Is the NBA season winding down, or is it just heating up? There is a ton of drama and action around the league as final playoff spots are fought for, awards season is getting closer, and teams have to learn how to play without injured superstars.
With all of the storylines around the NBA I thought it was time to do a national roundtable. Each writer lives in a different city, covers a different team, and brings a different perspective.
Buckle up and enjoy.
Garrett Thornton (GT) – Portland Trail Blazers
Travis Singleton (TS) – Oklahoma City Thunder
Isaac Ryals (IR) – Oklahoma City Thunder
Ian Keilty (IK) – Boston Celtics
Dustin Howell (DH) – Oklahoma City Thunder
1 – With the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror we can analyze it a little better. Who was the winner of the 2017 NBA Trade Deadline?
GT – Realizing how incredibly biased this sounds I am going to have to say the Portland Trail Blazers with their trade with the Denver Nuggets. Portland is in a really weird spot right now. They are trying to build for the future, but also trying to win now. Mason Plumlee is going to command $15+ million this summer in free agency and the Blazers just don’t have that money to throw at a borderline starting center. So not only did they get a center in exchange, they got a first round pick. And that center they got back is no scrub. The 22 year old Jusuf Nurkic looks like he might just be the center of the future for the Blazers, averaging 14.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 4.0 assists in his 7 games with Portland.
TS – I think the Oklahoma City Thunder were the NBA Trade Deadline winners. I know it might sound like I’m biased because I cover them but they improved. People have to remember this team was built around KD and Westbrook. So adding Taj Gibson and Doug McDermott was Presti’s first move showing Russ that they’re gonna try to make this work. The team has struggled since the break but they added Norris Cole and didn’t have Victor Oladipo back from his back injury yet. There’s a lot of potential for this team moving forward.
IR – DeMarcus Cousins to the NOLA Pelicans. Teaming him up alongside with Anthony Davis is definitely a match. What no one is thinking about is the attractiveness of this team now because free agents and others are more likely to join these 2. Pair them up with another guy in the near future (John Wall, Dame Lillard) and we could see them actually playing to win the WEST.
IK – The Toronto Raptors were the clear winner this year at the deadline. Serge Ibaka gives the Raptors the new age big man they’ve been looking for and PJ Tucker is a border line starter that can give them scoring and rebounding off the bench. Losing Terrence Ross probably stung a bit, but I think they’ve got the depth they needed for the playoff push. On top of that, the East was rather quiet this year at the deadline, the Wizards were able to acquire Bojan Bogdanovic and the Cavs picked up Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut (briefly) off waivers, but Ibaka is the trophy among this bunch.
DH – This might not be the most popular answer but sometimes the best move is to not make one. I think Boston sitting pat and not jeopardizing their future just because they have been stashing draft picks was the move of the trade deadline.
2 – From now until the beginning of the NBA Playoffs, what is the biggest storylines that you are following?
GT – The biggest storyline has to be the health of the top team in each conference. Cleveland and Golden State are the clear favorites to make the Finals from their respective conference but both have some serious injury questions at this late stage of the season. For Cleveland, the injury that has sidelined Kevin Love and the fatigue and conditioning level of the 31-year-old LeBron James have to be questions. On Golden State, they need Kevin Love to be the favorite. Without him, they have shown weaknesses.
TS – Definitely covering Russell Westbrook’s attempt to tie or pass Oscar Robertson for the most triple doubles in a season. Also I’ve been following Kevin Durant and his move to Golden State plus his injury rehab. Another story I’ve been following is the Boston Celtics as they chase down the Cleveland Cavaliers for the number one spot in the East.
IR – Russell Westbrook’s quest for the “Big O” season. He’s tearing it up out there and there are NO signs of him slowing down!
IK – With the injury to Kevin Durant I’ll be keeping a close eye on Golden State. I’m not worried about them, but it’ll be interesting to see how they adapt to life without KD again. I really don’t think he’ll be 100% by playoffs so I want to see what this team is really made of. Can they hang with Houston or San Antonio in a seven game series without KD? I think we’ll find out in the last few weeks. I’m also going to be keeping an eye on the Portland Trailblazers. I love seeing Dame in the Playoffs so I’ll be watching them to see if they can gain some ground now that they have Jusuf Nurkic. As a Celtics fan though, I’ll have most of my attention focused on whether or not they can hold onto the #2 seed in the East and of course, I’ll be rooting for the Nets to keep losing.
