Top NBA second half storylines: Lakers drama, Ben Simmons trade, Kyrie Irving vaccination status and more

The first half of the 2021-22 NBA season has passed, believe it or not, and it hasn’t been without its specific flavor of drama and intrigue. Many of the issues that worried us at the start of the season persist as we inch ever closer to the All-Star break. With the number of players in protocols and omicron infections *knock on wood* With a bit of luck wanes, maybe the second half of the season can focus more on basketball and less on who’s available night to night.

Remember the good old days when fans complained about the Golden State Warriors meeting the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals every postseason? How far we are as the 2021-22 first half standings offer several teams with a legitimate shot at winning the title, and a handful more within reach if things go their way .

In case you haven’t been following the league as closely as you’d like, or just want a quick refresher, here are seven scenarios to watch in the second half of the NBA season.

1.Benjamin. David. Simons.

We’re all tired of talking about it, but it’s inevitable. A Ben Simmons trade has the potential to shake up the NBA for multiple teams, especially the Philadelphia 76ers and the team that eventually lands him. Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey has shown patience and restraint thus far, but Joel Embiid’s transcendent play of late has certainly gave Morey doubts about holding an ideal Simmons package loaded with All-Stars and picks.

The idea was that a non-All-Stars like CJ McCollum or Buddy Hield wouldn’t boost Philadelphia’s championship chances enough to make the deal worthwhile, but Embiid proves that an extra coin might be enough to make the deal worthwhile. put them in contention in the East. Either way, Simmons’ situation will be paramount among the NBA’s second-half storylines. If he’s traded, that’s huge. If it’s not traded, that’s huge too. We’ll all be keeping an eye on this one.

2. Kyrie’s vaccination status

Kevin Durant is expected to miss four to six weeks with his knee injury, but the Brooklyn Nets have been extremely cautious with their stars returning from injury for the past two seasons, so it could be even longer. Irving said he was ‘rooted’ in his decision not to get vaccinated despite Durant’s injury, meaning he can’t play home games in Brooklyn or road games in some cities. That leaves James Harden as the only star for about half of the Nets’ games while Durant stays on the sidelines, and they’ve been much worse when that’s the case — understandably.

With Durant, Irving and Harden on the court together, the Nets have been unbeatable the past two seasons. When Harden is on the floor without his co-stars, however, Brooklyn’s net rating drops to plus-1.8 — still good, but nowhere near the margin of a full-strength superteam. The Nets have already lost the top spot in the East, with three teams within three games of their current No. 3 spot. How far will they have to go before teammates and/or the organization start to pressure Irving to make himself fully available by getting vaccinated? Will that be enough to change Kyrie’s mind?

Brooklyn is also in the unique position of “home field advantage” in the playoffs actually being a disadvantage if Irving can only play on the road, then you can see them positioning themselves (i.e. tanking) to rank #5 rather than #4 if it comes down to that. Simply remarkable and unprecedented things to watch as the season unfolds.

3. Klay being Klay…maybe

We’ve seen improvements in just a handful of games already, and it goes without saying that Klay Thompson’s potential to come close to his previous output could change the landscape of the NBA. The Warriors spat on offense after a hot start, and Thompson is the perfect spacer/floor creator to play alongside Steph Curry and Draymond Green, as years of evidence have proven. The question is if Thompson can get back to that level and if he can keep up the pace on the other side of the court for the best defense in the league.

If he can, the Warriors should be considered favorites, or at least co-favorites, to win the NBA title — based on the aforementioned issues with Brooklyn. If he can’t, Warriors coach Steve Kerr will have tough decisions to make, because benching Thompson in a critical period of a playoff series won’t be easy for Kerr, the fans or Thompson to digest. himself.

4. As the Lakers rotate

This season’s Lakers would be perfect for one of those old Stefon skits on SNL. “This team has it all: a coach who may or may not be fired after every game, a $44 million player benched in critical time, an aging superstar desperately trying to hold it all together…MTV’s Dan Cortese.”

Well, maybe not the latter, but the Lakers served up a healthy dollop of drama heading into the second half of the season. The silver lining is that Anthony Davis will come back and make things better, even if he wasn’t exactly igniting the NBA world before his injury, shooting just 18% from 3-point range. Some of the biggest questions surround Westbrook, who has recently improved in the second halves of seasons. However, this has generally forced teams to respond to his skills (ie, the Rockets trading Clint Capela), which it seems the Lakers are unwilling or unable to do given the build. from their list.

Westbrook has already laughed at being called the Lakers point guard and apparently left the arena before his teammates had finished showering, so we’ll see how things play out if he continues to spend critical time on the bench. If it comes down to Russ or head coach Frank Vogel, it looks like Vogel will be the one to go. But who brings in the front office and how would a new coach suddenly make things work? Tune in next week to find out. And the week after. And the week after…

5. Shutting down operations in Portland?

Even with Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the floor, the Portland Trail Blazers have suffered from a disappointing season. Now that Lillard has undergone abdominal surgery and McCollum is coming back from a serious lung problem, it certainly makes sense for the Blazers front office to start counting potential lottery balls. Their first-round pick is lottery-protected this year, so do they really want to fight and scratch and claw their way to the No. 8 seed, only to see their first-round pick go to the Bulls?

Instead, Portland could decide to continue letting young players like Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little grow while giving Lillard and McCollum well-deserved vacations, possibly trading players like Larry Nance Jr., Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkic against assets in the process. It could allow the team to slip into the top half of the lottery and sign a player who can either help next season immediately or be used as a sweetener in a winning move now. As much as everyone hates the “t” word, it’s definitely something to think about.

6. Watch out for the Bucks scramble

The Milwaukee Bucks had a relatively disappointing record in the first half of the season, but it’s a little disappointing because of the players who haven’t been on the court. When their three stars – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jrue Holiday – played in the same game this season, the Bucks went 17-3. With the trio on the court together, the Bucks have a plus-9.1 net rating in over 300 minutes. Milwaukee has a tough remaining schedule, but if these three can stay on the floor, they could be set for a big second-half run as they try to repeat as NBA champions.

7. How far can the Cavs and Grizzlies go?

Two rebuilding teams well ahead of schedule, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies are both firmly in the playoff mix just over halfway through the season. The good news for rising teams? The Cavs and Grizzlies are tied for the most favorable remaining schedule in the entire NBA in terms of opponents’ winning percentage, according to Tankathon. This means that if they keep playing like they have, the wins should keep piling up. Compare that with the teams around them in the standings like the Jazz, Clippers, Nets, and 76ers, who all have tougher roads in the second half, and that potentially gives home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs for Cleveland and/or or Memphis. That would be quite a feat for either franchise.