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Remember the ovation Dwyane Wade got upon his February return to the Miami Heat? After the 12-time All-Star took a year-and-a-half hiatus with the Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers, raucous ovations greeted him when he re-entered AmericanAirlines Arena wearing the right uniform.
The right reunions tend to have that kind of effect.
Of course, ones of that magnitude are few and far between. It’s not every day that a surefire Hall of Famer spends nearly his entire career with one organization, then ends a brief absence without any hurt feelings. This summer’s possibilities aren’t on that level.
But with enough creativity, we can still get pumped for a handful of potential kumbayas.
Yes, one of them involves LeBron James. A Vince Carter return to the Toronto Raptors, however, will not pop up. Not only did the team make it clear he wasn’t a buyout target during the 2017-18 season, but Toronto is also so deep that pursuing such a homecoming wouldn’t make sense as it looks to stay atop the Eastern Conference.
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When asked in a Twitter question-and-answer session whether he’d consider rejoining the Boston Celtics as a free agent this offseason, Isaiah Thomas gave a simple but telling reply: “Anything can happen.”
It’s true. Following a summer trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a midseason swap that sent him to the Los Angeles Lakers, the diminutive point guard is set to hit the open market in unrestricted fashion. He can pick his next landing spot, so long as the organization he chooses has the cap space necessary to sign him.
And that’s where things get tricky.
Boston is already on the books for $107,433,526 in 2018-19, and that’s before it pays any incoming rookies or finds new contracts for any of the expiring deals owned by Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin, Greg Monroe and Marcus Smart. Clearing up the necessary room to hand Thomas a reasonable salary isn’t possible without significant trades, and the C’s are unlikely to go that route when the 1-guard’s skill set overlaps with Kyrie Irving‘s.
Therein lies the second issue. Boston already has its point guards of the future, and you’ll note the plurality of that noun. Irving is locked in as a franchise centerpiece, and Terry Rozier has shown enough in his backup role to excite the organization about his long-term contributions. Adding Thomas isn’t necessary.
But this is about reunions we’d like to see, not ones that are bound to happen.
And considering the struggles Thomas has endured since his Beantown tenure ended with a hip injury and trade, he deserves a shot to rekindle the magic he previously experienced. Prior to the Irving swap, he meant so much to the Celtics—and that was before he suited up in an April 2017 postseason outing just after the tragic death of his sister in a fatal car accident.
The Sacramento Kings gave the 5’9″ Thomas his first pro chance, making him Mr. Irrelevant in the 2011 NBA draft. Then they dealt him to the Phoenix Suns for nothing more than Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception. Similarly, the Suns used him as part of a three-headed monster at the point before dealing him to Boston midway through his desert-based go-around in 2015. Throw in half a season with the Cavaliers and Lakers apiece, and Boston remains the only team that has truly embraced him—at least until Irving became available.
Even if serious roadblocks exist, the bare-boned desire for a reunion should be obvious.
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LeBron James and Ben Simmons have never officially played together, which makes sense when the latter is a 21-year-old rookie who’s only suited up for the Philadelphia 76ers and LSU Tigers in the United States. They’ve never met in international competition, and they’ve only engaged in head-to-head clashes three times during the 2017-18 campaign:
- November 27: Cleveland Cavaliers 113, Philadelphia 76ers 91
- December 9: Cleveland Cavaliers 105, Philadelphia 76ers 98
- March 1: Philadelphia 76ers 108, Cleveland Cavaliers 97
During those outings, the 33-year-old James has averaged 30.0 points, 12.0 rebounds and 9.0 assists while shooting 47.1 percent from the field, 36.8 percent from downtown and 77.3 percent at the stripe. With a 52.6 field-goal percentage and a perfect 2-of-2 showing on his free-throw attempts, his younger counterpart has posted 14.0 points, 7.7 boards and 6.7 dimes per game in those same outings.
So if these have come in opposition to one another, how could we consider James-to-Philadelphia a reunion?
