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#IMHO: The Celtics, playing the NBA Lottery, and KD

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, May 7, 2019 11:17 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

The Celtics are done! And the Warriors are on the ropes! (Well, ok, to a lesser extent.) But however you look at it, two of the best teams in the NBA, at least at this point in the postseason, find themselves in a position that is less than ideal. And while we wait and see if the Warriors are able to survive a 3-2 series lead, now without the services of injured star Kevin Durant, I’m more curious about where the Celtics go from here after being eliminated in five games by the Bucks.

For years, the Celtics accumulated assets and stacked chips and bided their time, and then they went all-in by trading for Kyrie Irving and splashing their cap space on Gordon Hayward. And then Irving and Hayward faltered miserably in the final two games of the series.

And now, the Celtics are dunzo. Which begs the question: Did the Celtics go all-in at the right time? And what should be their path forward?

Kyrie Irving

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 3:44 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I don’t have any problem with the path the Celtics took to get here. Let me back up first, as we join the NBA family in wishing Celtics GM Danny Ainge a speedy recovery from his recent health issue. As far as how the Celtics were constructed, they transitioned in relatively quick fashion from the Big 3 era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and – after a couple of down years – got right back into the mix to contend for the East. They acquired draft assets, made great selections and solid trades, and also used max free agent slots on team-first guys in Gordon Hayward and Al Horford. They then capped it off by bringing in an A-list superstar in Kyrie Irving. But Irving wasn’t even pursued in the trade with Cleveland until after the Celtics swung and missed in free agency on Kevin Durant a few years back.

Even if Kyrie walks in free agency, I still believe the Celtics are in good shape to recover nicely, because they can use their handful of first-round draft picks and decent contracts to trade for another key piece or two to plug in at point guard. This Cs squad had enough to reach the East finals a year ago with both Kyrie and Hayward sidelined with injuries. I trust they’ll be able to regroup and get right back into the mix regardless of Kyrie’s future.

Lang, by this time next week, we’ll know which team won the NBA Draft Lottery and will have the right to pick Zion Williamson No. 1 pick in June. Although Ben Simmons, Karl Anthony Towns, Anthony Davis and Kevin Durant have all entered the NBA within the past decade, I agree with those who say Zion is the most hyped prospect to enter the draft since LeBron in 2003. That’s a pretty massive target and level of expectation for anyone to carry, but Zion seems both physically and psychologically fit to handle the burden. All that said, what’s a reasonable, realistic expectation for Zion – regardless where he lands in the NBA?

Zion Williamson of Duke flexes

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Tuesday, May 07, 2019 5:08 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I don’t watch a ton of college basketball during the NBA season – if I want to watch basketball, I’ll watch the best players in the world. So the first time I cleared my schedule and turned in specifically to watch Zion play, seconds into the game he busted through his shoe and hurt his knee. I did see bits and pieces of Zion during the NCAA tournament, but I still don’t feel as though I ever got to experience the full Zion experience.

All that being said, I watched all season as all these NBA teams seemed to be marching, marching, marching to Zion, and I know the expectations for his NBA career are sky-high. None of which seems entirely fair, but it is what it is. I do know that as a prospect, physically Zion is basically unmatched. When I look at him he reminds me of Larry Johnson, that very rare combination of size and strength and speed. I’m not sure if his shooting will develop or translate at the next level, but right now his gifts are clear. Can he carry a bottom-feeder to the postseason in his first season? I don’t know. But I don’t think that should be an unreasonable goal.

And speaking of the lottery, there are a bunch of teams dreaming of Zion, as I mentioned. But in your humble opinion, which NBA team that’s in the lottery could most use Mr. Williamson’s services?

Memphis Grizzlies Core Four

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, May 7, 2019 5:54 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Easy. It’s Memphis. And I’m not even being facetious here. I’m completely serious. The Grizzlies have been devoid of a clear superstar prospect/talent throughout, at least, the Memphis era of the franchise. The Suns have had two-time MVP Steve Nash and currently have the No. 1 pick as well as the brightest young scorer in the league. The Cavs had LeBron, then lost LeBron and got the No. 1 pick – not once, but twice – before getting LeBron back. The Knicks have the Mecca and a storied history. I could go on and on and on.

The Grizzlies have never had a transcendent superstar. They’ve had a bunch of grinders, overachievers and nationally under-appreciated, really good players. Zion would bring a level of relevance and competitiveness that, when paired with Jaren Jackson Jr., could give the Grizzlies one of the top young dynamic duos in the league. There’s only a six-percent chance Memphis wins the lottery and lands Zion, and it’s one of the few franchises to never have a No. 1 overall pick. But if we’re talking “need,” then I can’t see another place that could use Zion more than Memphis.

Lang, there’s a legit debate brewing in these NBA playoffs. We’ll wrap up while trying to settle it. Who is the most unstoppable player this postseason? Is it Giannis, Durant, Harden, Kawhi, Dame, Jokic – or perhaps someone else? To me, and I’m considering more than just points per game, Kevin Durant has been the single most difficult player to defend in all of the playoffs. And then he went down with a calf strain in Game 5 against Houston and will miss the rest of the series. Until that moment, he was my pick. But it’s tough to argue against any of the guys mentioned above. So what say you?

Kevin Durant looks on

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, May 9, 2019 11:54 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

To me, when you mention someone being “unstoppable,” we need to make a distinction about which end of the floor we’re talking about. Because as great as Harden is on the offensive end, he’s basically a turnstyle on the other end. A guy like Kawhi might not be as polished on the offensive end, but you can’t sleep on his ability to make an impact on the opposing team’s offenses.

I watched last night’s Warriors/Rockets Game 5 on an airplane, streaming a signal to my phone somewhere between Chicago and Las Vegas. And even on my tiny little screen, it was clear that Kevin Durant was the most unstoppable player in that game. He can score in such a variety of ways, against basically any defender, and his injury toward the end of the game served as a reminder that even on a team stocked with great players, Durant is the greatest. And as good as KD is on the offensive end, his length and intelligence on the other end can make him one of the more impactful defensive players in the league, as well.

In my view, Giannis has the physical tools to get there one day, but right now Durant is still head and shoulders above everyone else.

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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