Mike Conley

Kyrie Irving NBA
Getty Images

Kyrie Irving on NBA restart: ‘I don’t support going into Orlando’

Leave a comment

A week ago, Kyrie Irving was on a call with the NBA players’ union president Chris Paul, Executive Director Michelle Roberts, and the rest of the executives of the National Basketball Players’ Association, discussing a 22-team plan to restart the NBA in Orlando. Irving asked mostly logistical, uneventful questions, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Friday night, Irving led a Zoom call with more than 80 NBA players, some vocally hesitant to restart the season. The call included Donovan Mitchell, Carmelo Anthony, Joel Embiid, Malcolm Brogdon, Avery Bradley, Mike Conley, Dwight Howard, and many more. The players were asking hard questions about whether the league should resume play amid social justice and coronavirus concerns, and discussing the consequences of those actions. It was a group discussion of what is ultimately a very personal decision for players, and they wanted their voices heard (something many players didn’t feel from the union’s backing of the plan).

The players — led by ‘Melo on this topic — also stressed unity in whatever actions they take.

Irving said he doesn’t like the optics of many Black players in the NBA going to a quarantined city to entertain the masses, taking the spotlight off the Black Lives Matter movement and much-needed police and social reforms. He is far from the only player thinking this way. Irving’s quote, via Shams Charania of The Athletic:

I don’t support going into Orlando. I’m not with the systematic racism and the bulls***. Something smells a little fishy.”

Other players had concerns about health and safety in the bubble, while others reportedly had concerns about the restrictions placed on them in Orlando. Charania and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports had these details from the call.

The argument for playing, coming largely from a coalition of superstars, is primarily financial.

Cancel this season, sit out the 88 seeding/regular-season games, and players as a group stand to lose a reported $300 million more in salary. More importantly, canceling the season would, without question, lead to the owners to use the force majeure to tear apart the existing Collective Bargaining Agreement — the players don’t want to renegotiate the CBA in the middle of a pandemic. They would have no leverage and take a long-term financial hit.

That message resonates with players. One established NBA veteran told NBC Sports today he had concerns about health and safety heading into Orlando, he wants to see the league’s detailed plans (which were supposed to be released Friday but that was delayed). However, he said he also knows he will never get the chance to make this money back, and he doesn’t want to further jeopardize future earnings by canceling the season. He added he and other players could come up with ways to use their social media platforms — while they are playing and the spotlight is on them — to promote social justice causes important to him and many players.

There will be some players who chose not to go to the NBA’s Walt Disney World campus and restart the season. They don’t see the risks — injuries, the coronavirus — as worth the reward, and they see it potentially slowing crucial social change. The NBA and players union agreed players will not be punished for not playing in Orlando, however, they also will not be paid.

If enough players are willing to forgo that money then it could halt the NBA’s restart plans.

How many players will sit out? That remains to be seen, and the social justice cause is an important and motivating one. But so is money, and most likely the players will try to find a balance.

Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic undergoing season-ending surgery

Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Jazz are hoping Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert will put their tension behind them and help Utah make a deep playoff run.

But if the season resumes, the Jazz will face another complication – the absence of Bojan Bogdanovic.

Jazz release:

Utah Jazz forward Bojan Bogdanovic will undergo season-ending wrist surgery.

Bogdanovic hurt his right wrist sometime in 2019 and the injury continued to bother him throughout the season. With the campaign suspended, the forward consulted with multiple medical professionals and the decision was made to surgically repair the ruptured scapholunate ligament.

Bogdanovic is scheduled to have surgery on Tuesday in New York.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

An expectation Bogdanovic will be ready to begin next season means only so much. Who knows when next season will begin considering the ongoing coronavirus pandemic? It could be October as usual if the current season is canceled. It could be December. It could be even later. I don’t know what Wojnarowski’s sources are expecting.

The Jazz made a big push – at significant long-term cost – to accelerate their rise. That included signing Bogdanovic to a four-year, $73.1 million contract.

Now, it’s even less likely Utah will reap the rewards.

Mike Conley has underwhelmed. The season might be over. Now, Bogdanovic – who played well – is sidelined.

Joe Ingles and Royce O'Neale can step up at forward, but neither has Bogdanovic’s scoring punch. That puts even more of the load on Mitchell. Can the Jazz make enough defensive gains to offset that? Remember, they signed Bogdanovic to alleviate the offensive burden on Mitchell. They knew that was important.

Utah’s season just isn’t going to plan.

Jazz executive says Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell ‘ready to put this behind them’

Jazz stars Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Donovan Mitchell was pissed at Rudy Gobert. He had good reason to be, it’s not just that Gobert had contracted the coronavirus, it’s that he was cavalier and joking about things before the diagnosis (sources say there was much more than just touching reporters’ microphones). The tension between the two may have existed before the virus (although the Jazz not living up to expectations this season had something to do with that).

