Pressing questions, hot topics, and collaboration amongst your favorite basketball minds—welcome back to Around the Rim.
Think of Around the Rim as your local politicians would like for you to think of a town hall, a safe forum for all voices in the basketball universe to be heard. A stable roundtable, fluctuating in both voices and trendy issues. We’ve had over 200 unique contributors working at any and every outlet you can think of living all across the globe!
The roundtable runs 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 in for the current edition. Last week’s edition can be found here!
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:
Emily Grigely: Fangirl sports network, contributor
Meghan McPeak: NBA TV Canada, Raptors 905 play by play
Dan Riccio: Sportsnet 650, host
Philip Rossman-Reich: Orlando Magic Daily, editor.
Tom West: Liberty Ballers, contributor
If the Cleveland Cavaliers did fall to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, would you be more impressed with the Pacers or more disappointed in the Cavaliers?
Grigely: If the Cavaliers fall in the first round, I would be more disappointed in the Cavaliers—big time. The Cavs are in familiar territory. They know how to turn it up an extra notch come this time of year so they should execute. The key word here is should. The Pacers have made a good run this regular season and proved that they can show up and win against the Cavs however they don’t have the stamina to withstand beating LeBron James in these crucial times. Lance Stephenson has done a good job at playing bully for the Pacers so far this series, but the experience, wisdom, and attention that James brings to the Cavs team during pivotal moments is essential. If they do fall first round, a lot of drama within the Cavs organization will commence this offseason.
McPeak: If the Cavs fall round one to the Pacers. Given what happened in the offseason with the Pacers trading Paul George, we can all agree that no one thought they would be in the playoffs for one, and two, as high of a seed as five. We also wouldn’t have thought the Cavs would drop to four. I would be very impressed that Nate McMillan took a group of role players prior to being in Indy to the playoffs, and then knocked out King James, and his merry men of matching suits. If the Cavs can’t get out of round one, I’m not disappointed. With the amount of workload put on James, this would not surprise me. At the age of 33—someone we have marveled at, thinking he is not human, spending over $1 million a year on the health of his body, and the miles he has on his body coming into this postseason—LeBron disappointing? Not in the least. We saw through the regular season—he had to average near a triple-double and play over 40 minutes multiple times this season—just to get this group the fourth seed. Disappointment of the Cavs? No. Impressive by the Pacers? Yes.
Riccio: I’d be more impressed with the Pacers. They’ve shown a lot over the first four games, but it’s the defense that has impressed the most. We all knew Cleveland had issues on D, but they shouldn’t have trouble scoring. Indiana’s turned a top-5 offense this season into the worst offense of the postseason. Sure, LeBron has been incredible, but he’s had to be just to keep the Cavs in games. If you said before the playoffs that LeBron would have 32.5/11/8 through 4 games against the Pacers, who believes this series is level at 2-2? No one.
Rossman-Reich: Can’t it be both? I would say more impressed with the Indiana Pacers. We knew the Cleveland Cavaliers had issues and that they were not a shoo-in to make the Finals this year. The team just felt more off than in year’ past and LeBron James may not have been able to save them by himself. The Pacers were a nice regular season story, but this was the Playoffs. It felt like they were still another year away. That seems wrong now. Indiana is playing with a lot more maturity and taking punches from James. They really seem to have the upper hand in this series from the very beginning. Cleveland’s defense is not great to begin with, but Indiana has Cleveland running circles trying to catch up. What Indiana is doing is really impressive.
West: I could easily choose both here. But as woeful as the Cavs’ defense is and as disappointing as most of their new additions have been, I’m going to give credit to the Pacers for shattering all expectations. (For the record, I’m expecting the Cavs go on to win now after tying the series at 2-2).
The Pacers weren’t even considered to be near the playoff picture before the season started, and Victor Oladipo was nothing more than the overpaid part of a terrible Paul George trade. So, for him to be a clear-cut All-NBA and All-Defensive guard, leading a team that’s playing hard and taking it to the Cavs with an admirable nothing-to-lose confidence, they’ve more than impressed. At this point, Finals predictions are expectations for LeBron, not for a roster like the Pacers. This series is showing their holes, whether it’s a lack of firepower outside of LeBron or numerous defensive issues. Meanwhile, the Pacers weren’t even meant to be here, let alone get two wins. Despite Oladipo having a couple of rough shooting performances and the team having some ups and downs (it’s not surprising given their limited talent and experience), it’s admirable what they’ve done to reach this point.
