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 250 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:
Tomer Azarly: Clutch Points, writer
Biff Lawson: BLX Podcast, host
Oliver Maroney: Dime Uproxx, contributor
Rob “Wob” Perez: BUCKETS, co-host
Justin Rowan: Fear the Sword, contributor
The NBA Finals are roaring. LeBron James’ Game 1 performance was one of the greatest: 51 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists—all while shooting 59 percent from the floor. Unfortunately, most of the talk in the days following has been about missed free throws, video review, and J.R. Smith’s mind-blowing and out of character decision to not shoot the ball. What’s the single most inexplicable, in-game NBA moment you can remember?
Azarly: J.R. Smith’s feels like the worst, probably because it’s fresh on our minds and how disheartened LeBron James looked on the bench. For me, even though it wasn’t an NBA game, it has to be Chris Webber’s timeout call with no timeouts remaining in the NCAA final. The Wolverines had the ball with a chance to take the lead and that quick brain-fart cost them a chance to win the national championship. That possession started with an awkward travel by Webber that wasn’t called, so that could’ve already been weighing on his mind. And then, he dribbled downcourt with what looked like no sense of direction other than “let’s just call a timeout and get things in order.” Just a mess of a possession, and you feel bad for him.
Lawson: For me, it’s always going to be Melo laying on the court making snow angels against OKC. That was a new level of commitment and crazy on his part to stick with it and crazier by everyone else who kept the game going around him. Incredible!
Maroney: It’s weird that I remember this game, but I do. It was 2008 (I believe) in a regular season game and the L.A. Clippers were playing the Portland Trail Blazers. Portland was up four, if I can recall and had about 20 seconds remaining in the game. With 20 seconds left, Portland’s Steve Blake missed four out of five free throws, having made 31 of 33 free throws in the first 24 games of the season. He was near perfect from the line and yet, the Clippers came back and won that game in double-overtime after he missed those four free throws. I couldn’t believe how it happened and to this day, that will go down as one of the strangest basketball endings I’ve ever seen.
Perez: When Vernon Maxwell walked straight from the court to the fifth row in Portland, punched a fan directly in the face, then went and sat back on the bench to hear what the Rockets were running out of the timeout. Not even close. This wasn’t Malice at the Palace in terms of notoriety, but the part where he comes back to the floor, sits down with his teammates, and is like, “OK sorry about that—who’d you say is coming off the screen, coach?” gotta go into the hall-of-fame.
Rowan: Snarky answer? Kobe Bryant passing to Ron Artest. His reaction after they won the championship probably influences my answer, but nobody could believe he passed! Legitimate answer would be the Mo Pete buzzer beater against the Wizards. The premature tossing of the ball in the air, followed by the circus three. Absolute insanity.
The Bryan Colangelo social media burner accounts story is pretty sensational. Is this the wildest story of the year or is it something else?
Maroney: This is tough. There have been so many great, crazy and interesting stories this season. I don’t think the Bryan Colangelo story was the craziest though. I thought the Eric Bledsoe trade rumors were incredibly riveting and the Markelle Fultz trade coupled with what happened in the season with him, were the craziest. I don’t know if we’ve had a better year in terms of these out-of-the-box stories than this year.
Perez: We’ve seen players get kidnapped during free agency, superstars use secret tunnels to settle scores, NBA commissioners veto blockbuster trades for “basketball reasons” … but I don’t think we will ever match the absolute absurdity of what has transpired within the 76ers front office this season. Burner accounts getting exposed isn’t anything new in this league, however, the implications of what comes out of this are unequivocally unmatched. If Colangelo stays in power, trust may never recover. If Colangelo is removed from his presidency, witness the litigation firepower of this fully-armed and operational battlestation. You don’t just remove Cersei Lannister from the iron throne and everybody goes about their business. No, no, no—not when it’s one of the first families of basketball. The Colangelos always pay their debts, they just do it from an anonymous account sometimes.
Rowan: I think I’d put Fultz forgetting how to shoot above this situation, as it doesn’t seem that crazy for Colangelo to have that sort of a complex. He’s the Austin Rivers of NBA executives, so some insecurity from him and his partner doesn’t seem outlandish. Fultz was so dynamic in college and was a solid three-point shooter. For him to seemingly develop the yips and go on a bust trajectory so immediately is baffling to me.
Azarly: My wildest story of the season was the secret tunnel incident between the Rockets and Clippers back on January 15. Both teams engaged in probably the biggest and most surprising trade. Even with no James Harden for Houston and no DeAndre Jordan, Danilo Gallinari, or Austin Rivers for LA, you could sense the tension throughout the game, especially in the fourth quarter as the Clippers pulled away. It’s funny because all this officially started because Trevor Ariza misheard Austin Rivers’ trash-talking from the bench late in the fourth quarter. Doc Rivers was late to his postgame interview, shouting could be heard from the Clippers locker room, and neither team opened theirs up to the media for well over 30 minutes after the game. When they did open up, no player wanted to discuss what happened, and the only answer I could get out of an LA player was, “we were where we were supposed to be.”
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) January 29, 2018
Lawson: Fultz forgetting how to shoot is the wildest story. It’s like something from the Mighty Ducks or some other sports film. At his level, you would figure that he has got it all figured out, but that shows how mentally strong you have to be in the game to stay in it and that you can’t stop growing and developing once you make it to the NBA. Unreal!
A lot of people were, at best, lackluster about Cleveland vs. Golden State IV. Looking back at your own years watching the League, which Finals matchup were you most excited for in the moment and why?
