The NBA is gearing up for a return next month, and the expectation is that we will have playoff basketball. As the Western Conference’s elite teams prepare for the return of the season, we take a look at the most critical question that will define each team’s chances at contending for a championship.
(You can find the biggest questions facing the Eastern Conference’s top teams here)
Sports fans were able to satisfy their desperate hunger for competition while the NBA remains on hiatus by watching ESPN’s 10-part documentary, “The Last Dance.” Iconic NBA documentaries can function almost as a time machine, guiding the viewer through a notable part of the league’s history, while still providing a similar thrill to the one felt when experiencing games live.
“The Last Dance” was compelling at every turn. It seems fitting that ESPN created arguably the greatest NBA documentary of all time while telling the story of the greatest NBA player of all time. While there may never be a story that parallels Michael Jordan’s ascension to basketball supremacy, the last decade of NBA action has produced a magnitude of engrossing stories. These stories have a profound impact on the current framework of the NBA and may also be worthy of their own documentary one day.
Here are some subjects we would love to see covered in-depth in a future documentary.
The Oklahoma City Thunder shared some good news on Wednesday.
The team said that all players and staff who might have been exposed to the coronavirus were tested. All tests came back negative. The Thunder also said that they did not use the state resources for testing, suggesting they went private for that.
OKC Thunder COVID-19 update. pic.twitter.com/wvC7xHElK5
— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) March 18, 2020
This is encouraging news for a lot of reasons. Obviously the first is that we want as many people as possible to be healthy. Secondly, there was great concern that the visiting Utah Jazz, who had two players test positive for COVID-19, could have spread the coronavirus. These results suggest the virus did not spread. This also suggests that the social distancing measures many have taken really will be effective in limiting the spread of the virus.
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Wednesday night’s game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz was postponed at the last second, reportedly over some ill players.
The game was about ready to tip off at Chesapeake Energy Arena in OKC when the Thunder’s head medical doctor came sprinting onto the floor, according to ESPN’s Royce Young. The referees all conferred and spoke with the coaches. The players cleared off the floor.
Those who met decided to hold off on the tip off.
The game was postponed and the arena closed, with fans asked to leave in an orderly fashion.
Thunder and Jazz both head to locker rooms as refs reportedly await confirmation from the league to start the game. pic.twitter.com/aJk6CK5QzK
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 12, 2020
Jazz-Thunder game has officially been postponed. Fans have been asked to leave Chesapeake Energy Arena. pic.twitter.com/i0rm4khahI
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 12, 2020
Two Utah Jazz players were ill and that is believed to be the reason for the precaution, according to Young.
Neither Emmanuel Mudiay nor Rudy Gobert participated in shootaround Wednesday due to illness, and both were listed as out for the game.
Emmanuel Mudiay and Rudy Gobert are both questionable for tonight’s game at Oklahoma City. Neither are feeling well. Neither went through shootaround this morning
— Tony Jones (@Tjonesonthenba) March 11, 2020
The game being postponed comes the same day the NCAA announced its popular men’s basketball tournament would be played without fans in attendance. The NBA has been trying to decide how to proceed as the world looks to contain the outbreak of coronavirus. They are likely going to begin playing games without fans, so it’s no surprise that extreme precaution would be taken in this case.
The Oklahoma City Thunder are trying to rebuild after essentially being forced to unload Paul George and Russell Westbrook over the summer, but George believes his former team came away just fine after dealing him to the Los Angeles Clippers.
After George’s go-ahead three-pointer with just over 25 seconds left helped the Clippers defeat Oklahoma City on Monday, the star swingman said he believes the trade OKC made involving him “worked out great.” He was complimentary of second-year guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and veteran Danilo Gallinari, whom the Thunder acquired in the deal, and pointed to all the draft picks his former team landed.
“I thought it worked out great for them,” George said, via ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk. “I think Shai is a future star, and he’s proven that he can carry a load … him just being under (Chris Paul), he is going to learn so much. So they got a star.
“And Danilo is a proven big-time scorer. And then how many picks that they got? Their future is bright. Sam Presti is a proven expert at drafting.”
Gilgeous-Alexander is certainly off to a hot start, as he’s averaging 19.7 points per game. Gallinari was only involved in the deal to match salaries, but the Thunder landed a whopping five first-round picks in the George trade (two from the Miami Heat) and the rights to swap two future first-rounders. If you have to trade a star player, that is the way to do it.
Obviously, the Thunder would rather still have George and Westbrook. George is right that they will be in good hands with Presti building the roster, but there have been rumblings about him potentially leaving to join another organization. If that happens, it would be one of Oklahoma City’s biggest losses to date.
Kevin Durant spent the first eight years of his career with the Thunder and once believed Oklahoma City would always feel like home to him, but that changed in a hurry for the two-time NBA Finals MVP after the way he was treated when he signed with the Golden State Warriors.
In an interview with J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal that was published this week, Durant unloaded on the Thunder organization and fans in OKC for everything that has unfolded since he left. He said his perception of the fans changed when they went berserk over his decision to leave in free agency three years ago.
“People coming to my house and spray-painting on the for sale signs around my neighborhood,” Durant recalled. “People making videos in front of my house and burning my jerseys and calling me all types of crazy names.”
It wasn’t just the fans. Durant says the Thunder have also acted “fake” to him, and he has not maintained a positive relationship with anyone in the team’s front office since his departure.
“I’ll never be attached to that city again because of that,” Durant said. “I eventually wanted to come back to that city and be part of that community and organization, but I don’t trust nobody there. That s— must have been fake, what they was doing. The organization, the GM, I ain’t talked to none of those people, even had a nice exchange with those people, since I left.”
Fans reacted similarly when LeBron James left Cleveland the first time, but he still chose to return to the Cavaliers and deliver on his promise of bringing the franchise its first NBA title. Durant has no interest in doing the same in OKC.
In addition to the vandalism and jersey burning, Durant’s mother Wanda has also spoken about the nasty treatment she has dealt with from Thunder fans. KD is extremely close with his mom, so that is likely a factor as well.
Durant has a tendency to hold grudges and can be very thin-skinned, so it’s no surprise he wants nothing to do with Oklahoma City. Fans can be irrational, but Durant isn’t the type of guy to overlook being disrespected.
The Oklahoma City Thunder may have never intended to keep Chris Paul when they acquired him as part of the deal that sent Russell Westbrook to the Houston Rockets, but they are doing everything they can to convince rival teams that is not the way they view it.
Team executives have found that the Thunder are trying to create the impression that they want to keep Paul to help mentor their younger players, ESPN’s Brian Windhorst said on “The Jump” this week. However, they are privately hoping something will change this offseason that will inspire a team to make an offer for the veteran point guard.
“Here’s what executives expect to happen: They expect the Thunder to put out a message that, ‘We’re not looking to trade Chris Paul. We want him here. We want him as part of our unit with our young guys,'” Windhorst said. “They don’t want anybody to think they’re panicked trying to trade him. They want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul.”
The Thunder have traded Westbrook and Paul George and entered a complete rebuilding phase, so no one is going to believe they want to keep Paul. Taking on his contract was the only way they were able to send Westbrook to Houston. There have been some indications that Paul will begin the season in OKC, but that won’t be due to a lack of effort to trade him.
While Paul is still capable of playing at a high level, he has battled injuries in recent years and turned 34 in May. The Thunder can only hope a contending team gets desperate at some point between now and next season’s trade deadline.