It’s clear a few of the bottom seeds and one higher seed (cough, Portland) are overmatched, but which playoff team is in most trouble next year?
McPeak: Portland. This is a franchise that, by the looks of it, is simply content with just always making the playoffs and not having much success past that. A franchise that doesn’t seem to want to get much help for its two fringe All-Stars, which, if that continues, will see one or both depart Portland, and will never get that big free agent signing that can potentially put them over the edge.
Prior to the them sweeping said Trail Blazers, I would have said the same (yes I’m aware one of their All-Stars went down with injury) of the Pelicans, but this round one win probably saved Anthony Davis’ playoff narrative, along with Alvin Gentry’s job.
Riccio: It’s the Cavs, without any doubt. What do they have if LeBron leaves? Not much. They’ve got the Brooklyn pick, but that essentially means they are rebuilding. They go from perennial title contender to lottery team as soon as #23 walks in free agency.
Rossman-Reich: The obvious answer is Cleveland since LeBron James can kind of leave. But I think the Miami Heat seem to be in the most trouble. The Heat are getting worked at home by a younger, more talented team. And no amount of “Heat culture” is going to save them this time. What is worse for Miami is that there is no clear path to get better. Their cap situation is not good, to say the least. This is kind of the team they are stuck with for now. And while that team is clearly good enough to make the playoffs, no one has much confidence in them to do a whole lot more than that. This is the treadmill of mediocrity everyone fears. And there are clear cracks in their foundation. The Heat have a ceiling and this is it.
West: I was tempted to go with OKC or Minnesota, but I’m going to stick with Portland.
Where to begin? Their series against the Pelicans certainly showed us the limitations of a small, guard-based offense that revolves around Lillard and McCollum (who are also weak defenders). Nurkic doesn’t have enough range, creation or consistency to lift up the rest of their attack. Even when looking way ahead to 2019-20, they have $103.8 million in guaranteed salaries thanks to a bevy of ugly contracts. Trading McCollum (or even Lillard) is something that they should consider at this point, possibly trying to find a wing who can provide more versatility at both ends of the floor, like Khris Middleton perhaps. Finding available players like that isn’t easy, though. The Blazers seem to be at their ceiling, and there’s no easy way to break through it with their current roster construction and self-inflicted cap nightmares.
Grigely: As the FGSN Spurs Fangirl, it is hard to say anything negative about the Spurs. However, if they trade Kawhi Leonard, the team is in for a challenging season next year and most likely will be looking at a rebuilding phase. If Kawhi is traded, the Spurs will essentially have three holes that need to be filled; Manu Ginobilli, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard. Even though the Spurs have LaMarcus Aldridge and some promising young talent rising to the occasion it is going to take a lot more star power than a Rudy Gay and LA to get the Spurs into another playoff berth. LA is an All Star but he can’t carry the entire team on his back.
If the Pelicans-Warriors matchup happens as expected in the semifinals, with Curry possibly out the whole series, how much of a chance do you give the Pelicans?
Riccio: Twenty percent. And that’s probably being generous. I hate to throw away a team that has looked so good, but I just can’t picture the Warriors having too much trouble. The biggest problem will be guarding Anthony Davis, but on the flip side, who on the Pelicans covers Kevin Durant? Golden State has an answer for every question New Orleans asks of them. It will be a fun event, but still one that see Golden State cruise through in five games.
Rossman-Reich: I am a subscriber to the “best player in the series” theory. And yes, Kevin Durant still plays for the Golden State Warriors. But Anthony Davis is really good. He is playing at a near-MVP level right now and has only elevated his game in the playoffs. It will still be tough to beat Golden State. I think their length will give New Orleans’ smallish backcourt a lot of problems. But after the way New Orleans dispatched Portland so easily, you have to give the Pelicans a chance, right? I would not go greater than 50/50—the Warriors are and still should be favored. But New Orleans should play well.
