Is The James Harden Trade That Scary For The NBA?

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, & Anish Dhondi

Guest Writer: Santosh Krishnan

By the time everyone reads this, it will have been about a week from the time that James Harden was traded to the Nets, giving everyone adequate time to come up with their opinions on the trade, but we are taking the approach that this is just after the trade, and the Nets have yet to play any games together with their new Big 3.

The Nets acquired James Harden, of course, but many other teams around the NBA became involved. The Cavaliers got Taurean Prince and Jarrett Allen, building up their young starting-5. The Pacers received Caris LeVert, Houston got Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, Rodion Kurucs, four first-round picks, and four pick swaps. Wow, that is a lot of pieces traded. Here is our full analysis of the trade, and why you should not freak out as much as you may want to.

Saransh’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: They got what they wanted. To acquire James Harden without giving up Kyrie Irving, but that might be the issue. Kyrie is currently away from the team to attend birthday parties while not wearing a mask, and attend meetings to discuss social justice initiatives. While I am in no way opposed to him working to make changes in this country regarding the racial injustices, to skip games and not communicate with your team to do so is not a good look at all. Do you see LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Russell Wilson, and Patrick Mahomes skipping games to do so? No, they are doing both, and Kyrie’s lack of communication and possibly even lack of care for basketball is concerning. Like Stephen A. Smith said on First Take on Wednesday, retirement is something we should not be surprised to see when it comes to Kyrie Irving.

Second, Harden is a pure 1v1, iso-ball player, with an enormous ego. Undoubtedly he will be able to score in bunches, but will players like Kyrie and KD be able to as well with him involved in the offense? Sure, Harden averages a lot of assists, but a lot of those assists come off of lob and alley-oop passes off the pick-and-roll. For Head Coach Steve Nash, the question will be to see if Durant, coming off of an Achilles injury, is willing to take on that task of being a more inside/paint-oriented player and attacking the basket. Due to having had the injury, I would expect Durant to miss some guys to rest the Achilles. If Harden can figure out how to give up the ball more, then Durant can thrive, as he has so far this season when Kyrie has done the same.

Third, what more does Kevin Durant need to beat LeBron? You already had Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala, and now you have Kyrie and Harden at your disposal? I do not think we can judge KD and give him a ‘legacy’ of any sort besides saying that he needed superstars around him.

Lastly, I believe this team should make the Finals, but they will not beat the Lakers. There will be chemistry issues between the three of them and the rest of the team, the Nets now lack depth due to having traded players like Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, and Taurean Prince, so seeing players like Joe Harris and DeAndre Jordan play big minutes all season long will be interesting. Also, not having Spencer Dinwiddie due to his ACL injury which has him out for the season, puts even more responsibility on Harris, and Landry Shamet, who acquired this past offseason to be a key backcourt depth piece. With Kyrie AWOL, Harden’s love for strip clubs, and Durant having not played without multiple superstars for years, this team will have plenty of bumps along the road, and teams like Miami, Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee, will give them a good fight, but they will still prevail and win the East. But beating LeBron James, Anthony Davis, the rest of that defending champion roster, and that depth and coaching? Come that time of year, the bumps in the road will be too much to drive over, and the team will be deemed a failure, much like the Warriors when they got DeMarcus Cousins, and much like the Rockets when they had Westbrook and Chris Paul alongside James Harden. Also, given that they gave up 8 years’ worth of draft capital and LeVert for Harden in what will be a 1-3 year experiment at the max is crazy. Then again, we have seen this with Brooklyn before.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Not much to say here. They got great young players who can be valuable trade pieces once this team gets ready to compete in the playoffs and also can give Collin Sexton more to build around and lead the team with. Cleveland has way too many big men now that they acquired Allen, so trading Andre Drummond and Kevin Love will be their top priorities, and if they play the cards right with the trades, they could sneak into the playoffs this season. Unlikely, but not impossible. This trade is a win and can be even better based on their future decisions around this trade.

Indiana’s Perspective: The Pacers are in the middle of being a contender and going into a full rebuild with this move. This allows the offense to be fully run with Malcolm Brogdon off-ball, LeVert can shine as a scoring star, and Domantas Sabonis can show how good he is, but in the end, same old Indiana. It is a winning trade to get younger, but it may not make them better.

Houston’s Perspective: Getting Victor Oladipo was probably not what the Rockets thought would happen in this Harden trade, but they will gladly take it if they can keep him this offseason, as he is a free agent after this season. As for this season, Oladipo alongside John Wall in the backcourt gives them an exciting backcourt with elite defensive skills, and his facilitating ability can make DeMarcus Cousins at least his Pelicans self if not his elite Kings self. The Rockets also have all of those picks for the future and can rebuild smoothly, without having to deal with any players that become distractions. 

