Just when you thought this already-wildly-unpredictable NBA season couldn’t get anymore wildly unpredictable …
On Monday morning, the Denver Nuggets had ascended to the top of a national publication’s weekly Power Rankings; on Monday night, star guard Jamal Murray crumpled to the court with less than a minute to play, his leg contorting into an unnatural position that portended serious injury (confirmed the next day as a torn ACL).
The Brooklyn Nets, meanwhile, suffered their own unexpected setback Thursday morning, with the shocking revelation that LaMarcus Aldridge was retiring immediately due to a recently diagnosed irregular heartbeat.
As the saying goes, life comes at you fast.
Let’s ignore the basketball ramifications for just a minute, though, and engage our humanity, shall we?
Murray, having been subjected criticism for much of the season for not living up to the impossible standard he set in the bubble last year, was now playing at or near his apex, leading the Nuggets up the Western Conference standings, helping the team ascend to title contender status … and now his season — and perhaps his team’s championship aspiration — is suddenly over.
Aldridge, meanwhile, was not quite playing at his apex in Brooklyn, though he was a valuable depth addition to a loaded team that is the consensus favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals — and just like that, his whole career is over.
Sure, it can be argued that, in the grand scheme of things, from a far more macro perspective, both men still generally inhabit circumstances that should inspire envy rather than pity. They are, after all, multimillionaires many times over, with ready access to premier medical care that, in the case of the former, will restore his knee back to top condition, and in the case of the latter, may well have saved his life.
I’ll stipulate that all things being equal, these guys have it better than most.
That doesn’t mean we can’t feel Murray’s pain at seeing a potentially special season cut short. That doesn’t mean we can’t empathize with Aldridge, whose best opportunity to at long last play for a championship is now gone.
Thing is, those personal sentiments do reflect the basketball side of the equation — probable disaster for the Nuggets and a not-insignificant setback for the Nets.
I’m sure Utah Jazz fans are sympathetic.
Considering that Denver is a Northwest Division rival, the team that dealt the Jazz yet another too-early playoff ouster last year, and a squad that consistently gives Utah trouble owing to the singular skills of MVP frontrunner Nikola Jokic, denizens of the Beehive State are probably not overly maudlin about the impact of Murray’s knee giving out.
Sure, no one wanted Denver to be dispatched that way, and probably no one was doing any fist-pumping at hearing the news that the Nuggets’ championship contention has likely been dealt a fatal blow — but that doesn’t mean fans can’t breathe a silent sigh of relief at having a significant rival for the throne out of the picture.
As for the Nets, well given that they’re among every non-New Yorker’s and non-bandwagoner’s favorite franchises to loathe, presumably very few are shedding tears on their behalf.
This is, after all, a franchise that added to Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, then acquired the disgruntled James Harden for pennies on the dollar, then replenished some of the depth surrendered in that deal by adding ring-chasing bigs such as Blake Griffin and Aldridge on vet-minimum post-buyout deals.
Yes, they’ll miss the five-out offensive capability Aldridge gave them, but if Durant, Irving, and Harden aren’t enough to carry them through, well then, frankly, they’ve got much bigger issues than unexpectedly losing a sharpshooting big man.
This season has already been unique for so many reasons. These two latest monkey-wrenches are but the latest reminder that — as Aldridge so eloquently concluded in his announcement — we’d be wise to take nothing for granted.
“You never know when something will come to an end,” he wrote, “so make sure you enjoy it every day.”