West: Well, we can guarantee that the Pelicans can make this series entertaining. Jrue Holiday is finally getting recognition for being a terrific two-way talent, Anthony Davis is a top-3 type player now, Nicola Mirotic is helping, Playoff Rondo is here, and their defense has been stifling.
We can’t ignore that the Blazers were an ideal matchup for the Pelicans in round one, though. They had no one to remotely contain Davis and the Pelicans had enough in E’Twaun Moore, Rondo and the All-Defensive Holiday to mess with their smaller backcourt, which is the basis of Portland’s entire offense. When it comes to facing the Warriors, the Pelicans don’t have the same advantageous length on defense—they’re weaker on the wing and bothering Kevin Durant, not to mention Klay Thompson, is a mammoth task for anyone, even though they can raise help around the floor by not guarding Iguodala and Draymond at the three-point line.
If Curry is out the whole series, the Pelicans could make this series interesting and win a game or two; they’re peaking at the right time and Davis could be the best player on the floor at any moment. If Curry is back, even after a couple of games, the Warriors will advance easily. Either way, they’re going to be engaged and ready to unlock their best when necessary.
Grigely: If the Pelicans and Warriors match up, the Pelicans do not have a good chance to move on during these playoffs. I give them a good six-game fight at best. The good news for DubNation is that Curry is allowed to practice this week with no contact which means you could potentially see him out on the court come the end of the round two series. The Pelicans are looking good, especially Anthony Davis as of late, but as long as Durant, Thompson, and Green are healthy, the Pelicans don’t stand chance.
McPeak: Warriors in six. Not much I can really say about this. The Warriors don’t have anyone that can stop/slow down/contend with AD (no, JaVale can’t guard AD—don’t be silly). Warriors, although they have been up and down with Curry not in the lineup, I still think that they will get by the Pelicans. Although Playoff Rondo and Jrue Holiday will make this series so much fun to watch.
If you were lining up interviews for a vacant NBA head coach spot, which three guys are you calling first?
Rossman-Reich: Since I cover a team currently looking for a coach (Orlando Magic), I think the first thing you have to consider is what expectations are for your team and your coach. If you are looking to win now (or at least sneak into the playoffs), I think David Fizdale, David Blatt and Mike Budenholzer are the three guys you chase (if Budenholzer is truly available). If you are a rebuilding team, I think you chase after Nick Nurse, Jerry Stackhouse and Dave Vanterpool (especially now that the Portland Trail Blazers’ staff seems in flux).
West: Mike Budenholzer. Even though he’s still with Atlanta, there’s potential for a move now that he’s meeting with teams. He’s a smart, creative offensive coach with plenty of playoff experience, who helped shape the 2014-15 Hawks into a startling 60-win team success. He can instil improved player and ball movement wherever he goes and would help a number of young, rebuilding teams. (An aside: please can we get Milwaukee a good coach? Bud to the Bucks would be brilliant).
David Fizdale. This one is a pretty obvious choice since Memphis let him go after a fallout around Marc Gasol. Fizdale has experience coaching tough personalities, and athough Gasol got the best of the situation, Fizdale has had the approval and support of big names such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Guys like playing for him, and he proved in Memphis that he can get the most out of his players with high effort and defense, which is something plenty of teams (once again, hey, Bucks), could use.
Jerry Stackhouse. He’s led the Raptors G League team to the last two finals, including winning the championship last season. He’s built up a reputation as a tireless worker when it comes to game prep and film study, which makes total sense when looking at the effort he’s put in to proving himself as a coach. He wanted to take the time to learn the intricacies of coaching before making the NBA leap. I’d love to see him get an opportunity.
I’m going to include an extra name as well: Becky Hammon. She’s smart, experienced, and she’s been building up excellent experience under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs. By all accounts, she’s ready for this kind of role. It’s time a deserving woman had this chance in the NBA.
