#IMHO: Durant, Morant and the NBA Finals

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, June 11, 2019 9:33 AM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: #IMHO


Well, that was a weird Game 5 of the NBA Finals the other night. The Warriors were down 3-1, and the Raptors had the chance to close it out at home, but… they couldn’t do it. Despite a late 10-0 run all by Kawhi Leonard, the Warriors were able to come from behind and get the W. (And for what it’s worth, I told all my Grizz Gaming guys that there was no way the Warriors were going to lose Game 5. They are too great of a team to just get rolled 4-1 in the Finals. I know they’ve been dealing with injuries and fatigue and all of that, but the Warriors have too many elite competitors to let the Raptors win it at home like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Toronto wins it in Game 6, now that the Warriors had a statement win and left it all out there, but there was no way they were going to lose Game 5.)


But all of this is overshadowing the bigger story of Game 5, which was the achilles injury to Kevin Durant, who had surgery Wednesday to repair a rupture. I don’t have an issue with KD playing last night, even if he was injured, and knowing Kevin like we do, I guarantee you if he was given the option to be out there, he’s going to be out there every time.


Anyway, what happens now? KD was expected to be the biggest piece on the free agency market this summer, and several franchises had already made moves to clear up cap space to be able to bring in someone like KD, who could single-handedly make them a playoff team next season. But if he’s out for an extended time, how does that effect the free agency market? Does he opt in and stick around Golden State for another season while he rehabs? Does he leave anyway? And looking closer to home, does this improve the trade market for Mike Conley?




Kevin Durant is assisted off court after injuring his leg





From: Michael Wallace


Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 7:20 PM


To: Lang Whitaker


Subject: RE: #IMHO


That game seems like such a distant memory considering everything that’s transpired since then heading into Game 6 tonight in the Bay. There’s still so much intrigue left in this series that it seems to be a bit of a disservice to look too far ahead into free agency, although it’s only a couple of weeks away.


For as much as was made about how Toronto fans initially reacted to Durant’s injury and how social media trolls, including many current and former NBA players and analysts, attacked the issue, the real disappointment is how the Warriors failed to protect Durant from himself. We’re talking about a multi-billion-dollar franchise, an extensive team of medical experts, a sharp front office and even Durant himself. There was a great risk taken that wasn’t worth the result – on any level. And it’s unfortunate. Everyone’s rehab is different from this injury, but it would appear that Durant will miss at least the opening months of next season. How does it impact his free agency? Who knows.


There are so many variables involved. But it better start with the Warriors offering Durant every penny of that super-max deal to keep him there. What outside suitors are probably hoping is that Durant opts in to his final year and stays with Golden State for rehab next season, and then enters free agency a year from now. All eyes will now be on Kawhi Leonard and Anthony Davis as the top “available” targets this summer. I believe Conley’s prospects are separate, and his future might not be determined until the initial dust settles in free agency. That’s when we’ll see which teams are left with cap space that wasn’t used on free-agent targets.


On another note, Lang, the Grizzlies ended their coaching search and hired former Bucks assistant Taylor Jenkins. He becomes the fourth Memphis coach in the past six years. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the 34-year-old Jenkins as he embarks on his first head coaching job with the Grizzlies?





Kawhi Leonard




From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Tuesday, June 11, 2019 10:47 PM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: RE: #IMHO



Well, I know a tiny bit more than most about Taylor Jenkins, only because before working for the Grizzlies, I was a fan of the Atlanta Hawks, and back in 2014-15 when the Hawks went nuts and won 60 games, including a perfect month of January, I was tuned in every single night. And at halftime of each game, the Hawks’ broadcast would interview different assistant coaches, so I got to see Jenkins answer questions on TV, although nothing too tough. So we know he can at least hit softballs.


That being said, I texted a buddy who worked with him back then to ask about Jenkins, and I was told, “He’s a Spur, if that makes sense.” Which actually did make sense. Because Jenkins cut his teeth with the Spurs before joining Mike Budenholzer in Atlanta, and for those of us who’ve been around the NBA for a while, being “a Spur” suggests certain things. He probably believes in process and order; he can develop talent to fit a particular system, which will be well-defined; he also probably appreciates a good glass of wine. (Maybe Memphis will help him develop a taste for beer and distilled spirits? Call me when they introduce the Cab Sav flavor at Wet Willie’s!)


