NBA media days: Lakers’ Russell Westbrook dilemma, Celtics’ Sudden coaching debacle among stickiest storylines

The 2022-23 NBA season is fast approaching. The first preseason game is Sept. 30, and the regular season kicks off less than a month from now on Oct 18. But first up will be team media days, with most scheduled for Monday.

For the most part these are going to be obligatory pressers and Reporter scrums meant only to saturate the internet with canned and overly optimistic quotes, but that won’t stop Reporters from trying to pry. Surely, there will be some sticky questions to which players, coaches and GMs will be expected to respond.

Here are six teams that are not exactly looking forward to facing the microphones.

Rob Pelinka and Darvin Ham already canceled their press conference that was scheduled for Tuesday. Some think this foreshadows a trade in the coming days and the GM and Coach don’t want to talk before anything is official. Others think it’s merely a stall tactic to avoid some tough questions about what, exactly, Pelinka has, or hasn’t, done with this Lakers roster.

If it’s the latter, Pelinka can run but he can’t hide. Lakers media day is Monday and sooner or later Pelinka will have to speak to this Russell Westbrook-sized elephant in the room. Are the Lakers going to trade him? Did they have a chance to trade him already and got stingy with their future draft picks? Are they going to give him the John Wall treatment and just pay him $47 million to stay home?

Or, are they seriously just going to run back this miserably failed experiment? If so, is Darvin Ham going to start Westbrook? Patrick Beverley — and this is to say nothing of the well-known tension between these two — is an option at point guard, as is newly signed Dennis Schroder. If Ham starts Westbrook for optics and to pacify a stubborn former star, who will get the call in finishing time?

It’s sticky, to say the least, and everyone in Laker land is going to get asked about it. LeBron. Anthony Davis. Pelinka. Ham. Perhaps most flammable, Westbrook himself. Obviously Westbrook isn’t going to be happy with the way his game has been dragged through the mud this offseason. He addressed the verbal abuse his family was taking at games last season, and now his wife just happens to have posted the following message on Instagram — which sure seems like a pretty thinly veiled shot at the Lakers.

Until Westbrook is traded or sent home, these questions won’t stop after media day. That will only be the beginning.

This one is hot off the presses. Late Wednesday night ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Celtics Coach Ime Udoka is facing disciplinary action, which could include a significant suspension, for violating an Unspecified organizational guideline. Right in time for media day, this is gift-wrapped drama for inquiring minds.

What did Udoka do? How bad was it? “Significant” suspension sure does get the Imagination going. According to Wojnarowski, Udoka’s job isn’t believed to be in jeopardy at this point, but might that change? This is a Coach and team that should be coming into media day on the high of having finished two wins from an NBA championship. Instead, this. And perhaps a question or two for Jaylen Brown and how he feels about potentially having been dangled in a Kevin Durant trade proposal.

You’d like to think Sean Marks and Steve Nash are professionals, but they’re also human. Nobody wants to hear their star player has called for their head. But that’s precisely what Kevin Durant did in what was seemingly a last-ditch effort to leverage Brooklyn into trading him. Fire Marks and Nash, or I’m out. It didn’t work. Durant is still in Brooklyn. So are Marks and Nash. The company line, delivered by Marks, is that everyone has “agreed to move forward” with “one collective goal.”

We’ll see about that.

In the meantime, Durant, Nash, Marks, and probably just about every other Net, is going to have to answer questions about all this summer’s drama, which didn’t, and doesn’t, end with the Durant’s trade request and subsequent failed hit on his “bosses.”

There’s a distraction/Hall of Fame player named Kyrie Irving, too. The Nets were in talks to trade him. They probably would have had Durant been moved. Marks has not shied away from media jabs at Irving, saying at the end-of-season press conference the Nets are are looking for players who are are going to “be available,” which is something in which Irving hasn’t proven to be terribly interested.

Oh, and don’t forget Ben Simmons. You know, the guy who forced his way out of Philadelphia and didn’t play a single game for the Nets last season despite reports that he was prepping to play Game 4 of Brooklyn’s first-round loss to Boston only to pull out at the last minute.

So, Steve, how you feel about your star player who wanted to be traded, your other star player who has recently chosen to spend more time on his soapbox than the court, and your other potential star player who literally hasn’t played since June of 2021 and may or may not be mentally prepared to suit up again, much less go to the free throw line?

Yeah, something tells me the Nets would love for this media day to be over in a New York minute.

