Around the Rim

By Josh Eberley #41

Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome to Around the Rim.

Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices heard and trendy issues.

We are proudly now on edition 11. You can find the previous edition here. As promised, the roundtable will run every Tuesday, with new questions and new voices each week. If you have a question you’d like answered by the panel, tweet @JoshEberley or @HOOPmag and check back each week to see who hopped on for the current edition.

This week we are fortunate to have five dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

Adam Joseph: 16WinsARing, editor-in-chief

Rohan Nadkarni: SInow’s the Crossover, staff writer

Allan Tachauer: Hoops Habit, contributor

Tim Tompkins: Drive and Dish Podcast, host

Chris Trew: Uproxx, contributor

 

The New York Knicks are a mess. Phil Jackson, Carmelo Anthony, Jim Dolan and Charles Oakley dominated the headlines last week. What’s the most ridiculous aspect of this circus to you? What stands out most amongst the sticky mess?

Joseph: It’s always going to be James Dolan to me. Every piece of this ridiculous, scandal-filled, joke of an organization traces back to the New York Knicks owner. Dolan is a virus, let me be perfectly clear on that. He is killing an already struggling franchise. You can claim Phil Jackson, and his farcical tenure is certainly worthy, but it was Dolan who was responsible for the hire. He wanted a name, like he wanted stars like Carmelo Anthony and Derrick Rose. At least Jackson drafted Porzingis, and most of the prospects he’s drafted have been good. Money gives Dolan every right to do what he wants, but it doesn’t give him the knowledge to run a franchise from basketball-related matters. Like the NBA stepped in with Philadelphia, it’s beyond overdue here with the Knicks. Please Adam Silver, this can be the next part of your legacy.

Steven Freeman/NBAE/Getty Images

Nadkarni: For me, it’s still Phil going after Melo on Twitter. Something about the Oakley situation isn’t surprising to me. I completely expect James Dolan be petty, and while Oak getting dragged to the floor was an incredibly sad scene, I wasn’t completely shocked that he got physical with a random security personnel. Meanwhile, Phil has certainly needled players in public before, but he’s been handling the Melo situation with no tact whatsoever. I really cannot recall the last time a team president publicly commented on article to confirm that he doesn’t believe his star player can become a winner. All of it is insane. All the players on the Knicks deserve better. And if Anthony wants to stay in New York because that’s where he’s happy, it’s Phil who should have to pack up and leave.

Tachauer: Honestly? Probably the fact that Carmelo Anthony is still even in New York. Forget about the fact that he has a point guard with the wrong set of skills for him to dominate the way he wants to. And that they’re 22-33, having fallen to twelfth in the Eastern Conference. The organization as a whole has reached an unbelievable level of toxicity. Even more so than the Sacramento Kings and/or the Chicago Bulls, and that’s saying something. I appreciate Anthony not wanting to let Phil Jackson run him out of town, but he shouldn’t wish to be there anymore in the first place. As someone who has been a fan of Anthony’s since his college days at Syracuse, it hurts to see the latter years of his career play out in this way.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Tompkins: As a basketball junkie, I’m weary of recency bias; but in this case, I believe it to be true. The ejection of Charles Oakley by a mob of security guards at the Garden was one of the most disgraceful acts ever seen in professional sports. To put the cherry on top, Dolan has tried to distance himself from that by firing the head of security. Now not only has he disgraced a legend and fan favorite, he’s also cost a hard working person their job. Dolan can’t hide from this, and his legacy will also be remembered for that “shining moment.”

Trew: The lifetime ban of Charles Oakley from MSG is exciting because I find it hard to believe that he won’t find his way in somehow. Whether he’s in disguise or he shoulder blocks every security guard, he’s getting back in there. And he’s probably not leaving ever again. 

Bleacher Report’s Howard Beck had an excellent piece last week on Thon Maker and the Milwaukee Bucks. Maker, a relative unknown to the common fan is cast by Beck as a prospect with a massive ceiling. Is there another player you think of in a similar light? A player in his first couple of seasons who might surprise in a big way? 

Trew: Cheick Diallo was the first pick in the second round of the 2016 draft  (so pretty much a first-rounder) and dominates the D-League to the tune of 19 points on 50 percent shooting, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks (which I’m guessing translates to at least 10 points, 7 boards, and 2 blocks in the NBA). My answer here is (pretty much) the New Orleans Pelicans’ Cheick Diallo.

Layne Murdoch/NBAE/Getty Images

Joseph: Alan Williams. As I tweeted yesterday, all four games Williams has played this season that have gone past 17 minutes have resulted in double doubles, posting 13.8 PPG and 11.3 RPG in 23.5 MPG. If Phoenix are wise, they’ll start getting more minutes into him or a smarter team will swoop in and get themselves a bargain. Can I have another dark horse? Because it’s a Josh Huestis. The Thunder have spent their time working on his flaws and his confidence, and I’m quietly confident they’ve got themselves a player hiding away in the D-League. They don’t want to rush him, and that patience will be justified down the line. Either way, those two are going to be very helpful players with surprising ceilings for their teams down the line.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

Nadkarni: Rodney McGruder! In all seriousness, I’ve always been a big Briante Weber fan. Weber recently signed a 10-day with the Warriors, and though he probably won’t crack that rotation, I think he belongs in the NBA. Weber certainly needs to work on his shooting, but as a defensive stopper off the bench, he definitely has value. In a League stocked with talent at point guard, having someone like Weber who can defend the position well could be an important asset for many teams down the line. Weber doesn’t have a high ceiling like Maker necessarily, but he’s too good for the D-League. Eventually, he will carve out a role in the League and people will wonder why he wasn’t playing earlier. 