That Hawks staff took a bunch of overlooked wing players and made them into multi-millionaires, from Paul Millsap to DeMarre Carroll to Kent Bazemore to Tim Hardaway Jr. Heck, just last week the Hawks flipped Taurean Prince for a first round pick. For all of Coach Bud’s faults as an in-game tactician, particularly in the postseason, he’s shown an ability to make teams flourish in the regular season, as well as perform some sort of NBA alchemy on forwards. If Jenkins can bring that to the 901, the Grizz are gonna be in great shape going forward.


Mike, with the draft just days away, it feels pretty certain that Zion Williamson will go first overall, and then the Grizz will be choosing between Ja Morant and RJ Barrett at the 2 spot, with the other player falling to New York at the 3. (Although, when I spotted Morant on BB King Blvd on Sunday, it sure seemed like a clue as to which way the Grizz are leaning. But I digress.) So with those three guys off the table, if you were the Lakers with the 4th overall pick, who would you draft? Or would you flip the pick to, I don’t know, maybe New Orleans?






Ja Morant portrait




From: Michael Wallace


Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 4:47 PM


To: Lang Whitaker


Subject: RE: #IMHO



Lang, this should be very, very simple for the Lakers. Take the best and most coveted prospect left on the board after Zion, Ja and RJ have completed their stroll across that stage in Brooklyn next week. Many reputable mock drafts have it as Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter, who showed plenty of versatility and potential on both ends of the floor to be a potential All-Star at the next level. But I also understand the intrigue and mystique surrounding Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland.


Either way, the Lakers will be picking with insurance in mind. Drafting Hunter gives them a big wing who could step in and replace Kyle Kuzma or Brandon Ingram if they’re included in any potential trade to land an established veteran superstar. And going with Garland would give them point guard insurance in case either Lonzo Ball or Josh Hart are included in any sort of deal. And if the No. 4 pick is the more attractive piece to ensure a deal gets done, then the Lakers can sweeten the pot with that high lottery pick.


Bottom line is the Lakers have no need for another young rookie coming in right now. They need veterans. Look for them to do the kind of deal that Boston did a decade ago when they flipped the No. 5 pick for Ray Allen, and traded for Kevin Garnett to complete the Big 3 around Paul Pierce.


Lang, let’s get out of here on this: Game 6 is Thursday night. The strange ebb and flow of this Finals series has had both teams winning two games on the opponent’s home floor. The Warriors literally stole Game 5 to give that Oracle crowd one last shot to go out with a win. Who ya got, and why? I’ve got the Warriors pulling this out and forcing a Game 7 in Toronto, where the Raptors will ultimately prevail on Sunday.





Anthony Davis




From: Lang Whitaker


Sent: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 4:47 PM


To: Michael Wallace


Subject: RE: #IMHO


My question to you about the Lakers became nearly moot almost as soon as I sent it, after a bevy of ESPN reporters reported that the Lakers were looking to move the pick for a superstar to use in a deal for Anthony Davis. And I get it – with Durant’s injury the Warrior’s chokehold atop the West will be loosened, and suddenly a Lakers team with LeBron and AD looks like they could vault to the top of the standings right away. But if I’m the Pelicans, I wonder why a team with AD and Zion and Jrue and a couple of veteran pieces wouldn’t be enough to compete out West?


And while I’m sure The Powers That Be at the television networks and the league would love to see the Finals go to seven games, I think it ends in six. Like I said in my first email, I knew the Warriors were going to come out with the heart of a champion in Game 5, and they did, sure enough. But I think they played their trump card. And now the Warriors have played the best game they could with the players available and barely beat a Toronto team that let them back into it down the stretch. I don’t think Toronto lets that happen again. The Warriors made it a series, and for that we are all grateful. But now it’s time for the Raptors to show us what they’re made of and whether they’re the real deal or if they’ve just been stringing us along.






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.



Posted in ,