As the NBA regular season nears a close, fans have a chance to look back on what has been a wild and crazy last few months. The MVP race is the closest it has been since the days of Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. There is a discrepancy in talent between the Eastern and Western Conference wider than Interstate 405. While topics like these tend to dominate the headlines, here are five storylines that have managed to skirt the public eye so far this season:
Philadelphia 76er’s General Manager Sam Hinkie shoots himself in the foot: 76ers GM Sam Hinkie is the leader of an analytics-based revolution in the NBA. Hinkie hopes to complete a successful rebuild over several years by “tanking,” essentially trying to lose as many gamesas possible to obtain the highest draft picks through the NBA draft lottery process. This type of rebuild has not yet been successful. The biggest reason for its failure is the fact that Hinkie seems to have no idea what he’s doing.
This point was clearly illustrated when he traded Sixers point guard and reigning rookie of the year Michael Carter-Williams to the Bucks for a first round pick in the 2015 Draft.
In a rebuild predicated on drafting and collecting good players, Hinkie traded his best one, seemingly giving up on Carter-Williams’ potential after less than two years. Moves like this one give definition to the adage “one step forward, two steps back.”
The Chicago Bulls as a title threat: Admittedly, many people still look at the Bulls aschampionship contenders, but most casual fans have written them off as pretenders due toinjuries sustained by Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler, both charter members of a Chicagostarting five that is one of the best in the league. Fans fail to realize that both Rose and Butler will be back before playoffs start, thus reestablishing Chicago as a real title threat.
During recent seasons, the Bulls strangled opponents into submission with unmatched defensive intensity. This season, its offense is forced to put up huge numbers for the team to win consistently. This Bulls team is capable of defending at a high level, and if it can recapturethe magic, it would be no surprise to see the team representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.
The real story behind Russell Westbrook’s triple-doubles: There is no doubt Westbrook is one of the most exciting players in the NBA. Adding to his intrigue is incredible athleticism, which allows him to do things that no one can. Over the last month, Westbrook piled up triple-doubles at an astonishing rate, collecting six triples-doubles over an eight-game stretch. But, this seemingly incredible level of play is quickly soured if you delve deeper into Westbrook’s statistics over the same time frame. Though averages of 30.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 10.8 assists are impressive, a shooting line of 41 percent from 2-point range, and 29 percent from 3-point range, while firing up 30 shots a game and turning the ball over at an alarming rate is not.
The Sacramento Kings fire Michael Malone: The Kings have been a mess for years. Between bad draft choices and poor management, the team can be counted on for 50 losses and a terrible net rating. At the beginning of this season, it seemed like it was about to change. Head coach Michael Malone had quickly formed a strong relationship with temperamental superstar Demarcus Cousins, and turned the Kings into a team with pride and a sense that they were playing for something. A roster jam packed with rookies and one-way players got off to a 9-6 start, picking up several quality wins in a stacked Western Conference. But, in true Sacramento Kings’ spirit, Malone was fired and the team fell head over heels into its annual season long tailspin. This overlooked storyline is potentially the most regrettable decision of the entire NBA season.
Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks dumpster fire: The Knicks hired 11-time NBAChampion Jackson, arguably the greatest coach in NBA history, to serve as their president and assume full control of the team. At the time he was hired, the general opinion was that he would ride in on a big white stallion, his shining armor reflecting in the sun, saving the Knicks from their losing ways. Two years into the Phil Jackson era, things are not going according to plan. The team is in the midst of a historically bad season, and it seems Jackson is in over his head and has no plan to fall back on. The public has given him the benefit of the doubt so far, but it’s time for Jackson to take some serious blame for the incredibly poor job he’s done.
When storylines this juicy fly under the radar, you know it has been an incredible, fascinating, and entertaining NBA season. The fact that the regular season is just a warm up for the excitement and fanfare of the playoffs should make any fan of the game of basketball happy.