LeBron chases history, WNBA superteam and trade talk
Three Things To Know is NBC’s five-day-a-week roundup of the previous night in the NBA. Check NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before, plus the gossip, drama and dunks that make the NBA a staple.
1) Breanna Stewart is heading to New York, the WNBA must seize the moment
The greatest free agent in WNBA history has chosen to build perhaps the first super team in league history – and it’s a real opportunity for everyone.
Former league MVP and two-time WNBA champion Breanna Stewart has chosen to leave Seattle and play for the New York Liberty.
— Breanna Stewart (@breannastewart) February 1, 2023
Just weeks ago, the Liberty traded 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones to partner Sabrina Ionescu, forming one of the league’s top pick-and-roll threats. Now add Stewart and her game to a roster packed with quality players — Michaela Onyenwere, DiDi Richards, Joceyln Willoughby, Kayla Thornton — and it’s a team that’s a legitimate threat to winning the WNBA title next season. It’s a great team.
Yes, don’t call my phone to look for tickets this summer, they’re gone. Let’s go @nyliberty https://t.co/dPx7emIeMP
— Kevin Durant (@KDTrey5) February 1, 2023
The move from New York comes just days after two-time former MVP and WNBA champion Candace Parker opted to join defending WBNA champion Las Vegas Aces along with defending MVP A’ja Wilson and players from quality around her such as Kelsey Plum, Jackie Young and Chelsea Gray. It’s also a great team.
It’s no coincidence that Stewart and Parker chose to go to teams with new WNBA owners willing to spend to win, Joe Tsai in New York (also an NBA Nets owner) and Mark Davis in Las Vegas (owner of the NFL Raiders). Two owners who entered the WNBA wanting to spend to pay players but also improve their experience – a new training facility in Las Vegas, for example – and grow the sport that way. Owners with the vision to know they have to spend money to make money – grow the league and its popularity and franchise values will skyrocket.
Stewart, in his free agency, put charter flights for players at the top of the list of ways to improve the league. Currently, the WNBA CBA requires teams to fly commercially. It’s part of a penny-pinching mindset in some quarters that sometimes feels like it’s going to stifle the growing league. Charter flights for each team to each game — something common in professional sports and high-level college sports, including women’s college basketball — would cost the league about $30 million.
Been there – done this and performed at the highest level. Today’s @NBA players have never had to deal with the effects of commercial travel on their bodies. I’m all for @WNBA players getting equal rights. Kudos Breanna for raising this issue. https://t.co/FPQrSVrHxa
— Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (@kaj33) January 26, 2023
“We have to do something, and I’m with them no matter how much that in itself costs. I think we could all come together and do something very doable.
– @KyrieIrving on WNBA charter flight issues pic.twitter.com/GBGpRT7M13
— Anthony Puccio (@APOOCH) January 26, 2023
There’s a rift between the owners of the WNBA, not all of them want to pay that extra cost of the charter flight out of pocket, but the league needs to find a way. As NBC Sports’ Corey Robinson noted in the video above, it’s a lot like when his father – Hall of Famer David Robinson – wrote an open letter in 1991 to San Antonio Spurs owner Red McCombs asking to fly on charter for the games because of the competitive advantage (McCombs agreed after public pressure, now charter flights are just expected in the NBA).
Beyond the steals, this is an inflection point for the WNBA — it needs to step up its marketing, its reach, and do whatever it takes to grow the league.
Stewart, a recognizable face and name to every sports fan in America (even those who only know of his Olympic endeavors) has just formed a super team in the nation’s biggest media market. They have a natural and high profile rival in Las Vegas with their own superstars and big names. If you can’t sell this, you’re doing it wrong – it’s going to be great basketball (and that’s not even mentioning Brittney Griner and the Phoenix Mercury, and other great teams out there).
New York vs. Las Vegas could be the Lakers vs. Celtics moment of the 1980s for the WNBA. Stewart vs. Wilson may be a version of Magic vs. Bird – a rivalry and must-watch game that took the NBA out of delayed late-night TV and into prime time, setting it on the right path to what she is now. It looks like that moment for the WNBA, but will WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert be able to seize the opportunity like David Stern did? Can she convince her owners to buy like Stern did? The WNBA needs to spend, it needs to take advantage of this opportunity. Chances and players like this don’t come around very often.
2) Timberwolves outstrip Warriors in clutch, get quality win
Right now, this Warriors team just doesn’t have the aura of its championship teams from years past. Even last year’s team didn’t make the playoffs as a West favorite (it was the Suns with 64 wins), but we’d seen enough to know they could be a threatens to win it all with a few breaks. What they got.
This year’s team… the Warriors had a 13-point lead over the Timberwolves on Wednesday night with less than 11 minutes to play, then were outplayed the rest of the way. As D’Angelo Russell drained key 3-pointers, Stephen Curry, Donte DiVincenzo and Andrew Wiggins missed theirs, and Jonathan Kuminga committed illegal screens. The result was that the Warriors lost their lead and the Timberwolves took advantage – with some critical plays from Naz Ried.
“I thought we had control of the game, and then I thought we just packed it,” Kerr said after the game, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “And to take nothing away from Minnesota, I thought they were great. They took advantage of our mistakes and lack of execution. [D’Angelo Russell] we got hot and the guys made some big shots, but we missed box-outs, we threw the ball, we took some really tough shots.
“So everything we had done up until then to have control of the game, we stopped doing. We got what we deserved. »
This year’s Warriors are 13-14 in the clutch (games within five points in the final five minutes), with a -1.8 net rating. Make it a game within three points in the final three minutes and the Warriors are 10-12 this season.
The Warriors had won 4 of 5 before this and it felt like they were flipping the switch, but plays like this happen and it gives you pause. These warriors are not here yet.
3) The Celtics put on a show and beat the shorthanded Nets
Boston has cooled off after its hot start to the season, but there are nights when they focus, relight the burner, heat up and remind everyone why they are title favorites this season.
The Nets met those Celtics on Wednesday — Boston beat Brooklyn 46-16 in the first quarter, hitting eight straight 3-pointers to open the game.
WATCH: It rained 3 in the first quarter for the Celtics
Connect: https://t.co/uSr28gFzzp pic.twitter.com/AlpGHlY1z7
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 2, 2023
From there, the Celtics secured a 139-96 wire-to-wire victory. Boston stayed warm deep and went 48.1 from 3 for the game (26 of 54). Jayson Tatum scored 31 points, Jaylen Brown added 26, and both were able to sit in the fourth quarter and watch.
The Celtics needed such a win.
The Nets… sometimes life is tough without Kevin Durant. It’s a game that Brooklyn can rinse and move on, even with KD it wouldn’t have helped the way the Celtics were shooting much.
BONUS THING TO KNOW (or see): Give Tari Eason credit, he didn’t give up. It is perseverance.
Tari Eason just gave me the best 28 seconds in #Rockets basketball I’ve seen all season. pic.twitter.com/c8ZxugHC7G
— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) February 2, 2023