Hello everyone and welcome to The Hot Streak, the new column from Chris Bullock, host of The Ball Out NBA Pod!
We’re kicking things off this week in our second column with the hottest NBA news over the last week, the blockbuster four-team trade that sent mercurial guard James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets to be with his friend and former teammate Kevin Durant. Now, you’re probably expecting some straight news analysis – if you’ve paid attention to our podcast, then you know that’s not how we get in our bag. You’re going to get our honest take on it and of course, we welcome your intake as well so with that being said, let’s get it!
HARDEN SHIPS OFF TO BROOKLYN
As I broke down in an earlier story last week about the Harden trade, it’s hard to look at the Brooklyn Nets as currently constructed and say that this isn’t a potential Finals team. But I will also bring up a comment that my friend said in a text that really made me think about this trade from a long-term:
“Brooklyn just sold their soul.”
He’s not wrong.
Seven first-round picks (including four pick swaps) between now and 2027, plus Caris LeVert and Rodions Kurucs will go to Houston (the team also traded Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince to Cleveland as part of the deal) is a hell of a lot for one player – even if that player if a former MVP and scoring champion. What this deal says to me is that they are banking on the trio of Durant, Harden and Kyrie Irving to essentially retire in the Brooklyn black. And to me, that is a scary proposition considering that all three of them have opt-outs in their current contract that will allow them to leave after the 2021-22 season.
So that leaves Brooklyn in a similar scenario as my beloved LA Clippers were going into last summer with Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. We all know George signed that massive five-year extension late last year, which leaves Leonard as the wild-card. Brooklyn made this deal with Harden specifically as a message to KD that they are serious about contending for a long time and to convince him to stay. You could also see this as a sign that they are starting to have second thoughts about the status of Kyrie Irving – they’ll never say it in public of course because they want you to believe this is going to be the new “Big 3” – but if you’ve paid attention to Irving’s NBA career so far from a locker room perspective (nothing against his off-court contributions so we’re clear – I have all the respect in the world for that), you can see why the Nets might be a little nervous.
That’s not to say this won’t work – for all I know this chemistry experiment might work and the Nets get a championship or two out of it – so far the team is 2-0 and Durant and Harden seem to have picked up where they left off in 2012. With Irving expected to come back this week, we shall see whether all three stars can co-exist and make the Nets front office be glad they made this deal. For the sake of all involved, this has to.
NBA FAILS IN RECENT COVID-19 RESPONSE
As of the time of this writing, the Washington Wizards-Charlotte Hornets matchup for Wednesday has been postponed, making it the 15th game that the NBA has postponed in less than a month due to COVID-19-related issues.
I’ve been talking a lot about this in my sports chats and have been asking myself internally but now it’s time to say the quiet part out loud: it’s time to put the season to a halt, at least temporarily.
In the most recent round of COVID-19 testing (Jan. 13), the NBA announced that 16 of the 497 players tested came up positive for the coronavirus. For those at home, that’s .032 percent of the league, which doesn’t seem like a big enough number to cause concern except when you note that 13 of the 15 postponed games all came within THE LAST EIGHT DAYS. If a team isn’t able to field eight healthy players, the game is considered postponed: for just Washington alone, they account for a third of those postponed games. So, about that .032 percent…
The league’s response to the uptick in cases was to implement the following changes: a mandate where players and staff have to quarantine at home or in their hotel rooms when not at practice or the game itself until further notice; on road trips, players can’t leave the team hotel, nor can guests come over. The league has also asked players to stop the postgame extended handshakes, hugs and conversations, which speaks to the heart of many players’ discontent. The most outspoken of them has been Oklahoma City guard George Hill, who brought up a point that I feel isn’t being taken seriously enough.
“I’m a grown man, so I’m gonna do what I wanna do,” Hill said, per the Oklahoman. “If I wanna go see my family, I’m gonna go see my family. They can’t tell me I have to stay in the room 24/7. If it’s that serious then maybe we shouldn’t be playing. It’s life. No one’s gonna be able to just cancel their whole life for this game.”
This doesn’t just speak to basketball – this goes for professional sports as a whole. You’ve got grown men sweating and bumping into each other in close contact for nearly a full hour; that is a disease breeding dream. Minnesota Timberwolves center Karl-Anthony Towns, who lost his mother and six other relatives to COVID-19, is among those players who most recently tested positive. Of all the people who the league would have hoped wouldn’t have gotten it, I would think that Towns is on top of the list.
I understand the league’s position: the players didn’t want to play in the bubble again, the league needed a way to make up the billions they lost during last season’s stoppage and were hoping that they would have fans in all the arenas at this point (as of now, only select areas are allowing fans). But for all the praise the league got for their response during the summer, they have bungled that all in a matter of a month. The rush to get back onto the court after a little more than two months, the uptick in positive cases, and the players’ response to protocol…all that speaks to a universal truth that the NBA will soon have to accept: this pandemic is bigger than the game.
For the sake of the players, for the sake of professionalism, and for the sake of public health…the NBA needs to sit on the bench. The monetary cost isn’t worth the potential long-term health of its talent. Period.