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5-on-5 Friday: Breaking down Cavs-Wolves and Thunder-Lakers

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Sacramento brings out the best in Kobe (2:02)

Kobe Bryant always seems to play well in Sacramento and tonight is no different as he scores 16 points in the first half against the Kings. (2:02)

Would the Cleveland Cavaliers rather have Andrew Wiggins in wine and gold over Kevin Love? Are Kyrie Irving and Kobe Bryant both deserving of All-Star starting spots? And what impact has new head coach Billy Donovan made in Oklahoma City?

Our experts break it all down ahead of Friday night's ESPN doubleheader (Cavs-Wolves, 8 p.m. ET; Thunder-Lakers, 10:30 p.m. ET).


1. Should Kobe Bryant start the All-Star Game?

J.A. Adande, ESPN.com senior writer: Yes, not only as a nod to his Hall of Fame career but as a tribute to how he always played with full intensity even while other players were just going through the motions. I always say the fans are right no matter what. The best-ever All-Star moment came in 1992, after the fans had voted in Magic Johnson even though he'd retired at the start of the season.

Amin Elhassan, ESPN Insider: Yes. All-Starters are for the fans, and if fan voting indicates that they want to see the Mamba, we should respect that. The bigger question is whether we should allow the current voting system of balloting via social media, which allows for rampant voter fraud and the voices of non-NBA fans (see Justin Bieber's tweet about CP3) to drown out the voices of those who consume the NBA.

Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com Cavs reporter: Of course. To borrow a line from Jalen Rose, you got to give the people what they want. Clearly what they want is Kobe, even if it's a sub-40 percent shooting version of himself who is designated as a frontcourt player on the ballot. I have a much bigger problem with him starting at small forward instead of shooting guard than I have with him starting, actually. If we're going to celebrate him, celebrate him in the position he'll be remembered for.

Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com senior writer: Of course, and he should jack up as many shots as possible. The All-Star Game is for the fans, and right now it seems the fans seem to not be able to get enough, so give them more.

Royce Young, ESPN.com Thunder reporter: Yes, absolutely. The All-Star Game's purpose isn't complicated. It's a game entirely for the fans while showcasing the league on a grand stage. Sure, there's an element of recognition for outstanding seasonal achievement, but Kobe's career achievements trump that by a wide margin. With all the tributes happening all over the league during Kobe's final stops in different arenas, All-Star Weekend would feel pretty empty without one.


2. Should Kyrie Irving be an All-Star?

Adande: Yes, by the same fans-are-always-right principle as my previous answer. Although Irving doesn't have the career accolades of Kobe (or even fellow Eastern starter Dwyane Wade), he does have an All-Star MVP to his name. He should bring the trophy on the court with him when they intro the starters.

Elhassan: Not unless he's a starter (see above answer). He just hasn't appeared in enough games to justify taking a spot from someone who has for most of the season thus far. That's not to say he's not All-Star caliber, just an acknowledgement of the efforts of those who have been available.

McMenamin: See the same rationale above. Do you realize his original Uncle Drew spot on YouTube is the most viewed video involving basketball of all time, with more than 42 million clicks? He inspires fans plain and simple, even if, like Kobe, he's been a limited version of himself so far this season.

Windhorst: If the voters deem so, yes. He's an entertaining player to watch and he has an ideal game for an All-Star setting. If he's not voted in -- and the voting is close right now -- the coaches will have a challenge for their ballots because of the missed time. I will say this, he has outplayed John Wall and Kyle Lowry head-to-head this week.

Young: Probably not, but I'm not going to argue with the idea of having one of the most exciting, electrifying players included in a setting that is only going to maximize his opportunities to be exciting and electrifying. Especially since I just got through saying this game's for the fans, and seeing Irving cross and weave and dart and contort is what everyone wants to see.


3. Would the Cavs be better now with Wiggins rather than Love?

Adande: No. Only because you don't see Wiggins playing championship-level basketball every night, and that's the standard LeBron is demanding right now. Cleveland will miss Wiggins down the road, surely. For now, though, you can't be sure he'd be the difference in winning the Finals or not.

