Bruce Jenkins: Warriors’ big threats in East.
“We’re all actors in a soap opera,” as Warriors coach
Steve Kerr put it so well, and there’s one in particular that comes to mind. It’s called “Search for Tomorrow,” and although the show was canceled years ago, it sounds a lot like today’s NBA.
We’ve all grown a bit weary of talk of how this summer’s free-agent market will sort itself out, but the trading deadline gave us a fresh and more relevant tomorrow. The Eastern Conference has taken over the league, and its climactic playoff series are going to be spectacular.
Kenny Smith captured the essence on TNT on Thursday night. “The Eastern Conference became the powerhouse,” he said. “One through four in the East easily matches the Western Conference. I wouldn’t say that prior to today.”
It’s going to take an internal catastrophe for the Warriors to fall short in the conference playoffs. Teams might be plotting an upset, but they’re kidding themselves. The East now has four legitimate contenders to win the whole thing.
Start with the Milwaukee Bucks, the East’s best team (by record) and looking especially formidable with the acquisition of Nikola Mirotic from New Orleans. This is a team that crushed Golden State in Oakland this season, and now comes another shooter who can defend and work unselfishly in a very smooth-flowing offense. It becomes easier for coach Mike Budenholzer to use lineups without the ponderous Brook Lopez and put
Giannis Antetokounmpo at center. (Worth noting, in the wonderful world of tomorrow: Four starters will be up for free agency, but the Bucks have a max-salary slot open to sign a big-name talent.)
Unlike Milwaukee, the Philadelphia 76ers do not have their offense figured out. At least that was the case until general manager Elton Brand made another bold move, landing Tobias Harris from the Clippers. This is now being called the second-best starting five behind the Warriors: Harris, Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and JJ Redick — and the 76ers added two potentially key players, massive center
Boban Marjanovic and the springy Jonathon Simmons, for much-needed depth.
This team looked awfully good in Friday night’s victory over Denver, after which the Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic told reporters, “They have a really dangerous team right now. And when they start playing a little bit more, I think they’re going to be really, really good.”
Harris couldn’t believe his good fortune, saying, “It was funny. After the game, somebody texted me and sent me a video of me smiling after a play. They wrote, ‘This is literally the first time I’ve ever seen you actually smile in a game.’ And I was like, ‘You ain’t lyin’.’ ”
So much depends on Butler, who has clashed with coach
Brett Brown over shot distribution and hasn’t quite won over all of his teammates. Here’s a tip for Butler and everyone on the team: To catch the Warriors, you have to play like them. Instead of “OK, I’ve got the ball, watch this,” try “Let’s see if somebody else has an even better shot.”
The Celtics didn’t really have to do anything, and they were relieved that Anthony
Davis wasn’t traded to the Lakers. Davis is locked into New Orleans for the rest of the season, but the Celtics can legally contact the Pelicans with a trade offer that could become finalized after July 1. They need to make sure Kyrie Irving wants to sign a longterm deal, and decide whether
Jayson Tatum would be worth losing in a Davis deal. But that’s all about ... you got it, tomorrow.
Not to be left behind, Toronto picked up center Marc
Gasol, whose magnificent game was losing its luster in Memphis. This sounds like a winner; Gasol is a team-first player who can score inside and out. We’ll see how the chemistry sorts out with
Serge Ibaka perhaps moving to the bench (interesting to note that Gasol and Ibaka were teammates on the Spanish national team) and with All-Star guard Kyle Lowry well aware that he was the subject of recent trade talks.
⏩ Thursday’s televised All-Star draft was a huge success, complete with wisecracks and good humor, and with everyone wondering who will hook up with LeBron James and the Lakers next season, it was amusing to watch LeBron choose Irving, Davis, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard for his All-Star squad.
The Antetokounmpo-led team looks a bit weak in comparison, but it does include Stephen Curry, who said, “They’re measuring the teams up and basically giving them the crown already. So I like us being technically underdogs. It’ll be cool with me and Kemba (Walker) — him being a Hornet, me coming back to Charlotte — starting in the backcourt together. It should be fun.”
⏩ What we’d like to see in Charlotte: Curry tries hard to win that 3-point contest, but he gets outgunned by his brother, Seth.
⏩ Not traded to seriously contending teams, and that’s a shame: Walker, Bradley Beal, Mike Conley, Jrue Holiday, Lou Williams, Zach LaVine and Aaron Gordon.
⏩ Rough season for Lonzo Ball. He hasn’t been in top form, due to offseason knee surgery and more recent ankle problems. He became a father when his girlfriend, Denise Garcia, delivered a daughter in July, but the two have grown apart, and their arrangement finds Lonzo only able to see baby Zoey when the Lakers have off days at home. And it now seems that veteran Rajon Rondo is better suited to be next season’s point guard alongside James.
For all of his annoying bluster, papa LaVar Ball did make sense the other day, suggesting Lonzo be dealt to Phoenix. He’d run that show unconditionally, and with a number of good shooters around him, his dynamic pass-first game could truly flourish.
⏩ How things have changed: The cover of the Lakers’ 201617 media guide featured D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson and (the only one still in L.A.) Brandon Ingram.
Head coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors have rivals rising in the East.