1. Lakers fun and games
So the Los Angeles Lakers, eventually, are going to be great. LeBron James and Anthony Davis will make their slow crawl to playing the four and five, respectively. Kyle Kuzma will return. The spacing will sort itself out. But in the early days, every Lakers loss is going to engender mass hysteria (or schadenfreude) on NBA Twitter. On that note, here’s your Lakers Twitter Bingo card for every time they lose, with reactions, justifications, overreactions, concern, trolling, and my personal favorite: concern trolling.
2. In support of the coach’s challenge
During the Bucks’ matchup against the host Rockets on Thursday night, fans got one of their first tastes of the coach’s challenge, a new rule allowing coaches to challenge one referee call per game. If the call isn’t overturned, the coach is charged one timeout, a measure I assume exists to deter game stoppage for the sake of 50-50 calls.
And let me tell you, it really extinguishes some of the worst experiences of watching a basketball game. In the first quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo plowed into P.J. Tucker, who was established in the paint for multiple seconds, yet the referee still called a block. The call — viewed on-screen — was so obviously wrong that it elicited mass outrage from fans, from the Rockets’ bench and from this viewer’s couch. It was a minor injustice, but I realized the call-and-response was similar to seeing something patently wrong happening. I rolled my eyes, felt my blood curdling. I was itching to tweet.
And, then, voila: coach Mike D’Antoni challenged the call, providing the perfect release valve for the consternation of 20,000 people in the building. It should also work to reduce the tension between players and referees by giving teams a psychological sense of control over their livelihoods and referees cover in the face of bad calls that could only be determined as such on camera.
3. Giannis can’t escape his own free-agency hype
On Thursday, 2021 free agent Giannis Antetokounmpo denied telling a Harvard Business Review researcher this: “I want the Bucks to build a winning culture. So far, we have been doing great, and, if this lasts, there's no other place I want to be. But if we're underperforming in the NBA next year, deciding whether to sign becomes a lot more difficult.”
Per Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "As I said, the last … What is it called? Quote? Paragraph? It’s words that I didn’t use," he said. "Underperforming or whether or deciding, all those words I’ve never used in my life. As I said, I’m not going to talk about it. There are going to be stories that come out — I said that, I said this — but I’m not going to get into it at all."
I tend to think that, over the course of an in-depth conversation, he said it. I also think he might not remember saying it.
A: Why lie?
B: The sentiment wasn’t all that different from Antetokounmpo’s general free-agency stance: winning is the most important thing to him. It was just framed a little bit differently.
Which leads us to the problem: It’s become nearly impossible for free agent’s to handle free agency quietly. A fairly innocuous quote that revealed nothing new ate up multiple news cycles and was deemed sensitive enough to warrant a denial. In the modern age, you either go silent like Kawhi Leonard — an easier proposition for someone who is predisposed to that kind of behavior — or brace for the storm. Antetokounmpo has vowed he won’t let his impending decision be a distraction. The events of the past few days have illustrated just how hard that’ll be.
4. Buddy Hield, saying it out loud
Nobody wants to feel bad for millionaires. Especially athlete millionaires. Which is why Buddy Hield, who signed an extension this week, was ripped to shreds after getting candid with the media about the psychological toll of his contract negotiation.
“I don’t know if things are going to get done,” Hield said. “If it don’t get done, me and my team will look for something else — probably another home. Until then, we’ll see if they really want me here. That’s the goal: to be here. I love Sacramento, but if they don’t want me here, if they don’t feel like I’m part of the core … I want to be here. If they don’t want me here, [I’ll] find somewhere else to be.”
Here’s the truth: the NBA is a league defined by stars who consider $90 million an “insult.” Hield just said it out loud. We’ve all heard it, but we like to ignore it: money doesn’t buy happiness. Mostly because money, when we’re talking in the millions, isn’t really about money. Getting paid is about feeling wanted, which is why contract negations can be so tricky and why hardball can permanently dissolve relationships. The message: You want me, sure, but not enough to lock me up here and now, and not as bad as you want to lock up some other guy on the team. Forget hardball. The course of regular negotiations can register as a dismissal and bruise egos.
These are the ugly truths that players don’t tell because nobody really has ears for them, but the situation the Kings just got out of with Hield is instructive of what often turns good locker rooms bad.
Most NBA teams are composed of two kinds of players. There are first-contract players, singing “Kumbaya” and in love with their teammates, and then there are second- and third-contract players. The challenge of rebuilding through the draft is transitioning from the first contract to the second without becoming fractured along the way.
5. Basketball is very good
It turns out The Ringer was onto something. And it just bears repeating: The hype is real. The stars are perfectly balanced. There is a show every night. We got Kawhi Leonard vs. LeBron James on opening night. Wednesday night’s 11-game sensory overload featured a 50-piece from Kyrie Irving, the return of Luka Doncic and two playoff rematches that went down to the wire. On Thursday, there were only three games, yet four former MVPs played: Steph Curry, Giannis, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Oh, and Kawhi Leonard, the league’s best player. Everyday — hell, almost every game — is star-studded. There’s never been less fluff in the schedule.
More from Yahoo Sports: