It is often said that January/February part of the NBA schedule is the dog day portion of the schedule. The surprises of the new NBA season have set in and the playoffs aren’t quite coming. This season, March/April actually feels like the true dog day segment. Yes, the playoffs are close but there virtually no more surprises. The only questions involve a bunch of .500ish teams at the bottom of the playoff brackets. That means we can focus on some of the less important stories of the week….Without further ado, some frivolousness:
1. More Curry-Jordan Nonsense: Naturally, all eyes have turned to Golden State’s march to break the 1995-96 Bull’s win record. Once again, the retired NBA vets are attacking the Warriors and defending the honor of their era(s). Scottie Pippen opined that his Bulls would sweep the Warriors while Charles Barkley said the Warriors were too small to match the Bulls. We looked at the issue way back in November and, in our view, the Bulls were probably slightly better but that any meaningful prediction could not be made without more context. In other words, the rules would matter. Whether the teams played by 1995-96 rules(i.e. the shorter three-point line but more lax hand checking rules) or today’s (farther three-point line, zone defense is allowed to some extent) could be the tipping point (though a really good argument could be made that the Warriors might be well served by the closer three-point line of 1995-96).
Yesterday, ESPN.com asked its panel of experts (all of whom are thoughtful and fun to read), in a “5-on-5” feature, a few questions to tease out the opinions, albeit in the contrived/declarative style that ESPN is wont to do. Still, the questions are interesting and, though nobody asked me, but here are my two cents on the this 5-on-5:
Fact or Fiction: Scottie Pippen would shut down Steph Curry.
–Fiction. While it’s not clear that Pippen would even guard Curry, there is no evidence that bigger players have had much luck slowing down Steph. In fact, in the NBA Finals, the Cavs were most successful against him with Matthew Dellavedova, a smaller, scrappy guy, harassing him. If you want to try to assess the issue by analogy, you should also note that Phil Jackson’s favorite Curry surrogate, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, roasted the 1995-96 Bulls for 32 points and nine assists (on 27 shots) to help snap the Bulls epic winning streak. Yes, the Bulls would be tough for Curry but Pippen or any other group of Bulls guards shutting him down seems very unlikely.
Fact or Fiction: Charles Barkley was right when he said the Warriors are “very small.”
-Who cares? It’s not like Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, and Draymond Green would be overpowered by the Bulls bigs like Luc Longley, Bill Wennington, Jason Caffey, Dickey Simpkins, or the remains of James Edwards and John Salley. Sure, Dennis Rodman was an effective player but he was just as undersized as Green. So, the Bulls only really had space fillers in the front court any way. It is much more likely that the Bulls would have trouble guarding Green with the bigs. Can you imagine Longley and Wennington chasing Green around the perimeter? Rather, the Bulls would almost certainly be forced to go small with Rodman at center and Toni Kukoc at power forward.
Not asked here but more interesting to consider is whether the Warriors could’ve handled a monster frontcourt with some the 1990s toughest low post players like Hakeem Olajuwon, Karl Malone, Shaq, or David Robinson. I don’t know the answer to this question but the Warriors could have had more problems in those match ups (or they would have to sign a bunch of big bodies to bang them around like the Bulls did).
Your thoughts on how former players talk about the Warriors?
–Well, that’s not really a question but we covered that at length. I won’t belabor the point but the lesson to learn from this I that, while I respect the past, it would be good to avoid the creeping “old codgerism” in my own daily life.
More likely: The Bulls would sweep the Warriors or the Warriors would sweep the Bulls?
-The 2014-015 Warriors won 67 games and had only one playoff sweep, against the eight seed Pelicans. During the Bulls’ six titles seasons, they had only three sweeps in a seven-game series (1990-91 Pistons, 1992-93 Cavs, and 1995-96 Magic). So, sweeps are really unlikely and to guess which historically great team might sweep the other really is asking which team is more likely to lose its best player to an injury (as this is the only way a sweep would happen). If forced to choose, I guess the Bulls are more likely since MJ never really ever got injured (after breaking his foot in 1985) and Curry has had a few ankle issues.
Fact or Fiction: The Warriors will break the Bulls’ record for wins in a season.
-No idea. The Warriors are 69-8 and Basketball-Reference has them projected at 72.5 wins, which is basically dead heat with the Bulls. The last few games aren’t easy: the T-Wolves (should be a win) but then two games with the Spurs (though it’s not clear if they will play their best players), and two against a Grizz team with serious playoff seeding concerns. If forced to choose, I assume the Warriors will push to break the record, if only to spite all the old NBA vets.
2. D’Angelo Russell v. Nick Young: In even less hard news, D’Angelo Russell’s feud with Nick Young is really unique. Here’s the situation, briefly: Russell and Young were buddies but Russell, in an ill-fated prank, secretly filmed Young sort of admitting that he had not been faithful to his celebrity girlfriend. Somehow, the film was leaked online (not by Russell) and now Young is furious and none Russell’s Lakers teammates will speak to him for breaking “the code.”
Granted, Russell’s behavior was idiotic but this will blow over. NBA players are like any coworkers—disagreements will happen, usually over shots, money, or popularity. Still, given the amount the players make, it usually behooves them to shut up and play. Most of the Lakers on this roster will be gone in the near future except Russell, who is their most valuable player. The most surprising revelation is that I had forgotten the Lakers actually gave Young a four-year $21.5 million contract back in 2014. Yup, the Lakers, who were coming off of a 27-55 record and with a serious downward trajectory, still decided they needed to lock up Young, a one-dimensional scorer, through his early 30s. Young scored a bit the first season of the contract, but is 30 now and has been awful this year, with two more two go. Yikes, is that bad. The Lakers may just have to pay him to go away this off-season to resolve this.
The more interesting question for posterity: is this the dumbest/most low stakes public feud between two NBA teammates we have ever seen? Back in 1995, there was a rumor that Jason Kidd and Jim Jackson, two of the Mavs cornerstone stars, were fighting over a celebrity pop singer. Both Kidd and Jackson have denied this story. In addition, Kidd and Jackson were both valued players for Dallas at the time. By contrast, Russell is valued and Young’s contract is an albatross that the Lakers cannot excise at this point.
The silliest low stakes feud I did think of was the legendary Rick Brunson-Chris Jefferies tiff back in 2003. Brunson was a third-string point guard who bounced around the NBA and Jefferies was a late first round pick out of Fresno in 2002. They played together on a bad Toronto team in 2002-03. In December 2003, the Raptors traded Jefferies to the Bulls. Jefferies, who barely played as a rookie in 2002-03, accused Brunson as spying on the players for coach Kevin O’Neill. Brunson responded by saying Jefferies “can’t play and can’t be coached.”
Jefferies, as a young player who barely played, should not have been said anything. Brunson probably should’ve kept quiet too but he was a bit more established in the NBA and was, mostly, criticizing Jefferies as a defensive mechanicsm. In a humorous bit of irony, the Bulls also traded for Brunson less than two weeks after getting Jefferies. They both, apparently, were able to coexist the rest of the season without incident.
Jefferies was waived after the season and never played in the NBA again. Brunson lasted three more season (even starting 39 games for the 2004-05 Clippers). In any event, it’s fair to say that this was the lowest wattage NBA feud the public has ever seen.