2022 or 2018? Health and Safety Protocols Revive Many NBA Vets Careers
We are about halfway through the NBA season, and my goodness has there been a lot to cover. This is probably the most hectic season in NBA history, for better or worse. Unfortunately, COVID has impacted this season much more than most anticipated a few months ago. However, there have been a lot of special moments despite this.
For starters, let’s talk about some of the NBA veterans who received second chances as a result of the NBA creating a hardship that allowed teams to sign players temporarily due to rostered players entering health and safety protocols. "Iso Joe" Johnson was probably the biggest headline, as he signed a 10-day contract at age 40 with the team he started his career with: The Boston Celtics. He scored a bucket in garbage time in his first game which sent the crowd into a frenzy. He was not extended a second 10-day contract, but it was still an amazing accomplishment.
Lance Stephenson, aka "Born Ready," was signed by the Atlanta Hawks on a 10-day contract, and then received a second 10-day contract with the Indiana Pacers. Though not putting up eye-opening stats, he has found himself in the rotation for the time being for both teams.
Wesley Matthews, Mario Chalmers, and many other players have also been given a chance back in the league as a result of the pandemic. In addition, a lot of young players or players who were previously playing overseas were given their first crack in the NBA. No matter the circumstance, watching a player fulfill a dream of theirs to make the league is a hell of an accomplishment.
It appears as though a few superstars will return this Wednesday in Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson. The Brooklyn Nets have decided to bring Kyrie Irving back as a part time player, playing away games only due to being unvaccinated and unable to play in Barclays Center. It is a little mind boggling that the Nets lost the majority of its roster due to players getting COVID, and then decided that the solution was to bring in an unvaccinated player. But whatever, we aren't here for the politics, we just want to see buckets, and Kyrie has never had a problem with that. Kyrie, KD, and Harden appear to be the favorites to come out of the East with the addition. I still think the Bucks aren't getting enough credit, and will ultimately come out of the East, maybe an Eastern Conference Finals matchup will prove the better team.
Then there's Klay Thompson. Returning for very different reasons, he has missed the past two seasons due to injury, and will rejoin the Golden State Warriors. Klay's return is a great thing for the NBA community. There are not many fans or players that can say they aren't fans of Klay. He is a true sniper, one of the best shooters of all time, as well as a tenacious defender. Expectations should be lower after recovering from the two season-ending injuries, however, with a jumper like his, who knows, he may get right back into it. The Warriors are already a league best 29-7. They are looking like a true contender in the West.
Let’s (attempt) to recap the first 40 or so games in the Eastern Conference thus far. The Chicago Bulls currently sit atop the East after winning 8 straight. Demar Derozan should be an MVP candidate as of now. He hit back-to-back game winners two days straight for the first time in NBA history. Lavine is averaging 26ppg, 5rpg, and 4apg while shooting 50% from the field and 42% from 3. Coby White has been playing exceptionally well the past month and a half, and Vucevic has been a steady force in the paint.
The Nets, Bucks, and Heat round out the top 4 teams in the East in order as many expected. KD, Harden, and Patty Mills have been steady throughout the year. Milwaukee looks just as good as last year despite being without Lopez and Divencenzo most of the season, while Miami has already shown its deep roster and great coaching despite not having all-star Bam Adebayo most of the season.
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been the surprise of the league, currently sitting at 21-16. Darius Garland looks like an all-star guard, Kevin Love has been rejuvenated, Evan Mobley may be Rookie of the Year when the season comes to a close, and Jarrett Allen probably deserves a chance at the All-Star game and Most Improved Player recognition. I don't know how starting 3 guys 6'11 or taller has worked, but it has.
The 76ers, Wizards, Hornets, and Celtics have all looked fine. Not contenders by any means, but probably will make the playoffs. The Knicks and Hawks have stumbled through the first half of the season, currently below .500 and out of the top 10 teams vying for the playoffs. Raptors young core looks promising. Pacers should probably trade as many players as they can and rebuild, because this win now roster does not perform well. Pistons and Magic flat out stink. That, is your Eastern Conference recap!
Now let’s go Out West (*Queues JACKBOYS Out West*... Sike Travis Scott is canceled). Anyways, time to review the Western Conference. As previously mentioned, the Warriors are the best team in the west and only getting healthier. The Phoenix Suns are just a game behind at 28-8, repeating last year’s dominance. They won a franchise record 18 straight games, and have not slowed down since. No one has talked about the Jazz, but they are chugging along, currently the 3 seed in the West, similar roster as last year, and just as good results.
The Memphis Grizzlies have taken that next step and are currently 4th in the West. Ja Morant has turned into a household name, Desmond Bane will get votes for most improved player, and Jaren Jackson and Dillon Brooks continue to play well too.
The Nuggets, Mavericks, Clippers, and Lakers are all sitting around .500 and not doing anything special. Russell Westbrook needs to play in Europe, he's awful. LeBron at age 37, year 19, is averaging 28.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 6.6 apg, nearly 2 steals per game, over a block a game, while shooting above 50% from the field and 37% from 3. Oh yeah, and he's playing center now too while AD is hurt. Lakers have wasted this effort like never before.
Timberwolves and Kings currently round out the top 10 in the West, however not much good can be said about either of those two teams. Spurs are not great, but their young players led by Dejounte Murray have played well. Trail Blazers stink, should probably move Dame before he walks away in free agency. The Thunder's young trio of Dort, Shai, and Giddey looks very promising, Pelicans are awful, and the Rockets players are currently throwing objects at coaches during arguments. There you have it, the Western Conference.