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#IMHO: Fans, Rebuilding, and Award-Winners

by Lang Whitaker | Grizz Gaming GM

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.


From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Tuesday, March 12, 2019 10:06 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

Mike,

The other night in Salt Lake City, Russell Westbrook was caught on camera responding rather profanely to a fan. Now, we don’t know exactly what the fan said, but one would presume it was something major in order to elicit such a response out of Westbrook, and also result in the Jazz permanently banning the fan. (And if the early findings from Twitter Detectives are correct, Westbrook would seem to have pretty solid footing.)

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen teams and fans cross paths. Fans heckle players and sometimes players clap back. While the NBA has mostly just seen verbal altercations, in the past there were times when things got pretty extreme; I mean, Mad Max once went up into the stands to punch a fan.



And this past weekend in the Premier League, a fan ran onto the pitch and punched an Aston Villa player.

So Mike, my question to you is, does something need to be done? You and I are lucky enough to essentially sit courtside every night, and we hear the discourse that goes on. Should someone try and clean it up? Or is it all just in the game?


From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, March 12, 2019 3:36 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

The odd thing here, Lang, is the fact that this Westbrook situation comes at a time when the NBA is more committed than ever to improving the fan engagement experience at games. So that makes this all a bit oxymoronic.

There were two major headlines circulation this week that involved unpleasant fan interaction. The Westbrook saga is one thing, from a player-to-fan level. But there’s also the recent owner-to-fan incident with Knicks owner James Dolan reportedly threatening to ban unruly fans from Madison Square Garden. Overall, this problem is especially unique to two sports: the NBA and Boxing/MMA. Fans are closer to athletes in proximity, and often within earshot of super-charged athletes in the line of duty. Baseball is also in the mix here, but the slower pace of the game lends to a more relaxed atmosphere among fans.

This is a difficult ordeal for the NBA to police, because often what makes great home atmospheres are loud, raucous and engaged fans. There’s often a thin line between slightly unpleasant and flat-out pathetic when it comes to jeering opposing players. The challenge is on other fans sitting nearby that idiot or two who go a bit too far. They need to be reported and then, if necessary, security needs to get involved before it goes way too far and leads to what happened in Utah.

Trust me, no franchise wants to get into the habit of banning fans, especially those who can afford to sit close enough to the floor to engage with players, coaches and officials.

Lang, it’s certainly looking like the West playoff field is close to being set, although the exact seedings are far from determined. Among the teams outside looking in – the Kings, Timberwolves, Lakers, Pelicans, Grizzlies, Mavericks and Suns – which would you want to be the general manager of as you enter the lottery, draft, free agency and trade discussions to plan for a postseason run next season?

Sacramento Kings Bench

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 10:42 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Well, I’m going to take the Grizzlies out of this equation, because I feel like we’ve been able to study this one for so long that it’s basically cheating. The Lakers will likely have the most lively offseason, as Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have to figure out how to revamp and retool a roster that wasn’t good enough to crack the postseason party despite the presence of King James.

So if I’m picking a team to GM, I will go with the New Orleans Pelicans. Why? Well, Anthony Davis has already made his feelings known, so I’d start with him. I would go to AD and tell him to give me a chance to retool this roster and make it work around him. If he hesitates, I call whichever team wins the NBA Draft Lottery and offer AD for the first pick. If that fails, I start burning up the phone lines to find the best combination of young players and draft picks. The good news is that the Pelicans have a bunch of contracts coming off the books this offseason. The bad news is that, worst case scenario, we may have to undertake a full rebuild. Which might not be the worst thing in the world anyway.

Either way, I’ve always said that the worst place for any NBA franchise to find themselves is in NBA purgatory. You either want to be a contender, or rebuilding, but where you don’t want to find yourself is somewhere in between with no clear path forward. The Pelicans are in that place right now. And it shouldn’t be that hard for them to go forward – it’s just up to them to choose which path they want to take.

Mike, I will flip your question around to you: Of the Eastern Conference teams that are definitely out of the postseason race – Atlanta, Chicago, Cleveland, New York – of which team would you like to become the GM?

Trae Young shakes hands with Lloyd Pierce

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, March 13, 2019 11:19 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

As tempting as it is to hypothetically take the Hawks job – less pressure to win immediately, the chance to build around Trae Young and John Collins, a treasure chest of future 1st-round picks from which to work – I’ll take the Bulls gig. The key core pieces are in place, with Zach LaVine, Otto Porter Jr., Lauri Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr. only needing a veteran leader and a few productive additions here and there. The Bulls, among the group of teams you mentioned in the East, are most ready to hit the ground running next season and join the playoff mix.

Plus, it’s Chicago. The fans and public are probably ready for a fresh face and set of front-office ideas, considering the way things have gone around that proud franchise the past decade or so. And I’ve got family on the South Side. I’ll deal with the brutal winters (I think) and embrace the upside of everything that comes with that job. The Bulls have shown flashes of potential and progress since the All-Star break. And I love what I’ve seen.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: There’s exactly a month left in the regular season. No better time than now to update our NBA awards frontrunners. I’ve still got Mike Malone as my coach of the year, but I think Giannis has overtaken the lead spot for my MVP. I’m going with Rudy Gobert as defensive player of the year and Luka now only slightly edging out Trae Young as Rookie of the year. Give me Dwyane Wade as Sixth Man and Pascal Siakam as most improved.

But there’s still time for tweaks and changes. So who ya got, for now?

Joakim Noah

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, March 14, 2019 9:49 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I do believe Giannis is the MVP, and what a unique MVP he is. I mean, he doesn’t even really have a jump shot to speak of, but he is unquestionably the most valuable player in the league. (Imagine that Bucks team without him!) I’ll stick with Luka as MVP, despite this recent resurgence from Trae Young. For DPOY, as good of a shot blocker as Rudy Gobert is, I prefer an on-ball defender as my DPOY, but I haven’t really been knocked out by anyone this season (and Kawhi hasn’t played a third of the season), so… I guess Gobert wins by default? Hard to argue Wade as sixth man, although Lou Williams continues performing off the pine for a good team.

As for most improved, here’s one from way outside of the box: Joakim Noah. I guess he’s not technically improved – right now he’s basically playing as the best version of himself – but considering that a year ago he was out of the league and injured, to see him playing the way he’s been playing this season has been revelatory. He’s made himself a valuable contributor and by taking this one-year veteran’s minimum with the Grizz, he’s set himself up to be in the mix this summer in free agency discussions. Here’s hoping he likes Memphis as much as Memphis likes him.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.