Tachauer: The player who immediately came to mind is Miami Heat’s James Johnson, despite the fact that he’s been in the League for seven years now. However, he did spend some time in the Developmental League so I’m going to pretend my answer still works. Johnson was someone I was super excited about when the Chicago Bulls first drafted him in 2009, but unfortunately slowly slipped away to the back of my mind because he never really found the right system. He certainly had his moments with the Toronto Raptors, but all in all Johnson underwhelmed. That is until Heat president Pat Riley got his hands on him. Riley, a master of development, was able to work with head coach Erik Spoelstra and figured out a way to make sure Johnson was utilized correctly. Now, he’s making all the difference for Miami; beyond averaging 12.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.1 blocks a game, he brings an incredible energy to the floor.

If I have to play by the rules though, my honorable mention goes to another Johnson, Tyler Johnson also of the Miami Heat. Lately, the guard has not been doing so hot, as he is returning from an injury. However, the 24-year-old was unbelievable previously, to the point where many were bringing him up in early Sixth Man of the Year discussions. Averaging 13.7 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.2 steals per contest, the undrafted Johnson has definitely proven his worth, after signing a 4-year, $50 million deal this offseason. Many thought Riley and company were crazy for matching the Brooklyn Nets’ offer sheets, but Heat Nation knew it was the right call. And hopefully many around the League have started to see that for themselves as well.

Tompkins: While he may not be considered a sleeper to some, I will continue singing his praises; Gary Harris. He’s improved all three seasons he’s been in the NBA in production and percentages. His three-point shot has risen from 20 percent to 40, PER from 11.9 to 15.6, effective field goal from 35 percent to 55. Perhaps most importantly for strong side/weak side ball movement, he’s improved as a playmaker with a rookie assist rate of 6 percent to 14 this season. Gary Harris is the real deal.

Bill Simmons and Kevin Durant had an awesome and candid conversation this last week. The podcast came out just before Durant’s long-awaited return to Oklahoma City. What were your original thoughts on Durant leaving and have they changed any with the time you’ve had to digest it?

Tompkins: At the time that Durant left, I felt like I was his lone defender. I didn’t believe he was taking the easy way to a ring as much as he simply saw a system of basketball that looked more appealing. Team play vs iso. The counter argument to that logic was Durant could have joined the Hawks or the Spurs. As time has gone on and I’ve seen Westbrook carry his team into what will likely be a postseason run for the Thunder in spite of losing their sixth man in Enes Kanter, I can’t help but feel Durant really was just taking the easy way out. It’s possible that even as great as Durant is, an all-time prolific scorer and likely first-ballot Hall of Famer, that he doesn’t have that “killer instinct.” Not all players have the Kobe mentality, I’m not sure we should fault them for that, but I do think we should keep that in mind when legacy talk enters the conversation.

Bart Young/NBAE/Getty Images

Trew: I was sad for all parties involved and while I remain sad to this day, I’m also terrified of Russell Westbrook. But while I’m terrified of Russell Westbrook, I’m also having fun being terrified. He’s like a horror film in that you pay money to watch him crush, slash and humiliate you. Kevin Durant is more like a soft romantic comedy like when the boy doesn’t get the girl and then gives up and decides to help the girl get a different boy.

Joseph: My feelings have always been the same and not changed since July 4. Durant’s decision was his prerogative, first and foremost. He was drafted to Seattle and relocated to Oklahoma City, his decision in free agency was always his own despite the nine years spent as a Sonic and Thunder player. The who, what and why of his decision will be torn apart now until the end of his career. To join the team who beat them in the Western Conference Finals after winning 73 games that year will be shredded because of the nature of it, not to mention the five-paragraph and 192-word note he left on the Players Tribune to say he was leaving OKC. It just looks weak, not to mention his fractured relationship with his long term co-pilot, Russell Westbrook. It’s a basketball tragedy that we will never get another epic Warriors-Thunder series like the one last season. In all three matchups this season the Thunder have sorely missed a player resembling Durant, and have been outgunned against Golden State’s firepower. Durant will likely set records, have sky-high efficiency and win titles in the Bay Area. But what could have been in Oklahoma City, will torture me as a basketball fan forever.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images

Nadkarni: My thoughts haven’t really changed. As a basketball fan, I would have loved to see Durant stay in OKC. I don’t discount that Durant made the best decision for himself and his life. That’s totally fine! I’m not in the streets burning his jersey or calling him a cupcake or anything like that. It just wasn’t very fun to see the 73-win Warriors add perhaps the second-best player in basketball. I wanted a rematch of the 2016 Thunder-Warriors series this coming May. Instead, the West should be a relative cakewalk for Golden State this year. It’s completely possible to respect Durant’s decision, but also be slightly upset that we lost a budding rivalry and one of the most exciting basketball duos of all time. I’m still sad we’ll (likely) never see Durant and Westbrook as teammates again, All-Star games notwithstanding. Durant should be applauded for all he did in the Oklahoma City community, and he obviously deserves to play wherever he wants. But the competitive balance concerns were and still are definitely real with that decision. 

