1. Kyrie Irving, part-time NBA player. Soon part-time civil liberties litigant?
The Nets are changing their stance on Kyrie Irving and will allow him to join the team on games outside of New York and Toronto. The Nets initially kept Irving out of the team because of his unwillingness to comply with New York City’s indoor vaccine mandate, which prevents him from participating in the team’s home games.
In its official statement, Brooklyn cited their “current circumstances” as well as the chance to “more optimally balance the physical demand on the entire roster” as the reasons behind the decision to bring back Irving on a part-time basis.
The “current circumstances” pertain to the increasing number of Nets players being held out due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. They now have ten players unavailable, with Kevin Durant and, ironically, Irving added to the list as of today.
The balancing of physical demands refers to Durant’s heavy workload. He has averaged 41 minutes in his last 9 games, including 48 minutes in their overtime win against Toronto on Tuesday. Head coach Steve Nash recently expressed his concern, saying that “it’s not safe or sustainable to lean on him like that.”
In other words, the decision was driven by pragmatic considerations. Many lauded the Nets for doing the right thing and telling Irving to go home until he got the COVID-19 vaccine. But at the end of the day, it’s still about winning a championship (no matter how much media wokesters try to convince you otherwise), and having Irving back for road games is perhaps the best way to lessen the burden on Durant and preserve him for the postseason.
Undeniably, allowing Irving to join as a part-timer sends the wrong message to the locker room. It condones his selfish behavior and is a disservice to his teammates who are all-in this season. But let’s not forget that the Nets were built through free agency; fostering team culture is the last thing on the minds of mercenaries.
Here’s another angle, though: if Irving entered the protocols due to a positive test, could he and the Nets actually challenge New York’s mandate on the ground of natural immunity? A George Mason University law professor sued the school last August over its vaccine mandate, which ultimately led to GMU granting him a vaccine exemption. Dr. Marty Makari of Johns Hopkins University recently published an op-ed on the Washington Post challenging the seemingly politically driven narrative against natural immunity.
Kyrie Irving v. City of New York? Irving might have just found his own Clay v. United States and, lo and behold, Stephon Marbury is waxing prophetic. What in the world is going on? Is the Earth turning flat?
2. Bring on The Replacements
The NBA is looking to update its roster rules in light of multiple teams finding themselves short on players due to COVID-19. According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Baxter Holmes, the NBA and NBPA will discuss a plan to allow teams to sign additional replacement players in the event of multiple COVID cases.
Basically, the proposal is to allow teams to add additional players on ten-day contracts in the event of multiple positive tests. The replacement players wouldn’t count against a team’s cap space. The objective is to allow teams to maintain enough depth so that the NBA wouldn’t be forced to cancel or postpone games.
There’s been a concerning uptick in the number of players and staff members being placed under the league-mandated health and safety protocols the past week. The NBA postponed two Bulls games because ten players, along with additional staff members, were placed under protocols. The Orlando Magic had to sign multiple players from their G League affiliate on Friday just to have enough players to play against Miami. As mentioned above, the Nets now have ten players in the protocols, while the Kings have six plus interim coach Alvin Gentry.
The race to find the NBA’s own Shane Falco is on.
3. Klay’s return date sets up a Woj vs. Shams showdown
Klay Thompson will not be playing on Christmas. There’s been no reported setback and the Warriors are likely just being conservative with his return. So when will he make his season debut? Depends on who you ask.
According to Woj, it will be in January:
The Athletic’s Shams Charania says it could be December 28:
I’m Team Woj here. Here’s a rule of thumb: if it doesn’t involve a player affiliated with Rich Paul and Klutch, take Sham’s word with a grain of salt. Case in point: just the other week, Shams claimed that Kyrie is “not gonna play basketball unless he gets traded.” Neither Klay nor Kyrie are Klutch clients.
Plus I’m riding the hot hand. Guess who broke the first two news items in this week’s column? None other than the Wojmeister!
4. Sixers have zero interest in Westbrook
No matter how much Laker fans and the Klutch propaganda machine try to will it to reality, the Sixers are not interested in trading Ben Simmons for Russell Westbrook.
It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that these “rumors” are baseless and nothing more than wishful thinking. Westbrook is already past his prime, he also can’t hit threes (though he’s not afraid to
brick take ‘em), and, unlike Simmons, he’s a terrible defender. The Sixers reportedly want a top-25 player in exchange for Simmons and Westbrook no longer fits the bill. Plus, the Lakers already mortgaged their future when they traded for Anthony Davis two years ago, so they have no assets that can satisfy Darryl Morey’s ransom.