Grigely: To start out, Spurs assistant Ettiore Messina needs to seal the deal and get a head coaching position. He has proved he can coach under immense pressure amidst adversity be it in the international circuit by winning four Euroleague Championships or in San Antonio, Texas. Filling in as interim head coach while Coach Popovich is on leave after the passing of his wife during the first week of playoffs and getting a win at home to avoid a round one series sweep against the Warriors is only the cherry on top. Messina deserves a chance to show what he can do with a team on his own.
Second pick would be Stephen Silas. He was a top candidate to the Houston head coach job last season before Mike D’Antoni got the gig. He gets high praise from players and top executives within the NBA. Now that he has 2 months of practice as the interim HC, it’s a matter of time he gets a full-time gig and the opportunity to show everyone what he can do with a team for a full season.
And last but definitely not least: Becky Hammon. Let’s face it, a female head coach needs to happen yesterday and Becky is the best candidate by far. In all seriousness, it would be a great move for the NBA in general to entertain this happening sooner than later. It would be an even greater move for a losing franchise (cough, The Magic) to seize the moment by grabbing what arguably can become a superstar in the coaching world. Hammon has proven her worth as a player and has shown she can dominate as a coach under the reign Coach Pop. She is endorsed and respected by the greatest in this industry. It’s not too soon for it to happen this season.
McPeak: This, in my opinion, is always a tough one to answer. Every team situation is different, every front office wants “their guy” not every roster is sexy for a coach to come in and try to change things, especially when the roster aren’t your players, so I’m going to have a little fun with this one: David Fizdale, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson.
Fizdale: I think he deserved a longer tenure in Memphis, I think they pulled the chair out from under him much too quickly. The Memphis situation was not ideal for any coach to succeed during the 2017-18 season.
JVG: Let’s be real, it’s not like he has been out of coaching or away from the game. He has been coaching Team USA during the new FIBA Qualifiers, and has been doing it primarily with NBA G League players. Some of them being NBA two-way contract players. He has been in the broadcast booth for years so he has been around the game, and has continued to keep up with and see the evolution of the game. Plus I love JVG so I want to see him coaching again.
Jackson: I think the situation in GSW was just an unfair situation for all parties. Jackson rallied a team and set the framework for Kerr to come in and not have to necessarily start from the bottom and work his way up. Set a defensive precedent for the team.
Honorable mention to Jerry Stackhouse (you knew I had to mention him at some point in the conversation, given the success he’s had in the G League).
While he has interviewed and been in the conversation for some NBA jobs (Knicks, Hornets, Magic, I think it could benefit him to join an NBA bench as the first or second assistant—gain more NBA level coaching experience, managing egos, game scheme from the bench perspective for a year or two—and then make the move to the top boss. This is just my opinion. Gaining more experience as a coach can never be a negative thing, however if a team offered him a HC spot, and he felt that was the right spot for him, I’d laugh if he didn’t take it. As I’m typing this, somewhere Stack is scowling at me in disappointment but also understanding that it’s my opinion—hey Stack!
Riccio: Jerry Stackhouse is my No. 1. He’s put in the work at the G League level. A title and coach of the year with Raptors 905 in 2017 and taking them to a repeat finals appearance this season. As a great former player, he’d have the respect of his team immediately but hasn’t been gifted anything as a coach either. He’s ready for the next step. I’d also be ringing Mike Budenholzer, as one of the most respected tacticians and culture-builders in the league to see if there’s a way to take him out of Atlanta. Finally, I’d shoot for Villanova’s Jay Wright who has consistently got more out of less in the college ranks.
Last week, Allie Laforce asked LeBron James a tough question about the death of Erin Popovich. It’s been released that James did know prior. How do you feel about the public coverage of tragedy in our League? Is that something we want to see? Need to see? (I’m also thinking about Isaiah Thomas being hounded by cameras last season as he coped through the loss of a family member.)
West: Now that we know LeBron was warned about the question and chose to answer it beforehand, it’s understandable what Laforce did. She didn’t actually break the news to him on air. That said, it’s still the kind of moment producers seek out to get a popular soundbite of a topical story while it’s trending on social media and Google searches, rather than putting the emotions of the players or coaches in front of them first.
