The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Chicago Bulls. All opinions expressed by Sam Smith are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Chicago Bulls or its Basketball Operations staff, parent company, partners, or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Bulls and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.
By Sam Smith | 4.06.2015 | 12:34 a.m. CT
The NCAA plays for its champion Monday, and the NBA is worried. One and done may be dooming the NBA.
Well, perhaps not the outright destruction of the league. But the appeal of the NBA is becoming very much in question, it would seem, because of the influx of so many young kids into the NBA. The problem is the NBA is losing its stars because a person’s body simply is not prepared for the physical exertion required of an 82-game NBA schedule playing against experienced men.
There isn’t a scientific study on the subject, though it seems obvious there have been more injuries now than anytime in NBA history. Perhaps that’s just because we see them now, teams rest players more than ever and players from previous eras chose not to sit out as much because of security and guaranteed money wasn’t as great.
But what seems apparent is the NBA is losing its stars.
I remember asking NBA officials when Kevin Garnett began the prep-to-pros jump in the mid-1990s and then the one and done became official a decade ago the effects it might have. The view was—with exceptions like LeBron James, of course—All-Stars would not become Hall of Famers and good players would not reach All-Star status as frequently. Basically that players would not reach their potential.
Instead, it seems to be producing a more insidious result. The greatest talents in the game, the stars the NBA and most leagues rely upon though especially the NBA, are fading too quickly.
Look at the roster of star players sustaining serious injuries to the point their career arcs likely will be changed: Derrick Rose with three knee operations; Kevin Durant with three foot operations; Russell Westbrook with three knee operations; Anthony Davis missing about 20 games every season with various injuries, Jabari Parker already with an ACL, Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid missing their first seasons, Bradley Beal with multiple stress injuries. Look at the drafts. Last year’s already has seven of the top 11 with surgeries or long periods out; 2013 had five of the top 10 with severe injuries like Anthony Bennett, Otto Porter, Alex Len, Noel and C.J. McCollum; in 2012 there was Davis, Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson all missing substantial time; in 2011 there was Kyrie Irving missing some 50 games his first two seasons and others variously hurt like Enes Kanter with shoulder surgery; in 2010 John Wall sat out substantially his first two seasons and before him Blake Griffin out as a rookie from 2009 along with injuries to Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry, the latter who has recovered from questions three years ago of whether he’d even have a career, and before them Eric Gordon.
Curry’s rise to an MVP candidate is a hopeful development. But he was a more mature player after three years in college. It seems obvious at least with the empirical evidence that these kids’ bodies at 19 and 20 years old are not ready for the NBA grind and are breaking down too quickly. Perhaps they’ll have NBA careers, but the question for the NBA is whether they’ll have the stars to go around. We’ll see Rose and Durant again. But will we ever see them as they were, generational players who seemed to be expanding the limits of not only the sport but the human body? Perhaps the body just cannot be pushed that far. Though it also seems obvious it cannot at such a young age.
It was a bit different with the kids who went directly from high school to the pros from the mid-1990s to early 2000s because the majority weren’t asked to play as much right away, even players like Garnett and Kobe Bryant. The NBA wasn’t sure what those players could do and had its doubts. Players who did develop like Tyson Chandler, J.R. Smith and Monta Ellis did so after several years and team moves and not asked to do as much immediately. Now high lottery picks are expected to be the anchors of their teams. Andrew Wiggins, for example, is even among the league leaders in minutes played. Parker likely would have been as well.
One of the reasons the U.S. said it had to change the international format was U.S. college players could not compete against experienced men in Olympics and world championships. So why should they be asked to in the NBA? And what will be the result? The evidence suggests the NBA and fans are going to be asking where have all the stars gone.
NBA news and notes
Quietly one of the biggest trades at the February deadline was Kevin Garnett to the Timberwolves… because the Nets got rid of him. Garnett likely will retire after this season to join Timberwolves ownership or management; he hasn’t played in a month. Meanwhile, the Nets have won 10 of 13 as Young has averaged 15 points in that stretch, Suddenly, not only do the Nets look like a playoff team, which is important for them, but they could even move up to sixth in the conference. The Bucks likely will hold onto the spot. The Hawks, meanwhile, play the Nets again later this week for the second time in a week with the right to swap first round picks with the Nets from the Joe Johnson deal. So the Nets clearly have interest in making the playoffs and avoiding giving up a lottery pick. With the veteran Young and Deron Williams playing the best he has in years the last few games and Brook Lopez looking good again, suddenly the Nets could be a heck of a first round opponent. The Bulls face the Nets in Brooklyn next week in the Bulls’ penultimate game of the regular season.
