In this week’s NBA Power Rankings, we look at cannabis entrepreneurship, NBA Draft comparisons and those darn Warriors.
Our new look NBA Power Rankings are back, a non-traditional structure for a non-traditional era of professional basketball. The world is no longer just about wins and losses and teams are no longer the primary crucible of basketball power. So each week we’ll be dissecting how basketball power is presently distributed — between players, teams, friendships, diss tracks, aesthetic design choices, across leagues and whatever else has a temporary toehold in this ever-changing landscape.
Who has the power in this week’s NBA Power Rankings?
The mystique of Daryl morey
The Philadelphia 76ers caught everyone off guard, not so much with the move as with the speed at which it happened, by hiring Daryl Morey as their new president of basketball operations. The hire sets up all sorts of contradictions, most of which are lazy and reductive but that won’t remove them as talking points. Morey likes 3-pointers and Ben Simmons refuses to take them. Morey is a “numbers guy” and Elton Brand just said the front office needs more “basketball people.” Morey wants his teams on the cutting edge but they just hired Doc Rivers, an old-school player’s coach.
All of these (non-) issues are rooted in a fundamental and collective understanding of what Morey’s basketball, managerial and decision-making values are. I won’t pretend to be insidery enough to lay them out comprehensively but it seems worth considering the following data points — during his tenure as Rockets general manager, he traded for Dwight Howard and Russell Westbrook, hired Rick Adelman and Kevin McHale as head coaches and signed Josh Smith and Omer Asik to free-agent deals. His commitment to any single on-court approach is really only cohesive if you’re looking at specific two-to-three-year samples.
The real throughline is not data or bucking convention for its own sake. It’s gambling on star-level talent, maximizing value at the margins and not being afraid to pivot, wildly. In his time with the Rockets he made a lot of huge, table-limit bets. He just happened to make smart ones and constantly be on the lookout for places to hedge. That manifested in a certain progression but applying those values to the very different scenario he has in Philly will lead the team down a very different path. We make up stories to explain things we don’t understand and Morey’s approach (and his desire to keep most of it behind the curtain) gives it all the veneer of magic. It’s not. But it’s not Rockets science either, at least not anymore.
This week, Shawn Kemp announced the launch of his new cannabis dispensary in Seattle. Klay Thompson talked with The Undefeated about his new CBD brand. And a press release hit my inbox about Baron Davis investing in Cann, a new THC beverage. According to the release, “Baron joins Cann on a collective mission to offer better-for-you alternatives to alcohol and normalize cannabis consumption.”
This isn’t exactly a new marketplace for NBA players. Al Harrington owns a cannabis company called Viola Brands (which J.R. Smith repped during the playoffs) and Cliff Robinson, who passed away earlier this year, had been in the cannabis business since at least 2016. And it wouldn’t be a shock to see more former NBA players jumping in soon:
Dr. J’s Js: You’ll be floating from the free-throw line.
Aaron Gordon’s anti-gravity bongs: For when you just need to get lifted.
Detlef Schrempf’s Schwag: Now with 10 percent fewer sticks and stems!
The coaching collective
I had some jokes this morning at the expense of the Brooklyn Nets whose coaching staff now features Steve Nash, Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka, Amare Stoudemire, Mike D’Antoni and, according to Kyrie Irving, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Maybe this ends up being a clusterf**k of epic proportions, with way too many cooks in the kitchen. Or maybe it lures Boris Diaw out of retirement and everyone’s nerves are soothed by his espresso game.
It’s not unprecedented for a first-time head coach to have an experienced assistant designated in a lead role, or former colleagues he is familiar with join a staff for support, or a veteran former head coach sign on as a mentor. But I’m not sure we’ve seen a team try all those strategies at once, and quite so obviously and aggressively as the Nets have. Again, maybe this ends up being a joke. But maybe it’s a strategy that ends up working.
Coaches have so many responsibilities and there are so many domains in which a coach can be successful (or not) — managing egos and generating buy-in, setting broad offensive and defensive principles, managing micro offensive and defensive strategies, managing rotations, developing young players, making in-game adjustments, communicating with the media and other organizational stakeholders. Every team divides these responsibilities up to some degree among their assistant coaches but the head coach still holds them. Maybe a team where those things are shared more collaboratively will reveal a new coaching paradigm?
Those darn warriors
When the Warriors fell to No. 2 in the NBA Draft it seemed like the universe was indulging in a little shod & Freud. It’s just one draft slot but it still slightly lowers the possibility that the Warriors run next season’s Rookie of the Year out with Draymond, Steph and Klay. It also takes some of the shine off a trade package they could throw out to try and pry away Bradley Beal or someone similar.
But sometimes what the universe takes away, it gives right back. Reports over the past two weeks have tagged the Bulls, Knicks, Celtics, Suns and Pistons as potentially being interested in trading up. You know how this is going to work out — the Warriors are going to move back, pick up the guy they want anyway (who will look incredible next to Steph and Klay) and add a veteran like Thad Young or Kelly Oubre (who will also look incredible next to Steph and Klay).
Ludicrous draft prospect comps
We just can’t help ourselves. We’ve heard the talk, we’ve read the scouting reports. We understand that this draft class is far weaker than other years, both in depth and high-end talent. But we’re only human, we can’t stop obsessing about the best-case scenarios and throwing down wild comparisons on these draft prospects.
And so the Timberwolves find themselves at No. 1 potentially choosing between Dwyane Wade (Anthony Edwards), a 6-foot-7 Trae Young (LaMelo Ball), Amare Stoudemire (Obi Toppin), Chris Bosh (James Wiseman), Manu Ginobili (Killian Hayes), Damian Lillard (Cole Anthony), Gordon Hayward (Deni Avdija), Stephen Curry (Tyrell Terry), Kevin Durant (Jaden McDaniels), Anthony Davis (Daniel Oturu), Kyle Lowry (Cassius Winston) and Latrell Sprewell (Devin Vassell).
If you put it like that, it doesn’t sound quite so bad.