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.

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:

Luke Duffy: Hoops Habit, writer

Jeff Eisenband: ThePostGame.com, associate editor

Stephen Jones: Former NBA Asst. Coach (Nets), Former Video Coordinator (Grizzlies)

Joseph Nardone: FanRag Sports, writer & podcaster

Aaron Preine: Formerly of Project Spurs, writer & podcaster

 

Years from now, will you remember the 2017 West Semifinals as a Spurs win or as a Rockets loss?

Duffy: It has to be a Rockets loss in my books. The way James Harden played was baffling, but despite his struggles and Nene not playing through injury, Houston had the tools to put San Antonio away. Gregg Popovich is possibly the best coach ever, but if you’re losing an elimination game at home to a big three of LaMarcus Aldridge, Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons, you’re doing something very wrong. The manner in which they lost was equally poor, and Popovich’s playoff run against Mike D’Antoni led teams continues. I would have loved to have seen Houston try and play a different way offensively and also give Montrezl Harrell more minutes in Nene’s place. But they didn’t and they were easy to plan against, and it cost them.

Mark Sobhani/NBAE via Getty Images

Eisenband: I’ll still call it a Spurs’ win because over the last 20 years, no team’s name carries the same weight as the Spurs’ brand does. A decade after Gregg Popovich retires, when we look back on his era of the Spurs, it would be blasphemous to deem any Spurs’ series victory a loss by the opposition. Remember when the Spurs blew the Warriors out by 29 in Kevin Durant’s debut in Oakland to start this season? We didn’t call it a Warriors’ loss because we know the Spurs can always beat the odds. Houston was tight and San Antonio had no expectations to worry about. Just ask Jonathon Simmons.

Jones: A Spurs win for sure. If they had won with Kawhi everyone would have praised the Spurs, brought up every single one of the narratives used for them. Kawhi being out should make it even more impressive because the simple fact is this: the Rockets got beat. It’s the way the Spurs went ahead and did it that should be remembered. Offensively they dumped it into the post, used their size to their advantage. By doing this, they controlled the tempo and used the Rockets scheme against them to create points and force help. They found a way to put their guys in positions to make plays organically. Defensively, they were unbelievably active, helping and recovering, the sense of urgency they had with their closeouts was huge. They were able to play their best on both ends in the most important in a series where they had taken turns struggling on either end. In this day and age of hot takes, it’s easier to pick the Rockets apart and while they deserve some of that, we shouldn’t do it at the expense of a great performance from the Spurs on both ends. The Spurs ability to sense the moment in a series and perform with a sense of urgency is impressive. Fun fact: Since 2002-03 there have been 9 times the Spurs have gone up 3-2 in a seven-game-series with Game 6 being on the road. They have gone 8-1 in those closeout games (their only loss in the 2013 first round at Dallas).

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Nardone: 98.3 percent of the time, it would be better to give credit as opposed to place blame. In this specific instance, however, it is simply too hard to ignore the complete no-show by Houston.

It isn’t just the Rockets failed to do anything in Game 6, it is that James Harden did nothing. A volume-shooting, prolific scoring guard didn’t even bother to put up a lot of field goal attempts. It would be like a runway model going to a show, and instead of walking the ramp, she decided to give a speech on the importance of the walrus population staying within a certain range.

Harden’s history of being iffy during closeout games doesn’t help matters here, either. Between his vanishing act in the Finals while with Oklahoma City to now being a superstar who shies away from the biggest moments, fair or not, it is going to define him until he breaks through the glass ceiling.

What is funny about all of this, though, is that Houston—at least heading into the series—was the underdog. San Antonio was the higher seed, after all. But going back to Game 5, specifically the last few minutes of regulation then the overtime and into Game 6, Houston just became a different team.

It can be argued if it was disinterest or fatigue all we want (maybe Harden should have embraced rest more?), but it should also be noted that after the Spurs decided to extend their defenders when the Rockets went with the high pick-and-rolls, Houston never adjusted. In theory, the doubling on Harden at the top of the key should have resulted in an open man, but Houston’s bigs stopped coming up to the free throw line and its wings failed in popping to a more desirable spot behind the arc.

Basically, the blame for what happened with Houston isn’t only on Harden. It goes to the coach for failing to adjust, the role guys for not figuring out spacing and to Harden.

With all that deserved blame being, well, deserved, it is why I’ll remember this more as Houston’s failure to capitalize on a starless San Antonio team than the other way around. I do reserve my right to change this if the Spurs somehow win the entire shebang, as revisionist history might make this into the historically great franchise “overcoming all odds” and all that Disney movie jazz.

