#IMHO: Surprising Warriors and Suns, playing through a pandemic, and the Harden and Kyrie sagas

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Kelcey Wright Johnson weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Monday, January 11, 2021 9:50 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: IMHO

Last week we talked a bunch about Stephen Curry, who finally tweaked and posted one of those 62-point games that has everyone talking for a while. But what we didn’t do was zoom out and take a look at the Warriors in the bigger picture, which might be worth a view right now. After a slow start, the Klay Thompson-less Warriors look really good right now, finally moving over .500 as I write this (they’re now 6-4), and getting solid contributions from Kelly Oubre and your boy, the Maple Jordan, Andrew Wiggins.

To be honest, I didn’t see this coming. I know Steph is a GOAT and Draymond is just as valuable defensively, but without Klay I figured this might be another year where the Warriors sit things out and aim forward. But nope. Here we are, 10 games in, and they’re in the fourth spot out West.

Which team do you feel like has outperformed their expectations thus far?


From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Monday, January 11, 2021 9:39 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Reading Maple Jordan really, really makes me shake my head. But that’s for another time — to your question:

THE DANG PHOENIX SUNS!

From a team last year that didn’t make the playoffs to now being tied for second in the Western Conference. I know they ended last season with a hot streak in the bubble, but they’ve really kept that streak alive to start the year.

They beat the Nuggets, they smoked the Jazz and even the games they’ve lost have been close. Devin Booker and Chris Paul by have been the duo we didn’t know we needed but now can never go without. Plus, I am probably also bias because they have my favorite jerseys (those Valley Boyz ones are fire, right?!).

But jokes aside, I know a veteran All-Star point guard is a huge difference maker on a team, but I don’t think anyone thought it would be this much of a difference maker. I also don’t think the Suns will stay this high in the standings, especially as they face stronger opponents in their schedule, but they have still had the most impressive start to me.

On the flip side, there have been so many games postponed and played without some of the team’s star players now too, so it’s a difficult thing to gauge. Lang, Woj tweeted out that there is going to be a meeting held this week to talk about possible changes to the health and safety protocol for the players after this latest COVID-19 ‘outbreak’. What do you think are some changes that could help?

Chris Paul playing for the Phoenix Suns

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Tuesday, January 12, 2021 2:01 PM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: RE: IMHO

First of all, I did not come up with Maple Jordan. Much like Steve Kerr, I was also surprised to learn this nickname was a thing. And apparently it is a thing? I don’t know, it all feels very Canadian to me–close to normal, but with just that one degree of difference that makes it not quite what I was expecting.

Anyway, yeah, COVID-19. It’s here and it’s clearly not going anywhere—if anything it just keeps getting worse. And it sucks, it really does. I haven’t eaten in a restaurant in as long as I can remember. I sit around my house and work and eat, then go outside for a run, then sit and work and eat, then watch TV and play video games, then read a book. Then I sleep and wake up, then do it all over again. Rinse and repeat. These days, going to the office seems like a huge treat. Look, life these days is stultifying and boring, but it’s the choice I am most comfortable with, for the safety of myself and my family, as well as for the safety of everyone else out there.

While there are still more questions than answers, one thing seems clear: If we are going to attempt to have a sports season in the middle of the pandemic, even if everyone involved observes all of the best practices, unless you’re in a bubble, there are risks involved. As I am writing this email, I just got a release from the NBA that they have tweaked their health and safety protocols, hopefully finding some new ways to ensure and improve safety for everyone involved. And after the league’s success in Orlando with the bubble, I think we have to give them the benefit of the doubt as they work to find and implement best practices.

With all this COVID stuff, I am simply trying my very best. And usually in life, trying your best is good enough. But as we’ve learned with COVID, sometimes even our very best efforts are just not good enough. Which is unbelievably frustrating to accept. But we don’t really have any other options.

To sum it up, as Stan Van Gundy said this week, “I’m 61 year’s old. This sh*t scares me…I want everybody to be just as careful as possible.” I’m with you, Stan.

Meanwhile, Kelcey, it looks as though tonight Kyrie Irving is out for a fourth game in a row, and there are reports that he will continue to be out, at least for the time being, moving forward. Kelcey, is it too soon to be worried about the Kyrie era in Brooklyn?

Stan Van Gundy wearing a mask on the sideline

From: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 2021 12:03 AM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Wise words, Lang.

As for Kyrie—I think they’ve been worried about it since it started, and it’s going precisely how everyone thinks it may have gone. If I’m being completely blunt, I am nervous that he may retire altogether. Nobody knows exactly why he’s sitting out right now, but to the outside world it appears like he’s just over it. All of it.

But who knows? I really hope it’s not the end of Kyrie in Brooklyn, because I am so excited to watch him and KD take over the Eastern Conference. And I *really* hope it’s not over for him in the entire league, because I’m a big fan. I know he gets a lot of flack for what’s happening now and him saging the arenas and thinking the world is flat or whatever, but he’s also done a lot of good in the community and for women’s basketball. So, I hope he’s around for a long time and I really hope everything is ok with him.

But let’s talk about a player that has made it clear he wants out. Did you hear James Harden‘s post-game interview on Tuesday night? What did you think of that?

Kyrie Irving directing on the court

From: Lang Whitaker

Sent: Wednesday, January 13, 2021 9:16 AM

To: Kelcey Wright Johnson

Subject: RE: IMHO

Yes, I saw the press conference, and I also saw Harden in the pregame warmups looking like the washing machine shrunk his warmups one size too small.

I might be wrong, but it seems as though James Harden just doesn’t care anymore. He doesn’t want to publicly ask for a trade, because that’s a fineable action, but he’s clearly ready to move on. The only problem is that he’s going about this the wrong way—if he dropped 10 pounds and turned into dominant Harden for a month, Harden would help his own cause. The Rockets would likely then be able to find somewhere to move him and get something closer to Harden’s actual worth, instead of having to trade low as they would right now.

At this point, I wonder if Brooklyn wouldn’t be ready to move Kyrie for Harden? Harden and KD would still be enough to dominate in the East, and the Nets are probably ready to just move on from this whole Kyrie experience. Heck, they’d probably take Uncle Drew over Kyrie right now, at least if he’d be willing to show up for games.

But if I’m the Rockets, I wouldn’t move Harden for Kyrie. I’d want to find something other than another point guard, since you’ve already got a few years of John Wall left at a high price. I don’t know exactly what that means. Maybe you find a rebuilding team with assets that’s motivated to accelerate their rebuild—Atlanta, perhaps, or a team like Detroit.

Or, how about this, Houston says in return for Harden, we’ll take a package of a ton of draft picks and a couple of young players, and we play the long game building around Wall and Boogie.

In which case the team to call has to be the Oklahoma City Thunder, right? Maybe you can go home again.

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