The 2019-20 NBA season is cruising along. The trade deadline is now in the rearview mirror, as is All-Star Weekend, which means that final stretch of the season is upon us. At this point some teams are preparing for their final playoff push, while others are positioning themselves for a lottery landing.
Given all that is happening across the league's landscape, there's no shortage of hot topics to tackle. With that said, here's a look at some of the most interesting current narratives from the NBA season, and whether or not they're worth buying or selling.
Buy or Sell: Steph Curry should return this season
Out with a broken hand since Oct. 30, Steph Curry continues to progress toward a return to on-court action. Last week, Warriors coach Steve Kerr revealed that Curry participated in practice with the team, and said that the star guard is "looking great." Curry said his targeted return date is March 1.
While Curry's positive progress is obviously good news, it wouldn't make much sense for Golden State to bring him back this season. Considering the fact that the Warriors are dead-last in the Western Conference with less than 30 games remaining, it seems like they would be better off just embracing the high lottery pick that they will receive for their poor performance this season, and letting Curry continue to rehab for the remainder of the season and bring him back fully healthy -- and rested -- next season, along with Klay Thompson when they can look to re-establish themselves as one of the league's top teams.
Sure, Curry is probably itching to play after several months on the sideline, and the Warriors would like him to gain some familiarity with his new teammate Andrew Wiggins. Ultimately, there's little to be gained from bringing him back this season, and the risk of injury always exist. As an organization, the Warriors have utilized a long-term view during their recent run of success, and they shouldn't stop now.
Buy or Sell: Nets will still make the postseason even without Irving
Typically when a team loses its top talent for a significant amount of time a slip in the standings can be expected. Thus, without Kyrie Irving for the remainder of the season due to shoulder surgery, one might expect the Nets to fall out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they currently sit seventh. However, there's a couple reasons that that won't happen.
First, Brooklyn has a bit of a cushion, as they're 2 1/2 games ahead of the eighth-place Orlando Magic in the standings and six games ahead of the ninth-place Washington Wizards. With less than 30 games remaining in the regular season, this cushion should help them maintain a postseason spot. Especially since the Nets have been playing better ball than both of those other teams lately, even without Irving. The Nets are 7-3 over their last 10 games, while the Magic are just 3-7 and the Wizards are 5-5 over that same span. Neither team is playing well enough to make a meaningful charge up the standings at this point, while the Nets are playing well enough to hold their spot.
For as good as Irving is, the Nets have actually fared better without him this season. They're 8-12 with him on the court and 18-17 when he's out. So while they still need him (and Kevin Durant) to reach their ceiling in the long-run, they're equipped to handle his absence in the present.
Buy or Sell: The Bucks will win 70 games
There's a reason that only two teams in NBA history have won 70-plus games. It's an extremely tall -- and taxing -- task. Though the Bucks are talented enough to do so, the fact that they have a comfortable lead for the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoff picture will actually work against them in this instance. Assuming that they maintain that lead into the final weeks of the season, they will have little reason not to rest some of their key contributors in order to make sure they feel as fresh as possible for the playoff push, while other teams will still be fighting for postseason positioning. In the final couple weeks of the season other teams will have a lot more to play for than the Bucks. This dynamic could result in a couple of extra losses.
Plus, the Bucks will want to avoid what happened to the 2015-16 Warriors, who successfully chased the best record in league history (73-9), but ultimately lost in the NBA Finals; a loss that fatigue may have played a factor in. Just last season the Bucks finished with the top record in the Eastern Conference, but failed to make it past the conference finals. This season, with legitimate championship aspirations, Milwaukee will do everything in its power to avoid a repeat performance. As a result, the Bucks will finish the regular season with one of the best records that the league has seen, but they won't hit the 70-win threshold.
Buy or Sell: Philly should continue to have Al Horford come off the bench
When the 76ers signed Al Horford to a nine-figure contract over the offseason, it wasn't with the intention of him filling a reserve role during his first season with the franchise. However, that's exactly where the five-time All-Star finds himself after struggling to find his rhythm as part of the first five over the first 50-plus games of the season.
The move to the bench was a long time coming, as Horford's struggles to fit in comfortably in the starting lineup have been well-documented. The main issue is that Horford's skill set on the offensive end is redundant with Philadelphia's two other All-Stars. Horford is at his best when he's operating either from the elbow or the low block. He is very comfortable with creating good looks for himself and others from these areas. The problem with that is Embiid and Simmons are also most comfortable in these areas, especially on the low block, where Embiid does a fair share of his damage, and where Simmons is often relegated as a result of his inability to space the floor with his shot.
That's why when Horford started, he spent a lot of time on the perimeter, where he's limited, and not especially effective. With the second unit, Horford gets to play a majority of his minutes at his natural position of center rather than being pushed into perimeter play. His absence from the first five also opens things up offensively for Embiid and Simmons because it gives Brett Brown the ability to surround them with an additional floor-spacer. It's not ideal considering the size of the contract that he signed over the summer, but Horford continuing to come off of the bench is the best option to maximize the talent on the team as currently constructed.