Santosh’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: This trade is scary because if all goes according to plan, the Nets might rewrite the scoring record book every night. Of course, it has to go according to plan. As of right now, James Harden is merely a Kyrie-goes-rogue safety net, but once Kyrie gets back and is fully focused, the Nets are capable of putting up 75+ points a game with just KD, Kyrie, and Harden. The big if is, as usual, Kyrie. ‘Kyrie, the Intellect,’ has decided to take a sabbatical from the NBA that includes Zoom calls during games and birthday parties, while Harden has his desires in strip clubs, leaving KD to be a leader, which he has not been most of his career. On top of that, all the scoring depth provided by players like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen are gone, along with any future depth in the years to come with the absence of three first-round picks. Brooklyn is in win-now mode, but how are they going to win? In the regular season, it is easy to put up historic numbers, but playoff basketball slows down a lot due to the increase and defense, and the Nets have defensive liabilities everywhere at the moment. Kyrie cannot guard a tree, Harden only guards when he feels like it, and the Nets no longer have a strong interior presence with the absence of Jarrett Allen, who was traded to Cleveland as part of the 4-team Harden deal. Sure, DeAndre Jordan is on the team, but when ESPN displayed the potential starting lineup, they put in Jeff Green instead of DeAndre Jordan, showing how much of a threat he is to anyone in the paint nowadays. That leaves KD to play the 3, 4, and 5 positions on the court, which is not what you want a star player coming off an Achilles injury to be doing. Brooklyn has to acquire a big man ASAP, whether it is someone cheap off the free-agent market or lure someone out of retirement, but they need someone because DeAndre Jordan is not the answer to this problem.

Now let us acknowledge that Brooklyn has acquired 3 of the top 10 players in the league. Why would you be willing to have such a high payroll for a big three when the rage is all about dynamic duos? It turns out that the only way to beat LeBron now is to acquire a minimum of 3 Hall of Fame players on the same roster, as stated by Nick Wright on FOX Sport’s ‘First Things First’. Kevin Durant decided that Kyrie and a strong bench was not enough to handle a 36-year-old LeBron James? And people think he is better than LeBron? That’s all I will say about that, but what does this mean for the expectations for this team? It is as championship-or-bust as it can get.  

The last time a team traded this much for one player was when the Los Angeles Lakers for AD, and when the Clippers traded for ‘Pandemic P’. The only team to successfully utilize this star player was the Lakers, who won the title last year, and to no one’s surprise are the favorites this year.  

I believe that the Nets will be plagued with chemistry issues due to a power struggle over the ball and a lack of depth. Brooklyn has the individual pieces to win, but do these pieces fit together? I do not think so, and like the KG and Pierce trade the Nets made years ago, I fear the Nets just made another one today. Last LeBron note; this was trending on Twitter, but did anyone notice that LeBron made a Stephen Curry no-look three, and the next day a super-team was assembled? Ooooh, the Nets are in trouble.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Cleveland got some nice pieces, but really how many big men does one team need? You got Drummond at point guard turning layups into turnovers, Kevin Love wasting a great career playing power forward, Larry Nance Jr dunking all the time at the 3, and Javale playing center as a center does. So I guess you bring in Jarrett Allen to play the 2, turning him into a splash brother? I have no clue what the Cavs think they are doing, and this accumulation of big men gets them nowhere.

Indiana’s Perspective: Giving up Oladipo for LeVert does not improve the team, but it keeps that a contender level while getting rid of the cloud of issues regarding his desire to be there in the first place. LeVert is a solid 1/2 hybrid player who can distribute and score at a great clip. Pair him with Brogdon and Sabonis, and the Pacers remain the contenders they are. However, I do not believe they will advance farther than the second round and will be a 5-6 seed in the East. Giving up Oladipo also removes the Pacers’ obligations to pay Oladipo big money, as they can instead focus on building a contender team with cheaper pieces.

Houston’s Perspective: In all fairness, the Rockets won this trade. They netted four first-round picks, four pick swaps, Victor Oladipo, Dante Exum, bench depth, and a solid future. They don’t have to deal with distractions caused by James Harden or his ridiculous commands and can start a rebuild without developing a losing culture. With guys who will work hard like John Wall and Boogie Cousins, along with a less ball-dominant 2 in Victor Oladipo, the Rockets and Stephen Silas have a lot of pieces to work with to build something special. As John Wall and Boogie Cousins round into form and Silas integrating Oladipo into a game plan that allows Wall to be Wall and not have to defer to Harden all the time, the Rockets can play free-flowing basketball the way Silas wants to and continue to keep a winning culture while harvesting picks for the years to come.

Nikhil’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: The move is quite obviously a win-now type of play from the Nets’ head office, but all indications just seem to be heading towards failure. Yes, this team will win games; a large sum of them as well. But the age-old question that seems to be the demise of most superteams not named the Warriors is called back into question: who takes the last shot? I have sat here and thought about this for a while now, and I still cannot come up with a genuine answer. The crux of the problem lies in the personality of each player, and the fact that they are all HUGE ball-dominant guards (Yes, Kevin Durant is not technically a guard, but his game most closely resembles that of one). James Harden is known to be a huge ball-hog and one that usually dribbles for more than 5 seconds before making some kind of slow-motion and hitting a step-back jumper. Kevin Durant is known to be a crossover killer and one whose size is so hard to guard in any situation. Kyrie Irving is known to be an insane dribble move user, who has the best passing attributes of the three but will not shy away from a shot of his own. Combine this with the fact that off the court, these three players are the three most egotistical in the NBA, and you have to think that somewhere, something will go wrong. 