Preine: In extremely lopsided results, history will always reflect back on the failures of the losing side. No one remembers the backup quarterback leading the ’93 Buffalo Bills to the largest comeback victory in NFL history, they remember the Houston Oilers monumental choke job. LeBron certainly gets love for the 2016 championship but the Golden State 3-1 jokes will somehow live beyond the heat death of the universe. I’m well aware of how well the Spurs played in Game 6 but years from now, Harden going 2-for-11 will be the first thing that comes to mind.

The Celtics showed up to Washington for Game 6 in all black funeral gear, fair or foul? Funny or lame?

Preine: Fair. I have zero problem with athletes calling their shot just as long as they face the music when the gimmick fails. The Celtics denying they wore all black on purpose is not the lamest thing in NBA wars (hey there, Melo backpedal) but certainly nears the apex. Don’t pull punches, Boston. Tip your hat, accept the consequences, and then reload with a “services postponed till Sunday” or something. The funeral gimmick is funny but teams need to apply some originality moving forward. Bring a framed “RIP” memorial photo of the opposing star. Leave hundreds of flower bouquets at the door of their locker room. Show up to the arena dressed as The Undertaker. Mix it up a little.

Stephen Gosling (2); Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images

Duffy: If you don’t get the job done it looks stupid, so you’ve got to mark this one down as lame. It’s a potential effective way of cranking up the mind games before the opening tip, but you have to actually see the game through in order for this to be remembered correctly. There’s a lot to be said for simply showing up and handling your business, but the Celtics couldn’t do that. Instead they got dragged into a game seven situation, and although it’s at home we’ve seen how both these teams have had struggles in front of their own crowds in this series. It puts unnecessary pressure on the team as a whole to close out the Wizards now, and was completely avoidable. Should they lose this series they may go down as one of the least convincing one seeds of all time?

Eisenband: I love it. The NBA needs its character back. We’re so far from the Bad Boys Pistons’ walk-off or Jeff Van Gundy clinging onto Alonzo Mourning’s leg. The Celtics and Wizards are taking the fact they are paid to represent different organizations seriously. The Celtics are trying to get every competitive edge they can get. Of course, talk is cheap. And the Celtics didn’t back up that talk, so they put even more at stake for Game 7.

Jones: Fair. It was all in fun, trying to take a shot at the Wizards for doing it, trying to prepare themselves for it, etc. The mindset behind it is what gets the fair for me. Think about it…had Boston won that game, someone, somewhere in the world would have used the “all black” as a sign of Boston’s growing confidence and newfound playoff killer instinct and how they were now ready for the Cavs (you know it’s true). Give them the effort for at least trying to have the confidence. The tough part is if you’re going to do it you have to win the game. Boston lost and opened themselves up to being a punching bag in the news cycle. Even worse is that meant they couldn’t take a second L and also admit to the fact that they did it, so the backpedaling that had to happen was the only lame thing to me. The other thing: might have motivated Washington and put them into that “nobody believes in us, they thought it was over, they came into our city trying to bury us” motivational territory. The funniest thing would be if both team showed up to Game 7 wearing all black.

Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

Nardone: This is a results-orientated answer. Going in the all black gear is always fair, but if you lose it is lame. Win? And it is funny.

What I always find weird about this is that it puts unneeded awaiting criticism around the corner for whatever team if it fails to close out the series. Like, there’s really no benefit to do this other than win the pregame optics war. If you win, even if social media giggles with the team for donning the funeral uniform, we move on pretty quickly. You lose, and we never forget how weird the entire ordeal was.

It is a risk-reward situation in which the teams need to more carefully think these things through. And, seriously, there’s zero reward in doing it. It is not as if the backup guard for the Celtics will shot .09 percent better from three because he wore dark slacks as opposed to something lighter. In comparison to the risk—which is looking like dopes—it just doesn’t make any (tangible) sense to be.

To be clearer than a failed Pepsi product back in the day: This Internet Scribbler wants more pro wrestling in his sports. I am all for this type of tomfoolery. In fact, it would be awesome if these guys were all more like each of the Morris twins, who have no regard for how anyone thinks of them. So, yeah, I like it.

From a team perspective, I don’t get it. But hey, maybe they want more pro wrestling in their NBA, too. Who am I to judge?

The NBA lottery is tonight. Who do you think could use the No. 1 pick most?

Nardone: Not the Boston Celtics.

Other than that, any team with an awful record can use it. But as the question is framed, I need to give a little context that I think some teams are better served NOT having the No. 1 overall pick.

