KFC Finger Lickin' Good Deal

#IMHO: Kawhi, Summer League, and Power Rankings

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, July 09, 2019 9:29 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

So the NBA Free Agency moratorium has been lifted, meaning we are free to talk about the 732 power moves Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies' front office have made over the last few weeks, completely reshaping and reshuffling the roster. And I'm sure we'll get there eventually, HOWEVA...

The biggest story of the last two weeks has been Kawhi Leonard landing in Los Angeles, although not with the Lakers, and somehow managing to bring Paul George along with him. PG13 was one year into a four year deal, but he decided it was time to move on, and the Thunder managed to extract an unprecedented haul from the Clippers, including six (6!) first round draft picks. And I know the Clippers had to make that move in order to get Kawhi, but man that seems like a ton of assets to give up in exchange for a guy coming up on his 30th birthday who just had dueling shoulder surgeries AND has a leg that's basically bionic.

Anyway, it is what it is, and now we have two power teams out in Hellay. Both teams are rather top-heavy—which is nothing new for Hollywood, I suppose—but with LeBron and AD in purple and yellow, and Kawhi and PG13 in red and blue, you can make a case for either team being the better squad.

So let's start with this simple query, which caused a heated ten-minute debate in the Grizz Gaming practice facility today: Which team is going to be better next season, the Lakers or the Clippers?

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 12:11 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Whichever team stays the healthiest. Yes, that’s the quick and easy answer, and probably not the one you’re looking for. But that’s the truth. We already saw how both the Lakers and Clippers had completely unexpected seasons a year ago. The Lakers’ season turned after LeBron injured his groin. The Clippers essentially bowed out of the playoff race and traded several key pieces – and still managed to defiantly make the playoffs anyway.

But assuming relative health, I’m going to say the Lakers. LeBron and Anthony Davis are a more natural match than Kawhi and Paul George. LeBron is a far more capable facilitator and will set up not only Davis, but also Boogie Cousins. There’s talk that he’d move to point guard full time to help get the Lakers going. Davis and George are both ball-dominant players, and although Kawhi isn’t the same level of ball-hog as Russell Westbrook, the reigning Finals MVP still has to have it in his hands, especially in crunch time. I also like the Lakers potential supporting cast, although Lou Williams and Pat Beverley are as solid as they come as role players. But a motivated Rajon Rondo and Boogie are right there with them in potential impact.

Bottom line is I’ve never been convinced that Paul George is a player that can put a team over the top. I think he’s good, but he’s been treated – and traded for – as if he’s one of the greatest talents to ever play the game. For now, on paper, slight edge from here goes to the Lakers.

Lang, I’ve been out at Summer League the past two weeks – first in Salt Lake City and now in Vegas. I got to see a total of one half of play from top pick Zion Williamson, none of second pick Ja Morant, some underwhelming play from third pick RJ Barrett, a delayed debut from fourth pick DeAndre Hunter and nothing at all from fifth pick Darius Garland. So if summer league is designed to give us our first look at the future stars of the NBA, did this one live up to the hype? Are teams being way too cautious, to the point where it cuts into the credibility of Summer League a bit? It’s hard not to come away a little disappointed in the lack of starpower available.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 9:19 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Well, I think you're raising a question of definition, specifically being, what is the point of Summer League? If you're a team like the Grizzlies, with an entirely new coaching staff, isn't it about getting reps for Taylor Jenkins as much as anyone else? if you're a team like the Knicks, you can use basically your actual starting lineup, minus the 14 power forwards you signed in free agency.

If Summer League is supposed to give us a look at the League's future stars, then yeah, this year they've done a terrible job. But I don't think that's what Summer League is supposed to be about. To me, Summer League is about teams using the time to get game experience, for either their players or coaches. The League and some of the broadcast partners will understandably try and sell it as a chance to see the league's future stars, but let's not get tricked by the glittery lights of Las Vegas: These are just basically glorified pickup runs. If you want to use Summer League to get better, good for you. If you're just there to show off, well, join the circus.

Of course, the other great reason for Summer League to exist is as a swap meet for NBA rumors and theories. All the front offices and journalists and scouts and agents and everyone gets together and starts spilling secrets, so from that standpoint Summer League has become sorta indispensable for us. That being said, let us behind the curtain, Mike: What's one juicy rumor/theory/supposition you've come across this week at Summer League?

Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 12:36 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

That the Clippers “are definitely out” of the Kawhi Leonard race. Oh, wait! How’d that turn out? That the Knicks never really pushed for Kevin Durant in free agency. That the Miami Heat are the only team desperate for Russell Westbrook.

Here’s the thing about rumors and gossip, Lang: It’s largely leaked and intended to misdirect those with media influence in order to achieve an alternative result. I’ve been there, done that and despise that part of the summer league experience, the free agency experience and the trade deadline experience. To me, that is every bit of the circus you spoke about for those wanting to show off. To me, the best part of summer league from a news/story gathering process is that it’s the first chance to speak with players and coaches on the move to different teams after the free-agency dust starts the settle.

Other than that, I’m here for the first look at the rookies entering the league. It’s been that way for me since that epic summer league of 2003, when LeBron, Dwyane Wade and many other top lottery picks played and set the stage for this to become a must-watch event.

Let’s wrap on this: As the free-agency picture comes into focus and most key players have settled with teams, give me your top eight squads in each conference as of today. My West pecking order: Nuggets, Jazz, Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Warriors, Blazers, Spurs. In the East, it’s: Bucks, Raptors, Sixers, Celtics, Nets, Magic, Heat, Pacers.

Denver Nuggets

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, July 10, 2019 2:23 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I get wanting to see the rookies show out in Vegas. But I also understand that these teams have banked millions of dollars and spent years in some cases trying to get these players on their roster and ready to make an impact at the start of the season. And when it comes to summer league, what happens in Vegas usually stays in Vegas. (Although shoutout to my guy Nate Robinson for getting his summer league jersey retired.)

As for the East and West, I’ll start in the East: Milwaukee, Philly, Toronto, Boston, Brooklyn, Detroit, Orlando, Indiana.

And out West: Houston, Portland, Golden State, Utah, Clippers, Lakers, Denver, San Antonio

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.

Upcoming Home games

Related Content

NEXT UP:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter