As an amateur basketball writer extraordinaire I of course have a lot of close friends and sources inside the NBA. So from time to time I get flooded with emails from some elite names in the industry who want to get the inside scoop on all the current hot topics in the league. Here’s the first edition of Jeff’s NBA Mailbag.
Q: With about two weeks left in the regular season who is your MVP thus far?
(Anthony, New Orleans)
JB: The MVP race is as wide open as I can ever remember. Usually for the last few seasons it’s really been between LeBron and someone else, whether that be Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, or others. There a legitimately five guys this year who you could make a strong case for winning MVP between Steph Curry, James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and of course LeBron James. But to most the battle has been narrowed down to either Curry or Harden, and this is completely justifiable. Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, and LeBron have all put together tremendous seasons, but when you boil the award down to its roots. The award is for the most “valuable” player, not who’s having the best season statistically.
Whenever I consider who should be MVP I try to think of it in a more practical way. For instance let’s take that star player (Curry or Harden) and replace him with just an average type player of the same position; now try to envision how that team would perform. If we replaced James Harden with per say Arron Afflalo, how would the Rockets have held up through all the injuries this season? There’s no doubt in my mind that Houston would be on the outside of the playoff race looking in if Harden wasn’t able to carry them this season through all the trials and tribulations. But to be fair, let’s also say Steph Curry was replaced with a guy like Jarrett Jack. The Warriors certainly wouldn’t have the best record in the league, but I don’t see as significant a drop off as the Harden to Afflalo swap. Golden State has a bit more talent surrounding Curry than the Rockets have surrounding Harden. Harden has also turned in countless dominant performances where he’s eclipsed 40 points, and each Rocket win has his clear imprint on it.
My MVP evaluation process certainly isn’t an exact science, but for me it’s the best indicator I can think of. So to answer your question, I believe this year’s MVP should be James Harden.
Q: What are the chances Oklahoma City secretly takes trade offers for Durant during the off-season?
(Kevin, Oklahoma City)
JB: I would describe the chances of Sam Presti taking calls about Kevin Durant during this off-season as somewhere between 99.9% to 100%. Is that too high?
If you’re Sam Presti why wouldn’t you take calls about Kevin Durant? OKC could have every intent in the world to try and keep Durant, but not listening to offers is just because Durant may be perceived as untouchable is silly.
This has really become a very volatile situation once you factor in KD’s foot injury and his impending free agency in 2016. Foot injuries aren’t considered to be very fixable and short-term injuries, especially for a larger player like Durant, who is 6’10. If OKC’s medical staff identifies this injury as a potential issue that will loom over Durant for an extended period of time, why wouldn’t they try to get some value before free agency hits next season?
Even if we disregard the injury problems and simply look at the fact that Durant may not actually want to stay in OKC past 2016, Sam Presti would have to try and get some sort of equal value for Durant. As unlikely as getting ‘equal value’ would be. A team like the Sixers, who is in the hunt to add a superstar and who have tons of valuable assets, would certainly call about Durant. Also recent history doesn’t seem to indicate they are too afraid of taking fliers on players with injury concerns.
All of this is complete speculation that is based off of nothing, but I’ll leave you with this. If you’re Sam Presti and Durant and his agent have privately told you that they want out of OKC after 2016, how would this trade offer sound?
Kevin Durant for Nerlens Noel, Sixers 2015 1st round pick, Lakers 2015 1st round pick (top 5 protected)
Q: Better nickname? The Stifle Tower or Sauce Castillo?
JB: I really doubted that I would ever hear a greater nickname than the Rudy Gobert’s “The Stifle Tower”. That was just absolutely brilliant, he’s French, he blocks shots, it’s almost too good to be true. But now Sauce Castillo comes out of nowhere and just blows us away. It sounds like the name of a popular Mexican food truck, or the name of Hispanic Saturday morning cartoon character.
However, I’m going to have to give the nod to The Stifle Tower, just purely based on the fact that Sauce Castillo has nothing to do with basketball. But these two are instant classics, that I hope stick for a very long time.
Q: Does a Paul George return make the Pacers a dark horse to come out of the East?
(Larry, Terre Haute)
JB: There are just so many variables here to defiantly say that the Pacers could ultimately compete for an Eastern Conference title if Paul George were to return. He hasn’t played in a true competitive basketball game since the FIBA Championships when he suffered that gruesome leg injury, and now all of sudden you want to throw him into a playoff series? I think we’d be naïve to assume that he would be flung back into the fire without any type of minutes limit, also he’s going to lack some chemistry with the team he hasn’t played with in about a year.
Without Paul George 100 percent healthy and in previous superstar form the Pacers really have no shot. But if we’re being as optimistic as we possibly can and the old Paul George does show up, then yes they might have the slimmest of chances to outduel the Cavs or Hawks in seven games.
Q: Is it true teams get mulligans on trades?
JB: No, unfortunately the NBA does not allow mulligans, do-overs, or givesies-backsies on deadline trades. Maybe in the next collective bargaining agreement they will add an amendment regarding this issue.
The Bucks trading their leading scorer at the deadline is not a strategy many teams subscribe to. Even though Michael Carter-Williams may have seemed like an appealing replacement for Brandon Knight, Milwaukee should have seen the writing on the wall when Sam Hinkie was so willing to let of go of the reigning Rookie of the Year for a draft pick that in all likelihood won’t even convey until 2016.
Q: If you’re running the Celtics what does making the 8 seed actually do for your team in the long run?
JB: Besides a moral victory for coach Brad Stevens, it does absolutely nothing. The Celtics are going to get trounced by the Atlanta Hawks in four games, maybe five if Isaiah Thomas gets hot for a night. So what was this season really all about for the Celtics? They traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green hoping that Brad Stevens would play ball and get the young guys some playing experience and maybe down the line get lucky and receive a top three pick in the lottery. But now they’ve straddled the line between tanking and being in NBA middle class to close, and are in position for the 8th playoff spot. Yes, making the playoffs is always an accomplishment of some sort and the Celtics should be mildly commended, but where does this team go from here? How are they supposed to improve by ultimately landing the 15th pick?
Marcus Smart isn’t a transcendent talent by any standard, and are guys like Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger really the future? It’s possible they can spend some money in free agency and sure up some holes, but from what I can see there is limited growth even if they land a Kevin Love this off-season. Does a future starting five of Smart, Bradley, Turner, Love, Zeller really scream Eastern Conference contender? The Celtics wanted to acquire assets and high lottery picks to try and pull themselves out of basketball purgatory, but things have changed I guess. The 8th seed might be nice, but getting into the playoffs at potentially 36-46 is nothing to celebrate when you consider how much rebuilding is left in Boston. It’s possible making the playoffs is actually setting the timeline for when Boston will be a contender back even further.