Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.
1) Is it time for Lillard, Portland to hit reset button?
Jody Allen, you’re up.
The best NBA owners are active and involved — asking questions, challenging assumptions, setting up good processes — but in the end let the basketball people make the basketball decisions. Just because you are a tech genius and billionaire doesn’t mean you know basketball scouting/development/tactics.
However, there are times big picture decisions need to be made at the ownership level. Sometimes a franchise comes to a fork in the road, and those are ownership’s call.
Portland is at one of those moments.
Is it time for the Trail Blazers to trade players such as CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic — maybe for Philly’s Ben Simmons, maybe to Indiana for their now-available stars — and try to retool a contender around Damian Lillard while the face of the franchise is still in his prime?
Or is it time to hit the reset button, move on from the Lillard era, and rebuild?
And which of those options does Lillard want?
In a “let’s throw a hand grenade in the middle of the chaotic room” story, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a piece Tuesday saying Lillard’s demands for a contract extension this summer — two years, $107 million, taking him into his age 36 season as the highest-paid player in the NBA — are complicating the search for a new GM because top executives would rather have a clean slate than a massive contract for an aging Lillard.
Lillard questioned the story’s sourcing.
Can’t say I’m surprised. https://t.co/AwOUKOfGQv
— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) December 7, 2021
Let’s put aside the questions about sources and how that story came to be, because it raises a valid question:
What is next for the Trail Blazers?
Lillard is a franchise icon who was playing at a top-10 in the NBA, bottom-of-the MVP ballot level until this recent injury and season. Do the Blazers retool around him and make another run at it?
Or, is it time to hit the reset button? Trade Lillard and rebuild.
Some potential GMs told Wojnarowski they prefer the rebuild path. Of course they did; rebuilding takes years and years, which means job security in an unstable business. But which fork in the road to take is not a GM’s call.
Who sits next in the President/GM chair, and what fork in the road the Trail Blazers take, fall to Allen (assuming she’s not going to sell the team, a persistent question since her brother Paul Allen died leaving her the team). The Trail Blazers were not her passion project like they were Paul’s — he was an active owner, asking questions, challenging assumptions. That is reportedly not Jody’s style.
But it needs to be for the next few months, at least.
2) Lakers impress with comfortable win over Celtics
When the Lakers are playing downhill and getting the rim, they are a dangerous team.
They did just that on Tuesday in a rivalry game against the Celtics, scoring 66 points in the paint and seemingly finishing at the rim at will. Westbrook was attacking (scroll down to the Highlight of the night below) and LeBron James shot 8-of-11 in the paint on his way to 30 points on the night.
This was the kind of win where you can see the Lakers maybe figuring it out, putting things together, finding lineups and rotations that work. Of course, it helps to figure things out against a Celtics team whose defense seems to be taking a step backward on this road trip, but the Lakers will take it.
More importantly, it was a Laker game where the defense was solid, holding the Celtics to a 103 offensive rating for the game. We can get into the things Boston did to help the Lakers out — starting with missing 3s and free throws — but again, the Lakers will take the victories on that end where they can get them. It’s a step forward.
Consistency has not been a Lakers strong suit this season, but you can see the Lakers’ path to contention on nights like this. It’s why nobody should be writing off a slow-starting LeBron James team, a lesson you would have thought everyone learned already.
3) Nets beat Mavericks, Durant plays 41 minutes but says not to worry about it
There is always drama around Kevin Durant and the Nets.
That drama is not about wins and losses. Despite Kyrie Irving thinking he’s making a stand or whatever he’s doing, the Nets are 17-7 and atop the East after beating the Mavericks 102-99 on Tuesday. Durant led the Nets with 24 points in that game, James Harden was right behind him with 23.
They also led the Nets in minutes — Durant played 41, Harden 42.
That’s where the controversy has been, that coach Steve Nash is overworking his two superstars — Durant has played at least 37 minutes in eight straight games. At age 33. And with a significant injury history.
After the game, Durant pushed back on the minutes narrative: “I know people might be concerned about my minutes and I got injured before and all this extra s***, but we’ll figure it out if I get there. Right now, I want to play basketball.”
It’s Steve Nash’s job to figure it out BEFORE Durant gets there, but he is stuck in a catch-22 and admitted it: “It’s not ideal to have [Durant] have such a burden, but I don’t know what options we have other than to play him less and lose more.”
It’s a long season and at some point Nash needs to get Durant some lighter nights and a few nights off. The Nets are playing for May and June, not wins in December. Nash has to think big picture and convince Durant and Harden to get on board at points.
Of course, what would help with all this is if one particular Net would get the jab and join his team, but that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon.
Highlight of the Night: Russell Westbrook dunks, gets dunked on
Russell Westbrook was attacking the rim and trying to defend it against Boston, and the result was highlights. Westbrook brought the ball up the court, decided Josh Richardson would not keep him out of the paint, and got to the rim for a monster slam.
Then there was Jayson Tatum, realizing Carmelo Anthony can’t begin to guard him, spinning around and attacking the basket, Westbrook rotating over to help, but at that point nobody was denying Tatum, and Westbrook ended up on the wrong end of the poster.
Last night’s scores:
Brooklyn 102, Dallas 99
New York 121, San Antonio 109
LA Lakers 117, Boston 102