#IMHO: Surprises in Phoenix and Miami, plus Dwight Howard and #MUSCLEWATCH

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

Date: Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at 9:08 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: IMHO

Mike, I told you. I told you, I told all our readers, and I told everyone who’d listen to me on all the Grind City Media medias over the last few weeks: The Phoenix Suns are for real. As I write this, the Suns are 5-2, and the two games they’ve lost they lost by a combined 2 points. They have a versatile, athletic roster, and the drop off from starters to bench players has not been pronounced at all.

I love that they’ve found guys like Frank Kaminsky and Jevon Carter and Dario Saric, guys who are above-average NBA players who were never able to find a home, and they’ve all come together. They put their players with a competent coach in Monty Williams, and then they’ve got an All-Star talent in Devin Booker, who can bail them out at the end of possessions when all else fails. I caught up with my eldest son Ricky Rubio last week when the Suns were here in Memphis, and he confirmed what’s obvious when you watch them: They’re having a lot of fun right now.

Thing is, I had no idea they’d be this good until the season started and I was able to watch them play and see what they’re doing. Which team has been the most pleasant surprise for you so far this season?

 


From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Tuesday, November 5, 2019 at 12:29 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

Yes, I’ll give you props. You’ve been shouting “Suns” from the moment the season began as a team that caught your eye for a potential breakthrough this season. I never thought Phoenix lacked talent. They’ve stockpiled lottery picks for several years now, and even dumped a few along the way. But it’s amazing how their best player is a guy picked – not one, not two, not three – No. 13 overall in 2015 when they snagged Devin Booker.

More than anything, the two guys running the team on a day-to-day basis are guys I consider good friends. I got to know general manager James Jones really well when I worked for 10 years in Miami. Jones is a Miami native and came back to play for the Heat as a role player. And I go all the way back to Potomac High School in the Washington, D.C. metro area with Suns coach Monty Williams. We both attended Potomac and played on the basketball team – he was a senior star on varsity when I was a freshman scrub on JV. But enough name-dropping; this is about the Suns early success.

I’ll counter with the Heat being my surprise team, considering they endured some turmoil entering the season with James Johnson and Dion Waiters being suspended, then Jimmy Butler sitting out the first few games for the birth of his child. Still, Miami won five of its first six and opened this week atop the Eastern Conference standings. This might prove to be Erik Spoelstra’s best coaching job yet – and this is a guy who already passed Pat Riley for most wins in franchise history, has coached in four NBA Finals and walked away with two championship trophies.

Lang, speaking of Suns – or former Suns, actually – Josh Jackson is on course to make his season debut this week with the Memphis Hustle of the NBA G League. It’s all part of restoring his reputation as a player and a professional with a new franchise after he was acquired as part of a trade between the Grizzlies and Suns over the summer. So far, all indications are that Jackson has worked hard in Hustle training camp and has not been a problem off the court. His Grizzlies teammates, especially Jae Crowder, have been outspoken and supportive of Jackson’s progress so far. What should be the realistic expectations set for the No. 4 lottery pick from the 2017 NBA Draft as he tries to restore his career?

 

Josh Jackson interview

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Wednesday, November 06, 2019 at 8:08 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

I remember Johnson starting last year here in Memphis against the Grizzlies as a member of that Suns team. And to their credit, since moving on from Jackson as part of their offseason of moves, the Suns haven’t seemed to have missed him all that much.

One upside with the 22-year-old Jackson is that he plays on the wing, which is a position of need from the Grizzlies. I suppose if he’s able to reach the promise he showed coming out of high school as one of the most highly regarded players in the country, he could slot in alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson as young building blocks the franchise can rely upon. Grizz coach Taylor Jenkins was on those Mike Budenholzer staffs in Atlanta where they molded numerous unheralded wing players (DeMarre Carroll, Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, Tim Hardaway Jr., etc.) into some of the best wings in the NBA.

So I guess we’ll see. Either Jackson is able to transform himself and his game and find a home, or he joins another long list of highly touted high schoolers who went to Kansas and then came to Memphis and for whatever reason couldn’t quite reach the level that they were hoped to hit (Drew Gooden, Wayne Selden, Ben McLemore, etc.)

Mike, the Lakers have gotten off to a solid start, and while we know the stories about LeBron and AD, I’ve been interested to watch Dwight Howard, who has gone reverse #MUSCLEWATCH and seems to have found a place in the modern NBA. He’s no longer an elite defensive center but he’s a solid role player who plays an important part for the Lake Show.

My question to you is, Did you see this coming? I certainly didn’t. And do you think this time it will last? Could Dwight have a late career run like, say, Vince Carter?

 

Dwight Howard in the paint

From: Michael Wallace

Sent: Wednesday, November 6, 2019 at 6:28 PM

To: Lang Whitaker

Subject: Re: IMHO

I think Dwight is essentially playing with house money at this stage of his career. He’s already cemented a Hall of Fame legacy with multiple NBA Defensive Player of the Year awards and All-NBA accolades. He’s even made a run to the Finals with Orlando. The past five seasons have been a huge mess for Dwight, and he’s lost some of the luster a bit earlier than most who have accomplished as much as he had so quickly in his career.

But all that said, my answer is no. I didn’t see this coming. I thought he was motivated a year ago when he ended up with the Wizards, but that mysterious rear end injury derailed his season just as it was starting. I thought he was motivated to redeem himself in both stops prior to Washington, but the short stint with his hometown Hawks and a forgetful run in Charlotte were the respective results. So the bar is set super low for Dwight now, and he doesn’t even have a guaranteed contract with the Lakers. His Superman days are long gone. It’s literally a make-or-break situation at this Clark Kent stage of Howard’s career.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this. Hawks forward John Collins became the third NBA player already this season hit with a 25-game suspension for violation of the league’s rules regarding banned substance. He joins Suns center Deandre Ayton and Nets forward Wilson Chandler. Collins was one of the few guys in the league last season to average 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. How much of a setback is this for the Hawks as they try to take the next step with Trae Young? And more importantly, should the league be concerned about this becoming a developing trend?

 

John Collins upset

From: Lang Whitaker

Date: Thursday, November 7, 2019 at 9:08 AM

To: Michael Wallace

Subject: Re: IMHO

Well, I guess we can’t call him John the Baptist any longer. I don’t think is a setback for the Hawks so much as a speed bump – they are clearly playing the long game with a roster full of adolescents, and while not having Collins certainly hurts their chances of winning now, it only lets them play the other youngsters even more.

But bigger picture, yes, I think you have to take notice of what’s happening with all these suspensions. Neither Chandler nor Collins was exactly Mr. Universe, so I’m not sure exactly what substances they were messing around with that get them in trouble. I suppose the message here is that it can happen to anyone, so be careful with whatever you stir into those postgame protein shakes we always see players walking around with.

Once again, it all comes back to #MUSCLEWATCH.

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