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#IMHO: Playoffs, Warriors and Kings

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 16, 2019 9:13 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

The Playoffs are here!

Felt like it took forever, sure, but we made it to the end of the regular season and are now ears-deep in the postseason. This used to be my favorite time of year when I worked for NBA.com, because I never knew where the schedule would take me. Every few days I’d get an email from my editor saying, “We need you in Oklahoma City” or “Get to Indianapolis by tomorrow,” and I’d find a flight and zip over and get to sit in for a couple of high-pressure playoff games. It was tiring and I spent many late nights filing on deadline, but being in the building when the games counted the most is a unique NBA experience.

Actually, my first taste of Memphis came a few years ago in the postseason, when I got sent to town to cover a few games. And now I’m here full-time, swapping emails with you, while the team that signs our checks is dunzo for the season. Which doesn’t mean we’ve been out of the news: The Grizzlies dismissed coach JB Bickerstaff and reassigned GM Chris Wallace, and now a new group is running the basketball side of things here in Memphis.

So before we get to playoff talk, Mike, what do you make of these changes here in Memphis?

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, April 16, 2019 11:08 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I believe there’s a bit more continuity within these changes than many might think. Zach Kleiman, who is now Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, held a strong role as assistant GM throughout this past season. He was a vital part of the trade deadline deals in February that landed the Grizzlies Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, Avery Bradley and Tyler Dorsey. The meticulous organization and detail it took to execute those deals in a certain order and still ensure the Grizzlies remained below the punitive luxury tax line may have been lost on some. But it was a primary example of some of the process-oriented strengths that Kleiman brings to the job.

Beyond that, there’s still plenty of work ahead and much to prove as the Grizzlies move forward in this process. On Wednesday, Rich Cho was hired as Vice President of Basketball Strategy and Glen Grunwald was added as Senior Advisor. How these changes should be judged can’t be determined until we know how this front-office leadership fills out a few more senior level posts and which direction that group takes with hiring the next coach. More than anything, this absolutely needs to be a step toward stability – from top to bottom – for a franchise that has now missed the playoffs consecutive seasons after seven straight playoff berths, and will be hiring its fourth coach in six years.

Lang, we’re still in Week 1 of the NBA Playoffs and there have already been some absolutely stunning moments – from a player pulling out his cell phone on the bench in Philly to the Clippers completing the biggest comeback in postseason history by rallying from 31 down to beat the Warriors. I’ve still got the Warriors, Thunder, Rockets, Denver, Bucks, Raptors, Sixers and Celtics advancing. But Denver, Toronto and Philly are on shaky ground. Which of your first-round predictions would you walk back if given the chance right now?

 D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets celebrates with teammates

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 9:12 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Agree with you on the Grizz stuff, and I think more than people might realize, these moves are a step toward stability and will help the franchise going forward. Even if Zach is a Duke guy.

As far as first round predictions, I can point you toward last week’s IMHO video, where I predicted the Philly/Brooklyn series would be much tougher than people expected, and also told people not to sleep on the Spurs/Nuggets series. (That sound you hear is me tooting my own horn.) I did not think Orlando would take a game in Toronto, but I still believe the Raptors are going to win the series; they are too good and have frankly been great the last few weeks.

The other series that has turned interesting lately is the Clips/Warriors, which Patrick Beverley has basically turned into his personal Thunderdome. The Warriors are now down Boogie Cousins, and after blowing the largest lead in playoff history in Game 2, the Warriors find this series tied heading into Game 3. Also, there was a 60 Minutes interview with the Warriors on Sunday during which the topic of staying with the Warriors came up, and KD and Klay looked like they wanted to get swallowed into the earth.

So I ask you this: Are we seeing real cracks in the façade of the Warriors dynasty? Or are these just small leaks that can be plugged as the team keeps chugging on for the foreseeable future?

Kevin durant heads toward Steve Kerr

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 10:05 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Much of that depends on how the Warriors’ ownership prioritizes their offseason objectives. Strictly from a basketball standpoint, the Warriors will be as historically dominant as they choose to be at this stage. They’ve already proved to be the best team of this generation. If they want to be considered, perhaps, the best team ever, then there’s more work to be done to catch the one or two teams ahead of them (Jordan’s Bulls and Russell’s Celtics).

Truth is, Golden State’s owners will have to be willing to go maybe beyond the Dan Gilbert threshold when it comes to paying well into the punitive luxury tax to keep this team intact. I still say KD and Klay remain with the Warriors. This stuff about taking on new challenges can be overrated. They still have plenty of basketball left in them and don’t appear to be nearing the end of their careers. Winning cures all – or at least most of it. And the Warriors are still a safe bet to win at the highest levels. They’ll end their dynasty with self-inflicted wounds before an outside team does it to them.

Lang, Luke Walton was out of a job barely a full day before he was hired by the Sacramento Kings. With De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Marvin Bagley III, the Kings seem to have every bit as much young talent – I’d say more – than the Lakers team Walton coached before LeBron arrived. What should the realistic expectation be for the Kings next season after finishing one spot out of the playoffs at 9th in the West this season?

Luke Walton press conference

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, April 17, 2019 6:13 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I don’t blame the Kings for moving quickly. Luke Walton never really replicated the success he had in Golden State with the Lake Show, but if there’s a roster I’d want to work with around the NBA it’s this Kings team, with so many exciting young pieces. Fox, in particular, has been terrific and if I had to pick one young point guard to build around I’d likely go with him, and considering the injuries Cousins has had, the Kings actually turned out doing well in that deal.

All of that being said, the Western Conference is still a beast, and if the Kings want to make noise in the postseason, I think they could use one more veteran guy, almost as a third option or to contribute off the bench. Being good is mostly about effort and energy. Being a playoff team takes a bit more than that.

Also, has anyone else coached three-fourths of the teams in California? Now we just need to get Luke Walton to the Clippers and he can run for governor or something.

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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