For the second straight summer, the BIG3 basketball tournament has been a rousing success. With more big name, ex-NBA guys making the decision to compete, it adds to the excitement of a league that seems to grow in popularity with each passing weekend. Brian Scalabrine, who serves as an analyst for the Celtics during the winter, is also the Captain of the Ball Hogs in the BIG3. His squad, coached by the legendary Rick Barry, is once again struggling this summer, but the “White Mamba” still took some time out to sit down with HOOP to talk about the competition in the BIG3, all things NBA, and of course, the Celtics.
The Ball Hogs are having a pretty rough summer again this year in the BIG3. For people who don’t know or who can’t comprehend just by watching the games, how tough is the competition in the BIG3?
Oh man, it’s very competitive. I play rec league ball every week to try and get ready for the games, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close to the level of play you see out there every week. For rec league, I just show up and play and it is what it is. But to get ready for the BIG3, I’m working out, I’m doing yoga, I’m in the gym three times a week working with a shooting coach and working on other parts of my game, all to go out there to try and win and play well.
How much fun is it for you to be back out there and being cheered by the fans?
It’s always cool because my following was always surprising to me when I would go to other cities to play. I love to hear, “White Mamba checking into the game,” and this week [Ed note: this interview was done prior to the BIG3’s stop in Boston on Aug. 3] it’s going to be really special because it’ll be the first time I ever play in TD Garden. My son is 5 years old and he’s never seen me play in Boston. He’s really only seen me play live like three or four times because he was born after I was done playing in the NBA. So that alone, there’s no monetary value. I can put on that because my son talks about how he’s going to grow up, go to college for one year—be one and done—go to the NBA, then play in the BIG3. He’s really pumped up about one day being a retired player and playing in the BIG3.
There’s a lot of new additions to the BIG3 when it comes to marquee guys like Nate Robinson and Amar’e Stoudamire. How have those guys helped bring a new energy to the league this year?
You could see right off that bat that Nate and Amar’e were going to be difference makers. In their mind, they’re still NBA players and they’re trying to get back into the League. So, every time they go out and show out for the fans, they’re also trying to play for a camp invite, which is pretty impressive when you think about the caliber of players they are and what they’ve done in their careers. Think about it: Amar’e Stoudamire has arguably been an MVP candidate twice in his career—once in Phoenix and the other time with the Knicks. Nate Robinson is still, to me, one of the most athletic guys to ever play any sport, to be honest. He’s in great shape and he wants back in the League. So, that’s the level of intensity these guys approach the 3-on-3 games with. A lot of these guys are just trying to make a living, others are trying to get back to the NBA, some just want to get that feeling back of playing again at a high level, and the BIG3 is the way to do it. David Hawkins who plays for Tri-State, a guy who nobody really knows, is one of the better players in the league and he’s playing for respect because he never got a chance to make it in the NBA, but he has a chance by playing well here, to go to China and make that big money, and maybe even get an NBA training camp invite. There’s a lot of really good players this year and I think it’s only going to get better.
Let’s move to the NBA. What did you think of the playoff run the Boston Celtics had this year without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward?
I was shocked. But I give all the credit to the players who put in the work, and the coaching staff for emphasizing what this team’s strengths were and hiding their weaknesses. As the season went along, you could see the players start to turn some of those weaknesses into strengths. I was really impressed with the team and I can’t wait to see how everything unfolds this year with Kyrie and Gordon coming back. Brad Stevens has some challenges—deciding who’s going to start, who’s going to come off the bench and which lineups will close games. I’m really excited about this team and my expectation is for them to go to the NBA Finals and play the Golden State Warriors tough.
Is that the expectation in Boston? With LeBron now in the Western Conference, do Celtics fans feel there’s a clear pathway to the Finals as long as this team can stay healthy?
Well, you can’t ignore Toronto, you can’t ignore Philly and you can’t ignore Milwaukee. It’s easy to say they have an easy road out of the East and I do expect them to do it, but it’s not going to be easy. It wasn’t even easy for the Golden State Warriors, and they’re arguably one of the greatest teams of all time, and they could’ve lost to Houston last year. So it’s never easy, let’s get that straight. But if this team keeps the same mentality as they had last year, then I think they can make it to the NBA Finals and I expect them to win because top down, they have a great basketball mentality as a team.
Speaking of the Warriors, they’ve played a ton of basketball the last few years going to the Finals and winning titles. We’ve seen that kind of thing wear on a lot of successful teams. What kind of challenges do you think they’re going to have to face this season?
Complacency is probably their biggest challenge. We’ve seen how they can sometimes get really loose with the ball as the season, or even a game goes on. But, they also have an incredible ability not to overreact. They can be down by 12 points and come storming back in 45 seconds. That’s just how they are. But in being a championship contender and winning titles, now you have to balance more stuff. There’s a lot more distractions, a lot more demands, more people coming to watch you play, and your star status keeps getting bigger the more you win. So, they have to deal with all of that and it can wear you. And honestly, sometimes championship teams have an expiration date; they get tired of each other. This team doesn’t seem that way to me, but you never know.
What did you think of the DeMarcus Cousins signing? With a healthy Boogie in the second half of the season, how much more dangerous does he make this team?
I mean, how much better can they get? I think they had a scare against Houston in the playoffs, not question about it. Bringing in an ultra-talented guy like Cousins, who do what he can do—he can win you games—he can win you a playoff game on his own just because of his talent. That’s a good thing. And if it doesn’t work out, you don’t have to keep him around and you weren’t out of a whole lot of money anyway. Who else were they going to spend $5.3 million on and get a guy talented like that? That’s a good use of $5.3 million.
Now that LeBron James is a Laker, do you think there are any realistic expectations for that team outside of them being able to keep selling out Staples Center and make Lakers basketball more entertaining to watch?
I haven’t gone here yet, and I’ll be able to tell a little more after I watch them play in the preseason, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Lakers are able to stay in the 6-7-8-9-10 mix in the Western Conference. I feel like come April 1, the Lakers will be in that conversation. It’s not going to be a situation where LeBron is a Laker, so everyone needs to watch out. No. There’s a lot of good teams in the West. But those teams in that mix in the standings, you’re talking about something as small as a sprained ankle being the difference between making or missing the playoffs.
What did you think about Melo going to the Rockets?
I get that they got Melo, but I think they’re going to miss Trevor Ariza a lot. If I had to pick between Ariza or Melo, I’d pick Ariza all day long. I’m a huge fan of [Ariza] and PJ Tucker because they play way over their heads as far as how hard they go every possession. But you never know. If he can turn into “Olympic Melo” down there, which is what everyone wants to see, then I think they’re going to be really good, but I feel like Houston is going to miss Trevor Ariza a lot more than what people are talking about.
Lastly, there’s been a lot of talk about who the next great shooting guard is in the NBA. Many feel like Devin Booker has that title locked up. Do you agree with that, or is there someone else out there who you think is next up at the position?
Actually, I think Donovan Mitchell is the next great shooting guard in the League. I would take him over Devin Booker, just because he’s so much more explosive running pick-and-roll. Don’t get me wrong, Devin Booker is nice, really nice, but Donovan Mitchell got to Utah and they started winning right away. Phoenix has a lot of talented guys and I think eventually they’re going to be good because if you’re bad long enough, at some point you’re going to be good because you’ve had so many shots at it. But, Donovan Mitchell was really impressive to me last year.
The next stop of the BIG3 will be in Atlanta on Aug. 10. You can tune in watch live on FS1 at 8 p.m. You can also watch the first game on Facebook Watch starting at 7 p.m.