Things got a lot easier for the Suns after it was announced on Wednesday that owner Robert Sarver, who was recently suspended for one year and fined $10 million by the NBA following the completion of an investigation into his inappropriate workplace misconduct, has begun the process of selling the team.

Prior to the news of Sarver’s intent to sell, Chris Paul reacted quickly to the league’s verdict, tweeting that the punishment “fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior.”

Paul will have an easier time at media day having already gotten his thoughts on record, but he, along with probably everyone else in the organization who finds him- or herself in front of a microphone, will still have to deal with being asked about the Suns’ (soon to be former) misogynist, racist and Outright deplorable owner instead of being able to begin the process of turning their attention back to basketball as they gear up for what everyone expects to be another season featuring a championship-contending run.

There’s also the Deandre Ayton situation. The Suns were pretty clearly looking to trade him after already electing not to extend his rookie deal last summer. But then Phoenix wound up giving Ayton a four-year, $133 million deal after their hand was forced to either match the Pacers’ offer or lose him for nothing.

Ayton could still be traded this season, but not before Jan. 15, and it would have to be to a team of his choosing as he has a no-trade clause for a year. There will be questions about the situation, how it dragged out, how Ayton feels about being dangled in trade rumors, and everyone is going to say the right things — that this is a business, that everyone is excited to get back to the business of Pursuing a championship, and chances are it won’t be terribly awkward. Especially with the Sarver news now front and center.

Like the Suns with Ayton, the Knicks appear to have paid RJ Barrett only after their hand was forced. It was widely reported that their first priority was to trade Barrett to the Jazz as part of a Donovan Mitchell package, and Steve Berman of the New York Post reported that even had the Knicks been able to land Mitchell without including Barrett in the deal, they wouldn’t have paid Barrett until at least the October deadline and potentially would’ve waited until their hand was truly forced in restricted free agency next summer.

The picture Berman paints is one where the Knicks felt squeezed to make some kind of splash move after striking out on a Mitchell trade, and the four-year, $120 million Barrett extension was, perhaps begrudgingly, it.

The key line from Berman’s source was this: … “[the Knicks] like RJ, but he’s not one of their guys.”

Like the Ayton situation in Phoenix, chances are everyone will toe the company line when the inevitable questions about Barrett’s extension and how the Knicks pretty obviously preferred to trade him are asked, but you’d still rather not have to dance around an awkward answer.

And Barrett wasn’t the only one who was going to be shipped out in a Mitchell deal. Obi Toppin was reportedly included in the proposed package. Earlier reports indicated the Knicks were willing to trade Immanuel Quickley, but when Utah countered with Quentin Grimes instead of Quickley, New York pulled back. How does Quickley feel about that?

Yes, everyone is a professional, and being offered in a trade for a player of Mitchell’s caliber isn’t, in reality, anything close to a slap in the face, but it’s never optimal to come to media day and start answering questions about how your team tried to dump you.

For the most part, Monday’s media day is going to be a celebration for the Warriors, who won the 2022 title and brought back the core of the team that did so. But how long will that core be in place? The Warriors have some tough contract decisions to make over the next two summers, starting with Jordan Poole, who is eligible to sign a rookie extension until Oct. 18.

If the Warriors don’t offer Poole that extension, or if it’s low and Poole doesn’t sign it, he’ll become a restricted free agent next season, at which point the Warriors would have to pay him or lose him for nothing. That’s tricky, because Andrew Wiggins is also a free agent next summer. Same for Draymond Green, who will most likely decline his 2023-24 player option to secure another major-money long-term deal. Then, in the summer of 2025, Klay Thompson will be a fee agent.

The Warriors have made it pretty clear that there is a limit on how much they’ll spend, and if it comes down to these tough choices, who are they going to choose? Poole or Wiggins? If both, would they really let Draymond walk after all he’s done for the franchise? Would they trade him before it comes to that?

The Poole decision is the first Domino here. Bob Myers is going to get asked about it. Poole is going to get asked about it, because barring a max offer from Golden State, he has some incentive to keep his 2023 free agency status intact with the opportunity to play his way into a bigger deal this season.

These are first-world problems, of course. The Warriors have been in six of the last eight championships, and have won four of them. Having too many good players who are worth a lot of money, with only so much of that money to go around, is a nice dilemma to face. But it’s a dilemma nonetheless, and the Warriors will begin a year of facing these questions on Monday at media day.

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