Elhassan: Not necessarily. It's fun to see people flourish in another environment and imagine them doing that same thing where you are, but the reality is Wiggins is who he is today because he got the kind of opportunity, PT and most importantly touches that he's getting in Minnesota. In Cleveland, he might have been good -- or he might have been a glorified Iman Shumpert.

McMenamin: Wiggins is a stud, already averaging 20 points per game for the Wolves at just 20 years old. And the thought of him clamping down as a defender on the opposite wing of LeBron James and getting out in transition opportunities is intriguing. Yet, the Cavs can still replicate that defensive dynamic with Shumpert out there with James, plus get the added benefit of Love shooting 36.2 percent from 3 compared with Wiggins' 23.2 and rebounding at an elite level. So, no. At this moment, the Cavs continue to be better off with Love.

Windhorst: The Cavs are 40-5 the past two years with James, Irving and Love playing together. I think they're quite pleased with the deal.

Young: That's a hard question to answer because trading for Love created a bit of a domino effect on the Cavs' roster. If they had Wiggins, they probably don't trade for Shumpert and J.R. Smith. Do they still have Dion Waiters then, or is he moved for added frontcourt depth? I think the Cavs win roughly as many regular-season games with Wiggins as with Love, but one area they're better with Wiggins: They probably match up a little better with the Warriors.


4. Is "This season is about Kobe" code for "We're still tanking"?

Adande: No, it's an honest assessment of how Kobe has dominated the Lakers conversation this year, as he has for the past dozen years. Besides, there are still the occasional nights when Kobe actually helps the team win, such as in Boston and Washington. So it's not strictly a lottery odds grab disguised as nostalgia.

Elhassan: No, because even if the season weren't about Kobe it would still be tanktastic. But it is definitely an admission that, while Kobe Bryant is around, no meaningful franchise development will occur.

McMenamin: Probably. The Lakers, understandably, want to hold on to that protected top-3 pick and get a crack at the Ben Simmons bonanza. Even if this is stealth tanking, it's a much better version than what's going on in Philadelphia, where those kids are being brought up in NBA apathy from playing in half-empty arenas every night. Kobe makes every Lakers game a sellout, or close to it, and his young teammates get the benefit of cutting their teeth in that charged atmosphere.

Windhorst: No, honesty I think that's the straight truth. You can still lose plenty of games playing Russell, Randle, Clarkson and Nance more minutes in a system designed to stimulate their growth. I think Mitch Kupchak was being rather transparent.

Young: If it's not, then the Lakers are more delusional than we thought they were. Because it is a pretty clever sell to the fan base for putting out a rough product while still keeping them interested.


5. What difference has Billy Donovan made, if any, in OKC?

Adande: Nowhere near as much difference as a healthier Kevin Durant and an evolved Russell Westbrook. Besides, the real test for Donovan won't be how the Thunder perform in the regular season. It will be how he handles midseries adjustments in the playoffs. For now, there seems to be buy-in of Donovan from the players, which is about all you could hope for.

Elhassan: I'll defer to those who are around the Thunder every day to definitively declare this, but, in my eyes, not much. Sure they run a little more creative stuff during games, but for the most part, this offense (specifically in crunch time) is strikingly similar to what Scott Brooks ran. Poor Brooks, he's sitting at home thinking, "Oh, so the key was for everyone to stay healthy! Duly noted, Sam Presti!"

McMenamin: It's really hard to compare what he's doing this season to what Scott Brooks did before him because the last time Brooks coached a healthy tandem of Durant and Westbrook, it was a much different cast around them than the rest of the Thunder players Donovan now coaches.

Windhorst: They have the No. 2 offense and the No. 9 defense by efficiency, and Westbrook, Durant and Kanter are all putting up fantastic numbers. The late-game offense has been inconsistent, and that is what everyone wants to judge him on. He won't be judged until we see the full body of work.

Young: Donovan never came in with a mind to make significant, sweeping changes. He didn't want an overhaul. So, to see the differences, you've got to squint a bit. But the Thunder are generating better shots overall, with their most efficient players taking shots in their most efficient spots. They aren't moving the ball more, but they probably are moving it more effectively.