NBA Takeaways of the Week: Feb. 8-14

Kevin Reyes
NBA Analyst

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. 

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With another week of NBA action in the books, let’s talk about some of the things that happened during the past week. Once a week, I’ll be releasing an article on some takeaways I had from the previous week of NBA basketball. Today, I bring you my NBA Takeaways of the Week, from Feb. 8 to Feb. 14.

Looking back at the 2017-19 Golden State Warriors

With Kevin Durant playing in his first game at the Warriors’ home court since he signed with the Brooklyn Nets in 2019 on Saturday, it’s the perfect time to look back at what was their dynasty, led by Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and company. With three seasons, three Finals appearances, two championships back-to-back, and at least three All-Stars representing them every season, the mid-to-late 2010’s will go down as one of the greatest dynasties in sports history. Never in the history of the league have there been two league-MVP caliber players, both in their primes, in the same roster, while also being complemented by the second best shooter in the league and one of the best complementary stars of all-time to boot.

As fans of our respective teams, it was easy to get mad at Durant for “ruining competitiveness” or whatever, and to just not care about most of the games because of the Warriors’ firepower. However, as a fan of the game, seeing so many talented players willing to sacrifice in order for the team to function as great as it did, which at the end of the day was necessary for them to reach the greatness they did. That 2017 team in particular, which went 67-15 in the regular season and 16-1 in the postseason, is by far the most talented team in NBA history. No other team has ever been so good that they are the consensus favorites to win the championship, with their competition not being anywhere close to their level. It’s never been seen, and will likely never be replicated.

If injuries and egos hadn’t gotten in the way, we could still be looking at this team running the NBA until the Big Four decided to retire. But I digress.

The long-term plans of the Atlanta Hawks are confusing

Currently having a 11-15 record (3-7 in their last 10 games), good for a tie with the Miami Heat for ninth place in the East, it’s safe to say the Hawks haven’t had the season they envisioned. With the offseason additions of Danilo Gallinari, Rajon Rondo, Kris Dunn, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Solomon Hill, and Tony Snell, along with Clint Capela debuting with the team after being acquired last season via trade and the continued development of Trae Young, the Hawks were expected to be a top six or seven team in the conference. Injuries, as alluded to in a previous installment of this series, has been a big problem for them, along with inconsistent play from Young, Collins and everyone not named Clint Capela. The young team they have right now, though struggling at the moment, is likely to figure things out and have a good stretch of wins at some point. They are way too talented to not do that, and Trae is way too good to not lead a team that does precisely that. I have no concerns about the short term, but I do have serious concerns about the long term.

Collins, who already had to adjust his game to playing with a center that can’t space the floor, thus forcing to play more outside of the paint and taking away a big part of his value, is involved in trade talks. Early in the season, he had a… moment, to say the least, with Trae Young. Though blown out of proportion, it is still a notable moment, especially considering the team’s struggles, the inconsistent touches John gets on a night-to-night basis, and his upcoming restricted free agency at season’s end. Collins turned down a $90+ million extension during the offseason from the Hawks, implying one of two things: either he expects another team to throw a massive bag at him (near-max type of money), or he just wants to get out of Atlanta. At 23 years old, Collins has regressed to averaging 18 points and 8 rebounds per game this season, as opposed to the steady improvement he had from 2018-19 (19/10) to 2019-20 (21/10). I wouldn’t blame him for wanting out, especially when the focus went away from him; Trae and him were the building blocks of the team, but now it’s Trae, Capela and the rest of the perimeter players they signed, with John just being there. On that note…

Hindsight is 20/20, absolutely, and the injuries they’ve suffered are out of their control. Having said that, and even judging at the moment, it’s clear that this team isn’t ready to seriously compete for a championship, let alone potentially win a playoff series. It feels as if the Hawks front office accelerated their timeline by a couple of years. Coming off a season where they had the second-worst record in the East, Atlanta should’ve continued steadily building a culture and growing their young core. Unless they added a superstar player, or a couple of stars, they weren’t going from second-worst in the conference to top five in one season. Yes, a playoff series will serve as experience for this extremely young core. But, it only helps if they build on that and continue steadily improving. With this team, I’m not sure they can. If they do, it’ll be because of other teams falling off.

The Hawks will probably end up turning their season around and being a playoff team, potentially even winning a playoff series. I wouldn’t be surprised by much, but the short term doesn’t concern me. As stated, their long-term plans are confusing, especially with all the buy-in they had to make the playoffs this season and being a perennial postseason squad, and the potential disappointment those expectations can bring. While yes, I do like young teams that compete (see last week’s piece where I praised the Oklahoma City Thunder for doing just that), but, as a front office, you need to be patient and wait for that window of being a playoff team to open. With Cam Reddish being 21 years old, Trae and Kevin Huerter 22, Collins and De’Andre Hunter 23, and Capela 26, the Hawks had plenty of time to build this team and slowly but surely surround them with veterans to help in their development and to compete. Instead, the front office potentially compromised their long-term success for a short-term playoff berth that, in the long run, won’t hold much value as opposed to what they sacrificed for it.

Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin: the two most immovable contracts in the NBA

Trade season is still a couple of weeks away, but many rumors are red-hot, and there are already a couple of stars that could potentially be moved. Both Drummond and Griffin will not be playing for their respective teams, Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons, because of their teams looking to rebuild. Whether a move for either of them is possible remains to be seen, but, from the outside looking in, it seems like an extremely difficult task. Sure, every contract in the NBA is movable, demonstrated by previous trades involving Chris Paul (from Rockets to Thunder), Russell Westbrook (from Rockets to Wizards) and John Wall (from Wizards to Rockets), all once thought of as “immovable”. Having said that, these cases in particular are different, each because of their own underlying circumstances.

Griffin is coming off of multiple injuries, is owed $36 million this season and has a $38 million Player Option for next season, and is currently having the worst year of his career (12pts/5reb/4ast on 36/31/71 shooting). Safe to say, his value is at an all-time low, and the Pistons will have to package some sort of asset (young player or future draft pick) for other teams to consider giving them something of value. If not, the Pistons will have to, again, come out of the losing side of dealing their star player in a salary dump move. Albeit, that would be a better option than buying him out, which seems like a last resort move for them given the amount they would still have to pay him afterwards. Contenders will come knocking at the Pistons’ door hoping to make a move, and will be up to Detroit’s management to determine if they are willing to give up a potential valuable asset, and for Griffin to accept a complimentary role on a contending team.

In Drummond’s case, we’re talking about a player having a typical great season for his standards (17pts/13reb/1stl/1blk on 47 percent from the field and 59 percent from the free throw line), but is owed $28 million this season, is an upcoming free agent, and is playing in a position that most teams already have filled out. For the teams that don’t, they still have to match salaries for a player that they hope will make them better. The problem? Players given up to match Drummond’s salary are already helping you win games, so the odds of him making a team that’s already likely giving up 2-3 rotation pieces significantly better become slimmer. Granted, he can still fit into a couple of teams (the Nets, Hornets, Mavericks and Raptors have been rumored to be interested), but it becomes a question of, again, what they give up for him. Like Griffin, though not as bad, a buy-out seems like a last resort because of the money they would still have to pay him.

Both players are expected to not be on the team by the trade deadline of March 25, and probably sooner rather than later. How they end up on other teams though, will be intriguing to watch.

What stood out to you in this past week of the NBA season? Tweet at me and let me know!