It sounds stupid, but if you’re a New York Knicks or a Sacramento Kings—two franchises with a history of being inept—you shouldn’t want those sort of pressures of failing to draft the next NBA superstar. Or, as bad, for overthinking the draft position, trying to create some leverage, and trading back.

This then becomes about what teams have the least amount of talent, or lack a potential superstar on its current roster, and could use the perception bump that comes with the number one overall pick.

With Phoenix already having some young talent who—even if it is only in theory—can become future stars, as well as my theory above eliminating some others, I am going to go with the Orlando Magic.

Orlando is FOREVER in a rebuilding mode. It seems like the Magic are always “young and a year away from being good” or whatever. Unfortunately, by the time that “year away” actually comes, it is always another rebuild mode for the Magic.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Preine: This is bit of a trick question. Looking at only the top eight teams with a chance of landing the top pick, half of them would find a way to ruin a seven-foot LeBron-Jordan hybrid. They “could” use the top overall pick but they certainly wouldn’t make the most of the opportunity. After the martyrdom of Sam Hinkie, the 76ers could certainly use the top pick the most. Assuming the basketball gods shine favorable light on Embiid’s legs, the addition of Markelle Fultz to the duo of Joel and Simmons could allow for a Philadelphia “big three” to develop organically.

Duffy: The Orlando Magic. Five years of finishing bottom of their division, and only one season of them cracking more than 30 wins in that time has them going nowhere fast. They need some luck to kick start their revival, after missing on their previous lottery picks. They’ve finally gotten a head coach in Frank Vogel to stick around for more than a year, and both Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton are valuable young players at the very least. We’ve seen in the past how entertaining the Magic can be when they’ve got a superstar, and despite their average roster they had the 15th highest attendance in the league last year. The team only has themselves to blame for being in their current predicament, and there are those who probably feel they’ve had enough draft luck since their inception to last a lifetime. Still, seeing them defy the odds to get the top pick would make this summer more interesting for both them and a whole host of other teams too. Do the 76ers then sign a star and go all in with the youth they have? Would the Celtics flip their assets for an available stud and try and win it all? Would the 76ers even keep that pick if they won it?

David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Eisenband: The Knicks, but hear me out. The team that could “use” the pick the most is a team that has little young talent and bad contract situations. Of the teams with a realistic shot at the first pick, that fits the Knicks. Other than Kristaps Porzingis and maybe Willy Hernangomez, the Knicks are thin with youth. On top of that, you may have heard Carmelo Anthony and Joakim Noah are still under contract for two and three more years, respectively. If Markelle Fultz fell into the Knicks’ lap, the franchise would go from stagnancy to budding NBA powerhouse. Let’s throw the Magic in there as an honorable mention because that team has pieces and just needs a marquee player. Also, for the record, the Nets could use this pick the most, but they traded that chance for a year and a half of selling Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce Nets jerseys..

Jones: From an on court perspective, the Suns and 76ers could probably use it the most. Who they would pick would be a different story, but those two can’t turn down top talent and are set up to give them playing time from the jump. Suns need to add talent to build a core behind Booker, the issue is they don’t really need a PG unless they plan on trading Bledose. 76ers have gotten more than enough cracks at the top spot, but they could add another chip to their team. The Lakers really just need to hold their breath and not fall to No. 4. In my opinion getting the No. 1 pick would give them a boost but would also give them a great asset to land the star they are trying to get. Plus the trade rumors surrounding that might be able to carry us all through the lead up to the draft. If they got No. 1 they would have some decisions to make since they have Russell, but adding another young talent would at the very least keep their rebuild on the right path.

All I can do is imagine a world where the Celtics get the No. 1 pick, trade it to add another star and what that would do to Twitter.

It feels like Lonzo Ball may be losing some steam headed towards this draft. Is Ball still a top-three prospect in this class to you?

Jones: The answer to the question is yes. I don’t think that the very, very, very expensive sandals or the hot takes from LaVar Ball should drop him. If anything it’s more entertaining this way. Ball was a top-three prospect all year long because of his size and ability, I don’t think that should change. It’s almost genius in a way; the hot takes are taking people away from the normal “poke holes in top players games” chatter. There is little talk of Ball’s shot mechanics, defense, ability to operate in pick-and-roll or any of that. We’re talking about sandals.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Nardone: As a disclosure, the only thing that really changes my mind at this point is finding out players’ actual height and wingspan measurements. I tend to lock in my evaluations of players by March. Meaning, barring an asteroid landing on the top of a player’s head, the only way I view a player differently now as opposed to how I viewed them right before the NCAA Tournament is if we found out they are four inches shorter and their wingspan is awful.