It’s a potential problem in Utah as Mitchell and Gobert are the stars Utah built its team and system around. It had the vultures of other teams circling Utah, wondering if Utah would have to trade Gobert and another team could get a steal with the two-time Defensive Player of the Year.

Now Dennis Lindsey, the guy with the hammer on the Jazz, says the two have talked it out.

Have they really put this behind them? Time will tell. This is exactly what Lindsey needs to say right now to calm the waters around the team, but that doesn’t make it false. Gobert and Mitchell have talked, and only they know how they feel now. They are adults and teammates, they may well have moved on.

The Jazz sit as the four seed in the West when play was stopped, having a good season but not looking like the dark horse threat to the Lakers or Clippers some expected. Utah added Mike Conley (who was injured for chunks of the season) and Bojan Bogdanovic to boost the team’s offense, and that worked, they jumped into the top 10 in the NBA on that end. The problem is they sacrificed defense to do it, and they fell from an elite defense led by Gobert to outside the top 10 (that is less about Gobert and more about the talent around him).

If Utah is going to make noise in whatever format the NBA playoffs take, it’s going to come down to chemistry, the whole being more than the sum of its parts. The Jazz haven’t done that this season, and it seems like this rift — healed or not — does not make it more likely to happen.

Two upsets in first round of HORSE competition

Bulls guard Zach LaVine
(Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

In the quarterfinal round of HORSE competition, the competition got better as the event went along. There were two upsets in the quarterfinals as current NBA players took on WNBA players and NBA legends.

In the first matchup, Trae Young of the Atlanta Hawks went against Chauncey Billups. Young raced out to an early HOR to no letters lead. Billups steady shot-making keyed the comeback though, as he defeated Young HORSE to HOR.

For aesthetics, this was the worst matchup of the day. It looked as though Young and Billups were filming the game using old-school flip phones. Young’s “court” was also questionable, as his rim looked bent and was possibly less than the standard 10-feet high.

In the second matchup, Mike Conley of the Utah Jazz went against NBA Hall of Famer Tamika Catchings. Conley defeated Catchings with relative ease, as he won HORSE to no letters.

Conley had a decided advantage, as he was the only player inside a gym. Catching competed outside in the elements. It was sunny, but looked like it was a bit cold and windy.

The third matchup saw Zach LaVine of the Chicago Bulls go against Paul Pierce. LaVine missed a few shots, but Piece couldn’t get any momentum going. LaVine eventually eliminated Pierce HORSE to no letters using some athletic moves.

The key takeaway was from this matchup was Pierce has an amazing backyard, including a pool and trampoline. LaVine has a multiple-sport area in his yard, including a batting cage and small turf field.

The final contest of the evening was Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder against Allie Quigley of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky. In the closest matchup of the quarterfinals, Quigley raced out to an early lead, but Paul rallied. Eventually, Quigley eliminated Paul HORSE to HOR with the final miss by Paul coming on a free throw line bank shot.

Paul had a very nice outdoor halfcourt, while Quigley competed on a driveway court that looked like it could be in any suburb in America. This one also looked the best on TV.

The semifinals of the HORSE competition will be broadcast on ESPN on Thursday, April 16 at 9:00 PM Eastern. Chauncey Billups will take on Mike Conley and Zach LaVine will face Allie Quigley.

Let’s all hope for more trick shots in the rest of the competition. There were a few crazy attempts, but it would be nice to see the competitors throw up some hook shots or backwards shots in the semifinals.

See bracket for NBA HORSE competition

NBA Horse
AP Photo/Danny Johnston
Leave a comment

The biggest names for the NBA HORSE competition already leaked: Trae Young, Chris Paul and Zach LaVine.

Now, we have the full field.

The other competitors are a current NBA player (Mike Conley), two former NBA players (Paul Pierce and Chauncey Billups), a current WNBA player (Allie Quigley) and a former WNBA player (Tamika Catchings).

Here’s the bracket:

NBA HORSE bracket

The NBA HORSE quarterfinals will be televised Sunday at 7 p.m. Eastern. The semifinals and final will be televised the following Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern.

The rules, per NBA release:

A coin toss at the start of each game will determine who shoots first, with the more senior player calling heads or tails.  Players must describe each shot attempt, specifying the type of score they intend to make before taking a shot, such as a bank shot or swish. Dunking is prohibited. The first player in each game to accumulate the letters “H-O-R-S-E” after failing to match five shots is eliminated.

No dunking is a big blow to LaVine. That was his nearly unstoppable competitive advantage (which is surely why it’s banned).

As is, all eight entrants have a shot. The current NBA players would usually have a greater superiority, but with training interrupted, the field is leveled. Anyone could get hot during the competition, which will be held with each player shooting from a separate location.

I don’t have high expectations for this event. Previous NBA HORSE competitions at All-Star Weekend underwhelmed.

But with the coronavirus pandemic forcing widespread cancellations in sports, the bar is low. I’ll watch this.