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. This week I’m stoked to give you an entirely draft focused collaboration.

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 six dedicated and knowledgeable contributors pitching in. Make sure to give them a follow and check out their great contributions to the basketball community:

C.J. Holmes: Dallas News, digital sports producer

DeShawn Hornback: The Last Time-out, site manager

Adam Joseph: 16 Wins A Ring, editor-in-chief

Keith Smith: Real GM, contributor

Aimee Stiegemeyer: All Heart in Hoop City, editor-in-chief

Peter Yannopoulos: TSN, NBA insider

 

Kyrie Irving laughing it up as Steph Curry makes fun of LeBron James—fair or foul? 

Holmes: Okay, let’s all relax for a second and try to put this situation into perspective. I’ve watched all the footage from Harrison Barnes’ wedding reception, and all I can see is Kyrie and Steph getting lit, enjoying each other’s company and just trying to have a good time. For Kyrie, the timing of it sucks considering all the drama going on between him, James and the Cleveland front office. But it isn’t like Kyrie and Steph met up at the bar and were like, “Hey, let’s use this as an opportunity to take shots at LeBron James’. I think they’re well above that level of pettiness. It was completely fair and just a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing once First Day Out started playing. Besides, at the end of the day it was hilarious. If LeBron was there, I’m sure he would’ve been laughing right along with them the same way he laughed at everyone else doing the LeBron challenge. No foul here. Not everything has to have a deeper meaning—some things are just funny as hell.

Hornback: Fair, everyone wants the players to stop being buddy-buddy and call foul anytime players have harmless fun on another’s expense. Kyrie is just showing Dan Gilbert and LeBron he wants out immediately.

Joseph: Fair. I don’t see a real problem with it. It’s just guys having fun at a wedding, but it’s blown up because it goes under the microscope. That video was asking to be made fun of, and that’s putting it kindly. LeBron James has become something resembling teflon since achieving hero status again after his villainy in Miami, so everything he does is looked upon kindly by the vast majority and particularly the media.

Now apparently Kyrie is the bad guy, so this becomes something seriously overblown. We don’t know enough about the situation yet to really pick sides, but Kyrie wants to go be his own man. Those who don’t like that decision will find a way to warp this, but in reality it’s two guys having a laugh at a wedding. So in that vein, I ask you—what’s the problem with that?

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Smith: More fair than foul, but it is a little complicated. This situation is broken, and I’m not sure it is fixable. I’m also not sure you can just say “play through it” either. Some folks have made the Shaq-Kobe comparison, but that was different. For one, those are two of arguably the top 10-15 players of all time. While, LeBron James fits that bill, Kyrie Irving does not. Shaq and Kobe were also top 5 players at the time of their spat(s). Again, LeBron fits this, but Irving is somewhere outside of the top 10 and maybe even the top 20. In addition, the Lakers were prohibitive favorites to win the title at the time of their off-court nonsense. The Cavaliers are favorites to win the East, but not the title.

All of that said, it is a bad look for Irving to essentially be ripping James, but it could be part of a bigger ploy to make sure he’s traded. So, if you take it from Irving’s side, he might be doing what he has to do. As said previous, this situation is broken and probably can’t be fixed. The Cavs and Irving need a divorce, and sooner rather than later, for all parties involved.

As an aside, Steph Curry is awesome and part of one of, if not the best teams the NBA has ever seen, but it isn’t smart to poke the bear. And no bear needs poking less than LeBron James.

Stiegemeyer: Oh it’s definitely fair. I’m having a hard time working up any outrage over this, and honestly I think people are reading far too much into it.

Someone acted goofy at a wedding reception and people laughed? That’s pretty much what happens at wedding receptions. The fact that Steph Curry is the someone and Kyrie Irving is one of the people laughing hardly seems worth the level of significance people seem to be attributing to it.

At the risk of sounding like a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, I think it’s at least as likely these players are trolling, knowing that media and fans are going to over-analyze the crap out of it, as it is intended to be genuine shade at LeBron.