With that being said, I’ve had Ball as my favorite pro prospect for some time. Fultz is great, and I know this isn’t popular, but I tend to think that if a player is “that great” that he should be able to carry a team—even if bad—to more than nine wins at the collegiate level. I’m not blaming Fultz for that completely, as former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar has a long history of doing less with more, but it does raise some red flags.

Not to mention that Ball changed the entire offensive culture of UCLA basketball during his one season. The campaign before he arrived on campus, the Bruins ran a much slower, iso-heavy style of offense. Then the program added Ball—and other dynamic players, it is worth noting—and they became one of the most entertaining teams in the entire nation.

Alas, fit matters a lot. Ball has to be a natural cog in the system of whichever team that drafts him. But as far as viewing him strictly in terms of his skills, potential and ability to make those around him better, he’s definitely one of the three best prospects in this draft.

Of course there are question marks with him (his defense, wonky-looking shot), but I will forever kick against some of those for all prospects (to varying degrees depending on actual abilities and prospect’s potential). No player, whether a senior or a freshman, is ever actually NBA-ready. Some might be in some areas of their game, but never all of them.

I do get it, though. It is the middle of May and the oversaturation of the NBA Draft is going to lead to some overthinking. Plus the entire ordeal with LaVar Ball. Still, given how uniquely gifted Lonzo is, passing on him would be like saying no to a date with Christina Ricci just because you didn’t like the last three movies she made.

I mean, she’s still Christina Bleeping Ricci! Uh… I mean, Lonzo Ball!

Preine: The faster NBA with a renewed focus on sharing the ball certainly fits Lonzo but today’s NBA is also about range. Lonzo’s jumper is a major question mark—certainly enough to knock him down a handful of spots. He can crash the defensive glass and has a talent for steals but can he consistently stay in front of a guy or contest through screens? I still think you take Lonzo with a top-three pick. The kid is a playmaker and his athleticism will definitely shine in the League. Just get him a shot doctor. In regards to the LaVar Ball/Big Baller Brand aspect, I’m trying my best to separate that from Lonzo. However, doing so would be ignoring the three-ring circus in the room. I doubt the experience would be enjoyable or welcomed by most front offices. The Lakers are experienced in these matters and probably could find a way to redirect it for the benefit of profit. If not, it would still be spectacular to watch.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Duffy: Ball is still a top-three pick, because if he pans out even half as well as was talked about earlier in the season, somebody is going to look very stupid for passing on him if they do so. The point guard position is the most important in the League today, and while there are more elite guards than ever before, the opportunity to draft a player who could lead that position into it’s next phase in the League is difficult to turn down. His father LaVar is an unwelcome distraction, and it’s his talking and off-court proclamations that have hurt Lonzo’s draft stock somewhat. But what if he actually turns out to be right? Lonzo Ball will be no Michael Jordan, he might not even be MarShon Brooks. But with range for days, the most expensive debut signature sneaker in history and real talent, he also feels like an event not to be missed. He automatically makes the 76ers, Nets, Suns, Kings, Magic, Mavericks and Pelicans more entertaining, and would bring legitimate star power to both the Lakers and Knicks. The Celtics have a tough decision regarding paying Isaiah Thomas a max deal next summer, so Ball could be the long-term answer for that team, too. Imagine a year of both together with Ball coming off the bench. Now that would be some way to bring him back down to earth, while adding more depth to the team.

Eisenband: Haha, I feel like I’m being baited. Yes, he is. Lonzo Ball was an outstanding high school prospect who went to a premier college basketball school. He had a really great year, but he didn’t win a Naismith Award and it feels like that’s being held against him. Of course, his dad creating astronomical expectations is also contributing to the bad taste some teams may be getting. I still think Lonzo is a top-three talent and point guards are valued higher than ever right now. If you talk to NBA players about Lonzo as a player, they say they love his court vision. His father is making him out to be a five-time MVP. He’s probably more like a five-time All-Star, but if a player is showing that potential before the NBA Draft, he should be a top-three pick. And for the record, this could all be a ploy to scare off every team except the Los Angeles Lakers.

Alright let’s get serious. You have creative authority and a huge budget, you get to make a movie about an NBA player, coach, or executive of your choosing. Who are you making a film on, who is the lead, and what’s the angle?