Western playoffs picture
The Pelicans appear to have the more difficult schedule than the Thunder in that “battle” for the last West playoff spot, which should mean, anyway, a quick first round ouster from the Warriors. The Warriors will enter the playoffs title favorites and could get MVP, Coach of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. New Orleans with future MVP contender Anthony Davis (he or Russell Westbrook should be top five this season but not both as you can’t be in the MVP conversation if you are not in the playoffs) has to begin to make a move in the Western Conference to keep Davis’ interest. So who falls out of the playoffs? The Jazz is coming as well and have been one of the West’s best teams since settling their rotation by moving Rudy Gobert in as starting center. If the Pelicans and Jazz are moving into the top eight, who is falling out? The Spurs if Tim Duncan retires? But why would he? The Mavs? Mark Cuban isn’t that patient. And what about the Kings with DeMarcus Cousins putting up amazing statistics? Going into Sunday, Cousins had back to back triple doubles averaging 24 points, 20.5 rebounds and 11.5 assists. His three previous games he averaged 32 points and 16 rebounds. The Kings, though, lost three of the five and will certainly keep their pick this season as the Bulls have it only if it’s outside the top 10. With those Western teams how do the Kings advance? And if they cannot, how much of the fault lies with Cousins? Cousins had 26 points and 12 rebounds but with eight turnovers Sunday. Though Cousins is a great talent, many executives around the NBA believe you can’t make the playoffs with him the way he dominates the ball, takes wild shots and won’t defend. Many believe he needs to be a defense first player like he was with USA Basketball under a strong figure like Mike Krzyzewski. The Kings appear committed to keeping Cousins despite rumors of trades. It may be too big a task even for George Karl.
Dallas seems to be lining up a first round series with the Rockets, who won in Dallas last week to win the season series. Though the Mavs pointed out all four games for them were on the second of back to backs. Of course, successful teams rarely point out such things. Of course, the way the West is all the teams two through six can still change places. Though all four games were close and the Mavs are hoping for the Rockets matchup compared to playing Memphis, which has overwhelmed Dallas. Missing Patrick Beverly gives the Mavs a backcourt chance even with James Harden. There have been all sorts of whispers this season in Dallas of the difficulty of getting along with Monta Ellis as well as Rajon Rondo. Quite the backcourt. But Ellis does embody the competitor. He stopped a streak of 237 straight played with a calf injury that might have kept others out weeks. He missed one game. Then came back and played 37 and 38 minutes the next two.
Time to worry in Memphis? In what’s seemed like their first season when they could truly consider themselves contenders, the Grizzlies are 11-11 in their last 22 after losing at home to Washington Saturday. Teams continue to exploit them with range shooting power forwards without Zach Randolph posting big numbers. Now Jeff Green is out with back spasms, Vince Carter can’t seem to get it going and Mike Conley has had hand injuries which affect his shooting; maybe it is time to sing the blues.
Josh Smith took a lot of abuse after the Pistons played well after his trade. But with that trade Smith remains on schedule to play 83 games this season. Good for him. And with Dwight Howard out so much, Smith has been a key and overlooked addition for the Rockets’ strong season.
It’s not just DeAndre. Andre Drummond gets fouled a lot and the Mavs did so to Joey Dorsey, who shot a pair of free throw air balls last week during intentional fouling. You hate to bail out these guys with new rules, but it is awful to watch.
Terrific to see Paul George back after that awful broken leg injury with USA Basketball last July. Nice that USA coach Mike Krzyzewski in Indianapolis for the Final Four could be there as well. With five games left the Pacers are a game out of the playoffs, tied with Miami with the tiebreaker for Indiana in a two-team tie with the Heat.
Heck of a blowout win Sunday for the Spurs, now with 17 of their last 20, over the hot Warriors, who lost in San Antonio for the 32nd straight time, basically before Tim Duncan came to the Spurs. The Spurs currently are sixth in the West, though a half game behind the Clippers. You know the Warriors would hate to see the Spurs get to fifth and in their bracket for a possible second round matchup.
