#IMHO: Buyouts, officiating and LeBron
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, February 12, 2019 9:28 AM To: Michael Wallace Subject: #IMHO
I’m sitting here at my desk watching highlights of last night’s Toronto Raptors game, and man it’s weird to watch Marc Gasol out there hitting threes and throwing perfect backdoor passes wearing that red uniform. It’s been nearly a week since the trade deadline passed, and we’re still getting used to seeing how everything shakes out from the trade deadline frenzy -- 26 of the NBA’s 30 teams made a move!
But these days the trade deadline is only one part of the late-season roster shuffle teams are able to make, as veterans take contract buyouts and hit free agency. And these aren’t vets with nothing in the tank – these are guys who at the very least can come off the bench and contribute to squads making a postseason push.
We talked about trade deadline impact last week, but which veteran buyout player do you think will make the biggest contributions the last few weeks of the season?
From: Michael Wallace Sent: Tuesday, February 12, 2019 10:20 AM To: Lang Whitaker Subject: RE: #IMHO
First off, that’s great for Marc. I know this was not an easy process for Gasol or the Grizzlies. Parting with the most decorated player in franchise history is never easy. And I’ve either covered it closely or monitored around the league plenty of times with plenty of teams over the past two decades.
Marc is a perfect fit for Toronto, because he’s a facilitator first–and they have closers in Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry, in addition to knock-down shooters and great slashers. He’ll be the fourth option in Toronto, but can be the second-best playmaker on that team–and be just fine with the role.
Now, to your question. Absolutely everything lines up for Wes Matthews, who was bought out by New York after being acquired in the trade from Dallas, to step right into the void created by Victor Oladipo’s injury in Indiana. If Wes can regain his shooting touch that landed him that big-time contract in free agency three years ago, the Pacers will not only get back on their feet, but also be a legit headache in the East again. But credit Indiana and coach Nate McMillan for grinding their way through this latest batch of adversity. They went on a five-game winning streak BEFORE they even picked up Matthews, and he knocked down a clutch 3 to extend the streak to six in a row in his Indiana debut on Tuesday.
Lang, not to keep beating a dead horse–or however that saying goes. But where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. I’m on a cliché’ roll here, but what’s up with the Lakers and all of these tampering allegations? Magic Johnson and company have now been called out repeatedly about their tactics with regards to potential free agents and other teams’ key players. Magic is one of the greatest players in NBA history and so is LeBron. But they’re becoming a bit like the New England Patriots when it comes to the stigma of stretching the rules.
The latest episode is this situation with Ben Simmons, who apparently was trying to establish a mentor-mentee type role with Magic as a fellow ‘big point guard.’ Simmons happens to be represented by Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, the agency run by LeBron’s longtime friend and business partner. Is there nothing to see here, or the latest chapter in what should be a disturbing trend to the league office?
From: Lang Whitaker Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2019 9:02 AM To: Michael Wallace Subject: RE: #IMHO
Mike, I appreciate your cliché roll – that’s one of my go-to orders at Sakura.
According to the NBA, there’s nothing to talk about there with the Lakers and Sixers. It was the Sixers who initiated contact, apparently, and then also the Sixers who decided it was a bad idea, I think? And so no harm no foul, according to the statement from the NBA. Which all reminded me a bit of this scene from The Naked Gun…
As we know, this isn’t the Lakers’ first rodeo when it comes to talk of tampering (see: James, LeBron and Davis, Anthony). The truth is, because of Magic’s stature, anything he does will probably be blown up bigger than it is and most likely misconstrued. I saw Lakers fans pointing to Hakeem Olajuwon being on the Rockets staff while he mentored players from opposing teams, although Hakeem was never the Rockets’ president of basketball operations. And as far as I can recall, a top five player under contract to one team never publicly tried to force his way to the Rockets. Nobody knows what really happens behind the scenes, but at the end of the day, LeBron signed with the Lakers, and where Anthony Davis eventually ends up remains to be seen.
Let’s talk about a different sticky subject, one that’s been on my mind a lot recently: Officiating. The Grizz have had a few games recently with quizzical calls down the stretch: against Sacramento, a late jump ball was somehow changed to a foul; against the Hornets, there was a late uncalled backcourt violation; and then last night against the Spurs, the Spurs were whistled for zero fouls in the fourth quarter until there was literally one second left in the game. Also this week we saw the official Twitter account of the NBA referees tell us that Bradley Beal taking six steps without dribbling was actually legal.
So what is going on? Is this just a case of a bunch of weird happenstances happening around the same time? Or is this, to employ one of your clichés, a case of where there’s smoke there’s fire?
From: Michael Wallace Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2019 11:18 AM To: Lang Whitaker Subject: #IMHO
I’ve been at all three of those games you mentioned that involved the Grizzlies and the questionable – if not egregious – officiating at key stages. Listen, it’s an extremely difficult job and I know I probably would miss a few calls and get caught up in the emotion of a game at times, too. They are professionals and it’s their jobs to endure that and still protect the integrity of the game. But, again, I don’t envy refs at all.
The Grizzlies have indeed caught a few tough breaks when it comes to this topic. Mike Conley doesn’t get nearly the respect as he probably deserves on calls and non-calls in games. I’ve joked with him that this will finally be the year–after nearly 800 career games–that he gets his first tech for blowing his temper about a call.
Overall, transparency is a good thing and I appreciate the steps the NBA refs are taking to publicly explain matters and hold themselves somewhat accountable. But it’s clear they’re in transition now, ushering in a new crew of officials to replace many who have retired or are recovering from injuries. At the end of the day, Jaren Jackson Jr. had two free throws with the game on the line and he split them. Yes, these are two different issues. But still…
Let’s wrap on this, Lang: After the All-Star break, we’re headed into the stretch run of the season. Give me one bold prediction as the NBA regular season winds to the finish. Here’s mine: The Lakers WON’T make the playoffs. Maybe that’s not too bold, considering they’re on the outside looking in right now. But it’s still hard to fathom a LeBron-led team missing the postseason. He’s gone to eight straight NBA Finals and hasn’t failed to make the playoffs since his second season in the league in 2004-05. But it’s headed that way in a hurry right now.
From: Lang Whitaker Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2019 9:13 AM To: Michael Wallace Subject: #IMHO
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last two decades covering the NBA, it’s to never bet against LeBron. It’s now one of my life rules. Always wear socks to the airport. Always charge your phone while you sleep. And never, ever doubt LeBron. I’ve been watching him since he was a sophomore in high school, when we started covering him back when I worked at SLAM magazine, and no matter how he gets challenged or doubted or whatever, somehow LeBron always manages to win.
So I am loathe to count the Lakers out. I know it seems unlikely that they make it, and they got like 75-percent of their remaining games against playoff teams, but still. I’ve seen LeBron do some pretty ridiculous stuff. Getting this team to the postseason might end up being his best trick yet.
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.