NBA Debate: Where Nets go from right here, and Russell Westbrook’s resurgence

It could be troublesome to speak concerning the present state of the NBA with out speaking about Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. 

The Nets, a crew many thought would have a bounce-back season with a more healthy roster, have been within the information for all of the fallacious causes: They parted methods with their head coach, Steve Nash, after 2-5 begin to the season; they suspended Irving for “failure to disavow antisemitism”; and their high goal to switch Nash, Ime Udoka, is serving a season-long suspension for an improper relationship with a feminine member of the Boston Celtics’ workers.

This week, our panel of NBA reporters — Ric Bucher, Melissa Rohlin and Yaron Weitzman — seemed again at how the Nets dealt with their PR nightmare and previewed what to anticipate from them within the weeks forward. 

Additionally they debated the most important storylines elsewhere within the NBA and, extra importantly, on the court docket.

1. Did the Nets do sufficient to punish Kyrie Irving? Why or why not?

Weitzman: To be trustworthy, this entire factor has exhausted me to the purpose the place I can’t take into consideration Irving’s antisemitism anymore. I wrote a complete piece right here that covers my ideas and emotions. Brief model: the Nets waited too lengthy, and let Irving get away with an excessive amount of. However their statement saying his suspension was nice. So I’ll give them that. 

Bucher: Not even the Nets are positive. That’s why they left it open-ended — it’s 5 video games, however the indication is it might be extra. Which is the issue. All of this feels reactionary to public sentiment, not a crew taking motion to curb inappropriate habits. I can’t assist however suppose the Nets will resolve if 5 video games is sufficient primarily based on whether or not the world is able to see Irving on a basketball court docket once more.

Rohlin: I agree the Nets waited too lengthy. However I additionally commend them for lastly taking a stand. It’s not coincidental that as quickly as they did, Irving issued an apology on Instagram. It will likely be attention-grabbing to listen to what Irving says throughout his subsequent press convention. To this point, he has been unapologetic, defensive and dismissive. I’m guessing the Nets might want to see his stance and tone dramatically change privately earlier than we see him publicly.

Kyrie Irving points apology after suspension

The Brooklyn Nets have suspended Kyrie Irving with out pay for failure to “unequivocally say he has no antisemitic beliefs.”

2. Is there a world the place the Nets are profitable with out Kyrie Irving?

Weitzman: They’re 2-6 proper now; they weren’t profitable with him both. Good riddance. 

Bucher: Over the subsequent 5 video games? On paper? Certain. They play one crew presently with a successful report, the 4-3 Mavs. They’re on the highway for 5 of the video games, which supplies them an opportunity to circle their wagons and assist one another get previous this, in the event that they’re so inclined. However they haven’t proven any indicators of solidarity to date this season, and their points go far past Irving, particularly for the place the expectations are. They’re presently ranked because the worst defensive crew within the league. Half the roster has worse defensive rankings than Irving, and that’s not as a result of he’s taking part in protection — his ranking is much and away the worst of his non-defense-playing profession. Irving is a multitude. So are the Nets, collectively.

Rohlin: No crew has had as a lot drama because the Nets. To this point this season, Steve Nash has been fired, Kyrie Irving has promoted antisemitism, and Ben Simmons has gotten injured. Proper now, this crew is damaged. I don’t foresee them turning issues round any time quickly. 

3. Can the Sixers maintain their head above water with James Harden out?

Weitzman: I feel Harden lacking a month goes to kill their possibilities at ending with the convention’s high seed, one thing I assumed they have been able to getting into the season. However they nonetheless have Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey appears nice and the protection, little by little, is getting higher. They will be superb.

Bucher: If the water line is .500, their heads aren’t above it now. I really consider they might be higher in the event that they turn out to be extra Joel Embiid-centric, the way in which they have been final yr earlier than Harden got here on board. In addition to, their points are on protection and — *checking my notes* — Harden has by no means been a defensive linchpin. The largest problem can be reincorporating Harden after a month of taking part in with out him.

