- The NBA is heading into its stretch run with the NBA All-Star Weekend now over.
- Several topics, from conversations with those in the league to media day questions and player answers, kept coming up.
- A few of the big storylines include the tight MVP race, the Anthony Davis trade saga, the top-heavy Eastern Conference, Lakers intrigue, and Warriors pessimism.
- Follow all of Business Insider’s 2019 NBA All-Star coverage here >
With the NBA All-Star Weekend in the rearview, the NBA regular season will begin its stretch run.
While in Charlotte, North Carolina, for All-Star, we tried to gauge what interested people, from conversations with those in the league, what was asked at media sessions, what got players talking, and what made the rounds on talk shows.
A few themes and storylines emerged. The Anthony Davis trade saga is not going away. People are anxious to see if the Lakers can make a playoff push, and who will come out on top of the East. The MVP race is a true race. And, of course, the NBA world is pessimistic about the league’s chances of upsetting the Warriors.
Check out what other topics were popular below:
The Anthony Davis trade saga continues.
No one topic was bigger in the weeks leading up to the All-Star break and over All-Star Weekend itself.
Despite Davis not being traded at the deadline, the drama has continued, with an awkward dynamic over whether the New Orleans Pelicans should be forced to play the 25-year-old big man, who will almost surely be gone this summer.
It didn’t help matters that the team fired GM Dell Demps on Friday, the first day of All-Star activities. Throughout the weekend, players, from Davis himself to other All-Stars, were asked if Davis was in the right to request a trade.
Davis can’t be traded until the offseason now. There will be two huge factors to watch going forward: who gets the No. 1 pick in the draft, and thus, an excellent trade chip for Davis, and how the Boston Celtics fair in the playoffs. What, exactly, would the Celtics part with to land Davis, who could also be key to re-signing Kyrie Irving?
One league source told Business Insider that, even with trade talks dead for now, the topic is still dominant in league circles, and that it could even hold up other major transactions until it’s resolved.
LeBron James and the Lakers’ playoff push.
This goes hand-in-hand with the Davis topic.
The Lakers obviously pushed to land Davis and were unsuccessful. The trade talk seemed to create a genuine distraction for the team, one that was already struggling with James returning from month-long injury absence.
Now, at 28-29, there are no major reinforcements coming. James will have to rally the troops, summon an MVP-like effort, and try to get back into the playoff mix.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma noted at his All-Star media availability that the Lakers have rarely had their full squad healthy, and thus, the record isn’t a proper indication of their talent.
After Sunday’s All-Star Game, James told reporters that his sole focus will be carrying the Lakers into the postseason.
On Thursday, from TNT’s media session, Shaquille O’Neal told reporters that James will have a one-year “grace” period with the Lakers.
If James and co. miss the playoffs this year, pressure will mount to get James help and to turn things around quickly.
The race for the top of the Eastern Conference.
Three of the Eastern Conference’s top four teams made big moves at the trade deadline to beef up their squads. The Boston Celtics remain perhaps the most well-rounded team if they can jell on time for the postseason.
A case could be made for each of the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Celtics as the best team in the conference. Just as you land on one, a convincing case is made for another team.
Several players were asked about who they think could win the conference, and answers varied.
The Bucks, currently, the No. 1 team in the NBA, aren’t looking over their shoulders, however. GM Jon Horst told Business Insider that they are “really good” and feel they can compete for a championship.
Each team has several big-name free agents – the Bucks with Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and Brook Lopez; the Raptors with Kawhi Leonard; the Celtics with Kyrie Irving; the 76ers with Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris. Only two of those four teams will make the Eastern Conference Finals, rendering the season a disappointment for two other teams. That could have a huge impact on free agency. This is a race that truly matters.
Can anyone beat the Warriors?
Despite an intriguing race in the East, there is still pessimism that any team is deep enough and talented enough to give the Warriors a scare.
“I’ve said to myself, ‘Well, maybe this team could beat- nah, I’m just full of s—,'” Charles Barkley said over the weekend. “‘Well, maybe this team- ok, you are full of s—.’
His co-star Shaquille O’Neal agreed that nobody could beat the Warriors.
Players, of course, wouldn’t go so far to say that. But with no clear No. 1 team in the East and no obvious threat in the West, it looks like the Warriors are positioned to three-peat.
The MVP race is compelling, though!
Almost all season long, the race has been between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But a third contender has emerged – Paul George. The Oklahoma City Thunder forward is averaging 35 points per game on 48% shooting, 45% from three since January 1, while playing lockdown defence.
Over All-Star Weekend, both players and analysts weighed in on it. Many former players said Antetokounmpo, though some current players acknowledged that Harden’s scoring could give him the edge.
One thing to watch: for people who are against Harden’s dribble-happy, isolation-heavy style, George could sneak up the ladder by stealing non-Harden votes.
Another thing to watch: LeBron James going into super-human mode over the last two months to carry the Lakers into the playoffs. He won’t win MVP, as he’s missed too much time and the Lakers have had a “meh” season. But if James has a second half like he did last season, he could steal a few third-place votes.
The Russell Westbrook-Paul George dynamic has become a fascinating storyline.
In George entering the MVP conversation, more light has been shed on Russell Westbrook’s season.
Westbrook is on pace to average a triple-double for the third straight season. Hardly anyone is talking about it, two years after it was one of the biggest stories in the NBA.
He is also having the worst shooting year of his career, all while taking a noticeable backseat to George.
The set-up has caught the eyes of players, analysts, and media. Westbrook and Kevin Durant struggled in an awkward on-court power struggle during their years together. Many people thought Westbrook should take a step back to let Durant dominate.
Now Westbrook seems to have finally ceded control to George, who in turn is putting up, well, Durant-esque numbers and leading the Thunder. Some consider them the biggest threat to the Warriors
O’Neal, while weighing in on the MVP race, had Westbrook above George. Almost all voters would disagree with that, but O’Neal’s argument does raise an interesting point: Westbrook has fit into the role most have wanted to see him in, and he’s affecting the game in so many ways other ways that his poor shooting hasn’t had a catastrophic effect on the Thunder.
Some in the NBA world have soured on Westbrook in recent years, for his borderline reckless approach on the court. He seems to have dialed it back, for the better, while also having one of his worst offensive seasons. It’s a strange dynamic that has earned him praise, but also could find him off of All-NBA ballots later in the season.
People love Luka Doncic.
Doncic is the favourite for Rookie of the Year and even got some All-Star buzz.
At media availabilities, Doncic drew huge swarms of reporters. Players in the Rising Stars Challenge were asked about him and his impressive start in the NBA.
Charles Barkley offered perhaps the best quote on Doncic’s popularity.
“That boy Doncic, he’s the real deal,” Barkley said. “As we used to say in my day: that’s a bad white boy. I mean, he’s almost, he’s not there yet, but we’re getting really close to little black kids in the hood wearing his jersey.”
With Doncic in hand and now Kristaps Porzingis, the Mavs have one of the most intriguing and talented young cores in the NBA. They’re set up to have cap space this summer, though they’re a few moves away from having max cap space.
One league source couldn’t predict to Business Insider if the Mavs will become a free agent destination, but noted that they will certainly try. Whether the Mavs can reverse their recent string of poor free agent luck might be an interesting tell (to some degree) on the popularity of Doncic.
Now, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to attend the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, here’s a look…
We attended the NBA All-Star Weekend, basketball’s version of Super Bowl week – here’s what it’s like
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