Yannopoulos: Fair, only because at the end of the day, Lebron will still hug Steph Curry before their next game and he will also hug him postgame as well. He will forgive Kyrie no matter where he’s traded to and, subsequently, hug him the same way with his potential new team. James is the best player in the game today (sorry, not yet KD) but his indifference and lack of a ruthless killer mentality is why superstars (Curry) and marginal players (Remember Deshawn Stevenson) keep taking contemptuous and disdainful jabs at him. I’d love to see Lebron vehemently punish all his condescending opponents physically and in the Finals win column. However, I guess we will keep settling for the “correct basketball play” pass to Kyle Korver up 2 points while down 0-2 in the series with 55 secs left and Draymond Green with five fouls leaning on James seven feet from the rim. Yes we will!

What’s the best case scenario for Derrick Rose this year? If he’s the Cavaliers starting point guard do they fall behind Boston in the East?

Hornback: Best case scenario for Rose is be at least an average starting point guard for the Cavaliers. Last year he was part of the problem in stunting Porzingis’ growth. He has to find his role in the team with penetrating and dishing out to the open shooters, otherwise he will be a liability as a career 30 percent three-point shooter.

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images

Joseph: Cleveland isn’t falling behind Boston unless LeBron James has already taken a fall himself. He stands between every team and the Finals. It’s hard to pick the field (or Boston alone) with James in the way. The best case scenario for Rose is a above replacement level season. Fans of his will dream of a Rose revival in Cavs colors but it’s a pipe dream. His athleticism has been tainted but not taken away, but that doesn’t make him what he was.

In an offense orchestrated largely by James, Rose needs to figure out his role off the ball when they share the floor. Yes, James did let Irving take a huge role last season but when it really mattered it wasn’t the guard who had the ball making things happen. Rose’s three-point shooting has always been a problem. Does that miraculously get fixed in Ohio? Doubtful.

Rose can have a season that shows his minimum scale contract was a bargain, but he’ll never get near a level that makes him a max-worthy player again. Somewhere in the middle of that might be utopia for him now.

Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Smith: If Derrick Rose has to start, the Cavaliers are worse than Boston in the regular season, but they might be anyway. They were last year and the Celtics have improved, while Cleveland has gotten weaker. Boston may have a slow start, as they have turned over 9 of 15 spots on the roster and are likely to carry as many as six rookies into opening night. That could create a situation where Cleveland (and Toronto and Washington) could be ahead of the Celtics out of the gates. Those teams will all have relative consistency from last year to this year.

On the other hand, the Cavs know the end goal is the Finals. Because of this, they tend to somewhat coast through regular seasons. They could probably finish in the bottom half of the East playoff teams and still get to the Finals, which is how good LeBron James is. Getting back to Rose, he’s started to become almost underrated. He’s still a quality player, if nowhere near the MVP-level performer he once was. He can still score the ball, but the challenge is that he gets his points in very different ways than Kyrie Irving does. Irving is comfortable off the ball, because he can knock down shots. He’s also good with the ball in his hands when James rests or Cleveland needs a secondary creator. Rose is only effective with the ball in his hands. In many ways, he’s ideal to lead a second unit because of this. His talent is still enough to overwhelm most backups and he could carry the offense when the Cavs main guys rest. As a starter, he’s average at best. And neither Rose nor Irving is anything to write home about on defense. Add it all up, and Cleveland downgrades because Irving is far more versatile on offense. But, as long as Cleveland has James, it might not matter when it counts most.

Stiegemeyer: I’m not sure I can really think of a best case scenario for Rose at this point, beyond making it through the season relatively healthy. But if he’s the Cavs starting point guard, falling behind Boston might very well just be the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

Yannopoulos: Let’s getting something straight, with all due respect to Gordon Hayward and the improved Boston Celtics, they are unequivocally not surpassing nor dethroning the Cavs in the playoffs (with or without Kyrie). The skepticism and cynicism remains at an elevated level with Rose from a public and management standpoint. His $2.1 million dollar per year salary in this record salary era validates that. But I firmly believe the former MVP will definitely help the Cavs and his career this season whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. Derrick is a good man who has done enriching work for his community. The ultimate best case is for him to remain healthy for 82 games and have a tangible effect in the postseason for the Cavs. His 18 PPG last season leads me to believe it will.