Irving himself took an extended leave of absence that the Nets organization has no reason for, and Harden’s entire saga of blatant disregard for an organization will not bode well for a championship-caliber team. Each of these three guys will be the one without the ball in their hands during a potential game-winning sequence of play at some point in the season, and when it happens, we will truly see how this team will work, will thrive, or will ultimately fail. Steve Nash has a hell of a job to do, and in all honesty, I do not think he can do it.

Houston’s Perspective: The Houston Rockets, without Daryl Morey, managed to come away as the big winner of this trade in my opinion, as they manage to set themselves up for the future brilliantly, while still keeping a passable playoff-caliber roster right now. Just listen to the haul they got for Harden: Victor Oladipo, Rodions Kurucs, Dante Exum, four unprotected first-round picks (Brooklyn 2022, 2024 and 2026, Milwaukee 2022), and four unprotected first-round pick swaps (2021, 2023, 2025, 2027). The sheer amount of picks is almost comparable to what OKC has been doing with their picks and ultimately sets them up for a good number of future players, a good proportion of which are bound to be gems. The biggest piece of the puzzle right now, however, is Victor Oladipo, who is more than a passable guard that has nearly all the skill needed to pilot the ship next to John Wall. That backcourt in all honesty is reminiscent of the notorious Wall-Beal backcourt that thrived so many years in Washington, the difference being that the rest of Houston’s roster can provide some help. Eric Gordon, Demarcus Cousins, Christian Wood, and PJ Tucker have experience being the follow-up option to a ball-dominant player in James Harden, so they would only thrive in a much more pass inclined system under Wall and Oladipo. Houston has a lot to look forward to, now and the future, even though on the surface it may look like a downgrade.

Cleveland’s Perspective: I cannot lie to you guys, I know almost nothing about the current Cavs roster, or how well they play. All I know is that they’re 7-7, and have WAY too many big men, especially given the league-wide tendency to go small nowadays. So, acquiring Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince just does not seem like a roster friendly move to make. However, Andre Drummond has an expiring contract, which could indicate that he could be on the move shortly, or even more moves for Allen and Prince. All in all, however, whoever it is they keep will not make a huge difference record or skill-wise. They will, however, make a difference in the locker room. Having two guys who are widely regarded as very decent players and can contribute immediately will do wonders for this young squad.

Indiana’s Perspective: There was news a long while ago that Oladipo wanted out of Indiana, and that finally came true in exchange for a younger Caris LeVert, and a 2023 second-round pick. LeVert has lived up to his major upside and showed so last year when he began to pick up steam and started dropping big-time performances. But under the dictatorship of KD and Kyrie, his usefulness was bound to take a hit, and riding the bench is never what someone of his skill level and upside should do. So, this move makes sense for both parties, and in turn, gives Indiana a viable asset for the future. Will we see a major difference? No, the Pacers are still going to be a middle of the table playoff team, but a team that could be a dark horse in the East if things go their way.

Anish’s Analysis

Brooklyn’s Perspective: This was the biggest acquisition by the Nets who received former MVP, James Harden. The Nets appear to be a super team with one of the best scoring trios of all time in Kyrie, Harden, and Durant. However, this team still has its problems. Aside from wondering how chemistry and egos will stay intact with these superstars, even on the court, there can be issues for this stacked team. They traded a lot of their bench depth to acquire James Harden, previously the Nets had one of the best benches in the league with Dinwiddie (out for the season), LeVert (stellar play with Irving out), and Jarrett Allen (phenomenal rebounder and rim protector). After the trade, the Nets have no bench depth which plays a big role in coaching now. An advantage they do have is having three offensive superstars. In this case, there should always be at least one of these three superstars on the court to run the offense and the Nets should manage well. However, their lack of defense could also be a problem after losing Jarrett Allen, there are no great defenders on the Nets team (maybe aside from Kevin Durant too). In all, if the Nets do not win a championship with this trio, they completely threw away their future as they do not get another draft pick till 2028. The Nets going all reminds me of the similar situation with them giving up picks to the Celtics for washed stars, hopefully, this situation turns out different. 

Houston’s Perspective: I think Houston got a decent amount for James Harden. They did not get a future star or anything like Ben Simmons, but they got draft picks and a good player in Victor Oladipo. Oladipo was on a tear before he got injured and he has been trying to work his way back. However, in Indiana, he did not get as many opportunities as Sabonis and Brogdon began to take off. In Houston, this is perfect for Oladipo as he is in the backcourt with John Wall who came back from a bad injury and they can work together to succeed.

