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Another week goes by, and yet more attention looms on an NBA player that only works part-time and another NBA player that refuses to clock in.
For the past two weeks, the Brooklyn Nets have welcomed Kyrie Irving back for road games even if he still cannot play at home because of New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandates. For the entire 2021-22 season, Ben Simmons has not played in a Philadelphia 76ers uniform amid his ongoing desires for the organization to deal him elsewhere.
Intrigue remains on what happens next. Consider some of the inquiries below for this week’s NBA mailbag.
What happens first: Ben Simmons plays for Sixers again, or Kyrie Irving gets fully vaccinated?
So hard to predict on which player blinks first.
Simmons has refused to blink through different circumstances, including when the Sixers began training camp and when they put some of his paycheck into an escrow account. He even refused to blink when the Sixers stated repeatedly they would only trade Simmons in return for a player that will significantly improve their NBA championship fortunes.
Irving has refused to blink through different circumstances, too. Even when the vast majority of NBA players took the jab. Even when New York mandates dictated he would not be able to play in home games. Even when the Nets initially said Irving could not become a part-time player. Even after Kevin Durant recently suffered a sprained MCL in his left knee.
So far, the Nets have caved in more than the Sixers have. The Nets have needed bodies amid injuries and other players entering the league’s Health and Safety Protocols. Despite the various ups and downs of the season, the Sixers still have stayed among the Eastern Conference’s elite. But even if the Nets have already offered some concessions, my hunch is that Irving will cave before Simmons does.
Why? A few reasons. I don’t see New York changing its vaccine mandates. Even if the Nets hypothetically could pay any fine for breaking those rules, the NBA’s own protocols require teams to follow local ordinances. And the consequences of Irving missing home games will eventually catch up to him both with team chemistry, teammates’ workloads and playoff availability.
Sure, the Nets have mostly shown a respectful deference toward Irving’s refusal to get vaccinated. Sure, Irving has not wavered in his refusal on getting vaccinated. But my hunch is that his teammates will eventually reach a breaking point once the games have more stakes in the second half of the season and beyond. So will Irving, who will offer a new twist on the latest NBA star treating games much differently in the fall and winter than in April, May and June.
As for Simmons? Who knows if the Sixers trade him by the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but he won’t wear a Sixers uniform this season. Philadelphia general manager Daryl Morey might find the trade deadline as the best leverage play to extract maximum value for Simmons, or at least reduce the severity with cutting his losses. But then again, the Sixers have managed just fine in the East without Simmons or even finding his replacement(s). Regardless, neither party has shown sign of budging anytime soon.
Why is it that no one is talking about a John Wall-for-Ben Simmons trade? I think John would be a good fit for the Sixers … his experience could help them.
— Louise Hunter
I don’t think anyone is talking about it because I don’t know why the Rockets would accept such a trade. No doubt, Wall could help the Sixers with his playmaking, competitiveness and experience. But Simmons on a rebuilding Rockets team? I don’t think he would be the right veteran the Rockets would want to have around their young roster, both with his scoring deficiencies and his work habits.
Why didn’t Mario Chalmers play this season when he was with the Heat on his 10-day contract after he played for the Grand Rapids Gold?
— Parker Ledral from Houston
It’s a fair question to ask.
The Heat and Chalmers reunited after he was part of the franchise’s two NBA championship teams this past decade. The Heat signed Chalmers because they had a depleted roster due to injuries and COVID-19. And Chalmers doesn’t even play for a second in an actual NBA game?
My hunch is there are larger factors in play. The Heat had more aspirations simply for Chalmers to get back in the fold than actually granting him significant minutes. The 35-year-old Chalmers hasn’t played in an NBA game since 2018. He is also a few years removed from an Achilles injury. And the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Miami’s NBA G League team, recently acquired Chalmers’ rights shortly after his 10-day contract expired.