Holmes: n a perfect world, Derrick Rose steps in as Cleveland’s starting point guard (if Kyrie is indeed traded), stays healthy for at least 82 games and averages 21 points and five assists en route to the team’s fourth straight Finals appearance. LeBron James is the type of superstar that makes everyone around him better, and I think he’s the perfect teammate to help rejuvenate Rose’s career. Even though he was playing in New York, and even though he still got hurt, in 2017 Rose had his best season statistically since the 2011-12 season while shooting almost 50 percent from the floor. It’s taking a lot longer than anyone would have expected, but I do think Rose is slowly returning to form. And if he can become even a third of his former self, Boston’s acquisition of Gordon Hayward this offseason won’t make much of a difference come playoff time.

J.R. Smith took some shots at Tracy McGrady after McGrady said, “Anybody can win a championship. Everybody can’t get in the Hall of Fame.” What’s better: a role player on one championship team or a Hall of Famer with no ring?

Barry Gossage; Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images

 

Smith: This is tricky. On one hand, we want it to be all about winning. That is why we play, watch and invest in sports. We want everyone to be as devoted to that cause as we are. But McGrady is kind of right. As “ring chasing” has become a thing, it is somewhat easier for a player to catch on with a favorite and enjoy the ride to a title. Becoming a Hall of Fame player takes years of incredible productivity. Each year at least 15 players win a ring. Only about 3-5 make the Hall of Fame.

However, that wasn’t the question. I was raised to want to win and to sacrifice everything to do so. I was also never a great player in any sport. I was the consummate role player, no matter the sport. Because of this, I’d rather win a ring. I’ve also seen firsthand the pain that guys like John Stockton, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley and Patrick Ewing go through whenever it is mentioned that they never got a ring. All are Hall of Fame players, but I think at least one of two of them might have traded that honor to wear a championship ring. I know I would. Losing always hurt more than any great game I had (and they were rare!) ever felt good.

Stiegemeyer: I could make an argument for either one, but honestly at this point in my life? Whichever one gets paid more.

HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images

Joseph: Me? I’m getting an NBA Championship. The feeling of achieving the ultimate team goal means more than the individual achievement of Hall of Fame status. Yes, Hall of Fame selection is a personal, eternal reward for a career of greatness. But an NBA Championship is a feeling shared with a group you have worked to the bone to achieve this with—that to me, is superior.

McGrady has a right to feel that way, his legacy is secure with Hall of Fame selection. But wouldn’t it already be so if he had found a way to win a title with a relevant role in that success? Very likely. I’ve won my share of sporting accolades at a local level, and whilst individual awards give a personal level of satisfaction, it doesn’t compare to the glory of victory. I’ll take that championship every time, and Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and co. would likely do so, too.

Yannopoulos: Tracy McGrady is a player who will go down as one of the greatest scorers of his era but a little known fact, I’m sure this hurts T-Mac to this day, is that it took 15 seasons for him to get past the first round of the playoffs. And he did it after joining the Spurs and their championship dynasty pedigree at the age of 33 years old. I would echo Tracy’s sentiments and remarks towards Smith. Being part of a championship team is easy (hello Darko Milicic, Adam Morrison, DJ Mbenga and White Mamba Scalabrine), however, leading a team as a superstar is extremely and painfully difficult. Let’s just ask Hall of Famers Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Reggie Miller, to name a few. Although winning a ring is the ultimate goal, I still believe the aforementioned players sleep pretty well at night. Give me the Hall of Fame career and the accompanying bank account attached to it. But man, that champagne tastes so good as well.

Holmes: I have to agree with T-Mac on this one. Anyone can win a championship—guys like JaVale McGee continue to prove that year after year. It’s not hard to be a part of something special, but it is hard to be a truly special player. Of course it would be nice to have both, but if I had to choose, I’d choose the Hall of Fame. I want to be remembered as one of the best, not someone who was just along for the ride.

