The NBA news cycle moves faster than LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the break. So every Monday this season, we’ll be looking at the most important story lines, trends, and talking points for the week ahead. This is the NBA’s Biggest Questions of the Week.
We’ll touch on Kevin Love trade rumors and whether there’s a team the vet can turn around; where the Knicks will go from here; coaches on the hot seat, and more. Let’s get to it.
Could Kevin Love Turn a New Team Into a Contender?
At 5-17 and playing largely unremarkable basketball, it’s tough for the Cavaliers to wedge themselves into the national conversation these days. One way they’ve done it recently: by having a group of players anonymously complain about the methods of a first-year coach and call out everything from the way he names plays to the fact that there are assistants more ready to coach in the NBA than he is. Considering that John Beilein is coming from a college program and the franchise’s future relies on a bunch of young 20-somethings, the hope is that they can all grow together. But it doesn’t sound like the veterans on this team have the patience for that kind of lengthy timeline. That’s how we ended up here, with reports saying the Cavs are ready to start listening to offers for Kevin Love. Trade season is upon us!
It was only a matter of time until trade speculation began, given that this season has so far been lacking in off-court or transactional drama. But—and forgive me for being a bucket of cold water here—how much would a Love trade really matter? To be clear, Love is still playing well (he’s averaging a double-double and shooting 37.1 percent from 3) and would no doubt help any playoff team. But when you consider the league’s landscape and the teams that have been rumored to be interested in him, is there any group he could push over the top?
The idea of folding Love in with Portland’s All-Star backcourt is intriguing, as is putting him next to Rudy Gobert in Utah. But the Blazers have even bigger depth problems now that Rodney Hood has torn his Achilles, and they won’t want to give up a player like Anfernee Simons in a deal. And though Utah may be willing to weaken its defense in hopes that Love makes up for it on the offensive end (where the Jazz sit in the bottom 10 of the league), it would certainly be a gamble.
The Rockets seem like a near-perfect fit, but they have little to offer in a trade. If you’re a Heat believer, then adding Love may seem like enough to turn them into the no. 3, or no. 2, team in the East. But Miami’s identity is also affixed to the way the team’s depth fuels its success. Trading for Love may not be worth depleting that strength. If the Spurs are hell-bent on competing this season despite their rough start, they could also get into the mix.
Still, aside from the Rockets, none of the teams mentioned here are true contenders. And none of the actual contenders (the Lakers, Clippers, Bucks, Sixers) are likely to try to add a player like Love, barring an injury. Love will be moved before the February trade deadline, but come playoff time, it’s hard for me to see him moving any major needle.
What Will Come Next for the Knicks?
The aftermath of David Fizdale’s inevitable firing has been, as expected, extremely Knicksian. First came a video of Fizdale awkwardly shaking hands with the very people who jettisoned him out of New York. Then, in an extremely embarrassing move, the Knicks brass opted to not talk to the media about the firing. Over the weekend came more of the same worn-out checkpoints: Reports say the Knicks are “obsessed with and enamored by” Masai Ujiri, the Raptors president of basketball operations, who engineered last season’s title team. The more things change, the more the Knicks stay the same.
Even with all that creepy phrasing though, I get the Ujiri draw—Steve Mills and Scott Perry are reportedly feeling pressure, thinking they could get fired after the season. And Ujiri, who’s just shown he can build a title team, has the highest approval rating in the league. Yet I don’t know that even a blank check could get him to leave a flourishing franchise in Toronto for the dilapidated train wreck in NYC.
The same goes for the head coaching job that interim coach Mike Miller (no, not that Mike Miller) is holding down for the time being. A weekend report mentioned Spurs assistant Becky Hammon may have interest in the job, but only if she got a long-term deal. (Like a long-term deal has ever stopped the Knicks from firing a coach.) And of course, there’s always the perilous Mark Jackson option looming.
Someone will eventually jump at the chance to coach this team—as Fizdale and Mike D’Antoni once did—but they will be fighting a losing battle if the top-down structure doesn’t change. Whoever comes in to clean up the mess must have full autonomy and a proven track record. Ujiri fits the bill, as does someone like Daryl Morey or Sam Presti. It speaks volumes, though, that those all feel like long shots, not necessarily because they’re thriving where they are, but because the Knicks seem to repel anyone with a smart basketball mind. Whatever the case, after another failed experiment, New York is back at square one.
Who’ll Be the Next Hot-Seat Coach to Go?
When you lose to one team twice in a week, by a combined 67 points, and are also in the middle of an eight-game losing streak, the flames heat up on the coach’s seat. Alvin Gentry was not one of the coaches expected to be in this kind of conversation heading into the season, but the Pelicans—who’ve had rotten injury luck, especially with no. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson—have stooped to low levels this season. A 46-point loss to the Mavericks this weekend left many wondering about the team’s direction, and after Fizdale became the first coach to go, the league’s wandering eyes now shift to who may be next in line.
Outside of New Orleans, though, coaches around the league seem fairly comfortable. Most teams that are out of the playoff picture are either in a well-known rebuilding situation (the Hawks, Grizzlies, Cavaliers), a gap year due to preexisting injuries (the Warriors and Wizards, until John Wall returns), or are somewhat successfully fighting through injuries that have ailed them this season (the Blazers and Kings). The only other team off to a rough start and with a similarly bleak outlook is the Bulls. Jim Boylen is still who we thought he was, even after Chicago made a long-term commitment to him, but if the Bulls continue to underperform, they may have to go back on their choice earlier than expected. Gentry won’t be fired anytime soon; the Pelicans have been too hurt and have yet to see Zion on the floor. But if the losing keeps up, they might be forced to consider trades for JJ Redick and Jrue Holiday.
Will Ben Simmons Finish His Homework?
Behold Ben Simmons’s shot chart from Sunday night’s game against the Raptors:
If you’re looking for the joke here, there isn’t one. This is an average night for Simmons. Not average? The corner 3 Simmons took, and hit, just a day before, when the Sixers took on Cleveland (his second make of the season). That prompted coach Brett Brown to make a grand request postgame:
”This is what I want,” Brown said, ‘’and you can pass it along to his agent, his family, and friends. I want a 3-point shot a game, minimum. The pull-up 2s ... I’m fine with whatever is open. But I’m interested in the 3-point shot.”
Well then. At least publicly, this is about as direct a commandment as a coach can give. But where other coaches may have said this privately, or in a way that doesn’t come across as an ultimatum, Brown’s quote sounded more like a frustrated professor who was internally screaming: “See? You can do this!” Simmons didn’t appear to take his coach’s message to heart against Toronto. And yet he finished with 16 points, nine assists, and 11 rebounds, and had the best plus-minus of any Sixers starter in a 110-104 win. Therein lies the problem: Brown is trying to make Simmons think of the 3-point shot as assigned summer reading, but Simmons, who is still playing extremely well on both ends, can see that it’s more like extra credit.