Eisenband: Erik Spoelstra. I’m not going to make a lot of money off this film, but I know I’ll have a plot. The film would start with a 23-year-old Spoelstra as a player-assistant coach for Tus Herten in Germany. Spoelstra then goes to the Heat, where he grinds away in Pat Riley’s video room before becoming an assistant coach. Spoelstra is handed the reigns to the team as Dwyane Wade enters his prime, and he is blindsided by the signing of LeBron James. Spoelstra enters a win or get fired situation and battles every day to win over James and the media. Eventually, James leaves and Spoelstra starts anew. Add in his legendary speech after the Heat just missed the playoffs this year and finish the movie with Spoelstra celebrating his third title with Finals MVP Dion Waiters. We need a prominent Filipino-American actor to play Spoelstra. Let’s get Bruno Mars an acting coach now.

Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images

Jones: Can’t we just re-make Space Jam and call it a day?

To me it has to be LeBron. You’ve got the ins and outs of LeBron’s rise, coming to the League out of high school, the move to Miami, the return to Cleveland and the comeback in the Finals to make history and bring the Cavs the title that he promised. Seems like it writes itself. I’m sure there are better stories to be told about overcoming odds just to get to the NBA, but I don’t see how a LeBron movie wouldn’t make money. The other problem is, I don’t know who you can cast as LeBron and have it make sense.

Nardone: Oh. My. God. There are so many great answers to this question. Sam Hinkie, the Morris twins, Joel Embiid just randomly drinking shirley temples.

If forced to only pick one, I think it would be wise to choose someone with their (basketball) story as close to finished as possible, as to avoid making a movie with no closure to the protagonist’s story.

It is here I probably choose someone like Phil Jackson. Not because I think he’s good or nice or any positives, but due to the fact he went from being considered one of the best minds to basketball to one who uses terms that can make one think he has an outdated mindset when it comes to philosophies on race and relationships. Oh, and now everyone thinks he is an idiot.

The interesting part of this is who I would cast as Phil and who would I get to direct it. The latter is actually more important, as you don’t want the movie to be filmed in a way that’s too skewed in one direction or another. We need someone without bias to tell Jackson’s star-crossed story—not to magnify only his greatness or only highlight his awful times.

The good news in casting Jackson is that he’s looked mostly the same for his entire life. I’d drop a nice wig on top of the head of John Malkovich and let him go crazy. I am sure there are better options out there (Tom Sizemore is a shockingly decent, lowkey possibility), but this is my movie and I love John.

As for the director, I am going to avoid anyone who has a history of making movies with real life happenings being the inspiration or backdrop for it (sorry, Ron Howard).

That said, given his history of doing both horror and semi-realistic movies, I am going to go with Ridley Scott.

Why him? Because I imagine he is so far removed from the idea of Jackson’s mythology that he is only interested in making the best, most honest, and well-rounded Jackson movie as possible. Also, honestly, James Dolan is kind of like one of the aliens from the Alien franchise and the memes would be too great to avoid.

So, uh… I guess I made a weird movie in a way. But that is fine. Jackson has had a pretty weird career.

Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Preine: “The government of the United States has fallen into the hands of a terrorist organization backed by Russia. When all opposition fails to stop the takeover, retired CIA operative and now professional basketball head coach Gregg Popovich (as played by Bryan Cranston) must subvert and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”

Duffy: There are so many people deserving of this treatment, it’s hard to pick one. The great underdog story of Isaiah Thomas, or the rags to riches tale of Jonathon Simmons. Gregg Popovich’s story would be an epic one, while Sam Presti’s would surely be a romantic comedy, with Hugh Grant as the lead. But the clear favorite has to be Russell Westbrook’s thirst for revenge in a John Wick style thriller where he enters every gymnasium in America, professional or otherwise, and puts up a triple-double. We’ve seen from Kendrick Lamar’s video for D.N.A. that Don Cheadle can turn in a pretty intense performance, but because of his age he’s unfortunately out of the running. So it would be on Michael Jordan (the actor) to get into some serious method acting in the mould of Heath Ledger preparing for his role as The Joker to try and pull this off. The angle is simple, after averaging a triple-double against the whole country while his teammates watched from the sidelines (Nick Collison fabulously played by a more mature James Franco), Westbrook enters the playoffs where he dispatches the Harlem Globetrotters in six and The Monstars in seven. In the conference finals he comes up against a Donald Sterling led superteam, after he brainwashed all of the players in the league into playing for him. That combination of Paul/Harden/Kawhi/LeBron/Davis is a tough out, but Westbrook gets through it in seven. The Finals sees a matchup with the Warriors, and after rebounding Draymond Green to death and dispatching of the others, Westbrook gets his date with destiny. A one on one match for all the marbles against Kevin Durant. He succeeds, with the end credits beginning to roll as Westbrook hoists the Larry O’Brien atop the mountain of his fallen foes.