As SBNation’s Michael D. Sykes II detailed, the two passing phenoms have an extensively intertwined history. They’ve performed together at camps, signed with the same agency, gone through workouts with one another and communicated with some semblance of frequency on social media.
“He gives me a lot of advice if I ever need it,” Simmons said about the four-time MVP back in 2015, per ESPN.com’s Dave McMenamin. “He looks out for me, and he’s one of those people you have to have as a mentor because he’s one of the best players in the world.”
Maybe we’re stretching the definition of “reunion” here. But just go with it, considering the enjoyment Simmons and James would provide while teaming up and engaging in an even closer relationship.
Think about what Simmons could develop into if he were tutored by the man after whom he’s modeled major parts of his game. Consider the Sixers’ possible dominance with a core of those two, Joel Embiid, Dario Saric and—yes, he still counts—Markelle Fultz, along with more draft picks this coming offseason. Allow us to pair two of the game’s best positionless players.
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Here’s a neat nugget of info you’ve probably never heard before: Paul George is from California, which makes the possibility of his reuniting with his home state as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers a rather intriguing one.
The 27-year-old All-Star was born and raised in Palmdale, California. He then chose to stay close to home for his collegiate career, thriving at Fresno State before the Indiana Pacers nabbed him in the 2010 NBA draft at No. 10 overall. Should he return as a professional—especially one who’d be entering a Lakers rebuild—he’d be greeted with a hero’s welcome. Billboards and standing ovations would await at every turn.
Plus, George fits nicely with the incumbent pieces on this up-and-coming roster.
The Lakers have their point guard of the future in Lonzo Ball, while Brandon Ingram is a rangy forward with two-way skills. Julius Randle (should he re-sign) and Kyle Kuzma are frontcourt standouts with varying skill sets. But they don’t have the guy who can consistently get 25 points in efficient fashion, shouldering heavy workloads on a nightly basis and taking charge as the unquestioned alpha dog. Ingram has been forced into that role through sheer necessity, and his percentages have suffered.
“Paul George can’t reasonably expect L.A. to provide him with a roster fit for contention. But this is a situation in which years of smoke and hundreds of thousands of dollars in tampering fines suggest there’s fire.
“I mean, George straight up told the Pacers what he was going to do, per a June 2017 report by Adrian Wojnarowski, then of The Vertical: ‘All-Star forward Paul George has informed the Indiana Pacers that he plans to become a free agent in the summer of 2018 and will leave the franchise—preferably for the Los Angeles Lakers.’
“He said that before the Lakers had Ball and before we knew Ingram might turn out to be a quality player. Nobody had even heard of Kyle Kuzma then, and still, George was in. That the Lakers look better now only increases the chances he’ll head home to L.A.”
At this point, we have to covet such a reunion between player and home state because years of breathless speculation would be otherwise squandered.
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Let’s move away from the realm of stars for a bit.
Luc Mbah a Moute spent the first five years of his NBA career with the Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 6.9 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.9 steals and 0.4 blocks per game while shooting 46.0 percent from the field and rarely letting fly from outside the rainbow. Though he became a starting fixture, he was never the most glamorous contributor.
Since the Bucks traded him in July 2013 to the Sacramento Kings for a future second-round pick that eventually became Malcolm Brogdon, the forward has suited up for Sacramento, the Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, with whom he’s currently working. But this 31-year-old is set to hit free agency once again this summer, and a return to Brewtown could help elevate his original organization’s ceiling.
Mbah a Moute, though he’s developed a better stroke from the perimeter and has made nearly three times as many triples in 2017-18 as he did in five Milwaukee seasons, still isn’t a glamorous contributor. He remains a glue guy who thrives on the defensive end.
Cleaning the Glass places him in the 90th percentile for the on/off split of his defensive efficiency, and the gains stem primarily from his work contesting shots. The 6’8″, 230-pounder is a switchable forward who has the vertical tools to protect the hoop and the foot speed to stick with smaller players—something that remains true regardless of his lineup spot. That’s exactly the type of asset Milwaukee should seek as it continues to improve the supporting cast around do-everything superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Houston sees its net rating improve by 4.5 points per 100 possessions when Mbah a Moute enters the fray—a shift that his top-10 power forward score in ESPN.com’s real plus/minus backs up. He’s the type of veteran who makes his team better in hidden areas, and that’s what the Bucks need to look for as they make the difficult transition from up-and-coming threat to established Eastern Conference contender.
