Joel Meyers, the longtime TV voice of the New Orleans Pelicans and a veteran NBA broadcaster, will be sharing with Pelicans fans weekly conversations he has with friends and colleagues in the media and the NBA. Up first is Tim Legler, lead NBA studio analyst for ESPN’s “SportsCenter.” This is the first of two parts of Joel's conversation with Tim.
Joel Meyers: You were a player in 1999, the 50-game season. How did you maintain through waiting and waiting and waiting like the players are doing right now? Totally different circumstances of course, but how did you maintain conditioning especially for a shooter like yourself? Did you find a place to get shots up? I know that’s difficult for guys now because nobody’s around now and nobody’s allowed to be around. You know guys find hoops, and they’re by themselves getting shots up. How did you stay in shape?
Tim Legler: It was tough. It was difficult because – circumstances are different in this way. Obviously this is due to not wanting guys to be around each other (or) in physical proximity to each other because of the coronavirus. When I went through this in '98-99, they didn’t want us around either because we were locked out. So it was a similar situation that you didn’t have opportunities where guys could gather and play and try to maintain some sort of continuity. A lot of guys just went home. I basically was just trying to find local places where I could get in, get some shots up, do my cardio and my weightlifting…doing some running just around where I lived and whatnot…just trying to get in as much work as I could. I was in pretty constant contact with our strength and conditioning guy. But it’s different now; they have such a deeper staff on these teams that handle all of these things. We had one guy to handle all of that back then. You’re just trying to get ideas and ways I could make my workouts up and try to stay in the best shape that I could. It was a strange circumstance because we never got the season going. We were coming out of the offseason, so I hadn’t played meaningful basketball since the previous April and we didn’t start playing again until February. These guys are dealing with something different in that they reached the peak physical condition, getting 60 games in. They were in as good of shape as they were going to be in, and then you pull the plug on it. Now you’re going to sit for two, three months, maybe longer. That’s a much different dynamic in what they’re dealing with in terms of their conditioning and what we were going through when we never even got off the ground with our conditioning because we never got the season started.
Joel Meyers: As a shooter, how did you keep in form with your stroke?
Tim Legler: Well, one of the things I had going for me was, my entire life I was taught – at a young age when I first started to play the game – to do everything at game-speed in my individual workouts. I had done that my entire life. So where you might see some guys go in and get casual reps up for 90 minutes or a couple of hours – a lot of set shots, slow rhythm/pace in coming off their screens, shooting to simulate – everything I did since I was probably 15 years old, I did as hard as I could. That meant taking shots that would be as close as possible to what it would feel like in a game. So I always had that built-in routine, but you can’t replicate what it feels like to get shots off in a tight window with defenders on you when you’re working out by yourself. So it definitely was an effect. The thing I was wondering the whole time and concerned about was, ‘How much time are they going to give us?’ Once we got the go-ahead and the clearance that this thing was over with, the lockout had ended, and we were going to start playing basketball, how much time were we going to have to be able to ramp up before we started playing meaningful basketball? It’s a big concern for a shooter. You really want to get in as much time as you can in game situations with defenders on you to find that rhythm and find that stroke before you start playing games where those things really matter and those percentages start to count.
Joel Meyers: How much time would you anticipate it would take for a team to get back into the gym together to get ready for the remaining 16 or 18 games, if they went that way, in the regular season?
Tim Legler: Let’s put it in perspective. You go back to '98-99, this was a situation where we didn’t have load management, we weren’t worried as much about guys getting rest, we were still playing four games in five nights at times during that season even if there hadn’t been a lockout. We still got two full weeks to get ready to start playing games. The one big difference here, Joel, is that we started playing games that were going to give us a chance to be able to get our legs under us. There were some minute restrictions early on, because those first 10 games or so weren’t going to be that critical. This is a totally different situation. You’re talking about now maybe taking a few months off – I’m estimating at least two weeks I think, minimum, to give them a chance to get their conditioning up because the last thing you want is for guys to go out there playing out of shape and you have a serious injury that impacts the following season. They’re going to have a couple of weeks. The difference though is, when they hit the ground running this time, they’re hitting the ground running playing the most meaningful basketball of their season. That wasn’t the case with us in the lockout. We were starting the year – even though it was going to be 50 games – those first 10 or so were going to feel like the beginning of any season, finding a rhythm, finding rotations, getting your legs under you, wins and losses not being critical. That wouldn’t be the case here, whether it’s getting in a handful of regular season games and then start the postseason. Those games are going to be very impactful in terms of seeding, so they’re going to matter a lot. There is a scenario in which they just start immediately with the postseason after this long layoff. Think about the ramifications of that: your first game that you’re going to play in three months is going to be the biggest game of the year because it’s game one of a playoff series. It’s going to be a little different in terms of how coaches are going to manage those players because of the impact of the games and the importance and the meaning behind games, as opposed to what we had during the lockout year.
Joel Meyers: You look at the calendar after Memorial Day. You finish the regular season in June, so then you have all of July and August for the postseason. I bring it up because of the Western Conference in particular, whether it’s New Orleans, San Antonio, Portland, Sacramento all right there within striking distance of the eighth seed. In New Orleans’ case, it’s only three back in the loss column. Do you think there is the potential to finish the regular season if the green light is given from the Center for Disease Control?