Rohlin: Embiid held the crew well-above water final season with out Ben Simmons. He is able to doing the identical factor whereas Harden is out. He must put the crew on his shoulders once more till Harden returns. The largest problem right here is that Embiid and Harden will expertise a giant delay in constructing some much-needed chemistry and persevering with to study one another’s video games, which may decelerate the crew’s progress down the road.

4. Are you shopping for or promoting Russell Westbrook’s manufacturing off the bench? Why or why not?

Weitzman: Neither? Each. I feel we are able to all agree {that a} bench function is what Westbrook is greatest fitted to at this level in his profession. Let him are available in, push the ball within the open ground, get some simple buckets, yada yada. However this Lakers crew is totally damaged and flawed, and it would not matter whether or not Westbrook comes off the bench or beginning — so long as they’re taking pictures underneath 27 % from deep, they haven’t any shot at something.

Bucher: Completely I am shopping for this mini-resurgence. It allows Westbrook to play a reasonably easy function that he is acquainted with — P&R ballhandler with a giant rolling to the rim. Westbrook all the time has been greatest with the ball in his arms and either-or, A or B, choices: shoot or dish/lob to my huge man. He is a troublesome 2v2 participant. Full-on 5v5 ground common, a la Chris Paul? Not his power. Determining easy methods to be efficient taking part in off of or with LeBron and, to a lesser extent, Anthony Davis, is simply too difficult. I used to be advised by somebody who labored intently with him up to now, the important thing to getting the most effective out of Russ is making it clear what you want from him. Do not ask what he’d love to do — it makes him nervous as a result of he suspects you do not actually know what’s greatest for him or the crew. He won’t love the function, however he’ll do it to the most effective of his capability. 

Rohlin: This was the most effective transfer Lakers coach Darvin Ham may’ve made. Westbrook appears a lot extra comfy in his new function. His sport has opened up, he is being extra aggressive, and he is taking part in with way more pleasure than we have seen since he joined the crew. As soon as Westbrook swallowed his pleasure and accepted that he would not begin, there was a brand new lightness about him — and his on-court manufacturing has vastly improved. Over the past two video games, he is +18. 

Lakers win second straight with Russell Westbrook off bench

Lakers win second straight with Russell Westbrook off bench

Colin Cowherd praises the Lakers for adjusting regardless of an in depth win in opposition to a depleted Pelicans crew.

5. Which younger star has taken the most important leap this season?

Weitzman: How about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who’s taking part in so properly that the Oklahoma Metropolis Thunder are going to should make up an damage to get him off the ground in order that they’ll cease successful video games. The tanking Thunder proper now are 4-4. They’ve gained that many video games as a result of Gilgeous-Alexander has been unstoppable. He is averaging 32.3 (!) factors, to associate with 6.3 help, 4.7 rebounds and a couple of.4 steals per sport. He is taking pictures a ridiculous 54.5 % from the sector. It appears like he has been round perpetually, however Gilgeous-Alexander remains to be simply 24 years previous. He is proving himself as somebody who can carry the Thunder to the subsequent degree — as quickly as administration decides it is able to pivot to, , really making an attempt to win video games. 

Bucher: SGA is a superb alternative. Will we depend Lauri Markkanen as younger? In that case, that is my alternative. He is the Jazz’s main scorer and taking part in with an aggression we’ve not seen from him outdoors of a Finland nationwide crew jersey. He has 20 dunks in 9 video games — probably the most he ever had in a season previous to this was his rookie yr, 63 in 68 video games. That is only a reflection of how assertive he has been. 

Rohlin: Does Giannis Antetokounmpo depend as a younger star? In that case, I’ll go together with him. He has been simply spectacular this season, main the Bucks to the one undefeated report (7-0) within the league. He had the best point-total of his profession over a current four-game stretch, and is averaging 33.6 factors and 12.7 rebounds a sport. If he continues taking part in at this degree, depend on seeing him in your tv in June.

Ric Bucher is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He beforehand wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Journal and The Washington Submit and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA ahead Brian Grant’s battle with younger onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He additionally has a day by day podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Observe him on Twitter @RicBucher.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. She beforehand lined the league for Sports activities Illustrated, the Los Angeles Instances, the Bay Space Information Group and the San Antonio Specific-Information. Observe her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA author for FOX Sports activities. He’s the writer of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Observe him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

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