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#IMHO: LeBron’s legacy, Hayward’s Choice, and March Madness

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, March 05, 2019 9:28 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

Heavy lies the crown, Mike. And last night in Los Angeles, King James had his biggest game in the gold and purple yet. The Lakers, who are fighting for their postseason life, lost to the Clippers, 113-105, making a playoff run that already seemed improbable even more implausible.

If the Lakers don’t make the postseason, this would be LeBron’s first spring since his rookie season where he’d be relegated to the sideline. My question to you is, what should we take away from this? Does it mean the Lakers just had some bad injury luck in this postseason run? Does it mean the Lakers aren’t really as good as people expected them to be?

Or does it mean that LeBron James, the once infallible, basically bionic man, isn’t what he used to be?

LeBron James

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Tuesday, March 5, 2019 5:05 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

This has as much to do with LeBron missing 18 games in the middle of the season than anything else. They were set on a doomsday course from there. Still, it didn’t help that Lonzo Ball, one of the league’s top perimeter defenders, was also sidelined for the Lakers for an extended period.

All that said, this is an embarrassment of a season for L.A. if the Lakers don’t rally to make the playoffs. I said it the moment he got to Hollywood, LeBron choosing the Lakers at this point was as much about him setting up his off-the-court business ventures as it was about his pursuit of another championship. He’s comfortable with his legacy, even if it doesn’t include another trip to the NBA Finals. But to not even make the playoffs is a darn shame. Period.

In the East, he makes eight straight trips to the Finals but then gets to the West and can’t get his team into the postseason at all? Wow. Just wow.

Hall of Fame basketball writer Jackie MacMullan did an incredible piece on the trials and tribulations of Gordon Hayward through his first two turbulent seasons in Boston. Last season ended before it truly began with a horrible foot injury, and this season is on track to be the least productive of his career since he became a regular starter. If Hayward could rewind the time and go back to that free agency decision two summers ago, does he stay in Utah or still go to Boston?

Gordon Hayward

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, March 06, 2019 11:23 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

OK, so I guess Hayward has you to thank. You sent me that email at 5:00 p.m., and roughly five hours later the Celtics crushed the Warriors, 128-95, and Hayward stuffed the stat sheet: 30 points, 7 boards and 4 assists. Because of course he did.

But that one performance shouldn’t obscure the season Hayward has been having. His last four seasons in Utah, Hayward averaged 19.2 points per game. His last twenty games with the Celtics (before last night’s game), Hayward has averaged 9.9 points per game. Now of course Hayward had that brutal injury at the beginning of last season that derailed his transition, and in general the Celtics have been something of a hot mess the last few weeks, but I was expecting more from Hayward this season.

All that being said, I still think Hayward would leave Utah for Boston (and his former college coach). But I wonder if Danny Ainge would do some things differently?

Another big performance last night came from James Harden, who poured in 35 points in Houston’s big win over Toronto. The Rockets stumbled out of the gate but they’ve won 6 in a row and have started getting everyone healthy and on the same page. Mike, are these Rockets peaking at the right time? And to expound on that, will these Rockets perform differently in the postseason instead of flaming out?

James Harden vs Toronto Raptors

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, March 6, 2019 12:57 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: #IMHO

I want to believe in James Harden. I want to believe in the Rockets as a team. But to what extent? I’m still trying to figure out. I do believe Houston is now elevated onto the ‘championship-or-bust’ level – lofty heights that only the Warriors, Raptors, Celtics and Sixers realistically reside right now. Which means if the season falls short of an NBA Finals at least, and a NBA title at best, it’s been a waste of time, money and resources.

It’s reassuring to see Harden helped the Rockets weather the storm of midseason injuries with a historic display of individual basketball. Now, reinforcements have arrived, and the Rockets have done a solid job of adding to the rotation with a couple of nice pick-ups. Am I ready to pick them to beat the Warriors? Nope. But I wouldn’t be stunned if it happened, given they were up 3-2 in the West finals last season before Chris Paul got hurt.

OK, Lang, let’s roll on this one: I know the NBA playoff races are tightening up and there are plenty of intriguing storylines going down the stretch. But it’s also college basketball conference and national tournament time. Take Zion out of consideration right now, which player are you most looking forward to seeing as we dive deeper into the madness of March? I’m going with Murray State’s Ja Morant, who is on the verge of accomplishing the rare feat of averaging more than 20 points and 10 assists in a college season. He’s a projected lottery pick and has been compared, in one way or another, to just about every solid point guard in the NBA. As great of a prospect as he is on the mid-major level, Morant’s Racers might not even make the NCAA Tourney. So, I’ll tune in to the Ohio Valley Conference tournament now – just to be safe.

Ja Murrant

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, March 7, 2019 9:26 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

Well, Mike, even though I grew up in Atlanta being fed a steady diet of ‘80s and ‘90s ACC Basketball (shoutout to everyone from Duane Ferrell to Tommy Hammonds), and college football is among my favorite sports, I don’t really watch much college basketball. I have nothing against it! I just…don’t watch it.

I mean, look, I’m busy. I have a job and a family and a dog, and by the end of the day, A) I’m tired, and B) I’m dealing with limited time. I’ve got a few hours to play video games and catch up on cooking shows and “Dr. Pimple Popper” and watch TV. So I’ve got to make hard choices, and for the most part when I have the opportunity, I’m going to watch an NBA game over any other sporting choice that is presented to me. And let’s be honest: college basketball as a product is sub-par to NBA basketball. The players aren’t as good as NBA players, and while college football surpasses the NFL to me thanks to imagination and innovation, for the most part college basketball is just NBA-lite.

I could keep going firing off these hot takes, but with all that being said, the other night with the NBA off, I did attempt to tune in to the UNC/Duke game to get a glimpse of the much-ballyhooed Zion Williamson. And guess what? He got hurt 30 seconds into the game, so I turned it off.

So to be honest, the entirety of my college basketball knowledge is based upon watching highlights on Twitter. Zion seems amazing, as does Ja Morant, even if they both sound like characters on “Game of Thrones.” The player I don’t know enough about is RJ Barrett—heard a lot about him, just haven’t seen much about him. Anyway, I’ll find out more about all these guys when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. That’s when I watch college hoops, and that’s when I want to see if these guys are able to produce at the highest levels.

Any other night, give me the NBA.

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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