That’s right… sometimes we will make ironic lists. Like this one, where I rant and wax about players who need to get physically or mentally healthy and whose absences are hurting their teams. I think they are also hurting their card values and futures, but I also wonder if these moments could be “buying opportunities” for star-quality guys who are just having a rough moment. As we begin the season, here are five guys who are frustrating or frustrated for various reasons…
#5 – Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans. Is he injured or not? Is he healthy or not? Did he have offseason surgery? Is his body and weight-level going to be durable enough to withstand the NBA grind over the next two, three, or ten years? It seems like a lot of this is up in the air. Even though he looked like Karl Malone at times last season, we remember the same guy who was injured for a third of his rookie campaign. Even though he’s the premier star of his 2019 rookie class, we remember his team’s failure to come anywhere near a sniff of last season’s playoffs. Even though his name and likeness will be on the commercials for all of the Pelicans’ TV-viewed games, we wonder if Brandon Ingram is the true alpha dog in New Orleans. I’m still high on Zion and his future, but this announcement about his injury and recovery “after the fact” that went public as the NBA training camp opened… well, it’s concerning at best.
#4 – Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors. Two years ago, this guy looked like he could grow into the second coming of Kawhi Leonard, showing up with 25 points a game and filling up the box scores in every possible way for months in a row. Last season, he seemed to disappear in meaningful games, his scoring went down, and his team floundered. A healthy Siakam still does not have a clear role in Toronto. Is he their leading scorer and veteran? Or is he the “support guy” expected to mentor the guys they actually believe in – Scotty Barnes and OG Anunoby? Whatever Pascal’s role is, he’s not fully healed and may not start the season as an active player. His potential is through the roof, but who knows when he will be 100% and what sort of load Toronto expects him to carry?
#3 – Caris Levert, Indiana Pacers. Dude finally gets a starting role on a team that values him – the Indiana Pacers. He can be that combo-guard that runs the offense and locks down the other team’s leader on defense. But he’s injured. Again. This time, it’s his back. He’s 27 years old, and again ruled out of the first four games of the season. This injury could linger through the end of November, because the Pacers don’t want to rush this frequently-injured building block back into action. In the meantime, a Pacers team full of anxious scorers like Domantas Sabonis, Malcolm Brodgon, and (maybe) TJ Warren will continue to play out of their roles and forge some offense until Levert returns. How long until Caris is 100%? Will he ever be? The clock is ticking.
#2 – Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers have only themselves to blame for this fiasco. Their GM/Ownership have been “trying to trade” Simmons for nearly a year, but their asking price remains through the roof. Every other team or potential suitor has called their collective bluffs, and Philly is stuck with a whiny malcontent who gets kicked out of practice – maybe on a daily basis? For Basketball cards, I am glad I started collecting a few years after Ben Simmons’ rookie year, because there are fifty other players worth investing in. Maybe a hundred! Ben’s absence might help Tyrese Maxey get more scoring opps and a higher “usage rate,” a term that makes me sound like a true Basketball analyst. Overall, I think we are all tired of Ben and this saga. Any team that trades for him will have their hands full and some explaining to do to their fan base.
#1 – Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets. Brooklyn got blown out by Milwaukee on Opening Night, and it was delicious to watch. I did imagine how that game would have been different with an active Kyrie. My guess is that Milwaukee still wins by 20+. When he was in Cleveland, a lot of the media personalities in town referred to him as “Ky-ME” – depicting his me-first game that was often a distraction for the entire franchise. For the first few years, Lebron James and GM David Griffin had to constantly babysit Kyrie behind the scenes with all of his quirks, demands, and ideas about being the next Allen Iverson. He’s all about his brand, and his Nike shoes can be found on any middle school hardcourt. His resistance to the vaccine taken now by 98.5% of all NBA players and employees is one of the most “Ky-ME” things I’ve ever seen him do. In his absence, I expect James Harden and Patty Mills to keep doing what they did last night, and the Nets to cruise to a second-round exit in the Eastern Conference.
Basketball card investments? Of this list, Zion is the only one that still intrigues me. His talent and performance last season were everything the NBA could have hoped for. If he can stay healthy, we are in for a wonderful ride following his career. With Siakam, I’m a “hold” or looking at OG and the under-rated Fred VanVleet for card deals. The other three – Levert, Simmons, and Irving – are falling completely off of our cards radar as we focus on other rookies from the same years – Jaylen Brown, Nikola Jokic, and Bradley Beal.