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#IMHO LeBron James feature

#IMHO: Playoffs, LeBron, and the Wiz

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 02, 2019 10:02 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO


So as we enter the season’s stretch run, there are fewer answers out there than questions, particularly out West, where the standings are still a bit unsettled. The Warriors and the Nuggets are neck and neck for the number one overall spot, and the Rockets and Blazers are still jockeying for the 3 spot. The Jazz and Clippers and Spurs are all still in the mix for the fifth spot, and even the Thunder are still hanging around out there.

My question to you is, to which team will seedings matter the most? I would presume that for a team like the Warriors, having or not having home court won’t make all that much of a difference. But for which team do you think getting home court for as long as possible will be crucial if they plan on making any kind of postseason run?

Portland Trail Blazers bench reacts to a play

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, April 2, 2019 11:19 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

The easy answer to me is Portland. The Blazers entered the week with the second-best home record among the eight playoff positioned teams in the West. But they were also tied for the second-worst road mark among that same bunch of teams.

We know Portland is fragile, despite a recent stretch in which they’ve won nine of 11 games while dealing with the initial aftermath of the devastating Jusuf Nurkic injury, as well as the temporary loss of CJ McCollum. The good news is that they will have had about a dozen games to work through any adjustments to losing their second and third-best players. Still, I’m not convinced they’re dynamic or deep enough beyond the phenomenal backcourt of Damian Lillard and McCollum. Remember, the Blazers went into last year’s playoffs with the No. 3 seed they’re fighting to secure now, and were stunned by Anthony Davis and the Pelicans – even with homecourt advantage.

Lang, the Lakers were officially eliminated from the playoffs a couple of weeks back. The other day, they officially shut down LeBron James for the season’s final two weeks. Year One of LeBron in La La Land was almost a complete disaster. From injuries to controversy to the botched chase of Anthony Davis to the obvious disconnect between the coaching staff, front office and players – the experiment was a mess. The Lakers will never admit it if they have any second thoughts, and LeBron isn’t going anywhere else at this stage of his career. So Lang, what’s your biggest takeaway from this Lakers season? And secondly, what’s the quick fix to avoid a similar fate in Year Two?

LeBron James talks to his teammates during a game

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, April 03, 2019 9:12 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I mean, we knew going into this season what these Lakers were going to be, didn’t we? The Lakers signed LeBron! Great! And then they signed a bunch of other players who were, to put it gently, a bit more of a quizzical fit. Rondo! Lance! Super Cool Beas!

So I’m not sure what we were supposed to expect. I know that Lakers fans have a certain sense of Lakers Exceptionalism, by which I mean usual metrics for success don’t always seem to apply to them: Lakers fans expect to win, apparently no matter who is on the roster. And they had many injuries this year, from Lonzo to Ingram to even the un-injurable LeBron. But still. The Lakers are who we thought they were, right?

The good news is that things really can’t be much worse. They managed to not part with all their young prospects, and if Anthony Davis really wants to come to LA, now he’s just a year away from doing it without costing them literally all of their young players. And when you consider this summer’s big free agent class, hey, if there’s one thing Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka have shown themselves to be good at, it’s recruiting free agents.

But the best news of everything? The Lakers already have LeBron. Now start building.

Mike, on Tuesday night in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook posted a monster 20-21-20 stat line, which he later explained was a tribute to his friend, slain hip-hop artist Nipsey Hussle. It was a remarkable statistical performance from Westbrook, made even more incredible by the way he tied it to a numerical tribute. Which made me think, what’s the greatest tribute performance we’ve seen from an NBA player?

Russell Westbrook speaks with Jason Terry after the game against the Los Angeles Lakers in which he joined NBA Legend Wilt Chamberlain as the 2nd player in NBA History to attain a record of 20/20/20

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, April 3, 2019 11:57 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Westbrook played a historically remarkable game to become only the second player in NBA history (Wilt Chamberlain did it first) to post a 20-20-20 stat line. He obviously, as you mentioned, was emotionally motivated to chase those final numbers at the end of a game that had been decided, waving off his coach and the sub sent into the game to replace him.

The one blemish/concern I had with it all was that Westbrook seemed to confirm with a coded reference that the stat total was a shoutout reference to Nipsey’s past/recent involvement with the Rollin 60s, a Los Angeles street gang. These gangs and that gang culture are responsible for some of the senseless violence, the likes of which claimed Nipsey’s life in front of the storefront complex he owned in one of L.A.’s roughest neighborhoods. The NBA national media, by and large, didn’t touch Westbrook’s gang inference at all. They’re not naïve by any stretch, but Westbrook should have been at least approached and asked to explain the connection his numbers represented. Too often, segments of our society tend to glorify or gloss over the same elements of so-called hip-hop culture that create the climate for such violence and grief.

Nipsey’s murder cut deep for a lot of celebrities and marquee athletes. I was with the Grizzlies, who were in L.A. to play the Clippers, the afternoon Nipsey was shot. Grizzlies forward and former UCLA standout Kyle Anderson was among those who attended vigils at the scene of the shooting. People grieve differently. Westbrook, who is also from L.A., delivered a beautiful game the other night that aligned him with Wilt, statistically the greatest player in NBA history. Nipsey’s contributions and significance to his community and society extend far beyond his previous gang ties. Perhaps it’s better to acknowledge the best–not worst–in both of their accomplishments and affiliations at a time like this.

Lang, we'll close out on this: The Wizards parted with longtime top basketball exec Ernie Grunfeld amid a tumultuous season in Washington. John Wall’s supermax contract kicks in next season, one which he might miss completely to recover from Achilles surgery. On the other hand, Bradley Beal has emerged as the face of the franchise and an All-NBA caliber performer. If you’re the Wizards’ incoming GM, what’s your next course of action: Build it up around Beal? Or tear it down until Wall is able to realistically return?

Vince Carter and Giannis Antetokounmpo

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, April 3, 2019 11:32 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Honestly? I have no idea. They put so much money into Wall and Beal, and then for some reason went all-in on Ian Mahinmi, and they really didn’t leave themselves much wiggle room to do anything else. They made some nice draft picks, but couldn’t afford to keep either Otto Porter or Kelly Oubre, and had to trade them for more financially friendly contracts.

So what do they do next? Great question.

I covered what was arguably the best few weeks in recent Wizards history, back in 2017 when the Wizards pushed the Celtics to 7 games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Those Wizards felt like they were on the verge of getting to that next level, but the next year they suffered a first round knockout against the Raptors. And now when Wall returns he will likely not be able to be as reliant on his athleticism, which could be a problem for a career 32-percent three-point shooter just starting in on his supermax deal.

So what should they do? In Beal, they still have one asset that could bring back a nice mix of picks and young players. So I’d move Beal, go young, let Wall recover and the other contracts expire, and set a target date of two years down the road to be competitive again. That way you aren’t necessarily bottoming out, but you are able to refresh the roster and try this thing with a different look. And if that doesn’t work? Welp...

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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