Hornback: T-Mac and J.R. Are just re-igniting that old debate of a ring vs greatness. Only problem with J.R.’s shots at McGrady was the insinuation he wasn’t playing to win. I don’t believe you are as great as McGrady was and not have the want to win.

I would rather be the Hall of Famer. Shane Battier has a ring, but Charles will always be known for what he did on the court. Shane Battier won’t be thought of 10 years from now, and when you reach that level of play isn’t that the thing you want? To be remembered?

Russell Westbrook has yet to sign his mega-extension he’s eligible for. Could you see Westbrook leaving Oklahoma City?

Smith: Russell Westbrook certainly could leave Oklahoma City. He’s got interests outside of basketball and those interests would be easier to pursue in a major city. But Westbrook has always marched to the beat of his own drum. He’s not concerned with timelines others place on him to do things. He’s also not overly concerned with the perceptions of others.

Best guess is that he’ll talk it through with Paul George, get an understanding of where George is at for the future, and then Westbrook will do whatever he was going to do anyway. Maybe more so than any other NBA superstar, Westbrook does things his way. The more he’s tried to be fit in a box, the more he does to climb out of it and then destroy the box in totality. This isn’t to label him as selfish, because he’s not. He just has a plan that works for him and he’s not going to conform or change to whatever it is that everyone else thinks he should. He’s going to make the decision for himself and his family and them only on where they should be long term.

It also shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee that he’s leaving the Thunder if he doesn’t sign the max extension now. Barring injury or something wildly unexpected, it will be there for him this coming summer. He’s going to cash in no matter what, OKC or elsewhere. There is no clock that matters in this situation, minus the one in Westbrook’s brain. Good luck figuring out the deadline on that one.

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Stiegemeyer: That’s going to largely depend on how the Paul George Experiment goes this season. If that doesn’t work out well, I think the likelihood of Westbrook walking at the end of the season increases exponentially.

Yannopoulos: Expect the unexpected is undoubtedly prevalent in today’s NBA. The polarizing decision by Lebron in 2010 changed the landscape of the League in an unprecedented fashion. Durant’s own less flamboyant but, nevertheless, shocking decision to join a 73-win team remains an athletic cowardly move in my eyes. Having said that, it was immensely refreshing to see Westbrook almost instantaneously demonstrate his loyalty to OKC and their fans by immediately signing an extension to prove he believes in his teammates, his coaches and ultimately himself in being the antithesis of Durant and not chasing a ring. Can that change? Absolutely and categorically. Will it happen? The galvanizing Paul George and the Thunder’s playoff success will play a pivotal role in answering that question. I would say he stays in his new home in Oklahoma City with cautious and hopeful optimism for that passionate fan base.

Holmes: Maybe. It’s too early to tell. Are he and Paul George enough to contend for a championship in the West? If yes, he stays. If no, he goes. You know the guy hates losing. It’s as simple as that.

Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images

Hornback: Westbrook leaving OKC seems very unlikely. He has been given the freedom to play however he wants, has a great front office, and that’s the way for him to get the most money. The front office just showed him they’re willing to make big moves for big name players. There’s not many places Westbrook could go for his asking price and be in a better situation. The fans only love him more for the whole KD situation and he’s been praised endlessly for not immediately leaving. He has everything he could possibly want.

Joseph: Yes. Anything is possible in the NBA. Kevin Durant seemed 95 percent certain to stay in Oklahoma City in June last year. By July 4th he was a Warrior. Things change in this league faster than Adrian Wojnarowski can type 140 characters – and the fortress of Russell Westbrook’s mind and Sam Presti’s war room means we don’t know a heap about what will happen next.

There’s been whispers of an extension being signed, there’s been equally as much about the opposite—summer League was abuzz that he was in fact not signing the deal. Don’t forget, there was noise about Durant leaving the Thunder in Orlando two years ago. So it’s naive not to think Westbrook is 100 percent staying.

Westbrook has given all the right signs though. His outspoken love of the City and the people within it during his MVP speech, his commercials this offseason which have seen him speaking about the exact same thing as he walked the streets of Oklahoma—they give off the right vibes. He’s enjoyed a relaxing break from basketball, and as recently as today he’s documented his day at Disneyworld.

