Not everyone appears too keen on the NBA restarting the 2019-20 season at the end of July.
Over the last few days, reports have been churning left and right regarding high-profile basketball stars who have expressed concerns about a potential resumption. Most notably, Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving has led the charge from the player’s perspective, raising issues that range from the systemic racism ongoing in the United States to the unpredictability of the coronavirus affecting daily life.
Former Kentucky Wildcat and current center for the Boston Celtics, Enes Kanter, recently posed the possibility that an Eastern Conference “superstar” did not plan on rejoining everyone else down in Walt Disney World. Other prominent, veteran player voices such as Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Donovan Mitchell, and CJ McCollum have reportedly shared a similar sentiment. So far, there hasn’t been a member of the BBNBA who has come out and explicitly stated that they won’t make the trip to Orlando. However, there are several former Wildcats who never even had the opportunity to pick their season back up.
Six teams from the Eastern Conference (Charlotte, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Atlanta, and Cleveland) and two from the West (Minnesota and Golden State) make up the group that has been coined as the “Delete-8” by Tom Withers of the Associated Press. Within those eight teams are nine former Kentucky players, who could be put at a competitive disadvantage as the other 22 franchises will soon have a chance to get back into game form.
The NBA has reportedly held discussions regarding what to do with the eight teams and thoughts of extended mini-camps or even an eight-team tournament has been presented. But until more concrete information is announced, these nine former ‘Cats are stuck in offseason limbo.
Skal Labissiere – Atlanta Hawks
An untimely injury diminished Skal Labissiere’s chance at establishing himself within the Portland Trail Blazers rotation. He appeared in all 33 games for Portland to start the 2019-20 season as two of the team’s traditional starters, Zach Collins and Jusuf Nurkic, were out for the year (both will be healthy in time to play when Portland goes to Orlando). Just as Labissiere was playing at the highest level he had been as a pro, his knee betrayed him and he was forced to sit out at least four weeks. As time passed, Labissiere never returned to full health and was eventually traded to the Atlanta Hawks where he sat out the remainder of the year. Hawks GM Travis Schlenk recently said that Labissiere would have been able to play had all 30 teams resumed play, so there’s still some good news.
Malik Monk, PJ Washington – Charlotte Hornets
It wasn’t until a few days ago that Malik Monk was reinstated by the Charlotte Hornets after failing to comply with the NBA’s anti-drug policy. But like Labissiere, he was playing his best basketball at the worst time. Monk was averaging over 17 points per outing over a 13-game stretch right before he was suspended. Just eight games later, the league would suspend the season due to the coronavirus. I should point out though, that had the season not been postponed, Monk still likely wouldn’t have been reinstated before the playoffs.
As for his Hornets teammate, PJ Washington, the Rookie of the Year contender was a day-one starter and immediate contributor. He ranked among the top-10 rookies in key categories such as points, three-pointers made, rebounds (ranking first), assists, steals, and blocks. His Hornets squad was actually the closest team to the Washington Wizards’ in terms of overall record, but the NBA decided that Charlotte shouldn’t make the cut.
Kevin Knox, Julius Randle – New York Knicks
The Knicks might as well rebrand themselves as the NBA’s middle man. At least once a month, a significant member of the Knicks organization is either on the hot seat or involved in trade rumors; Kevin Knox and Julius Randle know this better than anybody. In all honesty, the Knicks might be the lone team that is actually excited they don’t have to play basketball anymore.
Randle was the team’s most consistent (although I use the word “consistent” loosely) player throughout the year, averaging 19.5 points and a hair under 10 rebounds per outing. However, the only thing more predictable than his line-drive attack to the rim was his name being spun through the rumor mill. The same thing goes for Knox, who took a major step back in his second year, mainly due to the fault of poor coaching. The New York front office has a thousand other internal problems to deal with before they start working on the roster.
Brandon Knight – Detroit Pistons
Playing for two different teams, Brandon Knight never found his footing following a multitude of past injuries. He started the season in Cleveland playing sparse minutes before he was traded to Detroit. With the Pistons, Knight finally began to establish a rhythm knowing that he had a long leash to play through. In the weeks leading up to the suspension of the season, Knight dropped double-digit scoring games in six consecutive outings. Hopefully an extended offseason will help Knight get to the point where his body is in top shape.
Karl-Anthony Towns, Jarred Vanderbilt – Minnesota Timberwolves
This is the team that I’m the saddest to see left out. While they obviously aren’t worthy of a spot within the 22-team format, the absence of Karl-Anthony Towns stings. Outside of Steph Curry, he’s probably the most talented player not going to Orlando. But when you factor in everything Towns has had to go through in just the last few months (losing his mother due to the coronavirus and also participating in Black Lives Matter protest), who knows if he’s even in the proper mental state to play basketball right now. I’m not sure many would be.
Odds are Jarred Vanderbilt wouldn’t have found any playing time had the Timberwolves been allowed to go to Walt Disney World. He had only appeared in two games for Minny after a midseason trade from Denver and didn’t play in the 11 games leading up to the season’s suspension.
Mychal Mulder – Golden State Warriors
Arguably the biggest surprise NBA player out of the John Calipari-era, Mychal Mulder is going to have to wait until next season to build off his impressive showing towards the end of the year. He played in just seven games but did more than enough to prove he was worth a big boy contract. What excites me the most about Mulder’s future is how he’ll get to play alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green (and Andrew Wiggins, I guess?). The Warriors are the one team that, if all 30 organizations were brought back, could have made a surprise run in the playoffs solely due to all of the regular season injuries the team suffered. It would have been nice to watch Mulder join them, but I suppose I can wait a few more months.