Friday, March 31 2023

The NBA loves to talk about Big Threes, in many ways. For a start, there is the manner in which the game has evolved, to a point where professional basketball now sometimes resembles a 3-point shooting contest, players firing off treys from any part of hardwood real estate. 

In the modern NBA, players have frequently sought glory by congregating in groups of three superstars at a time; a trend that saw Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce/Ray Allen end up in Boston and LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh combine in Miami, among many others. 

The start of this season is notable for a pair of Big Threes, too, but in regard to groups of teams rather than individuals. 

On one side, there is the titillating triumvirate of the Los Angeles Lakers, Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors, a collection of clubs that are doing a masterful job of generating all the headlines, and a much worse one of racking up wins. 

On the other, a triple dose of superb basketball has emanated from the Milwaukee Bucks, Utah Jazz and the Cleveland Cavaliers, while barely hearing a public peep from them that doesn’t relate to Xs and Os. 

Such is how things go in the NBA in 2022. You don’t get relevant by being good, even if it’s really, really good. You get attention by being disjointed, unharmonious, inefficient and chaotic. Want to be focused on the simple job of trying to win games? Be prepared to get left alone. Drawn to the spotlight? Easy, just turn yourself into a reality show, the more bizarre the better, victories be damned. 

Which is how the Bucks, who started on a blistering tear of 9-0 and with Giannis Antetokounmpo in some of the best form of his career, can cruise on by as a team far from everyone’s thoughts. 

And how the Nets, who bombed out of the first round of last year’s playoffs despite being the betting favorites all year, and who are now 5-7, are the gift that keep on giving for those addicted to petty feuds and spicy storylines. 

Nets suspend Kyrie Irving minimum 5 games for controversial social media post

Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wildes discuss Kyrie Irving’s suspension by the Brooklyn Nets for his controversial social media post.

It is how the Jazz, supposedly about to begin a rebuild following the twin departures of Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell, sit atop the Western Conference at 10-3, filled with professionalism and functionality, yet creating a stir precisely nowhere beyond the municipal surrounds of Salt Lake City. 

[Donovan Mitchell making an early MVP case]

And how the Lakers, mired at a flailing 2-9 and with LeBron James having just hurt his groin, are a must-watch horror show on a nightly basis, stuck with Russell Westbrook’s declining abilities and monstrous contract, and now reportedly looking to offload Anthony Davis

Has Anthony Davis ‘peaked?’ at age 29?

While AD proved to be a force on both ends of the floor, his injury history and commitment remain a question.

It’s how the Cavs, young and energetic and looking like a genuine team built for success – soon and into the future – don’t generate much of a mention, even as they strut around the country collecting win after win behind the guard tandem of trade arrival Mitchell and Darius Garland

And how the defending champion Warriors are in the news even more now than when they reached the Finals in five straight seasons, due to zero wins from six road games since the preseason furor generated by Draymond Green’s shocking punch of teammate Jordan Poole

It has always been the way of the NBA that certain teams, and certain celebrity players, hog all the buzz. Yet as especially the Lakers and Nets sagas drag themselves deeper and ever deeper still, it is natural to wonder if these situations almost become self-fulfilling. 

Namely, that if you’re in a market, like Milwaukee, where things can naturally run more smoothly and quietly, you’re able to make calm and rational decisions aimed purely to try to improve your performance. 

“You can never take it for granted,” Antetokounmpo told reporters recently. “I’m very happy to be a part of it and being able to have a team that we’re able to start the season (well). But at the end of the day I’m happy we are building good habits.” 

And if you’re in the cauldron of Los Angeles, surrounded by the glare that accompanies the likes of Westbrook and James, it feels like only splashy, high-risk solutions can serve as a possible antidote to the trouble you’re in. This week, Los Angeles was linked with a trade for Kyrie Irving, who has been at the very center of the eruption of confusion going on in Brooklyn. Because … of course. 

In Cleveland, Mitchell’s arrival has been the spur for a surge. The catalyst, he says, wasn’t something flashy, but a chilled summer of reflection and looking after himself. 

“That was probably the best summer I had for mental sanity, clarity and just like, health,” he said on an episode of JJ Redick’s podcast “The Old Man and the Three.”  

Golden State was a place of Zen until recently, a big show with big stars, but also a spot that worked at prioritizing stability. Those efforts have counted for nothing, it seems, since Green’s punch and ensuing suspension. Losses to each of the bottom four teams in the Eastern Conference have been suffered, and despite Steph Curry’s perennial effervescence, this doesn’t look or feel like a group capable of putting together a stout title defense. 

The Jazz forgot rapidly that they were supposed to be a poor team and are instead rocking along, buoyed by the ruthless, relentless efficiency of Lauri Markkanen and Jordan Clarkson, while Mike Conley – 35 years young – apparently still doesn’t know what it means to get tired. 

“We just kind of looked around and said we’re not anything what they say we are,” Conley told The Athletic. “We have too many good players to tank. We knew from Day 1. This wasn’t a rebuild. We told ourselves that we aren’t that bad, and the guys locked in on that.” 

Finally, there is the Nets, about whom entire tomes could be written. This week brought a new coach, no, not the public relations disaster that hiring suspended Celtics coach Ime Udoka would have been, but Jacque Vaughn. 

Nets name Jacque Vaughn head coach

Nick Wright, Chris Broussard and Kevin Wildes discuss the latest news surrounding the Brooklyn Nets.

Of late, it has seemed like every day has brought a fresh sorry tale for the borough. Kevin Durant’s trade request over the summer was only the start of the drama. Where to begin? 

There has been Irving’s support of an anti-Semitic post, his refusal to fully apologize, the team’s insistence on a six-step program before he is reinstated, and, on Wednesday, revelations Irving would repeatedly blow off the playcalls of fired head coach Steve Nash.  

Leaving Brooklyn as a team packed with talent but who scares no one, either now or come playoff time. 

“The No. 1 goal for the Nets right now is to become more of a basketball franchise than a soap opera,” FOX Sports’ Chris Broussard said on “First Things First.” 

It almost feels like two separate NBA competitions are going ahead simultaneously. The battle for all the clicks, and retweets and curious eyeballs. And, concurrently, the trivial matter of attempting to lift the championship trophy. 

Why is it like this? It never used to be, did it? What about the old Showtime Lakers and the Last Dance Chicago Bulls, able to marry upheaval and fascination with true excellence? 

Surely it’s not an automatic thing that being the center of attention leads to on-court failure. Surely, being under the radar isn’t the only a precursor for success.  

Surely … I don’t know … it surely feels like it right now. 

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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.  

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