Though Chalmers could have received more additional exposure and more opportunities had he logged some NBA minutes, the Heat’s move could ensure a much more substantial reunion. Chalmers could receive more significant playing time. He could minimize the chances of future injuries. And perhaps, later on, the Heat can sign Chalmers as a role player. Stay tuned.
I’m curious about the in-between teams like Indiana or Portland. Which teams do you see rebuilding in the second half of the season? Is Indiana joining the battle for the highest lottery odds? Portland? Are San Antonio or New Orleans battling for the play-in? Do the Wizards continue to drop?
— Frank Forster Warburg from Germany
Let me tackle this one by one.
It seems inevitable the Portland Trail Blazers will be in rebuilding mode. Damian Lillard faces a long-term absence after having surgery to treat an abdominal injury. With and without Lillard this season, the Blazers have struggled to collect wins. As of now, both sides have been adamant that they don’t want to dissolve the partnership. If nothing else, though, the Blazers at least need to start trading away some of their veteran role players for young ones so they can begin a rebuild.
As for the Indiana Pacers? They appear intent on making a deal before the Feb .10 trade deadline. Their direction depends, obviously, on what they get in return presumably in a deal that involves Myles Turner or Caris Levert. If the Pacers stay status quo? Then they’ll just keep running in the same direction. Malcolm Brogdon has struggled with injuries this season. Coach Rick Carlisle hasn’t steered this team in the right direction yet. And the Pacers have struggled in close games. Not exactly a winning formula.
I think both the Spurs and Pelicans both have legitimate shots at the Play-In Tournament. Never bet against Spurs coach Gregg Popovich for getting the best out of his players. Though the Pelicans sorely miss Zion Williamson and have no clarity on if he will ever play this season, coach Willie Green and star forward Brandon Ingram have both done an exceptional job with turning the season around following a rough start.
As for the Wizards? They are a difficult puzzle to figure out. They stormed to a 10-3 start only to play sub. 500 basketball since then. They have a dynamic backcourt in Bradley Beal and Spencer Dinwiddie. Yet, they have struggled to forge consistent chemistry. They acquired promising young talent in Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Montrezl Harrell after dealing Russell Westbrook last summer to the Lakers. But the trio’s play has features both peaks and valleys.
Because of the Wizards’ unpredictability, I think they will spend the second half of the season hovering around a low playoff seed or a chance at the play-in tournament. It should be a roller coaster.
Hoops Around the World
We all know that the NBA has become a global brand and that basketball has become a global game. But what fuels your basketball fandom?
Got a good basketball story to tell? Write it up and send it my way. The best essays will be used in this feature throughout the season, such as this latest entry.
From Omar Ortega in Oakland, Calif.:
Back when the Warriors were not viewed by the rest of the country, or even local Bay Area fans the way they are viewed now, three friends and I split four season tickets. At the time, it was an inexpensive way to have a night out with the family or just a night out with the guys.
One eventful night in 2012, I was selected in a random drawing to take a half-court shot for $10,000. As I was about to take the shot, all I could think about was to make sure I at least hit the backboard and not embarrass myself. Miraculously, I drained it! Oracle Arena went wild. Fans, players and even coaches congratulated me. I was thrilled beyond belief. The world will never know for sure if that half-court shot made in front of Stephen Curry was the little extra motivation that he needed to take his game to the next level to achieve his current game.
Google my name and Warriors and check it out.
Editor’s note: We Googled his name, and Omar certainly checks out. Cool nugget: Ortega made the half-court shot for $10,000 at halftime of the Warriors’ eventual win over the Sacramento Kings on March 24, 2012. In that game, a certain rookie named Klay Thompson scored 31 points.
We’d also love to see a photo of the hoop you play on, whether it be in your neighborhood gym or in the backyard of your driveway. Got a good image? Then pass along and we’ll feature it.
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NBA Digital Sr. Analyst Mark Medina will be answering questions each week in his NBA Mailbag.
How can you participate? Simply email your question to Mark here, or use your Twitter account and get your question to him here.