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#IMHO: MVPs, Magic and Fading Stars

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, April 09, 2019 11:23 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO


Can you believe we made it? After months and months of NBA games, of memes and jokes and news and nonsense, the NBA regular season is finally dunzo. And while the postseason looms right around the corner, before we can get to the crucible that is the NBA Playoffs, first we must cast our final ballots for the MVP Award.

I’ve thought about this a good bit the last few weeks. As impressive as Russell Westbrook has been again this season, for me this is a two-man race between James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo. And I know that Giannis is a freak who can do things that nobody else can do, who has basically dragged the Bucks to an impressive 60-win season.

But to me, Harden is more valuable. His sheer usage and offensive proficiency is unmatched, and his ability to put points on the board is unbelievable. It isn’t always pretty or conventional, but Harden makes it work every night.

Who gets your vote?

James Harden guards Giannis Antetokounmpo

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, April 9, 2019 12:08:50 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I’m going with Giannis. And I don’t want to hear anything from anyone about the East being inferior, especially at the top, to the West. What Giannis has done with the Bucks, a team no one saw coming along this quickly and consistently, is nothing short of fantastic. I’m satisfied with simply defending him as the best player on the best team in the league. But I can go a step farther into advanced metrics and let the numbers state the case even better. Giannis is rated a top-25 player in both offensive and defensive efficiency and in usage rate.

Both Harden and Westbrook offensively are doing things we’ve never seen done – or haven’t been done since the days of Wilt. But Giannis has impacted every single aspect of his team’s performance on both ends of the court like no one else in the game this season. He’s the MVP.

Another player standing out is Kyle Korver, who has done so in remarkable and poignant fashion with his Players Tribune essay on racism, society and sports. Ultimately, as a white man, he charged whites with holding other privileged whites accountable for their actions, views and approach to dealing with race and racism in response to recent incidents that affected black professional athletes.

I found some parts of Korver’s message a bit naïve and innocently disingenuous. But for the most part, I applaud his courage and conviction for tackling an issue many shy away from in his position. I appreciate how he furthered the dialogue. Lang, what was your takeaway from Korver’s piece?

Kyle Korver #26 of the Utah Jazz arrives to the arena prior to the game against the Los Angeles Lakers

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Tuesday, April 09, 2019 9:39 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Well, if we're keeping it 100, I didn't get around to reading Korver's piece, because I got an idea of the context of what it was about and, frankly, I don't think he was talking to me. Maybe he was and I'm the one who's wrong here, in which case I'll go back and read it, but I didn't think Kyle Korver's views on race relations would change the way I go about my life or the way I feel on the subject.

Mike, we talked about the NBA season ending, but before it could draw to a close, we got hit with probably the biggest bombshell of the season: Magic Johnson has stepped down as the Lakers' President of Basketball Operations, during an impromptu press conference that could probably best be described as shocking. Magic said he announced his retirement before he even spoke to owner Jeannie Buss, because he didn't think he'd be able to tell her, and he also noted that he was excited to now be able to tweet whatever he wants.

What is happening here? Where does Magic go from here? And more importantly, where do the Lakers go from here?

Earvin 'Magic' Johnson addresses the media

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, April 9, 2019 10:34 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Taken at face value – and that’s frankly all we can do until or unless more details emerge – this was one of the most egregious and unprofessional ways I’ve seen anyone basically step down from a job as an NBA executive. Magic insists he loves Buss so much, yet he admittedly railroads her on national TV and social media with an impromptu announcement that he’s quitting. And not just quitting, but doing so in order to be a glorified socialite. Magic has done this sort of thing before. I remember when he took over as coach of the Lakers in the mid-1990s only to quit on the team less than 20 games into the season.

The Lakers need Magic more than Magic needs the Lakers. He represents the epitome of success among former great athletes to transition into the business and entertainment world. He gets a lot of passes as one of the NBA’s leaders in career assists. But this ain’t one of them. Again, based on what we know, he went about this the wrong way. The Lakers are a joke right now.

Lang, for the first time since the 1999-2000 season, the NBA playoffs will not include the presence of a Dirk Nowitzki, Dwyane Wade or LeBron James. That seems almost unbelievable, but is a nod to the amazing run of postseason success each future Hall of Famer has enjoyed. If you had one playoff moment from any of them that you’ll most remember and tell you grandkids about, what would it be? Mine would be seeing Dwyane Wade, after his Heat fell down 0-2 in the 2006 Finals to Dirk’s Mavs, proclaim: “I ain’t going out like this.” Wade then delivered a four-game epic performance for the ages, averaging 40 points to rally Miami to the title. Wade went from promising young star to Superstar right before our eyes in that series.

Dwayne Wade shakes hands with Dirk Nowitzki following the 2006 NBA Finals

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, April 11, 2019 9:19 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I feel so old all of a sudden. All of these dudes that I spent the first decade of my career covering for SLAM are all, suddenly, gone: KG, Kobe, DWade, Pierce, Dirk, Duncan, Manu. I know times moves on, but man, I feel like it’s taking me with it. Now I just need a “GET OFF MY LAWN” sign in my yard to successfully complete my transition to old age.

As for your question, thanks to my previous work responsibilities, I was able to be at so many of those great moments in person. I remember when that Heat team you referenced won the title, and going in their locker room and finding out that Pat Riley’s big secret motivational ploy all along had just been a kiddie bathtub with slips of paper in it.

Since you went with DWade, I’ll go with LeBron, and I’d take one of two moments. First would be when he scored 25 points in a row to knock out the Pistons in 2007; or as Drew Gooden put it, the time when Drew and LeBron combined to score 27 in a row. But Bron’s greatest achievement to me was when he carried the 2015 Cavs back from a 3-1 precipice to win three straight games and win the NBA title against the Golden State Warriors. That was the instance nobody thought could happen, until LeBron made it happen.

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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