Cleveland’s Perspective: Cleveland seems to be the forgotten team in this chaotic trade. However, I think Cleveland won this trade. Cleveland did not have to give up any valuable players or too many draft picks and they acquired a young big in Jarrett Allen. You may be thinking, why would the Cavs need another big man they already have Drummond? Initially, I thought the same, but I believe they can easily trade Drummond for a final piece to build around the young core of Sexton, Garland, and Allen. This team could be scary in a couple of years if they play their cards right!

Indiana’s Perspective: I would not say Indiana won or lost this trade because right now, we cannot tell. LeVert and Oladipo seem to be on the same skill level with LeVert producing more with less opportunity. However, LeVert is out indefinitely with finding a mass in his kidney during the physical. The true winner of this trade is Caris LeVert because without this physical, who knew when he would find that he had a small mass in his kidney. I hope for a speedy recovery. If LeVert comes back to his usual self, Indiana won this trade mainly because Oladipo was about to become a free agent so they at least got a player equal to him in LeVert.

2020 NBA Playoffs Biggest Storylines – Conference Quarterfinals (Post-Game 1s)

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

With the Western Conference play-in now officially completed and the Portland Trail Blazers having won and gotten the 8th-seed, the entire NBA playoffs is set and the Conference Quarterfinals will commence. To see our NBA Playoff Predictions from before the NBA Bubble started, click the link here. We now will dive into the biggest stories to watch going into the start of the playoffs.

Saransh’s Storylines:

How Will Houston Play Without Russell Westbrook?

This entire season, while James Harden has always been the top scorer for this team, Russell Westbrook has been the leader and glue-guy for the team. Westbrook was the one who helped him and Harden get over their differences that they originally had to start the season, he was the one who helped the team get through midseason trade rumors and speculation that OKC won the Russ-CP3 had been rising. When Head Coach Mike D’Antoni wanted to start his small-ball experiment and thus GM Daryl Morey traded starting Center Clint Capela, Russ elevated his game the most. Russ had career-highs in shots per game made and field goal percentage, and overall was a more relaxed and under control player compared to what he was in Oklahoma City. He honestly is now an underrated player (surprising to say), but deserves the most credit of all the players for Houston’s success, especially since small-ball began. 

That being said, after seeing how Harden, along with Eric Gordon and Jeff Green, played yesterday, if they play like this in Game 2 as well, having Westbrook back could have a highly-anticipated series end very quick. Only having an 8-man rotation will be tricky to manage with Westbrook back and also playing big minutes, but it means that playing guys like Gordon and Green more in the series, could be the difference. The series will hinge upon that bench support for Houston, and their health.

Did The Refs Sell The Mavericks And Ruin Their Series Momentum?

The Dallas Mavericks controlled Game 1 on Monday in nearly every facet possible, besides the final score, of course, but the referees had a lot to do with that. The ejection of Kristaps Porzingis, which was due to a slight shove, was probably the softest ejection I have seen in my entire life of watching basketball. If Porzingis got ejected for that, shouldn’t Carmelo Anthony get suspended every time he curses after getting a rebound? There were a few other questionable calls here and there after Porzingis got hurt which halted the momentum of Dallas, but had he not been ejected, the way Porzingis was dominating the paint with his rim protection and rebounding at the time, they would have won the game and taken all that momentum into Game 2 and prolonged this series more than expected. If you are Dallas, you could not have asked for a better start to the series against a heavily-favored Clippers team, but the ridiculous ejection, and final score, left nothing but a cloud of frustration for the team.

Does Brooklyn’s Overachieving Bubble Run Concern Toronto?

Simply put, no. Kevin Durant nor Kyrie Irving is walking into Orlando to suit up and play the defending champions. That being said, the run that the Nets had, including almost knocking Portland out of the playoffs (should have called timeout and drawn a play), and beating teams like the Clippers and Bucks in the process, the Nets showed that they are not here to be messed with despite their extremely shorthanded roster, but the defending champions have been way too good defensively to let Brooklyn get on a roll and shock the world. In Game 1, the Nets cut a 33-point Raptor lead to 9, but the Raptors defense was just too much, and they showed that their roster is simply too much to handle, and that they do not need Kawhi to be as scary of a contender as they are. As much as I would love to see the Nets make the series competitive, Toronto is too much to handle.

Nikhil’s Storylines:

Can The Miami Heat Make Noise In The East?

This Miami Heat team has defied a lot of expectations this season, and having accomplished everything that they have has taken a lot of grit, a lot of grind, and most importantly, a LOT of team chemistry and self-confidence. Everyone, including myself, saw this year as being a lottery pick year for this team. That being said, there are still many limitations going forward though. In order to contend for a championship in this day and age, most teams require at least a superstar tandem (Ex: LeBron & AD, Kawhi and PG, Russ and Harden). The Heat do not have a bonafide duo that they can rely on during crucial moments in a speculative deep playoff run. Yes, Jimmy Butler is a given, but who can be that other piece? Bam Adebayo has proven himself as a worthy candidate, but his game is still raw and he simply isn’t at the level of most superstars in this league, even with his first All-Star appearance. One thing I will say is that Miami manages to find a way. As of this post, they have already gone one game up on the Indiana Pacers, and contributions as a team from Nunn, Herro, Crowder, Robinson etc. can really turn this team into a viable threat in the East, and give powerhouses Toronto, Milwaukee, and Boston a run for their money.