Tim Legler: Yeah there’s no doubt. There’s so much at stake, not just for those teams that are fighting to get that last spot in the West, but also just take a look at how tight some of these teams are in terms of seeding. You’re talking about teams that are a game apart or tied, and the difference being playing at home in the first round or playing on the road in the first round. There’s huge ramifications. When the season stopped, there was a lot to still be determined. Unfortunately, I think it’s going to be tough if you start talking about getting into June and allowing there to be regular season basketball to where you start the postseason, say just hypothetically, (in) mid-June and you want to have a normal postseason, you’re talking about playing up until mid-August if that’s the case and training camp for the following season is set to start in September. I think Adam Silver – one of the things he alluded to and it just becomes a math game – he doesn’t want to have next season impacted. At some point – depending on how long it is before we return to some sort of normalcy in society where you would even contemplate having these games – at some point you have to start to look at that red line that could be crossed where you say, ‘Now we’re actually bleeding into next season.’ That’s the last thing I think Adam Silver wants. So it’s really going to come down to timing, which is why he said no decision is going to be made until at least May 1, if not later, because they’re trying to just continue to look at the math behind this and what’s realistic. Now one other scenario could be, maybe they start that late, you play a handful of regular season games to let there at least be something that these teams can determine, and then maybe shorten the postseason a little bit. Maybe the first round is best of three, best of five. Maybe the second round is best of five…best of seven in the last two rounds. Or maybe you don’t have as many teams in the postseason. There are ways to adjust the playoff format to end it in a more reasonable time so that you’re not affecting next year while still also allowing teams to get a handful of regular season games in to determine some of the things you’re talking about. I think that’s something they would have to look at: shortening the postseason a little bit if it started that late.
Joel Meyers: Some have brought up the idea of starting the NBA season in December and playing through August, right before the NFL season begins. How do you feel about that suggestion?
Tim Legler: I personally didn’t like the idea because there’s something about when the NBA Finals ends and the way that it ties into really the end of the school year. So we finish up mid-June; that’s when school lets out. So what happens over the next couple of months? Even though I know you can watch games now anywhere because you have mobile devices and it’s amazing what you’re able to do, the bottom line is that families in the summer – they want to be outside. They want to take vacations. They want to be away from sitting down at a restaurant/bar on your cell phone watching these games. I think it would be a bad idea to move the NBA calendar in that way. It’s worked this way for a really long time, and I think it’s been pretty successful. The popularity of the game is greater than ever. I don’t know if I would like to see NBA players playing over the entire summer with the most meaningful games all taking place during those summer months when I think there are so many other distractions – so many other things that people like to do that takes them away from watching.
Joel Meyers: With March Madness being cancelled this season, how does that impact the draft and player evaluation as far as you’re concerned?
Tim Legler: Yeah it’s really tough for some guys. There are certain guys that have already – you’ve seen enough of a body of work, you’ve seen enough sample size. People know that they’re going to be high draft picks. The guys that I feel bad for – and I lived this life because I coached AAU basketball and I’ve had players who fall exactly into this category – you have an opportunity to go into this time of the year, and let’s say you’ve got a kid that’s going to be normally slotted from 15 to 25 in the draft and then he goes on a run in the conference tournament and he has a big conference tournament for somebody, then he goes into the NCAA Tournament and he gets an opportunity to play two or maybe three games and plays out of his mind. A guy like that has an opportunity to bump himself somewhere near the top 10. That’s a big difference. It’s just the exposure component to what we missed out on for some of these guys in conference tournaments and the NCAA Tournament. It’s going to make it more difficult, because I think what you’re going to see – when you look back on the 2020 draft five years from now – because you didn’t get as much evaluation at the most important time of the year for these players, there are going to be more misses on guys from this draft than most years when you look back on it several years from now. It’s such a critical time of the year to get an opportunity to let the cream sort of rise to the top as you look at the pressure of these games and the way guys can sometimes put a team on their back. You can really make a name for yourself with either your conference tournament or March Madness, and I think that’s going to make it much more difficult. Just look at the draft combine and what guys would normally go through. We might not have any of that leading up to the draft, so it’s very difficult for the talent evaluators to get these right when you had this entire thing cut short, because they were counting on that time of year to really make their final decisions and have some guys catch their eye that they didn’t know as much about. I feel bad for the players because they’re not going to be able to differentiate themselves with those high-pressure games, and also for the talent evaluators that are going to have to get this right, and it’s going to be much more difficult to do that.
Joel Meyers: What about European players? Does this help some guys who play in the higher level leagues in Europe? Will we see more European players potentially taken in this draft due to having a larger sample size and more film?
Tim Legler: Yeah that’s a good point. I actually think it could because of what you’re talking about. You know that these guys have turned pro at a younger age, they’ve been playing against grown men for longer, you are very familiar with who these guys are. It’s a little bit different than watching a guy who you kind of liked, had an eye on, maybe plays at a mid-major and now he’s going to have an opportunity to go play another three, four, five games against elite competition at the right time of the year where you could see something special in a college player. It’s different for a foreign player, so I think actually it could help some of those guys and you might see more guys taken in the top 20 because you’re going to feel a little more certain than you are about some guys that you hadn’t really written that final chapter on, where you felt really comfortable taking them in the first round – certainly the first half of the first round.
The second part of this conversation will be published Thursday, April 16.