So, no, it’s absolutely not happening unless Morey loves to eat ox brain and consumes one that is infected with mad cow disease. Sorry (not sorry), Lakers Nation.
5. Steve Kerr needs to unleash Andrew Wiggins
The Warriors are still neck and neck with the Suns for the NBA’s best record, but they haven’t been clicking on offense since they beat their Western Conference rivals two weeks ago. They’re 5-2 since (excluding today’s game against Toronto, which the Dubs are using as a rest day for their starters), but their offensive rating is down to 109.8, which only ranks 17th in the league during that span. Part of that is Stephen Curry’s shooting struggles as he chased Ray Allen’s record, but the other part that’s not being talked about enough is Steve Kerr’s hesitance to hand the keys to Andrew Wiggins more often.
They were comfortably beating the Celtics on Friday, going up by as much as 20 points behind 24 first-half points from Wiggins. But they went away from the hot hand in the second half, which allowed the Celtics to climb back and keep the game close in the fourth.
Wiggins only had three attempts after halftime—and it wasn’t because the Celtics started double-teaming him. The Warriors just inexplicably stopped running plays for him.
Yes, Wiggins has improved tremendously as a cutter under the Warriors’ system. Yes, he has become a reliable spot-up three-point shooter, shooting a career-best 42.2% from deep (15th in the league). But he’s more than a sum of these two things. He is, until Klay’s return, the Warriors’ second-best scorer by a margin much wider than scoring averages might suggest.
Jordan Poole is averaging only a point per game less than Wiggins, but he’s more of an irrational confidence guy (44.2 FG%/33.8 3P%) than a true multi-tool scorer. Poole is taking 14 shots per game to Wiggins’s 14.2, and that’s an issue because it means the Warriors are not maximizing Wiggins’s utility. Sure, he expends a lot of energy guarding the opposing team’s best wing player, but stamina’s never been an issue for Wiggins. He might get a chance in the near future if Poole stays in the health and safety protocols for an extended period.
The Warriors know it. Draymond Green perfectly summed up what Wiggins brings to their offense, “He is someone that you can go to as an escape valve to get you a bucket, to get to the line and get fouled, to get downhill and get something in the paint or at the rim. And he’s also someone you can leave on the floor and run the offense around.”
Yet Golden State isn’t doing enough of that. It’s not just the Boston game. We saw it in last season’s play-in games when they kept going exclusively to Steph and became very predictable. When that happens again in the playoffs and if Klay doesn’t quite return to his Game 6 form? This might end up as Steve Kerr’s big-picture version of Pete Carroll’s infamous 1-yard play call and decision not to unleash the Beast Mode.
6. Ja Morant’s looming return could provide Ewing Theory verdict
The Memphis Grizzlies have been without guard Ja Morant for three weeks now, but it looks like his return is imminent. Morant, who suffered a worrying non-contact knee injury on Nov. 26, is feeling good according to Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins, and the team is hopeful that he can rejoin over the weekend.
The Grizzlies have held the fort quite well in the absence of their ace player, going 10-1 with a whopping point differential of +18.6 during that span, both league-best marks.
Somewhat expectedly, it launched multiple Ewing Theory threads from Reddit conspiracists. The short of it is that Memphis are a much better defensive team without Morant. ESPN’s Kevin Pelton does a good job analyzing the numbers, but his conclusion that randomness is the biggest factor feels like a cop out.
Eleven games may still be too small of a sample size to assertively declare Morant as a legit Ewing Theory candidate, but it’s also premature to dismiss it altogether. The jury is still out, so let’s call it a “hypothesis” for now.
7. Throwback video of the week
Game 3, 1999 ECF: The genesis of the Ewing Theory.
Patrick Ewing tore his Achilles in Game 2 against the Pacers, which ruled him out for the remainder of the playoffs. The eighth-seeded Knicks would go on to win three of the next four games to advance to the NBA Finals, starting with this one courtesy of a controversial Larry Johnson 4-point play.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, their Cinderella run would end at the hands of Tim Duncan’s Spurs in the Finals. That kind of summed up the 1990s for the Knicks. First they ran into the Michael Jordan brick wall for most of the decade, and then when they finally made the finals they ended up running into the start of the Duncan-Spurs Dynasty.