Are The Denver Nuggets a Real Threat In The West?

Everyone seems to be infatuated with the possibility of a Clippers vs. Lakers Western Conference Finals, to the point where the third-seeded Denver Nuggets seem to be completely overlooked. This team is STACKED all things considered. Jokic and Murray comprise a deadly starting line-up, and up and coming players like Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol are both surprisingly sturdy in their play as well. Combine this with a perfectly crafted bench unit as well as key role players, and you have a team that could very well take down either one of the two LA teams. What’s even more appealing is that this team is built for the future, and can become a powerhouse in the Western Conference if they simply hold onto their assets they have, and continue to develop the young players they have right now as well. Yes, they might not have the complete answer for LeBron and AD, and may have not figured out the complete puzzle of Kawhi and PG, but this team has the resources necessary to piece it all together. And the best part is that even if they don’t find winning ways now, they can easily find it a few years from now, when the LA teams start to see players past their primes. Watch out for this Nuggets team to shock a lot of people now, and establish themselves for the future.

What’s Wrong With The 76ers?

Philadelphia on paper looks like a very dangerous team, yet in person they just seem lackluster. When you headline a team with 4 prominent figures in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, you expect production, and plenty of it. What we see though is a rather uninspired team that is missing something, and no one can really place a finger on it. Couple this with the injury to Ben Simmons, and you get a downward spiral of a situation for Philadelphia, one that puts head coach Brett Brown in the hot seat. Don’t get me wrong, the team is definitely winning games, and are placing themselves well within the provisional playoff picture, but many believe that the team just isn’t built or even inspired enough to contend with the likes of Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee. Joel Embiid himself has said that he needs to step up for his team, and yes, maybe his lack of production on both ends of the court is somewhat to blame for the team’s woes, but I don’t see it as an end all be all solution. Whatever their issue may be, they need to figure it out soon in order to get past the rather difficult first-round matchup with the Celtics.

Anish’s Storylines: 

Do the Blazers Have a Legitimate Chance To Defeat The Lakers?

After the Game one, upset over the Lakers, the Blazers have the league talking. Everyone knew before the Blazers would be a tough fight for the Lakers in the first round, and after game one they proved them right. The Lakers looks sloppy in their game and despite LeBron’s big triple double the Lakers couldn’t finish the game. The Lakers had issues making free throws in the clutch and Portland capitalized by hitting their shots. However, despite LeBron’s triple double, I feel like there is more left in the tank for King James. The real question is whether LeBron will activate playoff mode this early in the playoffs and completely take over the game or will he continue to dish out the ball and rely on his teammates to hit shots next game. The Lakers did a great job of hammering down in the paint and causing 3 of the Blazers starters to get 5 fouls and be in foul trouble late in the game. The Lakers definitely have the ability to defeat the Blazers on paper; it’s just a matter of chemistry and team experience (besides LeBron) which the Lakers lack.

Are the Bucks Still The Favorite To Win The East?

Similar to the Blazers pulling off an upset against the Lakers, the Magic defeated the Bucks in game one. This came to a surprise to practically everyone as the Magic seemed like the most forgotten team in the playoffs. After the Bucks loss, everyone is now beginning to question the Bucks potential. Now the real question is can just Giannis be enough to lead the Bucks to the Finals? Khris Middleton has been horrible in the bubble so far, and he is supposed to be Giannis’s secondhand man and without a consistent performance from Middleton it puts too much pressure on Giannis. Initially I had the Bucks making the finals, but because of their recent struggles I am leaning towards the Raptors-Celtics side of the bracket. It will be interesting to see the Celtics without Hayward but I still give them a slight edge over the Raptors. I believe whoever comes out of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference (Raptor/Celtics side) will defeat the Bucks and move on into the Finals. The Bucks are still a great team but I don’t see them as winning the championship, rather I see an Eastern Conference Finals loss coming their way.

Are We Sleeping On The Jazz?

Monday’s Game 1 against the Nuggets was one of the best games this year. The battle between Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray was like no other, it seems like in the clutch neither of them could miss and Murray got the slight edge in overtime. But we can’t forget about Donovan Mitchell’s historic 57 point game! Even with missing Mike Conley the first game the Jazz were neck and neck with the Nuggets. Conley is expected to be back for Game 3, this is important because Conley is another elite defender and to put him on Jamal Murray and contain him. This makes Jamal Murray use more effort with a better defender on him and Donovan Mitchell will be alongside another scorer and facilitator. The Jazz have always shown they are underdogs in the playoffs and are well capable of pulling off upsets. Although last year they struggled against the Rockets, the year before they defeated the Thunder, and the year before the Clippers. This Jazz team is improved from last year and have developed a better chemistry with great defense, good wing shooters and Donovan Mitchell taking the clear superstar position in this playoff series. The Jazz could make a decent push in the playoffs starting with an upset on the Nuggets. Don’t sleep on the Jazz!