Of course, athletes should never just stick to sports. Using their platform to speak up on social tragedies and issues is vital. When it comes to personal tragedy, though, I think it’s important to be as sensitive as possible. Instead, why not let players share their thoughts and prayers — which can still be appreciated by someone who’s suffering — through social media, Uninterrupted (as LeBron did to set the record straight about Laforce’s question) or any other platform if they wish?
Isaiah Thomas shouldn’t be hounded by cameras at such a difficult time in his life. And Kevin Durant doesn’t need the news about Erin Popovich broken to him by reporters at a practice, left to give a response with phones and cameras in his face. Unsurprisingly, he offered his condolences and wanted to move on to another question. That’s telling of how athletes can feel in these situations. They shouldn’t always be on display for those seeking an opportunistic quote.
Grigely: The public coverage of tragedy in the NBA is fine as long as it remains tactful. It humanizes the players and creates a sense of relatability amongst so many who look up to these athletes as superstars. The average viewer wants to see and hear what players have to say especially if it is about a person who meant a lot to the organization, League or a particular player. It is the right thing to do in acknowledging a loss or tragedy. In this particular case, Allie Laforce did the right thing by asking LeBron if he was comfortable in talking about Mrs. Popovich prior to the interview. By LeBron saying a few words and paying his respects on television was heartwarming to see and hear. It showed the love, compassion and impact Mrs. Popovich had on many throughout the League.
McPeak: Death is never easy to cover, it’s never something we want to cover, but in today’s society with social media, it is as if we don’t have a choice. If you don’t say something, you are looked down upon, if you do say something and you use the wrong words or context, you are looked down upon. It is a no win situation.
With regards to how it has been handled with the passing of Mrs. Popovich, I think when we look at the videos of players being told in media scrums, that I am not a fan of. It should be left up to the team PR, or head coach to inform the team as a collective unit, as a family, it shouldn’t be left to the media to drop that piece of info in a scrum when a player is expecting questions regarding the game. [Kevin Durant was blindsided with the question at practice before game 3]
Now, I personally wouldn’t have asked the question to James, I understand Laforce doing it, and I don’t condemn her for doing it. The hard part about this, is that Laforce’s name and face is attached to the situation, what we don’t know is if this was prompted by the game producer or by Laforce to ask. That being said, I think it should have been left to the locker room following the game, Cavs PR or Ty Lue informs the team, and allows all players to digest the information, and then address it at the podium.
The worst part of this situation is the narrative has changed from the focus being on Mrs. Popovich, and shifted to Allie Laforce asking LeBron James about it following the game, Ernie Johnson during Inside the NBA having to put out the statement that Laforce informed James prior and asked him, then James coming out of Zero Dark 23 via The Undefeated to come to the defense of Laforce, and on top of that Laforce having to put out her own statement. None of that should have had to happen.
I know I don’t speak for everyone, but I know we are all thinking of Coach Popovich, his kids, grandkids, Mrs. Popovich’s family, and the entire Spurs organization in this difficult time. It’s times like this, that remind us that this is more than just basketball.
Riccio: I definitely don’t need to see it, but that’s just my opinion. I get it though, we rarely see that raw human emotion from pro athletes, and this was a rare moment of that. There is an audience for it, and it can transcend beyond the sports world because of that human element. They are not only athletes, but celebrities, and in the modern day coverage of public figures this is expected.
Rossman-Reich: The one thing that struck me about the Erin Popovich story was how much it affected the NBA community. I do not have any reason to be connected to the Popovich family and when I saw the news, I felt a pretty sharp pain. It felt like we had lost someone in our family. And I am just a writer covering the League. I imagine the feeling among those involved is much sharper.
I thought asking LeBron James about it immediately after the game was probably not the right venue (even if asked before). I think that could have been something you pull him aside in the locker room to get on camera after the heat of battle has died down. But, at the same time, James is also a leader in this league—not only as its best player but in the union as well. I think getting a comment from James is appropriate in that respect. And I thought his response was exactly what the community needed as an expression of grief and support.
Unfortunately, these things are part of the story. The media has to be as respectful as possible. But they have to tell this part of the story too. It is a difficult balance.