DH – I think the obvious choice here is KD and his injury and how does he come back from it. Chef Curry had a grade 1 injury last season and it was noticeable in the playoffs. He just didn’t have his legs under him like he had before the injury. Durant suffered a grade 2 so I’m really interested to see how he bounces back.
3 – Cleveland and Golden State look destined to match up in the NBA Finals once again. Which of these teams is more vulnerable, and why?
GT – Golden State, for sure. The thing with Golden State that I have always questioned is; who is the captain or leader of that team? Now that may be crazy to some, but it is very relevant. Steph Curry is great, Klay Thompson can light it up, Draymond Green provides toughness, Kevin Durant can score. But, can any of them lead? That is what happened last year in the Finals. LeBron was the clear leader that made guys around him better. If the Warriors are going to win the Finals, they need to have a leader step up in a competitive 7-game series. Right now, they look really vulnerable losing3 of their last 5.
TS – Right now I would say it’s even because losing KD to injury was bigger than the impact of losing an Andrew Bogut who just joined the team. KDs injury messed up rhythm and Bogut didn’t get to create rhythm with the Cavs. I think both teams will still be fine but both need to gain key pieces back in order to get the upper edge.
IR – Golden State are the more vulnerable team right now in the absence of Kevin Durant. It’s evident that they are a different team without but who wouldn’t be? Determining his health, GSW may not even make it out of the WEST.
IK – As crazy as this may sound to some, Golden State is the more vulnerable team. For starters, they have a much tougher road to the Finals than the Cavs and we all know that can take a serious toll on a team. Obviously, Durant’s injury bumps them down a couple notches, but what’s worse is that they no longer have the depth to compensate. Harrison Barnes is gone, Andre Iguodala is a year older and a year slower, and like I said earlier, I just don’t see KD coming back at full strength. Curry had a similar injury last year and you could clearly see a difference in his game when he returned. On the other side, LeBron got the backup point guard he wanted in Deron Williams and Derrick Williams appears to be a solid addition. Add in a healthy Kevin Love and the Cavaliers look poised to, dare I say it, win another ring.
DH – I think both teams are very vulnerable right now but I think Cleveland is more vulnerable only because the Warriors will get KD back and Cleveland just hasn’t looked good for about the last month and Boston is foaming at the mouth.
4 – There’s been a ton of debate about who the NBA MVP will be, come year end. Who gets your vote? Make a case for why he should be named the Most Valuable Player in the league.
GT – This year, and every year in recent memory, LeBron James is the most valuable player in the league. I understand the arguments for Russell Westbrook, James Harden, or Kawhi Leonard. But to me, those are more novelty stories when compared to James. James is the best player in the league and his influence goes far beyond the court. It is joked around the league that James is not only a star player, but the de facto General Manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers. If it weren’t for James, they wouldn’t be one of the biggest competitors in the free agent and buy-out markets. Everyone wants to play with James, he makes life easier for everyone around him. He is the best, and most valuable player in the league.
TS – Russell Westbrook would get my vote for MVP because everyone wrote this team off once KD left. People said the Thunder would be under .500 and not make the playoffs and Westbrook has them doing both. He lost KD and Ibaka in the same offseason plus he’s been playing with no shooters around him all year. Harden has a lot of help and if you switched Harden and Westbrook’s teams I think Russ would take Houston farther. He’s averaging a triple double in the season and has his team in the 6th spot in the playoff picture right now. The Thunder are 26-5 when he gets triple doubles and they’re in the flow of the game. I think it’s no debate but people will have to talk and give their input either way.
IR – RUSSELL WESTBROOK: Averaging a triple-double and fighting for a playoff spot (which they will get). Russ could have been MVP of the league last season but this season he’s on a whole another level! I believe when assessing one’s value to his team you have to take in their personal greatness, although no one likes admitting it. What would stop Russ from winning the MVP award is if the committee compares OKC’s record to other nominee’s records.
