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#IMHO: Blazers, Lakers and the All-Timers

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, May 21, 2019 9:08 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO


And then there was one. Well, in the Western Conference, at least. While Toronto and Milwaukee continue trading haymakers in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors have clinched the Western Conference, and a fifth consecutive trip to the Western Conference Finals. No KD, no Boogie Cousins, no problem for the Warriors, who swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Conference Finals to advance to the final round.

But while we wait to see who Golden State will face off against, let’s consider the fate of the vanquished Portland Trail Blazers. They had a good offseason last summer, adding Amara Baptist, but this year they lost Josef Nurkic to what seemed to be a catastrophic injury, and while they made it to the Conference Finals without Nurkic, they got knocked out in a sweep, for the third year in a row.

The Blazers seem to have responded quickly, agreeing to a contract extension with coach Terry Stotts, and also apparently readying a four-year contract for Damian Lillard worth just under $200 million(!). So the Blazers seem to be doubling down on what they’re already got going. Mike, do you think they should stay the course? Or after being swept three years in a row, could it be time to shake things up in Rip City?

Portland Trail Blazers stand for the National Anthem

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 8:44 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Lang, there’s a lot about this Blazers team. They remind me of the Core Four Grizzlies squad that made seven straight playoff appearances, galvanized the city and was appreciated by the national media for doing it with gritty team ball and great guys who are easy to root for in the postseason. And, unfortunately, there’s only so far those teams were able to go. The Grizzlies, like the Blazers, fizzled out in the 2013 Western Conference finals via a sweep to the Spurs, the West’s previous juggernaut before the Warriors took the throne.

Sometimes, you just come along in the wrong decade. Just ask the Karl Malone’s Jazz, Patrick Ewing’s Knicks, Kevin Durant’s Thunder, Paul George’s Pacers and even James Harden’s Rockets. All that said, I do believe the Blazers have another legit run or two in this core anchored by Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They weren’t even at full strength, as you mentioned, because of the season-ending Nurkic injury. The additions of Rodney Hood and Enes Kanter along the way, and the emergence of Seth Curry all helped. But if they remain intact, it’ll be nice to see that team build with a training camp and full season together.

Portland has proved to be a legit top-four team in the West. But this series was all about the Warriors reestablishing their dominance and proving they were capable of being who they were before Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins landed on the Bay. Five straight Finals appearances. First time that’s been done in more than 50 years. Now, here’s my question, Lang: Is Durant essentially in a no-win situation? If he comes back and they win it all, they were on course to do it without him. If he comes back and they lose in the Finals, the narrative would be his return disrupted what they had going.

KD has come a long way to end up facing the same issues he did when he arrived, hasn’t he?

Kevin Durant looks on

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 10:56 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

You talking about the Blazers coming along in the wrong decade reminds me of when I was an Atlanta Hawks fan growing up. Those Hawks teams had so many very good players (Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, Doc Rivers, Randy Wittman, etc), but they came along at the same time as Michael Jordan and the Bulls. I mean, talk about a road block. We knew the Hawks were good, but they were never going to get past that goat-shaped bottleneck. Sometimes, I guess, you just shrug and keep after it.

Regarding the Warriors, I saw a clip the other day of Jason Williams on one of the ESPN morning argument shows, and he was bothered by the Oakland crowd chanting “MVP” while Curry was at the free throw line.

Williams’ reasoning was that the Warriors are actually KD’s team, but fans see it as Curry’s team. Now, I was not invited to join the argument, but I wish I’d been there to point out that the fans are correct. Curry was there during the Mark Jackson era, and Curry revitalized that franchise and that fan base. Curry won two MVP awards along the way, got them to a couple of NBA Finals, won a title, and made the franchise a place so desirable that Kevin Durant left another title-worthy franchise and joined up on Curry’s team.

The Golden State Warriors are Stephen Curry’s team. Kevin Durant is probably the best player on the team, but Kevin Durant is the best player on Stephen Curry’s team. Doesn’t matter if KD stays or goes, the Warriors are Curry’s team. Durant got some titles and Finals MVP awards, but he will probably forever be primarily defined by the career choices he’s made instead of his basketball greatness. Which isn’t exactly fair, but that’s just the way it is, shouts to Bruce Hornsby.

Speaking of morning argument shows on ESPN, Magic Johnson popped up one earlier this week and threw more shade at Lakers GM Rob Pelinka than a set of velvet drapes. What in the world was going on there, and how do the Lakers make their way out of this mess? When the face of your franchise is critical of the front office, how do you repair that rift? Or can you even mend it?

Magic Johnson interviews with Rachel Nichols

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 7:50 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Magic channeled his inner Nas and went Ether. He conjured up his inner 2Pac and went ‘Hit ‘Em Up.’ He summoned his inner Ice Cube and went ‘No Vaseline.’ I could go on and on and on with the greatest dis tracks in hip-hop history. Magic certainly didn’t hold any punches in knocking out Pelinka, rolling Jennie under the bus (again) and making sure LeBron knew that not even King James could stop Magic from going Magic when Magic wants to go full Magic.

The dysfunction is real in L.A. This was worse than a reality show. They’ve made LeBron a bit of a sympathetic figure in terms of the choice he made to join the Lakers. And I didn’t even think that was possible. The only way the Lakers get out of this is to figure out a way to get the stubborn Pelicans to finally deal Anthony Davis to Los Angeles and replace the Brandon Ingram element of the trade with the No. 4 pick going back in the package to New Orleans. From there, the Lakers can chart their path to one of the free agent wings on the market or even figure a way to scrounge up enough cap space to acquire another top-tier player this summer. But that seems like a longshot at this point. No one seems willing to help the Lakers.

Magic spoke his truth, as he said. And there are few people in business or basketball who can get away with doing it the way he did it. That freedom had to be refreshing on many levels. Now, one of the most storied franchises in NBA history is left to pick up the pieces – again.

Lang, we’ll get out of here on this: For the first time since 1984, all five of the first picks in the draft made the All-Rookie First Team, which was announced this week. Jaren Jackson Jr. joined Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III and Trae Young. There’s no chance that group will be as good as the one anchored all those years ago by Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984. But does this group have the potential to rival the 2003 class highlighted by LeBron, Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh?

Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns and Jaren Jackson Jr. #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies talk before the game

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, May 23, 2019 9:27 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

The short answer, Mike, is nope. As good as last year’s draft class has shown themselves to be – and they’ve looked very good, to be certain – there is no LeBron in that class, which is to say a player where the ceiling is the roof, to paraphrase Michael Jordan himself. As great as Jaren and Luka and Trae were this season, I don’t know if there is a player in their class who projects as an all-timer. Like, as great as Jaren is, and he clearly could become a great power forward, but I don’t know if he will become arguably the greatest player of all-time.

To me, that’s what made all those players you mentioned so memorable. They weren’t just good, they all became great. And I feel like for the players of the 2018 class, that should be their goal. That’s how good they could be. Those guys are all already basically NBA rotation players or better. Now it’s time for them to set their sights even higher.

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.


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