Ah, the All-Star break. It’s like spring break for ballers, except it’s too damn cold unless you do what the non-All-Stars do and head to the tropics while the NBA takes a week-long break that really isn’t a break – not with the trade deadline coming Thursday.
Imagine you were a college student and you were spending several days drinking Natty Lights, watching wet T-shirt contests, throwing up and using your best “Feel the Bern” lines to piss off Gloria Steinem and pick up young women — all sorts of mayhem safeguarded by the knowledge that at the end of the vacation, you had a plane ticket back to where you came from.
It’s sort of like that with the NBA’s new seven-day All-Star break — except for the fact that your return ticket may take you back to a place where you are not wanted anymore. Such is the harsh reality for the likes of Markieff Morris, Jose Calderon, David Lee and a bunch of others whose next game is more likely to be played in a uniform of some team others than the ones they have been toiling for through the first 3 1/2 months of the season.
All heck could break loose at 2:59 p.m. Thursday as it did a year ago, when it seemed half the point guards in the league got traded, Lon Babby lost his mind and David Blatt was in the middle of turning around a Cleveland Cavaliers season that has them hovering around .500 at the season’s midpoint. Ah, those were the days. Kevin McHale was leading a Western Conference powerhouse, John Calipari was undefeated at Kentucky, Kristaps Porzingis was a nobody, Derek Fisher was merely going through a steep learning curve, LaMarcus Aldridge was going to be a Blazer for life, the Atlanta Hawks were legit … the list goes on and on.
Fast forward to where we are a year later, and one word says it all: “Trump.”
The Golden State Warriors are trying to trump what they did a year ago and trying to trump what the Chicago Bulls did two decades ago. Tyronn Lue is trying to trump that internal revulsion revolution that toppled Blatt. Someone named Tony Brown is coaching the Brooklyn Nets, who have a draft-pick deficit that trumps the national debt that Ben Carson was complaining about Saturday night, when the Republican debate was going up against the greatest Slam Dunk Contest ever … perhaps.
This is known as the new new, and folks, you haven’t seen anything yet. We are about to see the greatest salary cap jump in the history of the NBA, and if you don’t think Brandon Jennings is going to be a max player by the time July rolls around, you haven’t been paying attention.
At least we still have Taylor Swift as a constant. She won another Grammy last night, for 1989, and Kanye West somehow managed to stay relatively uninvolved. It also appears we will have the vacant Supreme Court seat of Antonin Scalia as a constant — perhaps through next year’s All-Star break. And it appears we are stuck with Mr. Trump and Mrs. Clinton and their polar opposite versions of vitriol.
Oh, and we also have Stephen Curry, who won this season’s MVP award back when Carly Fiorina and Bobby Jindal and Mike Huckabee were all considered valid presidential candidates.
Everyone goes back to work in the NBA (players, that is) on Thursday and Friday, and there are sure to be new faces in new places. That is what makes this week perhaps the best week of the NBA season. So much uncertainly with 48 hours left until the deadline. So much uncertainly in so many other areas of our lives.
Embrace it, folks. It is the new new. And trust me, it is nothing compared to what we will see in the ensuing months – especially in the Summer of Durant/Rondo/Jennings et al.
So let’s get onto the rankings, and that ever important battle for second place.
1. Stephen Curry, Warriors. He comes out of the break with 245 made 3-pointers, four shy of Kyle Korver’s record of at least one made 3 in 127 consecutive games. He needs just 42 more to break the record of 286 he set last season, which of course broke the record of 272 he set two years prior. He comes out of the break averaging 29.8 ppg, and it would be nice to see him get that average over 30.0 by the end of the season. Otherwise the NBA will have failed to have a 30-point scorer for the fourth time in the past five years. LAST EDITION: No. 1.
2. Russell Westbrook, Thunder. He is the NBA version of John Kasich, rising from seemingly nowhere to get back in the discussion. Of course, only one of them speaks rationally, but that is a topic for another column. Winning the MVP for the second straight time in an All-Star Game gives him a small boost this time, but the fact that he is now at eight triple-doubles counts for something, too. Yes, Draymond Green leads the NBA with 10, but Green also has just 19 double-doubles. Westbrook? He has 36, which is second in the league behind Andre Drummond’s 45. And he’s averaging a triple-double (24.0, 11.0, 10.4) in OKC’s five February games. LAST EDITION: UNRANKED.
3. Kawhi Leonard, Spurs. We said this in the last edition, and it bears repeating: This is where it starts to get tricky in terms of rankings. As as much as the Spurs have been getting from Aldridge of late, this particular fellow has been getting it done since Game No. 1, with no learning curve to work through. OK, so he didn’t quite get it done when he was defending Curry in the epic first Golden State-San Antonio that wasn’t quite so epic after all. His hold on third place is about as tenuous as Marco Rubio’s. LAST EDITION: No. 3.
4. Kevin Durant, Thunder. Averaging 32.0 points per game in his last 10, and has scored 20 or more in 38 straight games since Nov. 10 at Washington, when he had 14 points in 17 minutes but sat out the second half with a pulled hamstring. He’ll make a nice addition to the Golden State Warriors next season … or the Lakers a year after that. You think I’m kidding? Again, that means you have not been paying attention to the ramifications of this summer’s massive cap jump. LAST EDITION: No. 4.
5. Draymond Green, Warriors. Knocks DeMar DeRozan of the Raptors out of the top spot for one simple reason — he locked up Paul George in the final minute of the All-Star game when George was one bucket away from breaking Wilt Chamberlain’s record for most points in an ASG. Oh, and those 10 triple-doubles count for something, too. Also, we like guys who tell it like it is… or most of them, anyway. The guy in the red baseball cap, referenced in the intro, is excluded .. though he does put on quite an entertaining clown show. LAST EDITION: No. 5.
NEXT FIVE: LeBron James, Cavs; Damian Lillard, Trail Blazers; DeMar DeRozan, Raptors; Chris Paul, Clippers; Kyle Lowry, Raptors.
EDITION V: THE POST-BLATT EFFECT
EDITION IV: POWERBALL MANIA
EDITION III: ON KOBE BRYANT, STEVE HARVEY and ISH SMITH
EDITION II: WHO’S VYING FOR RUNNER-UP?
EDITION I: HYPOCRISY, AND THE END OF DAILY FANTASY SPORTS?
Chris Sheridan, publisher and editor-in-chief of SheridanHoops.com, is an official MVP voter. Follow him on Twitter.