IK – I’m not sure this question has ever been this difficult, at least not in recent memory. There really is 4 to 5 guys that are completely deserving of winning this honor, and maybe a sixth had Durant not gotten hurt. While Westbrook is having one of the greatest statistical seasons ever, his team just isn’t winning enough. He was my preseason pick but I have to admit it shouldn’t be Russ. LeBron and Kawhi do it on both ends of the floor, but LeBron is such a “Blah” pick and I’m not quite sure why but I’m just not ready to give Leonard the MVP Award… yet. I could go on and on for days as to why Isaiah Thomas could be regarded the MVP by some, but I’ll spare you that long winded and heavily biased rant. It has to be James Harden. His stats are incredible (29 pts, 11 assists, and 8 rebounds) plus the wins and a three seed in the West to go along with it? Ya, I’ll take Harden.
DH – Russell Westbrook. Take away a top 5 player from a team and they don’t make the playoffs the next year. Kobe couldn’t do it without Shaq. Cleveland couldn’t do it without LeBron. He’ averaging a triple-double. I don’t see how anyone could win the MVP over him.
5 – Looking towards the off-season… What would a dream transaction be for your team? Be creative. This could be a trade, a draft pick, a free agent signing.
GT – This is all about moving up in the draft for the Portland Trail Blazers. I have no delusions that any major high-caliber free agent is going to come to Portland. Beyond that, Portland has no money to sign a big-name free agent. It’s all about the draft. Owner Paul Allen and General Manager Neil Olshey both love the NBA Draft. Right now, the Blazers have 3 first-round draft picks in the 2017 Draft. What they also have is tradeable assets such as an expiring contract on Festus Ezeli, and young shooters like Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard, and Maurice Harkless. What I would do is package two or three of those picks and maybe a piece or two and move up in the draft to a top-5 spot and draft a small forward to put next to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum such as Jayson Tatum or Josh Jackson. Develop those guys quick and you’ve got a great core moving forward.
TS – Celtics trading for Jimmy Butler/Paul George. The Celtics are in a great position where they can have a top 3 pick and still have enough money to sign a max player.
Thunder getting Blake Griffin/Kevin Durant in free agency. OKC will have to build through draft or trades because this isn’t the destination for NBA players but Westbrook here makes it appealing. Kevin Durant back to OKC is a dream it won’t happen and the fans won’t forgive him but it was nice watching my two favorite players to watch on the same team and I miss it.
IR – What I’d like to see happen is Paul George to the Thunder. It’s extremely far-fetched but OKC is (1) star away from really and truly competing in the WEST. I believe if KD would have stayed in OKC this season while Russ is playing exactly like he is, OKC could win a Championship. Although I’m stating that KD would have been the 2nd option, solely for a(this) season, OKC could have did it! I believe if Paul George came he’d put up numbers as such: 21ppg, 7rebs, 4ast, and 2.5stls. With that being said, my dream transaction would be PG13 to OKC.
IK – A perfect offseason for my Celtics starts with them landing the number one or AT LEAST the number two overall pick in this summer’s draft. Now the next step in this scenario could go a few ways. To be honest, I’d be content with them taking a player like Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball and holding onto that player, as long as they traded a guy like Avery Bradley or Terry Rozier. On the other hand, if they were to keep the four guards they have on the roster right now (IT, Bradley, Marcus Smart, Rozier), and move Ball or Fultz for another player/piece, that would work for me too. The main problem with the draft is that the top is guard dominant, much like our current roster. So if the Celtics do land a top draft pick, one of the guards will need to be moved one way or another. For the sake of this question let’s say they draft Fultz at #1 overall, and they move Avery Bradley and a future draft pick for a big man, let say Andre Drummond, whose name was brought up numerous times surrounding this year’s trade deadline. The Celtics would then cap off this perfect offseason by signing Gordon Hayward to a max contract and would enter the season with a starting 5 of IT, Smart, Hayward, Horford, Drummond. See you soon Golden State. The best part about this “best case scenario” is that there is a solid chance the Celtics, A) end up with a top 3 pick and B) sign Hayward in free agency. Now just get me a true big man, even one that can just come off the bench and this Celtics team is ready to compete for a Banner next year.
DH – Kyle Singler retirement.