Another great shootout Sunday with Russell Westbrook and James Harden both going for at least 40 (Westbrook with another triple double) in the Rockets win in Oklahoma City Sunday. The Thunder is tied in the loss column with the Pelicans for eighth, though the Pelicans have a brutal close with Golden State, Memphis, Phoenix, Houston and San Antonio. Heck of a run the last three for Enes Kanter averaging 27 points and 16.5 rebounds for the Thunder, though they have lost five of six.
With the Rockets in second in the West and the Grizzlies sliding, Harden makes as strong a case as Stephen Curry for the MVP. It could be one of the closest votes ever.
Good for the Pistons’ Reggie Jackson, who maybe is earning that job. He apparently was moaning about fatigue after the Pistons’ Friday loss in Chicago. Coach Stan Van Gundy said he told Jackson, "You want the opportunity to be the guy. Well, the guy can't be tired. Those guys play 36, 38 minutes every night and have the ball in their hands every play. And they got to make every play. They got to take the responsibility." Jackson responded with a huge fourth quarter Saturday to stun the Heat, who lost a 15-point fourth quarter lead and maybe a playoff spot. Jackson echoed Jimmy Butler, who doesn’t complain about his league leading minutes. “This is something (starring in the NBA) I’ve been asking for my entire life,” Jackson said.
The Hawks have the right to swap picks from the Joe Johnson trade and could still face Johnson and the Nets in the first round. The Hawks don’t have the role players from that trade, but it could produce a lottery pick, gave them financial flexibility to change their team, Saturday night tied the franchise record for wins and gave them a trade exception for room to sign Kyle Korver. The Hawks obviously had their eye on that potential lottery pick as after resting players regularly the last few weeks they played everyone in the blowout win over Brooklyn. However, Paul Millsap did hurt his shoulder. But you can’t be afraid to play. Injuries happen.
The Wizards have their eyes on a home court to open the playoffs as Toronto slips with Kyle Lowry having continuing back problems. The Raptors will get a top four seed by virtue of winning the division. But home court still goes to the team with the better record. Former most every team Drew Gooden has surprisingly continued to play well for the Wizards as they rest Nene. They’re 5-1 when Gooden starts.
NBA news and notes
Perhaps it was coincidence, but Michael Carter-Williams had his best run with the Bucks last week after Nerlens Noel said of his point guard, Ish Smith, "I love Ish. He's honestly, [in] my whole life, the first true point guard I ever played with." This is the 76ers’ future? The 76ers are Smith’s eighth team since undrafted in 2010 ... And they start dropping. It looks like the Suns are out in the West and the Hornets out in the East with Al Jefferson likely out for the season for Charlotte with knee problems ... You’d feel a bit sorry for Cavs coach David Blatt with the latest kerfuffle of LeBron James saying he calls plays. Perhaps James might have kept that to himself as he does that Blatt parks his car for him. Sorry about that. Couldn’t resist. The play call story came out from ESPN reporter Brian Windhorst, so no blame for James. And Blatt does keep reminding everyone he’s a championship coach, which championship coaches usually don’t need to do. Anyway, it’s a good thing. James used the comparison with Payton Manning, which I liked. Players should act more like real point guards. They should play. Coaches should act more like John Wooden and coach in practice. The games are for players. If it’s a players’ league, like we’re always told, they should call the plays with advice from the coach, if not consent ... You don’t see that much as the Rockets’ Terrence Jones was back playing after a collapsed lung, though not cleared to fly in an airplane. So he was driven to the game in Dallas last week ... Warriors/Clippers also would be a good one (Clippers won last season in the first round) as it sounds like it would be Phil Jackson and Pat Riley again as when the teams met last week as the Warriors rallied late to win, Clippers coach Doc Rivers chided, "That was pretty predictable. They didn't want to take the risk of going 2-2 [in the season series] with their regular guys. You could pretty much predict they weren't going to play everybody." "Oh, is that right?" Kerr answered. "Either that or we have a nine-game lead and a couple guys banged up. Somewhere in there." The Warriors came back from 17 down to win with Curry’s highlight ankle breaker on Chris Paul. Can’t wait for those Western Conference playoffs.