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#IMHO: The Finals, the Lake Show and the Future

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 28, 2019 4:50 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

Mike, as I type this we are now hours away from the start of the NBA Finals, as the Golden State Warriors make their fifth consecutive Finals trip to go up against former Grizzlies Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry and the Toronto Raptors. (OK, and Kawhi Leonard, also.) It’s the North versus the West! The Beach versus the Tundra! Curry versus the Claw!

No matter how you want to sell it, what really sticks is how you play it. We know Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins will miss at least the first game for the Warriors, which will give the Raptors what is likely their best chance at winning one of these home games. But do the Raptors have more than a puncher’s chance in this series? Can they actually win four games off the Warriors? Or are these Warriors, depleted as they are, still strong enough to not only get a win, but manage to win four out of seven?

Kawhi Leonard dribbles the ball past Klay Thompson

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, May 28, 2019 9:30:45 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

The Raptors have two clear advantages going for them: the best two-way player in the series plays for Toronto and the Raptors have homecourt advantage. So that gives them both a puncher’s and a counterpuncher’s chance in this series. Their team defense is better than anything the Warriors have faced, and if the Raptors’ role players step up, this could be a very intriguing and close series throughout.

All that said, I have to pick the Warriors in six. I don’t completely agree with my own pick. I’m not even comfortable making it. Because I truly believe the Raptors have something special going right now, especially if Kawhi stays relatively healthy. On the other hand, the Warriors are out to prove they’re truly a team of destiny and dynasty. I love watching greatness, and with or without Kevin Durant in this series, the Warriors are pushing to strengthen their case for being one of the greatest teams of all time. I guess that means I’m actually pulling for both teams, Lang. And that’s tough to do.

What’s also tough to do is getting through a week in the NBA without the Lakers’ issues dominating the national headlines. The latest dose comes from an ESPN story that details the dysfunction within the organization and paints Magic Johnson as some sort of egotistical, deranged executive who reportedly operated on bullying and fear. To me, this was a hatchet job from recently dismissed/fired Lakers via ESPN in response to Magic’s hatchet job the Lakers via ESPN the other week. Only one side wins in this mudslinging. ESPN! Now that all seems to be said and done, who do you feel most sympathy for at this point, Magic, Rob Pelinka, Jeanie Buss, LeBron or the Lakers brand?

Magic Johnson

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 9:16 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Well, I'm puling for the Raptors, Mike, and I'm not conflicted about it at all. The Warriors are great, sure, but I'm ready for something else. I want to root for the little guy, for the underdog, and if Marc Gasol can get a ring along the way, well, that's just icing on the cake.

As for the Lakers, what a mess. We talked about them in this space last week, after Magic went on one of ESPN's morning debate shows and threw Rob Pelinka under the Lakers' bus, but things have somehow gotten worse, with ESPN's new written story detailing even more behind-the-scenes drama. Meanwhile on the air, ESPN simultaneously discredited the exact same story that they reported! It all reminds me a bit of the time a few months ago, when I had dinner with William Shakespeare and was able to pick his brain about the content-creating process.

(One other thing I don't understand: If Magic was never actually around the office, as was alleged last week, how were all the employees in constant fear of him, as was alleged this week?)

Anyway, things in Lakerland are a mess, to be sure, but I don't necessarily feel bad for any of the parties involved. They all knew what they signing up for, particularly Pelinka and Magic. Did LeBron know what he was getting into? I guess that's less clear. Either way I don't feel pity for any of 'em. The Lakers have been one of the NBA's two best franchises forever. They've won more titles than most other teams combined. For them to go through a rough patch feels a bit like the odds evening out.

At the end of the day, all this dysfunction lies at the feet of Jeannie Buss, who gained full control of the franchise a few years ago and has, frankly, struggled to return the team to past glory, at least on a timeframe suited to the wishes of Lakers fans.