Tachauer: Let’s get something out of the way: I’m not a Golden State Warriors fan. In any way, shape, or form. Though I can appreciate their obvious talent, both as a unit and by way of certain individuals on the team, I don’t usually enjoy watching them. Nor do I like the fact that they won the championship over the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2015. So with that said, I was not at all pleased to learn Kevin Durant was joining them. I found it to be somewhat of a bizarre move, too, given that the Oklahoma City Thunder had almost eliminated the Warriors during last year’s playoffs. Not to mention I felt awful for Russell Westbrook. However now, I don’t really care. Probably because I watch as few Golden State matchups as I can. (I’m still #TeamRuss though…)

Last week after a loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, Devin Booker talked some trash about Troy Daniels. The two had words during the game and Booker continued it postgame. Thoughts on the altercation and are there rules to trash talk? 

Tachauer: Look, trash talk is a part of the game. It always has been, and always will be. And I have no problem at all with that. In fact, usually I enjoy it. It makes things that much more exciting. Plus I know if I was in the League, I’d absolutely do the same. But there are definitely lines you shouldn’t cross. For example, Kevin Garnett calling Charlie Villanueva a cancer patient was sickening. So as long as things remain appropriate in that sense and don’t get overly physical, I say carry on. A healthy rivalry is just fine.

Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images

Tompkins: Troy Daniels reportedly told Devin Booker he’s garbage, only scores in crunch time and to “check the resume.” Well, Troy, I did. Booker 27p/5r/4a and +20. Your line was 6p/3r/0a and -8. Players have a right to talk trash, we all do when we’re on the court. Players also have a right to stand up for themselves.

Trew: I’m pro-trash talk. Anything to spice up the game is fine by me. I wish players had daily unfiltered podcasts and went live on Instagram in the locker room postgame. Every player at the same time. Every game.

Joseph: Devin Booker’s conduct was weak, unprofessional and exceedingly arrogant for a second-year player who has had two excellent months of basketball in his tenure so far. He’s not the best player on the second worst squad in the NBA, and he went after a guy who has fought tooth and nail to earn his spot in the League. We shouldn’t reward that sort of arrogance and should hold Booker accountable for a young, punk move. The only rules of trash talk for me is that it stays on the floor, and that you should always know where the line is. The NBA is a man’s game, if you can’t handle a little on court talk then you aren’t cut out for the mental aspect of basketball. This whole issue and the bigger part of it is very cut and dry to me. 

Nadkarni: Booker took it too far. A second-year player on a moribund franchise shouldn’t be calling people out the way he did. Troy Daniels may be a bit of a journeyman, but he’s also the owner of a playoff game-winner, and he’s worked hard enough on his shooting that teams want to keep taking chances on him. I’m all for trash talk and I love a good beef. But this is not a good beef. This is a sophomore stepping out of line and turning a mountain out of a molehill. I understand Booker must be frustrated with the way his team’s season is going, so maybe that’s why he lashed out a little over the top this time. Daniels has earned respect in this League, however. 

The Golden State Warriors are a League-best 46-9. They’ve come together and stand alone at the top. Headed into the All-Star break, if I offered you the Golden State Warriors or the field to win the title, which would you choose?

Nadkarni: Warriors, easy. 

Tachauer: I will probably never choose the Warriors as an option for anything positive. Sorry, not sorry.

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Tompkins: The field but specifically Cleveland. The Warriors for all their glory and star power still have to make it through the West and either take down the Spurs or the Rockets. The Cavs, on the other hand, toughest match will likely be a defenseless Raptors, a one-score pony in the Celtics, or the nonexistent bench Wizards. The best chance to win a championship goes to the team with the highest probability to make it to the Finals. To a certain extent, winning is luck. Just imagine if that rebound hadn’t gone into the hands of Bosh for the pass to Ray Allen and had instead bounced in Kawhi’s direction.

Trew: Continuing with the pattern of surprise sports championships, I’m taking the field. I don’t like to bet against the universe and the universe wants weird sports endings. Give me Raptors over the Jazz in 6. 

Joseph: Give me the Warriors all day. How much am I allowed to bet here? Barring injuries, nobody beats Golden State. LeBron going supernova once again will not be enough this time around. The Warriors are better on both ends, and they have Draymond Green, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala to throw at James for 48 minutes a night for seven games in the Finals. The Cavaliers can make life very tough for them, as can the Spurs, Rockets and the Jazz. It’s the Warriors world right now, and we are living in it. Super teams don’t make everyone happy, but we are witnessing some historic play right now on a team level. Might as well saddle up and enjoy it. The Durant-led Warriors pick up their first chip this postseason.