Rowan: Cavs vs Spurs in 2007 was probably the most excited I have ever been heading into a Finals. I was only 15 at the time and after seeing LeBron take down the Pistons, anything seemed possible. After seeing the team get dismantled, my expectations became more realistic and I was forced to grow up as a fan. But you never forget your first heartbreak.
Azarly: In the moment, the 2011 Finals was the most recent series I was very much looking forward to. LeBron James and the Miami Heat were the most hated team outside of Miami and they openly embraced the villain role as they reached the Finals having beaten the Sixers, Celtics, and Bulls in five games, respectively. The Dallas Mavericks beat the Brandon Roy-led Blazers in six games, swept through the 2009 and 2010 defending NBA Champion Lakers, and the young Thunder team in five games. Going into it, I don’t think anyone had the Mavs upsetting the Heat and LeBron disappearing the way he did.
Lawson: Well as a Knick fan lifer, it’s always going to be 1994 Knicks vs. Rockets. I wasn’t even old enough to stay up late enough to watch the games, but my dad would wait until my mom was off to her room and come wake me up to come and watch! I experienced it all, supreme joy, tremendous heartbreak, and a wild Bronco chase with OJ Simpson!
Maroney: Celtics and Lakers in 2008. That was the first year of the Big 3 in Boston. The Kobe Bryant-led Lakers had gotten back for the first time after losing Shaquille O’Neal and it was really a toss up if I recall correctly. I was excited to see such a prominent rivalry renewed.
Perez: Game 7 of the Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals in 2016 and Game 6 between the Jazz and Bulls in 1998 are the two most important basketball games in the modern era. Dynasties were on the line. Legacies. All-time greatness was at stake. I can’t remember being so nervous about a game which I didn’t have a dog in the fight. These two moments in time were so much more than basketball.
Boston and Houston were both one good half away from a Finals appearance, who is more likely to break through next year?
Perez: The answer here is Boston. They not only proved to us that they are legitimate championship contenders with half a team, but with the returns of Kyrie and Hayward—and Daniel Theis!— you have to imagine they’ll be the big-time favorites to come out of the East as long as LeBron doesn’t sign with Philadelphia. The keyword in that hypothesis? The East. The conference that doesn’t require you to beat the best team of all-time before the Finals start. Houston is right there, don’t get me wrong, but all that matters is they play in the same conference as Golden State. Every time I hear people trying to make the case of “if only Chris Paul didn’t pull his hamstring…” I run to the top of the staircase in my pajamas like Adrian Balboa in Rocky IV and scream, “YOU CAN’T WIN!!!” Oh, and by the way, Chris Paul can opt to be a free agent this summer and still has his house in LA. It is time for the banana boat.
Rowan: Boston. They’re going to have so much talent available to them and have the possibility to make some major moves. Even if LeBron goes to Houston, they’ll still need to get through the Warriors and would likely need to gut their team to add him. Plus if he leaves, that opens up the East for Boston. When you take into consideration the health of Chris Paul and his inability to stay healthy for a full playoff run, I’ll take Boston.
Azarly: The Houston Rockets were right there and likely could’ve gotten there with a healthy Chris Paul, but for me, it’s got to be the Boston Celtics. They did the unthinkable this year in getting one game away from the Finals without the two guys everyone raved about them acquiring last summer in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with Marcus Smart (as well as what happens with LeBron James), but with the core of Irving, Hayward, Brown, Tatum, and Horford next year, I’d say they’re more likely to break through and reach the Finals next year.
Lawson: Boston will break through because of the youth. The game of basketball is evolving and that evolution favors the young. Houston is good but I don’t see anybody getting past this Warriors team any time soon.
Maroney: I’m a real believer in both of these teams and both have been built in two completely different ways. I’ll still pick Houston because I believe they’ll be the front-runners for LeBron James and LeBron coupled with Chris Paul and James Harden would be a trio that could seriously challenge Golden State (I know, we said this in the past season, too). Boston is set up for now and the future, they’ve done so well with all their recent draft picks and free-agents. It’ll be so intriguing to watch how this team plays with a possible Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Al Horford lineup. That seems like a counter to the Warrior’s “Hampton 5” lineup.
Every year, as the draft approaches we debate the value of a high pick opposed to an established player. There’s an unidentifiable fondness of the unknown that often leads fans into believing that the blueprint for a high ceiling is better than a sturdy and proven floor.
I’d like to propose a thought exercise. Who is the “worst” established player you’d take over the No. 1 overall pick in this draft?
Lawson: This one is really tough, it’s going to have to be an older player because leadership on the court is the only thing better than high energy and potential, so I’d go as low as Chris Paul. He’s a great player for right now and even after he’s out of gas he can still help elevate guys to the next level on and off the court. Anyone worse than him you’d be out of your mind!
Maroney: This question involves understanding the situation you’re in as a franchise. Are you Boston or are you Orlando? I think that ultimately determines what you end up doing. However, I’m a big proponent of keeping talent, keeping continuity and growing within, so I may be lower than most. For the No. 1 overall pick, I think a player like Goran Dragic is pretty close to the floor. Everyone has their own idea, but a player who’s outside around the top-40/50 would be generally where I’d listen to offers that involved that pick. That may seem low, but most No. 1 picks take time to develop and need a situation that fits their style of play. I’d be very hesitant to give up a proven commodity for a player I don’t know is going to be great. Obviously, that’s the gamble and risk, and whether you’d be willing to take it. I would just lean against taking it.
Perez: Devin Booker.
Rowan: C.J. McCollum.
Azarly: The worst player I would take instead of the No. 1 overall pick in this draft would probably be a Damian Lillard or a Paul George. There’s just so much young talent and potential in this year’s draft, especially at the top, that a player of Lillard or George’s caliber would probably be as far down as I could go.