‘The Last Dance’ Review, Recap, and Reaction

By Saransh Sharma and Nikhil Pradeep

The 5-week, 10 episode docu-series on the greatest run by a team in a decade in the history of sports, concluded today, with the ending being capped off with the 1998 NBA Finals victory by the Chicago Bulls to win their 6th championship in 8 years, thus completing ‘The Last Dance,’ which was what coach Phil Jackson called this last year quest for the dynasty. So much happened behind the scenes and off the court that we really did not know until now, and the fact that we got the chance to capture all of that and see Michael revisit and talk about these moments was truly remarkable. There are so many big pieces to the ‘98 Championship run from so many different past seasons, whether it be playing against Dennis Rodman and losing to him and the Pistons constantly and then eventually recruiting him to the team, and also Jordan having retired for baseball, then coming back and getting back in shape, Scottie Pippen’s role, Jerry Krause’s ignorance, MJ’s winning mentality being described as ‘disrespectful,’ and so much more. Here is the big review, recap, and reaction all-in-one to all the events, details, decisions, descriptions, and much more, of how ‘The Last Dance’ turned out to be successful, both as the ‘98 season, and as the critically-acclaimed docu-series.

Saransh’s Reaction

Michael Jordan’s Competitive Nature

The competitiveness of Michael Jordan is second to none not just amongst basketball players, but amongst athletes. Whether it was an NBA Playoff game, golfing with his dad, or just a simple ‘coin toss across the room’ game with the team security guard like in Episode 6, everything was a competition to Mike. The most impressive thing about his competitive nature was what motivated him to compete at such a high level. Sometimes it was as simple as just losing, like it was for him against Detroit and Orlando, seeing them celebrate in Chicago and winning against him in a series, but sometimes it was just one action or comment by someone that was their downfall, and Michael’s rise. When Charlotte stole a game from Chicago in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference in 1996 and B.J. Armstrong talked a little trash, it was over for Charlotte. The next 4 games went to Chicago and they even swept Orlando in the Conference Finals.

Then there was the side of Jordan which I think a lot of people were surprised to see and hear about, which was the ‘not-so-nice guy’ side of him. The stories of him at practices are honestly as legendary as you can think of. He punched Steve Kerr after a practice after Kerr did not back down from him when Jordan got mad at Phil Jackson for putting Kerr on him and making fun of him. He then proceeded to apologize and talk it out on the phone with Kerr, and as they were both competitive guys, they understood why it got heated. But even as great as Michael was, there were still people that did not like his ways as a teammate. Former Bulls Point Guard John Paxson talked about how he would be scared at times, and Power Forward Horace Grant apparently could not eat after games because Jordan did not let him. But at the end of the day, this made Jordan the greatest, the tough love. It was so hard for him to talk about his teammates, that he started tearing up talking about it and hearing about how some of his teammates felt sometimes. But in the end, the hard truth was that it was his way of gaining trust of them, and making them realize what he expected of them. If he did not go so hard on Kerr, Jordan would not have trusted him to take the Finals-winning jumper, he would not have trusted Scottie Burrell to be such a great role player, or Dennis Rodman to go out and skip practices, or even let guys like Luc Longley and Bill Wennington, who got overlooked, be vital pieces of the team in every title run. What made Jordan so great was that he involved his teammates through his trust in them and instilling his mental fortitude into them, and if you did not want that, you did not have to play with Michael and enjoy the great journey.

The Legend of Steve Kerr

Steve Kerr was a man who came from a humble beginning. Kerr was born into a family of UCLA professor Malcolm Kerr, and eventual professor Ann Kerr. As they were both professors, Steve’s family had Steve and his brother very academically-minded and focused, as the only time the TV would be on from Monday through Thursday would be for big basketball games. Malcolm being at UCLA, loved basketball and got Steve into it by taking him to UCLA games, and at that time, the John Wooden coaching era was going on, and the greatest college basketball teams ever were there for Steve to witness live and in-person. Steve played all through high school as well, but did not receive offers until the very last minute, when Arizona offered him a scholarship. At this time, Malcolm had gone to American University at Beirut, along with his wife and Steve’s brother. However, the story of Malcolm being shot and killed was truly heartbreaking, and really drove Steve to be the person and competitor that he is. 

When Kerr got to Chicago, he brought that competitiveness that he gained that drove him after having lost his father, into the championship culture of Chicago. He challenged Jordan, did not back down, did not let himself get brought down by Jordan’s competitive edge at practice, which sometimes Jordan took too far, including the time he punched Steve. From that time forward, however, their trust levels and understanding of each other was like no other. It led Steve to be trusted by Jordan to hit the Finals-winning shot in ‘97, just like MJ trusted John Paxson in ‘93 to do the same thing, whom Steve learned from and mentored. He not only won his rings with Chicago, but also in San Antonio as a player in 2000 and 2002, and a coach of the Golden State Warriors dynasty from the past 5 seasons. All in all, Steve’s competitive edge and love for basketball came from his father, who instilled in him the game, life values, and a hard-working nature into Steve.

