We saw old men blessed enough to grow old – like George Gervin, a little rounder at the waist than in his “Ice Man” days, but still in the stance of his famous finger roll. And we saw how unfair life can be when Kobe Bryant was left frozen in a black and white in-memoriam photo, unable to enjoy love alongside the other legends.
The weekend was dripping with sentimentality and it rekindled our love for this game. And then we remembered what we were in for, especially if we didn’t turn off the sound: the cynical conclusion to this season, which will no doubt remind us, oh yes, we loathe this part of this game.
Sign up for our weekly NBA newsletter to get the best basketball coverage delivered to your inbox
It starts when James Harden, your superteam’s favorite mercenary, makes his Philadelphia 76ers debut after the break. This will be his second new team in 13 months because Harden was unable to fit in Brooklyn alongside future Hall of Famers Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Admittedly, Durant has not played since January 15 due to a left knee injury, and Irving remains a part-time player due to his unvaccinated status. Harden must have looked around, noticed that Kessler Edwards KD is doing a bad impersonation and Patty Mills, who is the home starting guard, is not Irving, and decided he had to make a cameo elsewhere to chase the championship.
In this era of player movement and shorter contracts – buy that jersey from a free agent at your peril – Harden embodies the superstar who lives out of his briefcase. His play marvels, but his eye wanders, and he piles up more trade requests than goodwill; fans of the All-Star Game in Cleveland rained booing on Harden during the introduction of players.
In addition to waiting for Harden to leave Philadelphia, we can look forward to three more months of leaks from Los Angeles.
Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka thought it was safe to tell reporters about the “alignment” between him and his two stars, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, after the team failed to meet the trade deadline. But a follow-up report cited unnamed people describing Pelinka’s claim as “totally false.” At this point, Pelinka might announce that the sky is blue, then James and Davis — or their representatives — will leak that it’s actually green.
What makes the passive-aggressive back and forth so rich is that this is the selection James wanted. He insisted on Russell Westbrook, even though James’ basketball intelligence had warned him it wouldn’t work. You can’t hide a quick-tumble guard who needs the ball in his hands or a stubborn non-shooter who won’t stop firing. Yet this is the player the Lakers have pledged to their short-term future.
Back in Cleveland, James must have been nostalgic for his former team — or he was just trying to scare Lakers buyers — when he said the door isn’t closed on a return to the Cavaliers. He didn’t exactly announce that he’ll be back when his contract expires, but he left enough breadcrumbs for Ohio fans to snack on until 2023 — and enough fodder to color a disappointing season in LA.
While the Lakers are playing for a coveted play-in spot — which, along with the Elam finishing in the All-Star Game, is the other great idea the NBA has recently adopted — other franchises won’t even make it to that valley. Tankers are going to refuel, so get ready for teams to look like early versions of summer league rosters.
The Oklahoma City Thunder is no doubt preparing to hear LeBron say something nice about his next design choice — and to praise GM Sam Presti in a subtle dig at Pelinka — so how long do you expect standout guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to keep playing after he back from an ankle injury? And while the top two picks in last year’s draft are perfectly healthy, I’d be shocked if Detroit’s Cade Cunningham and Houston’s Jalen Green remain on the active list as their teams try to rack up 20 wins.
But that’s me being too cynical and forgetting the lessons of All-Star Weekend – like imagining the joy that would be if the current version of Magic and Michael (Stephen Curry and James) get a one-on-one showdown in the playoffs. Or ride the Memphis Grizzlies train, driven by Ja Morant, through the postseason. Or watch Giannis Antetokounmpo cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time as he leads the Milwaukee Bucks back to the finals.
If this past weekend in Cleveland taught us anything, delighted us as we showed off our favorite vintage cars and witnessed Curry take the game to new heights, it’s that the league still lives rent-free in our hearts. You just need to take your eyes off the unsavory parts and stay focused on the pure fun.