Brooklyn Nets, NBA

NBA Power Rankings: Candace Parker, Caris LeVert and the Lopez Boys

In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, the Lopez Boys throw gauntlets, the world is Caris LeVert’s oyster and the WNBPA speaks loudly.

The traditional power-ranking model is a list of all the team in a league, ordered by some objective or subjective measures of quality. But these are not traditional times. The power structures of the NBA and the WNBA are inextricably linked and it is no longer just teams who are the primary vessels of basketball power — it is players (individually and in combination, within and across teams), it is coaches and agents, sneaker companies and musicians, individual moves and strategic adaptations.

The NBA power structure has changed and so we’re going to try and map it in a non-traditional way. Each week we’ll take a look at who or what is holding the power in professional basketball, how they earned it and what they mean to do with it.

Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?

4

The Lopez Bros.

In theory, the NBA players participating in the season restart are confined within the metaphorical bubble of their hotels, practice and game facilities. In reality, it will depend on their willingness to follow the rules. There’s been plenty of hand-wringing about whether players will be able to tolerate not seeing their families or seeking female companionship, but the biggest threat to the security of the bubble may be the siren song of Space Mountain.

“We’ll see how long Adam Silver can keep Robin and I from going to the park,” Brook Lopez said in a media call on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press’ Tim Reynolds.

It’s a clear and unmistakable challenge. Silver may have sheriff’s deputies on-site providing security at hotels and arenas but that’s nothing against the highly motivated will of two 7-foot theme park enthusiasts. The most pressing question then becomes: Will the Lopez twins rely on strength or subterfuge to get what they want? They could go with some sort of complicated Oceans Eleven scam, trading on their identical faces. Or maybe they just bum rush the deputies, throw down some pile drivers and head out.

Either way, until Adam Silver responds, they have control of the situation.

3

Patty Mills’ Money

This morning, Spurs’ guard Patty Mills told media members that he would be joining his team in Orlando and that he’d be donating all of his remaining game checks to racial and social justice charities in his native Australia. Dwight Howard made a similar pledge earlier this week and both players deserve recognition for making moves that go far beyond the symbolic.

However, Mills makes our power rankings instead of Howard because his basketball contracts have grossed him just under $50 million over the course of his career. Howard’s career earnings are nearly five times that, which means he probably has a much larger cushion in the bank. In addition, Mills’ salary is considerably more than Howard’s this season, which means his game checks are sending about six times as much into charitable pipelines.

Here’s to playing for a cause and putting your own stability at risk to try and improve the situation of your fellow humans.

2

Caris LeVert

The Brooklyn Nets will be playing in the Orlando restart without Kevin Durant. And without Kyrie Irving. And without Wilson Chandler. And without Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince. That means their likely starting lineup is Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and two randos from the NBA2K MyPlayer Builder (fingers crossed for Glenallen Mixon and Todd Bonzalez). Suffice it to say, LeVert is going to get all the shots he wants.

Before the season was interrupted, LeVert was finishing an average of about 11.2 possessions per game out of isolations or as the ball-handler in the pick-and-roll. He could easily see, I don’t know, four times that many possessions per game in Orlando? Five? It honestly feels like anything is in play. A 50-point game? Sure! A 12-turnover game? Why not! Both in the same game? Let’s do it, baby!

1

Candace Parker and the WNBPA

Kelly Loeffler, the junior Senator from Georgia, found herself in hot water in March when it was revealed that she and her husband had unloaded millions of dollars worth of stock in companies that were particularly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic. The implication was that she had made the moves based on inside information about the potential scope of the pandemic gleaned from her role in the Senate.

The Department of Justice ultimately declined to take action but she found herself in hot water again this week when she objected to the WNBA’s plans to highlight the Black Lives Matter movement during the season. There are certainly people around the country who share her objections but those people aren’t co-owners of a WNBA franchise — Loeffler is co-owner of the Atlanta Dream.

The condemnation was swift. The WNBPA tweeted “E-N-O-U-G-H! O-U-T!” and the league put out a press release clarifying that, even before these comments, Loeffler was not part of the day-to-day operations of the team. Candace Parker then made the definitive statement on Loeffler: “There is no place in the league for her.”

Several other players have called for her ouster and Baron Davis even offered to buy out her stake in the team. Loeffler’s statements were tone-deaf, wrong-headed and ill-advised, especially considering that vocal support for Black Lives Matter and racial justice causes was a key factor in players approving plans for the season. However, on their own, they’re probably not grounds for the league to take any action to actually force her out. But the players and their union have more leverage than they’ve ever held and are more unified than ever before in using it as a force for change. If they want Loeffler out, they can keep banging this drum until it’s too noisy for Loeffler and the league to ignore.

This week at least, there is no more powerful force than the collective voices of the WNBA players. Let’s let them know we hear them.

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