When that’s over I think he signs and commits to the Thunder long term, perhaps on August 4 like last year’s announcement. But this League…man, you never know.

Which NBA player has the most to prove this upcoming season?

Stiegemeyer: I’m going with Paul George, for the reason I stated above. The Thunder have a lot riding on this season in general, and I think that is going to put a tremendous amount of pressure on George specifically.

Yannopoulos: From a salary standpoint, Otto Porter Jr. should top this list. But I won’t go there. At least not yet. However, I will go with arguably this generation’s best point guard, Chris Paul. The reasoning and parameters are simple. For all the accolades and praises CP3 has received, most of them warranted, he still has not being able to pilot one of his team’s past the second round of the playoffs in his career. How can anyone forget the inexcusable  19-point second-half home blown lead in Game 6 vs. the Rockets. Paul was brought to Los Angeles to lead them to their first ever Finals. That never materialized. Now the irony is he joins that same Rockets team on the rise, in what could become one of the most lethal backcourts in League history. How should we measure success? Simple, a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Time to get it done, CP3.

Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Holmes: No NBA player has more to prove this upcoming season than Gordon Hayward. Hayward was an All-Star talent in Utah, but I don’t know if he’s good enough to be considered Boston’s missing piece to their championship puzzle. To me, he’s just another scorer who won’t even have the ball in his hands most of the time. During free agency, Hayward sent the NBA world into a frenzy and single handily almost broke Twitter. This season, he’ll have to prove that he was worth all the stress.

Hornback: Anthony Davis has to make the playoffs this year. The Pelicans if healthy have the talent to at least make .500. In his only postseason series, Davis put  32 points, 11 rebounds, 3 blocks and being extremely efficient with a 61.3 true shooting percentage against the best team of the last three years. He showed us what he is capable of, but has never returned to the big stage since. Dell Demps keeps trying to keep this team out of the playoffs with moves for Rajon Rondo, Solomon Hill, etc., but I’ve had the expectations that Davis will end up a top 25 player all time. Guys in the top 25 elevate their team above expectations and it’s his time to shine and lead the Pelicans back to the playoffs.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Joseph: Blake Griffin. He took the mega-money deal in Los Angeles despite claims beforehand he would bolt Hollywood, and doubts about his health remain. What will the Clippers look like without Chris Paul? Will the cast of characters Doc Rivers and Jerry West have assembled in his absence come together as something collective and strong? These are huge questions for Steve Ballmer’s growing franchise.

At the middle of all of that lies Griffin. He’s been an MVP candidate level player before, but his rivals have left him behind as he’s battled drama and injuries the past two seasons. How he settles as the undisputed alpha is something I can’t wait to watch.

Smith: There are so many options here but one stands out above all of the rest for me. For the first time in decades, there are cracks in the foundation with the San Antonio Spurs. They are small ones, but they are there. Is Kawhi Leonard the guy who can hold it all together and keep the Spurs title contenders? He’s the quietest superstar in the NBA and it isn’t even close. Because the Spurs are so close-knit, it is impossible to know how much he leads from the inside, behind closed doors. Last year, San Antonio was rolling the Warriors in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals when Leonard went down. Golden State flipped it and cruised to the Finals. Had Leonard stayed healthy, could he have led the Spurs past the heavy favorites? Probably not, but we’ll never know for sure.

Now, the Spurs are older and potentially worse than the year before. They didn’t lose much, but they didn’t add anything either. Any big name they were linked to, even tangentially, went elsewhere. LaMarcus Aldridge isn’t happy. Tony Parker is hurt. Pau Gasol is older. Even their “big” free agent addition, Rudy Gay, is coming off an injury that has been catastrophic for most players his age. Leonard was an MVP contender last year. Can he take his game to an even higher level and keep the Spurs in the mix? Or this the beginning of the end of a dynasty the basketball world hasn’t seen since the early days of the Boston Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s?

Well…for a year or so at least. Until Pop and RC work their magic and rebuild a title team on the fly around the most unheard from superstar in NBA history.