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MarShon Brooks’ first NBA stint went…poorly.
But his game has developed since he last suited up in the NBA in 2014, and a reunion with the sport’s premier league could see him feature as a potent bench scorer for a team in need of offensive punch.
Originally drafted out of Providence at No. 25 in the 2011 prospect pageant, Brooks put up decent scoring numbers for the New Jerseys Nets: 12.6 points per game on 42.8 percent shooting from the field, 31.3 percent from three-point territory and 76.4 percent at the line. But his role declined as the Nets moved to Brooklyn, and he never found a consistent lineup spot.
After he was included in the infamous July 2013 swap between the Boston Celtics and Nets that centered around Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and roughly 37 first-round picks, Brooks bounced between the then-D League and the NBA. He logged minutes for the C’s, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers in 2013-14 before his contract expired.
He hasn’t received another chance.
But Brooks has been flat-out balling in China. Just take a gander at the numbers he’s produced for Jiangsu Nangang in the CBA over the last three seasons, per RealGM.com:
- 2015-16: 35.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.3 steals, 0.6 blocks while slashing 52.9/40.9/84.0
- 2016-17: 36.2 points, 7.5 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 0.6 blocks while slashing 49.7/40.8/82.3
- 2017-18: 36.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 2.0 steals, 0.5 blocks while slashing 51.0/40.7/80.7
This season, he took a whopping 10.1 triples per game and still shot above 40 percent from trey-land. Only Jimmer Fredette (another fun candidate for an NBA reunion, though we’ve been down that road a few times before) and Darius Adams scored more points. Jamaal Franklin, Tyler Hansbrough and Eli Holman were the lone men with superior player efficiency ratings, and the swingman was in the running for MVP, per Chinese site ETToday.net.
The time has come for Brooks to get another chance at basketball’s highest level, this time with far lower expectations and a far more advanced skill set.
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Rewind to the 2010 NCAA tournament.
Kentucky was the No. 1 seed in the East Regional, gearing up for a showdown with Kevin Jones, Devin Ebanks and the West Virginia Mountaineers for a berth in the Final Four after taking down East Tennessee State, Wake Forest and a bona fide Cinderella in Cornell. But the Wildcats forgot how to shoot, and the starting lineup comprised of John Wall, Patrick Patterson, DeMarcus Cousins, Darius Miller and Eric Bledsoe could only go 19-of-51 from the field (37.3 percent).
They still have unfinished business.
Wall, Bledsoe and Cousins were all one-and-done freshmen, and they’ve still failed to win a championship at either the collegiate or professional level. Maybe teaming up would allow them to change that, and it just so happens that Boogie is ready to continue his return from a ruptured Achilles with a foray into unrestricted free agency.
The Washington Wizards remain an intriguing destination after rumors about a Wall-Cousins team-up made the rounds before this season’s Feb. 8 trade deadline. Back in 2016, both All-Stars confirmed they’d thought about reuniting, per the Washington Post‘s Candace Buckner. But obstacles exist—namely finding a way to move Marcin Gortat’s contract and clear up space for a new starting center.
Unfortunately, a similar scenario exists with the Milwaukee Bucks, who are already out of cap space for 2018-19. They’d have to think about moving John Henson, Matthew Dellavedova and Tony Snell at a minimum, which would likely mean attaching picks as sweeteners to clear the necessary room for Cousins. And yet, that would still be an exciting prospect if it meant the basketball world could witness a triumvirate featuring Cousins, Bledsoe and Antetokounmpo.
These aren’t likely options, but they are possible. Far more realistically, Cousins will either re-sign with the New Orleans Pelicans or go to a team that already boasts max cap space.
But that doesn’t make the prospect of a Kentucky reunion any less exciting. And it could happen in either location with either former backcourt member. We aren’t picky.