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#IMHO: Refs, Quotes, and Conference Contenders

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 30, 2019 9:39 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO


So the second round is under way, and I’m sure by the time we finish exchanging emails, the story will change and the narrative will have shifted to something completely different. But for now, at least in the Golden State-Houston series, following Game 1 the refs were the story. The Rockets’ red glare was reserved mostly for the refs, who they felt didn’t blow enough whistles in the first half, and then perhaps overcorrected in the second half.

In the wake of game one, we saw reports that the Rockets had prepped a full-on memo which concluded that if it wasn’t for the referees, the Rockets would have been your 2017 NBA Champions. (And I think LeBron might have had something to say about that, but alas.)

Following Game 1, James Harden said, “Call the game the way it’s supposed to be called, and we’ll live with the results.” But if that were true, Harden would likely foul out in the first quarter – he pushes off to create space on nearly every drive, and it’s rarely called.

So that’s where we stand heading into Game 2. Mike, is this all sound and fury signifying nothing? Or are the Rockets onto something here?

Kevin Durant contests the shot of James Harden

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, April 30, 2019 10:55 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

No one benefits more from referee whistles (or non-whistles) than James Harden. I was in the building last year when he scored like 30 points by taking like 25 free throws one against the Grizzlies. I also saw him notch 57 points in consecutive games on Memphis, thanks to an amazing array of talent, manipulation of the rules and favorable calls that went his way.

All that said, I still think James and the Rockets have statistical and analytical merit for some of their gripes when it comes to their games against the Warriors. Both sentiments can be true – that Harden catches plenty of breaks from officials, but gets a questionable deal in games against the Warriors. The refs are in a no-win situation here in this series. There’s so much at stake, because this is essentially the de facto NBA Finals, only in the second round of the playoffs. Hopefully, we’ll get a few games we can truly love instead of a series we’ll largely loathe.

Lang, off the court, NBA coaching searches are in full swing. About 20 percent of the league’s teams had vacancies after the season, when counting the Grizzlies, Lakers, Suns, Cavaliers, Kings and, perhaps the Timberwolves. We saw the Kings quickly land Luke Walton, although now the face of a controversial lawsuit. Of the remaining openings, which would Lang the Grizz Gaming coach be best suited to take, if offered?

Devin Booker

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 01, 2019 9:34 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Well, the main thing I would look for would be homogeneous players, by which I mean players who clearly not only fit together, but can play in a specific system and be complementary to each other. Of course, the Lakers have LeBron and a couple of talented young players like Ingram and Ball, but I’m not really sure what the plan is there. Right now the Grizz have a Mike Conley / Jaren Jackson core, but I don’t know how permanent that combination will be. The Cavs are in the East, which should make their road back a little easier, and the T-Wolves have KAT but also rely on veterans like Jerryd Bayless. So if I was choosing a situation out of all the open jobs (other than Memphis since, you know, I already live here), I’d want to land in Phoenix, where the Suns already have a bunch of elite young players (Booker, Ayton) and if the balls bounce their way this offseason they could add another huge piece. I feel like the Suns are just a few pieces away from being a problem for the rest of the West.

Shifting gears, I came across a thread on Reddit recently that applies to both of us. There was a post that had several of the more famous NBA quotes from the past few years, including:

"There's no answer for my offense, just like the Pythagorean Theorem" - Shaquille O'Neal

"Outside of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, we're more talented than them." - Joe Johnson

Which got me thinking about some of the more loquacious NBA players that I’ve covered over the years. There are some guys who are funny, some guys who are thoughtful, and some guys who are just regular guys. Shaq, of course, is one of the GOATs, but I also loved sitting around chatting with players like Stephen Jackson and Jamal Crawford and Nick Collison, guys who had thoughts and opinions that went beyond the world of sports.

Mike, who have been some of your favorite players not just to cover, but to get to chat with over the years?

Marvin Williams

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, May 1, 2019 11:24 AM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Great question, Lang. And it takes me back to dozens of fun, insightful, serious, important and vital conversations that I’ve had with NBA players about topics other than basketball. The easy ones who come to mind are LeBron James and the discussions we had about the little league baseball scene in Miami as my son was just starting to play and he was thinking of getting his sons into recreation and league sports while he was with the Heat. There were the years and years of chats with Shaq and his personal security manager ‘Uncle Jerome’ about everything from NBA groupies to how to identify the best business opportunities for young black professional athletes. Kobe Bryant graciously used to turn my five-minute interview requests into 30-minute deep-dive discussions on every aspect of life and hoops. And Allen Iverson and I would always catch up on old neighborhood and basketball buddies we had in common, and some of the not-so-pleasant aspects coming of age in the D.C. area.

But times with superstar players will always stand out. There were also countless other chats and moments each day when we used to kill time after shootarounds and in pregame locker room availabilities just sharing stories about family life. And I was always fond of those moments with the likes of James Jones, Jermaine O’Neal and Marvin Williams, among others.

Lang, we’ll get out on this: Both the Celtics and the Sixers went on the road and swung home-court advantage in their favor in the two East series. As it stands now, which one is more likely to close the deal and win their series? Are you a bigger believer in Kyrie leading Boston over the hump with three of the five potential games in the Garden? Or has Jimmy “Don’t Call Me James” Butler found the kryptonite to destroy Kawhi’s Raptors?

Kyrie Irving

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 1, 2019 6:24 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Funny that you mentioned Marvin Williams, who is also one of my all-time favorite dudes. He caught a lot of flack from Hawks fans, but it wasn’t his fault that he was selected ahead of Chris Paul and Deron Williams (shoutout to Billy Knight!). And to Marv’s credit, he’s carved out a long and fruitful career for himself in the League.

To your question, as much I like Jimmy Butler’s personality and respect how hard he plays, I gotta ride with Kyrie here. As much as Kyrie relied on LeBron in Cleveland, nobody hit a bigger shot in the Finals the last few years than Kyrie. Also, Kyrie plays the point, so he gets to have the ball in his hands, which means it will be easier for him to have an impact on these games. The Celtics may be the 4 seed, but they’re one of the best teams in the NBA, and I think in a seven-game series, with plenty of time to plan and prep, Brad Stevens and his crew will have the Celtics ready to rock against the Bucks.

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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