončić is clear to play Monday night when the Mavericks take on the Pacers.

Sunday night in Charlotte, Dončić was given a technical when he didn’t get a call on a leaning baseline jumper and said something to the nearby official.

This incident comes days after Dončić was fined $35,000  for making a money gesture towards a referee in frustration after a  Mavericks loss.

Through all this the Mavericks have lost four straight, 7-of-9, and have slid back to 11th in the West, outside even the play-in. Their team is disintegrating and if they don’t pick up some wins fast they have less than two weeks until they are on summer vacation.

MVP showdown off: 76ers to sit Joel Embiid due to calf tightness

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images

Recently Joel Embiid said,” ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.” Today’s news plays right into that narrative.

Embiid has been playing through calf tightness for a few games now — he only played a half against the Bulls last Wednesday — but still putting up numbers (46 points against the Warriors, 28 and 10 against the Suns). However, there had been some concern in the organization about not pushing things and making sure Embiid is healthy for the playoffs. Which is why they will rest him on Monday night, short-circuiting an MVP-race showdown against Nikola Jokić and the Nuggets. Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news and John Clarke of NBC Sports Philadelphia has confirmed it.

Embiid did go through part of the 76ers’ shootaround this morning. The decision was made after that point.

Undoubtedly this will spark the load management discussion around the league again, and Embiid is going to take heat for this — but this is a situation where the team’s medical staff made the call, likely over Embiid’s objection.

From the 76ers perspective what matters is having Embiid healthy during the playoffs — they are going nowhere without him — and there is no reason to take undue risks with the team all but locked into the No. 3 seed in the East.

James Harden is still expected to make his return to action Monday from a three-game absence.

But it robs fans — including those who bought tickets in Denver — of one of the great showdowns in the league, and one of the more anticipated games of the season’s final weeks. The NBA has to find a way to balance player health with having their best players on the court for the biggest games. Keep telling fans the regular season doesn’t matter and they will start treating it like that.

Joel Embiid not stressing about MVP: ‘If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.’

Philadelphia 76ers v Phoenix Suns
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Joel Embiid is the MVP betting favorite — -160 at our partner PointsBet — heading into Monday’s showdown with the reigning two-time MVP Nikola Jokić (+180 at PointsBet).

Embiid campaigned for the MVP award the past couple of years but came up second to Jokić. This season, Embiid is not stressing about it. Or at least trying not to stress about it. Here is what Embiid told Shams Charania of The Athletic.

What matters — it’s just about winning, winning, winning. I’ve been focused on that. We’ve been doing that. Whatever happens, happens. If I win MVP, good. If I don’t, it’s fine with me.

Why hasn’t Embiid won the MVP? Outside of Jokić also being deserving and the complaints of Antetokounmpo and others that the criteria for the award are constantly changing (which suggests there are criteria for the award, but there are none officially), Embiid thinks it’s because he is not well-liked.

People always thought that I was crazy when I said this — I really believe that I’m not well-liked. And it’s cool with me, that’s fine. I’ll be the bad guy. I like being the a–hole anyway. I like being the underdog. So that’s fine with me. My thing is … when I leave the game, I want to make sure that they say: No one was stopping him offensively and defensively, and he was a monster.

There’s no doubt he will leave the game remembered as one of the great 76ers and a “monster” on both ends when healthy. However, resume matters with legacy and an MVP award helps with that. Just not as much as being the best player on a championship team, something more difficult to pull off because it requires a lot of help (it’s up for debate whether Embiid has the help he needs around him to win it all, and if they can stay healthy enough to make that run).

This season the MVP race is a tight three-way contest between Embiid, Jokić and Giannis Antetokounmpo (+450 at PointsBet). There are legitimate cases to be made for each member of this trio. However, with the Sixers surging (and the Nuggets stumbling a little), things may break his way this season.

Another dominant performance against Jokić with just a couple of weeks left in the season would stick in voters’ minds and help his cause.