But that doesn't mean she's a bad person. Check out this tweet I cam across last night from a writer who covers the Lakers and had to check into the hospital for some serious treatment. After a few days in the hospital, check out who sent him flowers.

I also have heard stories of her going to speak to college classes and doing plenty of other stuff above and beyond what is required. So to me, Jeannie Buss seems like a class act. The people she's empowered around the Lakers thus far, however, just haven't gotten it done.

Let's bounce back closer to home, where, speaking of class acts, with all the draft preparation happening around the Grizzlies and the second overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft, I wonder what becomes of Mike Conley? We heard trade rumors toward the end of last season, and with the consensus number two pick on the board looking like a point guard in Ja Morant, Mike my question to you is, do the Grizzlies start next season with Mike Conley on the roster?

Mike Conley

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 12:14 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Great, great question Lang. And it’s one on which my head and my heart vehemently disagree at the moment. I do believe Conley will be traded sometime in mid-July, once the free-agency dust settles and most teams realize Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler aren’t walking through that door. You’re going to then have several teams left with significant cap space and a need for a player of Conley’s experience and production to push them further into contention. The Grizzlies’ return on such a trade must include a combination of future draft picks and young-to-mid-career players who fit within a system designed to fast-track the development of 19-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr. and, presumably, No. 2 pick Ja Morant.

But that route will require tremendous patience when it comes to winning on a regular basis for the Grizzlies. My heart leans toward keeping Conley, strongly considering using the No. 2 pick perhaps on shooting guard RJ Barrett, bringing back Jonas Valanciunas at center to pair in the frontcourt with Jaren and then using the mid-level on an athletic, 3-and-D swingman to settle the small forward concerns. That team, if healthy, is competing in the playoffs next season and still has two teenagers in the fold to pivot the franchise forward well into the future.

I’ve long said and written that, in my opinion, this is something the Grizzlies should think long and hard about. I’m not convinced this as much of a no-brainer as others might believe. It goes beyond comparing two potential draft picks in a vacuum. This No. 2 draft pick is a roster-wide decision, heck a franchise-altering decision for the next decade. What I do believe is the Grizzlies are operating from a position of strength.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: Of the teams that made the playoffs who aren’t the Warriors and Raptors, which is best positioned to break through and reach the NBA Finals NEXT season? The easy choices on the surface might be Houston or Milwaukee, but both face some series questions this offseason with free agency and/or coaching staff departures. My pick is Boston. I think what happened this season was an uncharacteristic blip on the radar for the Celtics. I think Kyrie’s departure will prove to be addition by subtraction, and the Celtics – if they keep their remaining core intact – will reach the Finals next season.

Kyrie Irving shoots the ball over Jimmy Butler

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 29, 2019 5:14 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I agree with your bigger picture view, Mike, that the Grizz are dealing from a position of strength. But I think the pick should be Ja Morant, no matter what your path forward is. I believe Morant is just a better player than RJ Barrett, and who’s to say that possibly putting him and Conley together in the backcourt isn’t the way forward? That way you have two guys who can run the offense or facilitate or score, and one of them has the size to match up against bigger guards. Then you run Kyle Anderson/Jaren/Jonas at the 3/4/5, and to me that seems like a pretty potent starting five.

As for who is up next, I’ll throw two teams out that you didn’t mention. In the West, it’s easy to forget that Portland made the final four despite not having their best big man, Jusuf Kurkic. Add him back to the mix and continue the development of the younger players, and I think the Blazers are a team to keep an eye on. In the East, I just don’t know if a Boston team without Kyrie is potent enough on the offensive end. I think the Sixers are one guard away from being able to break through. Imagine a player like Conley on the Sixers, giving them a playmaker who can shoot from the outside or get to the rim, and to me the Sixers – as long as everyone stays healthy -- become a team with the offensive diversity necessary to move on the NBA Finals. The Process is great and all, but at some point we need to see the progress. And I think that’s coming.

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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