Phil Jackson’s Resilience, Even When MJ Left

I think it is taking it a bit too far to say that Phil Jackson was overlooked throughout this whole run, but the work he did definitely can get a bit lost in the shadows when your players are as good as Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Jackson was asked to make the Chicago Bulls into NBA Champions after Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen had been asked to make them relevant. He took over as the head coach in 1989 after Doug Collins was fired in Chicago, which, given the success he brought to Chicago, where he took the team from nothing to the Eastern Conference Finals with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, the firing was a bit surprising, but Collins had been with the Bulls for a while, so therefore warranted his way out the door. Jackson took over the team when they were very close to ending the dynasty of the Detroit Pistons, and in his first year, he nearly did that. Had Game 7 been in Chicago and not Detroit, Jackson would have ended the dynasty in his first year with the Bulls, but the next year, Eastern Conference Finals rematch yet again, the Bulls swept, and won the 1991 NBA Finals over the Lakers, and then proceeded to win in ‘92 and ‘93. Then, out of nowhere, Michael Jordan retires.

Jackson did not back down or let Jordan’s retirement get in the way of him coaching this team. The team might have lost the greatest to ever play the game, but the team was pretty darn good even without Jordan. In 1994, the team won 55 games and if it were not for a blown call in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Knicks, they could have tried for their 4th straight championship. The year after that, the Bulls struggled a bit, but getting Jordan back got them a healthy seeding in the playoffs, but Orlando stole the series thanks to Horace Grant, the former Bull. He then allowed Jordan to be able to retrain his body back into basketball form and he helped the team add talent, such as Ron Harper and Dennis Rodman, and they helped go 72-10 and win the NBA Finals, and start another 3-peat. And then he did it again, going 3-peat with LA from ‘01-’03, and back-to-back in ‘09-’10. Phil Jackson is, in my mind, the greatest basketball coach of all-time, and it all started not when he won his first 3-peat with Michael, but the seasons he endured without him.

Nikhil’s Reaction

The 1992 Olympics Dream Team

For the first time, the United States sent a team of mainly NBA players to the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona to compete in the Men’s Basketball tournament. This allowed the likes of Jordan, Bird, and Johnson to play on the same team, and form the inevitable Dream Team, the likes of which has gone down in history as one of the most legendary teams ever. What came as an initial shock was the exclusion of Isiah Thomas, and the sports media at the time associated Jordan’s icy relationship with him as a defining factor of this decision. Jordan, when interviewed for the filming of the documentary stated that he had no influence on the formation on the team, but did concede that had Thomas been selected, the flow and camaraderie of the team would have changed. Regardless, the cohesion of the team that did end up competing in Barcelona was second to none, and this is what elevated them above the rest. Their practices were some of the most competitive in existence, and this culminated in the infamous scrimmage in Monte Carlo. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan captained their respective sides in an anything-goes, trash-talking, no-holds-barred grudge match. At one point Magic’s team was up 8, and he felt the need to tell Jordan that if the famous ‘Air Jordan’ didn’t show up, they were gonna blow him out. As Saransh alluded to earlier, Jordan took this personally, and instantly made Johnson eat his words. He proceeded to score around 10 unanswered points, and won the game for his team. Those within the team recollected the tension in the air during the bus ride home as suffocating, but the instant Johnson cracked a joke with Charles Barkley, the team’s camaraderie rose back to prominence, albeit with Michael Jordan firmly at the helm of the ship. 

During the Olympics, the Dream Team faced off with Croatia, and the newly drafted Bull, Toni Kukoc. There was some friction between Jordan, Pippen and Kukoc, given that Jerry Krause placed a great amount of praise on the shoulders of the Croatian, and seemingly devalued the accomplishments of the current Bulls roster at the time. In the first game against Croatia, Jordan and Pippen seemed to go after Kukoc during the game, shutting him down defensively, and thus making every effort to make Krause look bad. However, the second time around during the Gold Medal game, Kukoc surged back and showed his worth even though they lost. The Dream Team took home the gold, and Jordan’s legacy started to take meaningful shape.

I found it very interesting to hear Kukoc’s side of this story, especially given the context of his situation before arriving in the league. Having hailed from Croatia, at the time a war-torn state of Yugoslavia, he, along with his teammates during the Olympics, all had an amazing amount of strength and focus that Team USA simply didn’t account for. To trash-talk, abuse, and target Kukoc doesn’t really faze him, simply because it isn’t comparable to the fight for his literal will to live. It just goes to show that no one’s story can be understood from a distance, and that everyone has certain traits that make them unbreakable, no matter what the circumstances are.

