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#IMHO: Kawhi, KD, Ja and early MVP ratings

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, June 25, 2019 11:20 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

OK Mike, so we've gotten past the Playoffs and the Finals and the Draft and the NBA Awards show or whatever it was called, and yet it feels like the NBA offseason is just getting started. Summer league is just days away, and then as the calendar turns to July, what is shaping up to be a free agency bonanza is just around the corner.

We've heard all the names being kicked around -- Leonard, Irving, Durant, Butler, etcetera, etcetera. Which free agent do you think is the most likely to have the largest impact next season?

Kawhi Leonard

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tueday, June 25, 2019 3:15 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

To me, that’s easy. It’s the same silent assassin who took over the NBA Finals and led an entire country to its first championship. Kawhi Leonard is the biggest impact free agent on the market this summer. He’s coming off some huge momentum in the playoffs and will hold much of the league hostage until he makes his decision. Kevin Durant’s injury put a bit of a damper on the free agency intrigue – just a bit. And Kyrie Irving and Jimmy Butler and Kemba Walker will all have monumental decisions to make. But my view is that Kawhi is most ready – and apparently willing – to relocate and help another team skyrocket into the NBA title mix.

Lang, at the same time free agency kicks off in July we’ll also get the first look at some of these recently drafted NBA rookies in action in summer league play. One player we apparently won’t see in action in either the Salt Lake City or Las Vegas summer leagues is Memphis Grizzlies point guard Ja Morant, who confirmed after the draft that he will sit out as a precaution after undergoing a minor knee procedure a month ago. It’s a bit of a disappointment for those of us clamoring the see arguably the most dynamic player in the draft on the court. But is this really a big deal, or nothing at all, that the Grizzlies and Morant are taking a cautious approach with the No. 2 overall pick?

Ja Morant

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, June 26, 2019 10:30 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

As disappointing as it will be to not see Morant at Summer League -- and I'm guessing we won't see Jaren Jackson, either? -- I am in full support of acting with an abundance of caution. We know Ja is coming off a minor surgical procedure, and the date the Grizzlies should have circled to have Ja at full strength should be whenever the season tips off, not some random game in Utah or Vegas. Give him every chance to shine when the season gets going, not when the games don't count.

Meanwhile, it's now official that Kevin Durant has opted out of his contract and is exploring free agency, according to my main man Adrian Wojnarowski. KD has a ton of options available to him, from returning to Golden State to teaming up with Kyrie in New York or Brooklyn. But Mike, what if the choice was yours? Knowing KD will likely miss most of the upcoming season anyway while he recovers from his achilles injury, what would you do?

Kevin Durant

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2019 8:53 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

KD is clearly one of the most difficult to read and enigmatic NBA stars I’ve ever been around in two decades of covering this league on a regular basis. What he wants seems to change by the week. He’s absolutely going to end up as one of the greatest players this game has ever seen. But he seems to always want something more than that, something so subjective that he might ever truly receive. KD wants to be embraced and accepted and adored by a large majority of the basketball world. And that’s just not something he can control.

But as to what I would do if I’m in his shoes entering free agency? I’d work with Golden State and lock up the super max deal to secure the most money I can get at this stage of my career. At worst, he rehabs for a season, comes back eventually as an All-Star caliber player (if no longer an All-NBA elite talent) and ride it out with Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green for another few seasons. I’m just not convinced that Durant, coming off this level of injury, can go anywhere else as the No. 1 option and lead a team to title prominence. I’ll believe it when I see it.

And If I’m the Warriors, I’m almost hoping that Durant’s pride and ego push him toward the exit and leaving for Brooklyn or the Knicks. While it doesn’t make Golden State necessarily better next season, it’s not like KD would be available to play anyway. And it would take them off the hook. I’m also not convinced that many teams would be willing to part with major assets to do a sign-and-trade for Durant, not knowing what he’ll be like after this injury. But crazier things have happened in free agency before. So I guess we’ll see in a few days.

Lang, let’s close out on this: Giannis Antetokounmpo, by a significant margin, was voted the league’s MVP this season. Setting aside how we all feel about the NBA’s delayed timing of the announcement via this week’s awkward awards show, is the Greek Freak now the best player in the league? We’ve also seen James Harden produce numbers at a pace never seen before in the modern NBA era. We’ve seen Kawhi Leonard dominate the postseason like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant once did. We know LeBron James ain’t quite done just yet. And we’ll likely see Anthony Davis and Steph Curry come back next season with major chips on their shoulders, with plenty of points to prove. So if you’re drafting from among them – or anyone else – to build your team around for NEXT season, who’s going No. 1? By a slim, slim margin, I’m taking the Finals MVP (Kawhi) over the field.

Giannis Antetokounmpo

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2019 9:09 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I think there are a few candidates we should consider – although not twenty like the Dems are running out for these debates right now. Instead, let’s make the case for five, in inverse order of how I’m ranking them:

5. Paul George – We got a taste of what George could do a season ago, but maybe this season he re-emerges from a quiet offseason and takes another step forward.

4. LeBron James – Wouldn’t this be a heckuva story? The guy everyone wrote off a season ago as too old and finally over the hill makes one last run at greatness with a supporting cast that will include Anthony Davis and… well, there’s the problem. I just don’t know if the rest of his supporting cast will be enough to get him there. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about LeBron though the years, it’s to never, ever, say never.

3. James Harden – We know the Rockets’ Twitter account was salty when Harden didn’t win the MVP, tweeting out some stats about Harden’s play before the tears were even dry on Giannis’ face. And while their timing may have been bad, that’s doesn’t mean they were altogether wrong. Harden is the best offensive player in the league, and deserves consideration as the most valuable all-around player in the league. That said, I’d love to see him give a fraction of his offensive effort on the defensive end.

2. Kawhi Leonard – By now we all know exactly how great Kawhi is and he can be. The only thing working against his MVP chances to me is that he sits out so many games in the name of “load management.” How valuable can you be if your team doesn’t need you for a quarter of the regular season? (I also realize you can make a reverse argument here that he’s so valuable they HAVE to rest him during the regular season so that he’s available for the postseason. But I don’t have time for nuance right now.)

1. Giannis – The thing that gets me about Giannis isn’t how good he is, it’s how clearly he can still improve. He was picked as the most valuable player in the league and he shot 25 percent on three-pointers this season. Imagine if he worked all offseason and started knocking down long shots consistently, forcing defenders to chase him that far out on the perimeter and opening the court up even more? Now that’s downright scary.

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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