Jordan’s Stint in the MLB

The tragic death of Michael Jordan’s father in many ways defined Jordan’s career path, starting with his first retirement from basketball. At the time, Jordan’s reasoning was that he had produced 3 championships, and had given everything he had to the city of Chicago, so he figured that since he had no more challenges and no more motivation to play basketball, he should call it quits. The drama escalated and peaked during a White Sox playoff game, during which Jordan was present. The information of Jordan’s retirement leaked during the game, and the swarm of reporters and fans ensued. The media ran rampant with headlines up until the official press conference the next morning, in which Jordan stated that he was at peace with his decision, and also left the door open for anything down the road. What ensued was a list of allegations seemingly connecting the death of Jordan’s father, the presence of his gambling problem, and the progression of his career to his retirement. Some outlets even told a narrative that David Stern, the NBA commissioner at the time, veiled this retirement as a secret ban from the NBA due to his gambling. This is beyond absurd given that Jordan was the best thing to happen to the NBA financially, socially, and internationally. What is certain however, is that the retirement was of his own accord.

Jordan transitioned to baseball during his retirement period, and signed a minor league deal with the White Sox. This was one of his dreams that he had as a kid, and in many ways it follows his father’s dream to play in the MLB. The issue was that since Michael Jordan was such a polarizing figure all over the country, the facilities apparent in the lower levels of the MLB league system simply could not accommodate the amount of hype that he drew in. Due to this he was placed in the minor leagues Double A league, where the sufficient amount of fans could be accounted for. Couple this with the fact that Jordan had not played baseball properly since he was 17, and it was a seemingly disastrous fate. What no one expected however was how good he was. He started out with a 13-game hitting streak, and after a while opposing pitchers started to throw breaking balls rather than fastballs, the latter of which was never thrown for nearly a month. Jordan’s dry spell resulted in a media sandstorm, calling him out on his poor play, and labeling his decision as faulty. The most striking of these was the Sports Illustrated magazine cover of him missing a pitch, and labeled him as an embarrassment. As we all know, this lit the fire in Jordan’s mind, and he kept getting better and better as the season went on, to the point where it was speculated that he could’ve made it to the major leagues. The MLB had a strike that year, so that element of his career was cut short, and thus he returned to Bulls. What can be said however, is that he made a lasting impact in his reputation as the greatest ever.

Krause’s demolition of the Bulls: Good or Bad?

Jerry Krause has been documented throughout the course of the Bulls dynasty as a dictator type of general manager that would put prospective over his current players and even his own family to an extent. When the Bulls won their 6th championship, there was already huge speculation about what the Bulls would do and whether or not the team would get blown up. Jerry Reinsdorf, the team owner, states that he asked Phil Jackson to come back for the next year, which he turned down. He also states, that it would be suicide to keep the players they had due to injury, egos, etc. Jordan retorted that any player and coach would’ve been happy to sign the one-year contract to chase that 7th championship, and states that it’s “maddening” because it definitely could’ve happened. Following the 6th ring, Jackson, Pippen, Rodman, Kerr, and Jordan all left the Bulls organization, and the Bulls embraced a rebuild that can be argued to have progressed to the current-day.

I know that the immediate gut reaction to this is to have let Jordan and the team chase the 7th ring. But just to play devil’s advocate in this scenario, let’s look at the benefits of how things played out. Given that Jordan himself stated that he was physically drained following the season’s end, and that Pippen had struggled with injuries during the Finals run itself, it is almost a guarantee that someone essential to the teams success would sustain a lengthy injury during the season, jeopardizing a Finals run. This along with the fact that some players would inevitably ask for more money, and some key pieces would get moved around due to the nature of the business, all equates to a significantly lesser change of even getting to the endgame, let alone succeeding. In my mind there isn’t anything wrong with how the Bulls dynasty ended, because they went out on top. Doing so cemented their lasting legacy as the greatest dynasty to grace the NBA, and affirms Michael Jordan’s candidacy for the “Greatest Of All Time” conversation.

 

 

LeBron James: Looking Ahead to 2014

LeBron James has just won his 2nd title with the Miami Heat, and rumors say that he wants to get out of Miami. Where should he go? Here are my thoughts.

Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron should go to Cleveland because he will have a non-injury-prone sidekick in Kyrie Irving, and the Cavs gave Andrew Bynum a small contract to track down James. Though this may lead to many disappointing seasons due to the hatred from Cavs fans, some fans that had once burned their LeBron Cavs jersey will be begging to get it back.

LA Lakers

Kobe Bryant recently said he would want to team up with LeBron, but he does not want a pay-cut from the Lakers. The Lakers hit a huge luxury-tax of $29.6-million. Amnestying Pau Gasol and Steve Blake or Metta World Peace would do great to have room to get LeBron. Also, the Lakers will also track down Carmelo Anthony from the Knicks.

Chicago Bulls

Chicago showed interest when he made his first ‘Decision’, and many thought he would go there. Teaming up would D-Rose would mean that the Windy City will put up many more banners to come, and the once famous block by LeBron on Rose in ’11 will be forgotten forever.

 Miami Heat

LeBron said that he wants to stay in Miami for the rest of his career, and he should due to the fact he won both titles. Also, the Heat will try to chase some young and veteran players on the market to be able to convince LeBron to stay.

Stay tuned for more news on LeBron and free agency in 2013 and 2014!